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Disposable or re-usable nappies? What’s best for a child with eczema?

The idea for ScratchSleeves was borne from the despair of watching our kids suffer horribly with eczema.  Eczema mittens and clothes which stop scratching can play a massive role in helping to manage the condition.  However, there’s one area where Scratchsleeves simply cannot help – bottoms! Eczema outbreaks on bottoms and in the genital region are perhaps the worst kind. For adults, it’s a horrible area of the body to feel any discomfort, so 10 times worse for a baby who doesn’t understand.  
While you can choose clothing specially designed for children with eczema, there’s only so much choice when it comes to nappies. And then there are the environmental issue to consider. The issue of disposables vs re-usable nappies is one which most parents battle with.  If you’re anything like us, the thought of sending thousands of nappies to landfill is horrifying.  And while reusable nappies are an option, they’re just not always a practical choice.  And then there’s the issue of eczema to consider. Which nappies are best for babies with eczema?  
As parents, we’ve experienced it all – disposables, re-usables and eczema. So we’ve put our heads together and pooled our experiences to bring you the ScratchSleeves guide to choosing the right nappies for an eczema child.  Hopefully, this will help you decide which type of nappy is best for your baby’s sensitive skin.

Re-usable nappies – the pros

Re-usable nappies are a more environmentally-friendly choice than disposables. Many of us have parents and grandparents who can regale us with tales of having to boil Terry towelling nappies to get them clean before re-use. The good thing about these nappies was that they cost very little and didn’t go into landfill until they were worn out, or the child became potty trained.

Nowadays, re-usable nappies are rather more sophisticated, with Velcro straps replacing safety pins and elasticated leg holes to help prevent leaks.  You can get non-disposables in different shapes and sizes and choose nappies with different types of lining.

When my children were in non-disposables I found they took a long time to dry, even in a tumble dryer. Now you can buy re-usable nappies which dry more quickly than others. Take a look at www.thenappylady.co.uk website – great for information and choice.

Re-usable nappies – the cons

Modern life is so busy, especially if you’re trying to juggle a family with running a house and work responsibilities.  I found it difficult to balance my environmental conscience with the hard (and seemingly never-ending) effort involved in the soaking, washing and drying of reusable nappies.

Unfortunately, this means that reusable nappies are not always a practical choice.  Wet or soiled nappies must be stored until you’ve got enough to put in the washing machine. And then you’ve got to get them dry before you run out, which often means using the tumble drier. It can feel like the electricity involved in washing and drying them outweighs any environmentally-friendly advantages!

Furthermore, children with eczema can be sensitive to the detergents you need to use to get cloth nappies clean.  Plus, regular immersion means these cleaning agents can play havoc with your own hands. Grandma ScratchSleeves is sure that her hands were never the same after using so much Napisan. Even using a nappy service can be tricky as you cannot always control which chemicals are used to clean your child’s nappies.

The other problem with reusables is that they don’t contain the wicking quality of a disposable. This means that your child’s skin is likely to be damp whenever they urinate.  That said, there are all sorts of linings you can buy to help minimise this problem. Barrier creams can also help, although for eczema parents that’s yet another cream to apply. However, I’ve yet to find a re-usable nappy which works as well as a disposable for keeping a baby dry.

For parents of children with eczema, this either more regular changes (a bit of a challenge if you’re relying on nursery staff to keep your child dry) or it can rule out the use of re-usables.

Disposable nappies – the pros

There are two great things about disposable nappies – they’re convenient and they’re good for keeping babies bottoms dry!

The dryness of disposable nappies is the biggest benefit, especially for eczema babies. Disposables are made with sophisticated fabrics containing chemicals which draw away the urine to keep dampness away from the skin. This reduces the risk of irritation of already sensitive skin.  

From a convenience point of view, you simply put used disposable nappies in the bin.  You don’t need to soak them, wash them or dry them at home – it’s all very easy. This is especially useful when you are out and about.

The final huge benefit of disposable nappies for eczema babies, is that they don’t need washing. This means that they don’t contain any detergent residues, a common eczema trigger. In fact, one of the signs that detergents may be a problem is an eczema free nappy region. Irritation from detergent residues can also be aggravated by dampness. An obvious problem with reusable nappies. Your can read more about detergents and eczema here.

Disposable nappies – the cons

Toddler wearing a disposable nappy, standing on the floor and looking through their legs with hands and head also on the floor.
While you can choose clothing specially designed for children with eczema, there’s only so much choice when it comes to nappies

Some parents of children with eczema find the sticky tabs on disposable nappies can irritate the skin.  In most cases, this simply means being extra careful when fastening the nappy, or changing it regularly so that the tab doesn’t cause discomfort when it gets creased.

There are lots of chemicals used to make disposable nappies. However, we haven’t come across an reports of disposable nappies causing skin reactions and there are no studies to indicate the chemicals cause problems in general.

So, the debate around whether to use disposables mostly boils down to the issue of waste.  No parent can throw away dozens of disposable nappies without at least a passing thought for the environmental consequences.

According to recycling charity Wrap, it’s estimated that 3 billion disposable nappies are thrown away in the UK each year. That’s 8m a day entering landfill. And each takes between 200 and 500 years to decompose.  While there are hardly any disadvantages of using disposables on a baby with eczema, the high environmental cost weighs heavily on most parents’ consciences.

The best approach?

I’m not sure there is a ‘best approach’ as each child and family is different.  From my own experience, I know that eczema routines can be very time-consuming, so I found that what worked for me was a combination of disposables and non-disposables.  That way I limited my impact on the environment while also doing what I could to reduce irritation to eczema skin.

The way this worked was that I would use re-usable nappies during evenings and at weekends when I had a bit more time for regular changes, and disposables during the day, especially at nursery when I wasn’t in control of nappy changes.

An alternative approach is to go nappy-free from the start. You can find out more about this approach here.

What works for you? If you have any advice you can offer to other parents on nappies and eczema, please complete our feedback form and we’ll post your comment beneath this article, or head over to our Facebook page and post a comment.

You’ll find lots of other useful articles over on our blog, You might like to read about eczema-friendly baby wipes.


Here at ScratchSleeves, we don’t just share our experiences of bringing up an eczema child and favourite allergy-friendly recipes, we also manufacture and sell our unique stay-on scratch mitts and PJs for itchy babies, toddlers and children. We now stock sizes from 0-adult years in a range of colours. Take a look at our specialist eczema clothing in our webshop

Written by:

Tess joined ScratchSleeves in 2016 and loves being able to help our little clients and other parents who are struggling.

Reviewed by:

Coming from a family of eczema sufferers, Jae draws on years of practical, first hand experience living with eczema.

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