reusable nappies

How to Use Reusable Nappies

Not long ago every mother knew how to use reusable nappies (reusable diapers) because they were the only nappies available! Nappies are available in a bewildering variety of materials, shapes and sizes, but this does mean that there is a kind to suit every mother’s particular requirements for her baby. Whatever kind you choose, make sure that they fit firmly. However, no baby should be trussed up, nor should there be too much pressure on the genitals.


Terry towelling nappies are available in various qualities; at one time they were always made of one hundred per cent cotton. Now they are often mixed with a small quantity of man-made fibre. Thin nappies are less bulky to wear, are easier to wash and dry quickly, but are less absorbent. Thick towelling is more absorbent and is, therefore, especially suitable for older babies and for wearing at night time.

reusable nappiesHemmed nappies are best because they do not fray after a few washes. All towelling nappies should be washed before being used for the first time. You will need at least two dozen and, considering that they will be in use for at least two or three years, it is often cheaper to buy the best quality.

Muslin nappies, which are very soft, can be worn during the day by a tiny baby or placed as a nappy-liner inside terry nappies. Muslin squares can also be used as bibs, draw sheets and face cloths.

Shaped nappies take longer to dry than square ones and removing stains from them can be difficult. They are sometimes too big for young babies. They do, however, make nappy changing easy and quick. A shaped nappy can be worn under or over another nappy. Because they fit so neatly they are particularly good for toddlers.

One-way nappy liners are worn inside a nappy and help to keep a baby’s skin dry. Because they are made of a non-absorbent material, the urine passes right through them. They do not need replacing at each nappy change, but should be washed regularly. They may help to discourage a tendency to nappy rash.

Disposable nappy liners save a great deal of work and are especially useful for young babies who soil often. With care they can be washed two or three times before disintegrating. Wet strength paper tissues can also be used for the same purpose.


You will need two lidded plastic buckets – one for soiled nappies and the other for wet nappies; used nappies should be washed daily. Shake faeces into the lavatory bowl and hold the nappy under the flushing water before placing in the sanitizing solution. Rinse wet nappies in running water and remove excess moisture before sanitizing.

Nappies should be soaked for at least two hours in the sanitizing solution in a bucket with the lid on. This process sterilizes and cleans. They should then be rinsed thoroughly-several times, in fresh water.

When a baby has nappy rash – ammonia dermatitis is the most common kind and is recognized by the strong smell of ammonia – the final rinsing water should contain vinegar (acetic acid) to the proportion of 28 ml (1 fl. oz) of vinegar to 4.5 litres (1 gallon) of water. Wring only a little water from the nappy and hang it out to dry. This will leave sufficient acetic acid in the nappy to counteract the ammonia. Fabric softeners can be added to the final rinse, but are not necessary unless the nappy has become stiff. Nappies dried outdoors will feel soft and smell fresh.

Nappies washed in special nappy cleaning solutions need also to be washed in a hot soapy solution from time to time. This will help to keep them white and soft and prolong their life. Do not use household bleach to remove stains, as this can discolour the nappy if it is not made from pure cotton. Also, if a household bleach is not made up precisely following the manufacturer’s instructions and the nappy is not well-washed and thoroughly rinsed, the solution could cause irritation of a baby’s skin.


Never use detergent or enzyme powders for washing a baby’s nappies or clothes. It is extremely difficult to rinse detergents from fabrics and they commonly cause skin rashes and irritations in babies and children. Always use soap flakes or soap powders for hand-washing and washing machines.

Nappies do not need to be boiled each time they are used. Soiled nappies which are placed in water the moment they are removed will remain soft and white for longer. Before washing, rinse them thoroughly and remove excess water. Wash in hot soapy water; badly stained nappies will need to be soaked in a soapy water, or rubbed with soap before being boiled. Thorough rinsing of nappies is of vital importance to remove all traces of soap.


If you can afford it, a nappy service which collects, launders and returns nappies will be well worthwhile, as it saves you a great deal of time and energy. The availability of such services differs widely from area to area. When they do exist, the laundry will generally mark the nappies for you and often you can buy new nappies direct from them.

Plastic pants are here to stay, but need to be used with care and discrimination. The temptation is to leave them on too long and, as the urine cannot evaporate – as it would if the baby just wore a nappy-this encourages the development of nappy rash. Leave the plastic pants off whenever you can, and do not use them if the baby has a rash.

Plastic pants should not fit tightly round a baby’s waist or legs. Look for those with soft edges; and avoid any with ridges that will trap dirt. Wash them frequently and pat dry before hanging in the fresh air. Never dry by direct heat and do not use them when they become hard and brittle. Newborn babies do not need plastic pants.


