Reusable vs. Disposable Nappies II

June 16, 2010

Way back in December 08 I outlined what I thought were the pros and cons of purchasing reusable nappies. What we’ve found since then is that they have been an effective way to save cash on the wee man’s toiletry needs, and have not been at all onerous.

The main thing is that we haven’t bought into any salespeak on what we need and don’t need to make then safe and hygienic. We did not, for example, use teatree oil to sterilise the inners (FYI, the nappy is made of three parts, a waterproof over, an ‘insert that’s the actual nappy bit, and a ‘liner’ that catches solids making for easy disposal down the toilet).

What we did do is apply common sense, for instance making sure we washed them very regularly, got them into the sunlight whenever possible, and were careful about things like using barrier creams that could ruin the inners. Also, we bought fixings for washing from Moore Wilsons in bulk – baking soda (a bleaching agent, about a tablespoon per wash), and vinegar (a steriliser, about 1/3 cup per wash). I think we can state that this was not detrimental, a claim borne out by not having any ‘incidents’ of ‘gastro’ while many friends using disposables did. Had our method been unhygienic you’d assume we’d have at least one.

So, the process. The main thing was that we’ve found that we can and should change the wee man whenever we wanted or needed to. Usually the loads in the machine are under the minimum fill level, so 5 nappies or 15, it makes no difference to the amount of warm (for days with no solids) or hot water we used. We also were sparing with the detergent, mostly because of our natural frugality. However, I’ve heard from people who will sometimes leave that nappy on “for just a little longer” to save having to pay for another, but none of that for us.

So, costs! The total amount spent on nappies, including disposables (we found the reusables didn’t work so well in the nights, usually resulted in bad rashes, and couldn’t really be used with barrier creams, so switched to Huggies), was Huggies $420, Real Nappies $440. This was between December 2008 and December 2009.

The total cost of all detergents, sterilisers, and bleaching agents was in 2008 (for the entire year) approximately $60. For 2009, $68. So an insignificant change there.

And power. This one was a little tricky. We had a great deal of trouble with our provider – Contact, a completely useless company- and switched to Meridian in early 2009. This meant that I was unable to work out the monthly costs accurately (it’s a long and boring story, ending with “Contact are completely useless”). However, the total cost for 2008 was $1020 – apartment living means very cheap electricity bills, while for 2009 we increased that a whopping $1340. But, the extremely cold winter last year might have contributed.

The short is that a 30% increase in power is not inconsequential.

All this was balanced against the savings from not using disposables. Ignoring the cost to landfills, and cost of manufacture the nappies, actually putting a nappy on a bottom cost you around $0.34 on average. Nappies tend to be a loss-leader in supermarkets, so they’ll range from $8-9 on sale, to the ‘usual’ price of $15. Assuming your wee tacker has a normal consumption rate you can expect to change between 8 and 10 times a day. If you’re changing less than this, you might need to wonder why your child is getting a rash… This gives an approximate weekly cost of $0.34 x 8 changes x 7 days = $18 per week, or approximately $970 a year.

Problematically this is only just more than the amount we spend on the nappies, the consumables, and power in that year… But the good news!! The wee man is 6 months along and still wearing the last size reusables!

The outcome is best summed up that the savings are not huge. Were we to have another the $430 outlay would be saved, but the electricity would still need to be consumed…

In the end the choice on this is probably a lifestyle one. If you’re happy to use reusables you’ll make a slight saving and have a less stinky baby (the difference is very, very noticeable), but if you aren’t you can go on filling landfills with poo for around the same cost.



  1. We used disposables with our littlies, but we were very virtuous about emptying the poop down the toilet before binning the nappies. Everything else went into the landfill ‘though, including all that pee. OTOH, all the pee from the reusables would end up in the wastewater systems and treatment plants.

    Wev, really. There’s a time cost with reusuables which could be important if both parents are in paid employment, and probably with multiples too.

    • time cost?

      and it’s not long before most all of the sewerage we produce will be put to good use. there are already people producing biodiesel from it!

  2. I have 11 week old twin girls and am using the old style reusables with the red stripe down the side. Also using disposables when on outings and when dad changes them as he hasn’t mastered the reusables yet.
    Flushable liners are great, and I soak the nappies in nappy san beford a cold rinse and spin.
    So cost hasn’t been high on the reusables – about $200 I think, including liners and overnaps.

    • congrats!! took your time getting to that! πŸ˜‰

      • ….but managed to be efficient when i did!

  3. I started off with the best of intentions…bought a set of reusables (Mummy’s Touch), and after 4 months or so (our boy was premmie so a little small for them) started using them. Did much the same as you guys, reusables for day, disposables for night (I’ve found Pams Ultimate/Ultra just as good as Huggies for overnight with a heavy wetting boy btw).

    Now at 21 months, am pretty much exclusively using disposables. Much as Deborah said, we flick the poo (as instructed on the package). Juggling work, study and parenting (and husband is full-time worker) and with a lack of sunlit outside drying space, I was over the hassle of washing. I also found the brand of reusables we bought not so good for my bubba – advice for others – buy a few types and give each one a go before committing to a particular type – I got a combination of both pocket and all in ones and am totally unable to use the pockets now as my boy wets through them in under 2 hours at times (and consequently irritates a patch of dermatitis he gets on the inner thigh).

    Would love to try some of the other reusables (used real nappies early on which i liked) but have found it hard to find the money to buy more…plus the issue with drying them in winter just won’t go away…

    • I must admit i am bad and make liberal use of the dryer!

  4. We used reusables with out second child (and disposables at night) but didn’t bother washing them in warm or hot water, and had no troubles. That might tip the balance a bit further?

  5. When i haven’t dried in sunlight (ie dried inside, or in the dryer) and whether i’ve washed with warm or hot water or not, the reusables i use have always ended up a bit smelly (this may just be the brand we bought).

    I’ve no doubt if i’d chosen another brand i would have most likely had less problems than i have. Which is the problem for most first time reusable purchasers/parents. I did quite a bit of research, but no-one warned me that different brands fit differently on different babies (and hence I should purchase a variety of different types to find the one which works best for my bubba).

    I should really flick the ones i’m not using on, on trademe or something, then maybe I could afford some more of another brand…

    • try the vinegar baking soda technique. we also used a baking soda paste to lift out stains on the nappies.

      worked a treat, and saves a lot on purchasing ammonia bleaches (you can buy huge bags of baking soda from moore wilsons for around $4.)

  6. i think you know just how much we love cloth. with both, we primarily used prefolds and covers. some of the prefolds and covers i got second hand and am seeing them through both kids. it sucks that we have to use pay washing machines, but there’s no way i could handle throwing a disposable in the garbage even part of the time for five or six years of diaper changes.

    • I just wanted to mention that there are trial nappy kits around too, look up The Nappy Network NZ πŸ™‚

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