The truth about flats and prefolds - traditional cloth nappies

Did you wear cotton terry square nappies as a baby? We both did :) And we both used terry flats for our eldest children over 10 years ago.

Since then, the humble cloth nappy has evolved into the myriad cleverly designed modern cloth nappies that are available nowadays - with unlimited options, high tech fabrics, and so many factors to take into consideration! Is in any wonder that a significant number of parents are choosing to go ‘old-school’ and revert to the simplicity and versatility of the basic flat nappy?

Traditional nappies do have some cons (apart from the common - but wrong - idea that they involve soaking, pins and hard work!)

  • You have to fold them, so it’s an extra step, and it’s something extra you have to learn.
  • If you have an active baby who twists and turns during changes, then flats can be a bit more challenging. [A prefold pad folded and already placed in a cover ready to put on can be easier.]
  • You have to choose a great cover - no elastic in the legs of the nappy means it’s down to the cover to hold all the messes in. A cover with leg gussets and a snug fit like Thirsties or Seedling is recommended.
  • It’s not so babysitter/child care friendly as a more intuitive modern style.


But it’s not an all or nothing proposition. Even if you plan on using modern cloth nappy styles, flats are an awesome addition to your cloth nappy stash - they are a cheap way to extend your stash and dry quickly - fabulous for winters. And they have a long history of being used for lots of other purposes.

And what about prefolds? We don’t have a history of using them in Australia, but it the traditional nappy in the US, and we’ve embraced it over the last few years. A little less daunting to fold than big flat squares, but with the same fast drying, economical benefits.

So here’s what we see as the advantages:


OK, you have to fold them, so that might not seem ‘simple’, but once you know how to fold them, it’s easy and you’ll get good at it quickly. But flats and prefolds have a simple construction - either a single later of fabric (flat) or several layers sewn together (prefold). There’s no elastic or waterproof layers to take extra care of. Many flats and prefolds can be used from birth to toilet training - the ultimate one size nappy - just by changing how you fold it.

Cotton flats and prefolds especially can take a beating, as cotton's such a hard wearing fabric. You can even wash it on temperatures higher than 60 degrees, which isn’t recommended for other types of nappies.

Versatile & Customisable

There are literally hundreds of nappy folds out there, testifying to the sheer adaptability of traditional nappies. You can find folds that are trim for little newborns, folds for boys, or girls, or heavy wetters, or any size and shape you can think of. And you don’t even have to get fancy with your folds. A flat or a prefold can be folded simply into a pad and used as an insert in a pocket nappy, a booster for night nappies, and just laid in a snug cover.

Here are our videos showing How to Fold a Flat/Terry Square Nappy and 4 Ways to Fold A Prefold. It helps heaps being able to see a video! 


Whether you look at cheap cotton flats or prefolds or the more expensive, highly absorbent but trim bamboo options, and everything in between, traditional nappies are the cheapest way to get a high quality, reputable nappy that will last the distance. Not only are they cheaper than most modern styles, but their durability (no elastic to go slack or waterproofing to wear out), means they have great longevity and you’ll be using them as dusters long after your kids have toilet trained.

Prefolds are especially popular during the newborn period. With newborns being changed up to 500 times in the first 6 weeks, a few extra nappies in your stash that are inexpensive, no fuss and fast to dry are a must.


And what do other parents say about flat nappies? Here's some comments from our Facebook page (click on the little speech bubble at the bottom to see them all).

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