Yes, major pun intended! I have loved cloth diapering both my kids.
I don’t need to write all the conveniences of disposable diapers; we know what they are. What I want to do is highlight how awesome cloth diapers are because a lot of people think they are hard to use, but they are not! And truthfully speaking, it’s not super black and white as to which one is better for the planet when you consider both options’ full life cycle from production to usage.
In this post I will be citing and referencing two pretty extensive articles that do a comparison of both diapering options. One is from Vox “Cloth diapers: is reusable any better?” and the other is from the Washington Post “Why cloth diapers might not be the greener choice, after all.” Below you will see quoted research mixed with my own opinions as a user. Let me break it down a little bit here:
- What to do with the poop? Of course, disposable diapers get wrapped like a burrito and tossed away carrying their load in it. Vox says “Not only is there concern about the plastic used in disposable diapers biodegrading in landfills, there is also concern about the safety of throwing away human waste. The American Public Health Association points out that disposing of human feces in a landfill could introduce into the groundwater any of 100 different viruses including polio and hepatitis.” Cloth diapers need to have their contents sprayed in the toilet and then it follows the waste stream system provided by your municipality.
- How do each impact carbon dioxide? Vox really breaks it down when you consider production, “A UK-based study found that the amount of carbon dioxide produced by using disposable diapers for 2.5 years would be less than the carbon output of laundering reusables in most cases. Even considering the additional disposables that end up in crowded landfills, experts on low-carbon living argue that the environmental impact might still be less than using fancy biodegradable diapers or even cloth. And speaking of the impact on the world population, it’s not clear that the production of cloth over plastic diapers is any better for the environment. There are chemicals and pesticides involved in the production of cloth diapers as well, which can seep into the groundwater and severely impact the ecosystem of countries where cotton is a primary export. When combined with an extensive amount of water, land, and labor utilized to grow the crops, the chemically intensive process of producing usable cotton, and increased electricity and water required to wash cloth diapers, it’s essentially trading one poison for another: weighing the impact on the individual versus the world.” Great points! And this is where I reference the R system. Refusing needs to be the first R. We need to refuse new items and consider passing down cloth diapers.
- Sensitive skin: Vox states “some parents are concerned about the chemicals present in plastic disposables and what effect that might have on their baby’s skin. A few of these chemicals are present in pesticides like Roundup and have been found to cause cancer in large quantities, but so far no major studies have explored the long-term effects of absorbing these chemicals through the skin as a result of wearing disposable diapers. Some children can have a sensitivity to some of the dyes and fragrances used in highly manufactured diapers.” Gimme The Good Stuff is an incredible resource I use often to learn about avoiding toxic products in my home, and I like what they write about disposable diapers:
- phthalates may be used not only in the plastic components of diapers, but also in the glues, synthetic fragrance, and dyes. In a recent study out of South Korea, four leading diaper brands (as well as several brands of sanitary pads) were shown to all contain varying amounts (and in some cases, very high levels) of phthalates. Phthalates directly disrupt hormones.
- Allergens and irritants. TBT, parabens, latex, and more are often found in diapers. These will most likely be present in fragrance, lotions, and dyes. While this is the least sensational potential risk (certainly phthalates are a much more exciting enemy), good old-fashioned diaper rash is probably the greatest actual concern for most babies wearing disposable diapers. The best way to avoid diaper rash (or a more serious reaction) is to avoid any disposables with dyes, fragrance, and lotions, and to look for diapers that explicitly state they are free of latex, parabens, and TBT.
- Savings: This is where I disagree with Vox and the Washington Post (but I wanted to use them because they had amazing environmental points to consider). I bought all my previously-loved cloth diapers for about $150. Any infant ones I had I sold for the same price I bought them for since I kept them in really fantastic shape. I have used the same diapers for 2 kids for 4+ years. I also check in frequently with my utility providers and my rates have changed, but my consumption has barely changed. At a big box store, buying the largest diaper size (they’re more expensive the larger the size), they range about $35-$40 a box for about 100 diapers. Kids go through about 6-8 diapers a day. That’s 2-3 weeks of diapers. In about 2-3 months I will have already paid for my cloth diapers what it was worth in disposables.
The reason I wanted to write this particular post isn’t because I wanted to prove that cloth diapers are better for the planet than disposables because we have learned that it’s pretty much weighed evenly when you consider full life cycles from cotton crops to final landfill dumps. However, I did notice one thing that these articles (and others) didn’t refer to and that was more about lifestyle choices with those products. A lot of the sites referred to new cloth diapers and big brand disposable diapers. Here is what I suggest in terms of cloth diapers and why I chose them:
- Buy used. By getting handmedown cloth diapers you’re already eliminating one of the largest contributors to the cons of cloth diapers and that is the cotton production and water usage for those crops.
