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How to buy the best disposable and cloth nappies

The bottom line on cost, convenience and the environment.

reusable and disposable nappies on teal

As a parent, you're likely to change around 6000 nappies before your child graduates to undies, so you'll want to put some thought into which one is best in the long run.

We give you the low-down on all things nappy-related and answer some common questions.

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What do parents want in a nappy?

Our CHOICE Consumer Insights team conducted an online survey of 500 parents of children aged under two. When it comes to what's very important in a nappy:

  • 75% are looking for a nappy that avoids leakages
  • 72% want an absorbent nappy
  • Around two-thirds think it's important that a nappy fits the baby well, and is comfortable and gentle on the skin.

Among the survey's respondents, Huggies was the most popular brand followed by Mamia (Aldi) and Babylove. However, keep an open mind when it comes to choosing the right nappy – other brands you may not have considered have performed well in our lab tests.

Disposable vs reusable nappies

Before you can choose the right nappy for your family, you first need to decide what type you're going to use. There are two main categories of nappies – disposable and modern cloth (reusable) cloth nappies. They're very different products, each with their own pros and cons. Here's what you need to know.

Disposable nappies

Disposable nappies are made of a number of layers using a combination of fibres and chemicals to achieve absorbency. 

The top-sheet (closest to the baby's skin), is commonly made of polypropene which works to pass the baby's urine through to the other layers. The next layer is usually made of cotton and polyester to absorb the urine away from the baby's skin before reaching the absorbent layer that usually contains some cotton and sodium polyacrylate, a super absorbent polymer that turns the urine into a gel to prevent the wet feeling inside the nappy.

There are generally six sizes, depending on the child's size and weight, starting from newborn through to junior. Here's a guide of the sizes and general weight ranges.

  • Newborn – Size 1 (up to 5kg)
  • Infant – Size 2 (3–8kg)
  • Crawler – Size 3 (6–11kg)
  • Toddler – Size 4 (10–15kg)
  • Walker – Size 5 (13–18kg)
  • Junior – Size 6 (16kg+)
  • Absorb moisture quickly to prevent leaks and 'lock it in' to keep your bub relatively dry.
  • Easy and quick to fasten.
  • Stay closed during use.
  • Fit various shapes and sizes.
  • Are very convenient, especially when out and about.

The environmental cost associated with the manufacturer and disposal of disposable nappies are their biggest disadvantage. A staggering 3.75 million disposable nappies are used each day in Australia and New Zealand. That's a lot of waste going into landfill and, once there, conventional nappies can take up to 150 years to break down due to their antibacterial properties.

Biodegradable disposable nappies

While no nappy is 100% biodegradable, in our testing, the Ecoriginals, Pandas, Bamboo Behinds, Velona Cuddlies and Tooshies nappies claim to have biodegradable components. However, nappies still need to be disposed of in landfill, making it difficult for them to actually biodegrade. Nappies made with plant-based materials are another option to consider if you're looking to be more 'eco' conscious when buying nappies.

While they're likely a better option for the environment, they can be at the more expensive end of the scale, a factor you'll also need to take into consideration. Their results for absorbency, leaks and wet feeling can also be a bit hit and miss, so check our results before buying.

Modern cloth (reusable) nappies

Reusable nappies have grown in popularity as sustainability becomes a more important consideration among parents. More manufacturers are offering reusable options, in a range of designs, so we've included a range of these in our testing.

They feature a water-resistant cover, leak-proof elasticised leg holes and an absorbent padding and liner.

This type of nappy is usually a one-size-fits-most sizing scenario, with adjustable velcro/tabs, so there's no need to invest in various sizes as your baby grows. 

Their environmental impact is much less than disposables and in the long run they'll save you money. 


The absorbent materials (shell liners, pads and boosters) include bamboo, cotton, hemp or fleece, with breathable polyurethane laminated fabric (PUL) or lanolised wool often used for covers.

The type of fabric affects drying time. Natural fibres usually take longer to dry than synthetics, and you'll want to make sure you have enough nappies to get through a few days of wet weather if you don't have a clothes dryer. 

Paper or fabric nappy liners make your laundry life easier by keeping solids off the nappy. 

