in one end and out the other: cloth nappies six months on

DSC04133 I admit that this article a little bit of an apologetic for the humble cloth nappy. So many times I hear that it’s too much of a hassle to use cloth nappies, that it’s too time consuming. That it’s too hard. So I’m writing in defence of the cloth nappy.

Apparently, Australians go through 800 million disposable nappies per year, producing 145,000 cubic metres of landfill. Not only do disposables present a problem at well, disposal, there is the pollution caused from manufacturing the plastic (a crude oil by-product) and the endless shipping to a household near you.

Six months on, and we’re still using and washing our terry flats. Yes, we use water and our detergent (homemade) ends up in the water ways. It’s not perfectly environmental, but a lot better than disposables.

If you’re considering using cloth nappies, but thinking there is too much time and effort involved, I thought I would share with you our nappy system and just how long it takes to wash nappies.

Honestly, it doesn’t take much more time and effort to wash cloth nappies than it does to throw out disposables, especially if you consider the extra time spent having to go out and buy disposables. Which brings me to the savings. We calculated that we would save around $2,000 in one year by using cloth nappies instead of disposables.

Our nappy system, timed

  • We have 22 terry flat nappies and 4 modern nappies with boosters for night time. Terry flats dry in 24 hours maximum on the worst weather days or within a couple of hours on a sunny day. No need for a dryer. Best place to hang them for us on wet days is in the garage on a line strung over the bonnet of the car. The heat from the engine when DH gets home from work dries them in no time. Actually, as an aside, the bonnet of the car after it’s just got home is a nice place to warm your bath towel or jammies for bed time.
  • We have a nappy bucket in the laundry tub to soak the nappies in. We use regular old nappy soaker to soak them.
  • We also have a regular 80c bucket upstairs in the little fella’s room to put used nappies in. That gets carried down stairs at nap time or play time so there are usually two or three nappies to throw in the soaker bucket. Total time to throw nappies into soak: 20 seconds – 1 minute (depending on whether I have to add water and soaker also) about 3 times a day.
  • We do use liners in the nappies to help with poo disposal. I have an old frozen vegetable bag or flour bag or whatever is empty, sitting in the laundry to dispose of the liners and wipes. I know, not entirely environmental, but I think the liners are biodegradable. These get put in the bag at the same time the nappies are put on to soak. Time: no extra.
  • About once a day I wash the nappies. Cold water wash with a little homemade detergent is all it takes. I add a little eucalyptus oil to the final rinse to freshen them but it’s not necessary. The nappy soaker takes care of sanitising the nappies, but if you can hang them in sunlight, there is nothing like the sanitising effect of the sun. Total time to transfer the nappies from the bucket to the washing machine and throw in a bit of detergent: 1 minute.
  • If you want to wash less often than once a day, you will not only need more nappies, but also another bucket to soak them in. I’m hard pressed to fit more than 12 nappies in the bucket.
  • I hang the nappies on an airer and transfer it outside into the sun. That way if it rains, we can whip the whole airer inside without any mucking around. Hanging the washing is a nice time actually, because the little fella plays outside on a rug and gets a bit of fresh air and Vitamin D. Either that or I wash the nappies at night and hang them on the airer right beside the washing machine. Either way, total time to hang nappies: 2 minutes.
  • If we could be bothered, we fold the nappies, but often they end up in a pile next to where we change the little fella. After all, he goes through them so quickly. If we do fold the nappies, it takes about 2 minute.
  • We use chux type cloths for wipes, cutting them up into small squares. One packet lasts two months and it takes about 15 minutes to cut up all the squares. I have tried washing the chux and reusing them. They last about two washes before not being able to do their job.

I could probably have a load of nappies on to wash in the time it would take me to walk to the otto bin, which would be the alternative procedure had we opted for disposables. In fact, with the soaking and the folding and the washing, we would spend less than 10 minutes a day dealing with dirty nappies. Out of the 1,440 minutes in a day.

And I’m not exaggerating with the times. It can be surprising just how little time everyday tasks can take. We have a bottle steriliser that takes 8 minutes to do it’s work. I can do a load of nappies and a load of washing up with time to spare in that 8 minutes. Have a go at timing the everyday tasks around the house that you do, and you will be surprised at just how little time they take.

And if that wasn’t alternative enough…

When it comes to the great nappy debate, there is a third option that nobody really talks about, and that’s natural infant hygiene or elimination communication as it’s called. In short, it’s allowing a baby the option of using a potty instead of soiling their nappy all the time. When I mention this around ‘certain’ circles, there are a few raised eyebrows that say, ‘you do what?’

The idea as I understand it is that just like babies have ‘cues’ when they’re hungry or tired, they can also have cues for when they need to go potty (especially just after birth in my experience). Learning to recognise these signals, just as you learn to recognise tired and hungry signals, means that you can provide an alternative to the nappy. At the same time, you make a sound like ‘psss’ or any sound you like and later, this can become a new cue for the older toddler who needs to go, but can’t yet talk. At least, that’s the idea.

