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What are modern cloth nappies?

A baby wearing modern cloth nappiesCloth nappies have come a long way since the days of terry cloth squares.

While the traditional flat cloth nappies are still available (and are still the cheapest nappy to use) modern cloth nappies have grown in popularity with many parents choosing them for reasons to do with cost, environment and, let’s face it, cuteness!

But for new parents or parents-to-be the world of modern cloth nappies – also known as MCNs – can be daunting.

How do you know which brand of MCN is best for you and your baby? What are the different types of MCN available and what are the benefits of using cloth?

Here we give you a basic rundown on choosing and buying modern cloth nappies as well as information on how to wash and care for your MCNs.

What exactly are modern cloth nappies?

Modern cloth nappies are shaped, fitted, washable, reusable nappies

The modern cloth nappy is typically made from modern fabrics such as hemp and bamboo, both of which are more absorbent than regular cotton.

They are shaped just like a disposable nappy to fit around your baby’s thighs and belly, and most fasten using press studs or Velcro. They are easy to put on and they have elastic at the legs and back to keep messes contained.

What are the benefits of using modern cloth nappies?

Parents choose modern cloth nappies for the following reasons:

  • They are better for the environment.

    Even when you consider the environmental impact of manufacturing and laundering, modern cloth nappies (that are dry-pailed and mostly line-dried) are still a greener option than disposables.

  • They are always on hand.

    No more running to the shop when you run out of disposable nappies!

  • To save money.

    While the upfront cost of buying modern cloth nappies can be high they are cheaper in the long run. MCNs that are well cared for can last until toilet training and can often be used for subsequent children as well (or sold second-hand).

  • They are soft and made of breathable fabrics.

    MCNs use fleece or suedecloth to help eliminate moisture against babies’ skin and no soaking means less use of detergent, minimising the exposure to skin irritating chemicals.

How much do modern cloth nappies cost and how many do you need?

Modern cloth nappies range in style, quality and, therefore, cost. Generally you can pay anything from $10-$30. You can save money by buying in packs – many companies sell ‘starter packs’ and you can often mix up your stash with a range of different styles and brands. You can also build up your stash, starting with just three or four nappies and gradually buying more as you can afford them.

How many you need depends on how many nappy changes you do each day and how often you will wash. For example: A baby might have eight nappy changes a day (a newborn will have more, an older toddler less) and you might wash every second day. If this is the case you’ll need at least 24 nappies. You’ll need less if you use cloth nappies in combination with disposables – some people use cloth and home and disposables while out or cloth at day and disposables overnight. If money is an issue consider buying three or four and building up your stash as you can afford it.

READ: Want to know more about disposables as well as cloth? See our Ultimate Guide to Nappies

What types and styles of modern cloth nappies are available?

There are a number of styles of MCN available and there are a few things to consider when deciding which will work best for you and your baby.

  • All-in-ones

    All-in-ones are the easiest to use. All the elements – waterproof cover, absorbent layers and lining – are sewn together so they are just like a disposable to put on. They are extremely simple to use, but the downside is that they take longer to dry.

  • All-in-twos

    All-in-twos (sometimes called snap-in-ones) don’t take as long to dry as the absorbent insert will detach for faster drying.

  • Fitted nappies

    Fitted nappies have elastic at the waist and legs and are made completely of highly absorbent material (often hemp) so you’ll need to buy covers. These are the best choice for leak protection and many parents choose fitted nappies for younger babies. You don’t need to change the cover at each nappy change.

  • Pocket nappies

    Pocket nappies have a pocket between the waterproof cover and the nappy lining where you insert the absorbent layer. This means they are quick drying and easy to boost for a heavy wetter (or at naptime, bedtime).

  • Prefolds

    Prefolds are a step up from the traditional flat terry cloth nappy. They are a multi-layered rectangle with three panels. The centre panel is the most absorbent. They are secured with a snappi and used with a cover. Many parents choose prefolds for newborn babies as they offer a secure fit. Then when the baby grows they use the prefolds as an absorbent layer inside a pocket nappy.

  • Terry square nappies

    Traditional terry square nappies are the cheapest cloth nappy and shouldn’t be overlooked to round out your stash. They are great to use if you don’t want to ‘waste’ a nappy for a small amount of time eg. your baby dirties a nappy half an hour before bathtime. They aren’t super absorbent so will need a cover if you don’t want the moisture to seep out. Old-school pilchers are no longer recommended as they are made from a fabric that doesn’t breathe. Look for PUL or fleece covers.

Are modern cloth nappies sized?

