Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Cloth nappies: reasons to use them (it's not as hard as you think!)

The mere thought of cloth nappies can incite fear in the hearts of overtired mothers. I get it; spending your whole life washing and folding folding flat, white squares then fiddling with safety pins would be enough to put anyone off, but luckily that's not the only option anymore.

The modern version (often referred to as Modern Cloth Nappies, or MCNs) are so simple to use, and very economical compared with disposables, that it's worth thinking about before making up your mind. And of course it doesn't have to be all or nothing; there's nothing wrong with using both as it suits your lifestyle.

A bewildering array of modern cloth nappies

Unfortunately, there's so much innovation in the cloth nappy world that it can be bewildering when you're starting out, so I thought I'd share what I know. After a year and a half of using MCNs, doing lots of research, trying a bunch of different kinds I reckon we have a pretty good system. As always my priority was to make life as easy as possible for myself so hopefully it'll be easy for you too.

There's too much to put into one post without putting you to sleep, so next week I'll talk about the different kinds of nappies, but to start with here are the reasons we reckon they're a win, and the drawbacks as I see them.

The pros

1. Cost

Our first set were all secondhand and
did the job just fine for six months.
Cloth nappies, unless you go completely nuts buying a lot of very expensive ones, are pretty much guaranteed to be cheaper than disposables by the time your child is toilet trained. How much you save varies massively depending on the nappies you choose, but we bought a pretty flash lot of nappies brand new and (including washing costs) will have spent less than half as much as we would have on disposables by the time the Little Monkey gets to 2 years old.

Using the same nappies on another child will give us further savings - but even for one kid it makes sense financially. There's a pretty active secondhand market too - many parents buy more than they need or just don't get around to using them, so you can get barely used ones on the cheap if you keep your eyes peeled.

2. The environment

We're pretty sure this poor nappy did
its bit for the environment - it served
several children before its sad demise
It's hard to fully quantify environmental impacts of cloth vs disposables, and some studies (although these are often funded by disposable nappy manufacturers) claim there's no environmental benefit. However, if you're not being wasteful (i.e. you use the nappies until they've done their dash, or sell them on/give them away if they still have life in them when you're done) it's pretty hard to imagine that disposables are the better option. Drying your nappies on the line when possible will help (the studies I've seen usually assume they're always put through the dryer), and will save a dollar or two per load as well.

Of course, composting your disposables swings the equation a bit - worth looking into in your area if that makes more sense for your family.

3. Leak resistance

It can take some trial and error to find your ideal nappy, but once you've got a system that works for you (I'll share mine next week) - at least in our experience - cloth nappies can take a pretty solid hammering. And if your nappies are leaking there are usually ways to boost or adjust them for your child that'll help.

And for the sposie crew -  if your child's nappies often leak, a snug cloth nappy cover over the top can help. You'll only need one or two to avert the dreaded poosplosions and save you a lot of washing. We often did this in the early days and it definitely helped with containment.

4. So easy

These are not the cloth naps of yesteryear, and you can get nappies now that are as simple to use as disposables. There are different levels of complexity - easier to use nappies often cost a bit more, and if you're willing to do more folding and fiddling you can do it all for a pittance. We opted for more expensive "All in One" nappies to make life easy - for us it was worth it. 

Modern washing machines also reduce the effort; no pre-soaking or bleaching, just a quick machine rinse and then full wash cycle does the trick to get everything lovely and clean. 

Isn't this little baby adorable? Okay, so
it's not just the nappy, and I might be a
wee bit biased... 

5. The cute factor

Though this wasn't one of our criteria when choosing to use cloth, they can be pretty adorable. There are so many different colours and prints that you can (if you wish) match any outfit. You can even get custom made ones if you're really keen (this doesn't appeal to my frugal side, as these can be very pricey and they are, after all, poop-catchers, but the option is there.


The cons

1. The washing

Yep, you will have more laundry if you opt for cloth. For one child, it'll probably be an extra load every second day; two kids in cloth and you'll be looking at a load a day. That won't fit into everyone's schedule, but it is as simple as throwing the nappies in the washing machine and turning it on, then either pegging them out to dry or biffing them in the dryer.

2. Poo removal

This is definitely the worst bit. Fortunately, you don't have to worry about it if you have an exclusively breastfed babe - just do a rinse at the beginning of the wash in the machine and it'll all be swished away. If your baby eats real food you do need to put the solids down the loo - sometimes that's as simple as letting everything fall into the loo, but sometimes there's a bit of dunking and swishing needed. Gross, but a fairly small part of parenting life.

3. The giant fluffy bum

This is also kinda cute, but can be inconvenient. Cloth nappies tend to be a bit bulkier than their throwaway cousins, so you may find you have to go up a size in pants, especially when bubs is small. On the bright side, there's more padding for all those inevitable tumbles!

4. Upfront cost

Although overall cloth nappies will end up being cheaper than disposables, most of the cost is at the start, instead of being spread over a couple of years' worth of grocery bills. There are cheaper ways to start (we had a full secondhand set which served us well for six months for under $200) but you'll need to put a bit aside to get set up, or ease into it with a couple of nappies and slowly build your stash.

For us cloth nappies won, but everyone has different priorities so they're not for everyone. I do think they are ignored by many folk who could benefit from them, though, especially since in the early stages of parenthood money is often tight and this seems like an easy way to save.

What's your take? Have you used cloth nappies on your kids? What do you think the pros and cons are?

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