Saturday, February 9, 2013

Cloth Diapering: Why I do it

Cloth diapering is something I get approached about a lot. It's funny because a lot of people seem nervous to ask about it. I'm not sure why that is, but it always ends up being an interesting conversation. I welcome it! Whatever your reason for being interested or curious, good for you for wanting to make a change!

I came across "modern" cloth diapering when I was pregnant with my son. I spent a lot of time researching options for EVERYTHING from developmental toys/activities to feeding to diapering. I didn't know that cloth diapers had evolved so much! When I heard the term "cloth diaper", thought of what most people probably think of - a flat, square piece of cloth that you fold up and secure with a giant safety pin. NO THANKS! But I was wrong. (sort of--flats are still available and are actually widely used) Gone are the days of plastic pants and diaper pins! While some people do still use those, most prefer cute, modern cloth diapers featuring snaps, hook and loop (velcro, aplix, etc.) closure, and cutesy colors and prints.

Here are a few pictures of my daughter in cloth diapers

Workhorse fitted
Oh Katy
Small gDiaper
Bummis Super Whisper Wrap
itti bitti tutto
Newborn gDiaper ("tiny g's")

So...they're cute, right?! We love them at our house!

At first, it all seemed so overwhelming. I (temporarily) gave up on the idea. Gabriel was in disposables until he was potty trained. A few months into my pregnancy with Evangeline, I saw an ad for gDiapers. I was intrigued, so I clicked on it and found myself diving head first into cloth diaper research. After a week or so, armed with information, I felt confident enough about the subject to bring it up to McKay to see what he thought. After discussing it, we both felt good about moving forward....and here we are today!

There are three main reasons that factored into our decision to go cloth (and the three most common reasons people do it): Cost. Environment. Health. Let's start with cost, since so many people seem to be hung up on that one.

To start, we'll do a cost analysis on disposables. In 1988, about 18 billion diapers were sold and consumed in the US, and it cost $300 million just to dispose of them. Today, that number is around 27.4 billion - and the cost to dispose of them? Astronomical.

But what about personal cost? I did a search on for disposable diapers and their most popular and first listed is a 192 count box of Pampers. It costs $47.19 - that's roughly $0.25 each. Now, depending on your day and baby's diet, you could go through 4-12 (or more) diapers per day. Let's average that out to around 6-8 diapers a day. How about 7? So that's $1.72/day and $51.61/month. Oh right--let's not forget wipes. I'm assuming that those who use disposable diapers also use disposable wipes (I certainly did). Pretty much everything I saw (regardless of brand) came out to around $0.03 per wipe. If we're going with the 7 diaper changes a day model, that's 210 wipes per month--IF you only use ONE each diaper change. I don't know about you, but I sometimes went through 2-4 wipes in one diaper change. But I'll be generous and stick with 1 wipe per diaper change. That's $6.30 every month for wipes. Bringing your grand total to 
$57.40 per month for disposables
Now, if your child is potty trained by two years old, you're looking at $1,377.60 - and that's just for diapers and wipes BEFORE taxes. Add to that the cost of things like diaper genie refills and the extra diaper rash cream you're likely going to use (more on that later), and you're looking at an average of $1,500 for a kid potty trained by two. It shoots up to over $2,000 if you're like the average family with a child potty trained by about three years old.

Let's take a look at the cost for cloth. There are so many options for cloth diapers (more on that in my next post). So, depending on the type/style and brand you choose, you'll need varying amounts of diapers. Another factor is how often you wash. I do diaper loads about 3-4 times a week. So, depending on each of those factors, you'll probably spend anywhere from $200-$500 (possibly more, if you go with an expensive option or you choose to have an extra large diaper stash). Add in around $30 for cloth wipes (another very cost-effective option!) - and that's if you choose to buy them instead of making your own, which is super easy and even cheaper. And, of course, add on the extra cost for electricity/water since you're washing them. (That's around $0.10-$0.34 per load, depending on your water heater and where you live.) People like to think/say it's really expensive when you add in the cost of laundering, but really it's only an extra $5-$10 a month--and that's if you do a diaper load every other day. Using the higher end of my estimation ($500), all together, that's 
$22.29 per month for cloth diapers
Again, this is assuming you're kid is potty trained by two. If not, and here's the great part, YOUR COST ONLY GOES DOWN. If your child takes a little longer (let's say three years) your monthly cost is now $14.86. Oh right--there's one other thing: You can use your cloth diapers for more than one child. Yup. Most people can get through two kids (some, more than that) per "stash". And THAT brings you to a grand total of $11.14 if potty trained by two, or a whopping $7.43 if potty trained by three.

There you have it, folks. Cloth diapering is, in fact, cheaper than using disposables. And did you see above how, the longer you go with cloth, the cheaper it gets? It is the EXACT OPPOSITE with disposables. You're spending an average of $1,500-$4,000 on disposables PER CHILD. And that's not even diving into things like pull-ups and the like. Yikes.

And one other thing--most people SELL or repurpose their diapers when they're done with them. You heard me right. The savings just keep piling up.

The next factor: The Environment

This one seems to be on a lot of peoples' minds lately. "Go Green" movements are quite the trend these days, and I hope things stay that way! More and more people are looking for reusable options for everything from water bottles to paper towels. So why not diapers? 

