Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about reusable nappies but were too squeamish to ask

But what about the poo? Reusable nappies can save you money and help save the planet, but it can be tough to know where to start. If you’re curious about cloth, read on.

Updated 4 April 2023


AuthorBy Cleanipedia Team

Reading Time5 minutes

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When it comes to cloth nappies, a lot has changed since we were babies. Get any images of tricky folding techniques and huge safety pins out of your head. While that route is still definitely an option, modern cloth nappies are fun, easy to use and stylish to boot. Most are as easy to put on and off as a disposable, and many are available in lots of fun designs and patterns. They can be a great sustainable option too – on average, a single baby wearing a disposable will send over 4,000 nappies to landfills.

However, getting your head around cloth nappies can be tricky, as there are some many different things to consider. Not to worry, we’ve got you – and your little one’s bottom – covered.

Reusable nappies vs disposable nappies: The basics

The most obvious difference is, of course, that cloth nappies are designed to be used over and over. Almost all reusables can be washed in a standard washing machine and are designed to last from when your baby is a few months old right up until they are potty trained, thanks to adjustable sizing that uses either velcro or popper-style buttons. There are lots of different varieties – from “all-in-ones” that are as easy to put on as disposables to pre-folds, which require a little preparation but can be that bit cheaper.

But what about the poo? Caring for cloth nappies

It’s easier to manage than you think! No matter what system you go with, most people tend to add a thin, disposable, flushable liner into the nappy. These are often made from cornstarch or bamboo (which breaks down in the sewage system) allowing you to easily tip the poo straight into the loo. These are particularly good once your baby starts solids, but not so great during those early days when things are, erm, looser (especially among breastfed babies).

You needn’t stress about staining or discolouration with reusables though – you can usually “sun out” any stains by simply hanging your nappy on the line for a few days and letting the sun work its magic.

Washing them is pretty easy too. In ye olden days, nappies would be soaked in a bucket of water but there’s no need to do that now, you can let your washing machine do the hard work. Simply store the nappies in their own bin (with a lid to keep any smells at bay) and pop ‘em in as-is once you’re ready to wash them. Different brands have different washing guidelines, so refer to those before you get started.

You should ideally be washing your cloth nappies within a day or two of using them. Many families find that, with a new baby on board, they’re already doing a load a day anyway so it’s not too much extra hassle once you get into the swing of things (and if you’re also wondering about how to wash those cute babygrows, check out our guide to cleaning baby clothes).

Baby wearing reusable cloth nappy next to washed cloth nappies

Pros and cons of reusable nappies

The pros of cloth nappies are big ones: Not only are they better for the environment, but they save you a pretty penny too. Most nappies last until your baby is potty trained, and you can reuse them on subsequent babies. They also hold their value well, so can be resold once you’re done with them.

The cons of cloth nappies are that there can be a bit of a steep learning curve, as there are so many different kinds and brands so it may take a while to find your groove. There are cloth nappy libraries all over the UK though, which will let you rent out a few varieties before investing.

And that’s another thing: while cloth nappies definitely save you money in the long run, they can be a significant upfront investment. If you’re on a budget, there are plenty of Facebook groups selling reusables (and if you bag some new outfits for your little one in in the process, don’t miss our guide to washing second-hand baby clothes).

There are also carbon emissions to consider, as cloth nappies definitely add a few loads to your weekly wash. Over two and a half years, it’s estimated that disposables create 550kg of carbon emissions (mainly from the manufacturing process) versus 570kg for reusables. You can reduce this though, by skipping the dryer (it’s not great for them anyway) and line drying whenever the weather allows.

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