Tuesday, May 22, 2012

How to Use Cloth Nappies {A South African Perspective}

When I mention to friends, family and acquaintances that I use cloth nappies with Jesse, they look at me with a mix of horror and pity. Cloth nappies in a South Africans mind bring up images of white terry cloth flats, with buckets of soaking pooh nappies in Steri Nappy (a bleach based product) and more. Times have changed, no longer are disposables more convenient, cloth nappies are just as convenient and easy to use, plus they are way cuter!

I have written previously on why you should be using cloth nappies for the sake of the planet and for the sake of your child's health, (and your sons fertility!) you can find those posts here and here.

Don't let the idea of cloth nappies fill you with dread, they really are simple once you get the hang of it, and I now love using them.
Jesse at 4 weeks old, wearing a Fuzzibunz One Size

To de-code a bit of the cloth nappy lingo:

  • Cover or shell - This is the waterproof layer, usually separate from the absorbent part.
  • Insert or soaker - The absorbent layer, usually made of microfiber, bamboo, cotton/hemp or cotton/fleece.
  • Booster or doubler - An extra insert usually used for night time.
  • One-size - A nappy that uses snaps to be made to grow with baby from birth to potty-training age.

This is a simplified list, for a more detailed list visit the following link:
Cloth Diapering Lingo: A List of Terms and Abbreviations at Authentic Parenting

Image credit : Bam+Boo Cloth Nappies

Different types of cloth nappies available:

These have the waterproof layer, and the absorbent soaker all in one. They are therefore as convenient as a disposable, and easy to launder, but do take a bit longer to dry.
Pocket nappy
My favourite, and by far the simplest to use. The waterproof cover has a pocket, which you slide an insert into - with varying absorbencies depending on need, a thicker one for night time use etc. Simple to launder, and quick drying.
Much like the all-in-one except the absorbent insert snaps into and out of the waterproof shell. This makes laundering easier, and you can change the insert to suit your needs or add a booster.
This is what our mothers used with us, the white terry cloth squares which needed to be folded, fastened and covered with a waterproof cover. The advantages of these are that they are economical, and laundering is a breeze as they clean really well, you can bleach them if needed (although not advised as it can ruin them) and they dry super quickly. There are better options than the old terry cloth ones too, they are now available in super soft and super absorbent bamboo.
These are flats which have been sewn into the folded shape. They have the same advantages of flats, and need to be worn with a waterproof cover.

This is a simplified list, for more info visit these links: 
Finding the perfect fit : Types of cloth diapers by The Peaceful Housewife at Job Description Mommy
Cloth Diapers, beyond pre-folds and pins at Fine and Fair
Choosing Your Cloth Diapers at Natural Parents Network
Choosing the Right Cloth Diaper: So Many Diapers, One Tiny Bum, at Natural Parents Network

Jesse at 9 months old

How to use cloth nappies

To make using cloth nappies as convenient as using disposables, you need to ensure you have enough of them. Most sources advise that you purchase 24 nappies, so that you don't need to wash every day. I couldn't afford to get this many in the beginning, (it is quite an investment in the beginning but well worth it, and it saves you so much in the long run) and I still don't have that many. We started with 10 Fuzzibunz one size nappies, which means they fit from a newborn to a toddler. They are pocket nappies, meaning they have an outer shell, and an inner soaker which you can change to suit your needs - a thicker one at night etc. Pocket nappies are the ultimate in convenience and fit, in my opinion, although I haven't tried very many other. The entire thing is thrown in the washing machine, and nothing could be simpler.
Having so few nappies has meant that we need to do a load of nappies every day, 10 nappies last us one day and one night. It has also meant that out loads of nappies have not been full loads, which is wasteful on energy and water. Furthermore, because our nappies are worn atleast once every day, they are starting to look worn after only 18 months, and a few of them are going to need to be replaced soon, whereas these nappies can easily last your childs whole nappywearing career, often lasting through a second or third child too.

So my advice is try to purchase as many as you can, no less than 10 and preferably closer to 24 nappies, or more would make life much easier. I also advise on buying one size nappies if budget is a problem. Or you can try your hand and winning some, I currently have two giveaways running where you can win cloth nappies, see the top right hand sidebar for current giveaways.

There are so many fabulous option out there when it comes to cloth nappies, such cute designs in bright colours or patterns, or cool neutrals if you prefer. If for no other reason, I advise on using cloth nappies just for the cute factor - there is nothing cuter that a baby in a brightly coloured, fitted cloth nappy!

Once you have received your cloth nappy stash, you cannot start using them straight away. To reach full absorbency, most nappy inners need to be washed as many as ten times (bamboo). Be sure to read the manufacturers instructions. 

Jesse at 10 months old

What else will you need?

Other than the nappies, there really isn't much more you need to start using cloth nappies successfully. I am going to devote a whole other post to the care and laundering of cloth nappies, but I can tell you here that you will need  a bucket with a lid or a plastic bin with a swing top to store dirty nappies in. Whether you use bin liners is up to you, I find it easier to rinse the bin out after emptying the contents into the washing machine every day.

You will also need to store your nappies somewhere, in a drawer or cupboard works fine. I have used an old fashioned nappy hanger in the past, which is great if you are short on space and I now simply store them in cute basket in my sons room.

Nappy liners are unnessecary when your baby is still breastfed only, and breastmilk pooh is water soluble and so washes out easily. Once baby is eating a bit more solid food, you may want to think about using bio-degradable nappy liners, wet ones can be placed on the compost heap and soiled ones thrown away or flushed down the loo. Or make your own, with this tutorial from Natural Parents Network.

If you are using cloth nappies, it makes sense to use cloth wipes too. I will devote a whole other post to this too, not that its complicated, but you can make your own and make your own wipe solution and I will share my recipe. So be sure to look out for it.

