The Great Nappy Debate

Posted on: 10/01/2011

Ask any vaguely environmentally conscious mother about nappies and she’ll either launch into a tirade about how horrendous disposable nappies are and how wonderful cloth nappies are…

Or she’ll go quiet and quickly change the subject.

You see, we pretty much all know that disposable nappies are probably the most environmentally unfriendly things out there. Well, with the possible exception of concrete.  Anyway, what nobody seems to talk about is the FEAR.


Disposable nappies

Disposables. Both the semi-friendly and unfriendly varieties.

Every mum will tell you how hard it is to even think straight after having just had a baby.  New mums tend to go for disposables because that’s what they know, and it’s there. In the supermarket.  Mums of more than one tend to do whatever they did before to save complicating things unnecessarily.  And everyone knows disposables. Everyone can use one without needing to be told how to do it.

Though incidentally, there’s an ancient episode of 90210 where the humour hinges on Jason Priestley’s inability to change a disposable nappy. Sorry, it’s been etched on my brain since 1992.

People don’t KNOW about cloth nappies.  They have no experience of it unless they have either sought out information on them or have a friend who’s taken the plunge.  So they are ignorant.  And, as many wise people have said many times, ignorance leads to fear.  And in my own experience, fear leads to procrastination at best, and avoidance at worst.

Not to mention the counter-argument that washing cloth nappies actually leaves just as much of a carbon footprint as disposable nappies.  (I don’t know who put that argument forward, but I bet the big nappy companies are particularly pleased.)

I do think, though, that there are loads of interesting pockets of information about this subject that people don’t realise. Let me tell you about two of them.

Firstly, the argument about the carbon footprint being roughly the same?  Only true if you wash your nappies at home, at 90 degrees (celsius), and tumble dry them.  If you wash them at 60 degrees, and/or you hang them on the line to dry, all of a sudden cloth nappies are edging ahead.  If you use a nappy laundry service, even better, though the fuel the delivery van uses doesn’t make this an obvious option.

Secondly, let’s stuff the environment for a moment and think selfishly instead.  What people don’t realise is how much money can be saved by using cloth nappies.  Apart from the early days when you can get through up to a dozen nappies in a twenty-four hour period, you generally get through one small pack of nappies a week.   Which can be around £4.00 for a supermarket own brand and £6.00 for a premium brand.  Assuming you are unlikely to potty train before the age of two, you will spend a minimum of £416 on disposable nappies for that baby, and the £600 threshold is easily reached.

Now, ultimately all you need for cloth nappies are some terry squares, some wraps, some liners, some boosters, a bucket to put them in and nappy nippas if safety pins scare you as much as they do me.  If you shop around you can get these for around £60 all in (yes, new ones).  The cost of washing these nappies (ideally once every two to three days for a full load) at about 60p per wash including powder, over the same two years, costs around £175, making it cost around £235 in total.

So the minimum saving is£176, probably more.   And if you’ve just dropped from two salaries to one, that’s a lot.  Especially if you have more than one child and don’t have the outlay of more nappies.

Cloth nappy

The surprisingly cheap ingredients for a cloth nappy

Realistically though, cloth nappies can be a real drag if you’re out and about.  My nappy bag is quite full enough without trying to squeeze in space for cloth nappies, though I know some impressive mums who do manage this.

So I compromise.  If I’m at home, we use cloth.  If I’m out for the day, we don’t.  If I’m shopping at the right supermarket I choose the eco brand.  If I’m not, I don’t beat myself up about it.

And I’ll let you in on a secret.

I, too, had the FEAR.

It took me three months to psych myself into using cloth nappies at all.

And I know all this stuff already and have no excuse.

Yes it’s easy.

No, it’s not quite as easy as disposables.

And I’m not going to jump down anyone’s throat if they don’t do cloth.  It’s quite hard enough being a mum already without the guilt fairy pouncing on you about this.

Next post – more on the guilt fairy….watch this space.


4 Responses to "The Great Nappy Debate"

The other thing which puts some people off cloth nappies – me, for example, back when the kids needed nappies – was thinking I knew what they were like. Back in the early 80s when my younger brother and sister had them they were awful, heavy things that used safety pins to hold together and were prone to leaking at inconvenient moments.

Modern cloth nappies are much better, as I discovered reading another blog written by a friend of mine:

Definitely agree with you that nobody should feel guilty about cloth vs disposable. Why is it that so many parenting issues end up being all about guilt?

Thanks Dom, that other blog does make it look fun! My £60 selection are desperately boring by comparison, but at least those nasty plastic pants seem to be gone for good!

And yes, everything is about the guilt. It’s crazy but true. You’ll probably enjoy the post I have lined up for tomorrow…

Good post! I’ve ended up at the same place you have. When we’re home we use cloth, when we’re out we use disposables.
I can’t work out why compostable disposables like these:

aren’t made compulsory by law!

Wow, they look amazing. The big nappy brands could make a killing if they sold some of these… However, while they stay firmly trenched with their current lines, I hope Eenee do really well out of it… Nice to have some innovation at last!

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