We are approaching the end of our reusable nappies journey. Here’s what we learnt…
Reusable nappies are often upheld as a more eco-friendly alternative to disposable ones. Proponents of the cloth nappy will tell you:
- you’ll save money
- they’re easy to work with
- your waste output will be reduced
But what’s the truth about these decorative little additions to your baby’s wardrobe? Whether you call them reusable diapers, cloth nappies or anything else, let us give a first-hand, honest account of our journey of ditching the disposables!
We’re the Eco Misfits and we’re on a journey to show that anyone can live a more eco-friendly lifestyle.
How Reusable Nappies Work
There are different types of reusable nappy but they are all designed to do the same thing: absorb liquids and contain solids with no leaks. We have mainly used 2 types of reusable nappy:
Generally speaking, on the inside you will find the actual nappy made from absorbent cloth or other material. These are designed to be kind to baby’s skin and draw the urine away as much as possible.
Full disclosure: they are not always as effective at keeping baby dry as disposables are. This is because they don’t include things like silica gel to draw moisture away from the skin. For this reason, you may need to change nappies a little more frequently. There is also an idea that barrier creams (like Sudocrem) are not great with cloth nappies because they get onto the surface of the nappy interior and stop it from absorbing – however, WE DID NOT EXPERIENCE THIS ISSUE. Using liners helps.
The exterior of the nappy is the waterproof outer wrap. It is attached to the inner lining on an all-in-one, or separate for two-parters. This protects the clothes that are worn over the nappy and is usually adorned with a very attractive design (we even had Alice in Wonderland and Little House on the Prairie).
You can usually add boosters (sometimes bought separately, sometimes included) to increase the nappy’s absorbency and it’s wise to add liners inside to catch the worst of the poos! There is a knack to putting cloth nappies on properly but it’s easy to learn. Here’s a great video that shows how it’s done.
For more information, check out this beginners guide to using your cloth nappies. We are big fans of The Nappy Lady so we recommend following on social media.
One common question is “Why do reusable nappies leak?” It does happen from time to time, though they are brilliant at containing poos! Leaks usually happen for one of two reasons:
- The nappy wasn’t put on properly
- The nappy has been worn for too long
It’s as simple as that!
Why Use Reusable Nappies?
Like so many things that are causing waste to pile up unnecessarily in landfill, disposable nappies are convenient. Buy a pack and you have them easily to hand; they are small, lightweight and simple to put on your baby. What’s more, when they are soiled, you can simply remove them, seal them up and bin them – no worries, right? But what happens to that bin bag full of nappies once it’s out of sight, out of mind?
It is estimated that 3 billion nappies are thrown away every year in the UK alone. All but a handful of these nappies are non-recyclable or (genuinely) biodegradable so they end up in landfill or being burnt (along with those poos contained within).
Burning waste can be useful in producing energy for the nation but it also produces greenhouse gases. Landfills do the same, not to mention they take up space, damage habitats, look unsightly and take centuries to break down (often into toxic particles). Data from Wrap indicates that one child will use 4,000 – 6,000 disposable nappies by the time he/she is potty trained. Guess how many reusable nappies would be used in the same time…
20 – 30
How Harmful is the Manufacturing?
Studies on nappy life cycles have identified that it is actually the manufacturing of disposable nappies that does the most environmental damage. It takes more than 1,500 litres of crude oil to produce all the nappies a single child will need. It also takes roughly 10x as much water to create them as it does to wash your reusables. Moreover, the wood pulp used in disposable nappies is a cause of deforestation.
Of course, cloth nappies have to be produced too, and it does take significant resources to manufacture them. However, a key advantage is that they are usually made from renewable resources like bamboo, hemp or organic cotton. Cotton is a water-intensive, fertilised, high-pesticide crop, but only a fraction of a percentage of global cotton crops are used for nappies. A child only needs about 10kg of cotton for all the nappies they’ll ever use.
The manufacturing processes for creating reusable nappies do cause air pollution, but nowhere near the scale of disposable nappy production. They also use far less chlorine and bleach, and there are many companies who focus their efforts on minimising the environmental impact of reusable nappy production. Here’s a brilliant infographic that highlights some of the key facts:
So Are Reusable Nappies Better for the Environment?
Without question, the answer is ‘yes‘. Reusable nappies cannot possibly have zero environmental impact, but their’s is many times less than that of disposable nappies. The reusable option:
- Requires less energy and resources to produce
- Creates far, far less waste
- Doesn’t put human excrement into landfills
- Consumes fewer resources over its lifecycle
It just takes a little care from parents. Dispose of as much of the poos as possible by flushing them down the toilet – the rest enters the sewage system from your washing machine. Use detergents that enable you to wash the nappies in cooler washes. Air dry your nappies instead of putting them into the tumble dryer. With a little planning, you can always have enough nappies available and keep on top of the washing with minimal effort.
Disclaimer: We do keep a supply of disposables for emergencies. We aim to buy the brands with the smallest environmental impact like Eco by Naty, Kit & Kin or Rascal + Friends. On average, we probably use about 1 disposable nappy per month (often none at all).
Which Reusable Nappies are Best?
The outdated image of cloth nappies involves piles of smelly laundry that must be boiled and carefully folded, held together with dangerous pins. The modern reusable nappy can be as easy to put on as a disposable once you learn the differences in the technique. With regards to the question of which reusable nappies are best, it all comes down to what works for you.
It took some trial-and-error for us to find which work best with Matilda. We also find that certain types of nappy are better for days where we stay in, other types are better for going out, and you MUST get the most absorbent nappies for night time.
