Are you a mum (or about to become a mum) and are wondering about what kind of nappies to use? It’s something I never really thought about when my first baby was born. I only knew about one option so that’s what I went with. I stocked up with what I thought was a phenomenal amount of disposable nappies, which suddenly disappeared within a week!
Phew, what a lot of pooping babies do! I was not at all ready for it!
I seemed to be firing through hundreds of nappies at every bat of an eyelid, with the cost rapidly mounting.
What’s the alternative?
When I say I only knew of one option for nappies, that’s not technically true. I did know about cloth nappies. But my knowledge was limited to “Those flimsy white wrap things that get covered in poop and require your washing machine to be constantly running.”
So I continued with disposables for several years, putting the mounting cost down to a necessary baby expense.
Until, one day, a friend introduced me to modern cloth nappies. So I decided to put them to the test. Could these be a frugal alternative to disposables I could manage?
Comparing the difference
So, I set myself a challenge of trying out cloth nappies for a month. That way, I could report back my findings to you in an unbiased way, having tried out both methods first hand. I hope you find this helpful and that it helps you to decide which method is best for you.
So here goes…
Since I’m a frugal mama, it seems appropriate to talk about cost first. If cost is a major factor when researching different baby options then I could be about to save you a ton of money! Like the sound of that? I thought so, so read on…
Disposable nappies are an ongoing cost for as long as your child is in nappies. You will always need to buy more and you may be surprised about how short a period of time they last. I thought I was well prepared by having 200 nappies in the house when little one arrived. But, do you know how long those 200 nappies lasted me? 2 weeks!!! That’s it! Then I was off buying more to stock up again.
Since I’m a frugal mum, I always buy nappies when they’re on offer. So I regularly check the different supermarkets to see where I can get the best deal. Even with doing this I’ll be spending around £20 for 2 bags of nappies. When you’re in size 1’s (the smallest size), you get around 100 nappies in each bag. As you child grows, so do the nappies and you’ll find you’re only getting around 80 per bag. In the newborn poop-a-holic phase you’ll easily get through 200 nappies in 2-3 weeks. But once your little one is weaned onto solids and is pooping less, they’ll last you much longer.
So let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the average cost of nappies over the course of the 3 years in nappies (or 2.5 years if you’re lucky and your little one potty trains early!) is £40 per month for the first 6 months, then £20 per month thereafter. And don’t forget that that’s when I’m buying them on offer. If you don’t manage to find nappies on offer, or you need to buy some in a hurry because you’ve run out (it happens, believe me!), then you’ll easily be spending more than that.
That brings the total to almost £1000 per child!!
What's the real cost difference between disposable and cloth nappies? #frugalliving #clothnappies Click To Tweet
So now that you’ve had a chance to recover from that shock, let’s move onto some good news. Cloth nappies are a frugal mummy’s best friend. I was very pleasantly surprised when I started looking into cloth nappies, just how budget-friendly they are. Unlike disposables, which are an ongoing cost, cloth nappies are a one-time purchase (like these wipes). Once you’ve bought them, that’s it. No further expense required.
I bought all mine second hand which brings the cost down even more. But even if you buy new, the cost is still nowhere near the sky-high number that disposables reaches to.
Buying new, you can expect to pay around £100-200 for a full set of nappies. That’s it! See how nice that looks compared to the 4-digit number above? Now for some even better news…buying second hand, I was able to buy a full set of cloth nappies for under £40!! How is that even possible you ask? Let me share the best way to get cheap second hand nappies…
eBay is an obvious example. I bought a few on there. But don’t forget about shipping costs, as those can bump the price up. So, if you’re going down the eBay route, then I suggest looking for bundles rather than individual nappies to keep your costs down.
Facebook groups are where I got most of my nappies from. There are several groups dedicated to cloth nappy buying and selling. And, as a bonus, most of these groups are full of knowledgeable cloth nappy mums who will be more than happy to answer any questions you have as a newbie. Here are my favourite groups that you should join if you’re looking for cheap second hand nappies…
Cloth nappies are the obvious winner here, no contest!
I know that this a main reason mums are put off cloth nappies. It certainly was the main reason I never considered using them, so let’s talk about what is really involved when it comes to the poop…
Disposable nappies are easy peasy when it comes to poop disposal. You use the nappy to wipe the excess off their little bottoms, wrap up the nappy and bung it into the bin. That’s it.
