Trying to figure out whether reusable nappies are for you? Here’s a handy run-through of the pros and cons when compared to disposable.
There’s no denying you can save a packet if you go down the reusable nappy route, but just how much depends upon the choices you make along the way. Disposable nappies can cost as much as £1,500.00 over 3.5 years* (or more) if you are choosing eco disposables, or as little as £333.00 over 3.5 years if you are choosing Aldi’s cheapest disposables*.
Once you factor in wipes as well you can add an estimate of £500.00 for eco disposable wipes over 3.5 years and £64 for cheap disposable wipes over 3.5 years**. That is based on a very conservative estimate of using only five wipes a day.
That puts the cheapest disposable option at £400.00 and the more expensive at a whopping £2,000.00. Even at the cheapest end of the scale, you could get a very decent package of reusable nappies and wipes for £400.00 that would see you through multiple children, and could even be sold on afterward to see a return on your investment.
If you wanted to make reusable nappies work on a tight budget, a set of 24 Terry towels and six waterproof PUL wraps would set you back £91, which could be further reduced if you had a family member who could knit you some wool wraps too. (For more info on using wool, check out my Wool 101 blog post). Add in 24 essential cotton wipes, at £15.98 and your total spend would be just over a quarter of what you would expect to spend on your cheapest disposables. You could cut this cost completely if you have an old towel you could sacrifice and cut up for wipes.
It’s true though that with reusable nappies it is easy to get carried away, and of course, there are nappies to cater to every budget. However, even the most premium reusable nappies will not set you back nearly as much as your eco-friendly disposables might over the course of 3.5 years. And being as they are premium products, their resale value is good, too. A kit of 24 organic cotton lined Bumgenius Elementals, for example, will cost you £599.76 – these would see you through multiple children and they hold their value well for resale. A more conservative choice might be a kit of Baba + Boo pocket nappies, which at the current price would cost you £358.80 for 24. So still well under the cost of the cheapest disposables and with a potential for return on preloved sales, you could see £80.00 cash (or more depending on their condition) back in your pocket once you’ve finished with them.
So, there you have it, there really is money to be saved when making the switch to reusables. As always, it depends on your willpower to keep hold of your pennies but these savings add up, and you even could end up saving enough for a little family holiday if you make good choices!
Winner: Reusable Nappies
Next, we have the main reason most people choose to reuse, the environment. There are many misconceptions around the benefit/cost to the environment of reusables, largely thanks to an outdated and ill-informed DEFRA report that took place in 2008. In the end, after some revisions, they concluded that cloth nappies can be as much as 40% better for the environment than disposables, but I believe it could be much more than that even. Things to make sure that you’re doing the best for the environment are:
- Don’t iron reusable nappies (who on earth would do that anyway?!)
- Don’t tumble dry reusable nappies
- Wash on lower temperatures
- Use on multiple children
Following the above guidelines will ensure that the carbon cost of using cloth nappies is at least 40% lower than disposables, even the eco ones.
We haven’t even mentioned all the trees that are cut down each year to make disposables, and the fact that human waste should not be festering in landfill (did you know you ought to scrape all poo from birth down the toilet with disposables? With reusables pre-weaning poo gets dealt with in the machine).
The key thing is that as it takes more resources to make a reusable nappy, you should make sure it is used a lot to make those resources worth it. The more children that can use the same nappy, the better. It’s also important to look into materials - some are more environmentally friendly than others – hemp for example is grown without dependence on pesticides, whereas microfiber will shed microplastics (although less than any synthetic clothes you wear).
Winner: Reusable Nappies
Ease of Use
Here’s a sticky one. There’s not much easier than whipping a disposable out of the packet and bunging a dirty one in the bin. However, with reusable nappies now becoming more and more simple to use, there’s not much in it to be quite honest. And once you factor in the realisation that you don’t need to head out to the supermarket or any shop to top up on nappies and wipes, there’s no running out in the middle of the night, and no overflowing bins to take out…well, there’s not a great deal in it.
Out and about
Getting out and about with a baby or toddler can turn into a bit of a palaver with all the bits and bobs we need to carry with us. The key to making reusable nappies work for you when off on your adventures is to slimline what you really need. Carrying around five reusable nappies is going to take up more space and weight in your bag than disposables, and you will have to keep hold of your dirty nappies until you get home (although this used to happen to me a lot when out and about with disposables, too). Having a wet bag in your change bag will become essential as a place to store dirty nappies until you get home. Taking fewer cloth nappies out with you will make this easier.
Many people take a while to make the switch to reusable nappies when out and about for fear that its too complicated, but honestly once you take the plunge it's really easy. Having a decent change bag will help like the purpose made one from Bambino Mio. With plenty of space and a special pocket for dirty nappies, this makes things that little bit easier. (Tip: take damp wet wipes out in a mini wet bag and use them just like disposables!)
With a little savvy reusable nappies can be just as easy when out and about, but disposables just about pip the post on this one as they take up so little space.
Winner: Disposable nappies (but only just!)
This one is all about finding the right fit for you. The most truly bombproof option for a reusable nappy is often the cheapest, those stalwarts of the nappy world – the Terry square with cover. Anything two-part, so with a separate cover and fitted nappy beneath, is generally going to fit well and contain just about anything your baby can throw at it. It is all about finding the right fitting nappy for you (or rather, for your baby!). This is why I am a massive advocate of trying out a few nappy brands and keeping a few different styles of nappy in your stash. This means that you will have a reliable option for every change in your babies’ body shape as they grow and develop. With a good fit, those up the back poo explosions will become a distant memory and you’ll have a cloth nappy that can last hours between changes – although I always recommend changing as frequently as possible to keep your little one happy and comfortable.
Disposable nappy companies would like us to think its great to be able to leave your baby sat in their own excrement for hours on end and they use a cocktail of chemicals to ensure you are able to do that – however, if we look at it a different way, changing your baby is a moment in the day for you to connect, to slow down and to enjoy, especially when you have so many fun designs to choose from! I would invite you to begin to enjoy nappy change time, and not look at it as a chore. It is something you can do to show your love to your little one, to make them more comfortable, to breathe, and play for a moment together. It is also something that other caregivers can share with the baby, too. Let's enjoy change time!
*based on the price of Naty Eco disposable nappies, size 4, £9.99 for a pack of 44 from Ethical Superstore. Five nappies a day for 3.5 years.
*based on the price of Aldi Mamia nappies, size 4, £4.39 for 84 from Aldi online. Five nappies a day for 3.5 years.
** In terms of potty training age, this has on average crept later and later over the last century - from 12-18 months to closer to 3-4 years. Interestingly, one of the factors in this change is the shift from reusable to disposable nappies: Source: https://www.eric.org.uk/blog/why-are-children-potty-training-later