Many people also mistakenly believe that babies will suffer more cases of nappy rash in cloth nappies, this is not true, cloth nappies do not keep your baby as dry as disposables, and so need changing more often - but anyone who tells they they don't have time to change their baby's nappy gets no respect from me. The fact of the matter is that the makers of disposable nappies spend a lot of time and money finding a combination of chemicals to turn urine into dry crystals, this is fine but besides what effect the chemicals have on your baby (I go into this more in my previous post on why I chose cloth nappies) the urine is still there and the bacteria and ammonia are sitting against your baby's skin making nappy rash a constant problem.

Some say that you cannot use nappy rash creams with cloth nappies, which is not a problem. Either use a liner when your baby has a rash, or use cloth nappy safe rash creams. I chose to use liners whenever Jesse has had a rash, which is not often and only occurs if we havent for some reason rinsed the nappies enough. My favourite is the Pure Beginnings Baby Bum Balm, it clears up any rash within a day or so. South Africans seem to religiously apply Vaseline to baby's bum with every nappy change, this is totally unnecessary and in fact jeopardises the absorbency of both cloth and disposable nappies.

Many people opt to go for cloth nappies only during the day, and disposables at night. This is how I started out. I quickly decided that I might as well go the whole hog, and haven't looked back since. There are boosters that can be inserted in pocket nappies, which are extra thick for night time use, or you can double up on them. There are also nappies made especially for night time. I have not experienced a single leak, at all with Jesse.

For even more information, check out the following links from a few of my favourite sources: 
16 Months of Cloth from That Mama Gretchen, where she discusses her stash, her wash routine and the investment.
Cloth Diaper Care by The Peaceful Housewife at Job Description Mommy
Troubleshooting Cloth Diaper Leaks by Hybrid Rasta Mama at Job Description Mommy
Cloth diapering basics at Fine and Fair
Cloth diaper laundry at Fine and Fair
Travelling with cloth at Fine and Fair
The Best Cloth Backups for Elimination Communication
Common Myths About Real Nappies at Diary of a First Child
Adventures in Cloth Nappies - Part 3 at Diary of a First Child


  1. Thanks for promoting cloth nappies/diapers. I live in the USA. I lived with a family for a few years during that time they had a baby which do to finances we cloth diapered. Even though we made all of the diapers I found that in the long run they are just as easy to use as disposables diapers. My brother who I live close to now uses Disposable diapers and I am over to his house a lot. I help him out with child care and this is what I have found no matter what brand of disposable he is using they tend to leak both urine and poop if the little one isn't changed pronto. Then I was their and I watched him get his son ready for bed and he put two disposable diapers on his son so that they wouldn't leak. When I was dealing with the cloth every single day I didn't have the problem with them leaking except very rarely. I never had to put 2 diapers on the child because I could adjust the absorbency. Since I moved out my friend uses cloth 90% of the time because she has a little bit of a harder time keeping up with the sewing new ones since her son grew out of the ones I had made. I love All in 2, because they take up less space. But every child and parent has different needs.

    1. Hi Stephanie
      I agree, not only are cloth nappies better for babies and the environment, they work better too... no blow-outs etc.
      I agree, one needs to find the best nappy to suit your needs... personally I love pocket diapers as they are just so easy to use :)

  2. Hi there! Thank you for linking up your new giveaway at SMS Nonfiction Book Reviews. I don't know if you heard of my blog because of it or not but I see you are friends with the author of For My Children which I just got for review. Thanks for visiting!

    1. Hi there
      Thanks for popping by... I didn't actually find your site through Dionna, I found it through google, lol. But what a small world the internet makes ;)

  3. hi Christine,

    thanks for a really interesting article... i totally agree that i wish more ppl in SA were open to the benefits of cloth nappies :) so good for the environment and our baba's!

    i'm interested as to how you started with fuzzibunz, as i can't see an SA retailer for that brand? and also if you're nearing the time to purchase some more nappies to add to your stash i wanted to ask if you were thinking of staying with the same brand or if you might try one of the local brands this time, like the ones you reviewed perhaps?

    the reason i'm asking is because unlike you i have a 'heavy wetter' (you are SO lucky!!) and so i've had to try out a couple of different brands to try find one that would last long enough to keep Matt dry for at least 2 hours... i've ended up finding that the mother nature nappies seem to be most absorbent for him and now it's a decision between whether to go with the AIO or the nature nappy...

    well, thanks for some interesting points and i look forward to your post on the homemade wipe solution!!

    take care,

    1. Hi Michelle
      So great to hear from another SA cloth nappier :)
      My sister actually brought the Fuzzibunz nappies over from the UK, I did a bit of research and loved their design and features... and I haven't looked back. They are by far the superior cloth nappy, in my opinion ;) In fact I am importing them into the country now, for more info email me at christine{at}africanbabiesdontcry.com, they would suit your heavy wetter as you can double stuff them.
      With the Mother Nature nappies, I have only used the AIO, so Im not sure about the nature nappies, why not just buy one to try?
      Good luck, and I hope you find the perfect nappy for your needs :)

  4. Hi Christine

    So nice to see a mom who has similar beliefs to mine! Although I am in Cape Town, bugger! I have a blog too where I discuss natural parenting. Check it out if you have a chance at:


    I review nappies available in SA every friday "Fluffy friday" and would love to review a Fuzzibunz as I've read a lot of reviews on them but never knew there was someone selling them here!

    Will be posting your blog on my Facebook page!

    1. Hi Shay

      Fantastic to 'meet' another natural SA mom! Your blog is lovely, and I will definitely contact you re reviewing fuzzibunz... you will love them! :)


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