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There are four main types:
Nappies come with either Velcro/applix or poppers. Others are designed for use with pins or nappy-nippas.
Nappy fabrics include cotton terry-towelling or flannel, hemp, bamboo or microfibre. Waterproof fabrics include PUL (polyurethane), wool and polyester fleece.
Most modern washable nappies are size-adjustable and will fit babies from around 9lbs up to toddler size. These are known as 'birth to potty' nappies. You would only need to buy one set of nappies to see your baby through to potty training and could use the same nappies on a toddler and a new baby sibling.
Some nappies tend to come in several sizes - S, M, L & XL or size 1,2 & 3 for example. A few companies also make newborn size nappies. Whilst you may find a better choice of fit with a 'sized nappy' you will also need to remember that as your baby grows, you will have to buy larger nappies!
It can take a few week for babies to grow into 'birth to potty' nappies, and there are some options for that in-between stage:
Newborn size nappies are available and are a good investment if your baby is very tiny and is likely to take a while to reach 9lbs. These are available to hire from nappy libraries or online, if you do not want to buy them.
Muslin squares (yes, like the ones you use for mopping up!) are excellent nappies for newborns and must be used with a waterproof cover. The covers are available online at a range of prices and can be inexpensive.
First you need to decide how often you intend to wash.
If you put other items in the machine with the nappies, washing every day works well. If you intend air drying, then you will need extra nappies whilst they are drying. If you have limited space for drying, you might want to consider nappies made of synthetic fabric, that dry in a few hours.
We estimate that 15-20 nappies should allow you to wash every other day and still be able to maintain a routine that does not see you running out of clean nappies.
In the early days you may find that a wash load at the end of each day is needed but if you can put the nappies in the machine to rinse and spin, then add other laundry for a full wash, you are more than likely to find that you have enough nappies.
If you are using bamboo or hemp, you may need a few additional boosters/inserts to allow for the extra time these nappies take to dry.
Most wraps are made of polyester or nylon (some are cotton) and they are laminated on the inside with PUL (polyurethane), which makes them waterproof. Known as PUL wraps, these make good general purpose wraps - lightweight, breathable, easy to wipe clean and dry quickly.
Polyester fleece and wool are ideal for use at night time as an alternative to PUL wraps. Fleece dries very quickly, but you need to wash after every wear. Wool is thicker so takes slightly longer to dry, but there is no need to wash after every wear due to its natural antibacterial properties.
Disposable nappy liners are usually made of soft paper or some sort of vegetable material and are good for picking up solids to flush away and can be washed a few times and re-used if just wet.
Fleece liners keep your baby's skin very dry. Moisture is drawn through the liner onto the nappy behind, leaving baby's bottom dry. They are washable and last for years.
You are washing your nappies, so why not wash your wipes too? Most disposable wipes found on the high street are handy (we have to be honest, here!) but they are packed with chemicals, they fill up landfill sites and drains and they are expensive!
Washable wipes are a great alternative. They are available commercially or you can make your own. Essentially, they are rectangles of cloth, used for clean-up at nappy changes (and for a myriad of other purposes!) and they go in the wash, along with the nappies.
Some parents prefer to carry their washable wipes ready soaked, in which case a small plastic container with a lid is perfect. Others wet the wipes as they go, from a tap or a water bottle.
Washable wipes are also a great alternative to cotton wool, and can be used with plain water or with a cleaning solution, either home-made or purchased.
The idea of extra laundry can be daunting for parents new to washable nappies. However, you can easily make your nappies part of your regular routine. If you are using washables full time you are likely to have one extra wash load every other day.
A word about poo…
Parents are often concerned about poo in their washing machine. Fear not! Before introducing solids, baby poo is water soluble and will wash out perfectly well on an ordinary cycle. After weaning, solid poo is flushed away or thrown away with disposable liners before the nappies are laundered, so poo should not find its way into your machine.
Please note that liquids, eco balls, and soapnuts are less effective at washing nappies.