Did you know that disposable diapers are the third largest single consumer item in landfills? Did you know that our current landfills are closing at a rate of one a day in the US? Overburdened landfills are a major threat to water and land pollution, as well as our standards for health. Have you ever read the instructions on a package of disposable diapers? Did you know that it is recommended that solid waste/fecal matter be deposited into the toilet before discarding the diaper? How many times have you HONESTLY done that? How many times have you seen anyone do that?! I never did. Human waste in disposable diapers joins 5 million tons of untreated human waste in our landfills - forever preserved for future generations, while human waste from a cloth diapered baby is properly treated in a sanitary municipal wastewater treatment plant. There's also the fact that no one knows exactly how long is takes for disposables to fully break down, though it is estimated at about 250-500 years. When no longer usable, a cloth diaper will decompose within six months.

Even the manufacturing of disposable diapers is a threat to the environment. Disposables are made with wood pulp, which consumes one billion trees per year at current manufacturing rates. Over 300 pounds of wood, 50 pounds of petroleum feedstocks, and 20 pounds of chlorine are used to manufacture disposable diapers for ONE CHILD each year. Cloth diapers, on the other hand, are made from natural and sustainable materials like organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, wool, etc. 

Environmental impact of disposable diapers = TOXIC & WASTEFUL AT BEST

Environmental impact of cloth diapers = A RESPONSIBLE, SUSTAINABLE SOLUTION

Disposable diapers use sixty times more solid waste and use twenty times more raw materials than cloth. Disposable diapers consume 70% more energy per diaper change than cloth diapers. After all is said and done, the extra water required to wash cloth diapers is less than the amount used to produce disposables. 

And, finally, the health factor. This one is just as important to me as the other two main factors (if not, more). This is also the one that is most often overlooked. As with many other issues in this country, people JUST DON'T KNOW what's in the products that they use.

Disposable diapers contain acrylate powders, which can be toxic if inhaled or ingested. Many people (children and adults alike) experience severe allergic reactions to these and other chemicals and perfumes in diapers. Some of those chemicals include: 
  • Dioxins: Highly toxic by-product of the paper-bleaching process. A carcinogen recognized by the EPA as the most toxic of cancer-linked chemicals. Linked to birth defects, miscarriages, cancer, and genetic damage. Banned in most countries, but not the US.
  • Tributyl-tin (TBT): a pollutant known to cause hormonal problems in humans and animals. Also toxic.
  • Sodium polyacrylate: This is a super absorbent polymer that becomes a gel when wet. Used in tampons until until is was BANNED (for tampons--not diapers...hmmm...) in 1985 due to its link to toxic shock syndrome(TSS) because it increased absorbency and created an improved environment for toxin-producing bacterial growth. Also causes several health problems for workers who manufacture disposable diapers (fatigue, female organ problems, weight loss, and lowered immunity, to name a few).
In 1955, 100% of babies in the US wore cloth diapers - only 7% experienced diaper rash. In 1991, 90% of babies in the US were in disposables (comparable to today) and 78% experience diaper rash. I personally know several people who have switched to cloth - a recommendation from their pediatrician - to alleviate diaper rash. Most cloth diapered babies do not have issues with diaper rashes and if they do, it is almost always linked to the detergent being used to wash the diapers. A simple fix.

Cloth diapers allow for air circulation, while disposables don't. This is oh-so-important not only for your baby's comfort, but also for the health of your baby's reproductive organs. Your baby boy's scrotum is located on the outside of his body for a reason - to keep them cool. The Archives of Disease in Childhood published research in May of 2000 that showed an increase in scrotal temperature in boys wearing disposable diapers. It also showed that prolonged use of disposable diapers blunts and/or completely destroys the physiological testicular cooling mechanism responsible for normal, healthy spermatogenesis. Researchers have concluded that disposable diaper use is linked to (and have named it an "important factor" in) the worldwide decline in sperm production in adult males.

I don't know about you, but any single one of these three main factors would have been enough to convince me to make the switch. All three of them together? Well that made it a no-brainer for us. To be completely honest, I feel really guilty for giving up on the idea with my son.

So there you have it. This is why we switched to cloth. We are loving it! All of these reasons PLUS, they are cute. They are so soft and cozy. They are fun to collect. They are SO customizable (looks, absorbency, there are even "hybrid" options)! But we'll dive more into that in the next post, so keep your eyes peeled!

As with any other post of this nature, please read the Crunchy Mama Disclaimer before scoffing, rolling your eyes at me, or posting angry comments.  :-)


  1. I love this post! I'm going to read this to my hubby tonight :)

  2. Ok I have a question- what do you do when you're out and about and can't throw the dirty diaper away? Do you just stick it in a ziplock until you get home???
    What about people that send their kids to daycare- are day cares accommodating these days or do you have to send disposables for daytime use?

    1. Great questions! You could certainly use a ziplock, but most cloth diapering parents keep a "wet bag" (a fabric zippered bag lined with a waterproof layer) with them to keep dirty diapers in until they get home. The bag is usually tossed in the wash along with the diapers :-)

      Daycare centers are generally pretty accommodating. As with disposables, you send your child to daycare with diapers, but with cloth you'd also send a large wet bag along with them and you take the diapers and wet bag home with you every day.

      I will definitely be going over this in more depth coming up in the cloth diaper series!

  3. Thanks for the info. I'm debating doing it with my next child but I've definitely had some concerns. Among other things, I wonder what you do at night? My son absolutely soaks through everything I put on him and I worry that if a baby slept through the night and soaked the diaper, they could develop a horrible rash. Luckily my baby has done well avoiding rashes but I don't know if that's related to using disposables at night or not.

    1. There are sooo many options for absorbency. Some materials are more absorbent than others. A lot of companies make diapers especially for overnight. They actually have more airflow with a cloth diaper, so the chances of a rash due to wetness are lower than when using disposables. :-)