Debunking Dr Karl

It was great to hear nappies discussed on Dr Karl’s Triple J show! You can listen to the show here.

Unfortunately, Dr Karl didn’t know anything about modern cloth nappies and laundry techniques – or, at least, he didn’t at the start of the show. We were very pleased that an Oz Cloth Nappies member contacted him and our website was referred to on-air before the end of the show. It would be great to see a follow-up episode talking about the modern cloth revolution!

Dr Karl’s show did highlight some very common myths about nappies, so here’s a brief debunking and some links for further reading.


Myth: Reusable nappies take a lot of water to wash and this is bad for the drought.

Reality: Disposable nappies are manufactured in Australia, in drought-affected areas – and disposable nappies have 2.3 times the water impact compared to washing cloth nappies. The water you see isn’t the only water you use – think beyond your own backyard!

You can reduce your environmental impact even more dramatically by choosing hemp, bamboo or organic cotton nappies, using a water-efficient front loading washing machine, drying on the line, and using your nappies beyond the 100 or so uses assumed by paper-products-industry-funded research. Real nappies can generally be used 250-800 times before they need to be recycled or discarded, depending on the type of nappy. Read more about nappies and the environment in our FAQ.


Myth: Cloth nappies need all sorts of “killer chemicals” to sterilise them.

Reality: All you need for domestic laundry of cloth nappies is a small amount of regular or eco detergent, some warm water, and an outdoors clothesline. Detergent and modern washing machines do a very good job of removing the vast majority of bacteria, and sunlight photo-oxidises remaining bacteria. (The show was slightly muddled, it’s not vitamin D, it’s the ultraviolet- so this even works on a cloudy day, though it may take a little longer.) Sunlight is also amazing for dealing with any stains.

If you can’t hang clothes outdoors, it may be wise to use hot water. 60-65 degrees is adequate – basically pasteurising your nappies. Pasteurisation is considered to make pooled farm milk safe for consumption, so it’s plenty good enough for your own household germs.

Soaking chemicals are expensive, irritating to the skin, and unnecessary. A soaking pail can also present a drowning risk to toddlers. So read up about dry-pailing and easy, sustainable laundry techniques in our FAQ. We were pleased to hear the “Napisan is environmentally dangerous” myth debunked later on Dr Karl’s show – but the reality is, you don’t need Napisan at all!

While you’re considering chemicals and your baby’s bottom, don’t touch that PVC! The best nappy covers are made from fleece (recycled from plastic bottles), wool, or polyurethane laminate fabrics.

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