Heather AVV, aka "Babs".
October 1st, 2004
most of us think of cloth diapering we picture a messy piles of square
cotton fabric that smells, stains and needs to be washed out by hand.
These diapers would hang on the line outside, need to be carefully folded
and pinned, leak like crazy, and come with obnoxious pull-up plastic pants.
This is probably the idea your mom has when you mention cloth diapering.
Anyone over the age of 20 who was cloth diapered probably had this treatment,
and it's no lie that they could be a pain in the butt.
However, diapers today are not your mother's cloth diapers. Modern cloth
diapers are as easy to use as disposable, cheaper, durable, environmentally
safe, healthier, and cuter. That last one may be a matter of opinion,
but consider: ads and commercials featuring babies which aren't
selling disposable diaper products will most often feature the child in
a cloth diaper. Why? Because it's a cuter image.
This essay will cover
common concerns including cost and care, plus an FAQ. You can skip ahead
to the parts that matter to you by clicking the quick links from this
table of contents:
Why is cloth diapering cheaper?
2/ Why are cloth diapers environmentally
3/ Why are cloth diapers healthier for my baby?
FAQ & Common Concerns:
1/ Isn't cloth diapering a lot of work?
2/ What about when I go out?
3/ Won't cloth diapers leak and stain clothes?
4/ But I don't want to fold and pin!
5/ What do I need to get started?
6/ Where can I buy cloth diapers?
6.a/ Buying second hand, is that
7/ How do I wash cloth diapers?
is cloth diapering cheaper?
There are a lot of choices when it comes to disposable diapers.
Often the cheaper brands leak, or break easily and most people prefer
to buy somewhere in the middle. A baby who is changed regularly will go
through 7-8 per day (more as a newborn, less as a toddler). The diapers
get more expensive as the child gets older and fits into bigger sizes,
after 2.5 years of diapering the average cost is around $.35 per diaper.
This ends up being around $2,275 spent on something that gets tossed in
the garbage. Most parents who use disposable diapers leave their babies
in them for longer periods of time, so based on average of 5-6 changes
per day the cost is more like $1,757. Add in disposable wipes and you
push the total up another hundred or so. Let's not even get into products
like the Diaper Genie, Swim Diapers, or specialized training pants.
No matter how you look at it, that's a lot of money. And that cost doubles
every time you have another child.
Cloth diapers come in a few
varieties. Flat or prefold diapers are the cheapest, fitteds and contours
in the middle, and AIO's ("All-in-ones") the most expensive. A typical
stash of cloth diapers which includes all of the above diapers, liners,
soakers, covers and wipes can cost anywhere from $100 to $400 depending
on where and what you buy. (My personal stash cost us around $230 Canadian
in total). These diapers will last you all of your child's 2.5 years and
are re-used for the next child, and the next . . . if you take good care
of your diapers they can make it through several children without showing
their age. Some people have successfully used diapers through four or
more children and they still looked nice enough to sell at near their
But what about laundering costs?
It's not as much as you'd think. A typical wash of diapers includes
baking soda, white vinegar, some detergent and a few cycles. If you choose
the 'wet pail' method you'll use more water then someone who uses the
'dry pail' method. This calculation is based on 271 loads of diapers over
the 2.5 year period.
Total money spent on cloth : $100-$400
worth of diapers [average of $250] + $436 spent on washing = $686,
reused for each consecutive child Total money spent on disposables : $1,757-$2,275
with average of $2,016, doubled with each consecutive child.
- 200ml of vinegar @ $.15/load)
- water and sewer (for 4 toilet
flushes, 16 gal; 1 normal wash cycle, 45 gal; rinsing and filling pail,
7 gal. Total of 68 gal. @$.0067 = $.46/load) $124.66;
- natural gas to heat water
(20 cu.ft. of natural gas @$.0015 = $.03/load)
- $8.13; power to run dryer
(5.76 kw/hr. for 1 hr., 5.76 kwh @$.07 = $.40/load) $108.40;
- power to run washer (.76
kwh @$.07 = $.05/load) $13.55;
- depreciation on washer
and dryer ($.16 for washer + $.09 for dryer = $.25/load.1) $67.75 =
Pin's Cloth diaper savings calculator
are cloth diapers environmentally safe?
