‘Reusable wipes are a hassle. Who wants loads of baby poo in their washing machine? Gross.’
‘Disposable wipes are helping to destroy our environment, washing up on our shorelines and riverbeds, in the stomach of our marine life. Gross.’
Like everything when it comes to babies, there are lots of options out there on how to care for your baby and everyone has an opinion! That includes how to clean up your baby.
Do you ditch the disposables or go eco with reusables? Which are better for your baby, the planet and your pocket? Do disposables deliver?
There’s no doubt that disposable baby wipes are the ultimate throwaway convenience item and are nowadays considered the ‘norm’. They’re single use wipes. You simply wipe and throw away.
But what are the pros and cons of both reusable and disposable wipes? Here, we examine the evidence so that you can decide for yourself.
Disposable wipes – are they skin-friendly?
As we said earlier, there are lots of options out there for disposable wipes. Some parents find that they can only use certain brands, as others create rashes and discomfort, so this is worth bearing in mind in your search for the perfect disposable.
Dead convenient – but what’s the eco impact?
You’ve probably seen pictures or documentaries about the problems that wet wipes cause (including the fantastic ‘Blue Planet’ by Sir David Attenborough, and ‘War on Plastic’ with Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall). 90% of wet wipes sold in the UK contain plastic which means they can take hundreds of years to biodegrade in landfill.
If they’re flushed, the problems are even worse, causing huge stinking fatbergs in our sewers and washing up on our beaches and in our oceans.
There are now brands which are plastic-free and some claim to be flushable / compostable, however, there’s also a huge eco-impact in the production, shipping and onwards supply chain of disposable wipes. Never mind the fuel consumption by late night supermarket trips when you invariably run out…
Cost of disposable wipes
Disposables range from under £1 per pack to around £3 per pack for premium ‘eco’ wipes. Which seems like nothing when you pop them onto your online shop, until you consider that you’ll be using 1 or 2 packs per week for up to 3 years because they aren’t just used for bums, but for hands and faces too.
That soon mounts up. At the budget end of the scale, two packs of £1 wipes per week for 2 years is £208. If you go for premium wipes, it’s more like £500.
Benefits of reusable wipes
You may not have come across the idea before, but this would have been what our parents / grandparents’ generation used. Reusable wipes are simply cloth squares which you can use with plain water or a soaking solution to clean your baby both at nappy changes and when feeding.
The mucky wipes are simply washed in your washing machine, and reused. If you’re out and about, the used wipes will be carried in a wetbag or similar and then dealt with alongside your other wipes when you’ve got a wash going on.
It’s not gross. Generally the first wipe of a baby bum is with the nappy and that removes the majority of the poo which is then flushed or binned, depending on your nappy choice. So, only the smeary bits are left on the wipe, much less than would be on a babygro if you’ve had a poo-nami for example.
But doesn’t that mean loads of hassle and laundry? And doesn’t all that washing have a massive environmental impact?
Well, the good news is that you don’t have to wash cloth wipes separately and you’ll likely have lots of washing with a newborn baby anyway.
In fact, washing 25 cloth wipes as part of a full mixed 7kg washload every other day equates to just 6 additional loads of washing per year. Obviously line drying is the cheapest way to dry them (and those little sock dryers are perfect for wipes) but even if you’re tumble drying them, again as part of a full mixed dryer load, the amount spent on drying them is negligible.
In terms of washing detergents etc, the environmental impact of washing 25 cloth wipes as part of a mixed washload is again very little, but of course there are more eco friendly washing options out there if you really want to lessen your eco impact.
Just like with disposable wipes, there are different fabric options available as reusable wipes. Bamboo, cotton and microfibre are all popular options, however, if you’re looking to choose truly eco-options, consider organic bamboo or cotton over microfibre which can release microfibres into our environment.
Reusable wipes for baby skin
One great thing about reusable wipes is that you will know exactly what is going onto your baby’s sensitive skin. Brilliant news for eczema sufferers or just delicate little ones, you can even use reusable wipes with just plain water, although there are lots of different ideas out there for soaking solutions.
Chamomile teabags, soapy squares, essential oils, you have complete control.
Cost of reusable wipes
Costs range from £ to ££.
At the bottom end of the price scale, granny’s favourite ‘flannel in a bag’ will cost just a few quid and will definitely suffice for wiping grubby hands and faces.
If you want to spend a little more, there are also kits available to make life easy, with everything you need to make switching to cloth wipes super simple, including wipes, soaking solutions and containers, washbags and travel bags.
Even priced at around £40 to £45, these are a great investment, as compared to premium disposable wipes, they will pay for themselves over 6 to 8 weeks, which is a massive cost saving over disposable wipes.
How do you feel this stacks up?
Again, as with every parenting decision, the choice is yours. Whatever you decide, own that decision and know that you’ll have made the right decision for your family at that time. That is the best that any of us can hope for.
Helen Rankin is the founder of Cheeky Wipes, which, since 2008 has been selling the original reusable wipes kit.
Champions of ‘Simple Reusables’, with 4 kids of her own, she appreciates that switching to reusable alternatives needs to be easy. Along with her crack team, she spends most days talking about poo, pee and periods and loves a chance to talk taboos.
The business was recognised with a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development in 2021, celebrating their hard work over the last 13 years.