Disposable and cloth nappies buying guide

What's best - cloth or disposable? We'll tell you about the environment effects and other issues.
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  • Updated:22 Jul 2003

01.Types of nappies

Baby feeding

It isn’t until some time in their second or third year that babies get to the toilet training stage — and until they do, they need to wear nappies. This makes choosing and using nappies a major part of their life, and yours.

There are two main varieties: reusable cloth nappies and disposable nappies.

Please note: this information was current as of July 2003 but is still a useful guide to today's market. 

Cloth nappies

The most commonly available cloth nappy is a simple terry towelling square or rectangle, quick to dry when hung out unfolded and very absorbent when folded into several layers. White towelling nappies are what most of us think of when we think of cloth nappies, but you can also get flannelette, brushed cotton or cotton muslin nappies, even bright colours. Whatever you choose, you’ll need at least two or three dozen if you’re only using cloth nappies.

You can also buy fitted cloth nappies, which are shaped much like a disposable, with elastic at the legs and waist and, usually, Velcro tabs for fastening. They generally feature some form of absorbent padding, may be adjustable in size and available in several choices of exterior fabric and colour. There’s a range of brands on the market — sold through some pharmacies, baby shops, department stores and by mail order — offering variations on the theme.

At their best they are easy to get on and off, provide good containment and are a neater, less bulky fit than the standard square nappy. They’re more expensive than the basic squares, and take longer to dry, but for people who don’t want or can’t afford to use disposables yet like the convenience they offer, the advantages of fitted nappies could be worth paying for.

Accessories likely to be found useful in conjunction with ordinary cloth nappies include:

  • Nappy liners: Made of disposable paper or fabric, these are used inside cloth nappies to catch poo and are then discarded or cleaned after use. One-way nappy liners help keep your baby’s skin dry by drawing moisture away from the body. They can be helpful in preventing nappy rash and can be used with disposables as well as cloth nappies.
  • Plastic pants and pilchers: These are needed with the standard cloth nappy, to keep clothes and bedding dry. As well as those available through supermarkets, department stores and specialty baby care shops, several brands are sold through mail order outlets. According to some experts, it’s worth considering that the more efficiently these outer pants do their job of keeping bedding and clothes dry, the more efficiently they’ll be keeping baby’s bottom wet — so to minimise the risk of nappy rash, you should look for a brand that works a little less than perfectly, permitting some air to circulate and moisture to evaporate.
  • Fasteners: Using a nappy doesn’t necessarily mean safety pins in the thumb any more. Some converts swear by nappy clamps or fasteners: plastic, claw-like fastening devices which sell for around $3.50 for two.

The other point to remember when using cloth nappies is that careful laundering is essential. For instance, without thorough rinsing, residue from the washing powder can remain embedded in the nappy, irritating baby’s skin and ultimately causing nappy rash.

Disposable nappies

Disposable nappies have taken over from cloth: according to 2001 industry data, 89 percent of all nappies changed in Australia are disposables, up from 40 percent in 1993.

The perfect disposable nappy should:

  • absorb moisture quickly to prevent leaks and ‘lock it in’ to keep your baby’s bottom relatively dry
  • be easy and quick to fasten
  • stay closed during use
  • fit various shapes and sizes
  • contain absorbent material that doesn’t shift or disintegrate during use.

Some brands have a wetness indicator — a picture that disappears when the nappy is wet — which may come in handy if you’re unfamiliar with changing nappies and are unsure when a change is due.

Disposable nappies vary in price and quality. You can expect to pay around 26 to 50 cents per nappy, depending on the brand and packet size you choose. Bulk packs are usually most economical.

Check out our most recent trial of disposable nappies: Disposable nappies on trial.



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