The widening movement against single-use things positions reusable nappies for a boom. The early signs are already there, with the plethora of brands and designs.
There are also several different systems available to suit your needs/preferences.
To start with, there is the good old-fashioned terry-cloth square, which is still going strong. It’s an economical choice and, according to fill-your-pants.com, still one of the most reliable.
Other choices are between pocket nappies and two-part nappies.
Pocket nappies, as the name suggests, have an internal pocket for absorbent pads or ‘boosters’. They’re easy to use and are handy if your child goes to nursery or a childminder. Two-part nappies simply have the absorbent part laid on top of the nappy, with the whole lot covered by a waterproof wrap.
Both of the above systems come in different sizes, but you can also get one-size nappies. These have a series of poppers to increase the size of the nappy as your child grows, so you can theoretically use them from birth to potty-training.
Of course, every child has their own ‘weight journey'. For this reason, doing a nappy trial or joining a rental scheme for a while to get started is probably a good idea.
Reusable nappies, AKA real nappies or cloth nappies, are so called because they used to be made from terry cloth. This is a fabric made from uncut loops and you’ll find it in bathrobes, bath towels and Uncle Roger’s favourite t-shirt.
Nappy fabrics have broadened somewhat in recent years, embracing microfibre (soft top layer), polyurethane laminate (waterproof outer) and cotton or bamboo for the absorbent pads.
The overall goal is to maximise comfort and absorbency while minimising drying time.
From a waste perspective, reusable nappies beat single-use hands down. 30-50 nappies can (theoretically) last from birth to potty training for multiple children, avoiding many, many tonnes of landfill waste and pollution.
After manufacturing, the main impact of reusable nappies comes in how they’re cleaned. The ideal scenario would be a full load of reusable nappies being washed at 30 degrees in an A++++ rated washing machine powered by a green electricity supply and using environmentally friendly detergent, with the nappies being line dried. Your water and energy bills would still go up, but this would keep it to a minimum.
The real-life scenario is likely to be more mixed. Not everyone has (or can easily switch to) an efficient appliance or green energy supply. Also, living on an island in the northern Atlantic does not lend itself to good ‘drying days’ year-round, so reusable nappies will sometimes need to be tumble-dried or dried indoors.
Using a biodegradable nappy liner helps with washing as it takes away some or all of the content, making it easier to get clean.
Price of Reusable Nappies
Until the price of single-use nappies includes a ‘landfill tax’, comparing them with reusable nappies is spurious.
Yes, reusable nappies cost more up front, but they can be used for years on multiple children. Even factoring in the increased water and electricity bills associated with washing reusable nappies, you’re still looking at saving up to £500, or more if you have multiple children.
Some councils run incentive schemes to get people into using reusable nappies. You can find a list of council incentive schemes on Fill Your Pants.
You can also pick up second-hand nappies online at usednappies.co.uk or try them out through a cloth nappy library.
There are only a few nappy laundering services operating in the UK and they tend to be quite localised, so search online first or ask your local NCT branch.
The service offered varies by scheme, but it will usually involve the rental of a set of nappies and associated kit (bucket, liners) and the regular schedule of pick-ups for the dirty ones and drop-offs of freshly laundered ones.
Costs also vary but The Nappy Lady puts it at £30-35 per month, roughly in line with the price of single-use nappies. A coincidence? Who can say.
To soak or not to soak
Cloth nappy wisdom used to dictate that nappies be soaked prior to washing to make them easier to clean and to prolong the life of the nappy.
However, modern cloth nappies do not need to be soaked before washing. Indeed, given that reusable nappies are often comprised of several different fabrics, soaking could actually damage the nappy, especially if you use some kind of additive such as vinegar, bicarbonate of soda, Napisan, etc.
Soaking also makes the nappy bucket smell in a way that ‘dry-pailing’ (putting nappies straight in the bucket) does not.
In our research we found more than 20 brands of reusable nappy, many more than we can fit into this guide. More brands can be found on reusable nappy retailer sites: