Introduction

Switching to reusable products offers a range of environmental, economic and health benefits. Making the switch doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Even opting for reusables some of the time is a positive step. 

If you’re curious to see some of the reusable personal care products, why not join us at one of our events to find out more about making the switch? We’ll be at the following libraries, 10am to 2pm.

About 2.5% of the contents of Somerset’s rubbish bins are hygiene products (including incontinence and period products) a further 11% of the rubbish in our bins is nappies.

There are reusable alternatives for many disposable products used routinely throughout our lives. We’re focussing on personal issues to help you find out about the following reusable personal care products here: 

Reusable bed and chair protectors

Why consider reusable bed and chair protectors

Reusable bed and chair protectors offer a practical less-wasteful way to protect your furniture, and with long-term use will save you money.

What are they?

These washable protectors have several layers – a fast drying top layer, an absorbent middle later and a waterproof layer to prevent leaks and may also have a stain resistant sheet on the underside.

Washable protectors come in a range of sizes and absorbencies to suit a variety of needs.

What are they for?

These can be used to protect beds and chairs to deal with adult continence issues, children’s bed-wetting, even for pet-beds. These protectors can also give peace of mind for women or people experiencing heavy periods to protect bed linen while they sleep.

How do I use them?

These washable protectors go on top of the bed linen, chair or other surface you want to protect, making it quick and easy to clean up after any accidents or spills.

How many would I need?

You’ll need more than one protector so you can pop another one on while the other(s) are in the laundry. How many you’ll need will depend on how often you’ll likely to deal with a spill or leak and how frequently you have a load for washing and allowing time for drying.

How would I clean them?

As with all reusable personal care products, you should follow the product’s care instructions and advice on how to use the product for optimum effectiveness. It’s generally recommended to avoid using fabric softener as this reduces the absorbency of the material.

Line drying is the cheapest option. Some protectors may not be suitable for tumble drying, others you can tumble dry on a low heat.

Where can I get them?

Reusable bed and chair protectors are available from many online shops, including Age-UK and others that include care products, baby products, or eco-products. 

Reusable continence products for adults

Why consider reusable continence products

Reusable continence products are comfortable, easy to use and absorbent, and they don’t use lots of chemicals and gels like the disposables. And you’ll be comfortable in the knowledge that reusable incontinence products are likely to cost you much less.

What are they?

Reusable continence products for adults come in a range of sizes and absorbencies, which are shaped to fit either male or female bodies. They broadly fall into two categories – reusable continence pads and liners or a type of underwear.

Continence pads and liners can be used with washable pouch pants, or by attaching to the gusset of women’s underwear.

Washable continence pants are regular shaped underwear with inbuilt absorbent area and waterproof layer to catch leaks.

Washable pouch pants are regular shaped underwear with inbuilt pouch to insert a disposable or reusable pad. These may include an inner waterproof layer.

Waterproof pants/wraps look like regular fabric underwear with an inner waterproof layer. They are designed to provide extra comfort and security when worn over the top of disposable continence pants. They do not have an in-built absorbent layer.

What are they for?

All of the above can be used for urinary incontinence, but you’ll need to consider if a particular product’s absorbency will meet your needs.
Waterproof pants/wraps may be of interest to people with either urinary or bowel incontinence, or sufferers of IBS.

How do I use them?

Reusable pads are placed inside regular underwear. Where you place a reusable pad will be different for depending on your sex. Reusable continence pads for a male body sit to the front of underwear and are often shaped for a closer fit.  Reusable pads and liners for light incontinence for women’s underwear are flat and are secured around the gusset with in-built poppers. Women or people who menstruate with light continence issues can use reusable period pads for both situations.

Washable continence pants are worn like regular pants. These are great for light bladder weakness. You will need to change them more frequently than regular underwear if you have frequent or larger oops moments to ensure you continue to feel dry and fresh all day long.

Washable pouch pants designed to be use with insert pads – the pouch securely holds the reusable or disposable pad to provide comfort, confidence and discretion. Pouches are situated in underwear specifically for male or female bodies.

Waterproof pants or wraps – can used over mesh support pants and disposable pads or all in one disposable continence pants, and can be used for both urinary and bowel incontinence. You don’t need to change the waterproof pants/wrap every time you change a pad providing the waterproof pants or wrap remain clean.

Absorbencies vary between products, so consider your circumstances when considering continence purchases. Suppliers may be able to offer advice on the products they stock, but for specialist advice it is best to speak to a continence specialist or a doctor.

How many would I need?

Reusable continence pants take longer to dry than normal underwear because of the multiple layers. Those with inbuilt absorbent pads or linings with higher absorbencies will take longer to dry.