The only downside I can see here is the stink from the outside bin. Our bins are only collected fortnightly, so that’s a lot of poop sitting in the bin. By the end of the fortnight, I do find myself holding my breath whenever I’m putting rubbish into the bin.
There are 2 main options for poop disposal when it comes to cloth nappies. The first thing you need to decide is whether you want to put the poop into the toilet or the bin. This is determined by which kind of liner you want to use in your nappy.
Disposable liners – These are a bit like putting a sheet of kitchen roll or paper inside the nappy. The idea is that this then catches the poop and you can lift it out and put it into the bin. In reality, I found this wasn’t the case. First of all, I didn’t like the idea of the rough liner next to my baby’s skin. Second, the poop was rarely all contained in the liner. It inevitably leaked out so I ended up having to clean the rest of it into the toilet anyway. So disposable liners were a no-go for me (as much as I loved the idea of being able to put the poop into the bin!)
Washable liners – These are what I opted for. These are pieces of fleece material which sit inside the nappy. Fleece is great because it doesn’t absorb any liquid at all, so the pee just flows right through it into the absorbent part of the nappy, leaving baby’s skin lovely and dry. When your little one poops, it sits on top of the fleece. So what you need to do it wipe it from the liner into the toilet, flush it away and put the liner into the wash pile. I’ll admit I didn’t particularly enjoy doing this, but it wasn’t actually as bad as I expected it to be. Once you work out the best technique for getting the poop of the liner (go onto YouTube and you’ll find a whole host of different ways to do this) you’ll become very streamlined in poop disposal.
Disposables have the edge for me, since you can just chuck the poop straight into the bin.
Another area that can be off-putting to mums-to-be is the potential extra washing involved with cloth nappies. How much extra is actually involved? I won’t mention disposables in the section since, obviously, disposable nappies don’t require washing!
Keeping up with demand
It took me almost the entire month to get into the swing of a washing routine when it came to cleaning the cloth nappies. By the end of the first week I was ready to give up! But I stuck at it and by the end of the month I knew what I was doing.
The initial problems I ran into came from not having enough nappies. Because nappies should really be washed separately (although some people do wash them with their regular clothes, I preferred to keep everything separate) I found that by the time I had enough for a full wash, there weren’t enough left to use while the dirty ones were washing and drying.
In the end I found the optimum number of nappies to have was 20 (the general advice is to have at least 21 if starting from newborn). So I could have 10 or more in the wash and still have enough left to last until they were washed and dried.
I found that I was doing an extra 3 loads of washing a week. This was definitely manageable as long as I was organised with the rest of the washing. The nappies require a longer wash cycle to get them really clean, which meant I couldn’t really do any other loads the same day as the nappies. After being used to doing washing on alternate days, it was a big change to have to increase this to doing daily washing. By the end of the trial month, I was into the routine of it. But I did find the transition hard, especially if I forgot to do washing one day and ended up with a backlog.
How to really clean the poop
The first point I need to make here is to join the Clean Cloth Nappies Down Under Facebook group. Remember I said I was ready to give up after the first week? This group helped get me back on track. They will give you a personalised washing routine, based on which washing machine you have, which washing powder you use and how hard/soft the water is in your area.
The main takeaway points I learned from them were;
- Make sure you use enough washing powder (not the half quantity that you will be advised elsewhere).
- Do a full prewash (i.e. wash, rinse, spin, drain) before your main wash to get rid of the poop.
- Make sure your washing machine is 2/3 full to allow proper agitation between the nappies to help get them properly clean.
While it does take some getting used to, once you’re into a routine the extra washing is definitely manageable.
How much pee can these different nappies hold? When to change a nappy is easy to determine with a disposable since you can see exactly how full it is at a glance. With cloth it’s more trial-and-error as you can’t see how full it is without taking it off and having a feel of the absorbent layer.
Wow, these are freakishly absorbent! Especially given how thin they are compared to cloth. I can easily get 4 hours out of one nappy. I didn’t realise how good they were until I tried cloth, I’d always taken it for granted that nappies absorb a ton of pee!
