I’ve been asked by a few mates new to cloth nappies about my wash routine. That’s a funny thing to type, makes me feel like an influencer! *tosses hair* “I’ve been asked by my fans about my skincare routine!” Like that, but for baby poop.
Anyway, let’s talk shit:
My washing machine is a Bosch Series 4 8kg front loader. It heats it own water to the requested temperature. I got it in July and I love it. So the following routine is for a front loader. Read it any way if you have a top loader, but scroll to the bottom for a couple of tips that I used when I had my top loader.
Step One: after removing the nappy from baby, I stick it in what’s called a dry pail. This is just a basket with a ton of air holes. Mine is metal, but you can use plastic too – as long as it’s got lots of airflow.
Step Two: Either immediately after removing the nappy or later on when you’ve got time, scrape any solid poops out of the nappy and into the toilet. (This doesn’t apply to exclusively breastfed babies – their poop is water soluble and can dissolve in the wash, so no scraping necessary!) Ideally the poop will be ‘ploppable’, which means it rolls off the nappy pretty easily, but there are plenty of poops that aren’t that easy. Teething poops and ‘just starting solids’ poops are super annoying like this, they have a peanut butter/straight kumara texture. To clean these off, I use a butter knife (clearly marked and NEVER brought into the kitchen, lest it be confused with the other knives!) and a silicon brush. Usually I will only need the knife, but occasionally the brush is warranted. I clean these with diluted bleach.
Step Three: Once I take off baby’s night nappy in the morning, I put it in the machine with all the previous day’s nappies. I do morning washes because ideally it’s good to wash a night nappy as soon as it’s off the bum, and because I benefit from a strict routine and doing nappies like this helps me to not forget. You can do night washes if you don’t use cloth at night though. When chucking nappies in the wash, take the inserts out of the pockets, so everything can swish around properly.
This is called the prewash, but it’s actually a proper wash. Ideally you should do a hot wash between 30-60 minutes with half the usual amount of detergent. I wash at 60 degrees Celsius on a quick cottons cycle, which is 1 hour 6 minutes. The reason you only do half detergent is because it’s not a full load of laundry so you don’t want a manic amount of suds, and because you don’t want to add any other items to this one – just the nappies.
Step Four: Once the wash is done, stick the nappies into a second dry pail to wait until you do a main wash. My second dry pail is right next to the first one, as seem in the above pic.
Step Five: Once you’ve done a couple days’ worth of prewashes, it’s main wash time! I do mine every 3 days, sometimes every second day depending on my plans. I never leave it longer than 3 days – I think you can go up to four days but my pails aren’t big enough and personally I’d rather not leave it that long, as I don’t want to risk ammonia developing.
Anyway, for main wash I chuck the three days’ worth of nappies in, and do a 40 degree wash with full detergent dose. The wash needs to be full, so I bulk it up with baby clothes, flannels, handtowels etc if i need to. I use Persil on nappies, but there are a few options you can use. Eco detergents aren’t always as effective unless you do hot washes for both pre and main. You’ll soon get a vibe for what works though. I use persil for nappies and ecostore for my other stuff.
And that’s it! If you want to use your dryers, just use it for inserts. Shells dry super quick on a rack. Try to dry them out of direct sunlight so you don’t damage the PUL.
Okay, when I had my Fisher and Paykel top loader, I did stuff a bit differently. You can’t get precise temperatures in a top loader, because they fill up from your hot water cylinder and my thermometer indicated that my hot washes were about 55 degrees Celsius. So I did both pre and main washes on hot. I did a heavy duty cycle for both, and often paused the main wash to allow items to soak for half an hour. That’s pretty much the only difference.
Anyway, I hope this guide helps you developing your own wash routine! I’m happy to answer any questions you may have, and sites like Clean Cloth Nappies are a godsend! Their science-based strategies are what I used to develop this routine, and they can help with all sorts of issues.
