Disposable Nappies Vs Reusable Cloth Nappies

Which to choose? Disposable, nice-and-easy, chuck-’em-away nappies – no having to deal with whatever happens to be inside them? Or cloth reusable, better for the environment, money-saving (maybe) reusable cloth nappies? Here in the UK many local authorities actively encourage parents to use cloth nappies and will provide a trial pack with different kinds of cloth or reusable nappy.

We knew we wanted to use reusable nappies from the outset, not just because it meant sending less waste to landfill, but also because we thought it would save us money over the long term. Although our first few weeks as parents saw us using disposable nappies, we did make the transition eventually – this also allowed us to see both sides of the situation.

Disposable Nappies

Disposable nappies are, in many ways, great. Just put them on, and when they’re done for you just wrap up any dirty wipes and chuck it all away. They’re also neatly packed and compact, so you can carry plenty with you if you’re going out. And, of course, you can get them anywhere – if you run out when you’re on the move, you’re very likely to be able to buy some more at a garage, convenience store or supermarket.

On the flipside, they contribute an enormous volume of rubbish to landfill. They are also pretty smelly especially when you have to keep hold of them for a couple of weeks – where I live, council rubbish collections come every fortnight and who has time to take one’s bins down to the dump?

They’re also fairly expensive – around 15-20p each for Pampers. At a conservative 5 nappies a day, that’s over £300 a year for a good few years. For something you cover in poo and urine then throw away, it’s quite extravagant!

Reusable Cloth Nappies

Obviously, reusing your nappies leads to much less in the way of dirty nappies going to landfill. They also work out cheaper over the longer term. Each nappy cost me about £5 including extra inserts and liners.

There are all sorts of different types of cloth nappy, but the basic idea is very simple – it’s pretty much unchanged from that which nearly everyone used prior to the 1950s.

The basic design is an absorbent inner and an outer wrap or layer to keep everything inside.  There are several variations on this basic theme

  • shaped nappies, like a disposable nappy
  • terry squares which are simply squares of absorbent material which you fold around baby and pin or clip in place
  • all-in-one nappies which combine the waterproof outer and absorbent inner in one piece

Our Experience

After trying the different types, we chose shaped pocket nappies – these are shaped waterproof outers that you stuff with absorbent pads. The pads are made of bamboo fibre so they are fast drying, and the whole ensemble is very easy to use and to wash. A (disposable!) paper liner catches any solids, which is then flushed, and the rest goes straight into the washing machine.

We started with 6 or so, but it soon became a bit too much work to keep on top of them – if we used five in a day, we needed to wash them all and dry them before the next day. Now we have twelve which is great, no pressure to do the washing immediately!

These nappies are bulkier than disposable nappies, but I can still easily fit enough for a day out into our normal changing bag, but you will need a wet bag to store used nappies – you can’t throw them away.

As for absorbency, they do need changing more regularly than disposable nappies. I use three inserts overnight and there is usually no leakage, although there sometimes can be some. During the day, we change Kit every few hours now and have no problems. This is a good thing, ultimately, because less sitting around in wee-soaked underwear means less chance of nappy rash.

Final thing, Kit’s poos have always been massive. With disposable nappies, a poo meant a change of clothes (sometimes for me and Mum too!) – almost invariably. Now there is very rarely any leakage, unless he’s in his Bumbo. On the odd occasion when he is in a disposable and does a poo, we are reminded of how glad we are to have changed over.

My recommendation, if you go for a reusable nappy, would either be Bambino Mio All-in-one nappies which are, you can probably tell, all-in-one nappies. This means the waterproof outer and the absorbent inner layer are all one garment – you can’t change the inserts, in other words. The set I linked to there comes with biodegradable liners (to catch the poo) but we have found these to be worthless while the baby is on milk only, because it just goes straight through them. Eeew! But they will come in handy to catch solids in future. The set comprises six nappies all in all, which is definitely enough to get you started.

Alternatively, and our personal preference, is the Petit Marin nappy and inserts set. This is a set of six nappies and six inserts. This should be enough for a teeny baby, and it also includes those biodegradable nappy liners which you will want in future.

My experience with these sets is that they start out fine, but you will need more inserts or boosters to keep baby dry, especially over night, and when they start getting a bit bigger. We now use two inserts for Kit as routine, and three over night, and we rarely have a leakage even after ten hours in bed (I said in bed, not sleeping).

So, whichever set you buy, I suggest you get something like this or this – the latter is my favourite. They’re quite big and bulky but really absorbent, and because they’re gray they don’t show up those jolly orange stains so clearly!

Do you have any suggestions for reusable nappies? Preference for disposables over reusables? Do you have trouble keeping baby dry when using the cloth nappies? Let me know!

Thanks for reading

Joe