Getting Started with Washable Nappies

Getting started with washable nappies.
If you haven’t used them before, washable nappies can seem very daunting. Don’t worry, you’ll soon get the hang of it. Here is our beginners guide to washable nappies.

Component parts

The NAPPY provides the absorbency. It can be either SHAPED or FLAT (for you to fold as appropriate).

The WRAP or pant is the waterproof outer, which stops clothing getting wet.

Inside the nappy, you can have a LINER, which is designed to catch the poo while urine passes through to the nappy. Liners can be disposable or flushable. They are not theoretically essential, but make dealing with real nappies much easier.

For sleeping through the night, you might need extra absorbency for the nappy, in the form of a BOOSTER. Some boosters have a fleece top, so they have the liner built in. Some children need no boosting at all, whilst very heavy wetters might need boosting on day nappies as well as night nappies.

Types of Washable nappy

There are three main types of cloth nappy.

In an ALL IN ONE nappy, the nappy and wrap parts are built together into one item.

A TWO PIECE nappy system means there is a separate nappy and wrap.

Finally, a HYBRID nappy is a two piece nappy which can be put together beforehand to act like a kind of pseudo-all in one – like the Itti Bitti D’lish.

A nappy system can be SIZED, in which case there will be two or maybe three sizes from birth to toilet training, or a BIRTH TO TODDLER (also known as ONE SIZE), in which case there is only one size of nappy, although there will normally be more sizes for the wrap.

Modern cloth nappies are shaped like disposables and come with simple fastenings – Velcro, poppers or Nappi Nippas (rubber grips that have replaced safety pins). Terry squares are still very popular for those with a limited budget. There are so many different nappies available it is essential to get sound advice and if possible you should always try a single nappy and wrap to ensure you are happy with it before purchasing a full system.


Generally speaking a two piece nappy system is more reliable (i.e. you will get less leaks), and the following information is based on such a system. When putting a nappy on a baby, working from the outside in you will have a wrap, the nappy itself and a liner.

You will need to change the nappy every 2 to 4 hours depending on your babies age and how heavy a wetter they are – most young babies go through 6 nappies per day, excluding night changes, this usually drops to around 4 nappies per day from 6 months onwards.

When changing the nappy undo the wrap and the nappy itself, clean the entire nappy area and replace the wet/soiled nappy and liner with clean ones. You then put the same wrap back on unless it is soiled, or after 12 hours use. Paper liners can be flushed down the toilet if soiled, or if only wet can be washed with the nappies and re-used a couple of times before going into the paper recycling.

The dirty nappy should be swilled out in the toilet or sink, wring out any excess wetness and then place it in the nappy bucket. You can soak your nappies if you wish, but this is by no means essential and many people these days prefer to dry pail their nappies.

Washing the nappies

When you are ready to put a wash on simply place the nappies in your washing machine (a nappy mesh makes this operation very quick and easy), with half the recommended amount of powder for the load and run a 60 degree wash. Do not use fabric conditioner as this will coat the fibres and affect absorbency over time.

The amount of powder you use is the crucial factor here, it is very important not to use too much as it will build up in the fabric of the nappies and can then cause skin sensitivity.

The two most common misconceptions are that you have to soak your nappies and that you can’t possibly use cloth nappies without a tumble dryer. Modern cloth nappies dry very quickly – there is even a polyester nappy that comes out of the washing machine virtually dry! Given that many mums choose cloth nappies for environmental reasons, regular tumble drying really isn’t an option.

Remember, if you use cloth nappies you will be getting less leaks, so your volume of washing is, if anything likely to decrease – I know this is hard to believe, but it really is true, if you don’t believe me, try a cloth nappy out for yourself and see… but make sure you get good advice first!

Washable Nappies FAQ questions and answers

Washable Nappies – questions and answers
We get asked a lot of questions about washable nappies, so we thought we would put the most frequently asked questions together for you. If you have another question, please ask us, we’re here to help! If you have any words of wisdom for other mums, please leave your comments below.

