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Reusable Nappies: A Parent's Review

Updated on October 29, 2011

When you have your first baby there is a lot to think about, in particular all the items you will require to care for your baby during those first months and the early years. And there is no getting away from it - somewhere at the top of your list will be nappies. Choosing which nappies to use for your little one is a big decision - after all, you are likely to be using them for at least two years.

These days, there are a lot of nappies on the market. You can choose from ordinary disposables, eco (environmentally friendlier disposables) and reusable, cloth nappies. When I had my first child. I used mainly eco disposables, as I was quite green-minded but at that time there was not the huge range of reusable nappies on the market that there is right now. But even with eco disposables, nappies can vary widely. The ones I used were 70% degradable, with no chlorine bleach used in the absorbant pulp. (Chlorine is used in most big-brand disposable nappies. However, chlorine can create dioxins, which are hazardous to the environment and even considered to be potentially cancer-causing.

Deciding To Use 'Real' Nappies

In actual fact, many, if not most, of the best known disposable nappies contain a plethora of toxic substances you may want to consider avoiding. Unfortunately, these ingredients are not exactly advertised, meaning that many parents are blissfully unaware of the chemicals they are placing next to their babies' skin.

As recently as a couple of months ago, tests conducted by Greenpeace discovered Tributyl tin (TBT) in Pampers Baby Dry Mini Nappies. TBT is a nasty pollutant that can, according to the report, affect the hormone system of a baby (or anybody else), as well as damaging delicate immune systems. And when you begin to research the substances used to produce the typical disposable nappy, you will discover many other unwelcome ingredients, ideally avoided.

But even eco disposable nappies have to go in the bin. That is why, after reading so many reports of the billions of nappies that end up in landfill every single year, I made the decision to use reusable nappies when my second child came along.

Not As Much Work As You Would Think

Many new parents seem to be put off using reusable nappies because they assume that it is going to be a great deal of work. Surely washing and drying nappies is a lot harder than simply chucking them away? Well, yes, I suppose there is a bit more work. But not an awful lot. Not really. Cloth nappies these days are very much removed from the square terry towelling sort held together with safety pins in years gone by. And don't forget, in those days washing machines were barely comparable with the modern appliances we have today. Years ago, nappies had to be soaked and sometimes scraped before washing - my own mother had a twin tub that seemed to require a great deal of labour. Nothing like the 'stuff it all in, add some powder and wait', which is pretty much all that is required of us today.

Modern Resuable Nappies Fasten Easily And Liners Make Life Easy

You can still buy the old fashioned terry nappies if you choose, but the most popular 'real' nappies today are modern styles that do up with velcro, or some other type of fastener, just like the tabs on a disposable nappy. It's very simple and very easy - no fumbling about with pins while your baby wriggles about all over the mat. Most people use additional liners, which 'catch' the solids that can then be flushed away. You can choose from washable liners or biodegradable, flushable liners - we used flushable liners (still discarded, but nowhere near as much waste as a whole nappy. In fact, barely bigger than two or three sheets of loo paper. Using liners definitely makes the washing a whole lot easier, and the nappy will also feel more comfortable for your baby because the liner draws urine through and away from the skin so that your baby still feels dry.

My personal opinion is that, using washable nappies worked out very well for us, without much extra work at all. We washed a load of nappies about once every other day, though probably more often at first. In order to do that you have to make sure you have enough nappies to last. When your baby is very young she will require more frequent changes than as she gets a little older. We had around 15 - 20 nappies in the small size. And as the nappies we were using (Tots Bots Bamboozles) were made of bamboo, which is naturally antibacterial, they didn't even require any soaking. All we did was to store them in a nappy bucket with a tight lid before washing with ordinary detergent.

It Saves You Money

 Choosing reusable nappies will save you quite a bit of money, as long as you stick with them.  The initial payout may seem like a lot, but it isn't, really, when you take into account how many packs of disposable nappies you will require over the course of a year.  If you spend £200 on real nappies which last until your child is potty-trained, then you will have saved yourself several hundred pounds.  The typical parent might spend around £20-30 per month on disposable nappies, which works out at around £300-£350 per year.  Times by two years - that's £600 - £700 spent on nappies.  The savings are obvious. 

Choosing The Right Nappies For You

Microfibre, Cotton or Bamboo?

We chose Tots Bots Bamboozles because they are highly absorbant and also very eco friendly - bamboo is a fast growing plant that does not require high use of pesticides. They are also very soft and cute, and you can even buy brightly coloured ones instead of typical off-white. We found these nappies to be excellent, and they barely ever leaked - much less so than any disposable ones we had previously used. The Tots Bots sets we bought came with a polyurethane waterproof outer wrap, but you will require more than one. We actually used Motherease wraps over the top of our Bamboozles, because they fastened more tightly around the legs, making leakage less likely. It is not necessary to buy wraps from the same manufacturer as the nappies you are using - many will mix and match, giving you a wide choice.

The only downside to using bamboo nappies is the drying time. They can take a lot longer to dry than some of the other fast-drying nappies. Sometimes this wasn't a problem - on a sunny day they will dry well on the line outside. In the winter we dried them on the radiators, but this does mean that they do not dry as softly. Of course, you can use the tumble drier, but this was something I wanted to avoid as driers use excessive amounts of energy, contradicting your efforts of going 'green'. What you could do is to have more than one type of nappy, so that you do have some fast-drying ones as well. 

Cotton and microfibre nappies (especially the latter) have faster drying times than bamboo, but are not quite as absorbant, so you have to decide which is the right nappy for you.  We went for the extra absorbancy over drying time, but some parents will choose the opposite. 


 I  am really pleased that I chose to use reusable nappies for my second child.  Certainly, if I was to have more children I would not hesitate to do it again.  Using real nappies for over two years certainly saved me a fair amount of money, and I know that I have prevented literally hundreds of nappies from ending up in landfill.  Going back to the ways of past generations is certainly a step forwards for today's parents.   


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