/ Parenting, Shopping

Disposable vs reusable nappies – what’s best for your baby?

Baby wearing nappy

Disposable or reusable? That is the question new parents ask about their baby’s nappies. They both have their pros and cons, but disposables have taken the lime-light – time for reusables to make a come back?

Can you imagine 3,800 nappies in a heap, a big heap? On average, parents will change their child’s nappy between 3,800 and 5,000 times before they’re potty trained. That’s 30 months worth of disposable nappies, costing up to £700.

Buying a set of reusable nappies and using water, electricity and detergent to wash them for 30 months adds up to less than £500. You save even more if you are able to use the same set on your second child, or buy them second-hand.

Each year 2.5 billion nappies are dumped in landfill sites and space is rapidly running out. Supposedly, it takes a disposable nappy 500 years to breakdown – except we don’t know for certain as the first disposable nappy was sold in 1961.

But surely reusable or washable nappies aren’t as good as disposables? Actually, when we last tested nappies in 2007, we found that the top scoring reusables weren’t far behind our Best Buy disposables for performance and ease of use.

Technologically advanced reusable nappies

The traditional terry towelling and muslin nappies are still available, but they’ve been joined by nappies that are held together with poppers instead of pins.

There are reusable nappies with replaceable cores in pockets, like the ‘Wonderoo’. And then there’s the multi-layer ‘Motherease’ with an outer water-proof layer, a soft inner layer and ‘snap-in’ booster strips that can be added as a thin layer for daytime or a thicker layer for night.

Cotton has been joined by bamboo as a new, more ‘eco’ friendly material for making nappies – although bamboo tends to take longer to dry. A good alternative are fleece-like nappies that dry very quickly.

Are reusable nappies the best?

Financially and environmentally speaking, reusable nappies seem to be the best. Although, it’s not quite that ‘clean’ cut. It all depends on how the nappies are laundered. Save money and electricity by regularly washing them on a 40°C wash and only give them a hotter wash once every two months. Rather than popping them in your tumble dryer, hang them outside in the sun (the sun bleach stains will disappear). And definitely don’t iron them!

Sometimes disposables are more practical – it’s fairly tricky to continually use reusables. For example, reusable nappies can be impractical on holiday, where you don’t have access to a washing machine. Disposables are also more convenient, as it can be a struggle to bring up baby while washing nappies (nappy laundering services exist, but they can be expensive).

Convenience aside, disposable nappies can also be more pleasurable to use, once the dirty nappy is off, it’s straight into the bin, unlike the reusable nappy which will need far more attention before it graces your baby’s bottom.

So, do you go for disposable or reusable nappies? Or do you use a mix of both, such as reusable at home and disposable on the move?

Sara says:
1 July 2011

I used disposables for my first child and terry nappies on my second with an easy to use Motherease cover, fleece reusable wipes and liners and reusable boosters for night which I made out of some old terry nappies given to me (you can buy disposable). Once you get a routine they really are no more hassle than disposables and I felt much better about them environmentally. Plus, my second child trained much better and quicker than my first; whether this was due to knowing when he was ‘wet’ or just one of those things I cannot answer!


We’ve gone for the in-between option: reusable at home and disposable when out and at night. We were given the reusable by generous friends so this has proved a very cheap and environmentally friendly option so far. For the disposable, we go for ‘eco’ nappies to minimise further the use of plastic and have less nasty chemicals on our baby skin.
Reusable nappies have really improved and they come in adorable colours and paterns. The fleece nappies are very light, drive the wetness away from bnaby’s skin and dry super fast.

And before we started on reusable I thought they will smell… if you see what I mean. But actually we bought a nappy bucket (with a good lid) fitted with a light breathable washable bag inside. It doesn’t smell at all. And when it is time to wash them (when the bucket is full, about every other day) I simply take the bag out, put it in the washing machine and it opens during the wash releasing the dirty nappies. So no need even to touch the dirty nappies. All you need is a spare second one of these bags to line the bucket with whilst the other one is being washed.

