Pocket Cloth Nappies: My All-In-One Guide

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There are a few different types of MCN (Modern Cloth Nappies), the most popular seem to be AIOs (All In Ones), AI2s (All in 2s), and Pockets. When I started looking in to cloth options I decided the pocket nappy route would be best for us. The differences across the different types seem to be in sizing (fixed size or OSFM) and absorbency options, plus drying time. I liked the fact that with pocket styles you could remove the insert for faster drying and you can also customise and build the absorbency through different stages and needs. I could use one nappy shell and vary the inserts for either a newborn, a 1 year old, a two year old, day or night use. SOLD. Plus I was a bit more familiar with a couple of pocket nappy brands through following Emily over on RaisingZiggy. I really have her to thank for providing the inspiration to start, although my bank account won’t be happy until we start recouping some of the initial cost… I cover that aspect in another post though, that’s not what this guide is for.

When I started looking at which brand to purchase and which fabric options I could choose from it was like entering a whole new world. Not quite as bad as looking at strollers and car seats but still, it was up there! I may have been looking in the wrong place but I found it quite hard to find an overall definitive guide for choosing and using MCNs, including the benefits and drawbacks of all the different options available. This may be because everyone develops their own system but there are a few basic principles and common facts that cover the construction, configuration, and care of pocket cloth nappies. They also need to be put on your baby with a different technique than disposables, none of the retailer sites actually mentioned this or had a how to guide! If not for YouTube I wouldn’t have guessed how to do it and would have probably struggled a lot more in getting the fit right.

I have finally managed to piece my understanding together from 3 or 4 different sources, plus YouTube, so I have decided to churn it back out in one place and hopefully this may help someone. Get ready for the dump! Lets start with the basics…

Components and Materials

The shell is the part of the nappy you see. This is made from a waterproof outer layer (PUL) with an inner lining. One Size Fits Most (OSFM) nappies have multiple sets of plastic snaps/poppers on the front and sometimes on the back to adjust the size and fit. Both the rise (height) and waist can be adjusted to fit most babies, some systems say they fit right from birth to potty.

The inner is the layer of fabric lining the waterproof outer, this is the bit that goes against your baby’s skin and sees all the action first. It is usually made of either micro suede or bamboo although other fabrics can be used, and has a pocket sewn in with an opening at either the front or back where the insert is ‘stuffed’. The most common inner fabrics are:

  • Micro Suede – a quick-drying and moisture-wicking fabric. It allows the liquid to pass quickly through to the absorbency layer, keeping baby feeling comfortable and dry. This is suitable for all stages and is often the standard option for inner fabric, if the retailer doesn’t provide an inner fabric option.
  • Bamboo – a natural fibre with higher absorbency than microfibre. Bamboo takes longer to dry and absorbs more slowly. As an inner fabric it is recommended for use during toilet training stages as it allows baby to feel more of the wetness before it absorbs through to the insert.

The insert is the actual absorbent part of the nappy. This is a seperate piece to the shell and is stuffed in to the pocket to form a complete nappy. Inserts usually consist of 3-4 layers of fabric sewn together and there are many fabric options and combinations available:

    • Microfibre – fast-absorbing and fast-drying, microfibre is the basic starter level of absorbent inners. It is bulkier than other fabrics and can suffer from compression leaks when fuller, much like a sponge when it is squeezed. Microfibre can pull moisture from the skin and cause irritation so it must always be placed inside the nappy pocket, never against the skin.
    • Bamboo – as above, Bamboo is a natural fibre with higher absorbency than microfibre. It is slower to dry and slower to absorb but it is a much slimmer fabric so can help cut down the bulk and create a trimmer-fitting nappy. Bamboo can be placed against the skin, although I’m still not sure why you wouldn’t just put it in the pocket. Bamboo inserts build up to full absorbency over a few washes, or you can soak for 24 hours to bring them up quickly.
    • Hemp – another natural fibre with huge absorbent capacity. Hemp inserts are typically recommended for night use and/or heavy wetters. Apparently that’s a thing and these parents swear by them. Hemp inserts won’t reach maximum absorbency until after multiple washes so definitely soak these first. 
    • Mixed – you can get the best of both worlds! Some retailers have customised their inserts using a mix of two fabrics e.g. Bamboo top layers and microfibre inner layers. This creates an insert which has increased absorbency than microfibre alone but still has a fast drying time. Another option is to use a standard insert e.g. microfibre plus a second insert e.g. bamboo as a booster. In this case you would place the microfibre on top, closest to baby, and bamboo underneath to pick up anything escaping from the microfibre. 

