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Reusable nappies

How real nappies can be better for the environment, your baby and save you money.

What are real nappies?

Real nappies are reusable cloth nappies. They come in a range of styles, gorgeous designs and are really easy to use. They are almost identical to using disposables – the nappy change is the same, but instead of putting a disposable into a rubbish bin, you put the nappy into your washing machine.

The majority of babies born in England and Wales each year use disposables - that's a staggering 3 billion disposable nappies. This costs councils approximately £32 million to dispose of. Go Real (the national real nappies information service) estimates that parents can save at least £500 with reusable cloth nappies* and more if their nappies are used again with subsequent children. You can also switch to reusable cloth wipes to save more money and reduce waste!

*Go Real’s research is based on Environment Agency data, standard energy costs, and market prices (2009).

Make laundry, not rubbish and find out about different cloth nappies on the market, with the help of our leaflet (pdf format, 3Mb) to find out what works for you.

Which nappies are better for the environment?

The life cycle analysis for disposable nappies versus reusable nappies still shows reusables to be the better option. However, there are certain behaviours and variables that can alter those environmental benefits. It's still important to be aware of them, they are as follows: 

  • Run your nappies, inserts, boosters, wet bags, wipes etc on a cold rinse wash first of all with no detergent to remove the excess wee/poo.
  • On the main wash, reduce the temperature you wash at. Either 40 degrees (bio or non-bio) or 60 degrees (non-bio) will suffice. If you don't have many nappies, you can top the machine up with clothes.
  • Air dry reusable nappies, rather than use a tumble dryer. It's inevitable that electricity has to be used when washing the nappies, but we can reduce electricity consumption by not using a tumble dryer.
  • Reuse the nappies as many times as possible, either with further children or by selling/donating nappies after use or you could purchase second-hand nappies.  

A detailed analysis can be found in the Life Cycle Initiative Report produced by United Nations Environment Programme.

Try real nappies with our loan scheme

If you live in Oxfordshire and would like to give real nappies a try, you can borrow a trial kit with no obligation to buy.

Each kit contains a good range of styles and brands of nappies, with all the necessary accessories. They are held by local nappy suppliers and community groups, who will explain how the nappies work before you get started.

Contact your nearest kit holder directly to arrange your trial

Frequently asked questions

Will my baby get nappy rash?

Your baby is less likely to suffer from nappy rash in a cloth nappy because everything is breathable. Changing the nappy regularly is more important in keeping nappy rash away than the type of nappy you use.

Aren't they more expensive than disposables?

To give you an idea of the costs of cloth nappies against disposables, we have compared the basic cloth option against the leading brand for the first six weeks of a baby's life. 10 changes a day comes to a total of 420 changes, costing around £58.80 in disposables against £47.90 for 24 cloth nappies. So that’s a small saving even in the first six weeks if you use the basic cloth option. The nappies will take a little longer to pay for themselves if you choose the more expensive styles. The nappies you buy could last from 8lb to 35lb, depending on the style you choose, so once bought there is no more outlay, apart from the liners.

Further savings can be made by buying second-hand and using the nappies on a second baby. This information does not take into account washing costs, which will vary from one household to another but average £150 a year, and disposables users will also have to buy nappy sacks.

(This information issued by Oxfordshire County Council is correct at February 2013).

It’s just too much hassle

Real nappies have never been so easy. With no folding or pinning needed, they go on and come off like a disposable nappy in seconds. A warm wash is all that's needed, and many nappies made from modern fabrics come out of the washing machine almost dry.

Are they really better for the environment?

Real nappies can be up to 40 per cent better for the environment than disposables. This was the finding from the 2008 update to the Environment Agency's Life Cycle Analysis Report on nappies. Unlike disposables, Real Nappies put parents in control of the impact they have on the environment, with the carbon savings directly related to how you choose to wash your Real Nappies.

Part of Oxfordshire Recycles

This information is from Oxfordshire Recycles, a partnership of Oxfordshire’s county and district councils working together to reduce waste.