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Real nappy guide

There are different types of Real Nappies to suit your lifestyle, preference and budget.

Flat NappiesThese types of nappies are quick drying as they fold out flat. They are versatile as they can be folded in several ways to provide different fits and absorbency. You can choose from prefold or terry nappies.

Prefold nappies are folded and then placed inside a waterproof cover (wrap) and they come in several sizes from newborn to extra large. More than one nappy can be used for night time. The wrap is not changed every time the nappy is changed, you will use around 1 wrap to every 4/5 nappies.

These nappies come in a range of colours and fabrics including cotton and bamboo. If you use this type of nappy system it is recommended that you buy at least 20 of each size. Prices range from £1.50 to £2.25 per nappy.

Total cost of a prefold nappy system using 3 sizes of nappies (small, medium and large) and 4 sizes of wraps (pro wraps sizes newborn, small, medium and large) is around £295 if everything is bought separately.

You can buy special birth to potty kits for around £175 – £225. These kits usually contain:

  • 24 small prefold nappies
  • 20 medium nappies
  • 18 large nappies
  • 6 newborn wraps
  • 6 small wraps
  • 4 medium wraps
  • 4 large wraps.

Remember you can also buy one size at a time rather than buying a birth to potty set.

Terry nappies are folded and held in place with a pin or a modern grip called a nappy nippa. A waterproof cover (wrap) is then worn over the top. The wrap is not changed every time the nappy is changed, you will use around 1 wrap to every 4/5 nappies.

Terry nappies usually come in a standard 60 x 60cm size but quality and absorbency differ. You can get smaller 40 x 40cm ones which are great for newborns or you can buy muslin squares.

Terry nappies come in a wide range of colours and fabrics including cotton and bamboo. If you use this type of nappy system it is recommended that you buy at least 20. Prices range from £1.25 to £3.95 per nappy.

Total cost of a terry nappy system using 2 sizes of nappies (40 x 40 and 60 x 60) 3 sizes of wraps (small, medium and large) and 2 packs of nappy nippas is around £204. Remember you only have to buy 1 size at a time.

Shaped nappiesThese nappies are already shaped to fit, they come with either no fixings (non Aplix) these can be held together with a nappy nippa, poppers or Velcro so making them slightly more user friendly than the flat nappies. However, they will take longer to dry than flat nappies as they are bulkier.

These nappies also require a waterproof wrap over the top. The wrap is not changed every time the nappy is changed, you will use around 1 wrap to every 4/5 nappies. Shaped nappies come in a range of colours, patterns and fabrics including cotton, hemp, microfibre and bamboo.

If you use this type of nappy system it is recommended that you buy at least 20 of each size.

Most shaped nappy systems have just two sizes to fit babies from 7 – 35lbs which will be sufficient for an average size baby from birth through to potty training. You can also get premature sizes and larger baby sizes. Prices start from £4.99 per nappy but the average price is about £9 per nappy.

Total cost of an average price shaped nappy system using 2 sizes of nappies, 2 sizes of wraps and no nappy nippas is around £444 if bought separately. There are always offers on bulk buys of nappies so shop around to get the best price. Remember you only have to buy one size at a time.

Shaped nappies also come as one size nappies, they are usually suitable from about 8 – 35lbs. In order for them to fit a small baby these nappies are folded down at the front and either held in place with the waterproof wrap, poppers or a nappy nippa. One size nappies are economical but are slightly bulky on small babies and may need boosting with extra absorbency when baby gets bigger. Prices start from around £7.50 per nappy.

Total cost of an average one size shaped nappy system using two sizes of wraps and no nappy nippas is around £244. Remember you only have to buy one size of wrap at a time.

Pocket NappiesPocket nappies come in two parts; the first is the outer part which is made up of a waterproof layer and a fleece inner. In between these layers is a ‘pocket’ into which you place the second part, some absorbency, this can be a nappy insert, a prefold or terry nappy or some fabric.

The nappy is now ready for use and they are fastened with Velcro or poppers. There is no need for a waterproof wrap as pocket nappies have one built in. When baby is changed the whole nappy goes into the bucket ready for washing and another one goes on. These nappies are very user friendly and once they have been stuffed with the absorbency layer they are as easy as a disposable to use. Pocket nappies are flexible as you can add extra absorbency for night time or if you have a heavy wetter.

Most pocket nappies are made with a PUL (Polyurethane Laminate) layer covered with either micro fleece or cotton velour inside. Both micro fleece and velour act as a one way fabric letting moisture pass through it while staying dry next to baby’s skin.

Most fabrics can be used as absorbency but bamboo, hemp and micro fibre are favourites. You can either buy ready made nappy inserts or buy fabric by the meter and make your own. Just cut the fabric into 60 x 60cm squares, hem then fold to fit inside the pocket.

