What I've learned in three years of cloth diapering

I chose to clothe my son in washable cloth nappies way before he was born, and much for the same reasons most people probably do: I was conscious of the environmental (ie, waste) factors, wanted to save money, and wanted to feel good/right about what I was doing.

And heading into what is probably the last stretch of using cloth diapers now, three years in, here's what I've learned.

Cloth diapering has been totally worth it. If given a second chance, I would do it again. 
The Kid at a few months old

Having said that, cloth diapers do have their drawbacks - just as disposable nappies have theirs - so it's a balance of finding what's right for each person's own circumstances, and should be treated as such. For me - us - it worked because:

1) it saved us loads of money (because nappies themselves cost way less, and because we had less trash to pay for),
2) it allowed us to feel good about not producing the amount of trash disposable nappies do,
3) cloth nappies were kinder on The Kid's skin, and
4) they did not feel like too much work once we had our "nappy routine" going.

We ended up using a variety of nappies, and although we started with about 15, in the end we accumulated about 25 sets. They were mostly of Baby Cheeks brand, plus a few TotsBots, and then - over time - I accumulated a variety of brandless, "old school" cotton diapers I picked up from op-shops.

To me, a perfect nappy is something that:

1) comes with plastic snaps, and not velcro! As much as I've tried being careful with how I fasten the nappy, velcro fasteners occasionally end up leaving abrasions on The Kid's tummy or thighs if the nappy has shifted whilst he's been wearing it - the more so the more active he has become - and when it does it takes several days to heal. (The Man has outright refused putting nappies that have velcro on The Kid because he never seems to be able to do it in a way that wouldn't scratch The Kid's skin.) In fact, all of our nappies that (originally) had velcro for fasteners, I have cut velcro off and replaced it with buttons.

2) is adjustable not only around the tummy, but around the legs, too. Baby Cheeks adjust by stretchy ribbons inside legsholes, TotsBots by folding down the front and fastening it with plastic snaps.

3) comes as a separate inner nappy (for soaking up stuff) and outer nappy (which is waterproof, or at least leak-resistant). A lot of the nappies are so-called all-in-ones, meaning, the nappy in sewn together so that is has an absorbent inside and a waterproof outside - but, guys, and let's be totally honest here, after three years of sending nappies through a washing cycle every two or three days, I really don't think there even exists a fabric that will stay waterproof after going through the washing machine a hundred - or three hundred - times. I just don't believe there is a fabric that is capable of doing that! The simple truth is that fabrics wear down with time, and so do their waterproofing qualities, so nappies that had a waterproof layer for the first few months won't stay waterproof forever.

We have started putting TotsBots outer layers (they are not all-in-ones, so they have a separate inside and separate outside) around our Baby Cheeks nappies (which are all-in-ones) because Baby Cheeks can't handle it any more - plastic coating has lifted over time and so if left to their own devices, they leak. Because outer layers can be re-used several times before they need a wash (only inside layers need to get changed every time), they stay leak-proof longer.

4) comes with a leak-proof outer layer. To continue from the previous point, in the last year I have discovered old school wool covers which aren't - on their own - waterproof, but because they soak up anything that may have come through the inside, absorbent layer, then they essentially make the nappy leak-proof. Do they get stinky? Actually, no - they just get changed every day and that's that. Easy! But they don't really work in hot summer weather because they're, well... warm. Very warm.

5) has a bamboo blend inside fabric, like TotsBots, and not fleece. Over the many, many, many washes, fleece fabric loses absorbency because it wears out - becomes thin - and depending on what sort of washing powder is used, it can also get blocked (apparently that is especially true with so-called eco-friendly washing powders). Bamboo and cotton do wear down over time, but they don't lose their texture like fleece does. Also, fleece gets more sweaty.

So I could probably say that if a nappy...

1) was built like Baby Cheeks, with stretchy ribbons inside leg holes and plastic snaps for tummy,
2) came in two separate layers - absorbent inside and leakproof outside,
3) had bamboo fabric for inside absorbency,
4) had a variety of outer layers, some plastic coated and some made of wool,

...then it would be my perfect nappy.

Unfortunately, as far as I know, Baby Cheeks holds a patent on their pattern so unless they decide to change their layering and fabric choices, my perfect nappy won't exist for another 20 years or so - unless I make it myself, at home.

The Kid at a year and a bit - crawling

When I look at the variety of cloth nappies available today, it doesn't surprise me why the marketing is done in a way that it's done, and why the nappies that are popular are... popular.
Classic view during rainy season -
nappies hanging inside

Three years ago when I was first choosing what nappies to buy for my child, I, too, was wanting something that looked elegantly simple (ie, all-in-one), came in lovely colors or prints, and was affordable though not necessarily dirt-cheap.

Now, almost three years in, nappies are just functional items to me, and not much more: I want them to work and to be leak-free, and not much else. Colors? Prints? Well... I really. Don't. Care. Heck, several of the hand-me-down nappies The Kid is wearing are pink, for Pete's sake, and The Kid is very clearly a boy.

Some of the nappy choices I would be making now - now that I've used them a lot - would've probably scared me back then, three years ago, when all I had was people's opinions and no personal experience. For example, it's only in the last year that I've finally figured out how to use those real old school "folded" nappies - basically a sheet of cotton that is about the size of a kitchen towel which is then folded into a "nappy shape" - but they aren't actually that difficult!

And! I dare you to show me a single modern nappy which can compete with those "old school" buggers - folded nappies - in being adjustable and leakproof. Try me!
And during dry weather - outside!

So all in all, I would probably say that whatever cloth nappy you are using, they all have their plus-sides and their drawbacks, and most of these will probably reveal themselves in practice, after months and months and months of changing and washing and drying, so rather than go through a massive headache of trying to decide which brand to buy - and dear God, there are so many people out there ready to say what is right and what is wrong, and most of them disagree with each other - I would say that just buy a dozen or so, doesn't really matter what type exactly (maybe even get two or three different ones, though not too many because then it could be outright frightening and confusing, trying to figure them out, and that's not cool), and then as time goes by you will know what it is you like and what sucks.

And if you want some suggestions on articles that are helpful then here's a few of my suggestions:

And if you have any questions, shoot away in comments. I'm happy to help.

PS. The Man is asking that I add here: what works for a baby (who lays down most of the time) may not necessarily work for a toddler (who runs around a lot), so just as a child develops, so may the nappy needs change.


  1. Hei,

    kas ma võin seda postitust FBs oma riidest mähkmete lehel jagada?

    1. minugipoolest. väga viisakas, et üldse küsid :P