Which nappy to choose?

Reusable versus Disposable nappies

As a new parent, you are likely to be surprised by the number of nappies that your newborn baby will fill over a 24 hour period! You may well find yourself asking, “How can something so very small produce so very much?” Consequently, changing your baby’s nappy will become a regular part of your baby’s daily care routine.

Up until the last ten years or so, the preference has been to use disposable nappies, with only a few parents choosing reusable nappies (also referred to as ‘cloth’, ‘real’ and ‘washable’ nappies). This is because disposable nappies have long been perceived as being a lot more convenient to use, more absorbent, and better for your baby’s skin. There are however, certain disadvantages associated with the use of disposable nappies – they cost a lot more in the long run and because they are not fully-biodegradable, there are concerns about the environmental impact they are having with vast amounts of disposable nappies filling-up our landfill (refuse) sites. These can produce chemical pollutants.

Similarly, placing soiled nappies in rubbish bins can also carry potential health hazards because faeces (poo) may carry viruses that can survive for some time in discarded nappies. Consequently, this focus on caring for our environment (recycling and eco-consciousness) as well as, parents’ wishes to save their pennies, has seen a surge in the popularity of reusable nappies.


Which nappy to choose?

There are many things to consider when choosing whether to opt for reusable or disposable nappies. Here we provide a list of some of the things that you will need to consider when making your choice:

  • You will find that most newborn babies manage to fill at least six to 12 nappies over a 24 hour period during their first few months. This means that with 365 days in the year, your baby is likely to get through a minimum of 2190-4380 disposable nappies in their first year alone. Add in the fact that potty training doesn’t normally begin until your child is at least 24 months old and this number could potentially increase even further
  • While the initial financial outlay to purchase your reusable nappies is larger in the short term (you will need to buy approx. 16-24 nappies in total), the cost of buying disposable nappies in the longer term is around three times more. This is the case even when domestic laundry and utility costs are included
  • You can use reusable nappies for any subsequent children. Most brands of reusable nappy are designed to be used for at least two consecutive babies
  • As mentioned previously, using reusable nappies cuts down on the amount of refuse (rubbish) filling-up our landfill sites.


What options are available?

Reusable cloth diaper

Terry towelling nappies still have some loyal followers, and for many of our parents and grandparents, were in fact, the only nappies available to them. However, modern reusable nappies on the market today have qualities that make them just as convenient to use as their disposable counterparts. There qualities include the following:

Reusable nappies have waterproof, breathable covers that prevent urine leaks and keep your baby feeling comfortable

They are usually made of pure cotton, so 100% natural and very soft and kind to your newborn’s skin

Unlike their disposable counterparts, reusable nappies do not contain absorbent gels or dioxin (these are a large group of chemical compounds with similar structure)

Reusable nappies are used with biodegradable nappy liners that help to keep your baby dry; these can be flushed down the toilet. However, there are other brands of nappy liner that need to be binned, so it’s important to know which one you have bought. The former will be disposed of through the sewerage system, while the latter will end up in a landfill site

Once your baby has filled their nappy, the inner liner can be disposed of (as above) and the nappies are then put through a hot wash (60oC) in your domestic washing machine. NB. Modern reusable nappies do not need to be pre-soaked. Alternatively, you may choose to use a nappy laundry service – they offer a door-to-door service, collecting the dirty nappies and delivering clean ones (this service tends to cost around £10 – £15 per week)

If you are considering using reusable nappies, but worried about the initial financial outlay, it is worth checking with your local Council. A growing number of Councils offer incentive schemes to use reusable nappies including, discount vouchers, free samples and cash back

The range of styles, sizes and colours of reusable nappies that are now available is very extensive, so there is plenty of choice!

Because reusable nappies have poppers, ties and Velcro fastenings, there is no need to worry about using safety pins, which can always be a bit nerve-racking

Some brands of reusable nappies include the option of purchasing booster pads, which provide your baby with the comfort and security of extra absorbency during the night.


Your choice

Even though parents may make the decision to use reusable nappies, there may be circumstances when it is more feasible to use disposable nappies, for example, during holidays, day trips, shopping etc. Whichever, option you are considering, we hope that our information has been helpful. You may also find it useful to speak with other mums who have used reusable nappies; your midwife and Health Visitor may also be able to offer advice.


Real nappies: a real choice (2009). Practising Midwife 12(4):20-21.

Scowen P (1994). Disposable versus reusables: the nappy debate continues. Professional Care of Mother and Child 4(4):119-120.

Various (2007). Cloth versus disposable nappies. Essence (Magazine of the Australian Breastfeeding Association) 43(5):30-31.