Make your own free website on
Myths and Realities
(or 'more than you ever wanted to know about nappies')

Let me start by saying Im not a total cloth nappy freak (almost - but not quite!) Im not out to have disposable nappies banned and Im not at all saying anyone is a bad parent for using them. I used them full-time for my first child. I am only trying to discount the numerous myths and misinformation about cloth nappies. Disposables have their place - they are a 'convenience item'. They are great if you are travelling without washing facilities, handy to have for those emergency times, good for occasional use by baby-sitters or other carers etc.  But they have become the norm in this country, and not a lot of people even know they have the choice these days.  You do have a choice - and its not the cloth nappies your (grand)parents used! The modern cloth is user friendly, funky, inexpensive and fun!

Myth: Cloth nappies are expensive.

Reality: Cloth nappies will save you thousands of dollars over the average 2 1/2 years your child will wear them.
Relatively speaking, cloth nappies are expensive. One cloth nappy can cost anywhere between $3.30 (flat square) and $35 (kooshies ultra) - or more. The initial outlay on cloth nappies can be a few hundred dollars.
One disposable costs an average of $0.45.  You will use an average of 6,000 disposable nappies for one baby. That's $2,700.
Do the math :)
Use your cloth nappies for more than one baby and you save even more! Imagine throwing 50 cents in the bin every time you change your baby - an average of  6 times a day (up to 12 for newborns). After your initial outlay on cloth, you save an around $80 a month, probably more. Im sure you could use an extra $80 a month, right?

There are many different views on the costs of cloth versus disposables - and your cost will depend entirely on you; how you wash, what you use, etc. etc. Its almost impossible to give a definite cost for either choice. But there is no arguing - cloth is cheaper, whatever way you look at it., (UK figures)

Myth: Cloth nappies ARE more expensive when you consider washing, drying, powder, chemicals etc.
Reality: The total cost for washing and machine drying cloth nappies is less than $200 a year
OK - lets get down and dirty with it then.
First off - you don't need chemicals. No nappy soak, no fabric softener, no special nappy powder. Nappies are best washed in a non enzyme powder (i.e.: the cheaper ones). Nappies can be washed in cold water, warm water or hot water - your choice. Nappies can be washed on the same cycle as clothes, even in with clothes or towels - no extended cycle or presoak is needed. Nappies should be washed with only 1/4 to 1/2 of the recommended amount of powder.

With 2 dozen nappies, you should only need to wash one full load every 3rd day. Depending on your machine and electricity rates, power for washing nappies for one year will cost $20 - $50. Washing powder will cost you about $40. Exclusive use of the dryer will cost you $80 - $100. Line drying is free :)
So, taking the higher costs, that equals an extra $190 a year or thereabouts. Or about 50 cents a day. Or less than 10 cents per nappy change. You still doing the math? :)

All these figures are not exact, they are simply educated guesses or laymans research on my part. The following websites will give you well researched, exact costs: (Australian prices),

We pay for convenience, right? Disposables save us time, which is valuable. If you want to factor in the cost of your time: You'd be hard pushed to spend more than 1/2 an hour loading, unloading, hanging and bringing in a load of washing.  One half hour every 3rd day = 60.70 hours a year. Average female wage in NZ is $17.10 (and it is normally the mothers that do the washing, sorry). Total $1037.97 - halve that if you use a dryer. So you are *still* saving money. <math>

Myth: Cloth nappies are a pain to wash
Reality: Cloth nappies are as easy to wash as clothes
You've got a baby - you're going to be doing more washing than you ever thought possible. This is only going to get worse as they get older and more able to find muck where ever it might be :) A couple of extra loads of washing a week, you're not even going to notice. And its really *not complicated*. Just tip your drypail (see below) into the machine, put in some powder, set it and go. Sounds just like washing clothes, right?  It is :)  
You DONT need to soak, you don't need to scrub, you don't need to lift heavy buckets of festering water, you don't need to do anything special. Washing cloth is a breeze. But what about stains? Anything that doesn't wash out, will sun out. Really! The sun will bleach out any stains and it sanitizes.

Myth: Cloth nappies need to be soaked in chemicals
Reality: You shouldn't use any chemicals on cloth nappies
You do not need to use any chemicals (apart from normal washing powder) on cloth nappies. In fact, chemicals such as nappy soaks should only be used on modern cloth nappies as a last resort. They can damage the materials and irritate sensitive baby skin. Chemical soaks, sprays or treatments are not needed to get cloth nappies clean or sanitized. Plain old washing powder will do the job 95% of the time. The other 5% may require an extra wash, rinse or some time in the sun - just as clothes don't always come out of the wash spotless the first time. Modern washing machines and powders do a much better job than any method our parents/grandparents may have used.
White vinegar can be used in the final rinse to help release stains, soften and freshen. Tea-tree oil can be used sparingly to help sanitize and freshen. Sunlight is the best unstainer, freshener and sanitizer - and its free.  
'Dry-pailing' is just a fancy way of saying 'chucking used nappies in a lidded container'. No water! No soaking! I use a small foot pedal rubbish bin which has a separate inner container that I can just lift out and dump the nappies into the machine. Dry-pailing is so much easier, less 'aromatic', less back breaking and a lot less gross than soaking. It also removes the drowning risk of  soaking buckets.

