Inserts 101

One of the questions I get asked the most has to do with the inserts used in cloth nappies and what they are made of. How can we combine them? What are the best ones? Well, the truth is it depends on the use and effect you seek. We can adapt the inserts according to the baby’s needs at any given time, whether because the baby is getting older (older babies tend to pee more, that’s just a fact), or adjusting the inserts throughout the day.

I will list below the different types of insert you can find in growing order of absorbency. They come in all shapes and sizes! But before that, the best combinations in visual form; simply pair the one on the right with the one on the left, but you can get creative:

As you can readily see, the least absorbent fabric, but which absorbs the quickest, is microfibre. Microfibre is synthetic, generally some sort of polyester and polyamide combination. It holds liquid much like a sponge, which means it’s prone to compression leaks, for instance when the baby sits down or when babywearing. It cannot be in touch with the baby’s skin, as it withdraws all the skin’s moisture, making it dry and prone to nappy rash, which can become quite severe.

Examples of microfibre inserts

It is affordable and dries very quickly, which is why many brands use microfibre inserts with their nappies. It’s a quick absorber but doesn’t hold a lot and is quite bulky in relation to how much it does hold. It feels coarse to the touch – it sends shivers down my spine!
Next up, we have bamboo charcoal. Absorbency wise, it is better than microfibre and it can be put against the baby’s skin. However, I’d refrain from doing so with a more sensitive baby, as it does absorb quickly, also. It’s dark and is often used for night nappies combined with hemp, for instance. It is soft.

Examples of charcoal inserts

Moving upwards in terms of capacity to absorb we’ll find cotton. This can be organic or not and could be used in an insert (shaped like one) or a traditional muslin cloth, the ones we use for everything (burp cloths springs to mind), or a terry cloth. Prefolds are another option, whereby the folds are already outlined on the cloth and the core is reinforced. They are usually terry. There are many ways to use flats and prefolds – folded over, using an old-fashioned fold and pinning it into place using a snappi, endless! Absorbency wise it’s above charcoal but if you fold it over then you’ll increase the number of layers and thereby how much it’s able to hold. Flats and prefolds are easy to find and can dry fairly quickly if spread out to dry. It’s a natural fabric and therefore can be up against the baby’s skin. The cotton inserts that come with cloth nappies take a moderate amount of time to dry and can be tumble dried. They are usually soft to the touch.

Examples of cotton inserts, including a terry prefold

We’ll now move on to one of my favourites – bamboo. It’s a slow absorber, but holds a lot. Often times, inserts come in a cotton/bamboo mix, which is also quite interesting. One particular brand of pocket nappies comes with two bamboo inserts with a microfiber core, which are amazing – Baba and Boo. Once again, as bamboo is a natural fibre, it can touch the baby’s skin. Due to its features, it’s often used for fitted nappies (not bulky when compared to how much it holds). A fitted nappy is one entirely made of absorbent fabric. Bamboo inserts are soft when you first get them but may become stiffer over time, depending on the type of fabric mix.

Examples of bamboo inserts, including a trifold, which will increase its absorbency

Last but not least, we have the most absorbent material of all – hemp. This is a natural fibre that absorbs incredibly slowly but can hold a heck of a lot. It’s excellent for overnight or for heavy wetters. It pairs well with microfibre, which in turn absorbs quickly but can’t hold a lot. They’re a perfect match – the microfibre removes the moisture quickly away from the top layer and the hemp sits at the back, waiting. Hemp inserts tend to shrink a fair bit so don’t be scared. You can see from the picture below just how “ugly” they can get. They can also stiffen quite a lot but to make sure they’re fluffy again, simply tumble dry them (at low heat). Or else, beat them down to a pulp. I’m serious. Give it a go! Since they’re high absorbency, they take quite a while to dry, so consider having more in stock. Here we use them to boost the Bambino Mio Miosolo all in one, for instance, which comes with a built in microfibre insert. Bulk wise, it’s the least bulky, which is why so many people get shocked at how much such a thin insert is able to hold!

Examples of hemp inserts

I’d like to point out that the natural fabrics, i.e. cotton, bamboo and hemp achieve their maximum absorbency after a few washes (at least 6), so please bear that in mind. You can either run a couple of washes before using them for the first time, or else remember that they just keep getting better over time!

I hope this post helped you understand inserts a bit better and if you have any queries, get in touch. What’s your favourite pairing?