If you told 20 year old me that I’d one day have a job helping new parents with cloth nappies, I wouldn’t have believed you. I didn’t grow up with hippies for parents, and I’d never given reusables a second thought before becoming pregnant. In fact, I didn’t even start using them until my first baby was six months old.
Yet here I am, advocating for one of the lesser-known parenting choices. Here’s why – according to a report by Zero Waste Europe, in 2017 parents across Europe used and disposed of nearly 34 billion single-use nappies. That’s equivalent to nearly 7 million tonnes of waste. Each of those nappies is still sitting there in landfill, as is every single one of the nappies I wore as a baby 30 years ago. Disposable nappies are one of the biggest environmental problems we are facing.
But I know that despite our best intentions, it can be really hard to commit to using cloth nappies as a new parent. The idea of reusables is overwhelming – we often have an idea in our head of the traditional style of nappy, a flat terry towelling square that requires complex folding, scrubbing and soaking. Thankfully I bring good news! Cloth nappies have come a long way since then, and many of the things you believe about cloth probably aren’t true anymore. Here are some of the biggest myths about reusable nappies, and what they’re really like.
Reusable nappies are complicated
If I asked you to draw a reusable nappy, chances are you’d draw the classic folded piece of fabric, fastened with two safety pins. While some people do still use these traditional terry nappies, the vast majority of modern cloth nappies are much more user friendly. No longer is there any need to master complicated folds and attempt to wrestle safety pins. Instead, you’ll find nappies that are a similar shape to disposable nappies, fastened with velcro or poppers, that are as easy to master as their disposable counterparts.
The best way to learn is simply to give them a go. Start by buying a couple of different ones to try out, or even better, look up your local nappy library and see if you can hire a kit. People are usually very surprised at how quickly they get to grips with cloth.
Reusable nappies are a slightly different shape to disposable nappies, so if you’ve used disposables before, you’ll need to make a few changes to how you put them on. People often get a little overwhelmed looking at all the poppers, but just as you quickly get the hang of poppering up a babygrow, your nappies will be second nature in no time at all.
Cloth nappies are a lot of work
One of the most common concerns about cloth nappies is that they will be time intensive, requiring complicated washing methods, scrubbing and rinsing. While they do take more work than disposable nappies (you do have to wash them after all!) it is significantly less than most people imagine.
The majority of cloth users wash their nappies every 2-3 days, and many will bulk out the wash with other small baby clothes, so overall you are likely to only be adding one or two washes a week to what you would otherwise be doing. In fact many parents say that washing their nappies is more enjoyable than washing clothes. I find it very therapeutic stuffing and folding nappies in front of the TV. I know that sounds crazy – don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it!
Reusable nappies are expensive
Over a child’s time in nappies, reusables will almost certainly work out cheaper than disposables. Yet the up-front cost of reusable nappies can be substantial and off-putting for some parents. If that’s you, there are a few ways to make them more accessible.
Firstly, consider buying one or two nappies to start with, and building up your collection as you can manage. Even if you can’t manage to go full-time straight away, you’ll be saving a few nappies from landfill each week, and saving yourself money on disposables in the long run.
There are a number of brands that make affordable yet reliable nappies. It isn’t necessarily the case that spending more will get you a better nappy! Traditional flat nappies, if you’re willing to learn how to fold them, are super affordable and reliable. Or there are modern styles that are easier to use and still very good value for money. Do some research and ask around for the best affordable brands. Different things work for different babies, but it will give you a good idea of which brands might offer good value.
Another option is to buy your nappies preloved. There is a very buoyant secondhand market (mainly on Facebook), where you can often pick up barely used nappies for a fraction of their full price. Some nappy retailers also sell preloved nappies that have been used in trial schemes, which is a great way to pick up a bargain. You definitely don’t have to spend a fortune to build up a stash of reliable nappies!
Guest blog: Innes blogs at aboderie, where she shares her family’s journey to a slow, sustainable lifestyle. She offers tips and inspiration for a low-waste home, including switching to reusable nappies, buying secondhand and ideas for upcycling projects. Innes lives in South East London with her husband and two little ones, but her heart is in a veg patch in the Lake District. Follow Innes on social media: instagram, YouTube