Reusable Nappies: Worth the Effort?

When you’re expecting a baby for the first time there’s so much to think about. Bringing a new life into the world is incredibly exciting but it can also be overwhelming and let’s be honest, pretty stressful at times! You want to be prepared and make sure you have all you need for the big arrival – buying a supply of nappies is just one of many things on your to-do list. If you’ve not given reusable nappies much thought, it’s highly likely you’ll end up buying disposables without much consideration.

Well that was the case for us anyway! When we were expecting our daughter Heidi, we did briefly wonder if we should use disposable or reusable nappies, but like many soon-to-be parents got pre-occupied making decisions about lots of other things. Before we knew it had become completely reliant upon disposables.

That is until recently. At the time of writing this post, Heidi is 20 months and in just a couple of months she will become a big sister. After being lent some cloth nappies from my sister-in-law, we decided to give them a go and over last few weeks we’ve slowly made the transition from solely using disposables to reusables.

Heidi Nappy Web

What has it been like making the switch?

We started just using cloth nappies during the day and disposables at night, or if we were going out, but after buying a few more absorbent nappies we’ve fully converted to cloth.

It certainly hasn’t been the smoothest transition. I didn’t expect it to be plain sailing, but I wasn’t prepared for the amount of questions and learning we’d have to do. We tried several different types of nappies, had leaks on a number of occasions and had to revert back to disposables temporarily a few times whilst out and about. However despite the challenges and the extra effort required, I’m so glad we’ve persevered and I feel we’ve now started to get to grips with what works for Heidi. We’ll really be put to the test soon when we have to figure it out with a newborn!

What makes reusables worth the effort?

Having used disposable nappies for 19 months I can understand why people opt for the ease and convenience. I think like us, many people start using disposable nappies and just don’t look back. However having had the opportunity to try reusable nappies for ourselves and having taken the time to do some research, these are the determining factors that have convinced me to make the switch:

Environmental Impact

Although convenient, I hate the waste that disposable nappies create. Local authorities estimate that around 8 million nappies are disposed of every day in the UK, that’s around 2-5% of all our household waste, and although no-one knows the exact figures, experts estimate it takes around 200-500 years for a disposable nappy to decompose in landfill.

Approximately 8 million nappies are disposed of every day in the UK

Then there is the production and manufacturing process to consider and whether renewable or non-renewable resources are used. Reusable nappies win on this one as not only do they require much less resources to produce, but many of the materials are renewable (cotton and bamboo).

This said, with the extra washing that comes with using cloth nappies, you may wonder if they are actually any better for the environment. Perhaps it was the findings and repercussions of a report published in 2008 by the Environment Agency that caused some confusion and disillusion over this. The report stated that the average disposable nappy “results in a global warming impact of 550kg of carbon dioxide equivalents if used over the two and half years a child typically wears nappies“, whereas “reusable nappies were found to have a global warming impact of 570kg carbon dioxide equivalent over the two and a half (year) period“.

If taken at face value these figures suggest reusable nappies are actually worse for the environment…sorry what?! Don’t stop reading now though because if you delve deeper into the report you’ll see that these figures are based on a set of assumptions and ‘what if’ scenarios. If you base it on these figures alone without considering the context of the report as a whole, you’ll miss what I believe the Environment Agency were seeking to demonstrate through this study.

Just a bit further in the conclusion it clearly states that “the study showed that the impacts for reusable nappies are highly dependent on the way they are laundered…in contrast to the use of disposable nappies, it is consumers’ behaviour after purchase that determines most of the impacts from reusable nappies.”

What can we take from this?

A consumer has little control over the impact a disposable nappy has on the environment, this occurs during the manufacturing process and in landfill. With a reusable nappy on the other hand, you choose how frequently you put on a wash, what temperature you select for each wash and how you dry your nappies etc. If you constantly use a tumble drier and/or wash at temperatures above 60 degrees, the environmental (and financial) benefits of using reusables will decrease dramatically. On the other hand, if you wash nappies in a fuller load, dry your nappies outside and reuse nappies on a second child, according to the Environment Agency that would lower the global warming impact by a huge 40%.

To me now it’s clear, if laundered sensibly and used on other children (if you don’t have more children yourself you can sell or pass them on), reusables have considerably less overall impact on the environment.

Knowing this, and that I’m no longer sending a whole load of resources to landfill, is a huge source of motivation when I’m hanging up the washing, or when I have to get out of bed after suddenly remembering I’ve forgotten to put the machine on!


Although reusable nappies do require an initial outlay, around £70-£200 depending on what type you choose, there are definitely cost savings to be made over disposables. The saving will vary massively depending on if you buy new or used, and also on the type, but it’s thought that “if used from birth, you can save anywhere between £100 and £1000 by the time your baby is potty-trained” (Go Real). You’ll save even more if you then use those nappies on more than one child.

recycle nappies
“If used from birth, you can save anywhere between £100 and £1000”

If you do decide to buy preloved nappies, which is definitely worth considering when trying out the different types, there’s a lot out there. Facebook, Gumtree and Ebay are just a few places you can find both new and preloved nappies at a reduced price. Just be aware though, there is an element of risk as you don’t know exactly how the nappies have been treated – the lifetime of a nappy may have been affected if the manufacturers guidelines were not followed.

For those wanting to find a very economical way of using reusables with a newborn, check out this blog post for some helpful advice.

Funky Patterns & Colours

Whether you choose to use disposable or reusable nappies – one thing is certain – you are going to be doing a lot of nappy changes over the first few years of your baby’s life! Why not brighten it up a little? A word of caution though – if you do end up trying reusables – be careful you don’t turn into a cloth nappy addict! There are so many amazing designs and styles out there! If you do you probably won’t end up saving money after all!

Top left print by Bambino Mio. Top right & bottom prints by Tots Bots.

What would you prefer to wear?

There is certainly no denying that disposable nappies are convenient. I found them on the whole to be very reliable, quick and easy, but now having being given the opportunity to try reusables and research it more, I feel as though I’ve seen the light.

Even whilst writing this post I’ve discovered more and more advantages of using reusable nappies, many of which I simply had not considered before. If you have the time, you might also be interested to read this article written by the Nappy Lady, Wendy Richards, who has been giving nappy advice to parents since 1999. She says: “no-one should ever choose real nappies because they have been “frightened off” disposables. You should choose them for positive reasons – and there are plenty of them“.

For anyone who is still undecided, I’ll end on this quote:

Did you try paper or plastic knickers after you gave birth? You tell me what feels better on your bits; those or soft, breathable big cotton pants? I rest my case.” Becky from The Mummy Adventure. Quote from: Head to Head: Reusable vs Disposable Nappies

Photos by: Berno Vierbergen

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s