Want to know the basics of reusable nappies? I’m a mum of two and used reusable nappies on both of my kids. Here are all my top tips to get you started – from how many nappies you need, the kit you need, what to do when you are out and about, and a whole lot more.
I first thought about reusable nappies when I was about 4 months pregnant with my first daughter. As an eco-blogger, I should say that opting for reusable nappies just makes good environmental sense. But I’ll be honest, my main motivation at the time was money.
Going from a full-time wage to statutory maternity pay was so daunting. Being able to buy all the nappies I needed upfront whilst I was on a full-time salary was a pretty convincing factor!
But then I found some rather disturbing facts about disposable nappies. Did you know they can take 500 years (yes, a whole 500 years) to break down in landfill? And not only that. The materials used to make nappies absorbent are full of rather nasty chemicals that sit right next to your baby’s delicate skin. I was sold. Reusables it was.
My Reusable Nappy Experience
I ended up using reusable nappies for both of my kids. So after four years of use, I like to think I know a little bit about what works and what doesn’t.
To help you out, I thought I’d share here just about everything you could ever need to know and more on how to use reusable nappies. From what you need to use reusable nappies to all the other questions you never knew you had:
The Kit You Need
First off, here is my reusable nappy kit. It’s probably less than you’d imagine, but this is what worked for us:
Let me talk you through each item:
A Nappy Bucket
I use this Bambino Mio Nappy Bucket to store wet and soiled nappies. I like it because it comes with two mesh bags that you line the bucket with. When it’s time to wash the nappies, you just have to pick up the mesh bag and pop it straight into your washing machine. No need to handle soiled nappies!
I used a non-bio detergent on my nappies. Since I took this photo, I’ve switched to using Bio D laundry powder as it’s palm oil-free. I also sometimes make my own laundry powder and fabric conditioner, which I promise is not as much work as it sounds.
I found that using a third of the recommended dose of detergent was the sweet spot. It got my nappies clean and smelling fresh but didn’t cause any laundry detergent build-up. This build-up can affect the absorbency of your nappies, so it’s best to avoid build-up where you can.
Similarly, fabric conditioner can also negatively impact the absorbency of your nappies, so I wouldn’t recommend using this. Instead, a little white vinegar in the fabric conditioner drawer helps to keep your nappies naturally soft and absorbent without any negative impact.
Of course, the nappies! I used the same set of Bumgenius nappies (from The Nappy Lady) on both of my kids. In terms of how many nappies you need – I personally found that 16 was a good amount of nappies for us – washing them every other day. Do bear in mind that this number will vary depending on how often you can wash them.
What I like about Bumgenius nappies is that they expand as your child grows via a system of poppers and folds. So as your child grows you simply let them out a bit, meaning once you have made your initial purchase you don’t have to buy anything else.
Reusable nappies typically come with popper or velcro fasteners, and with Bumgenius you get a choice of which fastener you prefer. I went for poppers as I thought they would be more durable than velcro. I’m pleased to say our set lasted for both of my kids, so they were definitely durable!
Whilst Bumgenius nappies worked so well for us, you might want to try a few different brands to find the brand that works for you and your baby. There are heaps of nappy libraries dotted around the UK that provide nappy demonstrations and/or loans.
Alternatively, your local council might take part in a real nappy initiative. They might be able to give you a chance to buy some tester nappies or let you have a loan of some nappies.
Failing that, you can pick up a few different secondhand nappies on Facebook cloth nappy groups quite cheaply, to try out different brands before you make your investment.
A wet bag is essential for when you are out and about and need to change your baby’s nappy. Simply roll up the used nappy, and pop it in your wet bag. Once you get home, simply pop the nappy in your nappy bucket. That’s all there is to it.
Liners are the non-absorbent bit that goes between the cloth nappy and your baby’s bottom. Wetness is drawn through the liner, away from the skin into the absorbent core of the nappy. The liner also catches the majority of your baby’s poo. This makes it easier to flush away and minimises any staining on the nappy. I also find it stops your nappy from getting impregnated with bum cream (here’s how to make your own homemade nappy rash cream by the way!).
To use, simply place a single liner in the nappy. When the nappy is dirty simply lift out the liner, pop the poo down the loo and then place the liner in the waste bin or compostable nappy sack. I found that Tots Bots nappy liners were the ideal size to fit BumGenius nappies.
