Are reusable nappies REALLY better than disposables?

Are reusable nappies REALLY better than disposables?

So you've heard of reusable nappies, but you're just not buying the benefits - it can't be AS good for the environment as people claim, surely? Well you're in luck! Because I'm going to walk you through all the common thoughts, myths and misconceptions that we hear all the time as reusable nappy specialists! If you're a skeptic, a convert, or somewhere on the fence then keep reading to find out why reusables truly ARE better all round.

"They use so much more water!"

We've all heard this one - how can reusable nappies be at all eco friendly with ALL of that water being used to wash them?! And it's totally understandable - I mean, no water goes into a disposable, right?! But sadly you'd be wrong! The manufacturing process of disposables is incredibly water-intensive, with one week of disposables requiring on average 1,550 litres of water to be produced. (1) On the other hand I wash my nappies 2 times per week, using the most water-intensive cycle on my machine which uses around 100 litres per rinse & wash - so my reusables use just 200 litres of water a week! It's worth noting that I have a large 10kg washing machine, so an average machine will use less water than this.

Not to mention that our household waste water is easily treated and made safe to re-enter our waterways - with the waste and detergent removed as it would be anyway. However, the waste water from the materials used to produce disposable nappies are incredibly dirty, containing chlorine and carcinogenic pollutants which are polluting our seas every single day.

I'm worried about rashes - and surely they're uncomfortable and bulky?

Reusables are made with mostly natural materials such as cotton, hemp and bamboo. There are naturally very gentle fibres, unlike the chemicals and gels in disposables. Imagine wearing paper or plastic disposable clothes every single day, it wouldn't be very comfortable at all! You'd probably much rather wear your cotton pyjamas. It's the same for nappies - a soft natural material is much nicer than a synthetic disposable one. Babies who wear reusables are much less likely to have nappy rash than those in disposables. Many babies are actually allergic to disposable nappies and wipes too, which can be very uncomfortable for them.

As for the size of them - my first was walking by 12 months and my second by 11 months, both in reusables full time! Cloth nappies promote ideal hip development, as babies shouldn't have their legs straight out in front of them like we do as adults, they should remain folded in an M-shape for best hip alignment. This M-shape is natural for babies in the womb, promoted in baby slings and used by the Pavlik harness as treatment for hip dysplasia.

"I'm already swamped with washing, and I've heard cloth leaks!"

Let me guess, all those newborn blowouts and throw ups have you changing more outfits daily than you can even count. What if I told you that I have never ever, in 3 years and two babies, experienced a poop explosion? Reusable nappies have such better containment, the back, leg and sometimes even tummy elastics mean that all poop is stopped in it's tracks. This means you're washing way less outfits per week, counteracting the nappy wash!

We're not sure where the rumour of wee leaks began, but our experience is that cloth is equal, if not better, than disposables at containing wees. With a disposable it they don't work, then there's not much to be done. This can be particularly frustrating when baby starts sleeping through the night and they are waking up soaked every morning. With cloth nappies you can easily adjust the fit, increase absorbency, add a liner, and tweak the nappy until you have the perfect fit for your little one.

I regularly top up my nappy wash with clothes & towels, reducing further loads that need doing and keeping my washing pile down. It takes me a grand total of 2 minutes to put the wash on, and maybe 5 minutes to hang everything to dry after. Whilst the washing is on I just get on with my day.

Surely the energy used to wash them can't be eco-friendly?

It' always worth remembering that there is pre- and post-consumer energy to be considered in every manufacturing process. By that, we mean that energy is used to produce and dispose of the nappies before and after you have brought them home and thrown them in the bin. Whilst it's hard to find official, up-to-date statistics on this, it would seem the general consensus is that disposables use 5 times as much energy in their complete lifecycle.

Not to mention, that as a consumer you can also choose where your electricity comes from, such as by installing solar panels or switching to a renewable electricity supplier to further help the environment - but this isn't essential!

And don't worry, I have gone into detail about the household energy costs of cloth nappies below!

"But what about the cost? Energy bills are rising!"

I have mentioned this in a number of blog posts, but i'm going to break it down, from bills to nappy costs, to be completely transparent with you. All figures are fr a large 10kg, B-rated machine, meaning more energy efficient and also smaller machines will use less. I can wash 30-35 nappies per cycle, which I did regularly when I had two in nappies, but now am back down to one baby in nappies so I wash around 15-20 and top up with clothes to keep my washes energy-efficient.

Water: The cost of my Bristol Water rate, as of Feb 2022, is just under 129p per 1,000l of water, that means each full 30 nappy wash (using 100L of water, as mentioned above) is costing me just 12.9p per wash (or 0.4p per nappy). I'm not even on a particularly good rate either, so I'm sure it's much cheaper for many. We also have a small standing charge, which I am ignoring as I would have this regardless.

Energy: As of April 2022, it is estimated that the South West will be paying on average 27.1p/kwh, one of the higher rates across the country. My washing machine cycle uses 0.89kwh, translating to a cost of 24.1p per wash (or 0.8p per nappy).

Detergent: Detergent prices vary greatly based on water hardness and brand chosen, but for 10kg machine it can be around 15p per wash (0.5p per nappy) for the most budget option, to 30p per wash (1p per nappy) for a branded powder.

Nappy Cost: The upfront cost of reusables can be anywhere from £150 to £400 for a full time kit, but they can usually be sold on for around 50% of the cost. Working out at 0.8p to 2p per change if used on two of your own babies.

So, as of April 2022, with ALL costs considered (including the energy hike), reusable nappies could vary from 2.5p to 4.2p per change depending on whether you go 'budget' or 'premium' with your detergent and nappy brand! That's regardless of baby's size, unlike disposables which increase in price as baby gets bigger.

From newborn to size 6, the average branded disposable nappies, cost around 10p to 32p per change, and 'eco' disposables around 16p to 39p per change. Budget brands vary from 3p to 12p, so even these work out more costly than reusables in the long run!

In Conclusion

It's pretty clear that reusables win all-around, and once adjusted to, they're really no more work each week than popping to the shops for a pack of disposable nappies. If you're interested in learning more about reusables, then download our Free eBook "The Ultimate Cloth Nappy Guide" to learn the in's and out's of reusables, and follow us over on Instagram for more tips & tricks!

(1) Based on figures provided to the Environment Agency by the disposable nappy industry.

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