We’re on the 34th chat of the Nappy Science Gang, with a very special guest. Due to popular demand here we have the man who hardly needs an introduction – Magnus, from TotsBots.
Q: Hi Magnus, thanks for coming! Could you tell us something about TotsBots and how you started your company?
Magnus: Hi all! Fiona (my wife) and I set the company up in 2001. Our interest came from our own desire to use cloth on our second child – having thrown away far too many disposables with our first! At the time we were pretty broke so Fiona bought a bunch of terries at a car boot sale. I was so useless at putting them on Fiona decided to fit them with elastics and Velcro fastenings. Essentially she made them so I couldn’t duck out of nappy changes anymore!
@Magnus: Haha I chose Easy Fits (EFs) because I knew my husband would duck out of it unless it was totally simple from bum to washing line!
Magnus: Glad to hear that, I did design the first EFs with dads in mind for sure! We then made some for friends and friends of friends, until eventually someone suggested sending samples to the Nappy Lady and Twinkle Twinkle. We did so and within a week got our first orders and that was us started. We were at the kitchen table for about a year and a half. I used to cut the nappies out 3 layers at a time with a Fiskars rotary cutter, Fiona would sew and we’d both do quality control and shipping. It got to the point where you could no longer get into our bedroom for rolls of cloth, we were using a couple of outworkers to sew and had arranged for cutting at another factory, but it was time to move into our first unit.
Q: Are some of your fabrics organic? If so, which ones?
Magnus: Regarding how green fabrics are, I always say to folks if you are doing cloth over disposables then you are already having a hugely positive effect on the environment by reducing consumption of raw materials, reducing carbon footprint and waste. We tend to choose fabrics based on their performance characteristics initially. None of the fabric we use is organic as it’s mainly polyester and bamboo fibre. But all our products are Oekotex 100 certified.
Q: Could you explain what Oekotex 100 means, please?
Magnus: Oekotex 100 is a certification that assures folks there have been no harmful chemicals, such as dyes, used in the process.
@Magnus: What kind of certifications MUST a nappy pass in order to be safe for market?
Magnus: I’m unsure of any specific regulations in Europe to be honest. We have had to pass testing for the USA though.
@Magnus: What are the regulations for the US?
Magnus: I can’t remember the name of the actual regulation but all children products must pass to be sold legally in the US. Having Oekotex made the process a lot simpler though as it covers most of it anyway.
@Magnus: Does this mean that any nappy made in China is technically allowed to be sold in the EU market with no specific testing involved?
Magnus: As far as I’m aware the Chinese nappies can be sold in Europe. However they should be paying taxes which in many cases they probably are not. I also question some of these products fitness for purpose when you can’t wash them above 30.
Q: You have changed the material of the nappy a few times now, can you talk about that?
Magnus: We are constantly looking to push the performance parameters of the garments as much as possible. Fabric technology is improving all the time and we feel it is super important to move with that. We also learn a lot along the way about what works and what doesn’t.
Q: I’m interested to know how you decide on the changes when you introduce a new version. A lot of parents like slimness as well as ease of use and the V4 easyfit feels like a step backwards in some ways as it’s quite ‘puffy’.
Magnus: For the V4 we wanted to reintroduce some cellulose fibre (bamboo/cotton blend) into the core to improve absorbency. To make it slimmer you can remove the snap-in pad. A quick blast in the tumble drier can help soften it, if you have hard water, or the tongue can be lain on top rather than tucked inside as the reverse is microfibre velour (100% polyester, so it isn’t catchy).
@All: I agree. They’re a bit crunchy if you don’t tumble them, but I think people want more absorbency and look at bamboo for that. I’m unconvinced though.
Magnus: To clarify absorbency, bamboo is the most absorbent material we have found so far (by that I mean it absorbs the most easily). It absorbs 60% faster than cotton. Synthetic towelling such as microfibre absorbs the slowest. In fact you could argue that synthetic towelling doesn’t actually absorb but provides a huge surface area for water to ‘hang around’ in. That is why it dries quickly, as it doesn’t form the same bonds with water molecules that cellulose fibres do.
Q: I’m not technical at all but feedback from customers suggests that Totsbots prints are a bit ‘fuzzy’ compared to some of the other brands. Obviously performance is crucial but a lot of cloth users are concerned about the looks too. Is there any way to improve the sharpness of the printing process?
Magnus: Prints should not be fuzzy as the process is super sharp. I haven’t heard this before and would be interested to see one if that’s the case.