The insert is the main absorbent part of a pocket nappy. Extra inserts are handy for stuffing into nappies if you want to use reusable nappies at night time, although I found we didn’t need inserts until around the 10-month stage.
There are a variety of different inserts or booster pads that you can buy – from microfibre to bamboo to charcoal. I didn’t buy too many. I bought three inserts, which suited my washing frequency.
Storing Used Nappies
Lots of people are worried about having a smelly nappy bin sitting in their home, but I found that storing dirty nappies wasn’t that big a deal. I lined my nappy bucket with the net bag and placed the nappies in there. When it’s time to wash all you have to do is lift out the net bag and put it straight into the machine – so you don’t even have to touch the nappies!
This method is called dry-pailing. The bucket doesn’t smell as long as you use liners. This is because the poo goes straight down the toilet and there is no poo in your nappy bucket. This means it doesn’t get stinky in between washes.
In fact, whenever I used sustainable disposable nappies I found the dirty nappies would sit in my outside bin for up to 2 weeks, making my waste bin stink something rotten. Reusable nappies for the win!
If you’re not into the idea of dry-pailing, you can soak the nappies in water and sanitiser when they’re in the bucket. This is known as wet-pailing. Wet-pailing sounded like too much of a faff for me, and certainly by the time my first daughter started crawling I didn’t want a bucket full of water that could get knocked over, but you do what works for you.
Washing Reusable Nappies
When it comes to washing reusable nappies, I was worried at the start that I would constantly be washing poopy nappies. The reality was that it was not hard work.
All I had to do was throw the bag in the machine every other day, switch it on, and leave the washing machine to do its thing. I then spent 5 minutes hanging them up to dry and viola – that was it! It took much less time and hassle than if I had to go to the shop to buy a pack of disposables.
I washed my reusable nappies at 60ºC. First, I ran the nappies through a pre-wash setting as I didn’t wet pail them. Then I used a little bit of non-bio detergent. I used about a third of the amount of detergent I would normally use to wash clothes as using too much can cause detergent build-up on the nappies and reduce their effectiveness.
If you do get a detergent build up then it’s not a big deal. You can strip the nappies by washing them nappies in a 60ºC cycle without any detergent until you stop seeing detergent bubbles.
Even the drying of them is quick. The Bumgenius nappies I used separated into three parts for ease of drying. In winter the nappies dry within a couple of hours on a clothes horse/radiator. On wet days I dry most of the nappies on a clothes horse without the heating on and they dry overnight.
What About Staining?
I found that staining wasn’t such a problem when we used liners unless your baby has loose stools. When that happens you can hang your nappies outside on a sunny day. Sunlight works wonders at bleaching out poo stains. You can also check out my natural stain remover tips for more ideas.
One of the keep questions around switching to reusable is the changing aspect. From using them at home, as well as when you’re out and about, or if your kid goes to nursery – what do you do then?
First off, reusable nappies definitely hold as much wee as disposable nappies. We could easily go four hours or so without needing to change a nappy, providing it wasn’t soiled. You aren’t going to be constantly changing a nappy every hour.
What About When You’re Out?
I still used washable nappies when we were out and about for the day. I just made sure I always had my wet bag in my changing bag.
This meant I could put the dirty nappies in the wet bag without having to worry about leakages or smells. I just disposed of the liners first so I wasn’t carrying any poo around with me! And I always thought that if someone were to steal my bag then they’d be in for a surprise when they opened it!
Just remember to pop your nappies in your nappy bucket when you get home – a mistake you make only once!
The only times I didn’t use disposable nappies was when we went on holiday. We didn’t have a car, so logistically it was too tricky to transport our kit – no matter how minimal it was.
Will Childminders/Nursery Use Reusable Nappies?
If you’re planning on going back to work, then you’ll probably wonder if you need to stop using reusable nappies. I know this was something I wondered about. But what I found was that most childminders and nurseries are very amenable to using them, as they’re so easy to use.
With the nursery, I first showed them how to use reusable nappies. I then supplied about 6 clean nappies in a wet bag every morning. The nursery then put the used nappies into the wet bag throughout the day. I then took the bag home with me when I collected my daughter, emptying the bag into the pail when I got home.
Easy to use, planet-friendly, and baby-friendly, I would say that reusable nappies were the best baby investment we made. The initial outlay was high but I recouped the cost and more, by using the one set on both of my daughters.
I’ve tried to cover everything, but if you’ve got any other questions leave them in the comments below and I’ll try my best to answer them for you.