How to Use Cloth Nappies

Some Mums are put off cloth nappies in the mistaken belief they are fiddly or awkward, but they are actually quite simple to use – once you find the right system! The Nappy Lady Molly Dilnot breaks down the process, step-by-step.

Step-by-Step Guide to Using Cloth Nappies

Some Mums are put off cloth nappies in the mistaken belief they are more fiddly or awkward than disposables, but they are actually quite simple to use – once you find the right system! The Nappy Lady Molly Dilnot breaks down the process, step-by-step.

Component Parts

  1. The NAPPY provides the absorbency. It can be either SHAPED or FLAT (for you to fold as appropriate).
  2. The WRAP or pant is the waterproof outer, which stops clothing getting wet.
  3. Inside the nappy, you 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.
  4. 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.

Nappy Types

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 - two examples are the Fuzzi Bunz and the Snugglenaps systems.

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, 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.

If you purchase 18 nappies and 4 wraps in each size you will be able to wash every other day once your baby is no longer having nappy changes during the night. 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!

Related links

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Find out more

  • The Nappy Lady  is a cloth nappy consultancy, whose aim is to help parents identify the best type of nappy for their circumstances, and advise them on how to use them successfully.


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