Everything you need to know about using cloth nappies in South Africa

by BabyYumYum
Everything you need to know about using cloth nappies
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Cloth nappies have come a long way in the last couple of years – forget folding, pinning, soaking, using steri-nappi and starting the process all over again. Modern cloth nappies are easy to use, offer size-adjustable designs and are machine washable. They’re more eco friendly than disposable nappies and can save you money too! Here’s what you need to know if you’re thinking about switching from disposable nappies to cloth nappies.

How do cloth nappies work?

Most cloth nappies consist of an inner absorbent layer and/or inserts that hold the urine and poop, and a waterproof outer ‘shell’ that prevents the nappy’s contents from leaking. These two parts can either be separate (as a nappy and a cover) or joined together as an all-in-one nappy.

What are cloth nappies made of?

The ‘shell’ or outer layer of the nappy (or the nappy cover if it’s separate to the nappy itself) is usually made of waterproof PUL (polyurethane laminated fabric) while the absorbent parts of the nappy and the inserts/liners are often made of polyester, cotton, hemp or bamboo.

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What kind of cloth nappy should I use? 

There are a bunch of different types of cloth nappies and it can be confusing if you’re just starting out. Although there are many to choose from, the most common types of cloth nappies you’re likely to come across include:

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These are squares of fabric similar to the old-fashioned towel nappies many of us wore as babies. You then fold these into the nappy ‘shape’ and pin in place. You can also get ‘prefolds’ which are flats that have extra absorbent material down the middle. You’d usually pair these flats or prefolds with a (separate) waterproof nappy cover.

Pocket nappies:

This consists of an outer nappy shell and built-in lining with a ‘pocket’ where you can place absorbent inserts. A big advantage of this type is that you can easily change the absorbency of the nappy when needed.

All-in-one nappies:

These are the most like conventional disposable nappies. Just as the name suggests, this nappy already has all the necessary inserts sewn into it so there’s no need for separate nappy covers or additional inserts.

Are cloth nappies cheaper than disposable nappies? 

When compared to disposable nappies, cloth nappies should cost you less money in the long run. Why? Although the initial cost of investing in cloth nappies can be quite high, you will be buying fewer nappies in total if you switch to cloth – especially if you opt for size-adjustable nappies that ‘grow’ with your child and if you have more than one child. But you also need to factor in the cost of the water and electricity you’ll use to wash the nappies, which is a cost you obviously don’t have with disposables.

Keep in mind that most cloth nappies are designed to fit a child from 5kg+ so you may also need to buy newborn-size nappies.

How many cloth nappies do I need to start with?

This is dependent on the age of your child and how often you plan to do a load of washing.  Newborns will go through around 8-10 nappies a day. This number – thankfully – goes down as they get a bit older, with older toddlers using around 4 nappies a day. If you’re just starting out with cloth nappies aim to have 20-25 nappies (and at least 5 waterproof covers if you’re not buying all-in-ones) if you plan to wash every 2-3 days.

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Pros vs cons of cloth nappies

Pros of cloth nappies:

  • They’re better for the environment and don’t take 500 years to decompose
  • They’ll save you money in the long term as they’re reusable
  • Most cloth nappies are size-adjustable so you can use the same nappies from the time they’re about 5kg until they’re potty trained

Cons of cloth nappies:

  • Cloth nappies are more time consuming as you have to wash and dry them
  • The initial start up costs can be high because you have to purchase multiple nappies and covers
  • Inconvenience of having to carry a soiled nappy around with you when you’re away from home

How do you clean cloth nappies? 

Always follow the supplier’s wash and care instructions as they differ between brands but, generally speaking, you can just pop the nappies and inserts into the washing machine.

It’s a good idea to start with a rinse cycle then follow that with a full wash cycle with detergent – you won’t be using fabric softener as it can affect the absorbency of the nappies. Then hang them out to dry on the washing line in the sun!

If you’re washing every two to three days then you can store the used nappies in a dry (sealed) bucket for those days – cloth nappies don’t need to be soaked.

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How do you clean poop out of cloth nappies?

You can add a liner which makes poop clean up a lot easier – if you’re using a disposable liner then just take out the liner and toss it. If you’re using a reusable liner simply scrape off the solids and put it in the wash. It’s important to keep in mind that these liners don’t make a nappy more absorbent, it simply allows the urine to pass through while ‘catching’ the solids, making clean up a little easier.

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