Lots of costs come with having a baby, not least nappies. On average, a baby will need about 4,000 nappy changes before they’re fully potty trained, so reducing the amount you spend on nappies can make a really big difference to your budget for the first two and a half years or so.
Reusable nappies are potentially a good way to cut the cost of nappies, but some parents may get squeamish about them, or think they are a false economy. We look into the numbers.
Do cloth nappies really save money?
In short – yes! Unlike disposable nappies, you can get free sample starter kits or vouchers from some local authorities for reusable nappies. You can get second-hand reusable nappies at a cut price or even free from other mums on websites such as Freecycle, Gumtree and local community Facebook groups. You can also resell reusable nappies, or use them for younger children as your baby grows out of them, so you may save even more.
How much do reusable nappies cost?
There is a higher start-up cost with reusable nappies. Prices will vary from tens to hundreds of pounds depending on the type you choose, the outlet you buy them from and the costs of laundry from your utilities provider or nappy laundry service.
However, over the course of an average of two and a half years before babies are potty trained, using reusable nappies can save you a whopping £1475 or more, including laundry costs. Plus, you can sell on your reusables and make money back.
The number of nappies you need will vary as every baby is different. Based on an average of two and a half years’ worth of nappies, which comes to about 4000 nappy changes, and £100 of laundry costs:
Average overall cost for own brand disposable nappies: £1875
Average overall cost for reusable nappies: £400
Average overall saving: £1475
Local authority incentive schemes
Some local authorities in the UK will even give you a ‘real nappy’ voucher worth up to £54.15 or a free sample starter kit to get you started with reusables. Although the application process and the amount of support available and will vary depending on where you live, it’s not means tested.
Keep an eye out for nappy laundry services that you can use instead of washing nappies yourself, available in some postcode areas. The cost per week will vary depending on the company you use, from under £10 a week to around £15.
Find out whether your local authority has a reusable nappy incentive scheme
How many reusable nappies do I need?
The number of nappies you’ll need will depend on things like your baby’s age and whether you’re using infant potty training to cut down on the number of nappy changes and save money. In general, you’ll need around 25 nappies if you plan to use reusables full-time from newborn, or fewer if you are using them part-time or for an older infant. For example, you might want to use a disposable rather than folding a flat nappy when you’re bleary eyed in the middle of the night, or reusables may be new to your babysitter.
The waterproof wraps can be used with multiple nappies – you’ll need about one wrap for every five cloth nappies.
How do reusable nappies work?
A cloth nappy will usually have two or three parts:
- the cloth that provides absorbency
- the wrap, a waterproof outer cover – some even have cute designs on them
- some reusable nappies come with a removable liner that works like a sanitary towel to catch the waste. Nappy liners are used to help prevent heavy soiling, and there are disposable and washable versions.
The layers on the baby’s skin are usually made of soft materials like cotton, bamboo or microfibre. All of the parts are washable.
Two-part reusable nappies don’t have the insert, they just include the cloth wrap and outer absorbent layer. Some reusable nappies combine these parts all in one, just like a disposable.
How to wash reusable nappies
Parents’ main concern when it comes to reusable nappies is often how much extra time it will take to wash them, as opposed to disposable nappies which are just thrown away.
Washing reusable nappies is actually quick and easy when you know how. Simply flush any poo down the toilet, rinse the nappy through if it has been soiled (to prevent any stains from becoming permanent) and place it in a nappy bucket. You can then simply load your washing machine from the bucket when you’re ready to wash them.
While you can soak the nappies in the bucket, it isn’t necessary, and soaking makes the business of loading the washing machine much more smelly. You can use normal detergent and depending on level of soiling, you can wash nappies at normal temperature with other clothes or on their own at 60 degrees. Leave nappies to dry in the sun to bleach them white.
What are the best reusable nappies?
There are several types of reusables, which can make life confusing when it comes to choosing which ones to buy. Here’s a handy cheat sheet to help you decide on the best reusable nappy for you and your baby:
Terry nappies (aka “Terries” or flat nappies)
Terry squares are the original reusable cloth nappy. In recent years they’ve been revamped, making them better looking and easier to use. They require some basic folding, but there are no pins needed. They have two parts, the soft material for folding, and a waterproof wrap.
Positives: Overall they are the cheapest option of all the reusable nappies.
Negatives: They do require some folding, so there’s a bit of a learning curve, but once you’ve got the knack they’re simple to fit. Some child carers may not be used to fitting these.
Cloth terry towelling nappies can cost from £12, and waterproof wraps starting at just under £10, although you can get them cheaper secondhand or combined in a kit.
All-in-ones are really similar to disposable nappies except, of course, they are washable.
Positives: They are the easiest to use and if you’re used to disposables, there’ll be very little new for you to learn.
Negatives: They are more expensive and take longer to dry than other options as they are usually covered in a water-proof material.
Pocket nappies or ‘stuffables’ are also available, which are exactly the same as ‘all-in-ones’, except the waterproof cover detaches from the absorbent core, allowing them to dry out faster.
All in one cloth nappies cost from around £14 each. Extra inserts are priced from around £2.
Fitted nappies (aka shaped nappies)
These are designed to best fit your baby without the need for any folding. They are available in different sizes or are available in a one-size-fits-all version.
Positives: Buying the correctly sized fitted nappy for your baby will give them the best fit of all the reusable nappy options (particularly in the case of newborns), and minimise chances of leaking. No folding is required.
Negatives: Buying specifically sized fitted nappies can work out relatively expensive, as smaller sizes will have to be replaced as your baby grows. A one-size-fits-all option will work out cheaper, but will not fit quite as well, particularly when your little one is very small.
Smaller sizes start cheapest at around £4, rising to around £15 for toddlers.
Reusable swim nappies
If you want to take your baby swimming, it’s important to make sure that they’re wearing a swim nappy. Swim nappies are the only nappies which are completely waterproof. Non-swim nappies, even those with a waterproof wrap, will still absorb water, and won’t help with accidents. They’ll also hamper your baby’s ability to move freely.
You’ll probably find it easier to change reusable swim nappies that fasten with poppers around the sides, rather than pull ups. Reusable swim nappies are often made with soft materials that may be more comfortable for your baby’s skin when wet. You’ll also need to carry less with you on your swimming trip, as you’ll need around two swim nappies for a holiday, saving you on buying multiple disposables.
Reusable nappies vs disposable nappies
Reusable nappies are definitely better for the environment than standard disposables. Even biodegradable disposables take decades (some say centuries!) to decompose. That’s why some local authorities in the UK are supporting the use of reusables with vouchers and sample starter kits.
They’re also more likely to be made of natural soft fibres, which may be better for your baby’s skin.
Are reusables better overall for your pocket? Simply put, yes! All in, including the cost of water and electricity for washing them, they still work out cheaper than disposable nappies.
Reusable nappies are a much more cost effective and environmentally friendly option than disposable nappies and come at relatively little inconvenience.
Are reusable nappies better?
To sum up, resuable nappies are a lot better for the environment and much kinder to your pocket than standard disposable ones.
That said, they are more effort (especially when you’re starting to get used to them), as there is more washing required.
If you need some more help to make up your mind, don’t forget that through some companies, your local authority or your local NCT, you can also hire reusables to try them for a couple of weeks for under £10.
Although reusable nappies have a reputation for being ugly and harder work, the new versions are better looking and easier to wash than ever before, plus they’re gentle on your baby’s skin as they’re usually made of natural materials. Using them instead of disposable nappies is a great way to save money.