review by Vicki West
Babies are leaky little critters. So unless you carpet your house with sawdust and let your offspring run amok and bare-bummed ’til they’re 2, you’re left with little choice but to use hundreds of nappies.
But which side to throw your lot in with? How about the guilt-ridden disposables? The eco ones are free of chlorine and other nasties (I found them very easy to use) but the bottom line is, they don’t bio-degrade. The nappy sack at the end of the week is depressing. As I slung the first of many into the black bin, I remembered a conversation I’d had with a fireman mate years ago. He’d told me the fires he’d been called to at burning landfill sites full of dirty nappies were “some of the worst he’d ever seen…”. Nice. Not surprising when you consider that the total nappy waste per year in the UK is around 400, 000 tonnes: roughly equivalent to the total waste of Birmingham.
So what about washables? They use loads of energy to wash and dry, right? Well, a lot less if you’ve got a washing line and it’s spring or summer. You do have to put the washing machine on a few times a week – so no green points there – but from a purely financial viewpoint, it makes sense. An article in Ethical Consumer (issue 123, March/April 2010) offered an excellent appraisal of all washable nappies on the market. EC calculated the costs of using washables versus disposables over a two and a half-year period (birth to potty). The cost was approx £342 for washables compared to £1,021 for disposables. (This is based on an assumption that you need 20 washable nappies, and you would change a small baby 10 times a day and an older child 6 times a day). EC have based those figures on average costs, so you probably could spend less than this on disposables but bear in mind that if you have two kids, the saving on washables doubles. If you live in Bristol you can get vouchers worth £30 from Bristol City Council to spend on washables, which most retailers accept. (Go to their website and type in ‘reusable nappies’ to download a PDF application and send it off with a photocopy of your child’s birth certificate).
These days you can buy a vast array of fitted, snuggly, colourful, quick-drying and damned convenient washable nappies designed by busy entrepreneurial mums. The sheer choice is bamboozling, and extensive research is a bit tiring when you’re a new mum. (“try slaving over a hot stove, boil-washing nappies in a pot,” says my grandma).
I turned to a great local outfit, based in Pill, called BooCoo. Boocoo is run by mums and offers out washable nappy tester kits for new parents: road tested to the best of Boocoo’s abilities.
My kit included both two-step and one-step nappies. Two steps are a soft inner nappy and a separate, outer waterproof wrap (like pants!). The one-steps have a waterproof outer layer sewn onto the main nappy, so you literally throw the whole thing into the washing machine. One-steps can be boosted by soft, absorbent insert pads, and you can also use biodegradable liners to catch solids which you throw down the toilet. Many of the nappies Boocoo offer are also ‘quick-drying’ which will suit you better if you don’t have a tumble dryer.
Your kit comes with various one and two-steps, plus written instructions and information on washing/drying and keeping them in tip top condition. The kit costs £10 to hire for two weeks.
Since every baby, mum and household is different, it’s really useful to be able to try all this stuff out before you commit to buying a job lot of a particular type. I was really impressed with all of them. Each nappy looked super-comfy on my little girl and some had impressive ‘stay-dry’ technology to boot. My favourite felt dry to her skin after four hours. Once Merryn had one of these washable bad boys Velcro-ed on she really looked ready for some all-terrain nappy action. Take that, Big Brand Disposable nasties!
The great thing about the selection Boocoo sent me is that they’re not bulky (another common gripe with washables). Pre-Boocoo, I struggled to squeeze Merryn into her snowsuit and sling one day over a washable nappy and nearly missed my bus. The super-all-terrain job I’m buying from Boocoo fits snuggly under all her gear.
I’ve heard people gripe about nappy rash with washables but I can honestly say the only time Merryn ever had a hint of that was when someone gave us a Well Known Brand disposable in hospital. Rubbish. I also wonder how much nappy rash is down to overuse of wet wipes? At home, cotton wool and warm water does the job just fine.
I found that all the nappies came clean, as long as I didn’t mix the wash load with other laundry (a stuffed-full washing machine won’t do the business with tough baby stains). I also throw in a tbsp of BioD nappy cleanser/stain remover with each load. Drying them on the line in the sunshine (when we get some) is a great way to bleach out any stubborn stains.
It’s true that you probably have to change washables a bit more frequently than disposables, and I can’t comment on the leakage potential as they get older, but for my three-month-old who’s breastfed (less mucky than bottle-fed, I’m told), they’re working great so far…
For more info contact Rachel @ Boocoo
Station House, Station Road, Pill BS20 0AB
www.boocoo.co.uk 01275 373735
Bristol City Council www.bristol.gov.uk
Go Real Nappy Information Service www.goreal.org.uk
Women’s Environmental Network www.wen.org.uk
This article is an online exclusive, added April 2011
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