Why are people so crazy about modern cloth nappies?

Why are people so crazy about modern cloth nappies?

Have you noticed the growing trend of families switching to modern cloth nappies? It used to be that just the idea of cloth nappies made our eyes glaze over – more washing, more hassle, more work. Not anymore! Suddenly there are facebook pages, cloth nappy group meeting and countless blog entries spreading the cloth message. Here are a few things that go through a modern cloth nappy parent’s mind:

“I’m saving money”

Having one baby in disposable nappies is expensive at a time when the family is often reduced to one income. Not great timing! Which is why many families choose a cheaper option. Using disposables, you can easily spend $30 per week for one baby until they are toilet trained, which may be up to four years away (which equates to anywhere between $4000 and $6000!!). Having two or more in nappies obviously makes this a significant addition to the weekly grocery bill.

“It’s the easiest way to do it”

We know this sounds farfetched, but with modern cloth nappies it is true for many. If you live a long way from the shops (especially in a rural area), getting there can be tricky. Sometimes just getting out of the house with a baby can be tricky, no matter where you live…. And it’s not just the rural families that find it more convenient – not having to battle the traffic in the big smoke is always appealing! And we all know it’s not good to run out of nappies in the middle of the night or on public holidays.

They take no longer to change than a disposable, so as long as you get in a good routine with the laundry, modern cloth nappies only add around 5 minutes of extra work to your day and they don’t leave you reeling from the stinky wheely bin!

“Cloth nappies are not like they used to be”

Like most things in our lives, cloth nappies have caught up with modern times. The idea of terry squares with pins and soaking is no longer relevant. Modern cloth is just not like that. They are made from modern materials such as bamboo cotton, which is very thirsty and naturally antibacterial, and microfleece, which keeps baby’s skin dry and is nearly impossible to stain. They are designed with elasticised legs and press stud fastenings, to be fitted on just like a disposable with no need for intricate origami folding. You can also use flushable liners (preferably 100% natural bamboo, which is biodegradable as well as gentle on baby’s sensitive skin), which means there is no need for poo-scraping or soaking. They are washed just like your other clothes and then dried in the sun.

“They are just so cute”

Let’s be honest, this is one of the main reasons why people try them out. The fun designs and colours are far more appealing than a white plastic disposable. Suddenly, modern cloth nappies have become a fashion trend with customers becoming ravenous for new designs. There is also something a little romantic about nappies hanging on the line, swinging in the breeze.

“I am making the right choice for a sustainable future”

This is a big reason for many, right up there next to the cost savings. The environmental impact of switching to modern cloth nappies is huge. Here are some of the statistics:

In a home with one baby using disposables, 50% of the household’s waste will be nappies. Thismeans that a family can halve their waste by just using cloth. Amazing. We all know how important it is to recycle and compost and cloth nappies seem to just fit with this way of thinking. So many families (using disposables) struggle to get to the end of the week without the bin overflowing. And let’s just not talk about the smell of a week’s worth of disposables in the wheelie bin!

In 2009, Australian babies used 2.1 billion nappies — about 5.6 million per day. These nappies can take up to 400 years to break down. Wow, that’s a lot of stinky landfill.

In 1993, 40% of Australian nappy use was cloth. Now it’s less than 95%. We have made so much great progress in sustainable living practices, yet this is one thing that have gone backwards. We are driving more fuel-efficient cars and using energy saving light bulbs, yet using more disposables nappies.

Home-washed reusable nappies use less non-renewable and total energy over the life cycle than any other nappy system. People often argue that the water use is washing the cloth nappies counteracts the environmental benefits of using them. This has been proven to be untrue, as the pulp in the disposables, the resources used to manufacture, transport and store them far outweighs the resources used in cloth. And that doesn’t even take into account the landfill issue. Using cloth nappies, the parent has much more control over their environmental impact as they can use a cold wash and line-dry them to be most efficient.

“It’s the natural choice”

The environmental and cost savings are probably the biggest motivator, but many families switch because of their concerns for their child’s health. Modern cloth nappies are a more natural choice, as they are chemical free (so long as you use a natural detergent that is). Here are some of the reasons why:

Nappy rash and allergies Many families are concerned about the link between nappy rash and allergies with disposable nappy use. Modern cloth nappies do not contain any chemicals, such as chlorine, sodium polyacrylate crystals (used to absorb urine) or dyes that are commonly found in disposable nappies.

Chemical free Modern cloth nappies do not contain any of the harsh chemicals or toxins that are believed to be present in disposable nappies. They can be washed with natural detergents, ensuring that they are the safest and most healthy option for baby’s bottom. Lots of MCN families also have reusable wipes and neutral nappy change solution, which are a natural and chemical free alternative to baby wipes which often contain alcohol and fragrances which can irritate sensitive skin.

Long term use of disposables Some people are concerned about the compounds used in the manufacture of disposable nappies have potential long term side effects. Parents often raise concerns about the link between cancers, asthma, male infertility and immune system function with disposable nappy use. Studies on these effects are not conclusive, but some families chose not to risk it.

“I’m supporting Aussie mums in business”

The modern cloth nappy community is made up of online stores, independent retailers and mumpreneur designers and manufacturers. Most of these are mums who are running a great business while raising a family. Most of these MCN businesses began (or still are) in home offices and are all Aussie owned. There is something satisfying about buying from someone who is just like you!


Nappies and landfill: Zero waste – New Zealand Trust. www.zerowaste.co.nz

Rate of nappy use in Australia and NZ: Choice magazine – Disposable nappies review and compare. www.choice.com.au

Disposables vs Cloth Life cycle assessment: O’Brien, K. R., Olive, R., Hsu, Y.C., Bell, R., Morris, L. and Kendall, N. (2009). Life Cycle Assessment: Reusable and disposable nappies in Australia. In: , Australian Life Cycle Assessment Society Conference 2009. 6th Australian Conference on Life Cycle Assessment, Melbourne, (1-14). 17-19 February. (2009)

Water resource comparisons: Link, A. (2003) Disposable nappies: a case study in waste prevention. Women’s Environment Network.

Costing of disposables vs Modern Cloth nappies: www.cushietushies.com.au

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