My Green Nappy Discovering Modern Cloth Nappies and Eco-Friendly Disposable Nappies

September 27, 2011

What Every Parent Should Know About Nappy Fabrics

What Every Parent Should Know About Nappy Fabrics

When you’re just starting out in the cloth nappy world, it can be a bit confusing seeing all these different fabrics talked about that you may never have heard of before. “Hemp?” you may say. “Isn’t that a drug? And I thought bamboo was what pandas eat. How can that be comfortable as a nappy?”

By Melissa Smith of Little Para Pants

Relax. I’ll spell it all out for you.

Absorbent fabrics – bamboo, hemp, cotton, wool

Bamboo is a grass native to China; and yes, pandas eat it. Bamboo fabric is made from the fibres inside the canes. It is very soft – possibly the softest nappy fabric available – and can absorb about three times its own weight. Bamboo fabric does have a downside, however, and that is the fact that the process of making bamboo into fabric is patented by a single company in China. It is a bit more expensive than other fabrics. It’s usually blended with another fibre, such as cotton, to make it more durable. Bamboo shoots grow up to three metres a day, and because it’s a grass, they keep growing after they’re cut, so it’s a very sustainable crop.

Hemp is another popular fabric. It is made from the cannabis plant, but a different variety than the one used as a drug. Hemp is durable, versatile, absorbent, and can be grown in any climate. It has natural antibacterial properties, making it a good choice for babies with nappy rash. Hemp has been made into rope, paper, fabric, plastic, plywood, and many other things. For nappies, it’s a great middle-of-the-road fabric when you want something absorbent yet affordable.

Cotton is ubiquitous. It is durable, widely available and inexpensive. However, it requires a lot of water to grow, and for this reason, many environmentally conscious parents choose to use it sparingly. It is not as absorbent as hemp or bamboo but is often used in combination with both.

Wool is a bit different to these other fabrics. You’ll see wool most often as a nappy cover. In addition to being absorbent, wool is water resistant. Many parents find that a bamboo fitted nappy plus a wool cover is their best overnight nappy combination. The wool will help to absorb more liquid while still keeping clothes and bedding dry.

Stay-dry fabrics – Suedecloth, microfleece, polar fleece

Stay-dry fabrics are synthetic. Because of this, some babies develop rashes from them.

Suedecloth is a synthetic fabric which is soft on the ‘right’ side and smooth on the ‘wrong’ side. It is often used in pocket and all-in-one nappies to keep moisture away from baby’s skin. It’s comfortable and doesn’t tend to stiffen up after washing the way many fabrics do. It costs a bit more than the other synthetics I discuss later on, and is generally only available to purchase online. One of the nice things about suedecloth is that solid matter doesn’t stick to it – it just slides off into the toilet easily!

Polar fleece is inexpensive, thick, and can even be made from things like recycled plastic bottles. Again, this does present a possibility for synthetic reactions. Polar fleece is often used for covers or liners. It isn’t waterproof, so if you’re using it as a cover, you may get compression leaks if your child is a particularly heavy wetter.

Microfleece is similar to polar fleece, but thinner and softer. It’s generally used in pockets and as nappy liners. Like suedecloth, microfleece repels solid matter, so it’s easy to clean up. It costs less than suedecloth but is a bit less breatheable.

Waterproof fabrics – PUL

PUL stands for polyurethane laminate. This is a synthetic coating laminated onto the back of fabrics to make them waterproof. This makes it perfect for things like cloth nappies, cloth menstrual pads, wet bags, and breast pads, where you need to keep moisture contained. Most waterproof fabrics do not breathe easily, but for some reason that I don’t pretend to understand, PUL actually does breathe. And breatheability is something you definitely want in a nappy. You want air to circulate around your child’s genitals to keep them from becoming too hot.

PUL is available in all colours of the rainbow and many different prints. You can get it in 1 mil or 2 mil thicknesses. It is most commonly laminated onto polyester fabrics but you can also get cotton and minky/minkee fabrics as PUL.

– Melissa from Little Para Pants in South Australia

Because Cute Babies Deserve Cute Nappies!

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