Using Cloth Nappies at Nursery: A Beginner’s Guide

We started to look for childcare for Tom before he was even born. Competition for the best nurseries can be fierce in London and we knew I’d be going back to work when he was 6 months old, giving us slightly less time to find something than we might otherwise have had. Luckily, we loved the first nursery we saw (don’t worry though: we did visit others for comparison). Now 16 months old, Tom has been happy there for over 10 months and we still love it too.

It’s important to ask questions when visiting nurseries, but one of ours was a slightly unusual one – ‘how do you feel about a baby in cloth nappies?’ We knew we wanted to try using them, so it was important to us to find a childcare setting that would be comfortable with the idea.

As it turned out, the nursery we ended up choosing had never had a baby in cloth before. They said they had people ask before the baby was born, but none of them actually ended up using them. So we presented them with a bit of a learning curve!

10 months on, we (and they) are so experienced with the nappies that no one even thinks twice anymore. We are all just in a routine with them. So for other parents wondering about how to keep using reusables when their baby starts nursery (or other childcare), here is my beginner’s guide to making it work.

Step one: Choosing childcare
Let’s face it, when you are choosing childcare, their attitude to cloth nappies is probably not top priority. Nor should it be. Whether you and your child are comfortable with the setting is the key to making sure that you are both relaxed and happy, so I wouldn’t turn down an otherwise brilliant option just because they aren’t sure about using cloth nappies. However, I would be wary of a nursery or childminder who gives a point-blank “no” on this issue. That kind of lack of flexibility does not bode well for future discussions. And there will be some. What you want from a childcare setting is support in your parenting choices, plus gentle steering on some issues, if you ask for it. A flat no on any issue is not a good start to building that supportive relationship. If they aren’t willing to even consider it, I’d be looking at other options to see if I could find someone who would. My nursery have had to deal with other unusual choices from us, including baby led weaning and turning up with bottles of pumped breast milk, so knowing from the start that they were willing to discuss things with me was important.

If the nursery are willing to give it a go, that is great! If they seem reluctant, but are open to trying, then make it clear you are willing to compromise. That is the situation we found ourselves in with our nursery. The staff were dubious at first, but I made it clear that it was not an all-or-nothing thing. We agreed that I would bring some nappies with me during the settling-in period, so they could see how they worked. If it was too difficult for them to manage, I said we would be open to switching to disposables instead. That way they didn’t have the nappies forced on them and were more open to a trial.

Step two: Starting out
If the setting you choose have used reusable nappies in the past, then you are probably away clear, though they may need a quick demo of the particular brands you use. If, like our nursery, they have never used cloth nappies before, then you are going to need to support them a bit more. Take some nappies in during the settling-in period and demonstrate how they work. If you are using washable wipes too then take those as well so they don’t get a shock later. When your baby starts to go for full days, write a short instruction list and pop it in the change bag. Our nursery have put ours up on the wall by the change mat so that everyone has an easy reference. Expect some hiccups at the start – I used to pack a single disposable as an emergency back-up whilst the staff got used to the system.

A note on nappy styles – for preference, I like the two-part systems which have a separate inner and a waterproof wrap. They are a bit more bomb-proof. However, they are more complicated to use. To make things simple for nursery staff, we use pocket birth-to-potty nappies when Tom goes to nursery. They are much closer to a disposable in use, so were easier for the staff to get comfortable with.

Step three: Packing your change bag
This is a dilemma that parents who use disposables don’t have to face. They just drop a pack of disposables off every couple of weeks. But a cloth nappy user has to pack fresh every day. So how many nappies do you pack? What do you do with the dirties?

The answer is to find out how many times the nursery does nappy changes – most do it on a schedule. Ours does three throughout the day. So I pack three nappies for those changes. I add one spare in case of extra poo, and another spare for emergencies. So that is five in total. I sometimes find they use four, but never all five. The nappies go in fully assembled, with a fleece liner positioned ready on top. I add 10 wipes, pre-soaked, in a waterproof bag (we use one from Cheeky Wipes, but a simple zip-lock would probably do the job). I’d only expect around 6 of those to be used. I also pack a change of clothes, and a waterproof zippered bag for the dirties. It holds three easily and four at a push. I usually put a little bit of cotton wool soaked in tea tree oil in the bottom to help mask smells. Pack the bag the night before, or you are guaranteed to forget something in the morning rush!

A note on change bags: go big. Those cute little roll up kits you sometimes see parents using? Those little backpacks your toddler can carry? Neither of those are going to be able to fit all the kit you need when you use reusables. Ideally, choose something with compartments so that clean clothes, wipes and nappies can be easily located. I can’t recommend any, I’m afraid, as ours came off E-bay and I have no idea what brand it is.

