Kiri and


Reusable versus disposable nappies

December 31st, 2015 (by Steve)

Until humans evolve enough to be potty trained from birth, changing nappies will be an inevitable part of a parent’s life. As will talking about changing nappies. We’ve had very mixed reactions from people when we’ve told them we’re going down the reusable route, ranging from “Fantastic, they’re great, aren’t they” to “I bet in 6 months time you’ll have shares in Pampers”. So why did we do it, and now we’re several months into it, have we any regrets?

You might have guessed from our previous blog post about our use of Cheeky Wipes that environmental sustainability and cost are two big factors in decisions we make in our lives (as well as obviously listening to God). There are all sorts of figures and stories online (without trustworthy citations) about how long disposable nappies take to bio-degrade and what proportion of landfill they make up. Equally though, there are figures and stories about all of the extra water and electricity used to clean reusable nappies. So, it’s a little bewildering on the environmental front, but as we mentioned previously with regards to baby wipes, it feels good to re-use something rather than throw it in the bin. And as for cost, well, we’d been given a full set of reusable nappies (thanks J + J!), so it was a no-brainer to at least give them a go and we were of the mindset that as we had them, we’d make them work.


Reusable nappies or “real” nappies come in many varieties – we’ve got the Bambino Mio two-piece sets. The way these work is that you have a folded cotton core nappy, which you then wrap in a liner, which in turn fits inside a wipe-able/washable nappy cover. You then have the fun game of trying to (often with one hand) fasten it securely to a squirming octopus who may squirt ink at you at any time… or so it sometimes seems. The idea is that the liner catches solids, but lets liquids through to the folded cotton core. You can then flush the liner (it’s biodegradable), and pop the cotton core into the washing machine.

Even though we’d got all of the stuff for reusable nappies, we decided to stick to biodegradable, disposable nappies for the first 3 weeks as there were plenty of other things to learn in those early days of parenthood. We then took the plunge at the 3 week mark and to be honest, for the first few hours… maybe even days… we found it hard work. Our little one has dainty legs and the elastic on the “newborn” covers wasn’t forming a good seal, so we had many liquid leaks. We tried different folds of the cotton liner, but to no avail. We then discovered Bambino Mio’s #nappycoverexchange, where if we sent back old-style covers (which came in different sizes up to a 9kg baby), we’d get money off the new-style covers (which come in one size up to 9kg). The new-style covers were a success. Yes, we still had the occasional liquid leaks, but far fewer than with the old covers and actually, those leaks could probably be attributed to tired parents not putting the nappies on properly!

Have we any regrets? Well, let’s weigh up our experience of the pros and cons of reusable nappies versus disposables.

Pro: Day to day cost
Once you’ve got the gear, the day to day costs of reusable nappies are much lower than that of disposables:

Moltex biodegradable disposable nappies 23p per nappy (inc p+p)
Boots Superdry disposable nappies 12p per nappy
Reusable nappies 8p per nappy

So how did I get that last figure? The flushable nappy liners come in at just under 3p each, then there’s the cost of washing and drying. For this illustration we’ve assumed that we have 20 nappies per wash (it’s regularly more than that, and we have cheeky wipes in there too):

  • 46p – 3.25Kwh for the washing machine (2.5 hours at 60 degrees)
  • 38p – 2.3Kwh for the tumble drier (an hour, but we try to dry nappies outside as much as possible)
  • 14p – Bio-D nappy fresh (assuming 500g box does 20 loads)
  • 4p – Lidl non-bio washing liquid (which lasts for 56 loads as we use it in conjunction with eco balls)
  • 0p – water (we’re not on a meter)

So that’s £1.02 for 20 nappies, which comes out at just over 5p per nappy for washing and drying. Add on the 3p per liner, which gives us conservative estimate of 8p per reusable nappy.


Con: Initial outlay
BUT, that was a big caveat I started with; “once you’ve got the gear”. With regards to the initial outlay, if you were buying what we have brand new, it would probably cost you about £250 (two sets of miosoft birth to potty). Using the figures of 12p for a disposable and 8p for a reusable nappy, it would take 6250 nappies for the cost of both to even out (£250 / £0.04 difference – do correct me if my maths is wrong by the way). Apparently the average baby gets through about 5000 nappies from birth to potty… so if you bought the kit brand new, it might only be for your second child that you would start making a saving. However, once you’ve finished with the kit, you’ve got all of the stuff that you can then sell on…

Pro: Less nappy rash
Now this one surprised us – we thought that as reusables don’t have the moisture wicking properties of disposables, there would be more nappy rash, but we’ve found the opposite to be true. We use barrier cream for both disposables and reusables, yet our little one has only had nappy rash with disposables.

Con: Time
I would say that this is the biggest thing that works against re-usable nappies – they do take a lot of time. We end up doing an extra wash load every other day, which takes time. You’ve got to fold up the cloth nappies and wrap them in a liner (we do this in batches to save time when changing the nappy), which takes time. We found the actual nappy changes take a little longer, as you have to assemble the full nappy, then keep it assembled whilst putting it on your child. We also found there are more nappy changes to do, as there isn’t the same moisture wicking that you get with disposables – our little one lets us know when the nappy change is due!

Pro/Con: Environmental impact
As mentioned at the start of this blog post, this isn’t clear cut. However, as our reusable nappies are onto at least their third child, it feels as though it’s a less wasteful way of doing things. Yes, we’re using more water and electricity, but surely water and electricity are used in the manufacture of disposable nappies, which then take tens / hundreds of years to bio-degrade (depending on what you read)? Then again, a lot of waste these days is burned to generate electricity, rather than going to landfill, so is biodegradability (is that even a word?) a valid factor in the debate? As we have no hard facts, we just have to go with gut instinct on this one, which tells us that reusable nappies may be better for the environment.

To be honest, there are arguments for using disposables and arguments for using reusables. For the first couple of months we tried to exclusively use reusables to give them a good go and they worked for us. As an aside, I hadn’t quite realised the power of UV light when it came to bleaching clothes – check out a nappy that was left on the line for 6.5 hours on a cloudy day – the stain almost entirely gone:


We still primarily use reusable nappies, including in our changing bag when we go out anywhere. When we’ve visited family, we’ve taken reusables with us, then commandeered the use of the washing machine for our stay. But in the interests of getting a good night’s sleep (both for us and our little one), we have reverted to using biodegradable disposables at night. For now this works for us. Will this be the pattern until potty training? Who knows.

We have heard a rumour though that children using reusable nappies are, in general, potty-trained earlier than those in disposables. We’ll see!

One Response

Hi Kiri and Steve, congratulations on your small one! I can’t see a way to email you but I have some sad news about a friend I would like to pass on.

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