If you’ve ever spent time looking after a baby, you’ll know they go through a lot of nappies. And if you’re a parent — you can probably change a nappy in your sleep. The cloth nappies of decades past were quickly abandoned when ultra-convenient, easy-to-use disposable nappies entered the market. We now know that this convenience comes at a cost; disposable nappies are incredibly harmful to the environment. So, cloth nappies are back on the rise. If the switch has you scratching your head and wondering, how do you clean and use reusable nappies? we’ve got you covered. This is your complete guide to reusable nappies.
Are Reusable Nappies Better for the Environment?
An estimates 3.75 million disposable nappies are used every day in Australia and New Zealand.
That’s a whole lot of nappies.
It takes one cup of crude oil and other finite resources to make each nappy, which means disposable nappy manufacturing contributes to global warming in a big way. Already, the environmental impact of disposable nappies is clear.
Disposable nappies are generally tossed into general waste once used, which means they end up in landfills. Each nappy that ends up in landfills takes around 150 years to break down. In the meantime, the nappies emit harmful greenhouse gases in the form of methane. These toxins leach into the surrounding earth and waterways, damaging soils and oceans and harming local wildlife.
There’s no mistaking it: disposable nappies are bad for the environment.
Reusable nappies are generally considered better for the environment than disposable nappies, but only if used correctly.
They are usually free of chemicals and plastics, meaning they won’t leach toxins during the manufacturing or washing process. This also means they’re safer for your bub.
They don’t contribute to landfill waste in the same way that disposable nappies do, because they’re designed to be used time and time again.
The more people that use reusable nappies, the less demand there is for disposable ones. This reduces manufacturing and end-of-life wastage, which in turn reduces the impact these systems have on the environment.
The main argument against reusable nappies is that they require water, detergents, and energy for washing.
However, we don’t often consider the significant amount of water and resources it takes to create and use disposable nappies.
According to the Life Cycle Assessment: Reusable and Disposable Nappies in Australia by the University of Queensland, the same amount of water is used to produce disposable nappies as is used to wash cotton reusable nappies.
The difference is that once produced, the disposable nappy will be used and discarded after one wear, adding to the overall waste. Reusable cotton nappies, on the other hand, can be washed in bulk in a cold cycle and worn again and again to minimise water use and waste. You can also choose to line dry them to minimise the use of resources.
The same study from Queensland also found that disposable nappies used more energy and land resources in production. It also concluded that disposables generate 20 times more solid waste than cloth nappies.
Reusable nappies can also help you save some cash. On average, babies go through 6000 disposable nappies, which equates to around $1800 to $3000 per child.
Using reusable nappies means you’re cutting costs, and those spare dollars can be put towards offsetting the resources you’re using to wash your cloth nappies. You might instal a water tank or hot solar water system!
It should be noted that nappies that require flushable liners can be problematic for waterways and add to landfills, so it’s best to avoid these varieties.
There are also biodegradable disposable nappies, which are generally better for the environment than conventional disposable nappies. However, these can still take decades to break down and need to be composted under special conditions. This means they need to be sent to a special sorting facility.
So, you’re better off opting for a reusable cloth nappy instead.
What Do I Need?
If you’ve decided to make the switch to cloth nappies, you’ll need a few things in your change kit:
- Reusable nappies – We detail below how many nappies you’ll need based on how you’re intending to use them. It’s important to make sure you have enough so that you never run out! The bonus? Reusable nappies come in all sorts of fun colours and designs!
- Storage – You will need a storage bag for dirty nappies waiting to be washed. You could opt for a wet nappy bucket, or a waterproof wet nappy bag (our personal preference). Waterproof nappy bags are particularly handy when you’re out and about and need to transport the nappies home.
- Boosters – Boosters are ultra-absorbent reusable pads that offer extra protection for your bub. They sit inside the nappy to prevent leakage. Bamboo or help nappy boosters are absorbent and environmentally sustainable. It’s a win-win!
- Disposable liners – While they’re not the most environmentally friendly option, disposable liners can be useful if you’re weaning your little one off nappies. They are designed to catch solids and be disposed of in the bin.
How Many Reusable Nappies do I Need?
The number of reusable nappies you’ll need depends on how frequently you’re using them.
As a general rule of thumb, follow the below guide.
- Part-time use (2 to 3 nappies per day): 8 to 12 reusable nappies
- Full-time use day (4 to 6 nappies per day): 12 to 24 reusable nappies
- Full-time use day and night (6 to 8 nappies per day): 24 to 30 reusable nappies
These estimates will give you enough nappies to do a load of washing every second day (with a couple of spares, to ensure you never get caught short).