@Magnus: If you compare Totsbots prints to other well know brands they are definitely not as sharp. I sell a variety of brands so can easily compare and it’s something I get asked at events I attend when the ‘die hard’ nappy fans come to see the newest prints in the flesh!
Q: I love the soft fabrics used by TotsBots and have a few easyfits which I love. I mainly use terry nappies though and have some stretchy wraps – have you ever thought of producing a double gusset wrap? I find these help reduce leaks.
Magnus: We used to have a gusset in the wraps back in the day. With the PUL we now use and this being so soft, we feel it isn’t so necessary as it forms around the nappy or insert.
Q: Which way round should the boosters (that you popper on) go? Fluffier or towel side up?
Magnus: I’m unsure what you mean, as it can only snap in one way round. The side you have next to the baby is really down to preference. I always used a dry layer (fleece liner) with our kids as it made for easier poo management!
@All: the word on nappy street would be that the minky side absorbs faster than the terry side so you would put it next to the bum to ‘grab’ the wee.
Q: TotsBots is a fairly high end product. Do you think your customers are mainly in it for the sustainability? Is money saving important to your customers or not much? Appearance is obviously a thing as you do special edition prints. I wonder what sort of motivation is for a typical TotsBots customer.
Magnus: I think folks choose cloth for a few reasons. Saving money (even higher end product do, if you stick to a base set), better for the environment and I think a lot of parents feel it is better for the baby.
Q: Could you tell us what you know about your PUL and how it can be safely washed and dried?
Magnus: Our nappies can all be washed at 60degC and the PUL is designed to withstand 90degC. Everything can be tumble dried as long as it’s on ‘low’ setting.
@Magnus: Why do PUL washing recommendations change from brand to brand? It seems like some do not withstand higher temperature washing.
Magnus: The reason some PUL can’t withstand higher temperatures is because it is cheap. The membrane is cheap and the glue used in lamination is also sub standard. It is always possible to design the material so that it can withstand higher temperatures, but this costs more. We don’t recommend washing at 90degC as this isn’t necessary or sound environmentally, however, if you design the PUL to that level then at 60degC you should not have a problem. Something to bear in mind is that garments wear out mainly due to washing and drying, not wearing – with the exception of little boys trousers at the knees! Nappies have to withstand a lot more than most clothing, so should be made accordingly.
Q: Can we talk about washing? What do you recommend?
Magnus: Regarding washing nappies in general, my opinion is it’s best to keep things simple. My understanding is that powdered detergents clean the best. The NHS recommends non-bio for babies, so best not to give conflicting information to what they say. The manufacturer of Potion also says enzymes in bio detergents are pretty bad for the environment. If a nappy is just wet then it’s fine to wash it at 30degC. If soiled then it should be washed at 60degC, unless using a sanitiser or detergent with built in sanitisation.
@Magnus: What we’ve heard from our washing experts and microbiologists so far suggests that washing with water, detergent and lots of agitation would remove much more bacteria than a sanitiser (and that sanitisers probably contribute to bacterial resistance). It’ll be interesting to see what our experiments show!
Magnus: I’m not a chemist so I’m really not qualified to comment on the effectiveness of sanitisers versus rigorous washing. Potion is a detergent, so it is part of the rigorous washing process. I’m not saying bio detergents don’t get things clean, in fact my understanding is that the opposite is true and that they are actually the best at getting things clean. But the main thing for me is that we line up with NHS guidelines on washing for babies and that parents aren’t getting conflicting information from the various information centres. Whether that is the NHS, cloth nappy libraries, retailers, friends, forums etc. Simplicity and a consistent message is key to getting more folks to try cloth.
@Magnus: Bio seems to get a bad press for some reason. I’d be interested to know more about “The manufacturer of Potion also says the Enzymes in bio detergents are pretty bad for the environment” as I get good results from washing with bio.
@Magnus: another conflicting view we’ve heard regarding enzymes is that a small amount of enzymes can replace a large amount of surfactant (Ecover website under the ‘ingredients’ and ‘enzymes’ section) which might represent a better balance.
@Magnus: Yes, aren’t enzymes actually natural and fully biodegradable? And detergents without enzymes generally need much higher dosing than enzyme detergents in order to get similar results, so you could say that has an environmental impact as well!
@Magnus We’ve also discussed that NHS non bio recommendation a lot. Nappy libraries obviously need to follow that too and a lot of parents do, but we have read about several bits of research showing that enzymes are highly unlikely to cause irritation in the context of washing laundry.
