Nappy facts

The tide is turning, as more parents switch to the benefits of real nappies.

This article is based on an extract from Eco Baby by Sally Jane Hall (Green Books).

Real nappies – the benefits

Cloth nappies, also known as reuseable nappies or ‘real nappies’, have plenty of benefits.

Better for the environment

Research suggests disposables can take up to 500 years to rot in landfill. By contrast, real nappies are reusable, and available in organic cotton, hemp and bamboo.

Better for baby

Real nappies don’t contain the chemicals in disposables so pose less risk to baby's health. They may also make your baby more receptive to potty training at an earlier age.

Better for your budget

To put your baby in disposables can cost up to £936 whilst washables, depending on the type and the number you buy, can cost from as little as £49. Plus, they can be re-used on several babies.

Contact your local council to see what incentives they offer to use washables.

For nappy sales and advice in your area, contact the WEN Nappy Line set up in association with the Real Nappy Association on 01983 401959.


Different types of real nappies

Forget the old-fashioned image of bulky cloth nappies. Today’s brands are more compact, often shaped, and have Velcro or popper fastenings. The options are:

  • All in one nappies
  • Two part nappies
  • Terry squares

When it just isn’t convenient to use real nappies, try eco-disposables which are increasing available on the high street and online.

Eco washing tips

Washing a nappy uses up to five times less energy than making a disposable. Try these tips to reduce their impact even further:

  • Always wash on a full load.
  • Wash wet nappies at 30º or 40º - and soiled ones at 60º.
  • Choose eco-friendly detergents.
  • Dry nappies in the sun to help keep them white and smelling fresh.
  • Add a drop or two of tea tree oil to nappy buckets to keep them smelling sweet.

Laundry service

To find nappy laundry services in your area, contact your council or WEN.

Alternatively, try the National Association of Nappy Services, which also ensures the services follow NHS laundry regulations.

Disposables - the costs and risks


Complexity of product composition and the plethora of chemicals and plastics used in their production means disposables have a greater environmental impact than real nappies. 

Each baby can generate 3,000 nappy changes per year, with 3 billion disposable nappies ending up as landfill waste annually in the UK.


The plastics, adhesives, dyes and chemicals that are used to make disposable nappies can lead to irritation, respiratory problems and even more serious effects like damaging the reproductive system, the kidneys and lungs (phthalates) or cancer from paraben use.


Disposables can cost over £900  – or more as disposable-wearing babies can take longer to potty train. It is estimated that the taxpayer also pays approx 10p to dispose of each nappy.


More info