Remember, once you have your reusable nappies, you won’t need to head out and buy disposables last minute!
How to Use Reusable Nappies
Once you’ve rounded out your kit with all the bits and bobs, you’re ready to go!
As for how to use reusable nappies, each nappy brand and type will have its own set of instructions. Generally, though, reusable nappies are fitted as so:
- Preparing the nappy – Lay the nappy open flat. If you’re using a booster or liner for extra absorption, place it on top or inside the designated liner spot.
- For solid management (optional) – To manage solids, add a nappy liner next to your little one’s bottom inside the nappy. This will help to catch solids while letting number ones be absorbed by the nappy. This way, you can lift the liner up, dispose of the solid waste, and send the soiled liner to the compost bin.
- Fitting the nappy – Lay your bub on the open nappy, and make sure their bottom is positioned with enough coverage at the back. Pull the front panel up so that it sits below the belly button, and close the tabs using the snap fastenings.
- Check the fit – Make sure the nappy lining is flat against the body. Check that the nappy is tight enough to prevent leaks, but not so tight as to cut off circulation. The easiest way to check is to feel around the band of the nappy when your baby is seated.
How Do You Clean Reusable Nappies?
It’s a lot easier than you’d think!
The nappy booster or liner should catch most of the waste. If the nappy isn’t soiled, you can simply place a clean booster or liner inside and change it as normal.
If the nappy is soiled, or you’ve used it more than once, it’s time for a wash. If you’re using a reusable nappy for the first time, you’ll also need to wash it.
Preparing New Reusable Nappies
It’s a good idea to wash reusable nappies before their first use.
Cotton reaches optimal absorbency after a few washes (this helps to soften the fibres), so pre-washing nappy boosters will help to ensure complete protection.
Simply soak the inserts in warm water overnight, then wash with a detergent in a wash cycle.
Let them dry completely before using them.
Washing Used Reusable Nappies
When the nappy has been soiled and your little one is ready for a change, follow the below steps to wash the cloth nappy.
Step 1: Removing and Cleaning
Remove the booster or liner from the nappy.
You can remove solids by stretching the booster over the toilet bowl and removing the excess. Put the used booster and nappy into a wash bag ready for the washing machine.
Wait no more than two days to wash the soiled nappy.
Step 2: Washing
We recommend washing the nappies twice.
The first cycle or pre-wash helps to flush away waste before the main wash. Pop the nappies and boosters in a wash bag to prevent machine damage and to stop the boosters from getting lost in the machine filters. Wash in water 40 to 60 degrees celsius with detergent. This one can be a short cycle — 30 minutes or so.
The second cycle is the main wash. Use the longest wash cycle in water at 40 to 60 degrees celsius with detergent. We recommend using an eco-friendly detergent to minimise your environmental footprint.
We advise against using fabric softeners and soaking prior to washing. Instead, simply wring out the nappies of excess water before wash day and keep them in the wet nappy bag until you’re ready to wash them.
If you can, wash the nappies and boosters in their own cycle to avoid contamination. If you want to wash limit your water usage, you could add the nappies to a full load, but only for the second wash when the nappies are cleared of the waste.
Step 3: Drying
Line drying is the most environmentally friendly way to dry reusable nappies. This also helps to ensure the longevity of the nappies and is better for stain removal.
If you’re in a rush, you can tumble dry them on low heat.
Can I Use Reusable Nappies for Swimming?
While you definitely cannot use disposable nappies for swimming (the nappies tend to swell up and become too heavy, and can split under pressure) you can use parts of reusable nappies for swimming.
It’s best not to use a nappy with built-in absorbency, as you’ll have the same swelling issue as with disposable nappies.
You can use the nappy cover from all other reusable nappies. However, be aware that chlorine can be harsh on reusable nappies, meaning they may wear out faster.
If your little one goes swimming a lot, it’s best to invest in a reusable swim nappy.
To wash reusable swim nappies, rinse them in plain water to dilute the chlorine, then pop them in the washing machine.
As with other swimwear, they are quick to dry, so try not to leave them in the sun for too long as this will cause the elastic to become brittle.
Reusable Nappies are the Way to Go
If you’re looking for the most environmentally friendly, cost-effective nappy option, reusable nappies are the way to go.
Disposable nappies wreak all sorts of havoc on the environment during production and after disposal, leaching toxins into the environment and waterways.
As long as they’re used as intended (again and again), reusable nappies are much friendlier to the earth.
Now that you know how to clean and use reusable nappies, it’s time to get shopping!