How to choose reusable nappies - types of nappies
An explanantion of the different types of nappies
With so many types of cloth nappies available, and prices varying from £5 to £25, how on earth do you choose which ones to buy?
Here are a few things to consider:
The absorbent part of nappies is usually made of polyester microfibre, bamboo rayon or cotton. Occasionally hemp or silk is used.
- Polyester microfibre fabric acts like a sponge and absorbs lots of liquid very quickly but, like a sponge, the liquid comes out easily when the fabric is squeezed. This means microfibre nappies, inserts and boosters come out of the washing machine nearly dry and it only takes a couple of hours for them to dry completely, even when hung up indoors. Unfortunately, the liquid also comes out of the nappy if it is squeezed by sitting on it or by fastening a tight buggy strap over it. This is generally called "compression leaks" and it's a real problem with many microfibre nappies, especially cheap ones. A microfibre nappy will usually leak after 2-3 hours use. It means that microfibre nappies work best on very young babies, where the nappy has to be changed very frequently anyway, and the speed of drying is a huge advantage. Microfibre nappies tend to be very bulky compared to those made from natural fabrics. Another downside of microfibre nappies is that microfibre is effectively a type of plastic. When the nappies are washed, they shed tiny filaments into the waste water, which are not biodegradable and so end up in rivers and the sea. Note that Bambino MioSolo all-in-one nappies are made of polyester microfibre.
- Bamboo rayon is also a highly absorbent fabric and, because liquid is absorbed actually into the fibres rather than the space between the fibres, the wetness is much more effectively trapped in the fabric. Whilst this makes the nappy much less prone to compression leaks, it also makes it much slower to dry after washing. Bamboo is therefore excellent for nappies for older babies and night-time use, long car journeys and so on, where long lasting absorbency is crucial. A good bamboo nappy should last at least 4 hours - longer if extra boosters are added. If a nappy is constructed of layers of bamboo fabric that can be separated for washing and drying, it should not take too long to dry. A lot of modern nappies are made of a "microfibre sandwich" - two layers of bamboo rayon fabric on the outside with a layer or two of microfibre in between, which aims to combine the best features of both fabrics. This arrangement hopefully stops the microfibre shedding bits into the washing water. All TotsBots and Baba+Boo nappies are made of this kind of "microfibre sandwich".
- Cotton is similar to bamboo in both absorbency and drying time. It is more popular in the USA than in Europe, probably because the cotton is grown in the USA. Bamboo fabric is said to be better environmentally than cotton because a lot of water and pesticides are needed to grow cotton. Cotton nappies are prone to going rather crunchy after repeated washing in hard water - and Oxford water is very hard. Organic cotton nappies are available from LittleLambs.
- Hemp is increasingly being used to make nappies. It is even more absorbent (and even slower to dry) than bamboo rayon and cotton and so is useful for night-time nappies or nappies for babies who are "heavy wetters". It is mostly used to make boosters that can be added to any nappy for extra absorbency.
2) Style of nappy.
The main types of cloth nappies are pocket nappies, all-in-ones, all-in-twos, two-part nappies and flat nappies.
- Pocket nappies consist of a waterproof outer shell lined with soft polyester fleece. In between these layers is a pocket which is stuffed with absorbent inserts (also called boosters) made of microfibre, bamboo, cotton, hemp or a mixture of fabrics. There may be one big booster (that is folded to make several layers of absorbency) or there may be several separate boosters. The fleece lining keeps the baby's skin dry while the inserts absorb the urine. The inserts are removed when the nappy is washed, and unfolded or separated to speed drying. Examples of pocket nappies include LittleLamb pocket nappies, Baba+Boo, Ecopipo, Bumgenius V4, Charlie Banana and hundreds of cheap Chinese imports.
- All-in-one nappies also have a waterproof outer shell but the absorbent part of the nappy is permanently attached to the waterproof layer and does not remove completely for washing and drying. Most of the all-in-one nappies that are currently available are actually a sort of pocket nappy where the insert is attached to the outside but part of it tucks into a pocket and can be unfolded to speed drying. They generally have the option of extra boosters that can be attached or inserted to increase absorbency. Examples of all-in-one nappies include TotsBots Easyfit, Bambino Miosolo, Motherease Uno and Bumgenius Elementals. All-in-one nappies are mostly made of a mixture of fabrics to try to maximize absorbency and minimise drying time. Bamboo all-in-ones can be very slow to dry.
- All-in-Two nappies have an absorbent part that snaps or poppers into a special waterproof cover. The waterproof cover is not in direct contact with the baby and shouldn't need changing at every nappy change - the wet or dirty inner nappy is removed and a fresh one snapped into place - so you need more inner nappies than outer covers. The inner part may be made of microfibre, bamboo or cotton. Examples of All-in-Two nappies include TotsBots Peenut, Close Pop-ins and Motherease Duo.
