Travelling with cloth nappies (cloth diapers)
We always knew that we would use cloth nappies. It wasn’t something we ever actively decided or discussed, although there were conversations regarding which styles of cloth nappy we wanted to try. We have always travelled regularly and planned to continue to do so with our children. So, when the time came to travel with our babies, I set about finding the best cloth nappy options to suit our needs.
There was surprisingly little information regarding travelling with cloth nappies on the internet. I know many families choose to switch to disposables, at least for periods of active travel where they won’t have access to a washing machine. I also found a few options for using reusable covers with disposable inserts, so at least you weren’t throwing away as much plastic. However, as we often travel to places with less established waste management systems (or remote areas where we would have to carry waste out, and would also have to ensure we had enough nappies with us for the entire stay), we didn’t feel either of those options were the right choice for us. In the end, we came up with a few solutions that worked for different types of travel.
Our first trip away with X was when he was 5 weeks old. We were only gone for 2 nights, and were travelling by car, so just took all of his regular nappies and cloth wipes in a big basket and brought a giant laundry wetbag and did washing when we got home. Easy (as long as you have a big enough stash of nappies).
Trips with a washing machine
Our next trip with 6-week old X was a week-long interstate trip. As our first real trip with a baby, we chose an apartment with our own washing machine, kitchenette, and separate living and sleeping area. This was convenient, yet sometimes expensive. Where we can’t find affordable apartments, we look out for hotels with guest laundries that can be used for free or for a small fee. We have always found on-site laundries much more convenient than off-site laundromats, as we can do the washing in the evening or around naps, but obviously they won’t always be available. I’m yet to find a laundry service that accepts nappies (even rinsed ones). They may exist somewhere, and we do still use laundry services for washing the rest of our clothes when we don’t have access to a washing machine (and we’re in places where they charge per kilogram rather than per piece).
As we were flying, we couldn’t just take all our nappies. I chose to bring only prefolds*, as they could be packed flat, and half a dozen covers. We were using a mix of prefolds and fitteds* at home, both of which are essentially different shapes of absorbent cloth that require a separate waterproof cover*. Prefolds are very robust nappies, so it doesn’t matter if they accidentally go through the washing machine or dryer at high temperatures, although I will often handwash the covers if I’m somewhere with a new washing machine and can’t work out the settings (at home we don’t have a dryer, we just hang everything on the clothesline).
*If you’re new to cloth nappy styles and terminology, check out this article from Darlings Downunder
Trips without a washing machine
When X was 5 months old, we had a 4-week trip planned to Hong Kong and Taiwan. While some of the hotels had guest laundries, we knew in some places they wouldn’t be an option and started researching handwashing solutions. Most of the handwashing options shared on the internet were from people who were camping or using their home laundry, and had all sorts of bucket contraptions that weren’t going to fit into a suitcase. It was also winter at our destination, and we were expecting it to be cool and damp, with limited space in cramped hotel rooms, not ideal drying conditions for our usual prefolds and fitteds.
Eventually, I came upon the idea of using lightweight flat nappies (like the old-fashioned towelling squares, but from thinner fabrics like muslin and birdseye), as they would be easier to wash and dry as they unfolded to a single layer of fabric. I also came across a few mentions of Scrubba washbags, an invention I had seen advertised many times previously and wondered who would buy such an expensive, superfluous item. Now, the answer was clear. We could still use our usual covers and wipes and Snappies (clips that hold the nappy on the baby), we would just use flats instead of our thick, multi-layered prefolds and fitteds. I ordered the nappies, and started bookmarking different folding techniques (we ended up preferring a ‘Jo-fold’, as that was similar to the ‘angel fold’ we used for prefolds, I can create a photo tutorial if anyone’s interested).
Note that we practiced elimination communication (EC) with our babies from a young age so, by 5 months, X was using the toilet multiple times a day. We changed his nappy as soon as it was wet (and promptly offered the toilet), and he rarely soiled nappies. Our choices may well have been different for a baby who relied solely on nappies for all its elimination needs. From around 9 months, we added a travel potty to the kit below, and training pants instead of the daytime flats, but that’s a post for another day.
We did find X had more wet nappies when travelling than at home, due to us not being able to find toilets when he needed one, or being stuck on a plane with the seatbelt sign on for hours at a time. For extra absorbency, we ended up ‘doubling up’ our birdseye nappies (folding 2 on top of each other). Had we anticipated this from the outset, we would probably have taken more muslin flats instead (they were more absorbent, we had only bought them for nighttime use). We also didn’t end up using the lightweight wool nappy covers that we had brought (I haven’t included them on the list below). Whilst we used wool all the time at home, they were too prone to compression leaks or to getting over-saturated when we couldn’t get to a toilet. On later trips, we only took a couple of thick wool covers for nighttime, and just used PUL (polyurethane laminate - plastic-coated fabric) covers during the day.