Read your package of disposable diapers carefully and you'll see something
that you might have missed before: solid waste is not supposed to go in
the garbage. Even with disposable diapers you are supposed to shake fecal
matter into the toilet. Very few people do this, or even realize you are
supposed to, but that warning is there for a very important reason. When
solid waste goes into the landfill it doesn't just sink into the ground
and disappear. It stays inside the disposable diaper, which needs sunlight
and oxygen to gradually decompose, something that those huge piles of
sausage wrapped diapers don't get. It can take as long as 500 years for
a disposable diaper to break down, and with diapers being the third most
common consumer item in landfills today, that's a lot of garbage. Our
ground water becomes contaminated from rain water running over the landfill,
this gets into our oceans, streams and rivers and causes a lot of problems.
About 5 million tons of untreated body excrement, which may carry over
100 intestinal viruses, is brought to landfills because of disposable
diapers. Some of these live viruses found in disposable diapers include
polio and hepatitis. Those piles that take hundreds of years to decompose
also attract insects and animals that can carry and transmit diseases.
Even 'biodegradable' disposable diapers take years to break down, and
rarely get the light and air they need to aid this process.
It takes 3.4 billion gallons of oil and over 250 thousand trees a year
to make disposable diapers that end up in our landfills.
But do cloth diapers decompose
just as easily? Yes and no. One must consider that the amount of
cloth diapers that would end up in our landfill versus the amount of disposable
diapers paints a very clear picture on which is the bigger risk as far
as waste goes. Cloth diapers are mostly made from cotton, terry and fleece
(which is already a recycled substance). These materials biodegrade much
more easily then the ones used in one-use diapers, but do take time. Around
six months in good conditions, and as long as 50 years in others. Rarely
do people throw away their cloth diapers after using them. They are reused
for other children, given to friends and family members, prefolds get
used as burp cloths, rags and contoured diapers can even make reusable
What about the water pollution? It is true that cloth diapers take more
water to use, however the amount of water per load is the equivalent of
about four toilet flushes; about the same amount of water used if the
child was potty trained. This contaminated water goes through the same
sewer system as the other water waste produced in your household, and
is sent to treatment plants. This quote is in regards to the water waste
argument, and makes a very good point :
any disposable diaper advocate the environmental question and they will
most likely say that while they are loading up the landfills in our world,
cloth diaper users are wasting the planet’s water. Certainly 20,000 gallons
of water seems like a lot to wash some diapers. But let’s put that into
Diaper Drama - Environment
If we spent 640
gallons on our diapers per month, that’s .86 units of water (at 748
gallons/unit). In my household of 2 adults and 2 children, we use anywhere
from 10-25 units a month, depending on the time of year. If we averaged
15 units of water a month, our .86 units of water would constitute about
6% of our typical monthly water usage. In the summer, we use more water
to keep our lawn green than we do to wash our diapers.
That’s just the
numbers. I think it’s interesting that disposable diaper lovers (including
the companies that make them) can make quite a fuss about the water
used to wash cloth diapers. Nobody seems to get up in arms about the
amount of water used to wash and sanitize bottles if parents feed their
babies formula – or pumped breastmilk for that matter. In the event
that a baby’s parents find the time for a 5 minute shower each day,
they will each use over 27,000 gallons of water to keep themselves clean
for that 2 1/2 year period of diapering their baby – that’s almost 60,000
gallons for two adults. But 20,000 gallons to wash their baby’s diapers
is supposed to be an environmental problem?
diaper users really think it’s a better choice to pollute landfills
with long-lasting, bacteria-laden trash, rather than use water to wash
and flush our children’s waste, then shouldn’t all of us adults quit
taking showers, wear disposable diapers – and probably disposable clothing
altogether - and quit flushing our waste down the toilet? That hardly
makes sense. We have wise, environmentally safe and inexpensive ways
to treat our sewage water (remember, it only costs about $17.00 for
the TOTAL water of laundering one child’s diapers for 2 1/2 years!).
Further, water is a naturally renewing resource – remember the “water
cycle” diagrams we all came to know and love in our 5th grade science
environmental impact of diapers [includes information on the environmental
impact of materials used to create cloth diapers, bleached cotton, etc]
are cloth diapers healthier for my baby?