How many reusable pads or pants you’ll need will depend on how often you experience incontinence, if these are small oops moments or more moderate, and how often you’re likely to have a load to wash.

It’s useful to have some waterproof changing bags (often called wet bags) for when you’re out and about. That way you can take spare pads/pants out with you and have somewhere to store the used pad or pants until you get home. “Wet bags” are great for containing wet items of clothing like swimwear, continence or period pads or pants. Wet bags can be washed at the same time as the reusable continence pads or pants but remember to take the pads or pants out of the wet bag before washing. Wet bags will line dry fairly quickly.

How would I clean them?

If you’re out and about, you can put soiled reusable pads or pants in a wet bag until you get home.

Rinse reusable pads or pants in cold water as soon as you can and set aside for laundry. Using a mesh laundry bag will protect the product in the washing machine.

You can wash reusable continence products with regular laundry, however, you may choose to wash separately as it’s best to avoid using fabric softener to optimise absorbency. Check the recommended wash temperature for your product and drying instructions.

Remember, if you used a waterproof changing bag (also known as a wet bag) make sure you empty it first before adding it to the wash. These are not suitable for tumble drying, but will air dry fairly quickly.

Line drying is the cheapest option. Some reusable continence pads or pants may not be suitable for tumble drying, others you can tumble dry on a low heat. Check the product’s care instructions.

Where can I get them?

There are a wide range of options online, including Age UK, continence specialists and care suppliers. These suppliers may also stock waterproof changing bags for these products when out and about. Generic wet bags can also be used and can be found other stores as these are also useful for containing wet swimwear and children’s reusable nappies. 

Reusable nappies

Why consider reusable nappies

Reusable nappies are also known as ‘cloth’, ‘real’ or ‘washable’ nappies. Washable nappies can save you up to £500 per child! Babies have about 5000 nappy changes. Switching to reusables instead of single-use plastic ones, will save money, reduce waste and help the environment. Even switching to reusables for some of the time makes a difference.

Modern reusable nappies come in a range of shapes, sizes and colours designed to suit your baby and your pocket. They have many of the same convenient design features as disposables, like a fitted shape. By using poppers and Velcro fastenings they are easy to put on and take off.
They are easy to wash and can be used with a liner to catch solid waste and reduce nappy soiling. After flushing the poo from the liner in the toilet, just bag and bin the single-use liner or, if you’re using reusable liners, pop it in the nappy bucket for washing later. Nappies and reusable liners can be washed at 40-60C (depending on soiling) and line or tumble dried.

Benefits of reusable nappies:

Saving Money

Despite a higher initial outlay for reusable nappies, you can save up to £500 in the time your child is in nappies. Save even more by reusing the nappies again for subsequent children or by selling reusables when no longer needed. You can save up to another £75 by using fleece liners, rather than single-use liners, and another £250 by making your own wipes from material.

Reduce waste

Disposable nappies are a source of single-use plastic and the UK dumps around three billion disposable nappies a year. In the UK, the vast majority of these will end up buried in landfill or (as happens in Somerset) taken to energy from waste facilities to generate electricity. The recycling industry is working on technology to recycle disposable nappies, but this is not widely available.

Modern reusable nappies are made from natural materials like cotton, bamboo and hemp and from man-made fabrics like fleece. They do not contain chemical gels and are available in a wide range of styles.

More nappy stats and facts: Wrap website

A typical baby uses about 5,000 disposable nappies, or you can reuse around 24 reusable nappies between birth and potty training, saving resources and reducing carbon emissions. And line drying and using reusables for a second child, the financial and environmental savings are even greater.

What are they?

Modern reusable nappies are:

  • soft, absorbent and comfortable, with layers that help to draw pee away from baby’s skin
  • designed to be washed and reused
  • waterproof to hold moisture, preventing leaks
  • made to last and could be used again if you have more children or passed on to somebody else
  • available in a variety of colours, styles and shapes

There’s a choice of natural fibres, including cotton (absorbent, soft, quick to dry), bamboo (soft, very absorbent, allows for a thinner nappy but takes longer to dry), hemp or wool, and man-made fibres (very soft, very absorbent, dry very quickly).

Main styles of reusable nappies:

  • Flat nappies such as flat terry towelling and pre-fold nappies require folding and often fasten with a nappy nippa or safety pin. These can be the quickest to dry. Flat nappies are used with a waterproof wrap.
  • Shaped nappies which do not require folding and are shaped like a disposable nappy, fastening with poppers or Velcro.
  • Sized nappies come in different sizes and you will need to buy the next size as your child grows.
  • One-sized nappies are designed to fit from birth to potty trained using poppers or Velcro to adapt the size of the nappy as the baby grows. (If you have a premature or small baby, you may find these too big in the first few weeks).

