Cloth nappies for the first 6 months

cloth nappy 6 months

I wrote the first draft of this post after we’d used cloth for six weeks. In true new parent style, I’ve finished it six months later. We’ve now we’ve avoided sending approximately 1,700 nappies to landfill. That’s already about 30% of all the nappies our boy will need until toilet training, or $680 saved.

I wrote about why I’ve chosen cloth nappies. Now here’s a snapshot of how it’s going so far. 

How well do cloth nappies work? 

A cloth nappy generally lasts two to three hours, which is the recommended time frame to change a baby anyway. We’ve occasionally pushed to four more by accident than intent and gotten away with it. At the beginning, we averaged twelve changes in 24 hours, but it got easier at about three months when we fell into a decent rhythm of eat, play, sleep. Now we average seven daily changes.

We haven’t had any mucky explosions like those memes designed to scare first time parents. A very small amount escaped on one occasion where we had a too loose waist + baby carrier, but literally, it was the smallest amount. We’d get occasional wee leaks as I learned how to tell if he needed changing, and when I’d squish him in a too small onsie. But hey, leaks happen with disposables. We haven’t needed larger clothing for his fluffy bum as long as the clothing has some stretch. Plus, no nappy rash to report. 

My favourite cloth nappy styles

I love all the styles for different reasons. Flats weren’t on my radar, but I’m glad I bought a flannelette set on impulse to round out my stash. Quick to dry and cheap as chips, but also, the best for getting a perfect fit around the leg to contain everything. Paired with double gusseted covers, bombproof. We reuse covers a few times if they aren’t wet or soiled, which reduces laundry wear and tear and the number we needed to buy. Many of my flats are simply muslins or glorified towels, and will have uses beyond the baby years. On a tiny newborn, full sized flats can seem ultra bulky, but as they grow, they evolve to a less affronting nappy to baby ratio. I mostly used a Pickman fold for a front wetting boy, with a stay dry layer I made by cutting a larger piece of microfleece into large rectangles. This is a similar fabric to the lining of a pocket nappy. Not ideal from a fibre shedding perspective, but this is what worked for us. He outgrew being fussy when wet, so we don’t use them anymore except for overnight.

Our baby is long and slender and one size fits most (OSFM) nappies didn’t fit him snugly enough around the legs until after he hit 4.5kgs. Prior to that, we used our OSFM covers over flats.

pocket style cloth nappy

At six months, we use a mix of pocket style nappies and prefolds under PUL covers, the latter mostly when we’re home. The pre-folds are just pad folded into the cover rather than snappy’d in an angel fold. Pockets are great for on the go, when it’s easier to pull out one piece from the nappy bag and do a quick change.

pad folded prefold cloth nappy in a PUL cover

It will surprise no one that we also use cloth wipes. Nothing fancy. Orphaned terry socks work great by the way. One sock makes four small wipes. 

It’s good to do a little research, like which brands work for slim vs chunky babies. How many brands or styles you try is really up to your tolerance level for tinkering and reselling anything that doesn’t work for you. As a waste educator, I enjoyed the discovery process. The Facebook group MCN Reviews Uncensored has honest user reviews of Australian available brands. 

My cloth nappy wash routine

I’m much better at laundry thanks to Clean Cloth Nappies, a group of experienced cloth nappy users who share their knowledge to help those starting out to have a good experience. They are at or as a Facebook group under the same name.

I don’t find it useful to be a stark minimalist when it comes to the quantity of nappies in my rotation, which is inversely related to wash frequency. I think I have about 40 inserts. I sold my newborn fitteds when he outgrew them and bought a few more secondhand OFSM and inserts. In the beginning I washed every 2nd day and now every 3rd is fine. The absorbent inserts can take anywhere from a few hours to two days to dry – it depends if I hang them indoors or out, and on the weather. On a good day in the sun it might be just a few hours, but I’m often too lazy to venture that far and just hang them on the clothes airer indoors. Covers, even the pocket style, take next to no time to dry, and same for flats. Having some flats means not stressing if thick MCN inserts are dry yet.

