Disposable vs Fabric Nappies

Expectant parents are faced with many choices. What to name the baby, breast or bottle, hospital or home birth and disposable or fabric nappies, just to name a few. Most times, the answers are more a matter of preference than a right and wrong choice. This is exactly the case when choosing what type of nappies to use, since there are advantages and disadvantages to both.


When it comes to convenience, most parents would agree that disposable nappies win out over the fabric ones. Readily available and maintenance free, disposable nappies offer ease of use. They are especially useful when away from home since they can be thrown in the bin rather than needing to be transported home for laundering. So if convenience is the most important issue, disposable is the way to go.


Cost-wise though, fabric nappies are clearly advantageous over the disposable kind. Purchased only once and reused until potty training, the cost of using fabric nappies is a fraction of that of disposables. This can be an especially important consideration for families of multiples or closely spaced siblings, since providing disposable nappies for several children at once can take a big bite out of the family budget. Parents who choose to purchase fabric nappies and launder them at home can save a considerable sum of money over the course of several years.

The savings will be lessened or even nullified if parents use a nappy service, rather than washing the nappies themselves. Still, some parents prefer to use a cotton fabric nappy over disposable, even if the cost is about the same, for a number of reasons.

Environmental Considerations

Ecologically minded parents often choose fabric nappies over disposables. In the UK, it is estimated that about 9 million disposable nappies are discarded daily, ending up in landfills where they are expected to take approximately 500 years to decompose. From an environmental standpoint, disposable nappies pose a problem of epic proportions, accounting for about 4% of all household waste. Additionally, 7 million trees are felled in the UK alone in the production of disposable nappies.

While many parents find the notion of self laundering fabric nappies to be distasteful, there are many nappy services that will provide a constant supply of clean nappies without contributing to the growing problem of landfill waste. Services vary in both cost and efficiency, so referrals from parents is a good way to choose a nappy service that consistently meets their customers’ needs.

No More Pins

Often, when parents think about using fabric nappies, they envision old fashioned rectangular cloths, large pins and unsightly plastic pants. Today’s fabric nappies barely resemble those of a generation ago however. Modern cloth nappies are often shaped much like disposables, making them comfortable for babies without any added bulk from rolling the edges, as was necessary in years past. Additionally, most nappies today are not secured with pins, instead using Velcro or other self fastener. Plastic pants are largely things of the past too, since many fabric nappies now come with a breathable, yet waterproof cover, often in cute designs.

Best for Baby

While most babies fare well with either cloth or disposable nappies, some babies with sensitive skin may experience problems with one or the other. In disposables, parents sometimes find that by experimenting with different brands, they can find one that doesn’t irritate their baby’s skin. Parents who choose fabric nappies usually find that if there is any skin irritation, it is due to the detergent used in laundering the nappies and by switching brands, the problem is typically eliminated.

How many nappies?

How many nappies you need will depend on a number of factors including how often you intend to wash them and what drying faculties you have. We’ve put together this interactive calculator that takes the answer to three simple questions and calculates the number of nappies you’ll need to guarantee having a constant clean, dry supply.

Do bear in mind that nappies may dry more quickly – or more slowly – than ‘average’ in your house. Nappies hung over a clothes horse in a cold spare room will dry a lot more slowly than nappies on a ceiling airer in a warm bathroom with good air circulation, even though they are both being dried the same way!

Also remember that it’s not necessary to purchase the full amount of nappies recommended in one go. If you start with a few and work up to your full amount you’ll have a really good idea of drying times in your house and can refine our suggestion based on personal knowledge – this may save you money in the long run…

We’ve also tried to point out that some combinations of drying facilities, preferred washing routine may not be practical in reality but of course that is again very dependent on your individual circumstances.

Finally, do remember that while some people manage perfectly well with 15 nappies and a strict washing/drying routine others prefer to wash ‘when the bucket is full’ and gradually build up a nappy collection to suit – sometimes ending up with several dozen nappies!

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