Tuesday 30 October 2012

Which Nappies Do You Choose – Cloth or Disposable?

Whilst pregnant with Sophia I had a chat with a family friend about going the cloth nappy route. She convinced me it was well worth it so I decided to go with Tots Bots cloth nappies from BabyKind, who were very helpful with all the further questions I had. 

I had the nappies all prepared, ready for Sophia’s arrival but life doesn’t always go to plan and after a difficult time following Sophia's birth, I developed post-natal depression. Although I so wanted to use the cloth nappies I had for her (and I did try them on her once or twice), the thoughts of washing them, drying them (we were without a tumble dryer where we were in France) and what seemed to me at that time, all the effort involved with them, I bailed out. I therefore ended up going the disposable route.

I tried to source Eco disposables but they were non-existent in Brittany. I found Bamboo Eco disposables online but I found that they leaked so gave up with them. I therefore decided to use mainstream disposables with Sophia which didn’t sit well with me. However, at that time in my life, something had to give and it was my nappy choice. Having dug a bit deeper for this post, I feel sad that this is the route we took as the chemicals in disposables are truly horrifying. When I had Jess I did contemplate the cloth route again but in the end decided on Eco disposables after chatting to a friend who used Naty by Nature Babycare. She really rated them and said she’d not had any problems with leakage. I’m glad we did go this route because once again life threw me a curved ball and my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer when Jess was just 8 weeks old and sadly we lost her 6 months later. We travelled up and down the country quite a bit that year, so the logistics of cloth nappies was not a viable option.

That said I still feel strongly that cloth nappies are one of, if not the best route to take. I am from a generation that was cloth nappied as a baby. Obviously, it wasn’t the cute versions we get now. It was the old fashioned terry square nappy with large safety pins. Our Mums coped just fine back then and part of me wishes that we’d never evolved to disposables. 

My internet searches have shown that disposables have some very nasty chemicals in them:

Polyacrylic acid is the powder added to disposable nappies to make them absorbent and turns urine to gel. This substance was banned in 1985 from tampons due to its link to Toxic Shock Syndrome. Due to its strong absorbency it has also been found to draw moisture out of the skin which can cause nappy rash and in severe cases bleeding.

Dioxin is a chemical linked to cancer. Certain dioxins have been shown to be carcinogen and have been found to affect the immune and reproductive systems. Dioxin forms in the bleaching process of the wood pulp used in disposables. Several European countries have begun phasing out the bleaching of wood pulp with chlorine due to concerns about dioxin and its affect on human health.

Xylene, Ethylbenzene, Styrene and Isopropl are some of the chemicals reported to be released from disposables in a study published in the Archive of Environmental Health (1999). Lab mice were exposed to various brands of disposable nappies by Anderson Laboratories and they found that they showed asthma type symptoms, including bronchoconstriction and eye, nose and throat irritation.

Add to this that disposables often cause nappy rash, and do not degrade when in landfill, it is fair to say that we really should be looking at lessening if not stopping our use of disposable nappies.

So given this information, are Eco-disposables any better. Well yes and no. Yes, they are more than likely made from sustainable, eco-friendly materials and bleaching agents are not normally used in the manufacturing process. They are also biodegradable and break down quickly when in landfill but sadly still give off methane a green house gas. You could use a wormery to break down your eco-disposables but if you decided to go down this route, you would need to make sure that it was only wet nappies. It is illegal to compost a nappy soiled with poo in a garden composting system, as it carries disease. It is also illegal to put faeces in landfill too. We should all note this when disposing of disposable nappies in the bin. We should place the poo in the loo beforehand.

So, where do we stand with cloth nappies. Well according to the Environment Agency a reusable nappy is responsible for 560kg of greenhouse gas over the baby’s first two and a half years of life, whereas a disposable nappy is responsible for 630kg (This is the equivalent of an average car driven 1,800 miles). Also if we stopped using disposables in the UK we would stop approx. 6 million nappies a day, or 2 billion nappies a year ending up in landfill. That’s an awful lot of nappies! Therefore, I think it’s fair to say that cloth nappies are certainly better for the environment.

(Information sources: toxipedia.org, babycentre.co.uk, climatechangechallenge.org and babiesnappies.co.uk)

When discussing cloth nappies many people feel overwhelmed by the possibility of the extra work involved in their use, but having asked several Mums recently who use cloth nappies for their feedback, the resounding response seems to be, “No, it’s not that much more work at all”. An extra wash a day maybe and getting yourself into a routine and being organised is key. Other feedback I received was that they look very cute (gone are the days of those square terry nappies), they are soft against baby’s bottom, they do not cause nappy rash and they are kinder to the environment. In addition to this, there are so many different types of cloth nappies available that you really are spoilt for choice. And if you fancy making your very own cloth nappies then get in touch with "The Make Place" who run cloth making workshops all over the country - UPDATE: The Make Place is sadly no longer in operation. 


Below are the responses of 3 Mummies (Marie, Fay and Leah) who use cloth nappies on their little ones. All answers given are theirs, and I hope give a good range of information to anyone looking to invest in cloth nappies. I have web linked companies mentioned so you can just click through to the websites concerned.