I don’t pre-rinse anything coming off the baby, unless it’s super mucky, or I’m using someone else’s machine. Everything to date has been an innocuous, if brightly coloured, water soluble liquid. Babies can digest breastmilk so efficiently that there isn’t much in the nappy until they start eating solid food. Nappies go through a shorter prewash with a small amount of detergent and a titch of booster (oxygen bleach, which is essentially powdered hydrogen peroxide), then through a longer main wash, appropriately bulked to fill up the machine. Into the main wash go our socks, small towels, and kick around clothes.

I’m using Australian made Dirt detergent. I was sceptical of Dirt simply because this is a good jumping off point for evaluating self-styled environmentally-friendly products. When I saw positive reviews popping up for nappy laundry, I figured I’d give it a try. And it works. I also appreciate Dirt’s simple packaging return and refill model (Here’s a tip for affordable returns by post). The founder, Frankie, acknowledges that too often ‘recyclable’ packaging is not recycled, so reducing the amount of materials used in the first place is still very important. I found the wording of their refill program confusing, but essentially if you want to buy your goodies in refilled packaging, just let them know when you order and they will tag you as being okay to reuse an empty package returned by you or other customers. Send back your empties at any time – they are not refilling your packs specifically for you. One refillable pump container handles 30 standard loads but is only the size of a bottle of hand soap. I love that Dirt washed clothing and nappies smell like nothing at all.

I wash with hot water (60 degrees) because these are sanitary items and according to CCN, plant based detergents work better on hot washes. Now with extra hot washing, it’s valid to ask whether our electricity bill has jumped up. Not from nappies it hasn’t. From April to May we used 10.4 kwh daily. Last year for the same period, we used 8.9 kwh, which is still less than the average two person household in my area, according to my provider. Front loaders are more efficient than top loaders, as they heat cold water rather than using hot water from the tank. We use Powershop because the company supports the use of renewables. 

I’ve questioned myself about the ‘extra’ water to launder cloth nappies. We are in drought, in spite of Sydney’s lush surrounds. Is my guilt warranted? Washing the dishes uses water, and we’re not switching to disposable plates any time soon. How do we decide when something is a waste of water or a use of water? I’ve already brought another human into the mix, which comes with an unavoidable lifetime of individual consumption, plus the baseline resources it takes in our society for hospitals, government, police, and everything that comes with our high standard of living. Then again, my one new human will replace an older human, and not even completely, since Australian fertility rates are declining. So while one the whole resource use per person is still far too high in our country, it seems silly to focus on nappies, which are a necessity whether cloth or otherwise. Disposable nappies have a water footprint too. I went looking for details and and course Sydney Water has a good breakdown of direct household water use, which is around 200L per person per day. Then there is the embedded water, which is the water from production of the food and materials we use every day – much harder to track down a stat for this, but the daily water footprint including household and embedded water for the average Brit is 4,645L (!). So an additional 35L (plus some for the detergent’s virtual footprint) per day for laundry that I use is marginal for a whole extra human. It’s actually nice that my boy’s water use is so low to begin with! As with many things, it’s all how you frame it, though I regret that some places around New South Wales are desperately low on water, this is no consolation. And it makes me deeply sad that it is so, as we’re not ‘saving’ water with disposables, we’re merely importing someone else’s water until they too become desperately low. I like that by washing nappies where I use them, I’m internalising the resource cost. How about we stop hosing driveways and watering lawns before we wag a finger at cloth nappy laundry? We could also not give away enormous aquifers of drinking water to foreign coal mine investors…just saying.

I’ve decided not to be bothered by it. We bathe our kid in the laundry sink and toss the water on the garden instead of using a hose. We bought a very efficient front loader a few years ago. Better ways to save water are to reduce meat consumption, turn taps off to lather up, say no to fast fashion, or let pee mellow in the bowl instead of flushing every single time. Don’t let perfect get in the way of better, I often remind myself.

Is it possible to travel with cloth nappies?

