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.
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
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
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,
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
Reality: Cloth nappies are as easy to wash
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
Reality: You shouldn't use any chemicals on
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
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 -
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
Myth: Cloth nappies are too much
Reality: Cloth nappies are easy to use and
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
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
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.) <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urine>.
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
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.
Reality: Have you considered what goes into the production of
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.
- It takes a cup of crude oil to make ONE disposable.
- It takes over one million trees to make one years worth of nappies
for NZ. *
- It takes as much energy to produce ONE disposable nappy as it takes
to wash 200 cloth nappies.
- Disposable nappies use 3.5 times more energy in their production
- 8 times more non-renewable raw materials go into their production
than that of cloth nappies.
- 90 times more renewable materials go into their production than that
of cloth nappies.
*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:
- Cotton is the most chemical intensive crop in the world
- Cotton uses approximately 25% of the worlds insecticides and more
than 10% of the pesticides
- The Environmental Protection Agency considers seven of the top 15
pesticides used on cotton (in 2000 in the United States) as “possible,” “likely,”
“probable,” or “known” human carcinogens
- Cotton is the worlds fourth most heavily fertilized crop
- It takes roughly 1/3 of a pound of chemicals to grow enough cotton
for one T-shirt or 3/4 of a pound for one pair of jeans
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
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
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
Water usage rates
<Quoted from: http://www.abc.net.au/sydney/savewater/waterusage.htm
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
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
Myth: Cloth nappies are bulky and
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
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
Myth: Cloth nappies hinder learning
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. <http://www.ecureme.com/emyhealth/Pediatrics/Developmental_Hip_Dysplasia.asp>
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
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
Myth: Cloth nappies cant be used
Reality: Cloth nappies are great for night
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
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 <www.snazzipants.co.nz 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.