Step four: The big wash
I going to assume that if you are dedicated to using cloth nappies, you will already have gotten in to a washing routine by the time your little one starts going to childcare. We wash every two days. However, going up to four days of work, combined with the winter weather, has meant I have had to add in an extra wash to make sure we have enough nappies clean each day. If you think about it, packing the change bag the night before means you need to have 7 clean nappies ready when you get home in the evening. 5 to go in the change bag, 1 on your baby’s bum to sleep in, and 1 to put on in the morning. Depending on your drying arrangements (we don’t have a tumble drier), that means having at least 14 nappies. More if, like us, you have to rely on radiator heat or sunlight. So factor that in when deciding how often to wash and how many nappies to buy.

I’ll be honest, the washing is the worst part of using cloth nappies whilst working. After a long day, the last thing I want to do is sort through dirty nappies, find the one or two which contain poo, and put that poo down the toilet. Especially as it is likely to be pretty caked on to the fleece liner once it has been stuffed into a change bag all day. If you just can’t face that, disposable liners are definitely the way to go. Even then, you are likely to have to run a wash in the evening, which means getting your tired body off the sofa to hang them up to dry (or sort them if you have a tumbler drier). You could, I suppose, use a laundry service instead, but beware that this may negate much of the eco-credit of using cloth in the first place. As will too much reliance on the tumble drier, for that matter.

The other way round this is to have a large stash of nappies (though see above about eco-friendliness). We’ve compromised by having a back-up stash to our core ones. The core stash, of 14 nappies, is what we use regularly and I aim to keep up with the laundry so we don’t have to go beyond this. Sometimes though, especially if I’ve been away overnight with work, this just doesn’t happen. So we have a second stash of 5 that we bought second-hand. They are a little bit less reliable on leaks as they were heavily used before we got them, but do the job pretty well. We’ve never had a poo explosion anyway! We also have a couple of disposables hanging around from our last weekend away, but I’d expect them still to be there when we next go away, short of the washing machine breaking down.

A note on second-hand nappies: I guess some people might find this gross, though I can’t say it bothers me. Just launder any you get before use to make sure they are clean. I’ve found the best place to buy them is Pre-Loved, rather than auction sites like E-Bay. E-Bay bidding on cloth nappies is ferocious and I have very rarely managed to win one. Prices also often exceed my self-imposed limit of half the price of the item new (including postage). Pre-Loved is gentler and tend to attract people who just want to get rid of their stash quickly, rather than for the best price. I paid 15 quid for 5 on there and trust me that is a bargain. Freecycle is worth a try as well, but I’ve never actually seen any on there – most people who use cloth are assuming they will get some of the initial outlay back by selling them online when they are done. As I plan to. After baby no 2 has had a go with them of course (no not pregnant).

It may seem daunting at first, but using cloth nappies whilst your child is at nursery is actually very doable, for both you and them. Our nursery have even found it makes them more attractive to other parents – they grabbed me the other day to show a prospective mum with a baby in reusables the bag we use for dirties, proving they already know how to use them.

Plus who can resist a squishy cloth bum?

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6 thoughts on “Using Cloth Nappies at Nursery: A Beginner’s Guide

  1. We use cloth at home but nursery provide nappies as part of the price, and as they’re an already very reasonably priced Montessori nursery I am not bothered. They use eco friendly compost-able nappies, too.
    However, it has really thrown my washing schedule out of the window! Three days in disposables and the rest in cloth, means we don’t use enough to wash every other day any more but the bucket can’t stand any longer! Ha, it’s early days – I only went back in January, but I do need to find a rhythm because that ammonia smell opening the bucket is NOT nice!!

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  2. This was a really interesting article and reassuring to know it is possible to carry on once in nursery. I would like to use reusables, however, someone recently questioned me about their Eco-friendliness versus disposables based on the temperature and frequency with which you need to wash them. Have you ever heard anything similar or seen anywhere the comparison between the two?

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    1. Yes this seems to get mentioned a lot. Apparently there was an analysis done by the Environmental Agency a few years back that found that washable nappies used more energy than disposables. However, the study assumed that users were always washing at 60, tumble drying, and IRONING the nappies, then chucking them out after one child, instead of reusing for a second or selling on. It also didnt take into account the amount of time it takes for either type to break down in landfill. From what i understand, subsequent reports have found it depends on the laundry methods – if you wash at 90 every day and tumble dry, not so good. If you wash every two days at 40 and line dry, you are better off. And either way the amount you send to landfill is seriously reduced. You can probably do even better by chosing natural fabrics for the main nappy and wool soakers for the outer, which will break down in landfill. Sorry long answer! Message me if you want to know more about using cloth nappies!

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      1. No, thanks for the long answer, that is very helpful, as I would like to use reuseables and thus not add to the mountains of landfull, which as you say, take hundreds of years to decompose. Is it ok to wash them at 40 degress, I thought they needed to be washed at 60 for hygiene reasons? I don’t have a tumble dryer, so that is ok and I don’t iron, so guess that will reduce the impact quite a bit!

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