Real nappy manufacturers use a lot of different fabrics to make real nappies so here is a quick guide to some types of fabrics available.
This is the traditional choice of fabric for real nappies, has been used for many years and is still a favourite today. Cotton is absorbent and hard wearing; it can be washed at very high temperatures and is used almost exclusively by nappy laundry services. It can become slightly stiff after washing (a burst in the tumble dryer can sort this out) and it can take a little longer to dry than some manmade fabrics. Cotton comes in lots of different colours, unbleached and organic.
- It breathes easily as a result of its fibre structure and keeps the body cool in summer and warm in winter because it is a good conductor of heat.
- Cotton has a high absorbency rate and holds up to 27 times its own weight in water.
Unfortunately cotton is vulnerable to a large number of pests so pesticides, fungicides and fertilisers are widely used and residues may remain in the fabric. Organic cotton is grown without chemicals and therefore does no harm to either environment or workers. Organic cotton is grown using methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment.
Types of cotton fabric:
Woven – Smooth on both sides and very absorbent.
Terry fabric - Deep pile and very absorbent.
Flannel fabric - Smooth on one side, lightly brushed on the other.
Velour fabric - Velours is a knitted fabric with tiny loops on one side that have been shaved off. Velours is a more 'fragile' fabric. Polyester is normally added to reduce shrinkage, increase durability and prevent the fabric from loosing shape but 100% cotton Velours is available.
Muslin - is a type of finely-woven cotton fabric. Muslin is most typically a closely-woven unbleached or white cloth, produced from corded cotton yarn.
Is known as a green crop and so has become a very popular fabric for making real nappies. Bamboo has a very quick growing cycle and needs less water than cotton and no pesticides to grow. Bamboo is a very absorbent material and can hold up to 60% more moisture than cotton. It is a very soft fabric, naturally anti-bacterial and will stay soft after washing. The drawbacks to bamboo are that it can take a lot longer than cotton to dry and it does not like direct heat so drying your bamboo nappies on the radiator is not recommended.
- It is the fastest growing grass and can shoot up a yard or more a day and does not require replanting after harvesting because its vast root network continually sprouts new shoots.
- Bamboo fibre is 100% biodegradable
The manufacturing processes where bamboo the plant is transformed into bamboo the fabric are where the sustainability and eco-friendly lustre of bamboo is tarnished because of the heavy chemicals that are often required.
Types of bamboo fabric:
Bamboo Terry - A silky textured terry fabric woven with bamboo loops embedded in a polyester base (usually 90% Bamboo 10% Polyester).
Bamboo jersey - not suitable for real nappies.
Bamboo velour - A knitted fabric with tiny loops on one side which have been shaved to create a velvet-like surface. Cotton adds strength to this fabric and prevents it from going out of shape.
Bamboo fleece – Is super-soft and has been mechanically brushed in order to create its soft texture (70% bamboo; 30% cotton).
Hemp is another very absorbent material used to make real nappies and it also has a greener tag than other fabrics. As a crop it requires no pesticides or fertilisers and is one of the most eco-friendly fabric fibres known to us. It is used as a fabric for inserts more than nappies as hemp can become quite stiff after washing. Hemp is also not as quick acting as some fabrics and is sometimes best when mixed with another quicker acting fabric like microfibre. Natural Hemp is a course fibre but combining it with cotton softens the texture without compromising its absorbency.
- Hemp is considered a high-yield crop and produces significantly more fibre per square foot than cotton.
- Hemp is more water absorbent than cotton and has 3 times the tensile strength.
Types of hemp fabric:
Fleece - The fleece has been mechanically brushed in order to create its soft, fuzzy texture (55% hemp 45% organic cotton).
Hemp jersey - not suitable for real nappies.
Hemp Terry - Hemp Stretch Terry is 47% hemp; 38% organic cotton; 15% polyester with tiny loops on one side. This fabric has a raised nap of tiny loops on the one side embedded into a knitted base which is flat on the reverse.
Microfibre is a manmade material using fibers combined to form yarns. Microfibre is used for real nappies because the microfiber material wicks moisture away from the body, keeping the skin cool and dry. It is also a very quick acting fabric and because of the way it traps moisture in between its fibres rather than on its surface it is also quick drying. Microfibre is used to make nappy inserts and nappies; it is not as absorbent as some natural fabrics but can be used in conjunction with these materials to boost its absorbency.
- Prevents the growth of bacteria inside the fabric.
- While many microfibers are made of polyester, they can also be composed of polyamide (nylon) or other polymers.
Microfibres are not made from a renewable resource and they are not biodegradable.
Fleece is a synthetic made from 100% polyester fabric. Fleece does not absorb wetness it sucks the moisture away. It is breathable, lightweight and fast drying making it a great fabric for real nappies. Fleece is either used in real nappies as a liner or lining of a real nappy or as an outer cover (wrap). As a liner Microfleece is usually used, this is the lightest version of fleece that is available. Microfleece is a thin and lightweight soft fleece fabric that will wick moisture away from the skin so keeping baby’s skin dry. Fleece is also used as an outer cover (wrap), fleece wraps allow moisture to evaporate and so keeps the nappy area cool. Fleece wraps are best used for night time and are excellent for babies who have very sensitive skin or who have skin conditions such as eczema. Fleece is very easy to care for and dries very quickly.
- Fleece is a vegan alternative to wool that can be made entirely from recycled plastic bottles.
- Microfleece resists staining, and does not hold faeces like other fabrics can. Just shake off over the toilet.
Other advantages of fleece material is that it is very comfortable due to its light weight and anti-perspiration structure and fleece material allows the moisture to evaporate, while blocking the access of humidity from the outside. Among the disadvantages of fleece include its easy flammability and the generation of static.
Wool is widely used for outer covers (wraps) because of its unique properties. The weave of the fabric allows wool to wick away moisture from the body and release it into the air to leave skin cool. Wool is a natural insulator to keep you warm in winter and naturally breathable to keep you cool in summer. Wool is naturally antibacterial due to lanolin – a pale yellow oil found on sheeps wool. Lanolin also gives wool its water resistant property. Wool wraps come in 2 forms the first being in the shape of a conventional wrap with poppers or a Velcro fastening the other being knitted wool in the shape of shorts or trousers. Wool is best used at night as compression wicking might happen when baby is up and about (moisture pushed through the wool when baby is sitting for a length of time). Wool wraps are not washed after each use but just hung up to dry, once dry the wrap is ready to be used again. They need to be hand washed in olive soap and re lanolised every 3-4 washes.
- Wool will absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture without feeling damp.
- Wool is a renewable resource that can be shorn from sheep annually. It is biodegradable and kinder to the environment than oil-based synthetics
Wool is almost entirely non-allergenic although some people do have a natural allergy to Lanolin.
PUL stands for polyurethane laminate and is used to make wraps, All in One and pocket nappies. This coating is water resistant but breathable. The fabric that it is applied to may be cotton or have various amounts of polyester in it.
It is durable and can be washed and dried many times without losing its waterproof abilities. It can be washed in temperatures of up to 60°c but will last longer if hand washed or washed at 30 or 40°c along with your families other washing.
- As a general rule, solid colour PUL is made from polyester fabric, and printed PUL is usually made with cotton.
- It was originally created for use in hospitals and other medical settings.
You can dry PUL nappies and wraps in the tumble dryer but it may shorten their lifespan, line drying is best. PUL must not be soaked in any chemical solution such as Napisan or oxy bleach products as it can destroy its waterproofing abilities.