Friday, March 4, 2011

Considering Cloth

Photo by Heather Holder
Thinking about cloth diapering? I think you should! Here's why. 

Disposable diapers are gross! 
They fill up landfills, take hundreds of years to decompose, and use up mind-boggling amounts of wood, petroleum, chlorine and water to manufacture (Real Diaper Association). They contribute to groundwater contamination by transporting human feces to landfills (The Disposable Diaper Myth). Environment Canada estimates that North Americans throw away about 29 billion diapers every year (

Photo by Erin OK
They're made of chemicals! How do you think something so thin can absorb so much? Sodium Polyacrylate! It's super absorbent and is reported to have caused allergic reactions, severe skin irritations, fatigue, fever, vomiting, toxic shock syndrome, female organ problems, and death (The Diaper Drama). Long term effects of this chemical on children have not been studied. Diapers also contain a long list of other chemicals, like Dioxin, a carcinogen that is banned in many countries (The Diaper Drama). And, you put diapers on your baby's GENITALS. 

They're expensive! An average family spends about $2800 to diaper one child for three years ( 

Cloth diapers are great!
They're much more economical! While some adorable diapers can be quite expensive ($30 for one diaper for some all-in-ones), you don't have to spend nearly that much. You can cloth diaper a baby for three years for under $400 ( And, you can reuse those same diapers for multiple children. 

They're better for the environment! Even when you are finally done using them, many cloth diapers (prefolds at least) make great rags! Many leading brands of of cloth diapers use organic and earth-friendly materials, and ethical business practices. You do use a lot of water and electricity laundering cloth diapers, but it's still less than the energy and water used to produce disposables (RDA). This article compares the amount of water used to wash cloth diapers to the amount of water most households waste flushing inefficient toilets (The Great Diaper Debate), so you could offset your water use in other ways. lists tips on lessening your environmental impact while cloth diapering.

Photo by Heather Holder
They're adorable! And comfortable! And easy! Don't let your mom tell you that cloth diapers are more difficult than disposables. They are a completely different thing than they were even ten years ago. Modern cloth diapers are made with advanced designs and high quality fabrics. They're so cute you'll wish you needed a hundred of them, and many are just as easy as disposables. Here are two intros to the different types of cloth diapers, at Simple Mom, and

They're healthier! While I have heard one person say that her baby was so sensitive to wetness that all cloth diapers gave him a rash, I have much more often heard the opposite. Disposables are at least as likely to cause rashes and infections as they are to prevent them. A 1982 study reported no difference between cloth and disposable diapers in incidence of rashes (RDA), but many moms report less rashes upon switching to cloth. Also, new breathable waterproof covers (PUL) decrease issues caused by the rubber pants used by previous generations.  

Drawbacks to using cloth:
The only thing I can see being a real deterrent to using cloth diapers is washing them, if you absolutely hate doing laundry. Washing them is not difficult, and they don't create more smell and mess than disposables, but you do have to wash them frequently. I do a load every day, and personally don't find it that big a chore. (You can do it every two or three days if you have a bigger stash). If you do detest laundry, you could use a diaper service. They pick up your dirty diapers and drop off clean ones for a price comparable to what you'd pay for disposables.

Other minor disadvantages are that they're bulkier than disposables, and that it takes a little while to figure out how to use and wash them, and what system works best for you. Also, in general you have to change cloth diapers a little bit more often than disposables (though new stay-dry fabric liners can help keep babies dry longer). 

Photo by Erin OK
In my calculations, it all adds up to a little bit more work in exchange for a lot less waste, environmental impact, and health risk. All that said, don't feel guilty if cloth diapering is not the right choice for your family. Caring for a new baby is an enormous amount of work, and if that extra bit of work is not doable in your circumstances, that's a valid reason for choosing disposables. I had to relax my standards after my baby was born, and made some less environmental choices in favour of convenience. But cloth diapering is a pleasant way to lighten your impact on the planet, and dress your baby in pure comfort. If you think it might be right for you, here are some introductions to using cloth to get you started:

New To Cloth Diapers? (All About Cloth Diapers)
Getting Started (Diaper Pin)
Cloth Diapering 101 (

And a few more resources, to get carried away:

What are the biggest factors for you in choosing whether or not to use cloth?


  1. Great article Erin! I can't believe you wash EVERY day. Yikes. You should treat yourself to some more diapers. I wash twice a week. Ahhhhh! (that being said, I'm a bit of a cloth diaper hoarder. :P)

    Another good, inexpensive way to boost your stash is to buy well cared for used diapers. I've got a few used ones and they work great! Cloth diapers can be used over and over for many children too. Just think how much you'll save on your second child when you already have all the diapers you need! is a good place to buy/swap cloth diapers!

  2. Our biggest factors were cost and environmental impact. We had prefolds for 0-about 6 months and then purchased a "one size" fitted that will fit until 35 pounds so, hopefully until potty training. All in, we spent about $1000. So considering that we are pregnant again, I think that's a pretty good deal for at least 2 kids! And we love our cloth!

    That being said - disposables do have their place. Such as CAMPING! Or, for us, traveling anywhere off the island :)

  3. Oh, and don't forget Krista, after your two kids use them you may be able to sell them and make back a few bucks!

    We have used disposables for camping (longer than a weekend), or holidays. I just hate buying them because I HAVE diapers. LOL. Our daycare cloth diapers, it's great!

  4. Heather, I do skip a day of washing now and then, but yes, I should treat myself to a couple more diapers! But, guess how much I've spent so far? Well under $400. (Approaching $500 if you include wetbags, diaper sprayer, swim diaper, liners). And most of the ones I'm using now are good up to 40 lbs.

  5. I am so grateful to read this such a wonderful post. Thank you for discussing this great topic.

  6. If I didn't already cloth diaper, you would have convinced me too! Great article, very informative and interesting to read. I agree cloth are so much cuter than have no idea what we've spent on diapers but it's been worth every penny and definitely less money than what disposables would have cost. I know when we were pregnant with Cohen, neither Chris or I felt good about filling up landfills with diapers.

  7. Yeah, we used disposables for the first few weeks with Koan while I was in recovery, and the amount of garbage we were throwing out like quadrupled. I felt really bad about it.