- Two-part nappies have a separate waterproof cover and absorbent inner nappy. The waterproof cover is called a Wrap and the absorbent inner nappy is called a fitted nappy, a shaped nappy or a night-time nappy (or just a nappy). Any wrap can be used with any nappy and you will need much fewer wraps than nappies. These nappies can be of microfibre, bamboo or cotton and are the most absorbent and bomb-proof of all nappies, but the bamboo ones can be slow to dry. Microfibre two-part nappies are good on very young babies because they give great containment and are quick to dry. On an older baby a bamboo two-part, with an extra bamboo booster, will usually last all night but takes ages to dry after washing. If you choose to use bamboo or cotton two-part nappies all the time, you will need a lot of them because of the time they take to dry and, if you choose to use microfibre two-part nappies all the time, you will need a lot because they will need frequent changing. There are lots of sorts of two-part nappies including LittleLambs fitted nappies, TotsBots Bamboozles, Bambinex, Motherease One-size and Sandy's diapers and Easy-Peasy Bimbles and Bumbles.
- Flat nappies are flat pieces of fabric that are folded and wrapped round the baby and secured with a pin or Nappi Nippa or just held in place with a wrap. They may be a traditional Terry Square (an old-fashioned English-style piece of terry towelling) or a Pre-fold (an American-style square of folded and stitched muslin). Either works quite well with a really good wrap and are the cheapest cloth nappy options. A pre-fold is neater and slimmer-looking but a terry square works better, especially on older babies. On a big baby, a pre-fold is not big enough to fasten around the baby, but is just held in place by the wrap, so it may not stay put very well. Pre-folds are quite neat on tiny babies but the containment is not great so "Poo-namis" may be an issue! A terry square is bigger than a pre-fold so, though it does the job well, it looks a bit hilarious on a tiny baby but, by changing the way it is folded, the same nappy fits big babies and toddlers with no difficulty. Terry squares are highly effective if you don't mind the traditional big-bottomed look! They are usually made of 100% cotton but bamboo and cotton ones are also available. They are easy to wash, dry quickly and the cotton ones can be boiled if desired. On a tiny baby, you can use a muslin square as a nappy but these are nor thick enough or absorbent enough on bigger babies. There's more information about the different types of inexpensive flat nappies, and how to use them, on the page about nappies for newborns.
3) Range of sizes.
Many nappies are "one-size-fits-all" or "birth-to-potty" and some come in different sizes for different sized babies.
- With one-size nappies (also called OSFA, BTP, one-size-fits-most etc.) you only need to buy one set of nappies for the whole time your baby is wearing nappies. This saves you money and is better for the environment because fewer raw materials and less energy is used in manufacture of fewer nappies. Most adjust to fit by means of poppers on the front of the nappy but a few adjust at the leg elastic. The downside is that they may not fit very small babies or very chunky babies and the fit is not as neat and tidy as with a sized nappy. Generally speaking, one-size nappies don't fit newborn babies because they are so tiny and their legs are so skinny, but will fit from a few weeks old. Examples of OSFA nappies include TotsBots Easyfit, Peenuts and size 2 Bamboozles, Baba+Boo pocket nappies, Bambino MioSolo, LittleLamb one-size pocket nappies, BumGenius, Close Pop-ins and Ecopipo. And many many more!
- Sized nappies give a much neater fit and often perform better as a result but it is obviously more expensive to buy several sets of nappies. Pocket and all-in-one nappies are mostly one-size-fits-all (birth-to-potty) but many fitted two-part nappies and wraps are sized - but usually two sizes will see you through the nappy wearing period. You may find you need a few toddler-sized nappies for the last few months of nappy wearing, when your big baby is out of nappies by day but still wears them at night, even if you buy birth-to-potty nappies. Examples of sized nappies include Bambinex nappies, LittleLamb fitted nappies and sized pocket nappies and Motherease Sandy's nappies. (Most Motherease nappies now come in One-size versions.) The sizing systems are different for different brands of nappy and there is no relationship between the sizes of cloth nappies and the sizes of disposables. Most sized cloth nappies come in just 2 or 3 sizes to cover ages 0-3 years.
- There are quite a lot of newborn-sized nappies available that can be used on babies who are too small for birth-to-potty nappies, including Baba+Boo Newborn, Close Pop-in Newborn, Ecopipo Newborn, EasyPeasy Bimbles, TotsBots Teenyfit and size 1 Bamboozles. Some brands of newborn nappies are extremely tiny (e.g. Close Pop-in Newborn and Teenyfits) and will fit even the smallest newborn babies but will only fit most babies for a few weeks, while others (e.g. Baba+Boo, Ecopipo and Bamboozles) will fit from birth to about 5 months. Many people just use disposables until their baby is big enough for BTP nappies - which may be at anything from 2 weeks to 2 months. (See the separate page about nappies for newborns.)