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Baby & child.

Updated: 29 Oct 2021

How to buy the best reusable nappies

We explain the key things you need to know when buying reusable nappies, including which type to choose, how to wash them and how much they’ll cost
Rebecca Marcus
Reusable-nappy-lead Aug20

Reusable nappies – also known as washable nappies, cloth nappies or real nappies – have evolved significantly in the past decade and are a popular choice for eco-conscious parents.

Reusable nappies come in a vast range of colours and fabrics. They often look like disposables and can be just as easy to put on and take off again.

Find out which ones parents rate as the best reusable nappy brands

Video: how to buy the best reusable nappies

How do reusable nappies work?

Reusable nappies are made up of an absorbent inner layer, containing a washable or disposable liner and a waterproof outer layer, called the wrap. You can also choose to add a booster pad for extra absorbency.

They’re available in a variety of materials, including cotton, bamboo, hemp and microfibre. The outer wraps can be made of fleece, wool, PUL (a type of laminated fabric) or waterproof plastic.

Instead of binning the nappy once used, you put the reusable nappy in a designated bucket ready to be washed. When clean and dry, it can be worn again.

Reusable nappy types

Reusable nappies come in a range of different designs. Some have layers attached, while others have separate parts that you need to join together.

You may want to try out a few types of nappy before you buy in bulk, to see how you and your baby get on with them.

All-in-one reusable nappy

All in one reusable nappy

All-in-one nappies have an absorbent inner layer attached to a waterproof outer layer. The two parts are sewn together, making them one piece.

Pocket reusable nappy

Pocket reusable nappy

Pocket nappies are similar to all-in-ones but have a pouch in the nappy cover, which you stuff with a fabric insert to provide absorbency.

Two-part reusable nappy

Two part reusable nappy

Nappies with a two-part design have a separate inner nappy and outer wrap. You can choose between a shaped nappy and a flat nappy.

Shaped nappies have elasticated waist and leg cuffs and are usually fastened with Velcro or poppers.

Flat nappies are simply a piece of fabric that you fasten around your baby using a nappy grip. You can either buy Terry squares, which need to be folded to a suitable size and shape, or you can buy pre-folded nappies. These are the cheapest type of reusable nappies.

One-size vs sized nappies

One-size or 'birth to potty' reusable nappies can be adjusted to fit your baby as they grow.

With sized nappies, you'll need to buy different nappies as your baby grows. These are useful for newborns as you may find that birth to potty nappies are too big for small babies.

Reusable nappy quiz

Take our short quiz to find out which type of reusable nappy is right for you.

What are the pros and cons of reusable nappies?

Reusable nappies: pros

  • Cheaper than disposable nappies in the long run, particularly if you use them for more than one child
  • Reduces the number of disposable nappies ending up in landfill
  • May irritate your baby’s skin less than disposable nappies as they’re more likely to be made of natural fibres

Reusable nappies: cons

  • Less convenient than disposable nappies as you need to wash and dry them after each use
  • Higher water and energy usage from frequent washing
  • Can be difficult to fit clothes over bulkier nappies

How do you wash reusable nappies?

  1. When the nappy is ready to be changed, take out the liner and flush any solids down the toilet.
  2. Place used nappies into a nappy bucket containing a mesh liner. There’s no need to soak them before washing.
  3. Wash the nappies in your washing machine every two to three days. If you’re using two-part nappies, you only need to change the outer wrap every 12 hours, unless it’s heavily soiled.
  4. Run a cold-rinse cycle first, then add detergent or washing powder and wash at the temperature recommended in the care instructions.
  5. Hang the nappies up to line dry. Some nappies are suitable for tumble drying, although this will increase costs.

Are reusable nappies more environmentally friendly than disposable nappies?

By the time a child is potty trained, they could get through more than 5,000 disposable nappies. According to recycling charity Wrap, this adds up to an estimated three billion nappies thrown away every year in the UK. As disposable nappies can’t usually be recycled, most end up in landfill.

The most recent study on environmental impact of reusable and disposable nappies was carried out by the Environment Agency back in 2008.

It concluded that consumers’ behaviour dictates the environmental impact of reusable nappies. Based on average washer and dryer use, the study found reusable nappies had a worse global warming impact than disposable nappies. But if consumers take steps such as washing in fuller loads, line drying and reusing nappies with a second child, the global warming impact could be reduced by up to 40%.  

How much do reusable nappies cost?

Reusable nappies have a higher upfront cost than disposable nappies, but they work out cheaper in the long term, particularly if you use them for more than one child.

The cost of reusable nappies varies depending on the type and brand you choose. The government’s money advice service estimates the average overall cost of using own-brand disposable nappies at £1,875. It puts the average cost of reusable nappies at just £400 (including laundry costs), giving an overall saving of £1,475 over the course of a baby’s first two and half years.

Depending on your baby’s age, how often they need changing and how frequently the nappies are washed, you’re likely to need around 15-25 reusable nappies. You won’t need as many if you’re using them alongside disposable nappies.

How to save money on reusable nappies

These four tips could help you to reduce the cost of reusable nappies:

  • Check whether your local council runs a reusable nappy incentive scheme. You can get free starter kits or vouchers, making it cheaper to try them out.
  • Consider buying second-hand reusable nappies
  • Save on energy costs by line-drying nappies rather than tumble drying
  • Use an energy efficient washing machine. See our Best Buy washing machine reviews to find out which models we recommend.

Which is the best reusable nappy brand?

There are a lot of reusable nappy brands available, including Bambino Mio, TotsBots and Little Lamb. To help you choose the best, we surveyed parents about the reusable nappy brands they use, asking them to rate the absorbency, fit, comfort, ease of use and value for money.

Our results revealed a big difference between the top-rated and bottom-rated brands. The best got a customer satisfaction score of 73%, while the worst brand received just 56%.

Visit our guide to the best reusable nappy brands to find out which was rated most highly, and which failed to impress.