Cloth Nappy Myths

Friday, 24 July 2015

The minute you tell people you are considering using cloth nappies, you’ll be met with a barrage of objections, I promise you. Here are a few of the most common ones, along with some suitable replies (assuming you decide to avoid the simple "what a load of tosh", which would be an equally correct response, but would be unlikely to win friends and influence people).

All of these issues have been addressed elsewhere on this site, usually in more detail. This page is simply designed as an easy crib sheet, so you to have a handy response to the negative comments from the people you discuss this issue with. Of you could just point them to this website and ask them to take the trouble of informing themselves as thoroughly as you have decided to do!

"Cloth nappies are just as bad for the environment as disposables"

In the past, claims to this effect made by Procter and Gamble were challenged before the Advertising Standards Authority by the Women's Environmental Network. The challenge was upheld, and P&G are not permitted to repeat them.

In 2005, an Environment Agency report which came out claiming that there is no overall environmental difference between cloth nappies and disposables. This quote has been much used by the disposables industry and the media, although the word overall tends to be omitted.

There are two major points to be made about this report. Firstly, the sample of disposables users was 2000, whereas the sample of cloth nappy users was only 32. Of those 32, some were not relevant in answering some of the questions. So cloth nappy usage statistics have been extrapolated from no more than 32 and in some cases as few as 2 responses. Hardly statistically valid! So the data extracted must be used with extreme caution.

Secondly, the report did draw one very useful conclusion, which the media and the disposables industry have chosen to ignore, as far as telling consumers is concerned: the overall environmental impacts of the two nappy systems are different - with disposables it is largely waste and landfill; with cloth nappies it is largely energy, water and detergents.

And the main conclusion of the report was that the onus is on the disposables manufacturers to reduce the environmental impact of their product, whereas it is on the users to reduce the environmental impact of cloth nappies. No one is forcing you to boil wash, to tumble dry or to iron. Take those out of the equation, and cloth nappy environmental impact goes right down. And, luckily, the kind of people who typically choose cloth nappies are exactly the kind of people who would be aware of their environmental obligations in this regard.

The environmental costs of using cotton nappies can be substantially minimised by the parent in their decisions on whether to soak, how frequently to wash, whether to tumble dry etc. Parents have very little control over the environmental costs of disposables.

"Cloth nappies are a lot of hard work"

If you can wash a tea towel, you can wash a nappy. What’s the difference? Modern cloth nappies do up with velcro, poppers or nifty little grips (nappi nippas), and they are shaped just like disposables. Yes, you may need to put on a separate waterproof wrap, but is it any harder dressing a child in both a t shirt and a vest than it is to dress a child wearing just a t shirt on top? No? So why should a separate waterproof wrap pose a problem? It’s up to you whether you just fling the nappies in the nappy bucket, or whether you rinse them out first, or soak them in the bucket. Pick whichever suits your own temperament. Read the article "using a nappy bucket" for more details.

Nappies and many wraps just go in the wash at 60. No need to soak or to boil wash. The hardest thing is to get into a routine - many people simply alternate clothes washes with nappy washes.

"Wetness causes nappy rash"

If this were true, all children in cloth nappies would have nappy rash and no children in disposables would do. Even Kimberley-Clark, makers of Huggies nappies, admit that over 50% of children (presumably mostly in disposables) have nappy rash at any one time (source: European attitudes survey by Kimberley-Clark, used in advertising material in 2000).

Parents using cloth nappies are usually evangelical about their benefits - why would they do this if using them gave their children nappy rash? Independent university research found that the stay dry layer of disposable nappies offered "little or no protective effect" against severe nappy rash, which is effectively an admission that the wetness myth is exactly that.

"They make children bandy legged"

Are you or your parents bandy legged? The chances are, if you were born before the late 1970's you were all raised in old-fashioned terries. Yes, children in cloth nappies may well walk slightly differently from their peers in disposables, and lie with their legs more splayed, but they are not bandy legged. Some paediatricians argue that the extra support of cloth provides better conditions for proper hip development, as well as spinal cushioning while the child learns to walk.

"Disposables help children walk better or sooner"

It is vaguely possible that your child may become mobile a few weeks earlier in disposables than they would in cloth, but of course it is impossible to prove. There are plenty of early walkers in cloth nappies and plenty of late walkers in disposables. The truth is, your child will walk when they are ready to, and there is no norm at all. The earlier a child becomes mobile, the less safe they are in their environment, because the less developed their sense of danger and the less control they have over their limbs. A crawling 6 month old is far more likely to have an accident than a crawling 10 month old. So, even if real nappies were to slow the process up by a few weeks, so what?

"Nappy buckets stink your house out"

All nappy buckets are lidded, and any poo in the nappies is flushed into the sewage system before they go in the bucket, so there is absolutely no reason for there to be any smell outside the bucket. There will be a bit more smell in the nappy bucket if you choose to soak, but it should not escape the lid. The nappy bucket will normally be emptied every 2nd or maybe 3rd day - unlike a binful of faeces-filled disposables sitting there for up to a week (two in some areas, where they are trying to make people more aware of the waste they create by increasing collection times). Check out the bin at a disposables-using household if you want to know what stinky nappies are really like!

"Nurseries or childminders won’t use them"

Anyone officially caring for your child is obliged to meet any reasonable request by the parents, and cloth nappies fall into this category. If a nursery seems unwilling or claims that they are not allowed to use cloth nappies, their Special Needs or Equal Opportunities policies will normally prove otherwise. Having said that, good daycare is hard to come by, and it may be necessary for cloth-using parents to compromise if they come to a serious attitude problem.

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