Real nappies – better for the environment than disposables?

help prevent global warming by using real nappiesAs we are celebrating Real Nappy Week, Downshifting Week and it’s Earth Day, I thought we’d talk about nappies. After all, it’s our children and Grandchildren we are taking action for.

The jury is still out whether real or disposable nappies are the better option. Some say that the amount of water, chemicals, non-renewable resources, transportation, packaging and burden on the landfill used in the life of a disposable make them far worse for the environment.

Others suggest that all that soaking, washing and drying of real nappies places a different kind of burden on our planet that is just as bad in different ways.

I don’t have the answer and I’m not about to sit here working out the maths. What we can all agree on, is that using washable nappies will help reduce the 8 million disposable nappies that are sent to the landfill every day. That has to be a good thing!

Below are a few tips to help lessen your impact on the earth if you decide to use real nappies.keeping our earth clean with reusable nappies

1- Give an unwanted nappy a loving home!

Start with buying second hand (or see if you can get lucky on your local Freecycle). It’s better to buy something already made and used, even if it was non-organic and dyed using toxic chemicals, than to buy brand new organic, chlorine-free because the damage to the environment has already been done.

When you bear in mind that new nappies need a good half a dozen washes until they reach maximum absorbancy, all this work will have been done for you, if you get hold of some pre-used nappies.

2- Don’t boil them alive!

Back when I was a young babe swathed in terries; our mothers used to boil wash. This is unnecessary. Most of the time you can get away with a 30 – 40 degree wash; just boost nappies with a hotter 60 degree wash once in a while.

3- Reduce the toxins.

You don’t need to use toxic cleaning products to get your nappies clean. Using an earth friendly cleaner such as Ecover or Bio D will do the trick and is kinder for your baby’s skin too. For the ultimate in skin and earth friendly, consider giving soap nuts a go. These are particularly helpful for babies with eczema.

4- Don’t be a softie.

Don’t use fabric softener. Conventionally, fabric softener can be more toxic than the washing product. In addition, fabric softener reduces the absorbency of nappies, which means you need to wash them more often.A beautiful planet for our beautiful children

4- Turn down the heat.

Don’t tumble dry! Use free energy from the sun and wind to dry your nappies. Use airers in your home during the winter months and if you absolutely must use a tumble dryer, don’t over fill it so that the nappies dry quicker and take them out while they are still damp to finish drying in the air.

5- Use a laundry service

It is suggested that a nappy laundering service is better for the environment than washing at home. They can wash in bulk, so the amount of water and detergent use per child are lower than washing at home. Contact your local council to find out more – some offer incentives such as lower cost for first time usage, so it’s worth giving them a call. Visit the Real Nappy Campaign to find your nearest laundry service.

6- Spread the love.

Remember to rehome your nappies when your toddler no longer needs them. Pass them onto a friend who is expecting a baby, offer them on Freecycle, take them to a women’s refuge or keep them yourself for when the patter of tiny feet graces your life again.

If you want to give real nappies a go, then this is the perfect week to try:

If you visit the Nappy Lady; there is an free, online comprehensive questionnaire about your baby’s requirements for real nappies. Fill in all the details and a tailor made suggestion will be made for you. I used this for my daughter and the advice was excellent – the first purchase I made was the right one because I took the advice of someone who really knew her subject! I can’t thank that woman enough for sharing so freely of her knowledge – what a great service to the environment she provides.

Over at Tree Hugger Mums, they have a Real Nappy Week Offer – save 10% on all Cloth Nappy products AND there is free delivery on your first order.


  1. Peter on April 22, 2008 at 5:09 am

    Hi Mrs. Green,

    I was once told that if King Henry VIII had used disposables then they would all still be in landfill!

    We used real nappies (diapers) for our son, top quality items and, when they were no longer, needed sold them to about to became new parents who lived nearby. The nappies lookes as good as they first did when we bought them.

    PS. “Give an unwanted nappy a loving home”, terrific!!!

  2. Megan on April 22, 2008 at 9:07 am

    The debate will continue to rage as to which is better for the environment. My common sense tells me cloth diapers are better, but disregarding all of that I do know my baby has fewer issues with diaper rash and smells way better with cloth!

    After making the switch, we had to use a disposable one day and it was AWFUL. He smelled strongly, had little chemical crystals stuck to him and the whole experience was just so unpleasant.

    I just love that I invested less on his entire cloth diapering lifetime than I would for a year’s worth of disposables. And they’ll work for our 2nd child too.

    Now if hospitals would just hand out a couple cloth diapers instead of a package of disposables, people might overcome their misgivings and see how wonderful cloth really is!

  3. Melissa on April 22, 2008 at 11:21 am

    Hi Mrs. Green!
    I love this article, but was hesitant to comment because …well, I use disposable diapers…
    But I will say in response to Megan, that when my oldest son was born (in Canada) the hospital only had cloth diapers for him during our stay. My second son (born in the US four years later) they only had disposable. So some hospitals do hand out cloth diapers (at least during your stay), though it would be nice if they gave you a free sample.
    Why do I use disposable knowing cloth is better? Well, let’s just say change can be slow. I like the convenience of disposable, my sons both tolerated them well whereas my oldest had huge boils and rash during our hospital stay (I’m guessing harsh detergents used in cleaning and not properly rinsed?). I’m looking into other options but they seem either so time consuming or expensive. especially since this child is likely our last… I know that’s horrid, but it’s simply the truth. Also I had read articles about the water usage for cleaning cloth diapers and how it wasn’t as clear cut as to which is better. (But let’s be honest, all those diapers in the landfill – forever – is a sobering thought.)

  4. Mrs Green on April 22, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    Hi Folks,

    I’m glad to see this has caused some comment! Peter, about Henry VIII – I guess a statistic like that has more impact than ‘disposable nappies hang around in the landfill for 500 years’; your way of wording it, really gives some perspective. Thank you!

    Hey Megan; I remember scraping those crystals off our daughter’s skin too 🙁 Her nappy was so full (we were stuck in traffic) that the thing just kind of exploded all over her – it was awful and those crystals just didn’t want to come off. I’m not sure what the hospitals give out over here; I expect it is different in different areas.

    Your experience with cloth has been really positive; I’m so glad to hear it!

    Melissa, I didn’t switch to cloth nappies until dd was nearly toilet trained, but I’m thankful for the time she was in them – I learned a lot. I now know that if I was to have my time again, I would use washables. but at that time I didn’t have the money to invest, I could hardly keep on top of feeding myself and her, let alone manage the washing and I just didn’t have the awareness I have now to make the switch.
    We live and learn. The fact is we take small steps along the way as our situation allows and our knowledge broadens. I’m sure I have made many faux pas regarding the environment, AND I continue to do so (you should see the amount of rubbish being put out this week ) but we are all on the path of evolution.
    Combine that with raging post-birth hormones and heaps of conflicting advice, these decisions and lifestyle changes are hard to make…….

    I’m finding myself moving naturally and sympathetically towards some of the Native American ways. They ask “How will what we do today impact seven generations from now?” I like that very much, but it can be terrifying and stop you doing anything at all 😀

  5. Lucie on June 4, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    One statistic that sticks in my head about cloth v disposables is the fact it takes the same amount of water to producs the paper pulp for one disposable as it does to wash one cloth nappy 500 times!!!


  6. Mrs Green on June 4, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    Hi Lucie!

    Oh my, that statistic is shocking and totally amazing. I do wonder how there can still be a debate about cloth v disposable nappy if that is true.

    Thanks so much for sharing that with us.

    Mrs G x