There are various ways to ‘boost’ absorbency of cloth nappies. And there are so many different types of nappy, each with different absorbancy. BUT in general terms, cloth nappies are far less absorbent than disposables. I found that in general terms, each nappy would last 2-3 hours. Some mums report nappies only lasting 1 hour though. I think part of this variation is determined by how frequently your little one pees. Mine seemed to go ‘little and often’ which is very suited to cloth nappies as I could roughly predict how often to change. Other mums have reported their little ones do more of a ‘flooding’ at infrequent intervals, which can make it hard to predict when a nappy with need changed.
Disposables are a clear winner here. I had many, many leaks with cloth nappies after being used to the immense absorbent powers of the disposable.
How much space will you need to clear to store all your nappies? This could impact your choice, depending on how much space you are able to free up in your home.
You can have as many or as few as you like! Even if you stock up on 200+ nappies, they’re so compact that you won’t need more than half a shelf to store them.
The nappies themselves are fairly bulky. And you’ll also find that you have a supply of boosters (absorbent layers) and liners to store too. Having said that, you need far fewer nappies when using cloth, so you’ll never need to find space for 200 bulky nappies! I had to clear a whole shelf to store all the nappies, boosters and liners. On top of this you’ll need to find space for your nappy bin. I found the best place to have this was the bathroom, since that’s where the poop disposal happens. Our bathroom is small so it was a squeeze to fit it in.
Disposables definitely require less storage space so are the winners here.
Disposable vs cloth nappies, which is right for you? #frugalliving #clothnappies Click To Tweet
You’ve got your nappies, what else do you need?
This is a very short list.
Wipes. That’s it. My changing area with disposables consists of nappies and wipes and nothing else. To find out how you could save yourself a fortune on baby wipes check out this post.
There’s a bit more to cloth than just nappies. I’ve already mentioned a couple of extras but I’m going to list all the extras you’ll need to get started on your cloth journey…
Wipes – Same as above, you’ll obviously need wipes. Want to save big bucks on baby wipes?
Nappy Bin – This is essential, otherwise you’ll find you have a very stinky house with lots of dirty nappies lying around! There are custom nappy bins available, but I found a general household bin sufficient. So don’t feel you need to fork out for an expensive custom bin, it’s unnecessary.
Boosters – Each nappy will come with one booster (absorbent layer). You’ll definitely need more than that though. The way I managed to get my nappies to last 2-3 hours was by using multiple boosters per nappy. So you’ll definitely want to invest in a stash of extras, or you’ll be changing nappies every hour!
Liners – I mentioned these in the ‘poop disposal’ section above. Some nappies come with liners, some don’t. So, depending on which nappies you choose, you’re likely to need extras. Without a liner, the poop will go all over the nappy and reduce it’s life expectancy.
Mesh bag – I didn’t invest in one of these, but it would’ve definitely made things easier if I had, so I’m recommending it! It’s a large mesh bag that goes into your nappy bin, so when you go to wash your nappies all you do is remove the mesh bag (nappies inside) and bung it into your machine. I had to remove each nappy individually which could get a bit messy and smelly! It also helps keep your nappy bin nice and clean since any leakage goes onto the bag, rather than the bin.
Cloth nappies definitely require more extras, so disposables win in terms of number of items required.
Eek the big scary one! I hate to think how many thousands of nappies I’ve sent to landfill over the course of my kids’ nappy-wearing days. There’s no escaping it, disposable nappies are not good for the environment.
Despite the extra loads of washing required, the environmental impact is nowhere near as big as the amount of landfill that is produced by disposables. The extra energy and water consumption is fairly minimal in relative terms.
Cloth nappies are a clear winner here.
Here’s a list of the pros and cons;
- Easy peasy poop disposal
- No extra washing required
- Super absorbent
- Minimal storage space required
- Minimal extras required
- Lots and lots of landfill
- Very frugal
- Better for environment
- Messy poop disposal
- Lots of extra washing required
- Low absorbency
- Lots of storage space required
- Lots of extras required
My conclusion after trying both methods
Cloth nappies aren’t as bad as I thought!! If you’re looking for a very frugal option then there’s no denying how much you can save by using cloth nappies. £40 instead of £1000 is a no-brainer really. Not to mention how much better they are for the environment.
If cost and environmental impact aren’t high on your priority list and all you want is an easy, low-maintenance way to get your baby through to the potty-training stage, then disposables are for you.
Which method do you use? Anything I’ve left out of my comparison? Leave me a comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts. 🙂