Disposable diapers contain a super absorbent chemical inside their plastic
casing called sodium polyacrylate, which pulls fluid away from the baby's
skin and holds it inside the diaper. This chemical causes allergic reactions,
was removed from tampons after being linked to toxic shock syndrome, is
lethal to to some animals on inhalation, and lab testing [when injected]
has shown it to cause hemorrhage, cardiovascular failure and death.
Dioxin, a byproduct of the bleaching process, is the most toxic of cancer-linked
chemicals according to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). Even
in barely detectable amounts it has been known to cause liver disease,
immune system suppression and genetic damage in lab animals. It can also
cause birth defects. No level of dioxin has been established as safe for
human exposure. Every American has a measurable amount in their body,
and its half-life is seven years. Over thirty pounds of it are released
The FDA regularly receives complaints from illness or injury associated
with the usage of disposable diapers, this includes babies pulling the
diapers apart and ingesting pieces, skin being torn from the tabs, plastic
melting into the skin, dizziness, rashes, headaches and many other problems.
the Sunday Democrat and Chronicle published news about the new Pampers
Ultra. The new gel they used caused severe skin irritations, oozing blood
from perineum and scrotal tissues, fever, vomiting, and staph infections
in babies. Employees in Pampers factories suffered from tiredness, female
organ problems, slow-healing wounds and weight loss. According to the
Journal of Pediatrics, 54% of one-month old babies using disposable diapers
had rashes, 16% had severe rashes. A survey of Procter & Gamble’s own
studies show that the incidence of diaper rash increases from 7.1 percent
to 61 percent with the increased use of throwaway diapers, great for manufacturers
of diaper rash medicines. Widespread diaper rash is a fairly new phenomenon
that surfaced along with disposable diapers. Reasons for more rashes include
allergies to chemicals, lack of air, higher temperatures because plastic
retains body heat, and babies are probably changed less often because
they feel dry when wet."
This chemical remains in the diapers
In 2000 a German
study linked male infertility to the use of disposable diapers. The
scrotum hangs away from the body to keep it cool - high temperatures reduce
sperm count and motility. This study found that during diapering years
the scrotal temperature was significantly higher, and in some the natural
cooling system was completely abolished.
Even the dyes in disposable diapers have been linked to health problems
similar and just as serious as the ones mentioned above.
As far as the sanitation issue, studies have shown that disposable and
cloth diapers are equally sanitary. As far as spreading germs what matters
is not what the diaper is made of but how it and the baby are handled.
Hand-washing being the most influential factor.
cloth diapering a lot of work?
Cloth diapering is no more work then disposable. When baby needs to be
changed you grab a diaper (with cloth, you'd probably grab a cover too),
take off the dirty diaper, wipe and put it in the pail (shaking off any
solid waste into the toilet. Breastfed baby poop, before solid foods are
introduced, will dissolve completely in water and does not need to be
shaken off). Put the new diaper on and off baby goes. Twice a week you
either drag the garbage to the curb, or pick up the pail and dump the
contents in the washing machine.
Fitted diapers do not need to be pinned and are fastened with either velcro
(Aplix, touch tape, etc) or snaps. These usually require a cover which
can be made of waterproof or water resistant fabrics like PUL, nylon or
vinyl or absorbent fabrics like wool, hemp or fleece. Covers either fasten
on the sides, front, or pull-on like underwear.
All-in-one diapers have a waterproof outer layer and do not require a
cover. The downside to using AIO's is that they are usually more expensive
then buying fitteds. Normally people purchase four or five to use as 'nighttime'
about when I go out?
Most parents pack extra pants when they go out with baby because with
any diaper leakage is a concern. Some parents prefer to use AIO's when
they go out to minimize the risk of moisture wicking onto clothes, and
any dirty diapers and wipes are stashed in a plastic bag and dumped in
the pail once you get home. Because disposable diapers do not breathe,
the smell is stronger. Dirty cloth diapers stashed securely in a bag do
not stink terribly (neither do they smell like roses!) and should not
be a hassle. When cloth diapers smell badly it indicates a problem with
the way you wash them, not the diaper itself. (Personally I find that
a regular fitted diaper with a cover works just as well and do not have
problems with leakage when we go out with a fresh diaper on.)
cloth diapers leak and stain clothes?
