Reusable vs. Disposable nappies

December 10, 2008

I’m hardly on old hand at this parenting business, but I think I’ve realised the financial benefit of making sensible decisions about convenience versus cost.

The main thing, and the philosophy of Frugal Me, is to think through what you’re doing and spending.

So here’s the thing. I just bought infant disposable nappies on special from New World and they were $10 for 30. Not bad, right? $0.34 per change. But with a minimum of 8 changes a day that adds up pretty quickly.

That pack of disposals might last for three days if we were using it exclusively.

But what we have been using is these Real Nappies. They have a reusable padding that’s extremely good at catching all the liquids, and these liners that catch any solids. You chuck the liners down the toilet (they’re paper so break down quickly), and wash the padding.

In total, we were given a Top-Up Pack, and bought an Essentials Pack. In total this costs, $118, and should last until the wee tacker is around 9kg, which is a fair old way off (hopefully). Once he gets that big we’ll just replace the outer pocket, and keep using the old padding.

So how much do we expect to save? Current estimates are around $2000. The boy is only 6 days old, and that would have cost us ~$16 in disposal nappies. If he keeps using nappies at the same rate we should have paid off the investment in around 20 days. Considering that he’s going to be in nappies for at very very least a year, we’ll be saving money (even considering washing the nappies – hot water and detergent), we’re still up.



  1. Congratulations on the bub Che! Very timely post as our little fella turns two weeks today. You said the packs you got will last until he hits 9kg, does that mean you bought the infant sized packs? If so do they still fit newborns ok?

  2. I’ve alway thought it worked out about the same financially in the short term because of the washing and drying factor – however it makes huge environmental sense. With my kids I’ve always used a mix of disposable and washable (because sometimes I have been too busy, don’t own a dryer and didn’t have enough washables etc)

    Where it REALLY makes sense (and I didn’t do this right)is factoring in subsequent children because reusable nappies tend to LAST. I did however buy my current lot of awesome swaddlebees 2nd hand (from the nappy network) and that has been a HUGE saving.

    Another point is where one partner hates the washable ones as in my case and he prefers disposables:-)

    BTW – I have a spare nearly full pack of new infant sized disposables here you are welcome to if you email me – I’ll post for free to Che – or anyone else that would like them

  3. well, we were sent some newborn reusables and they’re *just* fitting. luckily we had bought the infant ones and they’re barely too large. he’s likely to be back over 5kg within a week or two, so no point spending $$ on more infant pockets.

    but if your wee one is very small, then a few pockets should work, or use disposables until they get to the infant size.

    as for the ongoing costs, they make for very small load in the machine, and can be easily air-dried this time of year. we think that even with the cost of power and powder chucked in, we’ll still be hundreds of dollars up.

    let’s say our power bill increases by $50 a month, which would be a lot for us – our monthly bill rarely tops $140, then that would still be cheaper than the +$80 a month in disposables.

  4. I see you haven’t received your first power bill post-nappy washing. You may want to be sitting down – I sure wish I was.

    We got a bit carried away and for number two bought the whole blimmen fuzzy bunz complement of nappies, supposed to last the non-toilet trained life of the child and save thousands. Which it might have, but once the child reached about eighteen months the shape stopped fitting her (although size-wise she wasn’t too big) and basically they leaked all the time. So we stopped using them. I wished we had only bought smalls and mediums. They worked fine, but in terms of savings you’ve got to factor in the washing and the disinfecting (tea tree oil is only marginally cheaper than crack cocaine).

    As I might have written a while ago on your blog, one of the main reasons to have child three was of course to help abate the cost of the darn nappies. Then when he’s three we’ll sending him working in a salt mine to recoup the other costs.

    • A bit late for Giovanni, I know, but for others reading this later (like me 1 1/2 years later), tea tree oil is not the only option. We soak our nappies in white vinegar (5 litres for $6 at Moore Wilsons in Wellington, and the washed empty bottles are perfect vessels for our emergency water supply), which works fine. We do use a hot wash so this does take more power, but hardly use the drier at all as we use microfleece inners and these dry much quicker than cotton or bamboo, with a greater absorbency than the first. As far as the leaking goes, virtually everything leaks on a newborn, and not all nappies are created equal. I don’t use pockets as you have to change the outer everytime. Instead we use weenies – brilliant!

  5. I found with baby #2 I had to change brands for each stage. The fuzzy buns never really fit her properly. I got rid of the lot in the end and then restocked with 2nd hand swaddlebees which fit baby #3 nicely. I don’t have enough to use cloth fulltime in winter though.

  6. i can see that this is going to be something of a learning curve.

    if it’s all too much we’re just going back to cloth, with the “solid-catching” liners.

  7. Congrats on the new baby 🙂

    We started using cloth nappies when our son was 1, before that we used disposables.

    We bought 3 medium itti bitti d’lish’s with extra inserts & 4 larges also with extra inserts, they are excellent, he is tall and skinny so the mediums still fit.

    We wash every second day in cold water using soap nuts http://www.washberry.co.nz/. I always do 2 washes a heavy duty wash & then a fast wash. Then I hang them out in the sun to dry, they come out fresh as a daisy 🙂

    We hang them on the fire guard in the middle of winter to dry them.

    I have only had to use the drier a couple of times & that was because I simply forgot to hang them out!

  8. i should also mention that we buy cheap detergent from the supermarket… i got half kilo for $5!!

  9. Hi, and congrats on the new baby. I understand that the “comparativeness” of the cost of disposables versus washable nappies is based on British studies, where people predominantly use hot water washes and dry the naps in the dryer. In NZ we tend to use cold water (works fine for washable naps in my experience) while a couple of hours on the line in sunlight disinfects just fine. For my first baby I used disposables because the reusable ones were so enormous, expensive, and seemed only to be used by unattractive feral greenies of my acquaintance. (Shallow, I know.) Four years later for the second, this year I’ve found that the BabyFirst reusables work brilliantly, are much trimmer, and only cost $20 for an outer and two inner padding thingummies. Can thoroughly recommend.

  10. don’t forget… you can make some of your money back by selling them when you’re done. i purchased the bulk of our diapers secondhand.

    i’ve also found that using a prefold will catch much more poo than just using a pocket diaper. oliver’s teaching assistant could attest to that a couple of days ago. got everywhere except for his shoes.

    ps: have you already found a method for potty training by one or are you going the EC route? i’d be very interested to know.

  11. another ps: is that your fish bowl back there?!

  12. @beth. good call. we’ll bleach cr@p out of these guys and put them online for sale once he’s weaned.

    and yes, the fish-bowl (which was cleaned later in the day). why do you ask?

  13. I was thinking this may be an appropriate time (if there ever is one) to mention how frugal reusable menstrual products are (eg cups and washable pads)

  14. Gotta add that we never used hot washes. Just cold ones. Soak the nappies over night in the washing machine, wash on cold, then hang in the sun for the final cleansing process. We rarely used the drier over winter.

    We bought Motherease nappies which go from birth to toilet training. I had my 3 year old in them overnight and my newborn in the same nappies at one point. We are preparing to sell them now – they look as white and unsullied as the day we bought them new and yet they have been thrashed for 4 years and two children. We stand to make about $200 from their sale, added to the savings over the last 4 years it is quite considerable.

  15. Where Che’s calculations fall down, and I’m sure this has been discovered by now, you need fewer nappy changes as they get older. Whereas we did 8 to 10 changes fort he first 3 months we only do 3 to 4 changes for my 2 year old (who won’t use a potty or toilet).

    • except! by the time the wee fella is two you’re already ahead on costs.

      the 18 month old currently has mixed days, some lots of nappies, some not so much.

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