A few days ago, we passed the point where Leo has been out in the world for longer than he’d been in the womb, and I remembered that I had a half-written birth story on the computer. So here we go: a finished, muddled recollection of a couple of very powerful days. So I thought I’d share for people who like this sort of thing. Feel free to leave a comment if you’ve experienced any of this stuff too. Birth is intense, and I think we all need to talk about it.
I went into labour around noon on Labour Day, three days after my due date. I appreciated the irony. It was also my best friend’s due date, so our kids had the possibility of sharing a birthday (that didn’t end up happening, her son was born a week later).
Around 8.30pm, after lightly labouring with a TENS machine throughout the day, my waters broke. I was quite excited by this because hello! It was real labour now! I quickly messaged my midwife, because it was late, and I figured I’d have to wake her up sometime in the night, so it would be nice to give a bit of warning.
“Are your waters clear?” she asked.
“I think so?”
“Let me know if you get more and they’re discoloured. If not, just keep going, you’re doing great.”
Ha. Waters don’t keep breaking, right? That was a full gush, not a trickle. Surely that’s all the water I could fit in me. Well, I was wrong. It happened again. This time I put on one of my reusable cotton pads, and as I reached the toilet and yanked down the pants, my plans fell apart. The pad was soaked in a greenish-brown goo. Meconium. Worse, it was thick meconium.
There goes my peaceful water birth, I thought. Meconium rules that out, I’d had that explained to me at my midwife visits.
So that was the first thing that went wrong.
I called my midwife and confirmed that yes, my waters had some meconium. She recommended that I come into the birth centre for an examination. So that was fine. I put on a clean pad, undies and pants, and we headed out for an extremely uncomfortable but fortunately only ten minute drive to the birth centre. Josh drove so carefully, knowing I was cringing over every bump. He handled the suitcase and the giant bag of snacks (the bag was big enough for a week at the hospital, which came in handy after the birth, as you’ll see.)
As I climbed out of the car, my waters broke. Again. It was like I was the liquid equivalent of a trick candle. A trick water balloon. How much liquid was in me? Was this whole thing just an elaborate psych-out, and I wasn’t pregnant at all, just retaining a ton of water that mysteriously looked baby-shaped on my frequent ultrasounds? Was my son actually a merman?
I waddled in, acutely aware that I was leaking onto their carpet. I apologised to the receptionist, who was not at all bothered. To be honest, I was mostly concerned about my Allbird sneakers. I mean, I’m sure a lot of women had leaked body fluids onto their carpet and they expected that sort of thing, but my shoes were brand-new, man. I have no idea why Í chose that evening to wear them.
The lovely women at River Ridge Birth Centre helped me into an examination room (where I took off my sneaks and saw that the goop had hit my socks but had travelled no further, yaassss). My midwife examined me as the contractions kept coming and confirmed that yes, there was actually quite a lot of meconium, so the birth would have to be at the hospital. So much for the cute, photogenic River Ridge birthing tub. (Maybe next baby? Hahahaha oh god that means doing this again…)
So we drove to the hospital. We checked in and were assigned a delivery room. I have it on good authority that my room was the best one – it’s bigger and has the nicest view.
I did not see the view.
I assume other people enjoyed it?
The birthing suite, obnoxiously, had a big tub that I couldn’t use. It taunted me with promises of hot, soothing water. I wanted to kick it, but it was ceramic or metal or something and I didn’t feel like adding more pain on what was a swiftly increasing level of discomfort.
Baby was posterior, which means he was facing forward. I knew that in advance. He had also been breech up until a couple weeks before birth, but thankfully he’d changed that.Posterior positioning usually means that labour takes longer, because the baby has to rotate around to being in the correct birthing position before he comes out. That involves his spine scraping up against mine. And that hurts in a way I really can’t describe without losing this light, breezy tone and ending up putting women off giving birth. So let’s just say it was a bit sore.
I stood under a hot shower for about half an hour, bending over a chair so the water hit my hips and lower back. It was the closest I could get to a tub and it felt so good. As each contraction hit, I strangely embraced them. Every one brought me closer to having a baby. But then they got worse and the novelty wore off.
