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Disposable Diapers or Cloth Nappies? A Kenyan Mom Explains Why she Settles for Cloth


In those days when we were growing up, the only option our moms had for our soiled behinds was cloth nappies.  You know –those white square nappies that used to be folded into a triangle then pinned on our hips with a humongous scary binnie (safety pin). I know that since then, cloth diapers have metamorphosed into more comfortable ones that are well padded and even look like fitting underwear -though I know many moms in Kenya today still use the original cloth nappies of them days.

Despite this advancement, disposable diapers seem to be the order of the day and are the preferred option for many moms that I know of. I don’t actually know anyone who uses cloth nappies as such. Myself, I use them occasionally on Kitty here and there, but certainly not regularly. Why do I use disposable diapers? Purely because of the convenience. Period.

Slippers and DiapersSo it was interesting to come across one mom the other day, who swears by cloth nappies. Her name is Nthenya, and she is mother to a 2 year old daughter, and is expecting her second born in November this year. This is what she shared:

MT: Tell me about your preference for cloth nappies.

Nthenya: Environmentally, disposable diapers are not fully bio-degradable. The chemicals they put in them are meant to absorb moisture, keep the nappy from falling apart and stop things getting too stinky. But they are not safe. In Europe, parents have access to disposables that don’t contain any chemicals and are fully bio-degradable -you can actually put them in your compost pit and in a year or so, there will be very little trace of it. It is largely for this reason that I use cloth nappies.

By the way, nappies with poop can’t be composted as there is a risk of spreading disease. Only wet ones can be composted and the nappy has to be a brand that says it can be put in the garden compost (though not the ordinary compost pit we learnt about in agriculture lessons).

I think it will be a long time before we see these kinds of disposables in our markets and which will not cost half our monthly salary! I hope though that this will soon happen in Kenya.

MT: Is there any particular regimen you follow in washing  cloth nappies?

Nthenya: Even though cloth nappies are a pain to wash and they can stink up the house especially if the taps are dry, I still prefer them. On days when water is scarce, I keep them soaked in tea tree and lavender solution in a bucket with a lid until water returns (I also do this when I find myself busy and don’t have the immediate time to wash them).

After they are well soaked, I wash them in hot water, avoiding detergents and bleach because those too can cause damage to a baby’s bottom or cause the fabric to age too fast. I then dry them in the sun to kill off any nasties that were not killed by the tea tree oil, as well as to remove poo stains. This way I’m sure of what’s going on my baby’s bottom.

Disposable colorful baby diapers.MT: Have you ever used disposable diapers?

Nthenya: Yes I have and this is occasionally when we have serious water issues. When I use them, I make sure I change baby every hour or so and coat the bottom in a thick layer of nappy cream or coconut oil. Disposables are wonderfully convenient but until the time when we can buy the good environmentally-friendly disposables locally, I will stick to cloth nappies.

So those are Nthenya’s reasons for why she uses cloth nappies. Who else uses cloth nappies like her, and what are your reasons?



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Maryanne W. Waweru is a Kenyan mum raising her two sons in Nairobi. A journalist, Maryanne is passionate about telling stories and hopes that through her writing, her readers learn something new, feel encouraged, inspired, and appreciative of what they have in their lives. Maryanne's writing focuses on motherhood, women and lifestyle. "Telling stories is the only thing I know how to do," she says.


  1. I do, on my 15 month old. besides the saving on cash, I noticed baby got the rash despite the diff diapers I tried. with clothe nappy,even when it’s wet she never gets any rash. though at night its diapers.

    Another reason is where I live, its you sort and dispose off ur trash and those diapers won’t bloody burn!

  2. Well, I dont think I want to ever try the cloth diapers. I dont have even one. I bought some when I got my first baby ended up giving out 10 of them. I used two as bibs. I dont think I can stand washing poop.

  3. I used cloth diapers sometimes with my 2 kids,love the way they look on the hanging line and i read somehwere diapers will take anything between 200-300 years to turn into biodegradable waste.I can imagine the trash we are going to leave the earth with with everone now going the disposable way.

    My wish would be for manufacturers to come up with more eco friendly diapers which are affordable and ones that are flushable.

  4. When I had my children cloth nappies were the ‘norm’. Disposables where about but only used for convenience when going out. For young mums now it must be difficult to be green and use real nappies unless they are lucky enough to be able to be a stop at home mum.


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