Everything you ever needed to know about cloth nappies

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You might be surprised that many daycare's are happy to accommodate cloth nappy families
You might be surprised that many daycare's are happy to accommodate cloth nappy families

 - Updated December 2021 - 

When I was pregnant with my son I didn't even think of cloth nappies. I thought they were an outdated way to do things and that disposables were the way to go. It seemed like way too much effort and only for hippies.

Now, let's get this out of the way, this is not an article about bashing disposables. I still use them, they're convenient and I don't have to deal with washing poo out of a nappy. Although I could certainly do without that nappy bin smell.

Nonetheless, I went down the internet rabbit hole that is modern cloth nappies and let me tell you, it's quite a journey. The first thing that caught my eye were how cute these nappies covers are.

But reading further, it's quite intimidating and I can see why a lot of mothers would just throw up their arms and head for the less complicated world of disposables.

But the cute patterned bums were not the only thing that led me to investigate cloth nappies, the rising and already expensive cost of disposables was carving quite a dent in my pocket and I had to empty out the nappy bin the other day and I almost threw up (I wish I was exaggerating).


1. Cheaper

In the long run, it's much cheaper and more cost effective than disposables. On average, you would spend around R3000 on your cloth nappy stash.

That's a lot of money to give out at one time, which is why most moms build up their stash from different brands over time. This way they also find what works best for them.

But even so, the amount that disposable nappies will cost you from birth to potty training is on average R15 000 per child. Cloth nappies are reusable, so that's around R3000 for all your children.

2. The Environment

While you do get biodegradable disposable nappies, they tend to be more expensive than your average "sposie" and most parents tend to stick to the common brands. So when you throw all your nappies out in the big wheelie bin, the garbage truck comes to collect it and then it's no longer your problem.

But it's still the Earth's problem. I'm no hippie but the thought of millions of stinky non-biodegradable nappies just sitting in landfills does leave me with some guilt.

3. No stinky bins

The solution to this could be to get one of those special nappy bins, but that's an extra expense that a lot of parents can't afford. And as your child gets older, the stinkier those poos get.

With cloth nappies you flush or rinse the solid waste down the toilet immediately and the wet ones go into a sealed diaper pail for washing day. 

Cloth nappies also retain the smell of waste better than disposables. My son can stink up a room pretty fast and you'll know it!

4. Better for babies bum

Disposable nappies contain chemicals to try and mask the smell of poo and to quickly draw liquid away from baby's bum and turn it into a gel. Sometimes if the nappy is full, baby's bum gets wet and this can lead to bum rashes.

Cloth contains no nasty chemicals and are available in either stay-dry fabrics to wick moisture away from baby's bum, or all natural fibres for those that prefer to have no synthetic fibres against baby's bum.

Because cloth is so gentle on baby's skin, there is no need to use bum cream at every change like you would with disposables and rashes are very uncommon when using cloth. So that's another saving on buying expensive bum cream too.

5. No leaks!

The amount of mornings we've woken up to find that my son has not only wet himself but also the bed, well let's just say I've stopped counting. It's not even a surprise anymore but I would like for it to not happen.

And it seems that there are far fewer leakages with cloth nappies.


1. More effort

It's slightly more effort than disposables. Not the actual changing of the nappy but there is minimal work that goes into it depending on the option you go with.

You may have to spend some time stuffing your nappies after they're washed or do an extra load of washing if it's not laundry day, but really your machine does all the work.

2. Bigger water and electricity bill

Cloth nappies obviously need to be washed.

And this might result in a somewhat higher water and electricity bill because of the extra loads of washing that need to be done.

3. Overwhelming

The world of cloth nappies can be very overwhelming for the uninitiated and many moms prefer to take the simpler route. There are so many options to choose from but with a little research you will find that it's all quite simple.

To help clear up the confusion there are a few different routes you can take:


The all-in-one is basically a washable version of a disposable nappy. The absorbent inserts are all sewn in for pee and you can use a disposable or fabric liner to catch and dispose of the poop.

Liners can either be disposable ones (flushable or non-flushable) and reusable liners (fabric ones). It comes with a waterproof cover sewn on to protect baby's clothes.

Pro: Most convenient and like a disposable. Very daycare friendly. Sized to fit from birth to potty training.

Con: Most expensive. Takes longer to dry.


Similar to the all-in-one, this type of nappy has inserts that snap in and are removed when they get dirty. So you just need to change the inserts and not the whole diaper (depending on what the inside of the nappy is made of and how dirty it is).

It also comes with a built in water proof cover. The cover is wipeable so you'd only need to replace absorbent insert. You only grab a new cover if poop gets onto it.

Pros: Waterproof cover can be reused with any insert, which makes it more economical as you don't need as many waterproof covers. Quick to dry and usually pretty trim.

 It's a 2-step system, you have to snap & unsnap inserts, so it's not quite as straightforward as using an all-in-one. 

Pocket nappies

A pocket is exactly what it sounds like. It's a nappy that is lined and it has a pocket that you "stuff" with absorbent inserts. The urine would go through the lining into the absorbent insert that would need to be "unstuffed" before it's washed.

Pros: Quick drying. Many affordable options. Sized from birth to potty training.

Cons: Some effort required to stuff the nappies beforehand and to unstuff before washing.


A fitted diaper is made of cloth both on the inside and outside. It would need a waterproof cover to go over it. Some mothers prefer it for night time use as it's more absorbent.

Pros: Excellent night time solution. Whole nappy is absorbent. Sized to fit from birth to potty training.

Cons: Requires an extra waterproof cover, can be bulkier than other types of modern cloth nappies. Good night-time fitted diapers can be quite pricey. Takes long to dry. 

Flats, prefolds and covers

Flats refer to the old-school style of cloth nappies that require a snappy to tie it all together and a waterproof cover to make it waterproof. They're not as bulky as they once were and you can also pad-fold and place in a cover instead of using a snappy.

Prefolds refer to pieces of already layered and sewn together pieces of cloth (usually cotton or bamboo) that are also folded and tied with a snappy. Just like flats they require a waterproof cover. However, you can simply tri-fold and place in a cover, if you don't want to use a snappy. If you do use a snappy though, the folds are a little less complicated than those of flats, since you already have a few layers sewn into the middle wet-zone. 

Pros: Cheaper. Easier to wash. Versatile. Very absorbent. Very trim option.

Cons: Most time consuming with regard to folding. Have to buy more sizes as baby grows. Requires an additional waterproof cover. Least daycare friendly, 

Inserts and Boosters

There are a wide variety of inserts and boosters made of different materials: microfibre, bamboo, cotton and hemp. Each material has different benefits and levels of absorbency. 

There are also flushable liners available to make the task of getting rid of solid waste less of a hassle. Alternatively you can use a diaper sprayer (basically a handheld shower sprayer attachment attached to your toilet), which makes getting rid of the poop a breeze. 

If you're interested in starting on Modern Cloth Nappies check out the South African Cloth Nappy Users Facebook group. The mamas there are quite helpful and it's a great support system.

Would you consider using cloth nappies?


Share your stories and questions with us via email at chatback@parent24.com. Anonymous contributions are welcome.

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