It is wise when folding nappies to avoid a great deal of material between the baby’s legs. This is especially important when toddlers are learning to walk, as bulky nappies can encourage a baby to walk bow-legged.

  • For young babies, use the following method with terry towelling and muslin squares. Fold the muslin into a triangle, and place under the baby with the centre of the triangle pointing down between his legs. Bring this up between his legs, fold the other two corners across his stomach and, slipping your fingers between the baby and nappy, pin all three together. Fold the terry towelling into an oblong and pin like a skirt around the baby’s waist.
  • For older babies, fold a terry towelling nappy into a triangle (as above) and pin in the same way. Do not use a second nappy as a skirt.
  • For boys (and girls who sleep on their tummies), fold the nappy in half to form a rectangle, then fold over one third. Place the baby on the thinnest part of the folded nappy, with his waist level with the top. Bring the rest of the folded nappy up between his legs and spread over the abdomen. Pin in place.
  • For toddlers, the kite method. Arrange the nappy to represent a diamond shape. Fold the left and right hand corners into the centre, then fold the top and bottom points to meet in the centre. Place the baby’s buttocks on the nappy with his legs towards the shortest fold and his waist on the opposite, wider fold. Lift one corner over the baby’s body, take the nappy up between his legs and pin together. Lift the other corner over his body and place it underneath the rest of the nappy. Pin the fold together. Always use hooded nappy pins; when you remove one, close it before putting it down.


In the early weeks a young baby is likely to wet and possibly soil by the find of a feed. It is, therefore, better to change him after rather than ‘ before a feed. Babies will usually sleep in a wet or soiled nappy so there is no need to wake them for a change. A baby should never, however, be left to lie for hours on find in a wet nappy. Sometimes a baby’s crying will indicate that a nappy needs to be changed.

At changing time, you will need cotton-wool, tissues, baby lotion or oil. Remove the nappy and gently wipe away soiling with a tissue. Clean the baby’s bottom with cotton-wool and baby lotion, or oil, or soak the cotton-wool in warm water. Provided your baby is topped and tailed or bathed each day, you will not need to use soap when you change his nappy. Wipe a baby girl’s bottom away from the vagina and towards the anus. This prevents any germs or infection from the bowels reaching the vagina or bladder. Wash the groin and fold of flesh between the thighs and dry thoroughly. Petroleum jelly or zinc and castor oil creams can be used for most babies. These give a protective film to the skin, but do not need to be used at each nappy change. They are often prescribed by doctors to ease soreness.


If your baby’s bottom begins to look sore, ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Are the nappies thoroughly clean, with all the soap rinsed out of them?
  2. Am I using plastic pants too often and for too long periods?
  3. Does the baby lie for too long in a soiled or drenched nappy?

Nappy rash is experienced by most babies at some time; but the answers to the questions will give you a clue to the cause and treatment of the soreness. Leave the nappies off as often as possible, so that the baby’s bottom is exposed to the air which will help the skin to recover. If the soreness persists, then visit your doctor.

Any rash that is not treated can lead to severe irritation. Ammonia dermatitis is the most common kind of rash. This starts round the genitals and is distinguished by the strong smell of ammonia present when the baby’s nappy is changed. Rinsing nappies in a solution of vinegar and water will help to prevent this.

A rash that begins on the buttocks could be caused by thrush, a fungal infection; if so, your doctor will probably treat it with gentian violet or Nystatin ointment. Do not diagnose the condition yourself; always take the baby to a doctor to ensure that it is completely cleared up.


These save time and money spent in nappy laundering; but for each terry towelling nappy you will probably need two disposable nappies. Because disposable nappies need changing more often, it is better to use towelling nappies at night-time. There are many different kinds of disposable nappies available. The best way to make a choice is to ask other mothers for their opinions then try the various kinds until you find one you prefer.

Disposable nappies are not suitable for very young or very small babies. Nappies of this kind can often be bought in bulk which is very useful if you have a lot of storage space. They are invaluable when travelling, on holidays, when the washing machine breaks down, or if you are tired. Unless you are quite sure that the plumbing can cope with the disposal of nappies, it is better to incinerate them, or put them in a plastic bag in the refuse bin. Disposable nappies are best torn up before attempting to flush them away ; they should break up and disappear within three flushings.

Nappy holders are used with disposable nappies and are available in different sizes. Your baby will need several because they will need to be washed regularly. Buy one pair at a time until you find the right fit. It is sensible to buy packs of the cheapest varieties rather than a couple of expensive ones. Having said all that, learning how to use reusable nappies is probably better for the baby and the environment.