Jen's a mum who's made the switch from disposable nappies to reusables, and discovered it was easier than you think.
Step-by-Step Guide to Switching to Cloth Nappies
If you're contemplating switching to reusable nappies but don't know where to begin, let me help. I've made the switch and it was easier than I expected. I've set out the basics of what you need to know to get started.
Reusable vs. Disposable
Apparently, and to my surprise, there’s a big debate about whether reusable or disposable nappies are better for the environment. As far as I can understand it, this is because whilst they dramatically reduce landfills, they use more energy and water to wash.
However, this latest report from Zero Waste Europe (February 2020) puts forward a very convincing argument for reusables. For example, single-use nappies use 20 times more land for the production of raw materials and require three times more energy to produce than cloth nappies. If you’re interested to learn more, check out Laura Tweedale’s excellent article for a succinct summary of the report.
First Things First: Should I Switch?
I think it’s important that everyone considers whether switching will fit with their own lifestyle. There are lots of ways we can make changes to help protect our planet and for some of us switching to cloth diapers is not practical. We need to keep our sanity, right!? No judgment here.
So ask yourself these questions to see if it’s a good fit.
How Much Laundry Am I Prepared to Do?
Going reusable will require you to do an extra washing load every other day. That’s not loads, but bear in mind it’s on top of the extra washing you’ll be doing anyway because babies go through clothes at a rate of knots.
What's My Set-Up Like for Drying Stuff?
Some brands of nappies dry really quickly but, regardless, you’ll need somewhere to hang them up unless you use a tumble dryer. This is a necessity in some households but bear in mind that the increased use of a tumble dryer will counteract your good work of switching to reusables. Tumble-drying also gradually reduces their effectiveness as the pile is worn down in the machine.
Am I Squeamish About Getting Poo on My Hands?
Changing a nappy is always messy. But be in no doubt about it: Dealing with a reusable requires you to be a bit more hands-on and there is more chance of getting dirty. I’m a dab hand at dealing with them now but I still expect a bit of transfer . . . OK, I’ll say no more.
And that’s really it. There’s not much else you need to consider before going for it.
Which Kind Should I Get?
Reusable nappies tend to fall into one of two categories: all-in-one and two-piece. Frankly, I have only ever used all-in-one style nappies. So I’ve focused on the style I know in this blog.
We use Bambino Mio’s Miosolo range, which comes in one piece: a waterproof outer layer, with a wad of padding which tucks into the casing. It fits a child from birth to potty. The photos below show my daughter at a few months old and at 17 months. She might even be wearing the same nappy.
Washing and Drying
When it comes to washing them you simply pull out the padding and it’s ready to be washed. So easy. They go in a net in the nappy bin (dry pail), until it’s full. Then the net and its contents go in the machine for a rinse cycle and then a 60-degree wash.
I dry the nappies on a heated towel rail like this one (which is kind of essential in our wet Manchester climes) and honestly, they dry quicker than our clothes.
Movement and Nappy Rash
Ada can move about well in them, and they don’t give her nappy rash. It’s important not to put any creams on their bottoms when using cloth as the creams can eventually reduce the effectiveness of the nappy, but she rarely has uncomfortable redness in these as they’re chemical-free and breathable.
OK I'm up for It. What Do I Need?
- About 20 nappies. We started with 12 and it wasn’t quite enough. 20 should mean you only need to put a wash on every other day.
- A bin for dirty nappies. With a net (that goes in the machine) and a lid (you can imagine why). Some people put a cloth soaked in lavender oil within the lid of the bin but we’ve found that the lid suffices for keeping the nasty smells away.
- Liners. Not needed when baby is little as the poo is so liquidy it isn’t contained by the liner. But essential once they are starting to wean (and possibly a little before then) as it makes the poo easier to lift off.
- A wet bag for when you’re out and about. Essential for avoiding unwanted transfer in your bag! Frankly, pretty useful for all sorts of child-related mishaps. Bambino Mio does some gorgeous designs.
- Boosters. Not essential at first, but we have found them to be critical now that our daughter is bigger and therefore doing bigger wees.
You Can Save Money Whilst You're Saving the Environment
We researched how much we would likely spend on disposable nappies, and compared that an initial investment in reusable nappies.
Disposable nappies can range widely in cost. Aldi is at the lower end of the scale, costing 8.3p per unit. Pampers typically are 17p per unit. The “eco-friendly” disposables we like (Mama Bamboo) are about 27p per nappy.
Let’s take that lower end cost of 8.3p per unit. We calculated that we used about seven nappies a day. Over a year, that works out at about £208. If you like brands like Pampers, you should probably expect to spend more like £400 a year.
Our reusable haul came to around £200. So for a year of using nappies it has worked out rather similar, which is OK because our motivation wasn’t to save money. But we’ve been using them for over a year now, so I like to think that every day we carry on using these we’re saving money. If Ada starts potty training when she’s 2 years old, we’ll have saved £200 as well as reducing our environmental impact. Haha take THAT disposables!
A Final Thought: Try a Few First
If you’re not sure, buy a couple and give them a try. Don’t throw away your disposables just yet. Then you’re not taking such a big leap and you can see how you get on with them.
Do you have any more questions? Or your own tips? I’d love to hear from you!
Jen Potter (author) from Manchester, UK on September 30, 2020:
Thanks Claire for your feedback. I want to be helpful so do tell me if you have any further questions.
Claire Cook on September 29, 2020:
It’s so useful to have someone explain exactly what I would need. I’m always overwhelmed by what I’d have to buy so keep putting it off