introduction to the different types of cloth nappies

ALL-IN-ONE NAPPIES

In this type of nappy, the absorbent part is permanently attached to the waterproof cover and cannot be removed for washing and drying.  A lot of all-in-one nappies 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.  Another style has a pad, made of many layers of fabric, attached at both ends to the outer cover.

All-in-one nappies mostly have the option of extra boosters that can be attached or inserted to increase absorbency. They are usually made of a mixture of fabrics to try to maximize absorbency and minimise drying time.  Bamboo all-in-ones can be very very slow to dry.  All-in-one nappies where the entire absorbent part is stitched down to the cover can be impossibly slow to dry and are to be avoided.

Examples of all-in-one nappies include TotsBots Easyfit, Bambino MioSolo, Motherease Uno, TickleTots All-in-One, HippyNut Wholenut, LittleLoveBum Everyday and Bumgenius Elementals.

Advantages: Very easy to use - no pockets to stuff, no bits to lose.

Disadvantages:  Often very slow to dry.  May not get washed efficiently, as the cover can wrap round the insides in the wash. Inserts can't be washed or tumble dried separately from the more delicate waterproof cover.  Covers are often the first bit to wear out and then the whole nappy is useless.

POCKET Nappies

These 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  Baba+Boo, LittleLamb pocket nappies, Ecopipo, Bumgenius V4, Charlie Banana, Pepi, Modern Cloth Nappies, Alva Baby and lots of cheap Chinese imports.  The best pocket nappies have either double leg gussets or extra rows of stitching inside to help contain everything baby throws at it.

Advantages of pocket nappies:  Easy to wash and quick to dry. Inserts can be tumble dried separately from the covers.  Lining stays dry next to baby's skin.  Once they've been stuffed, they're easy to use so fine for childcare settings.

Disadvantages: Some people find stuffing the pockets is a bit of a faff.

All-in-two nappies

These have an absorbent part that snaps or poppers into a special waterproof cover. In a true all-in-two nappy, 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) but  a lot of all-in-two nappies actually have some absorbency in the cover and so the whole lot has to be changed every time. The inner part may be made of microfibre, bamboo, cotton or a mixture.

Examples of All-in-Two nappies include Close Pop-ins, TotsBots Peenut, TickleTots2 , Bear Botts All-in-two, Thirties Duo and Motherease Duo. 

Advantages of all-in-two nappies: Easy to wash and quick to dry but no pockets to stuff. With some versions, you may be able to popper a fresh insert the wrap if not soiled and so need fewer wraps. 

Disadvantages: Containment not great unless the inserts has elasticated sides (like the Close Pop-in does).  Inserts may get very wet next to baby's skin unless they have a stay-dry surface.  Some brands are a bit fiddly to set up and use.

An increasing number of nappies are available now which can be used as either a pocket nappy or an all-in-two. They have a pocket that the inserts can be stuffed into, or the inserts can be snapped into the same cover - for people who hate stuffing nappies.  The LittleLoveBum "Popper and Pocket" and HippyNut "Pocket Hybrid" nappies are like this.

TWO part Nappies

Also called fitted, shaped or a night-time nappies, these nappies have a separate waterproof cover, called a wrap.  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.

Advantages : Very absorbent (if made of a natural fabric) and fantastic containment. Very durable - will do numerous children. If the waterproofing fails, you can just buy a new wrap - the nappy is still fine. 

Disadvantages: Bamboo, hemp or cotton ones are slow to dry and can be bulky.  Two stages to putting it on.

traditional flat nappies

There are three types of flat nappies: terry squares, muslins and prefolds.  All of them are cheap to buy, easy to wash and quick to dry.  They all need some kind of waterproof cover or wrap on top.  Getting a good fit is a bit of a knack but, once you've mastered it, you'll wonder why more people don't use this sort of nappy.  They can either be folded into a pad that's held in place by the wrap, or fastened with a Nappi Nippa.

Terry squares are squares of terry towelling neatly hemmed so they're smooth and flat right to the edge. They are usually made of cotton but bamboo+cotton ones are increasingly available.  They're usually 70cm square but 60cm ones (for tiny babies) and 80 cm ones (for toddlers) are also available.  This is the sort of nappy used on almost all babies until disposables became the norm.  If you're British and  wore nappies as a baby, it will have been these.  They are extremely effective.  The cotton ones are very robust and can be soaked, boiled, bleached and hung on radiators to dry.  The ones with bamboo in are more delicate and can't be washed hotter than 60C.

Muslin nappies are squares of thin muslin fabric.  They are usually made of cotton and come in pretty colours as well as white.  They are bigger but much thinner and less absorbent than terries, but can work well on a very tiny baby.  They are mostly used as general mopping-up cloths - great to put over your shoulder before burping a baby.  In the USA, before the disposable era, they traditionally used huge muslin nappies which were folded many times before wrapping round the baby.  British ones are smaller and you may need to use two at once for adequate absorbency.  

Prefolds are more of an American invention.  They are basically a massive sheet of thin cotton that has been folded and stitched into a managable-sized square - hence the name.  They have a panel down the middle with extra layers of fabric.  If you use a nappy laundering service, you will have to use prefolds.

See the page about nappies for newborns for ideas of how to fold flat nappies.

Advantages of flat nappies: Very cheap to buy, very easy to wash and quick to dry, and the pure cotton sort are almost indestructable - you will be able to use the same nappies on several babies.  Terry squares are extremely absorbent and good for night-time.  Muslin nappies are useful for all sorts of purposes as well as making nice nappies for newborns who need frequent nappy changes.

Disadvatages:  You have to learn how to fold them.  Containment is not great unless folded well. Terry squares are quite bulky.  Muslin nappies are not very absorbent.