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Cloth Nappies Explained

Cloth nappies (also called real nappies, reusable nappies, washable nappies) have changed beyond all recognition in recent years. When parents first hear about cloth nappies, they often believe that traditional terry squares are all that’s available – however modern washable nappies can be just as easy to use as a disposable nappy. Many are now shaped to fit snugly round your baby, closing with Velcro or poppers. And while some cloth nappies require a waterproof outer wrap, many of the newest ones are now designed to incorporate that too, giving you an “all in one” style nappy. If you’re using separate nappies and wraps, it’s often possible to mix and match, you don’t have to have a nappy system that’s purely one brand, or even restricted to one kind of cloth nappy. Many parents choose a couple of different products to suit their needs at different times. An all in one nappy might suit the nursery but at home you may prefer to use something else.

There are so many sorts of nappies - help me out!

There are three basic types of cloth nappies: the all-in-one; the fitted (shaped) nappy; and the flat nappy (terries, prefolds and muslins). Flat and fitted nappies are part of a two-part system and require a wrap (the waterproof bit). All in one nappies have their wrap attached as part of the nappy.

All in One & Pocket Nappies

All-in-ones are just as simple to change as a disposable, except you wash and re-use them!  They consist of an absorbent fabric inner, with an integral waterproof backing.  Because the backing limits the speed of drying, they can be slow drying, and you may want to buy more to allow for this if these are your main nappy type.  Many all-in-one nappies now have fold out flaps to help them dry faster, and removable boosters so you can improve absorbency for older babies.  Included in this umbrella are the pocket nappies, which go on just like an all-in-one, but the absorbent fabric part is totally removable in the wash - this means they dry faster, and you may have more flexibility on the absorbency.

PROS: Very easy to use - the most similar to a disposable nappy.  Easy for other carers to get used to.

CONS: Tend to be among the more expensive options.  All-in-one nappies may take longer to get properly dry and may not be suited to repeated tumble drying.

Flat Nappies - Terries, Prefolds & Muslins

Terry squares or terries are the traditional terry towelling squares which many of us would have worn as infants. They are now available in different sizes, thicknesses, fabrics and absorbencies. Prefolds are made of several layers of ordinary cotton sewn into three panels – with the central panel having most layers. And muslins are simply muslin squares which are commonly used as burp cloths, dribble bibs and general factotums of baby wear. Flat nappies require some (simple) folding. Terries are then fastened with pins or nappy nippas, and prefolds are simply fixed into a wrap, which holds them in place.

PROS: Flat nappies are the most economical and most versatile of all the nappies – the cheapest to buy; the easiest to care for; and they can be used for a variety of mopping up and cleaning jobs in years to come!

CONS: Require folding. Other carers may find them harder to use, although granny may be perfectly at home with them!

Fitted (shaped) Nappies - 2 part systems

Fitted washable nappies are shaped to fit round your baby without folding - just like a disposable, and so are easier to use than flat nappies. There are two types of fitted cloth nappy. Sized nappies come in more than one size (usually small and large), to give a better fit at each stage. One size or birth to potty nappies will adjust to fit your baby from newborn to toddler. The nappies will fasten with poppers, Velcro, or a nappy nippa. Each type has its own benefits and disadvantages, some of which are outlined here:

Sized fitted nappies:

PROS: Better fit at each stage, particularly newborns. Easy to add extra boosters if needed.  CONS: May work out more expensive, as you need to buy 2 sizes of nappy – although in some cases the large size can be used as a birth to potty option.

Birth to potty (one size) fitted nappies:

PROS: Cheaper in the long run as you only need one set. Easy to add extra boosters if needed. CONS: Can be bulky on newborns. Can be outgrown by tall babies before toilet training.

NAPPY WRAPS (nappy covers, plastic pants) Wraps are the waterproof layer of the cloth nappy system. They are all shaped to fit over a cloth nappy, and they all come in different sizes. It is important that the wrap fits well at the legs and waist.  However, because you don't need a clean wrap every time you change a nappy, you will find that four or five wraps in each size will be sufficient – although you may want more of the first size if you are going to breastfeed, as breastfed poo is quite runny and gets onto the wrap very easily, no matter how hard you try! Always change the wrap if you get poo on it, or it is very wet. Different manufacturers' wraps use different sizing systems, and have different amounts of adjustment, but the weight ranges quoted are usually accurate.



There are as many different factors to consider when buying nappies as there are babies to buy them for, but here are a few ideas which might be helpful:

  • Terries and prefolds are the least expensive and quickest to dry. All in ones are the most expensive to buy.
  • Absorbency varies from nappy to nappy, but in all cases can be increased by using a booster, or another nappy.
  • Generally speaking, I find terry towelling (cotton or bamboo) is more absorbent than microfibre or cotton flannel, as the loops present a greater surface area to the water, and allows it to be soaked up more quickly.
  • Bamboo and hemp are very absorbent but can be very slow drying - these fabrics are great for night nappies.
  • If your baby is very wriggly, consider buying nappies and wraps which fasten with velcro or aplix – much easier to cope with on a determined escapee.
  • If your baby can undo velcro, consider terries (pins or nappy nippas) or nappies and wraps which fasten with poppers (which can be harder to undo!).
  • For a breastfed newborn with runny poo, a fitted nappy or a terry nappy will be the most efficient at catching the poo.
  • For terries and prefolds, folding can be initially daunting, but soon becomes second nature.

Whatever you choose, you will need to buy enough nappies to meet your needs. Expect a newborn to need changing 10 to 12 times a day, dropping to 6-8 times when older, depending on their wetting pattern – which you will come to know!


Check out our handy Shopping Guide! The number of nappies you will need will depend on your washing cycle – fewer if you intend to wash each day, more if you only want to wash every two to three days. I had 18 nappies for each baby – enough to allow me to wash every other day if I wanted to. Remember, if using flat or fitted nappies, you will also need four or five wraps per size and perhaps more for a breastfed newborn.


You may want to experiment with different types of nappy before making a final decision. In this case, you might want to take advantage of our cloth nappy trial scheme, to try the nappies in your own home before you commit to buying them. If you would prefer to experiment with your own cloth nappies, please feel free to order only one or two of each type, or to put together a sample pack of nappies and wraps, selected from what is available. I am only too happy to help with this, and to make recommendations where you would like them.

All nappies will be supplied with full washing and care instructions and, where applicable, folding instructions.

Please remember, I am happy to provide advice and support with no obligation at any stage, you can contact me by e-mail to christine (omit the space) or by telephone on 01865 407574. Oxfordshire customers are welcome to have a face to face consultation, and remember to keep an eye on our Events page for our next Nappuccino date!