How to choose cloth nappy inserts.
Knowing how to choose which cloth nappy inserts to buy can be tricky. Which is the best fabric? Which is the best brand?
It's never as simple as which is the 'best' but nor is it a dark art either. 'Best' is a unicorn concept, there is only best for you, your baby and in part, your budget if that is going to form part of the decision making.
We believe in offering affordably priced yet excellent value products. We also believe that a little education goes a long way. The knowledge to make informed decisions can save a lot of time and money in the long run.
In this post we will teach you what to look for in an insert. How each fabric performs and crucially, what to look for when it comes to the composition of the material. Armed with this knowledge you are able to choose between the inserts available based on facts rather than brand names, fashions or prices.
Hemp is the most absorbent fabric used in cloth nappies. It is also the most expensive. Hemp is a fairly stiff fabric by comparison to others but is very reliable. Hemp inserts are at the slow end of the scale when it comes to the speed of absorption.
When buying hemp inserts look at the composition of the fabric. In the case of cloth nappy inserts or boosters hemp is always mixed with cotton. Hemp is a very stiff material on it's own and would be unusable in that form. By mixing with cotton the material is more pliable, more usable and is able to absorb faster that it would alone. So, when you are shopping for hemp inserts, don't let the presence of cotton put you off. A good ratio to look for is 55% hemp and 45% cotton.
Pictured below are two examples of hemp inserts.
Lichtbaby (by Elf Diaper) and Bells Bumz. Both inserts are 3 layers of hemp and both inserts offer the same ratio of hemp to cotton (55:45).
There is no difference is size bar potentially a couple of millimeters. Hemp will shrink after a few washes, this is normal.
Bamboo is also very absorbent (not much less than hemp) and comes in differing forms. Bamboo terry and bamboo cotton are both often found in cloth nappy products.
Bamboo cotton is often a ratio of circa 80% bamboo and 20% cotton. As with hemp, the cotton can help with the speed of absorption. The end result of bamboo cotton is a smooth feeling material. Bamboo terry is a loopy looking fabric, more like a towel, and often has an amount of polyester present. Bamboo terry feels very soft and luxurious.
In the image below there are two variations of bamboo insert. The Lichtbaby is 5 layers and the Elf Diaper (on the right with the panda label) is 4 layers. Both are made by Elf Diaper. Both have the same composition of 80.7% viscose and 19.3% polyester. They will differ in performance based only on the number of layers of fabric. The more layers, the more liquid the insert can hold.
You can also see in the later photograph that the Alva Baby 3 layer bamboo insert has an almost identical composition of fabric. The only notable difference between the three bamboo inserts is the number of layers. The decision to choose 3, 4 or 5 layers comes down mainly to budget.
The bamboo element of the fabric is often referred to as viscose or bamboo rayon. This is to do with the manufacturing process. To turn the bamboo plant into a fabric requires a much more labour intensive process of manufacturing that other fabrics such as cotton. You can read more about the process here.
Microfibre is a useful, low cost, option however it is not as absorbent as hemp or bamboo and nappies using microfibre need changing more regularly. Microfibre is a man-made fabric and is a plastic.
Microfibre absorbs the liquid quickly but also releases the liquid when put under pressure. A bit like a wet sponge, if pressure is applied liquid will squeeze out. The composition of fabric is less of a concern when it comes to microfibre. There is no real variation in microfibre across the cloth nappy market.
Microfibre can be a great choice when the budget is tight and baby doesn't wee a huge amount. Or, if pairing up with a more robust fabric such as hemp or bamboo.
Please note, microfibre inserts should not be placed directly against the skin as it is slightly abrasive and will dry out the skin. Cover with a fleece liner or place inside the pocket of a pocket nappy.
The image below shows an Alva Baby Microfibre Insert and an Alva Baby 3 layer bamboo insert.
The cost of inserts can vary but on the whole, hemp is the most expensive and microfibre the least. Bamboo falls somewhere in between and the price differs depending on how many layers are on offer. View our quick guide to insert absorbency here.
Cotton inserts are not so much of a common product however, cotton is a fantastic fabric for cloth nappies. So much so that traditional terry squares and the slightly more modern prefold nappies are predominantly 100% cotton.
Prefold nappies can be folded up and used inside pocket nappies in place of conventional inserts. Similarly, cotton flannels or muslins can be used to provide a boost to a nappy. There are also newer products on the market that are like a slim cotton insert that is used on top of another insert to soak up floods quickly. They are usually a supplementary product and designed for this specific need. For more information on flooding read this post here. 100% cotton is the norm with muslins, terries, prefolds and cotton booster type products.
Bamboo Charcoal or Charcoal Inserts
Beware the bamboo charcoal inserts. These are most often a microfibre insert with a bamboo fabric top layer. In this case the bamboo offers very little in terms of absorbency but these deceptively titled inserts can lead buyers to believe they might be getting a bamboo insert at a low price. The old saying 'if it sounds too good to be true it usually is' applies here.
Bamboo charcoal, or charcoal, inserts are exactly the reason knowing about different fabrics and understanding how to read the composition of those fabrics that make up an insert can help a buyer avoid making purchasing mistakes.
The information here can be applied to all decisions cloth nappy related. Which ever type of nappy is being considered it is always worth finding out what are the fabrics used and whether they suit your needs and your budget.