Cloth Nappies – A Good Investment all Round

modern cloth nappies, pocket style
A small selection of our cloth nappy stash.

Most people don’t put much thought into what they’ll cover their baby’s bum with. They just assume they’ll use disposable nappies. I’m here to argue for the “old-fashioned” approach – modern cloth nappies (MCNs). Unlike the old Terry towelling squares,  modern cloth nappies are just  as simple to use as their disposable counterparts.

Below is a comparison of each bum covering, as I’ve experienced it while my daughter’s been in nappies. Note that I’m talking here about one size fits most, pocket nappies. These are a type of MCN that can be worn by newborns through to toddlers. They have a waterproof outer, similar to the old pilchers, and an absorbent insert that is stuffed into the outer to catch the drips. (For an overview of different MCN styles, check here.)

Modern Cloth Nappies
Cheaper in the long run – using VERY conservative numbers, you’ll save about $650 over the first year of your child’s life. Considering that nowadays, most children aren’t toilet trained before the age of two (often not til three or even later) you’ll be saving about $1500 over the course of your kid’s nappydom.

If you have more than one child, the savings add up even further. Most brands of cloth nappies will do at least two children through their nappy-wearing years. You may need to buy a few extra inserts or outers, as the elastic will break down eventually, but you wouldn’t need to purchase an entirely new set.

Reduces the amount of garbage you have each week. Disposable nappies take up a LOT of trash can real estate. And they smell. Using cloth cuts down on your garbage and smell issues – plus you won’t have to worry about Fido digging through the trash to find what’s making that interesting scent.

We’re less likely to have a blowout. In all the time my daughter has been in nappies,  I can remember precisely three blowouts occurring. The first two were due to my daughter changing shape and us needing to adjust the snaps on her nappy to a different size. The third was caused by a bout of rotavirus she contracted when she was about seven months old.

They take more work than disposables – but it isn’t much. You’ll need to wash them every second day, dry them and then put the inserts and outers back together again. It’s not exactly difficult. We often stuff the pockets in the evening while watching something on the laptop.

The washing and drying uses water and electricity, obviously,  so if either is in short supply they may not be a good option for you. (My sister-in-law had to use disposables because her house only had one water tank, which had to do their cooking, drinking and bathing needs as well.)

They need changing more often than disposables. The general consensus on disposables seems to be that they need changing every two hours, or straight after a poop. Cloth takes a bit more monitoring, as the absorbency of the insert is less than a disposable. It’s best to check and change wet nappies every hour – or you might end up with wet patches. And since cloth nappies don’t hold as much as disposables, they need more attention at night. Even with inserts doubled up, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to make it all the way to morning without a bum change. (Many cloth households, us included, choose to use disposables overnight for this reason.)Some people will tell you cloth causes nappy rash – which is a myth. Nappy rash of the kind meant here is entirely the result of a baby being left in a nappy too long without a change. It can happen to your kid no matter what nappy they wear. That being said, some babies are sensitive to the fabric on the skin side of the outer pocket, which can cause rashes. Of course, some babies are sensitive to the chemicals used in disposables, too. It depends on the individual child. So sweeping statements like “cloth nappies cause nappy rash” are neither accurate nor helpful. It’s no surprise that the best cure for nappy rash is lots of nappy-free time – no matter what the nappy is made of!                            

(By the way, if your child develops bad nappy rash while they’re teething, that’s a completely different thing again. Baby’s bile ducts gear up about the same time as teeth start to come in. This can cause an overload of acid in their system, which translates into nappy rash from hell. Try mixing liquid Mylanta and cornflour into a paste and using it as a rash cream – it could be the key to sweet relief for your tyke.)

You’ll need to use water based creams and such on your baby’s bum, as regular oil based creams can build up on the outer over time. This creates a barrier that lowers the absorbency of the nappy liner, and is quite difficult (if not impossible) to get rid of.

They can be hard to find. A lot of shops only stock the old fashioned square type – if they stock them at all. To find modern cloth nappies you’ll probably have to go online. There are more and more work at home mums and businesses providing them, though, so a quick Google search will give you plenty of options. Some WAHMs have stalls at craft markets, too, so they’re always worth a look.

The startup costs can lead to pocket shock. 25-30 cloth nappies (enough for about 3 days) will set you back anywhere between $100 & $500, depending on the type, brand and where you buy them from. I bought mine from eBay for $4 per nappy. They were Cheeky Munkies, a Chinese brand. Other brands, like Baby Beehinds, are more like $20 a nappy. That being said, cloth nappies tend to have good resale value, so you’ll be able to make some of that back at the end of your need for them. Not to mention all the money you save along the way!

Disposable Nappies
They’re easy. Let’s face it, a large part of disposables’ success is the fact that once you’ve taken the nappy off your kid’s behind, all you have to do is wrap it up and toss it in the garbage. No soaking, scraping poop off, hanging on the line – they’re sold on the concept of less work all round.

They’re expensive. Where I live, disposable nappies in newborn size cost about 26c – and that’s for the cheap brands. Huggies cost 32-35c each, depending where you buy them. Now, that may not sound like much – but multiply that by the 8-10 daily nappies a baby goes through, and suddenly you’re spending $2.08 a day (on the low end, remember) on a sophisticated poop trapping unit.

$2.08 a day times a month’s worth of nappies is $62.40. Extrapolate out to a year and you have – wait for it – $759.20 being spent on poop receptacles. And that’s for the cheapest, smallest size, bought in the biggest box you can get! Cloth nappies, on the other hand, can be bought for as little as $4 each, and last at least two or three years. Even at $500 for a start-up stash, you’re saving money.

They pack a big environmental impact. As I mentioned above, disposables take up a lot of landfill space. They’re also made out of environmentally questionable materials. Some people choose to avoid them altogether because of the chemicals used in the nappies themselves, as well as the manufacturing process.

Well, there you have it. My reasoning behind our choice to use cloth with the Chipmunk. Do you use cloth or disposables? How are your choices working for you?