Is my baby more likely to get nappy rash?
The type of nappy used is not a significant factor in nappy rash. Nappy rash is caused when a wet, or soiled nappy, is left on for too long, but can also be caused by some illnesses or with weaning. Nappies should be changed after every feed and sleep and as soon as they are wet or soiled – regardless of what sort of nappy is used. Fresh air is important too – let babies go bare as much as possible!

Do real nappies leak?
All nappies (including disposables) leak at some point. Make sure that the nappy is the correct size – fitting well at the waist and legs and that no part of the cloth is poking out of the wrap.

Isn’t there a lot more washing?
With a baby there is always a lot more washing. Wet nappies can be added to the rest of the household washing, so there is no need for extra piles to build up in buckets. Alternatively, you can opt for the convenience of a nappy laundry service.

Don’t they take up a lot of time?
They will take longer than disposables at first, but you will speed up as you become used to them. However, if you look at changing nappies in the same way as you would changing your baby’s clothes, it is not ‘wasted’ time. It may also help you develop your skills in observing your baby’s health and behaviour.

Are real nappies really better for the environment?
Definitely. Washables are not being sent to landfill at a rate of 8 million a day in the UK. If you care for them in the recommended way you will also be reducing your nappy carbon footprint by a significantly large amount.

Can nurseries and childminders use them?
They can, and some do. There are no health and safety issues, but many are not confident with them yet and may have (perhaps unfounded) concerns. However, it is always worth asking, especially if you are happy to take your nappies away with you.

Can I use them on newborn babies?
Yes. Some wraps are specially designed with a low cut front to accommodate the navel.

Can I use them at night?
Yes. You can use booster pads for extra absorbency and may find you prefer a different style of wrap and nappy from those that you use during the day.

Don’t real nappies cost a lot to start with?
There is an initial outlay , but you can save hundreds of pounds in the long run. You can use them on a second child and buy used nappies through Real Nappy Exchanges. Using a laundry service spreads the cost.

My wraps are leaking, are they faulty?
Probably not. While it’s not inconceivable that a wrap may have faulty stitching or be made from sub-standard fabric it is very very rare. We have faith in all the products we sell but not all nappies and wraps suit all babies. If you find that a wrap seems to be leaking before the nappy is wet through it is more likely to be an issue with how it fits. If your baby is at either end of the weight range for the wrap it is most likely that the wrap is either too big and wet is able to escape from the legs or waist, or that the wrap is getting a bit too snug and wet is being forced out through the bindings. It is also very important to make sure that all the nappy is tucked well inside the wrap to avoid wicking from the nappy onto clothes.

What’s best, poppers, velcro/aplix or a nappi nippa?
No one can answer that question but you! It is mainly a question of personal preference, however, as a general rule nappies that fasten with a nappy nippa are the most adjustable. Velcro/aplix fastening nappies can only be fastened where the aplix strip allows and popper fastening nappies restrict you to the popper positions so it may seem like your baby is ‘between poppers’ from time to time.

What do I use white vinegar for?
White (or distilled) vinegar can be used instead of fabric conditioner to help keep your nappies soft. This is especially helpful if you live in a hard water area. Use a generous ’slug’ in the fabric softener drawer of your washing machine.

Do I need to use a special washing powder?
No, we recommend that you use a non-bio detergent as biological products contain enzymes that are much more likely to trigger a skin reaction but any non-bio will do. Use about half the amount of powder/liquid recommended as terry fabric produces lots of lather and using too much detergent will quickly cause a problematic build up.

My nappies are getting stained, how can I get them back to pristine white?
We don’t recommend using harsh bleaching products on nappies that have elastic or aplix (or ever on wraps!) as these will deteriorate or perish over time. The best way to get rid of stains is to hang your nappies outside in bright daylight – sun if it’s possible but it isn’t essential – or if you don’t have any outside space to do this put a clothes airer in front of a bright window and the stains should fade over the course of a few hours. Doing this regularly will keep stains to a minimum and keep your nappies looking nice and white.

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