The pros and cons of traditional square flat cloth nappies are reviewed in this article. Flat cloth nappies have been used successfully for centuries…they are cheap, gentle on the environment, and with a little practice, easy to fold!

Traditional cloth nappies have been used by parents for centuries, and have only recently been exposed to any competing products.  Cloth nappies consist of a large square of cotton material that is folded into shape to fit the baby. Nowadays, they are often called flat nappies or square nappies in order to distinguish them from the modern cloth re-usable ones which are pre-shaped.

Cloth nappies have always had the obvious benefits of being cheaper and better for the environment, but in the last decade they have become less popular as parents have searched for quicker, cleaner and more convenient options. This article outlines the pros and cons of cloth nappies and gives excellent advice on how to use them successfully.

Convenience of flat cloth nappies

Traditional cloth nappies are folded and pinned to hold them in place, so a little preparation is required.  Folding a cloth nappy is a bit like learning origami; you usually require lessons from an expert mum or midwife as well as lots of practice! If you get really proficient, you can even do away with the nappy pins, as your folding technique will hold the nappy firmly in place.

For some brilliant illustrations on how to fold a nappy (in 15 different ways!) take a look at the Nappy Lady’s site in England  If you can’t fold a nappy after reading this, you’d better give up on flats now!!

To speed up the process some parents choose to pre-fold all their nappies after washing, while others just grab one from the washing pile and fold it as they go. If you are taking baby out, you will want to have a few pre-folded ones in your nappy bag.

Cloth nappies are worn with over-naps over the top, to stop any wetness soaking through to baby’s clothes. These do not need to be changed every time you change a nappy, but certainly if they are damp they will need changing. You are likely to use 2-3 pairs of over-naps each day.

Traditional cloth nappies need soaking before washing, and you will need two buckets – one for wet nappies and one for those that are a little messier. If soaking and washing seems like too much hard work, you can still get traditional cloth nappies through a nappy service (although with the popularity of disposables they are getting harder to find). Nappy services pick up your soiled nappies and replace them with a clean set. They work with hospital-grade hygiene levels, so you can be assured that the nappies really are clean.

Stay dry quality of flat cloth nappies

Traditional cloth nappies are prone to becoming wet and soggy with a single wee or poo and consequently need changing straight away. A nappy liner will make a limited attempt to draw the moisture away from your baby’s skin, but they are not particularly effective. You can use disposable or washable nappy liners. An over-nap will help protect your baby’s clothes from the wet.

Nappy rash

Nappy rash is most directly related to keeping baby’s bottom dry, although other factors like diet, allergies and general health can also contribute. Unfortunately on this count, traditional cloth nappies have a poor performance rating. Of all 3 types of nappies, you will need to change these the most frequently; approximately every 2 – 3 hours during the day to avoid nappy rash.

Are flat cloth nappies leak proof?

Of the 3 main nappy options, traditional cloth nappies are the least effective at catching leaks, although you can improve your chances by changing the way you fold your nappy. There are several ways you can fold a nappy and different ways make them more absorbent in different areas. Your mum, midwife or your Plunket nurse will be able to show you different ways to fold and catch leaks. Alternatively, consult The Nappy Lady online

Style and comfort of flat cloth nappies

Some parents argue that big bulky cloth nappies must be uncomfortable; but if they are folded and pinned well, they should be just as comfortable as any other type of nappy. The drawback comes in their poor ability to draw moisture away from baby’s skin – a wet soggy bottom is not comfortable!

Some parents believe that cloth nappies (which can tend to be a bit soggy, bulky and uncomfortable when wet) will actually encourage children to toilet train earlier than those children who enjoy the relative comfort of disposables.

What do I really need?

When it comes to nappies, there is a big difference between what you really NEED and what would make life easier for you and your baby. Generations have survived with traditional cloth nappies and some parents still choose this option for all sorts of reasons.

While they often get a bad rap, traditional cloth nappies still do what they have always done! If you are choosing to use traditional cloth nappies, you need to develop a system and keep on top of the washing and folding. Other than that, it is nappy business as usual.

You will need:

  • 2 dozen cloth nappies
  • 8-10 washable nappy liners or you can use disposable liners
  • 6 nappy pins
  • 6-8 pairs of over-naps
  • 2 nappy buckets (and Napisan for sterilising)

Be aware that you can choose from Chinese cotton, Indian cotton and towelling nappies.  These all vary in price, absorbency and feel.

