Modern cloth nappies

Cloth nappies have come a long way since the terry squares of yesteryear but disposables still reign the shopping cart.
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02.MCN buying guide

What are the different styles?

  • Pre-folds are unshaped cloth nappies with several layers of cloth for absorbency, used with a leak-proof outer layer. This style of nappy is the cheapest of the modern variety, and while you also have to include the cost of the cover, one cover should last for up to four or five nappies before it needs washing. 
  • Fitted nappies look more like disposables with the same “fitted” shape around the legs and waist. They’re usually made from absorbent material: bamboo, hemp, cotton or fleece. Like pre-folds, they’re used with a waterproof cover, and you need around one cover for every four to five nappies. 
  • Pocket nappies have a waterproof outer layer sewn together with a soft inner lining. Between these two layers, there’s a gap (a “pocket”) where you put one or more absorbent inserts. The inserts need to be removed before washing and replaced afterwards, which can be a bit fiddly. 
  • All-in-ones combine the nappy’s different layers into one. They have a moisture-resistant outer layer sewn together with an absorbent inner to form the nappy. This means there’s no fussing around with separate layers – useful when you’re out and about. The extra bulk of all-in-ones does mean they can take longer to dry – though the type of fabric affects this. 
  • All-in-twos consist of a lined waterproof shell and one or more snap-in absorbent layers or boosters, which are taken apart for laundering. Offering faster drying times than all-in-ones, if you re-assemble them after laundering, they’re conveniently in one piece and ready to go. They're also sometimes called snap-in-ones. This was the most popular type in our survey.

Sizing - OSFM or small, medium & large?

Cloth nappies come in various sizes, and sizing can differ between brands. Some brands are available in small, medium and large; otherwise it’s one-size-fits-most (OSFM). Some offer both options. The one-size-fits-most has extra fastenings for adjusting the nappy as your baby grows. These nappies will get more wear and tear because you’re using them all the time (something to consider if you want them to last for a second child). The alternative is to buy bigger sizes as needed; you’ll need to buy more nappies but they should last longer.

Fabrics used

The various components for cloth nappies are made from a variety of fabrics. Bamboo, cotton, hemp or fleece are the main ones, with PUL or wool often used for covers. PUL is a breathable polyurethane laminated fabric that provides a water barrier. Wool is lanolised to provide water resistance, and needs airing rather than washing when wet. However, these covers will need relanolising every couple of weeks.
The type of fabric used affects drying time. Natural fibres usually take longer to dry than synthetics. If you prefer natural fibres, you’ll want to make sure you have enough nappies to get through a few days of wet weather – or get a tumble-drier. Check the laundry-care information before you buy.

How do I choose which brand and type to use?

Fat legs, thin legs, big tums, skinny bums … Babies come in a range of shapes and sizes, as do nappies. And then there are individual soiling habits. Given that fit and absorbency are so critical for performance, it’s difficult to predict what style, size or brand of nappy will suit your baby best, and the one your best friend swears by may not work for you.

  • You could buy a single nappy in each of the styles you like to see which suits your baby best.
  • Some companies sell trial packs with samples of the different styles.
  • An increasingly popular alternative is to hire a trial pack from a nappy library. You can try different brands and styles, and decide which – if any – are for you. The service is offered by nappy companies and community groups: Google ‘modern cloth nappy library’ to find one near you.
  • You could try secondhand nappies – ask around among friends and family.



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