Pocket nappies are available in lots of different sizes from premature to extra large. Most babies of an average weight will be able to use just 2 or 3 sizes of nappy depending on brand. Prices start from around £9.99 with no insert and £13 with an insert per nappy. As pocket nappies dry quicker than other nappies we recommend that you buy at least 15 of each size.

Total cost of using two sizes of nappies (weight range 10-35lbs) is around £300. Total cost of using 3 sizes of nappies (weight range 7- 45lbs) is around £540. Remember you only have to buy one size at a time.

Pocket nappies also come as one size nappies. These nappies are just one size and they are usually suitable from about 8 – 35lbs. In order for them to fit a small baby these nappies are folded down at the front and held in place with poppers. One size nappies are economical but are slightly bulky on small babies. Prices start from around £14 per nappy.

Total cost of an average one size pocket nappy system is around £210.

AllinonenappiesThese nappies are made up of absorbent material stitched to a waterproof outer cover, there are no detachable bits.

AIO nappies are put on using either poppers or Velcro to secure them and the whole nappy is then put into the wash.

This type of nappy is very easy to use and gives a nice trim fit. They might need to be boosted for night time and heavy wetters. The only drawback is that they do not dry as quickly as other types of nappies.

AIO nappies come in a wide range of fabrics, colours and patterns. If you use this type of nappy system it is recommended that you buy at least 20 of each size.

AIO nappies are usually available in 3 sizes small, medium and large fitting babies from about (8 – 40lbs) although there is a limited choice of one size AIO nappies available suitable from 8-35lbs. Prices for sizes AIO nappies start from £12 and one size from £15.

Total cost of using 2 sizes of nappies (weight range 10-35lbs) is around £480. Total cost of using 3 sizes of nappies (weight range 7- 40lbs) around £900. Remember you only have to buy one size at a time. Total cost using a one size system (weight range 8 – 35lbs) is around £300.

There are many brands of AIO nappies available available to buy online.

Fabric Guide

Real nappy manufacturers use a lot of different fabrics to make real nappies so here is a quick guide to some types of fabrics available.

Cotton

This is the traditional choice of fabric for real nappies, has been used for many years and is still a favourite today. Cotton is absorbent and hard wearing; it can be washed at very high temperatures and is used almost exclusively by nappy laundry services. It can become slightly stiff after washing (a burst in the tumble dryer can sort this out) and it can take a little longer to dry than some manmade fabrics. Cotton comes in lots of different colours, unbleached and organic.
Cotton facts:

  • It breathes easily as a result of its fibre structure and keeps the body cool in summer and warm in winter because it is a good conductor of heat.
  • Cotton has a high absorbency rate and holds up to 27 times its own weight in water.

Unfortunately cotton is vulnerable to a large number of pests so pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers are widely used and residues may remain in the fabric. Organic cotton is grown without chemicals and therefore does no harm to either environment or workers. Organic cotton is grown using methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment.
Types of cotton fabric:

  • Woven – Smooth on both sides and very absorbent.
  • Terry fabric - Deep pile and very absorbent.
  • Flannel fabric - Smooth on one side, lightly brushed on the other.
  • Velour fabric - Velour is a knitted fabric with tiny loops on one side that have been shaved off. Velour is a more 'fragile' fabric.
  • Polyester is normally added to reduce shrinkage, increase durability and prevent the fabric from loosing shape but 100% cotton Velour is available.
  • Muslin - is a type of finely-woven cotton fabric. Muslin is most typically a closely-woven unbleached or white cloth, produced from corded cotton yarn.

Bamboo

Is known as a green crop and so has become a very popular fabric for making real nappies. Bamboo has a very quick growing cycle and needs less water than cotton and no pesticides to grow. Bamboo is a very absorbent material and can hold up to 60% more moisture than cotton. It is a very soft fabric, naturally anti-bacterial and will stay soft after washing. The drawbacks to bamboo are that it can take a lot longer than cotton to dry and it does not like direct heat so drying your bamboo nappies on the radiator is a not recommended.
Bamboo facts:

  • It is the fastest growing grass and can shoot up a yard or more a day and does not require replanting after harvesting because its vast root network continually sprouts new shoots.
  • Bamboo fibre is 100% biodegradable

The manufacturing processes where bamboo the plant is transformed into bamboo the fabric are where the sustainability and eco-friendly lustre of bamboo is tarnished because of the heavy chemicals that are often required.
Types of bamboo fabric:

  • Bamboo Terry - A silky textured terry fabric woven with bamboo loops embedded in a polyester base (usually 90% Bamboo 10% Polyester).
  • Bamboo jersey - not suitable for real nappies.
  • Bamboo velour - A knitted fabric with tiny loops on one side which have been shaved to create a velvet-like surface. Cotton adds strength to this fabric and prevents it from going out of shape.
  • Bamboo fleece – Is super-soft and has been mechanically brushed in order to create its soft  texture (70% bamboo; 30% cotton).