How much will flat cloth nappies cost?

As a guideline, the costs for cloth nappies will be as follows:

You will need 2 dozen cloth nappies, which cost approximately $40 per dozen, plus pins, liners, over-naps and nappy buckets. All up it will cost you approximately $120 to get set up with cloth nappies and then it is just the washing and drying costs you need to take into account.

How can I save money on flat cloth nappies?

The main way to save money with cloth nappies is to buy second hand.  Cloth nappies and nappy buckets last through many babies, so you will find these through second hand stores, online auctions like TradeMe, and through parenting or antenatal groups. Another cost advantage of cloth nappies is that you only need to buy them once, and then they will last you through multiple children.

Where can I buy cloth nappies?

It is actually getting more and more difficult to find traditional cloth nappies to buy.  You might like to try second hand stores, online with TradeMe, bigger stores such as Farmers or the Baby Factory, or some of the online nappy stores who sell modern cloth re-usables. In some areas it is possible to purchase cloth nappies through your antenatal classes or midwife.

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This information was compiled by the Kiwi Families team.

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Thankfully we’re past the nappy stage with our boys, but we used cloth nappies about 90% of the time. We looked at all the options and wanted to go cloth, but pocket nappies and pre-made pads were a little on the steep side for our budget and wouldn’t dry quick enough in Sunny Dunedin. We ended up using traditional cloth nappies (the big, smooth ones with the pink stripe on the edge), but we were’nt keen on the origami and pins. We folded them into a rectangle the same size/shape as a pre-made pad used a similar sized scrap of… Read more »


Hi again. I have been using this kit/trial & they are good if you have not used cloth before & want to try the different types before buying, eg what works for you & baby. I didn’t do a proper class as there were many of us that were picking up kits at the same time, but the ladies there are great re: explaining the types of cloth naps & tips of how to use. Only down side is there is obviously a lot of brands out there & you still have to experiment, however there are still those available… Read more »


So I was interested to know if there was a system here where you could
hire/try before you buy cloth nappies, and it turns out there is! Yay!!!
Good old google.

classes are run in Te Atatu, but totally worth a trip before investing
in something you will use for 2 or more years. I might have to pop
along myself to check out what’s what in NZ.


Hi, I have been using cloth nappies now for almost 3 months, it was a bit of a headache at first as there is so many types/brands/costs/accessories etc. I now have various types of MCN’s, however I would have to say that my collection is primarily Itti Bitti’s, reason being they CUTE (soft minkee & looovely colours), trim, relatively quick drying & ultra absorbent, you can choose to buy sized or OSFM. I plan to continue buying these & can’t wait until the new Ltd Edition range is out. The others I buy are Monk n Bear, for similar reasons… Read more »


So are those the ones that have an absorbant pad “stuffed” into the middle of the nappy to absorb? Can we get pics on here?


Jo says…

I trialled 3 different newborn nappies to decide
which I liked best. Ecobubs, Totsbots and Honeychild. I decided on
Honeychild nappies as i liked the ease of pocket nappies and they were
the ones that leaked the least when Riley was small. I bought 12
honeychild medium and use them everyday when I am at home with him,
except for night time. They dry reasonably quickly and I also love the
colourful bums.


I just received this comment about nappies…

I LOVE itti bitti.
I have tried many many kinds (about 10?). I have the d’lish all-in-one.
They take ages to dry and are not as absorbent as others, but they are
soooo comfortable on her and super thin between the legs, so she can
crawl / stand easily. Plus they look awesome! They are very expensive
though… 🙁 But still. Worth it, I reckon. Best by far!


Well, I’ll kick it off… I’ve used pocket nappies with both of my girls… have tried lots of brands and have really liked the ones with adjustable legs. I’m not sure what I went straight to pocket nappies… I think someone told me that all-in-ones took quite a while to dry? I’ve had friends who have used fitted nappies- I was never sure about having the wet cloth right next to my baby’s skin… has anyone else tried these? I do find it challenging to keep on top of the washing during winter but I love having my girls with… Read more »


I have been wondering about Cloth Nappies here in NZ/OZ – Which ones did you choose? why? and would you buy those again?

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