- Buy bamboo and hemp. Many new (and used) brands make liners that are made from sustainable natural resources like the fast-growing bamboo and the awesome alternative to cotton, hemp.
- Wash efficient loads. We need to be smart with our laundry. I wash past 7:00 p.m. only, rinse on cold and wash in hot. I do a large enough load to have friction and a good wash. Right now I wash every 2 days. When they were younger I was washing every 3 days. And further, I use only biodegradable detergent that I buy in bulk refill.
- Air dry. During spring, summer and early fall I put my cloth diapers on the line. I do not use the dryer. This saves so much energy.
- No disposable wipes. I do not use them. I use old receiving blankets, cut up. And keep a small bucket of water next to the change table. That way when I wash the cloth diapers, the rags go in the load too. I am not buying excess products.
- Repair it, don’t ditch it. If a diaper needs mending you can take it to a local seamstress, or do the repairs often yourself. There are so many sites to help with this. Some companies even have buy-backs and upgrading options.
- Choose better. I have tried and tried and tried but my kids could not use cloth overnight. They would wake up with massive rashes and be sore and blistered. So we used an eco disposable overnight. We did a lot of research and chose to use Bambo diapers. They are well reviewed everywhere, with certifications from Nordic Eco-label, the FSC®-label and are dermatologically tested. 95% of all waste coming from the production of Bambo Nature is recycled. And Gimme The Good Stuff speaks so well of them too!
At the end of the day, I still preferred that I used cloth diapers. The above points show all those good checkmarks I did, plus I saved an abundance of money. Really, using cloth diapers is easy to do, easy on your budget and easy on the planet, if done right! I wanted this post to act as a resource tool on how to use cloth diapers, as well:
- There are main types of cloth diapers: prefold, all-in-one and pockets and variations of these. This is one of the most comprehensive comparison of all the diaper types and further, it provides a ‘101 course’ on everything you need to know. I used pocket diapers and prefolds.
- When baby is first born, you’ll most likely use disposables because baby will poop meconium, a sticky, tar-like substance that really doesn’t work well with cloth. And you’ll be so sleep deprived and crazy that you might as well give yourself a break for a couple weeks. We used an eco disposable diaper for those first couple of weeks.
- You will need a pail to hold the cloth diapers when they’re soiled (I used an old plastic waste bin from the thrift store), a little pail or bucket to hold water for wiping, old rags as wipes (we used receiving blankets cut up) and eventually a sprayer attachment that connects to the toilet to rinse off solid poops once baby eats solids (when they’re just pooping breast milk or formula, you can toss this right in the washing machine).
- You will need about 20 diapers. You’ll go through about 6-10 diapers a day. Washing them every 2 days is about right so that you have a large enough load so that they aggravate each other in the wash, and to make the load efficient.
- Once you’re ready to wash, rinse in cold, wash in a heavy cycle in hot or warm and then do another cold rinse. Use a biodegradable detergent either made for cloth diapers like Rockin’ Green or something really pure. And of course, buy this in bulk refill. Do not use commercial brands as they have too many “soaps”, chemicals and scents. Do not dry any covers or the waterproofed parts. Only the inserts and fabric pieces.
- Once in a while, depending on baby, you might need to strip your diapers. But that’s easy and it’s when you start to notice buildup and an ammonia smell that doesn’t go away. It happens when they diapers develop a build up of oils from detergents and diaper ointments/creams. However, if you live in an area with hard water, like me, your diapers might react similarly, and it’s caused by a buildup of minerals. To rid of this, soak clean diapers in the machine or a basin with hot water and your detergent, about 1/4 cup of baking soda and vinegar (skip this if you’re adding the PUL covers). For added stripping, use something like Rockin’ Green’s Funk Rock Ammonia Bouncer. Let sit for a few hours and then follow with a normal wash cycle with rinse.
They are so easy to do. If you can change a diaper, you can change a cloth diaper. It’s the washing machine that does the hard work! Change it. Spray it. Wash it. Stuff it (which I always do in front of a t.v. show in the evening). It’s that easy.
My big thing is always: consider seven generations down when you make your choices. It’s necessary to consider the future when you take action, and remember to consider an item’s life cycle. But these actions of ours are always easy. Cloth diapers are incredibly cheaper and easier on your wallet. They are so easy to do. If you can change a diaper, you can change a cloth diaper. It’s the washing machine that does the hard work! Change it. Spray it. Wash it. Stuff it (which I always do in front of a t.v. show in the evening). It’s that easy. And, in my experience, according to my utilities bills and how I have purchased them and taken care of them, they’re ultimately better for the planet. The hard part? Ugh! Watching a baby try to feed themselves soup. Just sayin’!
*I only link to products I use or love. I do not receive any compensation.