Everything you ever wanted to know about cloth nappies. And then some.

WARNING: this week’s theme isn’t for the faint hearted or weak-stomached…. It’s the Cloth Nappy Chronicles. I know, the Hattie of three months back would have raised a sceptical brow too. But she had money for threading and would have pulled it off more elegantly. Seven days of reusable righteousness, the beauty of Bambooty, the brilliance of BumGenius… Hello? Are you still there?

When I first started researching cloth nappies, feeling in the main sick and sceptical at the prospect, I asked Twitter who I should look to for advice (Twitter being the modern day Magic Eight Ball in situations like these). Everyone came back with the same answer: The Nappy Lady.

So I approached her, imagining The Godfather of cloth nappies and the possibility of ending up with a horse’s head in my nappy bag if I sneaked a pampers into it. Maybe I should have done a little more research. Because actually she’s a really nice lady who lives in Surrey with her family and gives out huge amounts of free, thoughtful, wise and non-judgemental advice on cloth nappies to clueless mothers like me. She’s being doing it for many years, knows everything there is to know, and also sells a huge range of them, to suit all budgets.

I honestly don’t think I would have fallen in love with cloth nappies if it hadn’t been for her help. Certainly not so quickly. So I’ve asked her to kick of the Cloth Nappy Chronicles with a Q and A: everything you ever wanted to know about cloth nappies but were afraid to ask. For reasons more sensible than horses heads…


Hello! I’m Wendy The Nappy Lady and have been married to James for 9 years. We live in Farnham, Surrey.

We have three children, our eldest Benjamin is 7, Alexander who is 5 and our youngest Evangeline is 2. I was a Nappy Lady advisor for over 5 years before I took over the company in 2010 and became “The Nappy Lady.”

1) I’m a new mum who hasn’t had any sleep for days: there are so many different kinds, no-one I know is using them and I’m confused. How do I choose the right kind for us?

There are lots of nappies out there and you will drive yourself mad reading the reviews to find the “perfect one.” The perfect one doesn’t exist!  However you need to find the one that matches your needs. Every nappy has a pro and con so it’s a matter of thinking what is important to you and finding the nappy that does that. This is where The Nappy Lady comes in. I know the pros and cons of just about every single cloth nappy in the UK. I ask parents to fill in my advice questionnaire first, this gives me all the information I need to know and gets parents thinking about the different aspects of cloth nappy use and what is important to them. I then assess this information and will provide them with a full recommendation of what matches them best. I try to offer two options to cover different budgets.

2) Aren’t all mums of cloth nappy babies basically hippies?

No cloth nappy mums are not hippies! I do come across the odd hippie but most are your average modern Mum like you and me (do I look like a hippy?), juggling work and families. I’ve met accountants, lawyers, pilots, nurses, CEO’s, childminders, stay at home mums, fitness instructors… the list goes on. It’s been said that using cloth nappies is a very middle class thing to do now. I would disagree. I’ve helped people from all walks of life and all over the world. Each has different circumstances and I’ve created their nappy set from the smallest of budgets all the way up to very large budgets.

3) Will it be smellier, messier and less hygienic? Basically: will I have to touch poo?

No I think it’s less smelly than using disposables. Disposables will sit in your bin for a week (or 2) until they are collected. With washable nappies, the poo has gone down the toilet on the disposable liner so in your nappy bucket you just have wet nappies. These nappies are washed every couple of days so no smells at all.  You won’t be touching the poo or scraping it off the nappy (yuk) as it goes on a liner inside the nappy and is flushed away.  Cloth nappies are less messy than disposables as they are more reliable as far less prone to leaks than disposables.

4) Isn’t it all just a bit more of a faff? More of a fiddle to put them on, bulkier to carry around…

I don’t think it’s a faff at all. With some cloth nappies you put on a second layer over the nappy, (the waterproof wrap). This takes literally a few seconds and is no different to putting a child in a vest and t shirt – that doesn’t seem a faff does it? The only extra work involved in using cloth nappies is putting on a nappy wash and that takes me under 1 minute every couple of days. I do save myself the time of having to buy disposables and risking nappy leaks and washing pooey clothes. Lots of people change to cloth nappies to REDUCE the amount of washing they are doing as their disposables leak so much.

 5) If I’m out and about for the day, won’t I end up carrying stinking nappies around in my handbag and making strangers gag?

When I was at playgroup recently another mother was already changing their baby’s pooey nappy and using disposable nappy and disposable wipes. I lay Evangeline down by her and using my washable wipes which clean up poo in seconds. Ihad her cleaned up, changed and nappy bagged before the other woman had even finished.  This playgroup asks you to take your disposable nappies home with you (they don’t want them in their bin for the week!) I flushed the pooey liner down the toilet so I only had a wet nappy in my bag, the other lady had to keep her pooey disposable in her bag. I know which I’d rather have taken home!