“FUUUUUUUUUUUCK!” I bellowed, a couple hours in. My midwife suggested I try the gas. I insisted it didn’t work – it just made me feel nauseous.
“That’s because you’re not breathing it in deep enough.” She gently encouraged the proper technique – breathing long deep breaths. Once you hit about 8 breaths the gas hits juuuuust right. After a couple of contractions worth of this, I had it down pat and the NO2 became my best buddy. It was definitely better than staunching it out. Anyone who manages posterior labour without pain relief is a superhero but also isn’t someone you should trust, because they’re not normal. Josh held my hand and handed the gas hose to me whenever I dropped it. He looked so worried, and I remember thinking that this was rough for him. Oh, girl.
So I huffed on the gas a lot, but the contractions got worse. They got really bad. I like to think I’m reasonably tough due to years of working through migraines (which are like mega-hangovers without the fun of alcohol) but this was next level. It stopped being funny. It just became about bracing for the pain. I screamed. The gas hose would fall out of my mouth. Someone, usually Josh, would pass it back, I would huff. I would scream. Cycle repeat. Over and over.
“Lou, you’re only 3 centimetres dilated,” I was told. I thought of Ross on Friends, and that quote during Rachel’s labour. Three? I’m dilated three! Except there was no laugh track, there was just the misery of realising I was hours into a very slow labour that also had a time limit.
Apparently if there’s old meconium in your waters when they break, you need to give birth within 18 hours or you’re at high risk of infection. Or maybe that’s unrelated to the meconium. I don’t know. At this point my memory gets a bit unreliable and I might recount things in the wrong order.
My midwife gently suggested an epidural as a possibility, to let me rest while my body did the work of dilating. And even though I hadn’t intended to get an epidural (you can’t have them at birth centres and that was my original plan), the offer was like a life preserver. So I accepted, even though the idea of them had made me nervous at my antenatal class. (Tip for future mothers: antenatal you is an innocent lamb. Appreciate her, but don’t try to follow her instructions. Just do what feels right for you in the moment.) At some point during labour I was given oxytocin to speed the process, which helped. It was done on a drip.
So the epidural, thankfully, came immediately. I sat as still as I could for the rather large injection, and asked the anesthesiologist if I’d fucked up (by moving). She misheard me and thought I’d asked if she fucked up. She was very gracious and tried to explain that she’d done it correctly, but Josh thankfully clarified, and she immediately said “oh honey no, you did it just right.” Cringe. Sorry, anesthesiologist, that was my bad. I’d like to say I’m not always that awkward, but that would be a lie.
Anyway, the epidural worked. There was a patch near my hip which didn’t quite numb, which meant I felt a tiny twinge of each contraction. I found that weirdly comforting, like I was still connected to a process that felt like my body was going through without me.
The next few hours were relatively peaceful, yet still tiring. They continued monitoring the baby, who was surprisingly chill. There were a couple of periods where they thought he was in distress, but it turned out that his monitoring equipment wasn’t in the right position. So that scared us, but it was all good. So far, there was no need for a caesarean section. I was very clear that I only wanted a c-section if the baby was in distress, not me.
(C-section mums: please note that I am NOT one of those people who thinks they’re “not real birth” or any of that bollocks. That wasn’t my issue. I was just really scared of getting major abdominal surgery and adding to the healing time. Zero judgement here of whatever way you choose to birth, it’s an intense experience no matter what!)
The hospital midwives changed shifts, and my midwife and student midwife went home to get some sleep. When they returned later, I had managed a nap, and I was eight centimetres dilated. Mention of the c-section popped up again, and I refused again.
My mum called, and I finally had a cry, so she and Dad headed over to the hospital to come and talk to me while I waited out the last couple centimetres. Originally I hadn’t planned to have them come see me, but hey, a lot of things hadn’t worked out the way I thought.
This was when I was told that my cervical lip was blocking his head from being able to get past. This was aired as another reason for a c-section. I was still really not keen, but the OB-GYN said if it didn’t fix itself soon I would be out of options. He left to start prepping. In the time he was out, my midwife tried a tactic called “manually reducing” which involves turning baby’s head, I think? It apparently is super painful but I couldn’t feel it, it was just uncomfortable. But it worked! Lip gone. OB-GYN came back in and was really happy that it had worked.