Sarah Williams says:
2 July 2011

My children are now teenagers (3boys) I used reusable nappies for all three of my children only having to purchase them once. I even bought some cotton Terry towelling and made my own shaped nappies. I feel that I have done my best for the environment especially as disposables do not compost. I think that disposable nappy companies should look at making a compostable nappy thereby reducing land fill.

ayoad2000 says:
2 July 2011

I’m preparing for the birth of my first child and am planning (possibly foolishly!) to use cloth nappies. The statistics about landfill were just too depressing for me not to give it a go. What has struck me is how defensive friends who use disposables have been. They’re convinced I won’t last with re-usables, which of course has only made me more determined to prove them wrong! If my mother could manage with 2 babies in rudimentary terry nappies in the 70s, I think I have no excuse with the relatively “space age” re-usables that are around now.

Heather Bolden says:
17 July 2011

A lot of parents coming into our shop tell us this too. Everyone thinks you are setting yourself up for a fall if you say you want to use reusable nappies. They leave knowing they can do anything! 🙂 I am a big believer in being realistic though. Eco disposables are great for in hospital and the early days or even weeks. They are also great for holidays or when the family is ill. We used real nappie about 90% of the time. I meet very few people who manage to do it 100%. I am also like you. If someone tells me I can’t do something it only makes me more determined to prove them wrong lol! Good luck. If you need any help, feel free to contact me. The amount of real nappy options can be very overwhelming! 🙂

Liz says:
4 July 2011

I have a 14 week old and have been using re-usable since 4 weeks. I have a mix of “bumgenius” V4 and flips and love them. I also use “cheeky wipes” which are re-usable wipes which has saved me a fortune and work brilliantly: I hate having to use disposable wipes as they are not as good. I only need to do a wash every other day throwing the nappies and wipes in the same wash. I find disposable nappies often leak and have tried all the leading brands!

Jane says:
5 July 2011

I was very keen to use washable nappies with our daughter and invested quite a lot of money in different types to see which suited her best. Unfortunately, she has eczema and in the end only premium disposables seemed to avoid the worst rashes. I would also like to point out that for the sake of hygiene, nappies should be washed at a higher temperature than 40 degrees in order to kill off any lurking bugs.

Niced says:
6 July 2011

I used terry nappies on quiet days and disposables on others. When I was nappy training my children, the terries were excellent for absorbing ‘accidents’. I even found that the boys got a terry to mop up before my seeing it! 24 years on, the terries are still used as cloths especially for spills on carpets or large scale spillages that need quick absorption!!

Before I had my daughter I was determined that I would use reusables. I duly went to the ‘nappy lady’ and spent a good few hours learning about all the different types and bought a couple of samples to try. I had this idea that they would be soft and lovely for baby skin. What I – rather foolishly – hadn’t realised was that as soon as they do the slightest wee they’re sat in wet cloth! It was this that put me off using them, along with the fact that I knew I’d have to supplement reusables at certain times, kind of depleting the environmental value of reusables.

I applaud parents who manage to use them – yes, they’ve come a long way, but they still have some major drawbacks. I’d like to think I’d give them another go if I had number two though.

Megan says:
16 July 2012

We use reusables during the day and disposables as night otherwise we wake up to a small puddle 😉 personally I use reusables as its better for babys hips, cheaper and less nappies going to landfill. its not much extra washing as we go through a wrap per day usually which goes through with baby clothes and a ‘nappy wash’ every other day. some people say reusables are hard to take out and about, (this may neutralise my effect on the land fills but…) i find it easier to put dirty clothes and nappies in nappy sacks and take them home rather than planning every outing. Hope this helps someone 🙂

Mary Killick says:
29 November 2012

As an about to be first time grandparent I would like opinions about how efficient biodegradeable nappies are compared to reusable / renewable ones are