Disposable Nappies vs. Cloth Nappies

60 years ago parents had no choice for what type of nappy they used for their baby. It was non-disposable cloth or nothing, yet in 1949 Johnson & Johnson introduced the very first disposable nappy design into the US and from then on, parents have been faced with a dilemma.

In contemporary parenting that dilemma is primarily an environmental one; should we be using disposable nappies when they take up so much space in land fill sites and are so very bad for the environment? With global warming and its effects looming upon us many parents are now switching back to cloth, or ‘terry towel’ nappies; ones that are emptied, washed and used again, rather than immediately thrown away after being soiled.

Both types of nappy have their benefits, of course. When disposable nappies were first developed and sold it was revolutionary to simply be able to throw away the waste with the nappy too. Now parents on the move didn’t have to carry soiled nappies with them until they could be washed and indeed the lengthy washing process was eliminated. On the other hand (or bottom), cloth nappies cost nothing after they’ve been bought once and if you’re unable to get to a shop you simply wash one at home. Cloth nappies are also made of all natural cotton, rather than man made papers and plastics that contain strange and potentially harmful chemicals.

In our opinion, the choice between disposable and reusable nappies should depend upon situation. Does your child suffer from eczema or are they very susceptible to nappy rash? If yes then disposable nappies are a better choice. Not only do they soak up urine far more effectively, but they’re also free from the bleaches and detergents that need to be used to wash cloth nappies.

Another question to ask is ‘am I usually in the home or do I take my child out a lot?’. If you’re usually in the home and you’re trying to be more green then reusable nappies may be the best option. That way as soon as your child has soiled the nappy you can immediately empty it and put it on to wash, with much less detergent and on a cooler setting than if it had been soiled for longer while you were outdoors. You might even choose to hand wash them.

When you talk to your parents about nappies they might recoil in horror at the memory of reusable nappies, but remember that even these have changed now. They come in all shapes and sizes with specifically designed hems, poppers, buttons and even Velcro. You can buy paper inserts so that waste can be more easily removed and there’s no need to worry about stabbing baby with a safety pin any more.

Whatever type of nappy you choose for your baby, remember that you can always change your mind, and you can always use a combination of the two (say, using disposables when you’re at the shops and reusables when you’re at home). Also, you shouldn’t feel under pressure by other mums and dads or friends to be environmentally friendly with your nappies if you don’t want to. Remember that the bleaching, washing and use of detergent on reusable nappies is not so great for the environment either!

1 comment

  1. Sarah Reply
    March 27, 2011 at 2:52 am

    Three points you might like to add to your article:

    1) disposable nappies are not necessarily better for skin complaints – they can be drying and aggrevate nappy rash and ezcema.

    2) there is no testing of the chemicals in disposable nappies to see the long term effects on our children – we worry about BPAs in their bottles, but what's in their nappies?

    3) while people carry on about the environmental impact of washing cloth nappies, no one really considers the environmental impact of producing disposables – recent studies have found cloth nappies to be much better if looked at from an end-to-end perspective.

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