I’ve found day trips and short outings to be simple. We put dirty nappies in a wetbag and bring them home to wash. I replenish the bag as soon as I get home so I don’t have to futz around when trying to leave the house next. The size difference between two cloth nappies and two disposables is marginal, and I use the same size of nappy bag as everyone else I know.

What about long distance travel? I recently visited family in Canada for over a month. Since I knew I’d have access to laundry facilities, I brought 20 pocket nappies with me and left the prefolds at home. I checked one bag out of my allowance of two, and even with my ridiculous overpacking and a multi-season, multi-size baby wardrobe, there was plenty of room for nappies. It’s been completely manageable to use cloth, at least for this style of travel, which is to say, staying with family or friends and moving pretty slowly. The only concession I made was to use disposables on the flights, where I felt the additional absorbency might carry me through periods when I wouldn’t be able to change him (ascent, descent, seatbelt sign on), or he’d be better to remain asleep.

Cloth nappies for overnight

I used cloth overnight – up to 11 hours – from birth until four and a half months when my boy learned to roll. We started getting side leaks, night waking and 2am outfit and sleeping bag changes. This new and unfortunate routine started while in Canada, so I didn’t have my usual full stash of inserts to try to make a better overnight solution. So I tried disposables. It seemed to work and we had a few dry nights. Then we started getting leaks with disposables too! This was after trying a few different brands and me putting them on very carefully. Our stopgap solution became a disposable, plus a flat origami folded overtop, wrapped up with a Thirsties size two cover. Part of me feels vindicated that disposables weren’t the complete solution because it forced me to come up with a good cloth solution.

Back in Sydney, I was nervous to try cloth overnight again because I feared leaks would wake him up. When it became clear he had no intention of sleeping through the night anytime soon, I decided I’d be risking nothing to give cloth another whirl. I was also motivated by the dwindling stack of disposables – I did not want to buy more! Disposables may look slim when you put them on, but they fill a trash bag lightning fast.

With an arsenal of inserts to play with, I’ve put together a combination that has lasted without leaks for up to 13 hours of tummy sleep and up to five feeds. I used what I already had rather than buying any new night specific nappies, which can be pricey. My solution right now is a flannelette flat origami folded, a pre-fold, a thin booster insert and a long anchor insert borrowed from one of my pocket nappies (anchor to the front and folded over), all wrapped in a PUL cover large enough to wrap around this bulk.

Next, I’m keen to try a woollen cover over our nappies and find a cloth only solution. Wool can hold 35% of its weight without even feeling damp, so it wicks away moisture that would otherwise spread to clothing in case of leaks. My mother in law is knitting me a wool cover that we’ll trial over our nighttime setup. 

Cloth from birth is worth it.

What I didn’t know about having a baby is that my day ebbs and flows according to naps and feeds, or skipped naps and feeds, ha. Trust me when I say that doing laundry seemed more possible than leaving the house many days. Cloth still relies on my labour, but I’m on leave from work right now and can’t easily do anything else in my fragmented days. I can fold nappies while watching my son. He liked one of the nappy patterns so much I fashioned it into a toy at one point.

With a baby, you’ll be doing more laundry regardless of nappies. Messy creatures that they are, soiling not just their clothes but yours too. Cloth doesn’t create that many more loads of laundry because you can chuck your miscellaneous items into the second wash (the main wash) instead of running a separate load. 

From a waste avoidance and cost savings perspective, the greatest return on your efforts happens in the first six months because of the higher daily nappy count.

Cloth takes no more time to put on than disposables. If you need to encourage a partner, the best two pieces of advice I’ve heard are to hide the disposables or simply ‘forget’ to buy any, and to try velcro cover closures. Luckily, my partner has been supportive and we both change our share. I manage the washing and any folding/stuffing, while he handles the bragging to friends.  

