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Terrible terries

November 22, 2011

I can remember the original ‘terry toweling’ nappies; I used them for my two oldest children born early in the 1970s. I was lucky to have a twin-tub washing machine but I didn’t use it for nappies  – twin- tubs weren’t always next to the water supply and had to be dragged out from  under a work top to reach the taps, and I therefore only used it  for the weekly wash.  So, nappies were steeped and washed daily. If you were lucky enough to have spin-drier, then life was a little easier – I didn’t.

But we did have nappy liners so we were able to remove solids  – the joys of motherhood –  before too much staining occurred, but still the sterilizing process had to begin:-

  • wet and soiled nappies were rinsed in cold water
  • placed in a bucket containing a a ‘Napisan’ solution for several hours
  • rinsed
  • boiled in a galvanized pot on the stove or Baby Burco  (an electric freestanding   boiler)
  • rinsed again
  • rung out and hung out to dry.

We would only have a dozen nappies so it was important to get into a routine because the process would begin again the next day. There was no fabric conditioner, so unless you were able to use ‘Fairy Snow’ – a new and expensive soap powder guaranteeing  whiteness and softness, then they when would be harsh and uncomfortable.

Then, there were the plastic pants or ‘rubbers’.  These were relatively soft when new but nonetheless the elastic gripped the babies plump little legs, unless you were able to place the elastic on the nappy leaving a little of the toweling showing. This of course defeated the object and wet seeped through to babies’ clothing, sheets and blankets creating more washing.   The ‘rubbers’ too had to be washed and sterilized so after a few washes they became hard and cracked and useless.  Also, the plastic pants over the soon to be wet nappies created a hot house for germs.  This lead to raw red bottoms that no amount of Vaseline would soothe.

So you can imagine how delighted we were when disposables became a available.   But our joy was short lived, they were badly fitting and after a night they just a soggy mass of jelly or padding depending on the brand.  Most mums I knew stayed with ‘terrys’ until a better design came along and of course they did!! When my third child was born sixteen years later I was delighted that disposable nappies were the norm and the choice was huge.   I was blissfully unaware any effect on the environment.

Meanwhile, any attempts to redesign the terry nappy and make it more user friendly for mother and baby was thwarted by the by the disposable nappy money making machine.  Fortunately, young mums are better informed than I was and using better designed ‘reusable’s’  is now making economic sense.(Forbes 2011)

Now 40 years later we do have some choices and can treat our babies’ bottoms a little more kindly but it is still costly and not yet making a huge impact on the struggling environment.  (Services 2011)

Forbes, M. (2011). “Out with the bucket.” Mothers always right, if not ask Gran. from

Services, V. E. (2011). “Real nappies: the facts.” from–Communities/Waste-Minimisation/Real-Nappies-The-facts/.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Geoff permalink
    November 22, 2011 9:52 am

    Don’t forget the starch powder!

  2. November 22, 2011 1:33 pm

    Blimey, have to say – I’m glad I wasn’t a mum 40 years ago! It’s hard work enough without all that sterilising and boiling. So glad things have come on since then. We use reusables now that simply press-stud in place and are put in the washing machine (on a 30 degree wash with a sanitizer powder) at the end of the day. No fuss, simple and very comfy for baby. Don’t think I could’ve coped with all the things you had to do!

  3. November 22, 2011 2:23 pm

    Still worth every moment!

  4. Mama Dom permalink
    November 22, 2011 3:36 pm

    Great piece. Thank you for sharing the great memories and joys of motherhood 🙂

  5. Vicky permalink
    December 21, 2011 5:08 pm

    I remember my mum using terry nappies on my little brother- they were a real faff. I can remember knocking the bucket they were soaking in over once too… I actually thought she was going to kill me! Disposables had been out for a little while by then, but the terry ones were cheaper.

    Really glad I won’t have to do that, now there are reusables available that machine wash and I won’t have to feel guilty! (Hopefully the detergents are a little better for the environment now).

  6. July 30, 2014 9:23 pm

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