Generally speaking, all-in-one nappies are simpler to use than two-parters. This makes them great for when you stay indoors, and we generally do a nappy change every 3 hours or so. However, if you are heading out, a two-parter offers more in terms of absorbency. When you’re out and about, you may not be able to stick to your usual change schedule and, if your baby sits in a pram or car seat, they are more at risk of ‘compression leaks‘.
We recommend a mixture of the two to use for different occasions. You will need waterproof wraps for your two-parters and it is advisable to get some boosters for your all-in-ones (if they aren’t included).
In terms of brands, we can recommend from experience:
Other popular brands include:
- Bambino Mio
What About Wipes?
Disposable wet wipes are another serious problem for the environment. Virtually all of them contain plastic, meaning they are NOT bio-degradable (save for a few varieties). They are also frequently flushed down toilets which can have significant consequences for sewer systems since they don’t break down like toilet paper. That notorious, 130-tonne ‘fatberg‘ of Kingston in 2013 was an extreme example of the damage this can do.
Disposable wet wipes are another symptom of ‘convenience culture‘ rearing its ugly head. They are completely unnecessary and causing major problems. You can buy reusable wipes from most cloth nappy retailers or simply use some flannels. Wet them when you need them and wash them along with your nappies.
It has worked just fine for us – we don’t miss wet wipes at all!
Do cloth nappies save money?
Bearing in mind that you will need 20-30 nappies along with wipes, liners, wraps and washing costs, it’s natural to ask “do reusable nappies save money?“
Well, while we can’t give an exact figure, we estimate that we spent a total of £150-£200 on our reusable nappies and wipes. This involved some smart finds on Facebook and Shpock, where we got some bargains on second-hand ones that were in great condition. With around 4,000 nappy changes up to when your baby is potty trained, the laundry costs amount to approximately £100.
If you choose disposable nappies, even cheap own-brand ones, the average overall spend for a single child is £1,875. This doesn’t include the cost of the wet wipes you will also need.
There can be no question that opting for reusable nappies saves you money. If you have no interest in the environmental benefits, those significant financial savings must be appealing.
Some Frequently Asked Questions
We certainly had lots of questions when we started out cloth nappy journey. Some of the answers were found online, others we learnt by doing. We’ll try to answer some of the most common questions here.
Can you wash reusable nappies with clothes?
Yes you can! We always did our best to hand-rinse heavily-soiled clothes before putting them in with the laundry, but this isn’t really necessary. It’s a good idea to put the nappies in alone for a rinse cycle before the actual wash. This can help promote better absorbency as well as remove much of the soiling before mixing with the other clothes.
Bear in mind that you should use non-bio laundry detergent to ensure your baby’s skin is not irritated. It is also recommended that you set your spin speed to no more than 1,000 RPM to protect the fabric of your nappies. For drying, the choice is yours – check your nappies to see if they are safe for the tumble dryer, but we recommend air-drying to minimise your carbon footprint. Don’t worry, they dry well, although they will take a little longer than the rest of your laundry.
Can you hand wash reusable nappies?
You can, but we didn’t try this ourselves. If you want a great guide to hand washing your cloth nappies, check out this guide from Thirsties.
What are reusable nappies made of?
Different types of nappies are made from different materials, so you’ll need to do a little research before choosing which ones to buy. The inner lining is usually made from cotton, bamboo, hemp or microfibre. The wrap is usually fleece, wool, a laminated fabric called PUL or waterproof plastic.
What do you soak reusable nappies in?
You may be surprised to learn that it isn’t really necessary to soak them in anything! When we removed nappies we placed them in a wash-bag. Once it was full, we simply took the nappies to the washing machine and put them straight through a wash cycle. They always came out fine and went straight on the clothes horse or the washing line.
How many reusable nappies do you need?
As previously stated, you will probably need 20-30 through your baby’s time using them. If you buy one-size nappies, you can keep adjusting the size as your baby grows. Otherwise, you will need to replace nappies once baby outgrows them. If you take good care of the nappies they will last a long time – once we built up our supply of nappies, we were set. We haven’t bought a new reusable nappy in over a year.
Where can I buy reusable nappies?
There are many places to buy reusable nappies in the UK. Some zero waste shops have them, like Eco Freaks Emporium in Gosport – check out our review of that awesome place! However, your most likely way to get hold of the best ones is to shop online. We are not fans of Amazon because of its questionable tax practices, but the brands we listed earlier are good places to start. You can head straight to their websites or find them at online retailers like Babipur.
Do reusable nappies smell?
If you wash your nappies properly and change your baby regularly then you should have no issues with bad smells. There is a prominent fear of an ‘ick factor‘ among parents who are unfamiliar with cloth nappies – they want to know “Are reusable nappies hygienic?“. The reality is far less disturbing than that fear! I can’t deny that the nastiest of poos are not fun to clean up but the same is true with disposables. As with everything, it takes a little time to become accustomed to the differences but once you get used to using cloth nappies you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner!
Can you tell me when to start using reusable nappies?
You can start using them right away! There are cloth nappies that are specially designed for newborns so it’s never too early (or too late) to start. Another great thing about cloth nappies is that they are usually built to last for at least two little ones. So when your firstborn completes his/her potty training, keep those nappies for little brother or sister.
Your Cloth Nappy Journey
If you do decide to start your own adventure with reusable nappies, know that your experience will probably not be quite like ours. Every baby is different and so is every parent! But we firmly believe there is a solution out there for everyone, and there is no question that it’s more cost-effective and environmentally-friendly – that’s just fact.
If you have any experiences you’d like to share about your reusable nappy journey please get in touch! We’d love to hear from you, whether by the contact form below or through Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. Alternatively, if you are thinking about starting with reusable nappies but feel a little uncertain, we’ll do our very best to answer your questions.
Thanks for reading, see you again soon!
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