What are reusable nappies?
Reusable nappies are made of cloth and can be washed and reused. Parents who choose to use reusable rather than disposables usually do it for two main reasons:
- Environmental - feeling unhappy about the chemicals in disposables, or the length of time they take to biodegrade. Eco disposables are available, but they’re not 100% biodegradable.
- Financial - it’s estimated that you can save up to £500 over the lifetime of your child by using cloth rather than disposable nappies. Use them for more than one child, or sell them on, and you’ll save even more.
It makes things more straightforward if you bear in mind that all types of nappies have two basic elements – an absorbent bit to soak up the wee or poo, and a waterproof part to contain it. The ways that these two are combined varies from type to type.
What type do you want?
There are lots of reusable nappies around, but most fit into one of four categories:
- All-in-one nappies – these have the inner absorbent layer and the outer waterproof layer all sewn together.
- Pocket nappies - the outer part has two layers and an opening at the back for you to stuff the waterproof bit – called an ‘insert’ - inside. Some come with inserts, but some don’t and you have to buy them separately.
- Shaped nappies - curved to fit your baby’s body, and elasticated around the legs and waist. Some fasten with Velcro, some with poppers.
- Flat or pre-fold nappies – flat nappies are a rectangle of fabric. This style of nappy includes terry nappies, which are the same as the ones your granny used to use, and pre-folds, which are already folded and stitched so that you get more than one layer of fabric. You can use them with a waterproof wrap, or to stuff a pocket nappy.
Bear in mind that you don’t have to choose one type and stick to it – you can buy a variety of nappies and mix and match. Within each type, you will also find:
- One-size nappies - these can be adjusted to fit babies or toddlers, and can be called ‘birth to potty’ systems
- Sized nappies -this where you buy different sizes as your child grows
How will you be using reusables?
Even if you’re a stay-at-home mum, your baby may spend time with friends or relatives, and it’s handy to have some easy-to-use reusable nappies – such as all-in-ones – for these times. For full time use, you can save money if you buy birth to potty packs, and some nappy websites do reductions on mixed packs.
If washing nappies on holiday isn’t for you, then you may want to use disposables when you’re away. Some mums also find it easier to pack disposables for nursery, or when other people are looking after their baby. If using most of the time, you may need slightly fewer nappies than for full time use, depending on how often you want to use reusables.
You can now also buy reusable nappies that give you the choice of using a washable or disposable insert, so you can have some of the convenience offered by disposables.
Just trying them out
If this is you, opt for a nappy trial pack. You can buy trial-size packs from many nappy brands. You may find you can get trail packs from your local council. Alternately, locate a nappy advisor in your area who can demonstrate different types, and may have trial packs to hire.
Try The Nappy Gurus for info on local council cash-back offers.
Which type of fabric should you choose?
Nappies and nappy wraps come in lots of different fabrics, and each has its own set of pros and cons.
- Cotton - a good value, hard wearing option, but can go ‘crunchy’ in hard water areas.
- Organic cotton - grown without pesticides, and manufactured using fewer chemicals than normal cotton.
- Bamboo - an absorbent option that stays soft, even in hard water areas. Quite slow drying.
- Hemp - also very absorbent, and often UK produced. Fairly slow drying.
- Microfibre - super absorbent, but man-made, so less ‘natural’ than cotton or bamboo.
- Fleece - will keep your baby cool, and it’s incredibly fast drying. It’s not as waterproof as PUL, though.
- Wool – these wraps are great for overnight use, but need regular coats of lanolin to keep them waterproof.
- PUL – these wraps are the most leak-proof and come in lots of lovely designs as well as plain colours.
- Waterproof plastic - you can still get the old-fashioned plastic pants that your mum or gran used, and they’re a good budget option, although not as leak-proof as more modern fabrics.
Will you want a nappy washing service?
If the idea of extra washing and drying is putting you off using reusable nappies, you could consider a nappy laundry service. These aren’t available in all areas, and are less popular than they used to be, so take a look at your local council’s website to find out if there’s one near you.
- You don’t have to wash them yourself! A van picks the nappies up, takes them away, then brings back clean ones.
- The nappies are washed in bulk, so it’s fairly energy efficient.
- You don’t have your own nappies – the company has one big stash and will wash and deliver the quantity you need, but it won’t be the same nappies every time.
- They tend to only do one type of nappy – usually pre-folds.
- It can be expensive.
What’s the Nappy Incentive Scheme?
Many councils have schemes to encourage parents to use reusable nappies rather than disposables. The schemes vary from place to place, but often include:
- Nappy trial packs - so you can borrow and try a range of different nappies for a few weeks – you’ll probably need to put down a deposit that you get back.
- Vouchers - for money off nappies that you can use on a range of websites or local shops.
- Cash-back offers – these let you buy nappies then claim money back. Amounts vary but most are around £30.
Can you buy second-hand reusables?
Provided the nappies have been thoroughly washed, buying preloved reusable nappies is really no different to buying second-hand clothes. There are lots of sites where you can buy nappies and sell on ones that you no longer use. Be aware that on eBay you can only sell nappies that have never been used.
- You can try different types without parting with too much cash.
- Most cloth nappy sites are based on trust, and many of the sites have chat forums and review sections as well as a buy and sell area.
- You might not get as much wear out of used nappies as they gradually deteriorate with wear and washing.
- As with any trust-based system, there will always be people who abuse it. Make sure you know what you’re buying - ask questions if you’re not sure, or ask to see photos.
Here's just a few of the places you can buy second-hand nappies:
- Local nearly new boards on sites like Facebook are also an option. You might find someone near you selling nappies and be able to avoid paying postage.
Where do you start?
If you’re interested in trying reusable nappies, we’ve put a host of brands through their paces, to help you find what works for you – head straight to our round up of the best reusable nappies, or see our pick of 10 of the best eco nappy changing products
We’ve also got step-by-step guides showing you how to use the main types of reusable nappies:
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