Care – Washing and Drying

Pre-Use

  • Wash shells on a normal machine cycle to remove any manufacturing residue
  • Soak inserts for 24 hours before washing to bring them up to full absorbency quickly

Washing Basics – Best Practice

  • Take the nappy off, shake/knock/scrape any excess solids in to toilet
  • Cold water rinse if required
  • Remove inserts from pocket
  • Place nappies and inserts in to a bucket (dry pail) and leave until you are ready to do a nappy load
  • When ready to wash, wash on warm (30-40deg) with a pre-rinse/pre-wash cycle to loosen as much as possible before the main wash
  • Line dry with the inner facing outward in as much sunlight as possible, or low tumble dry
  • To help with drying time an extra spin cycle can be used

Do’s

  • If night nappies, give the inserts a good hand rinse before placing in the dry pail.
  • Wash every 2-3 days. Any longer and they can start to smell.
  • Wash a full or half load according to number of nappies and manufacturers instructions.
  • Use the correct amount of mild detergent for load size and water hardness.
  • Wash at 30 or 40 degrees to ensure wash is adequate and no detergent builds up from too much cold washing.
  • Use a liner if you are going to use any nappy creams to help prevent build up on the nappy.
  • Dry the nappies inner-up in as much sunlight as possible. Sunlight helps to kill bacteria and eradicate stains.

Dont’s

  • Don’t turn the nappies inside out to dry! This will rapidly decrease the lifespan of the PUL outer shell.
  • Don’t use any fabric softeners or washing products that contain fabric softeners as this will greatly reduce the nappy’s absorbency.
  • Don’t leave the lid on the pail. Air circulating keeps the nappies from getting stinky.
  • Don’t fully tumble dry the nappies/inserts if you can help it. Finishing them off on low heat, popping them in the hot water cupboard, or even in front of the fire is ok if you just need to get the last bit of moisture out, but try not to consistently tumble dry them. It can reduce the lifespan of your nappies.
  • If the nappies have been in the dryer don’t stretch the elastics until they have cooled down.

Putting On the Nappy

Cloth nappies will likely fit slightly differently depending on the type of disposable you’re used to. They also need to be put on with a couple of tweaks to your technique to get the best fit. Popping the nappy up really high at the back and pulling up high at the front as you would for a disposable could cause you some problems when trying to fit a cloth nappy, especially if you have done up any of the front rise snaps. I’ve written the steps I take to get a good fit below and/or you can check out this YouTube video which I watched before trying for the first time.

  1. Start by placing the nappy under your baby, quite low down, almost at the top of their butt crack.
  2. Bring the nappy up between baby’s legs, tucking each side edge right up in to their leg creases.
  3. Grab a waist tab on one side, pull it upwards in the direction of baby’s arm and then bring it around the front to do up the top waist snaps. This will create a nice snug seal on the thigh.
  4. Repeat for the other side, making sure the waist isn’t too tight. 2 fingers should be able to be inserted in the waistband.
  5. Do up the bottom waist snap(s) depending on thigh fit. More on that in the notes below.
  6. If your nappy has wing snaps to prevent droop then I do these up last.
  7. Do a final fit check – there should be no gaping or gaps around the thighs, and the nappy shouldn’t be pulling too tight across the front of the thighs either. Hopefully you’re good to go!

Troubleshooting Fit Issues

  • If there is excess fabric around baby’s bum and/or between their legs then you should reduce the rise (height) by doing up a row of front riser snaps.
  • Alternately, if the nappy is too low-riding or if you’re using extra boosters for absorbency then you need to increase the rise to allow more room.
  • If there is a muffin top then the waist is too tight.
  • If your baby has a slim waist and chunky thighs then you may notice the nappy pulling tight across the lower front snaps. If the nappy has 3-4 hip snaps (2 rows) each side then you can either leave the bottom front hip snap undone, or do it up one snap looser to prevent the nappy from cutting in across the thigh.
  • Any red marks should disappear within 20-30 minutes. If they don’t then this area is too tight.

So far I have really enjoyed using cloth nappies. If I progress down the MCN rabbit hole and there is more to add then I’ll make sure to keep this guide updated. For now I hope it has helped, just give them a go!

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