Disposable Nappies Versus Reusable Nappies - Pros and Cons

Disposable Nappies Versus Reusable Nappies - Pros and Cons

Parents face tons of difficult decisions when a new baby comes along. Is it going to be a strictly natural birth, or will you use pain relief? Are you going to breastfeed or go with formula? Should you use reusable cloth nappies or disposables?

At least we can help you make a decision on that last one. We love cloth nappies! But don’t just take our word for it. Below, we’ve outlined the advantages and disadvantages of both disposable nappies and cloth nappies. Hopefully, this breakdown will help make your decision a little easier.

Cons of Disposable Nappies

They are Full of Chemicals

One of the biggest problems that people have with disposable nappies is their chemical composition. Disposables contain a variety of chemicals that can present health risks to your baby. Sounds scary, right?

Each layer of a disposable nappy serves a purpose. The inner layer whisks moisture and keeps the baby’s bum dry, the middle layer absorbs wetness, and the outer layer is waterproof. Each layer contains its own cocktail of chemicals to help it do its job.

For example, the absorbency layer in disposables is made from sodium polyacrylate, a super-absorbent polymer which was removed from tampons because it caused toxic shock syndrome. Furthermore, disposable nappies can release volatile organic compounds into the air as they are worn. This has been shown to cause asthmatic conditions. Bleached nappies contain trace amounts of dioxins which are highly damaging to the immune system and reproductive system. Dioxins can also interfere with hormones and cause cancer.

Many other chemicals are found in nappies. Perfumes and dyes, for example, have been shown to cause allergic reactions in babies.

Check out our recent blog post if you want a more in-depth look at the chemicals in disposable nappies. (Link to chemicals in disposables post)

Disposables Impact the Environment

Concern for the environment is often listed as the number one reason why parents choose against disposable nappies. Did you know that Australians use 5.6 million nappies each day? This adds over 3 billion nappies to the landfill every single year. What’s more, a disposable nappy takes 500 years to decompose!

It’s not just nappy materials filling up landfills, but the human waste that is thrown out with them as well. Baby poop that’s thrown in the bin does not get professionally treated like it does when flushed down the toilet. Billions of soiled nappies sitting in landfills have a potential for spreading disease.

Before the nappy even makes it to your home it has already taken a toll on the environment. The initial act of manufacturing disposables requires huge volumes of pulp, paper, plastic, water, and energy. In fact, manufacturing disposable nappies uses twice as much water, three times more energy, and 20 times more raw materials than reusable nappies.

They are More Expensive Long-Term

Sure, one disposable nappy costs a fraction of the cost of a cloth nappy. But after the 2.5 years that a child is in nappies, it turns out disposables are a much more expensive choice. This holds true even after we factor in the costs of detergent, water, and electricity required for laundering cloth nappies.

Disposable nappies can run you $2,000 to $3,000 over the first 2.5 years of your child’s life. In comparison, cloth nappying can cost you between $300 and $900 for that same time period. The amount you spend on cloth nappies will depend on the types you decide to go with. Check out the calculations we did in a previous post to see the cost breakdown for each type of nappy. (Link to How to Get Dad on Board post)

Pros of Disposable Nappies

Disposables Are Convenient

Despite their downsides, no one can deny that disposables are convenient. They’re so easy to use that anyone can tackle a nappy change with them. This makes disposables the nappy of choice for many dads, sitters, and daycares. You just ball up the used nappy and throw it in the bin. Though it is not recommended to throw nappies away without flushing the solid waste down the toilet first.

Because they’re compact, disposables are easy to carry around and you can fit more of them in a nappy bag. The dirty nappies can just be disposed of in a trash bin instead of being hauled back home for washing.

There Are Organic and Biodegradable Options

Compostable nappies reduce environmental impact and landfill burden. These nappies are made from plant-based materials which means they’re mostly chemical-free and better for your baby. These disposable nappies take as little as 50 days to break down in a landfill. The problem with biodegradable nappies is that they’re harder to get a hold of, your choices are limited, and they’re typically more expensive than traditional disposables.

They Are Super Absorbent

Disposable nappies tend to hold more liquid than cloth nappies. This is because of the super-absorbent polymer in the absorbent layer, a chemical that binds with water molecules. If you’ve used disposable nappies, you may have noticed the squishy feeling of a wet nappy. When the super-absorbent polymer binds with liquid it creates a jelly-like substance. This keeps liquid from squishing out of the nappy which may help prevent leaks. Also, since this layer is extremely absorbent, disposable nappies are good keeping your baby dry.

In all fairness, cloth nappy manufacturers do produce boosters and inserts that can add layers of absorbency to nappies. This allows them to withstand long periods of time between changes, like overnight.

They Are Easily Available

Cloth nappies are available in any supermarket or department store. They don’t need to be ordered online or sought out in specialty baby stores.

Disposables don’t require much thought before purchasing. You just have to decide if you need active baby nappies, plus nappies, or regular nappies. Your nappy requirements will become immediately obvious to you after observing how disposables hold up against your child. On the other hand, the many types of cloth nappies may demand some consideration before making a decision. You may also go through a bit of trial and error before choosing the best type of cloth nappy.