You can buy sized or ‘one size fits most’ (OSFM) modern cloth nappies. A sized nappy will fit better but you’ll need to upgrade as your child grows. But because they haven’t been used as long they’ll be in better condition for when your next child needs them or if you want to sell them.

OSFM nappies are adjustable and a good option for many babies as they can be altered to fit your baby as they grow. With continued use though, they will wear out quicker and may not be in top shape for when your subsequent children need them.

Of course, correct care and laundering will help ensure they last longer.

How do you clean and wash modern cloth nappies?

Makers of reusable nappies recommend dry-pailing, this means no soaking, and once any solids have been tipped in the toilet, nappies are stored in a bucket until wash day.

On wash day you just tip the nappies from the bucket into the washing machine and let technology do all the hard work for you! Make sure you read the manufacturer’s instructions on how to care specifically for their brand of nappy.

In general the method is as follows:

Step 1: Change baby’s nappy and put baby in a safe place.

Step 2: If the nappy is dirty, empty poo in toilet (easier with the help of a product that hoses waste straight into the toilet). If it is only wet, skip to Step 3.

Step 3: Pop the nappy into a dry bucket with a fitted lid. If the nappy is a pocket nappy or all-in-two separate the different elements first.

Step 4: Every second or third day empty the bucket into the washing machine and wash!

Step 5: Dry on the clothes line to take advantage of the sun’s natural bleaching and sanitising properties.

For those of you with convenience concerns, there are cloth nappy laundry services too!

Which modern cloth nappies are the best and how do I choose?

There’s no easy answer to which modern cloth nappy is the best as each baby and family is different. To find one that suits you you’ll need to consider the following:

  • Your climate – do you need one that is quick drying?
  • Your circumstances – is ease of use important (will baby be going to daycare or cared for by grandparents)?
  • Your baby’s size etc – will OSFM nappies not fit well around their skinny legs or are they a heavy wetter?

The best way to help you choose is to read parents’ reviews of modern cloth nappies or to chat to MCN users in our forum’s cloth nappy discussion area.

Consider trialling a few nappies from a range of brands and you’ll soon figure out which ones are your favourite! There’s a large amount of modern cloth nappy brands in our directory.

What other accessories will I need for modern cloth nappies?

There are a few accessories you can buy that will make using cloth nappies easier.

  • Nappy bucket – make sure it has a close-fitting lid so curious toddlers can’t open it!
  • Disposable nappy liners – this will make clean up a bit easier as you can just tip the contents of the liner in the toilet (not the liner itself though, they might clog up your pipes eventually) and the nappy won’t be as dirty.
  • Wet bags – these waterproof bags are perfect for storing a used nappy in when you’re out of the house.
  • Cloth wipes – if you’re already using cloth nappies then cloth wipes can save you even more money. Just clean off and pop in the bucket with the dirty nappies.
  • Water sprayer – Buy and attach a specially made water sprayer to your toilet’s external plumbing so you can hose off your nappies straight into the toilet.

Image credit: kasjato/123RF Stock Photo

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9 comments so far -

  1. Although Modern Cloth Nappies are great and so much better than disposables, there can be problems with them.

    You need to get a good fit, and different nappies suit different shapes, so it can take a lot of trial and error before you find the right nappies for your child
    They can take absolutely days to dry
    They often involve complicated inserts and boosters
    They tend to make your baby a strange shape for clothes, with a huge amount of bulk between the legs
    Elastic can leave marks, and eventually will rot. It can also trap solid bits during washing
    Velcro can scratch and snag and snaps can break or come off
    The laminate used to waterproof pocket and AIO nappies often de-laminates eventually, rendering the nappy useless. 2 part nappies (separate nappy and wrap)are more reliable, and bypass this problem though.

    IMO there is NOTHING which beats a traditional terry square. They are more efficient than any other nappy available, they wash well, dry quickly, always fit, don’t have elastic, they don’t need velcro or studs which can break or come off, and as they are part of a two part system (which is partly what makes them so reliable) there is no PUL to de-laminate. They are also economical. Bamboo terries are also really slim fitting, and as the bulk is spread all over the nappy area, instead of mainly in a pad area between the legs, they result in a far more natural shape for your baby’s outer clothes.

  2. Believe me the pads used in the pocket nappies take a long time to dry. You will need extra pads. If you are throw them in the dryer they take longer than other things. The pocket itself stains too.

  3. A cloth nappy library is also a great way to trial a range of styles and brands of cloth nappies across budgets.

  4. Great information here! My advice is the disposable liners – please don’t flush them. They are bidegradable but they can block up the pipes and cause major havoc in our water ways. Just pop them in the bin or compost. 🙂

  5. Great article! Not all cloth nappies are the same so its best to shop around to see the one that fits your little one the best.



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