Leakage occurs in any diaper that does not fit or is not fastened properly.
If you have problems with a cloth diaper leaking you should check the
legs and back elastic to ensure a snug fit and either move up a size or
down one if need be. Brand new diapers made from natural cotton often
need to be 'treated' as cotton produces an oil that repels moisture. This
can be done one of two ways: you can wash on hot cycle about half a dozen
times, or you can boil them for 10 minutes with a few drops of tea tree
(and perhaps a drop or two of lavender as well). Cotton, especially cotton
prefolds, will 'fluff up' after this and become softer and more absorbent
This is a good idea for any new diaper, as some fabrics will repel water
thanks to an additive. Most WAHM diapers will have been washed before
being sold and it's unlikely you'll need to take this step with them.
See also: Why
are my cloth diapers leaking?!?
don't want to fold and pin!
Some people prefer to use prefolds or flat diapers, which do need to be
folded. But they don't necessarily need to be pin ned . . . diaper wraps
can be purchased so all that needs to be done is to fold the diaper into
thirds and place it inside the wrap, then fasten the sides (velcro). The
wrap fits snugly around baby's waist and legs and holds the prefold in
Also available is a stretchy, non-toxic and biodegradable device called
which effectively fastens a prefold without sharp edges.
If this is not your style, you have a few other choices.
These diapers are like prefolds, but skip the folding step. They are shaped
like fitted diapers, but are simple in design. They have no elastic, velcro,
or snaps. They require a waterproof cover.
Have elastic legs and back (front as well if they are side-snapping).
They are fastened with hook & loop or snaps and are similar in design
to regular disposable diapers. They are highly adjustable and will fit
a variety of baby body shapes within the weight bracket, some are even
designed to fit from birth until potty training with the help of a bit
of folding. Fitted diapers come in almost any print or colour and are
the most popular type of cloth diaper to buy. They usually require a cover.
Are just like a fitted diaper, but without the thick absorbent layer in
the middle. Instead they are hollow with an opening in the back which
is stuffed with a 'insert' or prefold diaper. Before the diaper is put
in the pail, the soaker is usually removed. This makes washing and drying
very easy and fast. The added advantage of having a pocket diaper is how
customizable the absorbency level is. For little wetters, you need only
use a cotton or flannel soaker, for overnights you can switch to something
heavy duty like hemp, terry or wool. Pocket diapers are usually AIO's;
waterproof on the outside with a fleece interior layer which does not
absorb but dries quickly and wicks moisture away from baby's skin.
Have all the advantages of a fitted diaper but with a waterproof outer
layer so no cover is required. AIOs are a favorite of daycares, dads and
baby sitters and require no extra steps or handling then a regular disposable.
do I need to get started?
You'll need about 18 - 24 diapers (a little more for the newborn period,
as they wet more often), an equal or greater number of wipes, and 4-6
covers for every size. Liners, doublers and AIOs are optional but always
nice to have. If you're going with prefolds you'd probably want at least
two dozen (closer to three), plus five or six covers. If you're going
with fitteds or AIOs you can probably get away with two dozen or less.
You can also buy one-size diapers instead of getting all those in three
You'll need a diaper pail and optionally a 'wet bag' which is a waterproof
bag for storing your diapers when traveling or if you're using dry-pail
method and don't want to wash your pail every time. Just throw the wet
bag right into the wash with your diapers.
can I buy cloth diapers?
All over the internet are places to buy cloth diapers. Most people prefer
to buy WAHM (Work at home mom) because not only are the diapers kid-tested
for quality and durability, but you're helping to support another family.
Some good sites to get started are Cloth
Diapers N' More, BareWare
to Love (closed, but still has great resources) and Diaper
If you don't have the cash to buy brand new you can call the companies
and look for seconds (diapers with cosmetic errors like knotted stitching
that cannot be sold for retail value), find places that trade or sell
second-hand diapers (like Orange
Starfish), there are also many places online to find diaper swaps
or trades. Ebay
is an inexhaustible resource for both new and used cloth diapers at good
second hand, is that really safe?