I’ve had nothing but positive reactions from friends, family and health care workers. Many from my parent’s generation remember using traditional terry towel flats, and are curious about the newer styles. Beautiful prints make nappies more akin to clothing than hazardous waste. There are supportive online communities. Friends I wouldn’t characterise as eco-warriors are doing it. It’s more common than I would have expected, and I hope it becomes more common still. To anyone considering cloth from birth, there is nothing to be afraid of. You’ll rarely have a chance to reduce your waste footprint so dramatically.

So there it is – some thoughts on our six months of cloth. I’d love to hear your experiences or questions in the comments below.

A zero waste treat to make at home and take anywhere

zero waste snacks

Craving a Snickers or some other packaged treat? Try making these plastic free morsels instead.

All you need to make these tasty treats are medjool dates, peanuts, peanut butter and chocolate buttons. It’s hard to beat the dreamy caramel texture of a medjool. Chocolate goes on the inside, so they are like inside out chocolate bars. I like salted peanuts in this recipe, because why hold back here. 

To make, slice open the date, remove the pit, smear on some peanut butter, then add your peanuts and chocolate. No baking and no bowls or appliances to clean. You’re welcome. 

They hold together nicely on strenuous hikes, or casual strolls around the kitchen. They’re no better for you calorically than their packaged counterparts, although you could argue they are slightly less processed. I like to make a batch and store them in the freezer, ever at the ready for a weekend adventure. Everything I need to make them comes from any bulk food shop around Sydney. 

The year that was 2017

In 2017 I welcomed many thousands of visitors through these pages. I even met a few of you in person and it made my day. I enjoy writing as a creative outlet, and because I feel compelled to explore the idea of waste and share what I learn. My enthusiasm outstrips my talent and I have 41 posts from last year to prove it, on worm composting, food experiments, food waste hacks (here, here, and here for example), energy savings, my Plastic Free July, how to make beeswax wraps, and fermenting. I also celebrated hyper-local foods like the neighbourhood olives I foraged, processed and made into tapenade. I let you in on you how I take care of my hair (i.e. barely), my trusted deodorant recipe, a neat trick to make your toilet bowl gleam, and a super simple lip balm recipe. I read some interesting books which I haven’t yet posted about, but will shortly. I started posting a few things that made me happy and didn’t create waste as outtakes from the day to day, and I also started rounding up quick links and long reads that I thought you might also enjoy.

Lots more happened that I didn’t get around to writing about. Little successes, big ideas in the works, community collaboration projects, and more. At time of writing, 80 posts sit in draft – more than articles published in my few years of blogging, and there are even more in my head. Many are ready, but for some decent imagery. Others are half-formed thoughts or outlines for posts. The thing about writing, when you can write anything you want, is that some posts flow out of the brain and onto the keyboard like sweet, sweet honey, and other don’t. The latter are those where the topic is big and my words are imprecise. I’d love to finish them all and push ’em out, but time is limited. Turns out I’m my most productive when I’m supposed to be doing something else. Or the inspiration strikes when I’m nowhere near a screen, so it’s jotted onto a scrap of paper, or into the Wunderlist app. I work full time, participate in various other community sustainability initiatives, and face the usual demands of friends of family. Also, the lighting is rarely good in my apartment to get those pics. On the plus side, these mild constraints are training in letting go and hitting publish. Posting is a form of resilience therapy for the type of perfectionism that never involves making anything perfect and often involves avoiding something altogether out of fear of imperfect. I assume this practise will eventually make me a better writer and thinker.

And then there’s always the balance of doing to enjoying vs. doing to documenting. I still enjoy documenting (if only so I can remember what I was up to) but I seek presence. Over the summer break, closing out 2017 and transitioning into 2018, I made a point of staying away from the computer and the phone, and instead spent time in nature, with people and playing in the kitchen.

If you’re reading this, thank you for visiting. In 2018, you can expect more posts about compost, food, experiences, local resources and really any old thing that seems related to reducing waste that I get around to posting about. ‘How To’ topics were quite popular, and I hope very achievable for anyone who tried making anything I wrote about, so I’ll carry on when I think there is a recipe or a technique that I’m excited about. I’ll always try to keep it as simple as possible, because low waste living should be easy, if not fun.