Cons of Cloth Nappies

They Need to Be Washed

Laundry. One of the most feared aspects of cloth nappies. Cloth nappies may create 2-3 extra loads of laundry per week. Most cloth nappies will last much longer if they are hung to dry instead of thrown in the dryer which creates some extra work as well.

Most people overestimate the extra laundry that cloth nappies produce. The reality is that babies create a lot of laundry no matter what. You’ll likely be up to your neck in laundry even if you use disposables. For example, one woman reported to The Bump that even though they don’t use cloth nappies, they still do a load of laundry almost every day. Other moms do laundry 2-3 times per week without cloth nappies.

Changing Nappies Takes a Bit Longer

Changing cloth nappies will require more work than disposables. If using pocket nappies, inserts need to be removed from nappies and clean inserts stuffed into the replacement. Pre-folds and flats need to be folded and pinned or snapped in place with a waterproof wrap going on over top. This extra work is one reason why many parents opt for all-in-ones or all-in-twos.

Next, poop nappies have to be rinsed before going in your nappy pail. This may mean dunking them in the toilet or using a sink. However, many parents invest in a nappy sprayer that hooks up to your toilet. We recommend using nappy liners which can be removed from the nappy along with any poop inside it. Reusable nappy liners are made from a stain-resistant microfiber which allows poop to roll right off. You can also get flushable or disposable liners if you prefer simplicity.

They Require an Initial Investment

We’ve already mentioned the cost-savings of using cloth for the 2.5 years your child is in nappies. However, there is a bit of an initial investment required. A full-time set of 20-25 modern cloth nappies can cost about $700.

To get over spending this all at once, we recommend that parents start purchasing cloth nappies before the baby comes. That way you can acquire a set of nappies over time. Remember that cloth nappies can be used again for future children. They even have resale value, so you can sell them when you’re done having kids.

It’s Difficult to Get Others on Board

Many people object to cloth nappies. Perhaps your close friends or family think they’re gross. Or maybe the baby’s father is skeptical about the work involved. Most people have an image of cloth nappies that is outdated and based on common myths. Make sure you read through our article where we debunk cloth nappy myths as well as our advice on how to get a reluctant dad on board. (Link to cloth nappy myths post and how to get dad on board post)

Cloth Nappies Also Have an Environmental Impact

Yes, cloth nappies do have an impact on the environment. This is something that a lot of cloth nappy enthusiasts refuse to admit. First, remember that cloth nappies don’t pollute landfills and they use fewer resources during production than disposables.

However, the water and energy used during 2.5 years of cloth nappy laundry will take some toll on the environment. This may be a real concern for Australians since water scarcity is an issue in the country. 

The University of Queensland carried out a Lifecycle Assessment of cloth and disposable nappies in 2009. They found that the consumer’s behaviour determines the degree of environmental impact caused by reusable nappies. Washing nappies in fuller loads and line-drying them reduce their global warming impact considerably. On the other hand, washing nappies in temperatures hotter than 60°C and always using the dryer will increase your impact.

They Are Difficult While Traveling

Cloth nappies can be cumbersome while traveling. They are bulkier than disposables which makes it harder to cart them around. Plus, you’ll need a second wet bag to transport the soiled nappies back home for washing. For this reason, many parents prefer using disposables while they’re on the road.

Pros of Cloth Nappies

They Are Quick and Easy

Despite what you might think, cloth nappies actually are quick and easy to use. Modern cloth nappies are shaped like disposables and don’t require folding or pinning. They are just as easy to put on and take off as disposables but use snaps or Velcro instead of adhesives. Cloth nappies don’t even have to be stuffed if you opt for all-in-ones instead of pocket nappies.

Reusable is More Economical

As we mentioned earlier, cloth nappies will save you money in the long run. You can save up to $2000 over 2.5 years by using cloth nappies instead of disposables. The savings stack up even more if you use your cloth nappies on future children. Then, once you no longer need them, used cloth nappies can be sold to new parents.

Cloth Nappies Are Chemical-Free

Cloth nappies are usually made from 100% natural materials or chemical-free synthetic fabrics like cotton, bamboo, and polyester. As long as you use nappy-safe detergents that don’t embed themselves in the fabric, irritating chemicals will stay away from your baby’s sensitive skin. Cotton tends to be heavily sprayed which may introduce chemicals into cloth nappies. To avoid this, look for organic cotton fabrics.

Waste is Treated Properly

When you remove a cloth nappy from your baby, the poop goes right into the toilet. Australia’s Department of Health even stresses that feces should be scraped from nappies into the toilet before they are thrown out. Most people using disposable nappies will skip this step for convenience sake which creates a biological hazard in dumps and landfills.

Cloth Nappies Are Super Cute

Cloth nappies come in a variety of types and fabrics, some of which are luxuriously soft. Outer-wraps, all-in-ones, and all-in-twos, and pocket nappies can be found in adorable prints and colors. Disposable nappies printed with chemical dyes will never stack up to beautiful cloth nappy prints. Plus, cloth nappies look so stylish they can be worn alone in the summer when it’s warm enough for your baby to go without pants.

In the end, cloth nappies are a great choice for your family and the planet. But, disposable nappies can also be useful and shouldn’t be shunned completely. Make the choice that feels right to you. If that means finding a balance between both cloth and disposable, then go for it!

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