There are two main reasons why people choose to use cloth; for environmental or economic factors.
Using cloth nappies can save families thousands of dollars. These savings can go towards living expenses, a holiday or a special purchase. For one child, if the alternative was using average costing disposables, a family would save between $2500-$1300. For subsequent children, the saving increases because there is no upfront cost, this can mean families save A LOT of money. (See Economics of Cloth vs Disposable Nappies for the comparison and cost break down).
2 billion disposable nappies go into landfill every year in Australia. It takes 3 times more energy, 20 more raw materials and 2 times more water to make a disposable nappy compared to a re-useable one . Even after taking into account the materials and energy used to make them initially, the energy, water and detergent required to wash them, and their final, inevitable end point in landfill, re-useable nappies are by far the better option when it comes to environmental sustainability, as well as for financial savings.
There are a few options for using cloth on a budget.
- Purchasing second hand nappies
- Purchasing new inexpensive nappies manufactured in China
- Using flats and prefolds
Second hand nappies
Purchasing preloved cloth nappies is a really great way to try different brands and styles and to see if they work for you and your child. There is potential to find a style that is perfect, without taking the risk of a large initial investment that might not work out. Buying anything second hand entails some degree of risk and there is a degree of trust that the goods are described accurately and truthfully.
- Finding great quality nappies that have plenty of life in them, that cost less than if they were purchased new
- Depending on the brand, age, use, the nappies might be old, worn out and fall apart within a short amount of time
See A Guide to Buying Second Hand Nappies for important information to ask, to avoid wasting your money.
Inexpensive Nappies manufactured in China
Inexpensive cloth nappies are often sold on eBay, Aliexpress and other websites. As the name suggests, they are generally very cheap nappies ranging from $5-$15. They can be purchased direct (via Aliexpress) or via a reseller. Inexpensive nappies with which are known to be durable are Alva and Happy Flute. Most nappies are manufactured in China, the differences between those manufactured by AU/NZ companies and those manufactured by Chinese factories for direct sale; the design of nappy, the materials used and wages and/or work conditions.
- Finding nappies that are functional and inexpensive
- They will require additional absorbency. See our info on Adding Absorbency
- They can be hit and miss in regards to quality, some may last a long time, others will be unusable within a short amount of time
- The ethical manufacture practices are questionable in some factories, and modern day slavery exists in China  as it does elsewhere around the world, but at the same time it provides work and income for those that need it. There is significant variation in working conditions in different regions of China. [This topic requires in-depth research and explanation, for families that can not afford more expensive nappies, these are definitely a viable option, this has been included as a con for readers to be aware that it is an issue and factor to consider].
Flats and prefolds
Flats, prefolds, muslin flats, tri folds, tea towels and face washers are cheap, easy to wash and dry quickly. They require a Snappi to fasten and a PUL, fleece or wool cover.
- Cheap, readily available, easy to wash, dry quickly
- They are very very durable
- Newborn prefolds can be used as inserts in covers later
- They absorb a lot of liquid
- Can be bulky
For information on using cloth for newborns, see the Cloth for Newborns page.
For information on cloth nappy hire, see the Cloth Nappy Hire page.
Flats, prefolds, PUL cover and a Snappi
How to use flats
- Fold flat
- Fasten with Snappi
- Put on a cover
- Tuck in any fabric into the cover, and ensure the cover elastics are moved up right into the thigh creases.
Source: Nature Baby
How to use prefolds
- Fold prefold in half and lay in the cover/shell and fasten the cover.
- Lay the prefold square open,
- Fold in the fabric between the legs (see step 6a onwards above for visual)
- Pull it upwards and over the top
- Pull out the top corners
- Attach the Snappi to the underneath corners, over the top.
Economical Night Nappy Solutions
Dedicated night nappies are effective and easy to use, but can be expensive. Putting together a night nappy combination with items that are already purchased is very achievable.
To find out how much absorbency needed for a night nappy, weigh the nappy dry in the evening, then wet in the morning and take the difference. This will give the absorbency required and an estimate for putting together a night nappy combination. Add extra absorbency to prevent leaks.
If leaks are occurring with dedicated night nappies, add an insert/absorbency to the inside or outside of the nappy, between the nappy and the cover.
Use existing PUL covers, or for larger children some brands make XL pocket nappies that will accommodated the required materials. Wool or fleece covers are also an excellent option and will work well if using a flat/prefold option fastened with a Snappi.
A double cover is suitable for heavy wetters, use a PUL with a wool on top.
Night nappies can become quite bulky, if extra absorbency is needed, put additional inserts on the outside of the nappy between nappy and cover.
See this page for information on Caring For Wool.
Some absorbency measurements:
Bambino Mio size 1 prefold 110g
Bubblebubs cotton muslin flat 70x75cm 150g
Designer Bums snap in insert 65g anchor insert 145g
Real Nappies Crawler prefold 251g
Bumwear Newborn prefold 63g
Dickies Terry Towelling Flat 282g
IKEA Haren hand towel 250g
50x50cm piece of flannellete 91g
Alva 3-layer bamboo insert 115g
Bamboo trifold inserts 180g
IKEA 70x70cm muslin (from baby section) 195g