Plastic-free parenting hacks: wet wipes

By Karline McCawley – Education Officer at Thames21

New parent Karli is experimenting with reusable wet wipes in a bid to reduce her baby’s footprint & live more sustainably
Baby poo. It’s certainly not the most appealing subject, but did you know it’s connected to the health of our rivers?

As a new parent, I’ve recently made the switch from disposable to reusable wet wipes because I’m aware of their negative impact on rivers like the Thames. Thousands are flushed down the toilet when they shouldn’t be, partly due to misleading labelling, and from there they get into rivers when our sewage systems overflow during heavy rainfall. This happens roughly once a week in the Thames. 

Volunteers on our last Big Wet Wipe Count collected 4500 wet wipes from one patch of foreshore on the south side of Hammersmith Bridge in just 3 hours. Wet wipe ‘sandbanks’ can sadly be seen at low tide.


Now I definitely don’t flush my wet wipes: they go into the bin. But the sheer quantity that I use was getting to me. My daughter’s bum got the once or twice-over wipe and in the bin they went. With an average of  7-10 changes daily,  that’s about 20 wipes discarded every day! 

Since most wet wipes contain plastic and won’t degrade, that’s yet more plastic I’m adding to landfill over the course of my baby’s life. 



Initially I was concerned about yet more piles of dirty laundry and more contact with baby poo, but following some motivating conversations with fellow parents at work and other colleagues, I took the plunge. 

My daughter is now nearly one-year-old and I’ve finally made the switch. A trawl through Freecycle got me a whole reusable system (Cheeky Wipes) for nothing, though there are places online to buy them new too. You can also make up your own system from tuppaware containers and natural fabric wipes.


The system I use involves two tubs and 25 cotton wipes. One tub is the ‘fresh’ container and the second is the ‘mucky’ container (to describe it nicely). In one tub you have pre-moistened fresh wipes ready to go. Then after wiping, you chuck them in the mucky bin, which has a mesh bag for easy collection and removal to laundry.


Saving the planet – one reusable wet wipe at a time


As I began my experiment, I was relieved to discover that they’re not as ‘mucky’ as I thought they’d be.  The pre-rinse takes care of most of it and rubber gloves keep me safe from baby poo. 


Where once I used two or three disposable wet wipes, now I only need one reusable wipe because they are made with a fine terry material that just picks up everything! 


I’m not a fan of putting any poo directly in the washing machine, but that can be avoided because the mucky bin is the perfect size for giving everything a quick pre-rinse in the sink when it’s full. 



My initial hesitation about using the wipes was misplaced… they are great! This system is a definite keeper. 

I’ve been relieved to find that the little containers don’t take up much extra space, and so far my daughter has not figured out how to undo the latch on the mucky bin. The key is to find what works for you and to stay organised. I have a lot of reusable wipes but if I don’t keep on track of the washing, they could run out quickly. 


Start your own plastic-free revolution – you have nothing to lose but your wet wipes!

Reusable wet wipes are a bit of extra work but the benefits certainly outweigh the negatives. Instead of continually spending money, the reusable wipes system is entirely free to maintain. Whereas many wet wipes contain various man-made chemicals, with this system you know you’re protecting your baby’s sensitive skin, and that you’re not adding to the huge plastic load threatening our environment.  


I’ll admit I don’t use them for every wipe now, not if I’ve run out or if the mess is just too much, but I’m doing what I can.


 If you’re thinking of making the switch to reusable wipes, I’d say go for it.  Have a try and see if they work for your family too!


Our next annual Big Wet Wipe Count is happening on Saturday 3 March  2018. Sign up to help collect crucial data, remove wet wipes from the foreshore and raise awareness about the problem! Stats from last year’s event were shared around the world.