My parents arrived half an hour later, and my mum teared up as soon as she saw me. I must’ve looked like a wreck. My student midwife was rubbing my numb leg, which was incredibly comforting, and there were people everywhere. My midwife (who was friends with my mum and babysat me as a toddler!) took my folks out to update them while I got examined by the OB-GYN, who told me yet again that if I wasn’t at 10cm, we were out of time and natural labour was off the table. He was right, but I didn’t like it.
But yay! Family returned to the room in time to hear the OB-GYN announce that I had hit 10 centimetres! We were good to go. So the fam vanished, and the pushing began.
I pushed for two hours.
Apparently at first I made great progress – good, strong pushes that had him moving really well. But then he got stuck. Turns out he had his arm up by his face. (He still sleeps like that now. But it’s cuter now. It wasn’t cute that day.) Because of this, he was jammed. And he was going to need forceps or a ventouse, because the two hours pushing was done, over 18 hours had passed since the waters broke, and he needed to be out. So I chose the ventouse, they attached it, and I pushed again. A couple minutes later, I heard a loud pop!
“His head’s out, Lou, you’re nearly done! One more push!”
Around me, all the voices were urging me to push. It was such a weird moment. So I cried out that I was going to puke. Then I threw up. Amazing timing. A smart midwife was there in time with a bowl. Then I pushed again, and suddenly a huge, beautiful, surprisingly un-gunky baby, all squirms and smoosh, with a faint head of hair and a not-so-faint yell, was on my chest.
“Hi baby!” I managed to say. I couldn’t see his face. But I assumed he was cute. My midwife noticed immediately and adjusted him so I could see his gorgeous, scrunched-up face.
He was beautiful.
I did it. I did it.
Five minutes later, the placenta was out and the cord had stopped pulsing. Josh got to cut it. They finished Leo’s APGAR tests, and he latched for a feed. He latched perfectly from the first moment, which redeemed him somewhat for that hand-up-by-his-face-during-birth nonsense. I got stitched up for my 3A tear. Ouch. After that, I fell asleep. I assume that was when Josh got to cuddle him. I dunno. I was tired, man.
After that was a night at the hospital, then two nights as a family at River Ridge, and then a night at home before Leo turned bright orange and needed 8 days in a locked-down NICU for jaundice. Josh and I both stayed in the hospital with him because I was EBF. That was a tough week. But he’s fine now.
People have often mentioned my birth being traumatic. I wouldn’t personally call it that. I know that there were a lot of complications, but thanks to my amazing midwife and her focus on informed consent, I felt in control of a lot of what happened. I don’t regret any decisions I made. If my next birth went the same way, I would make the same choices. Well, I’d probably get the epidural earlier, and I’d huff the gas properly from the start. I also wouldn’t wear wool sneakers.
So thank you to everyone who was a part of Leo’s birth story. You all helped me and reassured me, and most of all, you respected me. That’s how every birth should go.
One major thing with cloth nappies that I’m hyper aware of is the initial cost of a setup. Although cloth nappies wind up thousands of dollars cheaper than disposable nappies in the long run, not everyone can afford a big upfront payment. And not everyone knows which brand they want to invest in! Recommendations are hugely helpful, but ultimately it comes down to what you like and can afford and what fits your child best.
It’s like Terry Pratchett’s “Boots” theory. Having more money saves you money.
But if you haven’t got the cash for a bulk payment, here are some ways to get into the cloth game anyway.
Remember, you do not need to be all or nothing. You don’t need a full stash of 28 nappies from Day 1. I think that expectation is one of the things that puts people off using cloth. If you only have two nappies to start with, that’s fine! That’s two nappies you save from landfill every time you use them. Do what you need to do for your budget, and if cloth works for you, you can continue to build up.