Happy 2018 friends.

Impress your friends with water kefir

A long time ago, I used to drink Diet Fresca. Today, water kefir is my obsession. 

Water kefir is a delicious, zero waste drink

If you enjoy drinking any sort of probiotic drink, you might try making it yourself, since $5 a serve is not affordable, no it’s not. If you are also someone watching their household waste you will almost certainly brew at home. It’s a great way to reduce packaging and the load on recycling systems. Whether glass or plastic, the more we reduce, the better.

I started with kombucha, the gateway ferment. Ubiquitous, and in theory, easy. In reality, I made some good batches, but mostly a lot of vinegar (useful, but not the point). So when my kombucha SCOBY faded out last year, I quit the ‘booch and went with water kefir instead.

Compared to kombucha, I find the taste of water kefir to be more crisp, less vinegary, and importantly, fizzier. It’s also more abundant, since I can make a new batch every one to two days rather than the 7 – 14 day brew time for kombucha.

I drink it chilled, add it to bircher for soaking (including the spent fruit pieces), or as a mixer for spirits.  If you’re champagned out during or after the Aussie silly season, it’s a refreshing alternative to champagne all by itself.

Water kefir is easy, fast and fizzy

After being inspired and convinced of a certain ease by this article, I acquired some grains at a food shop in Bronte and got started. Water kefir, also known as tibicos, has nothing to do with milk kefir except that the SCOBY is also grain shaped.

I had immediate and sustained success. My water kefir is reliably fizzy, low sugar (confirmed by a diabetic friend, who now also makes her own), and takes flavouring better than kombucha ever did for me.

My favourite water kefir flavour combos:

  • Mulberry or plum + cardamom + vanilla (tastes like cream soda!)
  • Raspberry + rose water
  • Lemon myrtle + raspberry
  • Cardamom + anything!

I won’t rewrite the method here, as it’s well explained in this Milkwood recipe (though I still use sugar, not honey). It’s a bit like a sourdough, and uses a simple backslop method where you pour off the majority of the the mother to make each flavoured batch, but retain and keep feeding that small amount. The word backslop sounds pretty gross, but it’s all very tidy and less visually disturbing than a kombucha SCOBY. It’s easy enough that I can eyeball the volumes and process a new batch in about five minutes.

Helpful tips for making water kefir

  • Don’t fret if all you have are metal utensils. Some people say this weakens the culture, but I use a metal strainer and utensils with no trouble.
  • My grains do best when I feed with a slice of fresh fruit, a piece of dried fruit and some sliced fresh ginger along with their sugar water.
  • A nice bit of fizz means it’s all alive and well.
  • Expect more fizz and faster brewing in the summer, less in the winter.
  • If I don’t get around to making a batch after a few days, I will pop in another slice of fruit. It just seems to work to keep things balanced with the yeasts.
  • If I’m away for more than a few days I feed, then refrigerate.
  • I use water that’s been filtered with a binchotan stick. I don’t notice a difference in the taste of the water I drink, but it made a dramatic difference to my ferments when I ticked over from non-filtered.
  • You can speed up the process by dissolving the sugar into a small amount of boiled water, then adding the hot water to room temp filtered water, rather than boiling the entire amount of water to dissolve the sugar and waiting for the whole volume to cool.
  • I cover the jars, but not super tightly, and I make sure to release built up gases if I see lots of fizz in warmer weather.
  • I like keeping the starter/mother in a wide mouth mason jar – It’s easy to get fruit in and out and measure the liquid.
  • If you prefer flip top bottles for the second ferment, they are cheap and plentiful at the op shops.
  • A bottle tastes best within about a week in the fridge, but we would rarely ever have it around that long.

Need to find a SCOBY? Try here if you’re in Sydney, the Crop Swap Facebook group is a good resource. This Pinkfarm online community lists those who are willing to swap cultures. I found water kefir to be more elusive, and actually bought my grains from Star Anise Wholefoods.

If you brew water kefir, what’s your favourite flavour combo?