Myth: Cloth nappies cause nappy rash
Reality: The major cause of nappy rash is not changing often enough - cloth or disposable
Leaving a baby in a soiled or wet nappy causes nappy rash - cloth or disposable. Chemicals cause nappy rash. Excessive heat causes nappy rash. Teething causes nappy rash. Bacteria causes nappy rash.....
Nappies should be changed often - cloth or disposable. Preferably as soon as baby has wet it, definitely as soon as baby has soiled it. Disposable nappies tend to be left on a LOT longer than they should be. How many times have you heard "oh, but one disposable will last my baby all afternoon"? Im sorry, but that's just *gross*. I don't care if the nappy will hold 6 hours worth of pee - its just not hygienic! Bacteria starts forming in urine as soon as it leaves the body, turning the urine into ammonia. The combination of urine and faeces is much worse.
Even disposable manufacturers suggest changing often:  for newborns 'change your baby about as often as you feed him'  <Huggies>
'..ideally you should be changing your baby every 2-3 hours. More on new-borns and less with larger babies.'  <Treasures>
This can be 12 times a day for a newborn...or more. This number will drop to an average of 6 - 8 for an older baby.

Cloth nappies are generally cooler and allow more airflow than disposables - reducing the chances of nappy rash.
Properly washed and well rinsed cloth nappies contain no chemicals - disposables do.
Cloth nappies can be worn without a cover - allowing even more airflow.
Some modern cloth nappies have a built in 'stay dry' liner, or you can use separate liners (washable or disposable/flushable). This helps keep babys bum dry, facilitates easy poo disposal and helps keep urine and faeces separate, but it is not essential.

Some babies are just naturally more prone to nappy rash or skin irritations. You should always see your doctor if  your baby has a persistent or severe rash.

Myth: Cloth nappies are too much work
Reality: Cloth nappies are easy to use and care for
Well, you still gotta put them on and take them off, just like disposables. A couple of loads of washing a week - and we've already discussed that. Folding? If you really want to...but I prefer to use fitteds during the day and I fold the night nappy just before putting it on. I've timed myself - I can fold the nappy and booster, lay it in the cover and place the liner on top (Yes, I have a complicated night routine) in less than 10 seconds. Getting it on baby, using a snappi and fastening the cover takes about 20 seconds  to one minute - I have a wriggly baby :) . So apart from a couple of minutes at night, a few loads of washing a week (putting them away in the cupboard if Im feeling energetic - I normally just pile them in a washing basket)...the only real work is choosing which beautiful nappy Im going to use this time :)

Myth: Cloth nappies leak
Reality: Cloth nappies do not leak any more than disposables
Ill-fitting nappies leak - cloth or disposable. Nappies that are not absorbent enough, or left on too long, leak - cloth or disposable.
It has been my experience (your experience may differ) that disposables leak more than cloth. Yes, I have used disposables - In fact my first daughter wore nothing but. I can tell you now that a major poo explosion from a disposable is *much* worse than one from a cloth nappy. Cloth nappies come in a much more varied range of styles, absorbencies, and materials than disposables - allowing you to find what suits your child best. WAHM cloth nappy makers will often let you supply your childs measurements and make a nappy or cover customed for a perfect fit on your child. Disposables are designed for 'average' babies and if your baby is not average (skinny legs and chubby waist, tall and skinny, small and chubby etc) then the fit will always be less than perfect.
And cloth nappies will never burst and leave pee-filled gel all over your baby and the house!

Myth: Cloth nappies stink
Reality: Cloth nappies do not stink with proper care
I've smelt both - and believe me, disposables stink way more than cloth. Probably because the 'super-absorbant gel' concentrates the urine, definitely because disposables tend to be left on baby longer and because they sit around in the rubbish for up to a week before collection day. I also believe there are chemical reactions going on in those things that we have know idea about - at least in cloth I know the only chemical reaction is the breakdown of urine (urea -> ammonia etc.) <>.

In fact, the smell of a cloth nappy can be a good indicator of your child's health - a strong ammonia smell in a just wet nappy may indicate an urinary tract infection. It is also easier to judge the colour and quantity of your baby's urine in a white cloth nappy - both good indicators of health.