You don’t need to go full-time if you don’t want to. Ever. Some cloth parents just use cloth during the day and go for disposable at night. Some do two days on, one day off. Some just have a few nappies that they use when they can. All of these options are fine! I use disposables when I’m on longer trips to visit family, because I don’t want to spend my holiday at the laundromat. Do what works for you and your family! You can always add more later if you want to.
This is not as gross as it sounds, I promise. There are Facebook groups like NZ Buy and Sell MCNs where you can get great deals on secondhand nappies. Ads will state the condition of the nappies. If you’re buying secondhand, it’s definitely worth sanitising them with a bleach solution before putting on your baby. Groups like Clean Cloth Nappies will guide you through that, or just ask a fellow cloth user! We’re always happy to help. Secondhand is also a great way to get out of stock prints that you like from good quality brands.
Use brand rep discount codes
A lot of nappy brands have brand rep codes that can offer you 10 or 15% off. Feel free to message the company and ask, or search the company’s hashtag on social media.
Most brands have bundle deals, where you’ll get a discount for buying 6, 12 or 24 nappies. These are fantastic if you know which brand you like and want to commit to! Many brands and sites also have trial packs, where you will get a one-off discount for buying 2 or 3 nappies.
Buy flats/prefolds and covers
Flat nappies are the old-school style of nappies, a bit like what our parents would’ve used in the good old days. They’re folded around the baby and held in place with a fastener (you can use Snappis these days though, not big old safety pins!) Flats and prefolds with covers are more cost-effective than a full stash of pocket nappies, as you can use the covers more than once before washing them. Flat nappies and covers also dry much more quickly, so you don’t need as many in your stash.
Sell nappies you don’t need or want
Yes, those same secondhand groups are a great way to pass on what you don’t use or what didn’t work for your child! Cloth nappies hold value well, especially if they’re a popular brand. You may not get back the full amount you paid, but you will get some, which is definitely not the case for used disposable nappies!
Ask a mate
Do you have a cool friend who uses cloth? They might be able to loan you a couple of nappy brands to try! Feel free to ask.
Hopefully these tips help you feel a bit better about taking the first step to using cloth. Have you got any other ideas to do cloth cheap? Feel free to share them in the comments!
“Why Lou?” I hear people ask. “That’s a lot of extra laundry. Don’t you want to just bin the poop and be done with it?”
Well, no. And here’s why:
The rubbish bins in my town only go out fortnightly.
Seriously. Can you imagine? Two weeks of soiled nappies and wipes? They’d fill up the entire wheelie bin! And once the kid starts solids, that’s two weeks of stinky human waste sitting there in your trash – even if you’re the responsible type who flicks solid poop off the nappy into the toilet like you’re apparently supposed to.
No way. Ew.
For me, that was the clincher that began my cloth journey, but there’s actually a ton of great reasons to go cloth. Here were the main ones for me:
You save money, even if you go a little nuts buying prints
You save a butt-ton of money using cloth. Once you’re past the initial outlay, you’re only paying for laundry powder and some electricity for the extra washes. Going full cloth will save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars – even when compared to the cheapest disposable brands!
Remember, you do not need to be all or nothing with reusables. If you only have a couple of cloth nappies to start with, that’s fine! Don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re doing it wrong. Owning and using two cloth nappies is two nappies you save from landfill every time you use them. It adds up. And keep in mind, you don’t even need to buy brand new! There’s a great market for secondhand nappies online now, so you can build a stash for not much more than the price of a few boxes of disposables. And even within brand new nappies, there’s a huge range of prices.
I’m at the more expensive end with nappies. I’m luckily in a position where I can do that, and I have fun with it. I started out with a huge collection of Baby Factory nappies from a friend of mine – she gave me so many that I was able to share them with three other friends to boost their cloth supplies and give them an opportunity to try cloth out without committing to anything. From there, I bought a few trial packs from different brands. Trial packs are a great way to test a nappy brand while getting a wee discount. I started with trial packs from Fluffy Ducks and Bear & Moo and got addicted from there. I ordered mixed packs from Tushie, Fluff Mail, Tweedle and Wren & Myrtle. Once you’ve tried a few brands you’ll have a good idea of what you need and what you like in a nappy, and you can go from there.
