Nappies – to re-use or to dispose? That is the question!

From the early days after our first baby was born, my husband was really keen for us to go down the re-useable nappy route, but the thought of it absolutely terrified me.

I didn’t know anyone else who used them, I hadn’t been shown how to use them in any parenting classes I had attended, barely anyone had even mentioned it.  So the entire idea just wasn’t on my radar and frankly it seemed absurd that he should even bring it up when we had so much else on our plate to get used to with a new baby.  So for the next two years, we used disposable nappies….many MANY disposable nappies. To some degree I didn’t think twice about using disposables, mainly because it’s just what everyone else did.  We did try some more eco-friendly nappies, but they reacted badly with my baby’s skin and gave him a rash, so that didn’t work out.

We’ve recently had our second child and my husband once again said he would really like us to think about using cloth nappies.  I gave in and said “ok lets try it, but if it’s too much hard work, we’re switching back”. We have a very high energy toddler and we were selling our house. So the prospect of switching to cloth nappies at this stage just seemed like a huge unrealistic mountain to climb.

A very kind friend of mine who uses cloth nappies went through all the options with me, explaining the different styles of nappies, the various materials, the different sizes and gave me demonstrations of how to put them on to my own baby.  I tried several times, he's a wriggler.  My friend will confirm that I was starting to get anxious throughout this session. I felt like it was a lot of information to take onboard, there were so many choices.

How would you know what was best for your baby?

How do you know which size is best?

How on earth do you get the poo out? 

Wouldn’t it clog up the washing machine and stain all of our other clothes?!?

How long do they take to dry?

I already have so much washing with a toddler and baby who seem to go through clean clothes like they’re in a race! So many questions….. But I was determined to give it a try, so I persevered.

Armed with several different types and styles, various absorbency levels, night-time nappies, swimming nappies and other waterproof covers, I headed off home wondering what I had let myself in for.  Such a minefield. I think I had already decided by that point that it would be a quick trial and I would say ‘well we gave it a go!’

Here's what I learnt....There seem to be 3 parts to a re-useable nappy, the Waterproof/Outer layer, called the wrap or cover.  These are mainly wool or fleece.  Then the Absorbency layer, also called the insert or the boosters.  These can be microfibre, cotton, bamboo, hemp or zorb (bamboo & cotton) and then finally the Liner. Liners are designed to wick moisture, catch solids and prevent staining of the cloth nappy itself.  You can get disposable or re-useable liners.  The disposable ones I tried were made by Little Lamb.  However these can also be washed and re-used several times.  The re-useable liners are made from microfleece, fleece, suedecloth or silk.

Re-useable nappies come in the traditional Terry’s nappy style, muslin style, but also pre-fold or fitted nappies (apologies to all those nappy experts out there if I'm missing any).  You can also get the All-In-One nappies which have the absorbency attached, you just add in the liner.  Then there are the pocket style nappies, which usually have an in-built liner, however you have to insert the absorbency layer into the pocket.  

The two main sizes are ‘Newborn’ and ‘Birth to Potty’, commonly referred to as (BTP).

I hope this isn’t sounding too confusing…..I think at this stage of the explanation is where I started breathing quite rapidly and feeling slightly dizzy!!

My very helpful friend (and add to that excellent teacher), also told me it is ideal to use a wetbag to keep dirty nappies for a day or two before you wash them.  You don’t really want wet or soiled nappies lying around the house, but the wetbag seems to keep the smells and dirt completely contained.  Plus you can just pop the wetbag itself in the wash too, excellent!


You can clean the nappies with either bio or non bio washing powder, whichever is best for you and your family.  We have quite a few allergies in our family and my baby suffers from eczema, so we stick to non-bio.  Powder also seems to work better with nappies too, rather than liquid and its advisable not to use fabric softener as this will make the nappies less absorbent.  As we’re heading into the winter months, drying clothes and nappies indoors can get tricky, so if you must use the tumble dryer, it’s advised to do it on a low setting so that you don’t shrink the nappy, as some of the materials could be quite susceptible to shrinkage.  There are also special re-usable nappy cleansers which you can add to your wash to help get the nappies extra clean.  Bambino Mio Miofresh Nappy Cleanser is a great option. It’s gentle on your baby's sensitive skin, it has anti-bacterial agents, it’s 100% biodegradable and chlorine free.


After an initial day or two of “AHH I can’t do it!! He’s moving around too much, he doesn’t like these nappies, they’re too bulky, I don’t have time to put all the pieces together….. I have things to do!”, we started to get into a bit of a groove and it just became easier as we figured out how it all worked.  I won’t lie, there are still the odd times when we use disposable nappies.  Primarily in tricky situations when out and about on holiday or occasionally at night when we can’t find the right pieces for the night-time nappies and the toddler is crying out for a book to be read.  BUT, I’m very happily surprised that it was nowhere near as tricky or time consuming as first anticipated.  You don’t have that horrible feeling of guilt everytime you throw a disposable nappy in the bin. You know exactly whats going onto your baby’s skin and you wonder why you didn’t try it from the moment baby no 1 was born. It’s 100 times easier than I anticipated.

The make and style we got on best with, which generally seemed the easiest, were the Tots Bots All-In-One Easyfit Star.  They are very absorbent, easy to put on and made nappy changes quite enjoyable!


Gina Purrmann of the Real Nappy Association told BBC News Online: "My chief concern when I was pregnant was the cost of disposables. "Then I began wondering whether I would want to sit day by day in something made of chemicals, plastic and paper. And I decided I wouldn't.

"Disposables do have a place in our modern lifestyle, but using cloth nappies you win every way. "I go out of my way to avoid nappies containing a superabsorber made of sodium polyacrylate.

"It's crystalline, but turns into a gel on contact with water, or in this case urine. It was linked to toxic shock in tampons, and was removed from them in 1985."


Here are some interesting facts about nappies:

  • The Women's Environmental Network (WEN) says: "Decomposing disposable nappies emit noxious methane gas. It will take 200 to 500 years for a disposable nappy to decompose, leaving a legacy to your children's grandchildren.
  • The production of disposables uses 3.5 times more energy, 8.3 times more non-renewable resources, and 90 times more renewable resources than real nappies.
  • They produce 2.3 times more waste water and 60 times more solid waste than real nappies.
  • WEN goes on to say: "Tributyl tin (TBT), a chemical compound which is known to disrupt sex hormones, has been found in disposable nappies on sale in the UK. "TBT shouldn't be in any household product, let alone something that is being worn next to babies' skin."
  • More than nine million disposable nappies are disposed of daily in the UK.
  • It is estimated that the annual cost of getting rid of more than a million tonnes of disposables is £40m.
  • WEN says: "Savings of up to £600 can be made on the cost of disposable nappies for a first child. This increases with second and subsequent children, where the nappies can be re-used."
  • WEN is concerned that disposable nappies consume huge quantities of raw materials and may be harmful to infants' health.
  • Currently nearly all parents in the UK who attend ante-natal classes are shown how to put a disposable nappy on an infant, rather than a washable one.

Therefore addressing the original question of to re-use or to dispose, I think the answer is clear. Re-useable nappies take slightly more effort, but overall they're far better on your wallet, 40% better for the environment than disposables and far far safer for your baby than having them touching such aggressive chemicals all day and night which can affect their health significantly. It's a no-brainer really!