How to Use Reusable Nappies – Beginners Guides

Starting out with cloth nappies can seem ultra daunting. From the different types of nappies, to the different fabrics used for liners and boosters…you could easily end up not knowing your bamboo from your microfibre. 

Don’t panic…here’s our nappy guide to everything you need to know about cloth nappies and give you all the nappy advice that you need…

Let’s start at the very beginning…(thank you Julie Andrews!)… i.e., with the nappies themselves. 

Beginners Guide to Reusable Nappies

We realise that getting started with cloth nappies can seem daunting. Cloth nappies are easy…honestly, they are! They do however come in different variations and they’re made using lots of different materials, we hope the guide below will help you decide which are the best nappy options for you.

So if you’re bamboozled by bamboo or muddled about microfibre then don’t be, have a read of this handy guide, cloth nappies really are easy peasy.

Cloth nappies come in a variety of designs, materials, sizes, and styles but essentially they all work in the same way. An absorbent bit of material soaks up wee and a waterproof outer keeps the wetness contained.

How Many Reusable Nappies Do I Need?

For one baby you’re going to need about 20 nappies and several wraps if you are using reusable nappies full time. Nappy gurus advise for part-time use just drop this down accordingly.

Thankfully today you can purchase real nappy kits, which come with everything you need starting out, so that takes care of that problem.

The only thing you need to work out is which type of nappy you want to use…

Nappy Sizes

Cloth nappies generally come into 2 main size categories – Birth to potty (one size) or Sized.

Birth to Potty (One-Size) means the size of the nappy can be adjusted to fit from birth to potty (approx 7-35lbs).

Sized nappies on the other hand come in different sizes. With sized nappies you need to buy the next size up as your baby grows which usually works out more costly, they can however provide a better fit particularly on newborn babies.

Nappy types and accessories

Whilst it might seem that there are loads of different types of cloth nappy compared to a disposable nappy, in reality there are two types, one piece or two piece nappies.

One piece have everything all sewn or ‘poppe’ together and when you change the washable nappies, you change the entire nappy.

Two piece nappies, you just change the absorbent inner layer whether its shaped nappies or flat nappies.

Whislt other nappies have several different names and types, this is basically about the gist of it.

Birth-to-potty nappies

Very versatile nappies that can be easily folded and snapped to fit babies from about 8-10lbs up to potty training. 

There’s no doubt that number of designs, materials, sizes and styles available today is mind-boggling,  but the simple fact is that the basic concept remains the same for all of them…ie, you have an absorbent piece of fabric, which soaks up wee and comes with a waterproof cover to keep all of the wetness contained within the nappy.

They all do the same job, so it’s just a matter of personal choice. 

All-in-one Nappy

Very similar to the disposable versions, all in one nappies have an absorbent core and a waterproof outer, making them super convenient and extremely easy to use. Available in various sizes including birth-to-potty size, so they’re extremely versatile and great value for money!

All-in-one has all the necessary parts required in one piece, an absorbent core and a waterproof outer which means there is no need for a nappy wrap/cover. An All-in-one nappy is often considered to be the height of real nappy convenience as they are so easy to use. All in One nappy are available in a range of sizes including the birth to potty (one size) option.

All-in-two Nappy

Similar to all-in-one nappies, except that all in two nappies have an absorbency layer, which can be snapped in and out of the waterproof outer.

Usually the absorbent core and waterproof outer will separate for washing which results in a faster drying time compared to an all-in-one.

All in two nappies are available in a range of sizes including the birth to potty (one size) option.

Pocket Nappies

Pocket nappies are a waterproof outer with an attached stay-dry inner creating a pouch between the two that is filled with an absorbent insert made from fabric of your choosing. 

Pocket nappies consist of a nappy shaped waterproof outer (usually referred to as the shell) with a built-in waterproof layer and an attached lining that has a hole/slot in one end to allow ‘stuffing’ An absorbent bit of material (usually referred to as an insert) is then ‘stuffed’ into the shell.

Most pocket nappies will come with the shell and insert included. It’s easy to add extra-absorbent materials into the pocket if you need to.

Drying time is usually quite fast as the inserts are taken out of the shell for washing and drying. Pocket nappies are available in a range of sizes including the birth to potty (one size) option.

Two-part Nappy Systems

An absorbent nappy which comes with a waterproof cover. Incredibly easy to use and very versatile. 

Shaped or fitted nappy

Shaped to fit around your baby, these nappies can fasten at the front with a nippas, poppers (snaps), Aplix or they can even tie on. They’re available in a range of materials such as bamboo or cotton and also a range of sizes including the birth to potty (one size) option.

A waterproof wrap or cover (see below) is required with these nappies to keep the wetness in.

Flat Nappies and Pre-Fold

Terry towelling squares which can be folded into a nappy shape and then fastened with a nappy nippa or snappi. 

The traditional cloth nappy, flat nappy consists of a square piece of absorbent material such as terry cotton or bamboo which requires folding to fit around your baby.

Pre-folds look very similar the difference being that pre-folds are layered with extra absorbency in the center and they tend to be rectangular in shape.

Traditionally these would be covered with plastic pants, these days however you would cover the nappy with a modern nappy wrap or cover (see below for more details).

These are by far the cheapest cloth option however they’re not very convenient and they can be quite fiddly too.

