How bad are disposable wipes really? (And what to use instead!)

Whether you’ve got one child or five, chances are you’ve used a disposable baby wipe at some point in your parenting journey. They’ve become a huge part of modern life, with millions of people around the world using them every day. But while they may be convenient, disposable wet wipes are wreaking havoc on the environment.

Thankfully we have a solution! Reusable baby wipes are significantly better for the environment, and are also much more effective than their disposable cousins. With a likely ban on plastic wet wipes coming in 2024 in the UK, we think that now is the perfect time try out reusable wipes. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy they are to use!

The Problem with Disposable Wet Wipes

Disposable wet wipes may seem like a harmless convenience, but they are actually incredibly damaging to the environment. The production of disposable wet wipes requires large amounts of water, energy, and other resources, meaning the environmental impact of a single wet wipe can be significant before you’ve even used it.

However the environmental impact of a disposable wipe goes on long after you’ve used it. Many wet wipes are made from a combination of plastic and cotton, and are not biodegradable. Despite the advice from water companies that wet wipes shouldn’t be flushed down the toilet, thousands of wipes end up in the sewage system each year, clogging up pipes and causing sewage backups. According to a study by Water UK, 22% of people admitted to flushing wet wipes down the toilet despite 88% saying they were aware they harm the environment. Similar research by Water UK also showed that wet wipes make up around [93% of the material causing sewer blockages]( information is detailed in,blockages which the study investigated.).

If disposable wipes make it through the sewage system, it’s sadly no better a story. The Marine Conservation Society reports a 400% increase in wet wipes found on coastlines in the past decade. Even if they disintegrate, they release microscopic fragments of plastic known as microplastics, which are harmful to sea life and humans alike.

What’s more, if wipes do happen to be thrown in the bin, the situation is not much better. Plastic wet wipes can take decades to break down in landfill, or release harmful chemicals into the environment if they are incinerated. While some people believe switching to biodegradable wipes solves this problem, sadly there is little improvement. These wipes need specific industrial composting conditions to break down efficiently, and many people will still bag their biodegradable wipes in plastic bags, which will prevent them from biodegrading at all.

The Benefits of Reusable Wipes

Reusable wipes, on the other hand, offer a much more sustainable alternative. Made from materials like cotton, bamboo, or microfibre, reusable wipes can be washed and used again and again. The energy and water requirements to produce a reusable wipe are not much more than a few disposable wipes, which means you’ll be creating a significantly lower environmental footprint during the time your child is in nappies. On top of this, you’re hugely reducing the impact of waste on the environment, since you will only need about 30 reusable wipes in total, compared to thousands of disposables.

As well as the environmental benefits of reusable wipes, there’s a number of other benefits too. They are much more cost-effective in the long run, especially if you have multiple children. Many parents find one set of 30 reusable wipes will last over 5 years, even with daily use.

Reusable wipes are also much more effective. While you might need 5-10 disposable wipes to deal with a dirty nappy, often you’ll find you need half the number of reusable wipes, because they do a much better job of cleaning. They’re also gentler on sensitive skin, since they’re often made from soft, gentle materials and wetted only with water or solutions of mild soap and essential oils.

Getting Started with Reusable Wipes

If you're interested in making the switch to reusable wipes, there are a few things you should know to get started.

Firstly, you don’t need to be using reusable nappies to make the switch to reusable wipes! Even if you don’t feel ready to switch your nappies, we still think you’ll benefit from trying reusable wipes.

There’s a range of different options out there, but wipes made from natural fibres like bamboo and cotton tend to be the most popular since they give the best clean and are gentlest on little bottoms. You can buy pre-made wipes or you can make your own by, for example, cutting up an old towel.

When it comes to using your wipes, you can either store them dry and wet them as you go, or store them ready wetted in a waterproof container. Dirty wipes are best stored in a wet bag while they wait for the wash. On wash day, wash your wipes as you would reusable nappies or other heavily soiled clothing - you can find full instructions here.

If you’re still not sure whether to give it a go, try switching to reusable wipes for wiping faces and hands to begin with. You’ll probably be surprised at how easy it turns out to be!

You can find more tips for getting started with reusable wipes in this blog post we shared last year.

If you’re ready to make the switch, take a look at our bamboo wipes here.

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