Some nappy styles incorporate a waterproof outer (known as an ‘all in one’) while some have a separate waterproof outer, known as a wrap. The waterproof outer wrap contains the moisture within the nappy and protects your child’s clothing.

Nappies often have separate liners, inserts and boosters to ensure the absorbency matches the needs of children as they grow.

Tip: Easily remove solid waste before washing with reusable or disposable liners.

How do I use them?

There are many online websites dedicated to providing advice and support on how to get the best results from reusable nappies and find the nappy most suitable for you and your baby’s needs, including ease of use and how quick the nappies dry after washing.

The Nappy Lady is an informative website providing advice and support about all things washable nappy related. It includes help and how to videos. These explain how to use and wash cloth nappies, the parts of a nappy system, answers to nappy concerns, and much more. Website:www.thenappylady.co.uk 
Email:info@thenappylady.co.uk

Mummy of Four helps “busy mums make their lives easier with parenting tips, tricks, hacks reviews and advice”. There is a suite of useful videos on reusable nappies, including accessories you need to go with reusable nappies,cloth nappy liners, inserts and boosters explained, and how to stuff pocket nappies.

There are several Facebook groups, internet parenting forums and reusable nappy retail sites which provide advice and guidance on different reusable nappy designs and styles. Some may also offer opportunities to buy or sell second-hand reusable nappies, as do some National Childbirth Trust events.

We’re interested to hear from any groups or individuals interested in setting up a cloth nappy library in the Somerset Council area.

How do I wash them?

Use normal laundry detergent and wash at no more than 60C (40C may be fine). Do not use fabric softener or conditioner as this will reduce the absorbency. Line-dry if possible.

Tip: store nappies in a nappy bucket; add a little tea tree or lavender oil.

How many will I need?

This will depend on the nappy type, washing routine and how often they are used. As a rough guide consider 15-25.

What about nappy rash or leaks?

Used correctly, reusables bring no more issues than disposables; indeed, many find they have fewer problems.

Can I use them at night?

Yes you can, many parents do, and if necessary there are booster pads to increase absorbency.

Experiences of Somerset reusable nappy users

We asked reusable nappy users for their experiences. Edited extracts are below. Send your thoughts to recycle@somerset.gov.uk

Used for both of my children and will use for my third. My boy’s nursery has been great with them. More washes are needed but you just get used to it. Definitely saved money over the years and have bought most of mine second-hand off social media.
– Rachael, Somerset.

Lots of great things: don’t smell as much as disposables, fewer poo leaks when younger, better for the environment, cuter, harder for a toddler to remove by themselves! Our childcare provider has been brilliant; no issues with them using cloth full time.
– Kayleigh, Somerset.

So easy to use, I actually don’t understand what the fuss is about! I find the idea of putting poo in a bin way more off-putting than rinsing it into a toilet. Didn’t soak ours, just put them in a wet bag and washed them every three days. You can sell them on for almost what you bought them for. Easiest green parenting decision!
– Suzanne, Taunton

Using cloth nappies seemed complicated as there are so many different sorts but we hired a pack from a nappy library to try it out and found it was great once we got into the swing of it! We would absolutely recommend it, it does take a little bit of getting used to but quickly becomes the norm.
– Alex, Wellington

I have five kids and have used them for them all. They don’t smell half as bad, no nappy rash (which my girls had really badly when I did use disposables briefly), they look so much cuter and I’m convinced they have led to easier potty training. Oh, and no unplanned nappy free time as they can’t undo the poppers!
– Hayley, Somerset

The best advice I was given was that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing; no one is going to judge you if you need a few disposable days. My bin isn’t constantly full either; no squashing down a stinky overflowing bin so the lid shuts, which is a massive bonus.
– Holly, Wellington.

I only wish I’d done it sooner. Although the initial investment is larger, I’d made my money back already six months into use. Neither of my children have ever had a nappy rash as there are no nasty chemicals. I’ve already saved myself a fortune and hopefully saved the environment a lot of suffering in the process.
– Krystal, Taunton.

Where can I get them?

Reusable nappies are stocked in high street stores such as Boots and, in some supermarkets, depending on the store size.

There are many online suppliers of reusable nappies around the UK including local companies such as Yeovil based peanutandpoppet.com

There is a big pre-loved reusable nappy market and washable reusable baby wipes. Used Nappies is a dedicated website to buy and sell used cloth nappies.