I believe this myth came about during the days of soaking buckets (pee-eeew!), plastic pants (trapping the heat and increasing bacterial growth) and handwashing that may not have gotten cloth nappies as clean as washing machines do nowadays. A lidded drypail containing wet and soiled cloth nappies smells remarkable little - a sprinkle of baking soda or a few drops of tea-tree or lavender oil will even make it smell sweet. Your rubbish bin (even without disposable nappies) probably smells worse.

Myth: Cloth nappies need to be changed more often
Reality: Cloth and disposable nappies should be changed at the same rate
I think we've covered this one. NAPPIES need to be changed more often. 10-12+ times a day for a newborn, 6-8+ times a day for an older baby. If your baby is sleeping through the night (lucky you!), then its ok to leave the nappy on - babies pee less when they are asleep. But the nappy should be changed as soon as they wake up, and the nappy area given a good clean. Its just NOT ok to leave a disposable on for 6 hours during the day - even if its not 'full'. It's simply not hygienic. Research and basic hygiene dictates that a nappy should be changed at least every 2-3 hours.

Myth: Cloth nappies are just as bad for the environment when you consider production/washing/soaking/chemicals etc.
Have you considered what goes into the production of a disposable?

Then, once you dispose of them, they fester in our landfills for hundreds of years. 2 tonnes of them per baby. These mountains of biological waste can contain hundreds of viruses, including polio and hepatitis, which can spread back into the population. Wrapping disposable nappies in plastic only adds to the waste and  lengthens the time they take to decompose.,

*To be fair - the trees used to produce disposable nappies are a renewable resource, planted (and re-planted) for the purposes of supplying industry. This industry is also a major employer in NZ. Were not talking about native bush being cut down or anything like that!

Cotton production is not without its own environmental impact:

Wherever possible we should be buying and using organic cotton in place of conventional cotton. Organic cotton nappies are available.

A lot of modern cloth nappies are being made of hemp, which is an 'eco-friendly' crop - cheap to produce, able to be grown with minimal or no herbicides, fungicides, or pesticides and is less harsh on the earth than cotton. Read about it here:
Hemp is also very absorbent, very strong, naturally anti-bacterial, and resists mold/mildew - making it a perfect fabric for cloth nappies.
(Hemp is not marijuana - just as potatoes are not vodka. Marijuana is a genetically altered cousin of hemp. Hemp fabric is perfectly safe for your baby)

Myth: Cloth nappies are too complicated
Reality: Cloth nappies can be as easy or as complicated as you choose
Most modern cloth nappies are just as easy to use as disposables - some brands even have the cover built in. There is more choice in cloth nappies, and they can be as complicated or as simple as you choose. You don't have to fold or use pins if you don't want to. I have even heard fathers state that they would rather use cloth nappies as disposables are too complicated!

Myth: I don't want to handle poo! (ok, so that's a statement, not a myth)
If you're squeamish about poo - don't have a baby!  Honestly, before your baby is a year old, you are going to be exposed to more gross bodily excretions than you ever thought possible!
One major misconception about disposable use, is that you can roll up that poopy nappy and throw it in the bin. Human waste does NOT belong in our rubbish bins or landfills! You should dump poo in the toilet - it says so on the disposable packages! "In the interests of hygiene, excess soiling should be removed and flushed down the toilet" <Treasures Giggles package>
 The World Health Organization recommends that human waste is not to be put in landfills - rather dump poo in the toilet so that it goes to the proper sewerage treatment system <World Health Organization: Health for All. Geneva: WHO, 1987>. Im not sure about the 'disposal of human waste' laws in this country - but Id say that putting faecal matter in your council rubbish bag would be frowned upon - if not illegal (but don't quote me on that).
The same treatment goes for cloth - just dump any solids in the toilet (liners help with this) and if necessary, give the nappy a quick rinse in cold water. Just hold it by a clean corner under a running tap - you don't need to 'get your hands dirty'. You don't need to soak soiled cloth nappies, just wash them as normal.

Myth: Cloth nappies waste water
Reality: Washing cloth nappies actually uses very little water
Cloth nappies use about as much (or a little less) water to wash as one older child or adult uses to flush the toilet per day. If water was that tight (and I hope it never comes to that) then we'd all be using long-drop toilets, bathing once a week and using the old bath water to wash our clothes in!

Water usage rates
<Quoted from: >

11 litre full flush toilet = 6 buckets per person per day. (worst)
AAA-rated dual flush =  2 buckets per person per day (best)

Average top loader = 17 buckets per wash. (worst)
Best Practice AAA-rated front loader = 5.5 buckets per load (best)

Using these figures:
Washing one full load of nappies every 3 days =  5.5 - 17 buckets   (49.5 - 153 litres)
One person flushing the toilet over 3 days = 6 - 18 buckets (54 - 162 litres)

For perspective - a ten minute shower will use between 10 and 20 buckets (90 - 180 litres), a garden sprinkler uses 111 buckets (999 litres) per hour and a dripping tap uses up to 22 buckets (198 litres) per day.

