How to store cloth nappies between children

If you have a second child on the way before your first is out of cloth nappies, then you don't have to worry about storing them. You just keep using your nappies, and if some are out of circulation for a few weeks (like a newborn who doesn't fit into your One Size nappies yet), then that's fine. The nappies just wait ready to be used when the time comes.

But what if your child is toilet training, and while you're thinking about having another baby, it's just not time yet? Or if you have some newborn sized nappies that your toddler definitely won't wear again and a new baby is some way off? Is long term storage of reusable nappies possible?

What's the issue with storing cloth nappies?

The main concern about storage of reusable nappies (or any clothes, really) is the elastic. Elastic breaks down over time. I can't tell you the number of times I've pulled out clothes I've put away after one of my boys has grown out of it, only to discover that the elastic in the tracksuit pants, socks or other stretchy item has failed during storage. And this can happen with modern cloth nappies/covers as well. Most of the time it seems completely arbitrary - some items are perfectly fine and in others the elastic is dead - and nothing to explain what I did right (or wrong) in either case.

For me, I decided to give away cloth nappies I no longer needed (and that were in good shape) rather than store them long term and take the punt that they'd store well. Understanding, of course, that I'd have to buy new nappies should I become pregnant again!

If you want to store nappies long term, then here's the best advice gathered from manufacturers, customer feedback, and our own experience. This doesn't guarantee the elastic will last during storage, but gives you the best chance of success.

What is 'longterm storage'?

Generally, the elastic in nappies in good condition show little effect of storage for 3 to 6 months. Anything over this - especially over 12 months - is considered long term. The longer a nappy is stored, the less the chance of the elastic surviving. I would be wary of storing cloth nappies longer than two or three years, unless you're prepared to replace the elastic when you're ready to use them again. But then, I know of people who've stored nappies for 5 years with no problems!

Storing to maximise the chance of elastic retaining elasticity

  • Nappies must be VERY clean and dry before storing: wash your nappies scrupulously before storing. You don't want to encourage mould, insects or other nasties. Be aware that any stains in the nappies are unlikely to come out after storage.
  • Stable temperature: don't store your cloth nappies in the roof space or garage. You want a fairly even temperature, avoiding extremes of heat or cold, moisture or light, so storing in a cupboard or under the bed within your house is a better option.
  • Air flow is important, so don't pack your nappies in together too tightly. Most fabrics (natural fibres especially) require airflow to maintain structure and integrity.
  • Remove inserts (if applicable) from the nappies before storing so that the elastic isn't being stretched by them.

What to store reusable nappies in

There is no hard and fast rule about what is best or whether what you use to store your nappies in has much of an effect on the longevity of the elastic, but here's what we know:

  • Avoid plastic shopping bags & similar as these can trap moisture and cause the yellowing of fabrics.
  • Cardboard boxes won't protect against insects or vermin and some cardboard is quite acidic, but a lot will depend on where the box is kept and in what conditions.
  • Vacuum sealed storage bags are recommended for shorter periods of time due to the lack of airflow - months rather than years - but many people have stored longer than that with no issues.
  • A plastic (lidded) storage box lined with a sheet, with nappies packed loosely inside with sheets of tissue paper is very popular.
  • Adding tissue paper or those little silica packet you get from shoeboxes can help with any moisture.

Does washing your stored nappies regularly help preserve the elastic?

Some manufacturers recommend that nappies be taken out of storage and washed and dried every month or two before being packed away again. This is based on the observation that sometimes a nappy that stays in rotation in a stash (being regularly worn and washed) can show less degradation of the elastic than a nappy in storage. However, there is no real evidence to suggest that washing your stored nappies every couple of months will prevent failure of the elastic if it's going to happen anyway.

If you want to do this, then that's fine, but if you feel like this sounds like extra work you don't want to do, then don't feel compelled to do it.

What should I do when I take my nappies out of storage?

Wash them. Often, nappies will come out of storage and seem fine, but after that first wash, the elastic degradation shows itself and you'll find out if the elastic is all good or shot.

What can I do if the elastic in my cloth nappies is gone?

Replace the elastic if you can sew or know someone who can do it for you.

Give the nappies to a charity who will repair them and pass them on to good homes (like Nappies on A Mission) and buy new nappies.