The different styles 
  • All-in-ones have a moisture-resistant outer layer sewn together with an absorbent inner to form the nappy – they can take quite a while to dry. 
  • All-in-twos consist of a lined waterproof outer layer and absorbent inner layers, which 'snap in' with press studs. They can be taken apart for laundering, so they dry faster than all-in-ones. 
  • Pocket nappies have a waterproof outer layer sewn together with a soft inner lining, which forms the shell. Between these two layers there's a pocket for the absorbent inserts. These are removed for washing then replaced, which can be a bit fiddly, but on the plus side they dry quickly. 
  • Traditional terry-towelling square nappies are also still available. They can take a little practice to fold and fit right, but they're a cheaper reusable option, and modern fasteners mean you no longer need to use safety pins. 

All the reusable nappies we tested are all-in-twos, however, they can also be used as pocket nappies. 


  • Kinder on the environment.
  • Ideal for 'eco' conscious parents who want to reuse and recycle rather than throw away. 
  • They can save you money over time. 
  • Using one set of cloth/reusable nappies with a cold wash cycle and line drying is about half the cost of using disposables. 


  • There are power and water costs associated with washing cloth nappies. 
  • The process of cleaning cloth nappies (soaking, washing, drying) takes time and some may find the thought of cleaning a dirty nappy unpleasant. 
  • The initial start-up cost associated with reusable nappies is high – you'll need to make sure you have enough nappy covers and absorbent liners. 
  • Our testing finds that generally, reusable nappies can struggle to compete with disposables in terms of absorbency and leakage.

The verdict: Disposable vs reusable

For environmental and financial reasons, you can't go past modern cloth nappies. For ease of use and convenience, disposables are the way to go. Despite the environmental costs of fabric production and nappy laundering, cloth nappies that are dry pailed and mostly line-dried still come out ahead of disposable nappies.

Of course it doesn't have to be one or the other: you could use a combination of cloth and disposable nappies. You may find cloth nappies work when you're home, and disposables when out and about, going away, at nights, at daycare, and during long periods of rain when cleaning and drying is time consuming. 

If you're unsure: 

  • Buy a single nappy of each type to try out. 
  • Some MCN companies sell trial packs with samples of the different styles. 
  • Hire a trial pack from a nappy library, a service offered by nappy companies and community groups – search the internet for 'modern cloth nappy library' to find one near you.

How to choose more eco-friendly disposables

Disposable nappies really don't have the best green reputation with millions of nappies ending up in landfill every day, but there are some ways you can reduce their impact. 

  • Look for brands made using plant-based and/or biodegradable materials. 
  • Some products have compostable or recyclable packaging. There are two Australian Standards that define compostable materials - Home compostable AS5810 and Compostable AS4736.
  • Buying locally-made nappies, rather than imported, saves on transport carbon costs. 

How do you know you've chosen the right nappy?

Whatever you've decided on, here's the checklist for a good nappy.

  • No leaking around the legs.
  • No liquid seeping through the cover.
  • Not too tight or too loose around hips and legs.
  • No rubbing or chafing from the nappy or fasteners around the legs or hips.
  • Your baby's skin feels reasonably dry when the wet nappy is removed.
  • The nappy holds enough liquid to be practical (i.e. you don't have to change too often).
  • Your baby can move their legs freely and, at later stages, crawl and walk without being bothered by the nappy.

Words of wisdom

In our survey, we asked parents what advice they'd give to first-timers. Here are some of the useful tips and tricks they dished out.

  • Change frequently – "It's a good idea to change your baby's nappy at every feed or, if required, earlier. Leaving them in the same nappy for too long can cause skin irritations and nappy rash."
  • It's all about trial and error – "Always buy a small pack first. You never know which brand and which size of nappy will fit your child best. Sometimes even the best brands can give the worst nappy rash to a baby. So never think that costlier brands are always the best." 
  • Preparation is key – "Always unfold the fresh nappy and place it underneath the bum before removing the soiled nappy. Therefore you can just pull the soiled nappy away and slip the new one on without any accidents!" 
  • Sizing is important – "Choose the right size by their weight rather than their age/mobility. When they're almost too big for their current size, move them into the next size up or else they'll overfill their current sized nappy." 
  • Shop around – "Be prepared to try various types, cloth nappies, disposable nappies, to find what suits your lifestyle. Always put them in scented bags when used and dispose in the outside bin so you don't stink your house out." 

How much do nappies cost?

In our latest nappies test, the cost of a disposable nappy starts at 17c, and the most expensive is $1.11.

The reusable nappies we tested range in price from $9.90 to $35 per nappy.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.