What made you decide to go the cloth nappy route?

Marie: I just had this image of all of my baby’s nappies piled up in a room, and decided that I’d rather make that pile as small as possible. The cost was definitely a factor too.

Fay: Cost and lack of biodegradable options in Spain. Also the environmental impact of disposables

Leah: They are pretty looking and great for the environment.

Which nappy brand(s) did you choose and why?

Marie: I wanted a one size nappy and I found the Mother-ease ones in a nearby shop, I looked them up online and they had excellent reviews. The price convinced me as well.

Tots Bots – bamboo, fast renewable resource, lower environmental impact, soft on newborn bottom
Wonderoos – looked gorgeous, quick drying
Close parent – slim fit, click in liner so less to wash each time. Only need to wash outside every 2 or 3 uses

Leah: I chose a variety to see which ones worked best for us.

Did they have Aplix or Snap fixings?

Marie: Poppers.

Tots Bots - Aplix
Wonderoos - Snap
Close parent - Snap

Leah: Both

Did you contact a specific company for advice before buying?

Marie: I did a lot of looking up online but I didn’t contact directly any company.

Fay: Yes, BabyKind (update: no longer in business) who were very helpful and gave great individual advice.

Leah: No, I joined a Facebook group and asked lots of questions.

Did you contemplate a ‘Nappy Trial’ where you can try before you buy?

Marie: No

Fay: I would have had it been available in Spain.

Leah: Didn't know such a thing was available.

Did you buy brand new or second-hand ?

Marie: I bought them new.

Fay: New

Leah: Most were bought pre loved.

How many nappies did you initially buy? Was that number enough?

Marie: We took the “part-time” kit which was 12 nappies, 8 boosters and 12 covers (4 smalls, 4 mediums and 4 larges) and decided to see whether or not it’ll be enough, and it was.

Fay: 16. Yes because of superfast outside drying in Spain. Otherwise I would have needed more.

Leah: 15, was just enough to wash every other day.

How many nappies do you realistically feel is needed to get going?

Marie: It depends I guess on your commitment and on your baby digestive system. I would say 15 is good as I felt a bit stretched at the beginning and had to a machine a day.

Fay: 20. 10 each day, then you can wash every other day.

Leah: 20 minimum just in case.

Did you use wraps and which ones?

Marie: I used the ones from the same brand and they were absolutely brilliant.

Fay: Yes, Tots Bots and Whisper Wrap.

Leah: I use wool over night nappies. Homemade.

What ratio of wraps to nappies did you buy? E.g. 1 wrap for every 2 nappies?

Marie: 1 for 3.

Fay: 1 wrap to 5 nappies, they only need a quick dunk in soapy water and dry really quickly.

Leah: I have 3 wool wraps and 8 night nappies.

Did you use liners? If yes, were they fleece or flushable?

Marie: I used the Little Green Earthlets ones which are flushable.

Fay: Yes, I have tried and used both depending on my daughter’s bowel movements!

Leah: No, I'm too lazy.

Did you use inserts (often known as boosters, doubles, and soakers)? If yes, how do they work?

Marie: I used them mostly in the first year, they would just come on top, they have poppers too to keep them in place but I never found the need to use that. Then I stopped because she was moving quite a lot so I wanted her to have less layers.

Fay: Yes at night time.

Leah: Yes. As we use pocket nappies all of them need inserts. They soak up the wee. Different fibres work in different ways. Microfibre and minky soak up wee quite quickly but don't hold that much where as bamboo soak up wee slower but hold more for their weight.

Did you use different nappies for night-time and if yes, which ones?

Marie: No, I would use the same as in the day.

Fay: Yes, Tots Bots at night now.

Leah: Yes, I use Little Lamb Bamboo and Luscious Little Somethings.

How many night nappies are needed?

Marie: Just the one as long as she didn’t make a poo, which she has never done.

Fay: About 5.

Leah: 3 as a min but 5 would be better in case they poo in them!

Any useful advice on night-time usage? E.g. Do you have to change your little one more often?

Marie: I never found that I had to do so.

Leah: Find a combination that works for you and stick with it. Night nappies are great some people prefer wool, some fleece, some pul wraps.

What other equipment do you need?

Marie: Well, a bucket for the house and a wet bag for going out.

Leah: Wet bag for out and about and an XL one for home. Oh reusable wipes are great too.

Did you use any essential oils for your nappy bucket/pail? If yes, which ones worked best?

Marie: Simply tea tree oil.

Fay: Yes, tea tree.

Leah: No

Do cloth nappies smell more than a disposable?

Marie: I don’t think so but then being on a vegetarian diet might help.

Fay: No

Leah: No, can't smell my nappies, yet disposables stink.

Are cloth nappies easy and practical to use?

Marie: The Mother-ease ones certainly are. The poppers system is nice because it’s safe and fast.

Fay: Yes

Leah: Yes even daddy can do them!! As easy as disposables.

Were family members including Dad’s happy to change them in cloth nappies?

Marie: My husband was alright, my mother-in-law a bit anxious but she always managed.

Fay: I wish.