Check out ‘our travel nappy kit’ below to see what we came up with for trips where we had our own hotel bathroom, but no washing machine (we did still use washing machines where we could find them, and had enough clothes to last between these locations so were really only washing nappies).
A note on using cloth nappies on planes and whilst exploring new places
Being seasoned travellers, we knew to anticipate delays and to accept the possibility that we may not end up seeing our checked luggage again for an unknown period (had our bags gone missing, we would have just gone and bought some disposable nappies). As such, we calculated how long it would take from leaving to arriving at our accommodation at our next destination, and made sure we had at least double the usual amount of nappies we would need with us in our cabin baggage. For ease of use on the plane, we packed each semi-folded nappy with a cloth wipe and a liner into an individual wetbag (we also had a few spares, along with changes of clothes, covers, and extra snappies in a larger wetbag). This meant we just needed to grab a small bag, which fit in our pocket, and a thin travel changemat (which fit in the other pocket), whilst carrying our baby down the aisle to the toilet. Some planes have change tables in the cubicles, which is great, but on others we just changed our babies on top of the toilet seat. After experiencing a delayed and turbulent flight on the Darwin-Singapore leg of our first overseas trip with a baby, resulting in around 5 hours in our seats with the seatbelt sign on (always a possibility when flying in wet season), we also ensured we always had some doubled-up nappies for flying, along with single layered ones for time exploring airports (and, once our babies were in training pants, we would add a padfolded birdseye flat as a booster for longer flights just in case).
For day-to-day outings, we still found keeping nappies in individual wetbags most convenient, as you only need to grab one and the baby and head off in search of a toilet, and you also don’t have a big bag to hang on to if it turns out there isn’t a dedicated parents’ room (or the dedicated parents’ room didn’t have a toilet) and there was only a tiny toilet cubicle of questionable cleanliness available. The hassle of searching for change tables in new locations was one of the key factors in our decision to switch to training pants at 9 months – standing nappy changes on your lap or the toilet seat lid are so much more convenient.
Our travel nappy kit
6 Muslin flats (we used ‘Blueberry Double Weave Gauze’ but I can’t see them available anywhere)
18 Microfleece liners
18 Cloth wipes
4 PUL covers
2 thin waterproof changemats
8 individual wetbags
Giant laundry wetbag
Snap seal bag of laundry powder (we used the same brand as the liquid we use at home)
Elastic travel clothesline
Clear zip-case to hold everything (repurposed packaging from bedding that fit perfectly in our suitcase, it was easy to see where everything was whilst keeping it all together)
1. Rinse* nappies and put in laundry wetbag to store. Unfold flat nappies as you put them in.
*Don’t rinse if you’re relocating before you’ll wash, as they’ll make your bag really heavy.
2. Put all nappies, wipes etc into Scrubba bag. If they haven’t yet been rinsed, fill with water, squidge around a bit, then tip out. You can either put the covers and wetbags in with the nappies, or just handwash them separately in the sink as the plastic fabric doesn’t need as much washing.
3. Fill bag to the ‘fill-line’, add a couple of tablespoons of laundry powder (this was always a rough estimate), roll shut, release air (follow Scrubba directions).
4. Squidge bag for a few minutes then leave to soak while you go to breakfast/dinner/out for a walk. We usually washed once a day, but if you don’t use many nappies it sometimes seems quicker to just do a few each morning and evening than to devote half an hour to doing a big wash.
5. Squidge a bit more then tip out soapy water. We would usually do one rinse with clean water in the Scrubba bag, then tip onto the floor of the shower/bath for a final rinse while we ran the water before/after bathing ourselves. Depending on how clean the bathroom is and what facilities there are, you may have a few rinsing options (shower/bath/sink). Your options will also depend on how many nappies you’re washing at once.
6. Wring out nappies in a towel. We would just request a couple of extra towels at each hotel, otherwise a microfibre travel towel or two could be handy for this.
7. Drape your laundry around your room, bathroom etc. We would often make use of cots, bedframes, chairs, wardrobes, our travel pram, the extended handle of our suitcase, as well as the elastic travel clothesline we brought. As the birdseye and muslin flats are very thin, they dried within 24 hours even in cold, damp conditions (usually they dried within 6 hours, or even less if there was air conditioning or heating).
I’m sure there are other creative ways people have managed to travel with cloth nappies, that don’t require the purchase of a Scrubba bag, but I felt the investment worthwhile. I know people often suggest you could just use any wetbag or a pop-up bucket instead of a Scrubba, and for just washing underwear and the occasional t shirt I would probably agree, but I think the little scrubbing nodules really help ensure the nappies are thoroughly cleaned.
Feel free to get in touch if you’ve come up with your own solution for washing cloth nappies on the go. I’m be keen to add more ideas to this post to give readers a few more options to consider.