A modern cloth nappy, or MCN for short, is a washable and reusable version of a single use (or disposable) nappy like Huggies or Baby Love nappy pants. They are generally sewn into a shape that can be fastened on baby using resin snaps or touchtape (Velcro). And made from cotton, hemp, bamboo fabrics or microfibre (like absorbent cleaning cloths) with an external waterproof layer of polyurethane laminate (PUL) – a more modern alternative to the old plastic pilchers used in the mid 20th century.

What types of MCN are available?

Modern cloth nappies come in many shapes and sizes but are all shaped more or less like a disposable, with elasticised legs and waist, and snaps or touch tape to hold them closed. The most common styles in terms of how they are made and assembled are:

  1. Pocket style – have a waterproof outer layer + an inner layer against baby’s skin. They are sewn together leaving an opening at the front or back to insert absorbent fabric between the outer and inner layers.
  2. All In One (AIO) style – have a waterproof outer layer + an inner layer against baby’s skin + absorbent fabric already sewn in between the outer and inner layers. This style requires the least effort in terms of assembling them after washing and drying.
  3. All In Two (AI2) style – have a waterproof outer layer + an inner layer sewn together completely to make a ‘shell’ + an absorbent fabric insert which is snapped into the shell. This is an AIO, but in two pieces and can be washed separately and reassembled to reduce drying time, like the pocket nappy.

Are there other styles of cloth nappies?

The more traditional, vintage nappies have also come a long way, and are still a very popular choice. Old school cloth nappies come in the following styles:

  1. Flat style – a large single-layer square of absorbent fabric. These generally measure around 80cm, and are folded into a range of shapes to suit baby. They are then held on with a pin or modern nappy fasteners.
  2. Prefold style – a multi-layered rectangle of absorbent fabric. These have been pre-layered (or folded) so that the centre of the rectangle has more absorbency than the sides which means it takes less set up to fit on baby than the flat. It is still folded before wear, but the process is simpler and less fiddly, here are some examples of folding prefolds. They are held on with pins or modern nappy fasteners.
  3. Contour prefold style – a prefold that has been fashioned into a contour shape with elasticised legs and waist so that it doesn’t require any folding at all before being fit on baby. They are held on with a pin or modern nappy fastener.
  4. Fitted style – a shaped, fully absorbent nappy that has been sewn with elasticised legs and waist, and snaps or touch tape to hold it closed.
  5. Tie style – a large shaped single layer piece of fabric which is folded to suit baby and then fastened with its attached ties. The Disana nappy system is built predominantly around this style.

All the traditional styles of cloth nappies need a separate waterproofing layer (or cover) worn over the top, as they are all made from only absorbent fabrics most commonly cotton, hemp or bamboo.

Cloth nappy covers by style, these may sometimes be referred to as ‘wraps’:

  1. PUL cover – an outer fabric, usually polyester or minky which has been laminated with polyurethane to create a waterproof but breathable single layer. With elasticised legs and waist, and snaps or touch tape to hold closed.
  2. Wool cover – generally a knitted fabric to allow stretch, most are a pull up style, but also come in a ‘wrap’ style using felted wool or jersey, with elasticised legs and waist, with snaps or touch tape closure.
  3. Fleece cover – made from high quality polyester fleece in a pull up or wrap style. These are not as popular as they once were, with recent concerns about dangerous amounts of microplastics being shed when washing polyester fleece.

There are plenty of offshoots of these styles if you go deep enough down the cloth nappy rabbit hole. There are many parents sewing their own nappies at home in styles which best suit their needs. Also, sometimes we need to get a bit more inventive for specific circumstances, like overnight cloth. This results in franken-styles like ‘hybrids’ (somewhere between a fitted and an AI2), ‘fitted pockets’ (non waterproof pocket nappies, like our Soakmaster1000) and ‘AIO pockets’ (waterproof pocket nappies with some absorbency already sewn in for better wee distribution, like our Stuff n Snap)

Which absorbent inserts will I use?

MCN’s (pockets, AIO’s and AI2’s) will generally be sold with their absorbent inserts included. Absorbent inserts come in the same fabrics as the traditional cloth nappies are made from: Cotton, hemp or bamboo. There are also more highly absorbent synthetic fabrics like microfibre but these have somewhat gone out of favour in recent times, like polyester fleece – due to microplastic pollution concerns.

Further reading:
History: First patented nappy cover with snaps. https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-1998-11-20-1998324046-story.html
Microplastic pollution: How much plastic is your washing machine sending out to sea? https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/9/19/17800654/clothes-plastic-pollution-polyester-washing-machine