6) How many do you need? What’s the initial investment likely to be? Can I get help buying them?

How many you need depends on the age of your baby. A baby under 6 months will generally need 20 nappies if you wash every 2 days. If you want to keep the upfront cost lower you could wash daily and get away with about 10.  A baby over 6 months normally needs 15 nappies for washing every 2 days and daily washing is around 8 nappies. The initial investment can be as low as £50 all the way up to £500, it depends on how many nappies you buy and how fancy they are! I sell total birth to potty sets with enough to wash every 2 days for £100 and also other sets of “modern” all in one nappies for £400 with loads of options in between. This is where I can help guide you as to what is best for your budget! Many people also buy them in stages to spread the cost, I can help you break down what you need first and what to buy at each point depending on your budget. [HG: Lots of local councils also give you a cash contribution towards buying cloth nappies]

7) Isn’t the cost of washing and drying cloth nappies actually greater than that of buying disposables anyway? 

The cost of washing them doesn’t offset the cost saving against disposables. The estimated cost of washing is £30-£50pa (depending on the efficiency of your machine). Disposables cost on average £800 per child (branded pampers over £1000 per child). If you go on to have more children and use disposables you’ve got to pay that all over again. I have cloth nappied three children from birth to potty on a £350 set of nappies. Saving us around £2000.

8) What other kit do you need?

You also need:


Nappy mesh to go into the bucket (makes taking them out the bucket much easier and no touching the nappies)

Liners for flushing poo away

Boosters for night-time (about 6 boosters)

I’d also recommend washable wipes as they save a FORTUNE and are much kinder to babies skin and make nappy changes much quicker too.

9) What is the simplest, laziest way of washing them?

Some people mix them with normal laundry but most people tend to do a separate nappy wash and save their nappies up until a full bucket.

Rinse cycle, long 40 or 60 deg wash, with half the normal amount of detergent, couple of drops of lavender oil as a sanitiser and no fabric softener. That’s it.

10) Are there ANY downsides?

The main downside is that the cost is upfront rather than a weekly cost as there is with disposables.

11) What’s the strangest or funniest question that anyone’s ever come to you with?

I do get asked about how to scrap poo from nappies a lot… I’ve never scraped a nappy in my life, that’s what the liners are for!

12) Cloth nappies aren’t like they were in our grannies’ days, are they? I won’t have to wield a safety pin?

The cloth nappy market is changing very quickly all the time. More brands now, more fabrics… It used to be just cotton or hemp nappies. Now there is bamboo, microfibre, organic cotton. Cloth nappies have also got smaller and smaller as more absorbent fabrics have been developed.  It makes my job easier as the wider choice means I can find the nappy that matches peoples requirements closer. Lots of people end up with a mix of nappies so they get the benefits of all the different types.

13) Has interest in cloth nappies risen in the recession?

Yes, people are far more cost aware and realising modern cloth nappies are an option for them.  I have expanded my range to have some of the cheapest modern but effective cloth nappies on the market so no matter your budget there will be an excellent nappy for you. 

My husband has been made redundant twice in the last 4 years (works as a technical manager for a house building company – not a great job to be in during a recession and housing crash!)  First time when our second was 6 months old and the second time when I was just expecting our third.  Using cloth nappies helped keep our weekly costs down and we could concentrate on keeping food on the table and a roof over our heads instead of spending money on nappies going in the bin! 

14) Do kids in cloth nappies really potty-train faster?

Yes children in cloth do potty train quicker and easier in cloth nappies. They feel wetter in cloth and learn the link to toileting quicker. Boys are traditionally slower to train but my second son trained at 20 months all by himself, just one day asked for the potty he’s seen his brother used and he was trained J. We’ve just trained our daughter and again pretty painless, and just working on getting her dry at night. 

15) Do you EVER, under any circumstances, resort to pampers when people aren’t looking?!

I’m not against disposables for occasional use (people are often worried about admitting they use them which makes me laugh). I view disposable nappies like paper plates, they have their use but I wouldn’t want to use them all the time. There have been a few times we’ve used them such as going on holiday and not having access to a washing machine. In that case I’ve taken disposables (with my wraps to go over the top!) Otherwise I don’t use them. Childcare providers have all used my cloth nappies, baby sitters have used my cloth nappies. I give them the really simple all in ones, which are effectively like disposables but I wash them instead.

Got any other questions? Post them below and Wendy and I will do our best to answer, however silly or stomach-turning. Otherwise, look at her website. It’s genuinely brilliant and is a mine of free, practical, unpatronising and unpreachy information.