We have been giving the little fella potty time from when he was only a couple of weeks old. We’re ‘part timers’ in that we offer him the potty at each nappy change and occasionally during the day. We base potty time more on timing and less on cues. So after a sleep is always a good time to offer the potty as well as 10 – 30 minutes after a bottle.

The little fella still uses his nappy. If he uses the potty, good, if not, that’s fine too. Over the last few weeks, we’ve only had a couple of pooey nappies. It is so much easier to just rinse the potty into the toilet and use a little ordinary toilet paper to wipe the little fella clean than dealing with poo smeared all over his legs and cleaning the nappy.

At first we used an old empty ice cream container and held the little fella over it. A bigger container would have been better because little boys can tend to ‘overshoot’ the mark a little bit. A towel beneath the container protects the carpet.

Now that the little fella is six months old and can sit better, a potty works really well.

DSC04071Again, this doesn’t take as long as you might think. A few extra minutes at nappy changing time is all that is needed if you want to offer the potty part time. And it’s amazing just how quickly even the youngest baby ‘gets it’. The little fella has occasionally held on until potty time, and he makes the cutest grunt of effort when he’s on the potty. That’s if he’s not trying to stand and wee wee on the floor. Still need that towel.

I’m hoping that actual potty training will be easier later on. I recently read that parents aren’t potty training until as late as four years old, and some Queensland kids are even going to school in nappies! But natural infant hygiene isn’t ‘potty training’. It’s just allowing an alternative to nappies, while still using nappies.

One of the best websites on natural infant hygiene is Tribal Baby. If you’re wanting to give it a go, check out this website for more details.

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  1. Cath says

    This is a great topic for a post! We used cloth nappies (with flushable liners, made by Eenees, I think) and it is so true that once you’re used to folding a cloth nappy it takes no more time than a disposable. We didn’t even bother with soaking the nappies – I read that you didn’t need to, and that certainly turned out to be the case for us. I wish that I’d heard about EC in time to do it. When I found out about it, I was in the middle of toilet training my youngest, which was a hassle I really could have lived without!

  2. says

    I had five children and all wore terry cloth nappies. It was the ‘norm’ years ago.
    I only found it a little hard on the hands when I had to rinse them in cold water, in the winter. My poor fingers sometimes felt like they were going to snap off.
    My eldest would have been 44 this year and my youngest 33 this year and I still have one original nappy as a reminder. Maybe I should have it framed?


  3. Maureen says

    Cloth nappies were the only thing available to us when mine were infants, although they were introducing a disposable which looked like a large sanitary towel, and on the one occasion that I tried them my Daughter ended up soaked right up her back. I used to get a huge kick out of seeing my whiter than white nappies hanging up on the clothes line, and because I did,nt know any different I never found it time consuming to launder them.

  4. says

    Cloth nappy failure here, but I did go down the MCN path. I look at it now, that it would have been much easier and cheaper to have gone down the path you did with the terrys for day and MCN for night. My DH was not supportive at all of using cloth, which did not help at all. Also now I look at it, I do wonder about the eco cred of some MCN’s, when you look at their manufacture (cheap flannelette from Spotlight cannot be eco in any way), the plastic used etc

    With my first we were fortunate enough to have access to a disposable nappy recycler. It did cost to have them picked up, but took away some of the eco guilt.

  5. says

    Hi, thanks for all the comments.
    @Cath,I skipped soaking nappies for a while, but it seemed to irritate the little fella’s skin when I didn’t, so we soak. I really want to buy eco-soaker but way way too expensive.
    @ Maureen, Mum said that they didn’t have any disposable option too.
    @Maa, I definitely use rubber gloves, otherwise the eczema on my hands goes balistic.
    @Astrid. DH wasn’t super keen on cloth at the beginning, but did a full 360, after all, it’s saving him money.

  6. Jane w says

    That baby is far too young to be toilet trained at a couple of weeks old. And you may encounter problems later due to early toilet training. Your baby maybe also suffering from undue stress already because of this.

    Please let your baby be just a baby. Your child will soon let you know when he or she will be ready for the potty.

    • says

      Thank you Jane, for you comment.

      Please understand it is not training at all. No training whatsoever. It is letting a baby do what comes naturally, in a natural way. It is responding to his needs in a loving manner without forcing him to soil himself. Which is what we do in our culture. We actually override that natural instinct and *train* our babies that we won’t respond to their toileting needs and that they should just use the nappy. Just like babies have cues to eat and cues to sleep, they also have cues to go to the toilet. You wouldn’t ignore a baby’s need to eat? No, of course not. I don’t ignore his need to poo either.

      Us westerners are the only culture that relies 100% on nappies. Responding to their toileting needs is just as natural a thing to do for a parent as responding to their feeding needs, we have just forgotten this in our culture. Nothing is forced.