Q: Do you recommend a full dose of powder, or less?
Magnus: Dosage of detergent really depends on water hardness so it varies from place to place. It is important to use enough to get the garments clean though (a teaspoon really isn’t going to cut it). It is also important to use the most water intensive cycle on the machine and thoroughly rinse.
Q: What makes TB potion so special?
Magnus: Potion is mineral based (no enzymes) but sanitises at low temperatures.
@Magnus: Can you tell us what you mean by ‘sanitises at low temperatures’?
Magnus: Sanitises at low temperatures means it kills bacteria.
@Magnus: Can you tell us what the sanitising ingredient in your detergent is and how it works? What are your recommended doses for Potion? Have you tested to make sure the dosage is removing bacteria rather than just killing it?
Magnus: Potion is manufactured for us by another company. The formula doesn’t belong to us but we have the global licence to sell the product. I can’t disclose the exact formula but there is a COSHH data sheet that can be accessed. The dosages are on the packaging which I don’t have in front of me sorry!
@Magnus: So potion will kill all bacteria? Or most? At 20? Or 30? Sorry to be awkward, but we asked these questions about Miofresh and got no real answers at all…
Magnus: Potion is active at 30degC. I can email the data sheets, no worries.
@Magnus: Yes, but we know that killing bacteria is not as important as removing it. You can have lots of dead bacteria building up over time if you don’t have sufficient surfactant to remove the dirt and leftover bacteria particles. Otherwise we would only need sanitiser and wouldn’t need detergent at all. Has Potion been tested to remove bacteria and dirt?
Magnus: As far as I am aware Potion has been thoroughly tested by the manufacturer. It’s made for us by BioD who I know will 100% stand by the product.
Q: Why do you specifically rule out Ecoeggs for washing?
Magnus: They have not proven to us that their product doesn’t have an adverse effect over long term washing. It is an object in the machine drum which may have a wearing effect on textiles. If that is the case then it is always the cloth nappy company that has to deal with any potential warranty issue arising.
Q: Why are TotsBots Easyfits designed without sewn-in fleece lining, when so many other nappies are? I’ve heard this is to avoid getting any detergent build-up on fleece, but that was second-hand info. Has TotsBots ran any washing tests on different types of fabric? Have you found that detergent is easier to rinse out of some fabrics more than others?
Magnus: There are a couple of reasons we like to have a separate dry layer: firstly it makes for easier poo management! Secondly it protects the nappy from staining, and thirdly it protects the absorbent core from barrier creams and it allows parents to remove it on the run up to potty training when you want the wee ones to feel the dampness. The main issue we have found with build up is actually oil build up in microfibre (barrier creams, conditioners etc.). Microfibre is synthetic and is made from oil and therefore better at absorbing oil than water. Once it has absorbed oil it repels water and it is really difficult to get the oil out. Cellulose is much less susceptible to this.
Q: Have you run any absorbency tests on different fabrics? Was there any data driving the changes between the Easyfit versions, or were the changes driven mainly by customer feedback? Did TotsBots themselves find any difference in how much liquid Minky absorbed vs bamboo terry, and is that what drove the investment into Binky fabric?
Magnus: Most fabrics (when they are of the same construction) will hold similar amounts of liquid. The difference is more about how easily they absorb and how strong the bonds are with the water molecules. We have conducted lab tests to assess the absorbent properties of various textiles. The switch from Minky (100% polyester) was to reintroduce cellulose into the mix. Two reasons for this, Minky was more susceptible to clogging with oils and many folks prefer natural materials next to babies skin – aiming for the best of both with Binky.
@Magnus: I’m impressed at how much testing it sounds like you do. Would you be able to share any of your test results with us?
Magnus: Sure, if I can dig them out.
@Magnus: It sounds like your info on fabric types and absorbency would be really useful because it’s an area we haven’t looked at much.
Q: Magnus have you found that the different finish or weave on fabrics makes a difference, even if they are the same material? Do some absorb more, or tend to get ‘crunchier’ than others?
Magnus: Sure, the construction of fabrics will have a bearing on performance. We prefer to use piled fabrics for absorbency (towelling) as they give a larger surface area per cm and tend to stay softer. That said, the fibres themselves will always have a bearing. Synthetics never really go stiff while cellulose fibres do, although bamboo definitely stays softer than cotton after washing.
Q: Thank you so much Magnus. One last question–any new products on the horizon for totsbots?!
Magnus: Always new products on the horizon at TotsBots!… Thank you for having me here, it was a pleasure!