Leah: They had no choice. If they didn't like it they didn't do it. To be honest only me, dad and nana change him.

How often do/did you change your little one?

Marie: 5 to 6 times a day. But if she had had a more random “output” we would have needed more changes and more nappies.

Leah: Round about with every feed.

Did you always have to change the whole nappy (nappy, liner etc) and the wrap at every nappy change?

Marie: Not necessarily, depending on if it was number one or two.

Fay: Tots Bots - just the inner
Wonderoos - whole nappy
Close parent - just inner

Leah: Yes

Did you find that they restricted your baby’s movement?

Marie: Well they definitely made her look very bulky at the bottom but she was okay (crawling by 6 months, walking at 10...)

Fay: No

Leah: No. My baby can roll etc just like everyone else.

Did/do baby’s clothes fit well over cloth nappies or did you find you needed to buy certain brands which allowed for the extra bulk of a cloth nappy?

Marie: I just bought regular brands a size above.

Fay: Some clothes need a bigger size, although I use Frugi
 mostly which fits well over both.

Leah: Some clothes are tighter on the bum than others. Frugi are great as they are cut for cloth but expensive. Sainsburys and Asda seem a really good fit.

Have you had many wet / pooey accidents using cloth nappies? If yes, what were the reasons for these mishaps?

Marie: Actually I had more accidents with disposable ones!

Fay: None

Leah: Only a few if for example he was in the Jumperoo and the wee was compressed.

What do you do with the poo? Flush away, rinse out before washing?

Marie: Take as much with the liners and flush away and then a good rinse.

Fay: Flush then quick rinse if sticky poo, i.e. early breastmilk days.

Leah: Just chuck it in the wash as he is exclusively breastfed.

Did your little one suffer with nappy rash? If yes, was it very often?

Marie: Not once but I did oil her daily for 6 months.

Fay: Yes very occasionally when teething, but just a little redness, nothing open or too sore.

Leah: No never. Been in cloth since he was born and now 6 months old, and not a single nappy rash.

Would you say babies are more prone to nappy rash in cloth nappies than disposables?

Marie: Not in our case.

Fay: No

Leah: No, other way round due to chemicals in nappies and sensitive skin.

Did you use nappy creams with your cloth nappies?

Marie: No.

Fay: Yes, whenever she got a little red.

Leah: No, most creams affect absorbency of nappies although I do love ‘Monkey Farts’ from C J Butter! Get some its smells lush.

What is your advice on removing stains from cloth nappies?

Marie: Wash as quickly as possible.

Fay: I’ve never had a problem with staining. They always seem to come out clean enough. You can use a nappy specific powder though. I did have an issue with nappies smelling of ammonia so used a product called Rockin Green which was great at removing the smell, not covering it up.

Leah: The sun or rain even a little snow is great ;)

What temperature & wash cycle did you wash your nappies on?

Marie: 70* on a baby cycle that soak longer.

Fay: Mostly 30, cotton wash along with baby clothes or other whites/pales. Then, every so often at 60.

Leah: I do a cold pre wash then 60 then extra rinse. The cold pre wash helps stop the stains being set in by the heat. Extra rinse makes sure there is no build up of wash powder which affects absorbency too.

How do you store your dirty nappies when you are “out and about”?

Marie: With the wet bag, never had any troubles.

Fay: Material nappy bag. Easy to carry and non smell leaking!!

Leah: A medium wet bag.

Have you ever used Eco disposables as well as cloth nappies? If yes, which make did you use?

Marie: We used eco disposables when we went on holidays and couldn’t use a washing machine.

Fay: Yes, Naty

Leah: No, never.

Have you any further information which you believe would be useful for parents looking into the cloth nappy route for their babies?

Marie: I stopped using ours when Sita was around 20/ 21 months because they became too small which is a shame as we have to make the bridge until she’s potty trained with disposables.

But I really enjoyed using the Mother ease, they are nice comfy organic cotton and practical. The only downside would be that I had to do a machine wash a day so as not to get behind but that was only because we didn’t buy the full pack. On the plus side they dry very quickly.

Fay: It’s so much easier than I thought it would be. I bought disposables for the first few weeks as I thought I wouldn’t be able to cope. But, one look at my newborns soft botty and the softness of the tots bots nappies and I used them from day one.

Leah: Lots of research. Also factor in things like tumble dryer etc.


Other useful websites:

Plush Pants - Washable nappies, nappy wraps and natural menstrual products. 12 years of independent cloth nappy sales and advice.

The Cloth Nappy Tree - Founded in mid 2010 by Elle, The Cloth Nappy Tree is an information resource covering all aspects of cloth nappies and cloth nappy paraphernalia.

The Used Nappy Company - The Used Nappy Company - the number 1 auction site in the UK to buy and sell used, pre-loved washable cloth nappies!


I would like to express my sincere thanks to all 3 of the Mums who helped me out with this questionnaire and also to the Mums on the Attachment Parenting FB page who also gave their feedback too. It has all been gratefully received. 

If you have any comments, feedback or information that you feel may be helpful to prospective parents who wish to know more about cloth nappies, please feel free to comment at the end of this post. Thank you x


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