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Money-Saving Nappies

Infants have the distinction of being expensive at both end of the plumbing system, so in true oily-rag pioneering spirit the Oily Rag Research Department has ventured into the vexed question of "disposable vs washable nappies?"

 Read more Oily Rag articles by Frank and Muriel Newman 

Infants have the distinction of being expensive at both end of the plumbing system, so in true oily-rag pioneering spirit the Oily Rag Research Department has gone where others fear to tread. They have ventured into the vexed question of “disposal vs washable nappies?” and returned, unsoiled, with their findings.

  • It is generally a matter of getting what you pay for with disposables. Some of the cheaper ones have more leaks than a rusty radiator, but there are exceptions. Some unbranded products perform as well as more expensive brands. And buying in bulk may not be cheaper. When you buy, work it out on a per-nappy basis. If you want to work out the annual cost here are some “average” statistics:  each infant requires 5 nappies a day… that’s 35 per week, 1820 per year, or about 6000 nappy changes over a lifetime (now there’s a good Trivial Pursuit quiz question!). That’s a lot of nappies (and a lot of waste) so reducing the cost per nappy can result in big gains.
  • The good old traditional square cloth nappy is cheap, dries quickly and one size does the lot. But it does require all fingers and thumbs to fit and is prone to leakage. Nowadays, the modern oily ragger mum (or New Age dad) is likely to use pre-folded cotton nappies with a stylish outer wrap done up like a parcel with elastic at the waist and legs, and Velcro fasteners holding it all together.  
  • In the long term, cloth nappies are cheaper although the better ones have a high upfront cost. For many it comes down to a balance between practicality and cost. Many find a mix-and-match approach the most practical – use high-performance brands at night and a cheaper brand or cloth nappies during the day.
  • A reader from Hamilton says, “Even the cheapest disposable nappies cost more than using cloth. With our 6th child nearly out of nappies now, we have estimated that we have saved $15,000 by using cloth nappies for all of our children… I have bought 4 dozen nappies over the years and have been given 4-5 dozen (seconds). I use pins and plastic pants which I wash by hand – no nappy rash either. I have never bought a pull-up when toilet training. I just use trainer pants and when I go out I pop a cloth nappy on the child if I'm not feeling confident that the child will 'hold-on' or not. I agree cloth nappies do take more time, but really it's not that much work. Imagine $15,000 off your mortgage!”
  • And M.W. says, “I have always used cloth nappies, and wash them in warm sometimes hot water with Lux flakes, then hang them in the sun. Also I soak them in cold water rather than Napisan. I only use Napisan if there has been a tummy bug in the house, and then I put all the nappies through Napisan for 5-7 days just to kill everything. Also my nappies are always soft from being blown around in our Wellington winds! I find this cleaning system quite economical.”

What type of nappies are you or did you use with your children? How much are you paying for nappies? Let us know at

* Frank and Muriel Newman are the authors of Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag in NZ. Readers can submit their oily rag tips on-line at The book is available from bookstores and online at