What's the best fabric for cloth nappies?
When it comes to absorbency, not all inserts are created equal. You may have found that your reusable nappies were holding up just fine in the newborn phase but a few months later, you’re noticing leaks. One reason for this could be the material used to make your inserts.
Many so called “China Cheapies” come with a single microfibre insert and while this may work for light wetters or very young babies, compression leaks can get the better of you and lead to more outfit changes than a Lady Gaga concert.
Confused already? Don’t worry, we’ll break this down.
Let’s start with microfibre. Microfibre is a synthetic fabric used in inserts of many cheaper modern cloth nappies. Microfibre is like a sponge it absorbs really quickly but the moment you give it a little squeeze everything comes out.
What’s the deal with Microfibre vs Microfleece? A completely synthetic insert, microfibre is great for wicking away moisture quickly but for this reason it cannot go against baby’s skin. It is very drying and usually needs to go inside a pocket. This is not to be confused with microFLEECE which is a thin reusable liners with no absorbency. It is a stay-dry layer that SHOULD go against Bub’s skin to keep it nice and dry.
What the heck is Bamboo Charcoal (or Charcoal Bamboo)?! Bamboo charcoal is really just microfibre with a layer of fleece over the top. Great for absorbing, not so great for holding onto the liquid. Manufacturers burn bamboo scraps until they are charcoal and then crush them. Nanoparticles of that are impregnated into the fleece. It’s really just a marketing ploy and has no benefit other than hiding stains- which really isn’t ideal. Charcoal bamboo is 100% synthetic. In other words, save your money.
Now let’s talk about the good stuff… Natural Fibres!
Natural fibres are definitely our preference and what we would always recommend for the cloth nappies, traditional or modern. They are extremely absorbent and hold liquid so you don’t get the dreaded compression leaks. But what’s better? Bamboo, cotton or hemp? While all these inserts are natural fibres they also have their pros and cons.
Bamboo is the softest of the three. However, it is slow drying. The absorbency of bamboo is high which is great. It can be a bit delicate and break down from poor washing which is why you’ll usually find it mixed with hemp or cotton unless it’s a single layer like a flat nappy.
Hemp absorbs liquid slowly but is the most absorbent insert option. Hemp can be rough and stiff though, as it is in more of a raw state than other natural fibres and is generally blended with bamboo or cotton. It also dries quite slowly, so not ideal for cool/wet climates.
Cotton has medium absorbency and a mid-range speed of absorbing liquid. It dries fairly quickly but can also be a bit rough depending on the style of insert. It is the most durable of the three which makes it excellent to mix with bamboo to make it hardier. Cotton can be quite draining environmentally to grow, so that’s something to keep in mind as well.
As with everything in life nothing is perfect so you’ll find a lot of blended fabrics so you can get the best of all worlds. For instance, Bubblebubs’ Candie inserts are made from 450gsm bamboo fleece which is custom milled to the highest standard. We choose to manufacture our inserts with a higher bamboo content and it is a thicker fabric than other brands on the market making it more absorbent. However it is mixed with cotton to ensure its durability.
When it comes to your cloth nappy journey, the choice of inserts can definitely be make or break. Be sure you know what you’re getting so you can give yourself the best chance of staying in the cloth nappy game!
If you'd like to learn even more about fabric types we have a great podcast on the subject.