Some of the Facebook groups, internet parenting forums and reusable nappy retail sites which provide advice and guidance on different reusable nappy designs and styles may also offer opportunities to buy or sell second-hand reusable nappies, as do some National Childbirth Trust events.

Reusable Nappy Hire

You can hire reusable nappies from Share: Frome a library (a small membership fee applies to join the library and hire rates are very reasonable for a wide range of items).

Areas covered: Frome and surrounding area (borrower collects)
Hire cost: Pack sizes and hire rates to vary. Can be hired from a single day to weeks. Please note, you need to become a member of Share to borrow items.
Website:sharefrome.org 
Email:borrow@sharefrome.org
Phone: 07983 639611 (opening hours only)
Address: 3A The Bridge, Frome, BA11 1AR

Sadly two local community groups which hired reusable nappy kits and offered advice on how to use these effectively have closed recently closed. The council previously provided 25 bumper reusable nappy kits for hire by these groups and work is ongoing to explore new opportunities.
We would love to hear from organisations or individuals interested in setting up a cloth nappy library in the area covered by Somerset Council to help local people switch to reusables.

Reusable period products

Why consider reusable period products

The average woman or person who menstruates throws away up to 200kg of menstrual products in their lifetime. It’s estimated that 90% of a menstrual pad and 6% of a tampon is plastic, with many tampon strings and applicators also being plastic. This has an environmental cost, and it has a cost to you too, with a period costing on average £10, that’s £130 a year and £4,940 over a lifetime. (Source: Women’s Environmental Network)

What are they and what are they for?

  • Reusable pads and liners are soft, absorbent pads with a waterproof lining and wings that popper around your regular pants, similar to disposable period pads. They come in a range of sizes and absorbencies, to cope with light to heavy flow. Longer pads are useful when in bed.
  • Period pants look and feel like regular fabric underwear with a leakproof lining and an absorbent inner panel, with options for light to heavy flow. These are a great option for young people and those who don’t want to use an internal product.
  • Menstrual cups are an internal flexible cup to collect your flow, available in a variety of shapes and sizes.
  • Menstrual discs are an internal disc, which sits higher up the vagina than menstrual cups and can be worn during sex.
  • Reusable tampon applicators are a great way to help cut applicator waste for disposable tampons.

How do I use them?

Women’s Environmental Network has put together a fantastic guide as part of their Enviromenstrual campaign. Check out “Everything you need to know about reusable period products but were afraid to ask

If you’re not sure which period product is right for you, The Period Lady has a quick questionnaire to help give you a personalised recommendation.

Where can I get them?

Interest in reusables is growing and more shops where you buy period products or pants are beginning to stock reusable period products, including some larger supermarkets. Local zero waste shops may also stock these. Check if you have one near you.

In December 2020 Women’s Environmental Network compiled a list to help you explore some brands of plastic-free menstrual products and where to find them.

Frome Medical Practice has collated a list of local shops selling plastic free (reusable and disposable) menstrual products in the Frome area.  

Reusable wipes

Why consider reusable wipes

Reusable wet wipes are so versatile and can be used for hands, faces and bums and even mucky pets.

What are they?

These are small fabric cloths made of cotton, bamboo (both natural fibres) or microfibre (synthetic fibres).

What are they for?

Reusable wet wipes are a useful personal care product and can be used instead of make up removal cloths, hand wipes, intimate wipes and baby wipes. Cotton and bamboo are great for all these uses, but microfibres are not suitable for little bums.

Reuseable wipes designed for household cleaning are unlikely to be gentle on your skin so do not use these for personal care!

How do I use them and clean them?

Many suppliers of reusable wet wipes include instructions on how to use and clean their products.  For example, cheekywipes.com has a great step-by-step guide to setting up your reusable wet wipes kit and also has a quick quiz to help you choose which of their wipes are best for you.

You can simply make them wet with water, but many of the suppliers of reusable wet wipes will have products you can add to the water in which you pre-soak the wipes to give added cleaning and/or moisturising quality depending on the intended use. The Nappy Lady has a short video showing how such products can be used.

It’s helpful to have a wet bag for clean and dirty wipes when you’re out and about. This is less bulky than the boxes you may prefer to use at home.

How many would I need?

This would depend on your needs. Online suppliers will usually have information their websites to help you.

Where can I get them?

You can find these in stores which also sell reusable nappies or eco products, such as Boots, local zero waste shops, as well as lots of online shops. May shops selling beauty products will also have reusable make up removal pads or cloths. 

Last reviewed: February 15, 2024 by Beth

Next review due: August 15, 2024

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