Hemp

Hemp is another very absorbent material used to make real nappies and it also has a greener tag than other fabrics. As a crop it requires no pesticides or fertilisers and is one of the most eco-friendly fabric fibres known to us.  It is used as a fabric for inserts more than nappies as hemp can become quite stiff after washing. Hemp is also not as quick acting as some fabrics and is sometimes best when mixed with another quicker acting fabric like microfibre. Natural Hemp is a course fibre but combining it with cotton softens the texture without compromising its absorbency.
Hemp facts:

  • Hemp is considered a high-yield crop and produces significantly more fibre per square foot than cotton.
  • Hemp is more water absorbent than cotton and has 3 times the tensile strength.

Types of hemp fabric:

  • Hemp fleece - The fleece has been mechanically brushed in order to create its soft, fuzzy texture (55% hemp 45% organic cotton).
  • Hemp jersey - not suitable for real nappies.
  • Hemp Terry - Hemp Stretch Terry is 47% hemp; 38% organic cotton; 15% polyester with tiny loops on one side. This fabric has a raised nap of tiny loops on the one side embedded into a knitted base which is flat on the reverse.

Microfibre

Microfibre is a manmade material using fibres combined to form yarns. Microfibre is used for real nappies because the microfibre material wicks moisture away from the body, keeping the skin cool and dry. It is also a very quick acting fabric and because of the way it traps moisture in between its fibres rather than on its surface it is also quick drying. Microfibre is used to make nappy inserts and nappies; it is not as absorbent as some natural fabrics but can be used in conjunction with these materials to boost its absorbency. 
Microfibre facts:

  • Prevents the growth of bacteria inside the fabric.
  • While many microfibers are made of polyester, they can also be composed of polyamide (nylon) or other polymers.

Microfibres are not made from a renewable resource and they are not biodegradable.

Fleece

Fleece is a synthetic made from 100%polyester fabric. Fleece does not absorb wetness it wicks the moisture away. It is breathable, lightweight and fast drying making it a great fabric for real nappies. Fleece is either used in real nappies as a liner or lining of a real nappy or as an outer cover (wrap). As a liner Microfleece is usually used, this is the lightest version of fleece that is available. Microfleece is a thin and lightweight soft fleece fabric that will wick moisture away from the skin so keeping baby’s skin dry. Fleece is also used as an outer cover (wrap), fleece wraps allow moisture to evaporate and so keeps the nappy area cool. Fleece wraps are best used for night time and are excellent for babies who have very sensitive skin or who have skin conditions such as eczema. Fleece is very easy to care for and dries very quickly.
Fleece facts: 

  • Fleece is a vegan alternative to wool that can be made entirely from recycled plastic bottles.
  • Microfleece resists staining, and does not hold faeces like other fabrics can. Just shake off over the toilet.
  • Other advantages of fleece material is that it is very comfortable due to its light weight and anti-perspiration structure and fleece material allows the moisture to evaporate, while blocking the access of humidity from the outside. Among the disadvantages of fleece include its easy flammability and the generation of static.

Wool

Wool is widely used for outer covers (wraps) because of its unique properties. The weave of the fabric allows wool to wick away moisture from the body and release it into the air to leave skin cool.

Wool is a natural insulator to keep you warm in winter and naturally breathable to keep you cool in summer. Wool is naturally antibacterial due to lanolin – a pale yellow oil found on sheeps wool. Lanolin also gives wool its water resistant property. 

Wool wraps come in two forms the first being in the shape of a conventional wrap with poppers or a Velcro fastening the other being knitted wool in the shape of shorts or trousers. Wool is best used at night as compression wicking might happen when baby is up and about (moisture pushed through the wool when baby is sitting for a length of time).

Wool wraps are not washed after each use but just hung up to dry, once dry the wrap is ready to be used again. They need to be hand washed in olive soap and re lanolised every 3-4 washes.

Wool facts:

  • Wool will absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture without feeling damp.
  • Wool is a renewable resource that can be shorn from sheep annually. It is biodegradable and kinder to the environment than oil-based synthetics
  • Wool is almost entirely non-allergenic although some people do have a natural allergy to lanolin.

PUL

PUL stands for polyurethane laminate and is used to make wraps, All in One and pocket nappies. This coating is water resistant but breathable. The fabric that it is applied to may be cotton or have various amounts of polyester in it.

It is durable and can be washed and dried many times without losing its waterproof abilities. It can be washed in temperatures of up to 60°c but will last longer if hand washed or washed at 30 or 40°c along with your families other washing. 

PUL facts:

  • As a general rule, solid colour PUL is made from polyester fabric, and printed PUL is usually made with cotton.
  • It was originally created for use in hospitals and other medical settings.

You can dry PUL nappies and wraps in the tumble dryer but it may shorten their lifespan, line drying is best. PUL must not be soaked in any chemical solution such as Napisan or oxy bleach products as it can destroy its waterproofing abilities.

Page updated on: 03/05/2016

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