And when your child is toilet-trained, you can sell them to someone else! Can’t do that with used disposies!
They’re better for the environment
Disposables take hundreds of years to break down, and it takes more waste water to make one disposable than it does to grow, create and use a cloth nappy. That astounded me and I really wasn’t okay with it. I’ve been trying to cut down on my waste for years, with mixed results. However, I’ve managed to have a waste-free period for 3 years prior to my pregnancy. Cloth nappies seemed like another great opportunity to minimise my landfill contribution.
For Leo’s first three weeks, we used disposables* – we spent most of his first two weeks either in the birth centre or in the hospital and it was just too hard to contemplate going home every day to do a wash when I was tethered to an exclusively breastfed baby who couldn’t leave his blue light bed. Once we’d been home for a week and felt settled, I started him in day nappies. Once he hit 2 months old, I began doing cloth overnight, and we also began using cloth wipes. Since then, I’ve only used disposables on a couple of overnight trips. That’s what works for us right now. Every cloth nappy reused is one less disposable going into my wheelie bin and into my town’s landfill. Stoked!
*When I do use disposables, I use Noopii – they’re a NZ brand (possibly the only one now that Treasures have shut down?) They also seemed a bit more environmentally-friendly than the other brands, and a percentage of the purchase price goes towards conservation of native NZ animals, which is pretty fly. Ka pai, Noopii! Little and Brave also appealed as a disposable option, but their compost program doesn’t extend to my city yet, so I decided against them. Would love to try them if they ever bring their commercial composting to my neck of the woods, though.
I like laundry
I find doing laundry weirdly calming. It’s one of the chores I insist on doing entirely myself – not because my husband isn’t capable (he is perfectly capable of washing his own clothes, and everyone should be), but because I like it. (He did his own laundry for years before me, there’s no issue there. He still folds his own clothes because he likes the Kondo method, and Konmari is lovely and tidy once it’s in your drawers, but I feel like it takes foreveeerrrr. Do any of you guys still do Konmari stuff, or was it just a passing fad?)
Aaaanyway, I looked up a wash routine on Clean Cloth Nappies and went from there, and in the process I learned a bunch about how to get all kinds of stains out, so now I really like laundry because I get sweet results and also get super zen when it’s all done and out on the line. I even bought metal pegs so I never have to deal with plastic pegs breaking!
I can already see some of you side-eyeing me for the laundry stanning. Come on, doesn’t everyone have one chore they actually secretly like? Well, this is mine. Don’t judge me.
The chore I hate is ironing. Don’t even start. Ugh.
I love the prints!
My addictive personality has totally latched onto cloth nappies. I love the patterns, I love trying different brands, and I love collecting prints that mean something to me. I have prints of movies I love, animals I love, random prints that remind me of special moments with my family, and colours that I find satisfying. I even have some nappies designed by a friend of mine (check out Tuti’s Wild Things collection)! Every print I buy is in my collection for a reason. I have no idea if other people put this level of nerdery into the nappy prints they buy (I’m sure I’m not alone!), but some aren’t concerned with this aspect at all and are happy for any print, focussing instead on price point or brand or whatever. Each to their own. If you’re not compulsive like me, I’m sure you’ll find cloth nappies much simpler! Either way, it’s loads of fun.
Shopping small and local
I’m big on shopping local these days, especially now that importing clothes and shoes comes with a GST charge at the border. I really like supporting small businesses. I like to know that my money goes to families like mine. I like getting little thank-you chocolates in my courier bag. I like the little thank you notes. People put so much care into the deliveries! I’ve also ordered from Australia a few times – again from small businesses – and although that’s not exactly local, I still like knowing that my money is going to small business. And hey, my kid is half-Australian, I’ve got to have Aussie animal prints on his butt, right?
So there you go: my reasons to go cloth. What are yours? Are you considering cloth but haven’t taken the plunge? Feel free to ask questions if you’re curious.