Dry, secure, comfortable - and disposable rather than re-usable. Our experts, great and small, try seven brands
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The Independent Culture
THIS country's babies used 3.4 billion disposable nappies last year, at a cost to their parents of about £500m. Pampers is still the nappy that swathes more bottoms than any other brand, but it is now faced with a strong challenge from a new contender launched last year, Huggies. Meanwhile, supermarkets are making their own bid for the parent pound with cheaper own-brands, such as Sainsbury's Performers.

We asked a panel of parents (and one nanny) to test a selection of disposables. We also asked them to try traditional terry nappies. Concern about the damage caused by throwaways to the environment has led to a new interest in re-usables - though, according to Which? magazine, it's by no means clear-cut which type is better: laundering terries uses water and electricity, for example. Most parents emerged from this experiment vowing never to wrestle with terries, plastic pants and safety pins again, though they might have found newer types of re-usable, shaped more like a disposable, more friendly. Nappy-washing services, which are becoming more widely available, also make re-usables a more palatable prospect.


Isabel Lloyd, mother of baby Jack, eight months; Mary Gallagher, nanny to Lily Aaronovitch, 23 months; Chris and Joan Smith, parents of Madeleine, one year; Peter and Daniela Popham, parents of Gabriel, eight months; Susan Wood, mother of Nathaniel, 11 months.


Each baby wore each brand for a day, and the panel gave marks for how leakproof they were, how well they kept the baby dry, how secure the fastening was, fit, comfort, the baby's mobility, and value for money. The price quoted for disposables is for one midi-sized nappy.


(12.4p each)

Despite its low price, it would be a false economy to buy these, the only unisex brand. They had to be changed much more frequently. "This nappy failed on the most basic test: it leaked," said Daniela and Peter Popham. "Pretty poor in every way. The absorbent padding seem-ed to break up when wet. It also didn't fit well; it got all scrunched up round the legs and gappy at the top," said Isabel Lloyd. "In the morning, our daughter's vest and pyjamas needed a good wring out. One we would avoid," said Chris and Joan Smith. In fairness to Boots, it should be said that this is its cheaper brand. The company also sells Boots Ultra, which competes with the likes of Pampers and Huggies.


(13.9p each)

Two of our panel liked these and would switch to them from more expensive brands. "It had good fastenings, resealable and strong, and they don't lose their stickiness if you have a bit of cream on your fingers. Good leak-shields around the top edges," said Isabel Lloyd. But two other parents found that the nappy failed in its two most important functions - absorbency and preventing leaks. "We liked the design, with its generous fit, but it did not live up to expectations. It failed badly when sodden. We would pass this one by," said Chris and Joan Smith.


(15.6p each)

This brand beat off all the opposition, though it was by the narrowest of margins. Together with the other Pampers product, Ultra Thin, it was considered the best at stopping leaks and also the most absorbent. It lagged a long way behind in one respect, however: the panellists found the nappies extremely difficult to keep fastened securely. "Maybe we are brainwashed," said Chris and Joan Smith, "as these are our `regulars'. But there is no doubt in our minds that, at their main job of keeping the child dry, they are unbeatable. The only criticism is that the tabs are sometimes unsticky. We remain fans, however." Peter and Daniela Popham had mixed feelings about these nappies: "Very good on dryness," they commented, "but if they are closed with greasy fingers, the tapes sometimes fail to stick." ***PAMPERS ULTRA THIN

(16.4p each)

A more expensive version of Pampers, which is thinner, and has stretchy panels and an elasticated waist to make it easier for the baby to move around in. Although panellists found these did allow more mobility, most didn't think they were sufficiently better than Pampers Baby Dry for it to be worth paying more for them. "Very good, but although Lily probably prefers the lightness and mobility of these thin nappies, I don't think they make all that much difference to her. Paying the extra is not strictly necessary," said Mary Gallagher. But Susan Wood preferred both these lightweight nappies, and her regulars, Huggies Ultrathin. "As the one who has to lug the things home, I think top marks go to these brands as they take up a lot less room," she said.


(13.9p each)

This was rated more highly than the Tesco own-brand nappy, but it was still not as leakproof or absorbent as the Pampers. The panel liked the fit and thought the tape fastenings worked well. "These were similar to the Tesco ones. They fitted well, but leaked and needed changing more frequently than the Pampers," commented Chris and Joan Smith, who said they would not buy these. Daniela and Peter Popham were more positive: "The only non- Pampers nappy which was a serious challenger to the original. It kept the baby dry and mobile and has neat tapes," they said.


(15.6p each)

Despite the fast-growing popularity of this brand, Huggies could not quite match its arch-rival, Pampers, on leakproofness and absorbency. Mary Gallagher commented: "They absorbed reasonably well, but did leak a little. They were rather lumpy and uncomfortable when wet or full. Very thin, so good for older babies who are walking. But the tapes are temperamental and often didn't stick at all," said Isabel Lloyd. Chris and Joan Smith were very satisfied, though: "An excellent nappy. They fitted well and kept Madeleine's bottom dry. We would definitely buy them as an alternative to Pampers."


(18.3p each, plus cost of nappy liner, safety pin, plastic pants)

There was no nostalgia among our panel for the days before disposables. "Now we understand the word progress. There's no comeback in sight for these in our household. Incredibly fussy, messy and dirty," said Peter and Daniela Popham. Another couple, Chris and Joan Smith, reported that "Madel-eine waddled about with a bemused look on her face. She resembled a building site worker, as her bottom made a larger and larger appearance." As for Susan Wood: "Three of us couldn't get them folded to a proper fit, and trying to put in the pin was a nightmare. I was terrified of stabbing Nathaniel or myself. Verdict: life is too short." Only Isabel Lloyd had anything good to say about them, but even she would not switch: "They were very comfortable and Jack looked sweet and fluffy in them. Laundering them was not too bad as we do a wash every day, and in the long run they are good value. But they were too bulky for Jack's current clothes and had to be changed more frequently. Terries might ease your ecological conscience a bit, but I'll definitely be sticking to disposables."