Nappy wrap or cover 

Traditionally nappy wraps or covers were sweaty plastic pants, yuck! Luckily these days the covers are lightweight and breathable and some are decorated in fancy prints and colours!

The wrap is designed to be a barrier between the wet nappy and your baby’s clothing. The most common modern wraps are made from a very slim polyester material laminated with breathable PUL to ensure it is waterproof.

Some people use wool or fleece covers (more details below) wraps are available in a range of sizes including the birth to potty (one size) option.

Nappy wraps or nappy covers designed to provide a barrier between your baby’s wet nappy and clothing.

Today’s wraps are lightweight, breathable and decorated in fancy prints and colours with the most popular wraps made from a very slim polyester material laminated with polyurethane laminate (PUL), which is breathable, thin and free from PVC.

Wraps don’t need to be changed every time you change your baby’s nappy, but can be just wiped clean if need be. You won’t need to use wraps at all if you’re using all-in-one nappies or pocket nappies since with these nappies the waterproof wrap is part of the nappy. 

Hybrid nappies

Similar totwo-part nappy system but with a pretty outer layer and a built-in water-repellent or waterproof layer, which means that the nappy can be used with or without a wrap!

Hybrid cover nappy system

Waterproof covers that can be used with a variety of different inserts, such as a cotton prefold, microfibre insert or disposable insert. 

So, that’s the nappies sorted. Now we’ll take a look at the accessories you’ll need to use your real nappies…


There are a few nappy accessories which are needed to make reusable nappies work or just make them easier to use. Not all nappies need all of these accessories, it depends on the type of nappy you have.

Nappy liners 

Nappy liners are placed between your baby’s skin and its nappy and are designed to catch the poo. You can choose between disposable paper nappy liners or fleece liners.

If you opt for the disposable version, then you simply flush the liner and the poo down the loo. If you opt for the fleece version, then you tip the poo into the loo and put the liner into the wash with the nappies. 

A disposable paper nappy liner is designed to go between your baby’s skin and the nappy, it’s there to catch the poo and is usually biodegradable and can sometimes be flushed down the toilet.

Fleece liners (more details below) are made from a non-absorbent sheet of polyester material which is washable and reusable.

Nappy Nippas

If you opt for terry towelling prefold nappies, then you’ll need some Nappy Nippas. These are the modern equivalent of the big safety pin and grip onto natural fabrics without the use of a sharp pin. 

Booster pads 

 Nappy Boosters are f or times when your baby needs to ‘make do’ for a little longer in its nappy – such as night-time or when travelling – booster pads are placed into the nappy to add extra absorbency for a heavy wetter.

Remember all natural nappies need to be washed a few times before they come to full absorbency.

Nappy storage

When it comes to storing dirty nappies, we’ve written a guide to the options to store dirty cloth nappies. If you are using cloth nappies you have to decide whether to use a bucket or wet bag.

Nappy buckets & Wet Bags

You’ll need to keep your soiled nappies safely stored somewhere between washes. A nappy bucket – with a lid – placed in the kitchen will hold your nappies until your next wash and you can opt for either wet or dry pailing. You can line the bucket with mesh bags to quickly put the dirty nappies into a nappy wash without having to touch them again.

Alternatively, you could opt for a nappy wet bag, which you can hang on the back of a door. 

Nappy bucket liners

You just pop one of these into your bucket. Then, when it’s time for a wash, you simply lift out the liner – complete with nappies – and throw the whole lot into the machine. 

Washing Cloth Nappies

Washing reusable nappies is often made out to be a lot more complicated than it is, and really it’s not hard. When it comes to washing reusable nappies, modern cloth nappies can literally be thrown into the washing machine.

Whilst this is possibly more work than putting disposable nappies in the bin, honestly not much more. Washing nappies is not the hard work it used to be!

All dirty nappies, wraps and boosters should be given a cold prewash with no powder, followed by a long cotton wash at 40°-60° using your usual dose of biological washing powder, or else a powder that’s specifically manufactured for cloth nappies.

Always do a rinse cycle on cold with no detergent, then a full normal wash cycle with a full dose of detergent, then a final extra rinse, and this should avoid any detergent build up. Never use fabric softener.

Any velcro nappies should have the laundry tabs folded back so they don’t catch on everything. You should do this when you change nappies and put them in the bag.

Follow this with a final rinse. Nappies should be washed at 30°-40° and a nappy sanitiser should be used – especially if your baby is under three months of age, is ill, or if the nappies are particularly soiled. 

Drying Nappies

Naturally, we would advocate line drying wet nappies where possible but, given our often unreliable climate, this isn’t always possible. If you have the time – and space – use a drying rack over a radiator or a clothes horse.

How To Dry Reusable Nappies

Depending on how often and for how long your central heating is on, nappy drying can take anything up to 24 hours. If you’re short on time, some nappies can be tumble dried on a low heat. 

The Bottom Line on How Do Reusable Nappies Work

Using reusable nappies will save money, they are environmentally friendly and if you are serious about sustainable living are the way forward!

You are no more likely to get a nappy rash compared to using disposables, you don’t need to tumble dry so you can use them without a tumble dryer and the one set should last you until your baby is potty trained.

To save even more money you can buy used nappies and for heavy wetters you can use extra boosters or extra inserts.

Use liners to catch solids and at nappy changes you should be careful what type of nappy rash creams you use.

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