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Cloth washable and reusable nappies

One of the big choices parents have to make is whether to use washable or disposable nappies.

Reusable nappies have changed a lot since our parents' day, with better designs, fastenings, liners to contain most of the poo and even companies offering to take dirty nappies away to wash and bring back clean and ready to use.

You may see washable nappies described as real nappies, cloth, terry, reusable, cotton or non-disposable.

Are reusable nappies better for baby and the environment?

A baby's bottom can be sensitive, but probably won’t mind what kind of nappies are used. By following the instructions for reusable nappies and with the right washing and rinsing, baby's skin should be protected and comfortable.

Reusable nappies may be less absorbent than disposables, so may need changing more often. However, with some designs, there’s only a removable inner layer that may help reduce full nappy changes.

The Environment Agency worked out that washable nappies may be 40% more environmentally friendly than disposables as long as parents follow eco-friendly washing tips.

Disposable nappies usually end up in landfill where they take 500 years to decompose. Disposable nappies for one baby produce around a tonne of waste. Norfolk County Council estimates that a cloth nappy baby would help reduce rubbish in his parents' bin by half over a baby with disposables.

One baby is estimated to get through around 5,000 disposables until after successful potty training. The alternative is using between 15 and 30 washable nappies.

Are reusable nappies better for your purse or wallet?

Local authorities and the consumer group Which? say savings of around £500 are possible over disposable nappies for one baby. Cloth nappies have a bigger cost upfront, but the savings accrue the longer they are used. Savings are bigger if the cloth nappies are kept for a second child. Most reusable nappies should be fine for at least two babies.

What’s involved?

Washable nappies come in different sizes to suit most babies. They may be flat towelling squares or shaped, plain or with attractive patterns. Different fabrics are used, including quick drying versions.

Towelling squares need to be folded; shaped fabric nappies do not. All-in-one nappies are available ready shaped to fit baby with a waterproof outer layer. 'Pocket' nappies are another variation in design.

Some cloth nappies have waterproof backing built in or they may have a separate waterproof cover. Flushable and biodegradable nappy liners can help protect the nappy from heavy soiling. Depending on the design, fastening is with Velcro, poppers, safety pins or nappy grips.

To get the biggest savings and be more eco-friendly, cloth nappies should be washed in a full load at 60˚C or lower, dried outdoors if possible and not ironed.

Services that help with cloth nappies

Some parents choose a local cloth nappy washing and delivery service.

Dirty nappies are taken away and a fresh batch is delivered every week. Washing should be done to hospital disinfection standards with thorough rinsing.

Covers and liners will be supplied along with a special bin to store the soiled nappies in between deliveries and collections.

You'll have to weigh-up the cost of the nappy service against energy costs of washing and drying at home.

Swimming nappies

Check with your local pool for swimming nappy policies. Children still requiring nappies are usually encouraged to wear a recognised swim nappy. Often pool reception areas will sell disposable ones. Conventional nappies are not usually allowed.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on October 26, 2016

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