Myth: Cloth nappies are bulky and uncomfortable
Reality: Natural soft cloth is more comfortable than paper and plastic
True - some cloth nappies are bulky. The majority of modern fitted nappies (esp pocket nappies with hemp inserts) are very trim, and stay trim even when wet. Disposables 'grow' as the gel absorbs urine. They get huge and heavy and uncomfortable. Ideally they should be changed before they get to this stage!
Cloth nappies are made from soft fabric - not paper, plastic and chemicals. Would you rather wear cotton knickers or paper knickers? Why do you think disposable manufacturers use terms like 'cloth-like cover' and  'soft stretchy waistband'?

Myth: Cloth nappies hinder learning to walk
Reality: This is simply untrue
You probably wore cloth nappies - Im sure your parents did. And Im assuming you can all walk fine (barring disability or accidents). In fact, double or triple cloth nappies were often used in the past to help correct hip dysplasia (although newer positioning devices are becoming more widely used) to ensure these babies could walk properly. <>
Babies learn to walk at varying ages - the is no evidence to prove that the use of  cloth or disposable nappies makes any difference to this at all.

Myth: Cloth nappies are unhygienic
Reality: Cloth nappies are perfectly hygienic
Is your underwear unhygienic? Properly washed and frequently changed cloth nappies are perfectly hygienic. Cloth nappies don't need to be 100% sterile (disposables aren't either) - we don't live in a sterile world and a certain percentage of bacteria is necessary for our good health. Studies have shown that neither cloth nor disposable nappies are any more sanitary in their use. The real issue is adult hygiene (i.e.: washing hands before and after changes), frequency of changes and storage methods. Used cloth nappies can be stored in a dedicated lidded bucket before washing. I would rather this than a rubbish bag full of  used disposables (and faeces) that sits around all week until collection day. Washing machines are designed to handle 'dirt' of all kinds - washing cloth nappies in your machine is not going to make it unsanitary.

Myth: Cloth nappies cant be used at night
Reality: Cloth nappies are great for night use!
My baby is a 'super-soaker' - there is no way a disposable would last all night on him. You do need more absorbency at night - a doubled or 'boosted' nappy and a good cover is usually sufficient. Cloth also allows more airflow and keeps the temperature in the nappy area lower than disposables - 2 important considerations when a nappy is left on so long.  Its my opinion that cloth is the BEST nappy to use at night.

Myth: Cloth nappies don't keep baby's bum dry
Reality: That's what liners are for / A dry bum is not always a good thing
Some modern cloth nappies have the liner built in <  for example>. But liners are not mandatory. If you are using an absorbent cloth nappy and changing your baby often enough, then the small amount of moisture on baby's bum isn't going to matter. Absorbent cloth will draw most of the moisture away from the skin. Babys also have natural oils (as do adults) on the skin to repel excess moisture. Studies have shown that its not the moisture (fresh urine) on babys skin that causes nappy rash, but stale urine and the bacteria that produces, especially in combination with faeces.
Its my opinion that disposables keep baby *too* dry - the 'super-absorbant' gel can actually draw natural moisture out of the skin, causing irritation.
In older babies, the cloth nappies (without liners) help in 'potty-learning', as the child can feel a damp nappy and link the urge to urinate with the outcome. Cloth nappied babies become self sufficient in toileting an average of 6 months earlier than disposable nappied babies.

If a perfectly dry bum was such a good thing then no babies in disposables would ever get a rash and all babies in cloth would always have a rash - and this is simply not the case. And that's if you believe the 'stay-dry' hype - disposables do not instantly suck up urine as it passes out of babys body and keep it hygienically locked away. Urine pools and takes a little while to soak in, and the bacteria from stale urine passes back though the 'stay-dry' liner onto babys skin.

Myth: Cloth nappies are boring white squares
Reality: Modern cloth nappies come in a wide variety, giving you something more that disposables don't - choice!
You can go all natural, or 'hi-tech'. Funky or traditional. All-in-one or separates. Cheap or (relatively)expensive. Commercial or WAHM, even sew your own! The list goes on...But all cloth nappies are easy, cheap, better for the environment, healthier for baby, much better looking, more comfortable and more fun!

Seems like the obvious choice to me :P

Last updated 06/06/04
Page design and content © S.Sutherland 2004

All websites listed here are the sole property of  their authors
and I am not responsible for their content.

While all facts stated on this page have been well investigated,
 I am only human and some errors may occur.