Yes! After you wash a diaper once, it's used - that doesn't mean you'd
throw it away. Diapers that have been well cared-for will have no rips,
stains or tears and the fasteners and elastics will still be in good condition.
A good quality used diaper will not look worn. Sanitation is not an issue,
but if you are concerned you can wash them several times on hot, or boil
them with some tea tree oil to kill any germs.
I wash cloth diapers?
Washing methods vary from person to person and depends a lot on the time
you want to take.
There are two basic methods: wet pail and dry pail. Wet pail is when you
have a diaper pail that is full of water with some tea tree oil and baking
soda added. Each time you change a dirty diaper, you stick it in the pail
until it's full and then dump the whole thing in the wash. Having them
soak is like pre-treating stains, and since you won't ever go longer then
3-5 days before a wash there's no risk of mildew.
Dry pail is pretty self explainatory, but often requires an extra cycle
or two on the wash.
You will need: Baking soda,
white vinegar, and some safe detergent. Do not use soap, bleach,
borax or fabric softener on your diapers. Soap causes build-up which makes
your diapers smelly, discolored and less absorbent Beach and borax will
break down the fibres in your diapers and reduce absorbency and their
life span. Fabric softener creates a waterproof layer which will cause
moisture to bead off.
Safe detergents are free of whitening enzymes and phosphates. Some good
choices are Tide or Sportwash. Any hypoallergenic and/or cheap detergent
is likely to be good as well.
This is the method we use:
Step #1: Fill
up the machine with cold water and half a cup of baking soda, agitate
for a moment or two and then let it sit for a few hours or overnight.
Drain the water and start your regular wash method. Baking soda removes
the urine smell and is very effective in keeping whites and colours bright.
If you don't want to do an overnight soak method or do not own a machine
that is capable of soaking, you can simply do a short cold wash cycle
with the baking soda.
Step #2: Fill the machine with hot water and only a few tablespoons
worth of detergent. Make sure it has no dyes, scents, fabric softener,
phosphates or other additives - this is much easier to find nowadays than
you'd think! Optionally you can add a half scoop of oxyclean or another
cloth diaper-specific agent, but baking soda can also do a good job to
Step #3: Rinse with cold water and 1/2 a cup of white vinegar.
This restores the PH balance, helps reduce build-up and works as a fabric
Step #4 (optional): Rinse again with cold water. This makes sure
any residue or vinegar is completely out of the diapers, but is not necessary
for most washing machines.
Using Baking Soda and Vinegar
in the wash cycles is optional, but most people like to
do it at least every once in a while to help keep their diapers looking/smelling/feeling
good. When using baking soda, include vinegar in the rinse to make sure
the PH balance is equalized otherwise you might end up with diaper rash.
Soda, Washing Soda and PH Balance]
For a compact and simple wash
routine simply wash on hot with your detergent and rinse on
cold on the highest water setting. If you wish to add baking soda
and vinegar to a compact cycle but are afraid you'll miss the rinse, get
a Downy ball, the kind used for fabric softener. Put your vinegar in it
at the start of your wash and it'll open automatically when the rinse
starts. No fuss!
Dry in the dryer, or on a
line. It was once thought that PUL covers should be hang-dried, and AIOs
will have a longer life if hang dried, but we now know the opposite is
true: both will last longer and experience less wicking if dried on high
heat. Any wool covers need to be hand-washed with a special type of detergent,
but can go as long as two weeks (or until soiled) before needing a treatment
as they are very absorbent and naturally antimicrobial. [How
to care for wool]
To sterilize your diapers you can boil them for ten minutes, wash on hot
with some tea tree oil (10-12 drops in a full washing machine is enough!),
dry in the dryer or in direct sunlight.
Cloth diapers are not as much
work as you'd think they are - in fact they're barely any work at all!
Cloth diapers are a safe, cheap, easy and healthy alternative to disposables
(and are even Dad-proof).
The only friendly warning any veteran cloth diapering mom would be heard
to give is how easily you will become addicted. With all those cute prints,
colours, shapes, sizes, names and of course models . . . it's too easy
to become a collector.