Even as someone who considers herself (increasingly) enthusiastic about eco-friendly choices, it was not easy to choose between cloth and disposable diapers. I don’t make purchasing decisions willy nilly. When I need something, I am known to spend months or years researching a product until I have seen all of the options and feel good about my choice. OR, I am just finally compelled to make a decision by outside forces (usually my husband). All in all, the decision to invest in cloth diapers for our daughter ended up being the right choice for our family. I want to share with you what I found out about the diaper industries and some of the funnier things that happened as we learned to cloth diaper.
In my research about cloth diapers, one glaring factor was the environmental impact of disposable diapers. It seems well known, even outside of the crunchy mama circle, that they are filling up landfills and causing a real stink in our atmosphere. I mean, it takes hundreds and hundreds of years for a single diaper to disintegrate – and each baby diapered until 2 years old will produce a ton of dirty diapers. Yes, a literal TON – about 2,000 pounds that will outlive your great grandchildren. That’s enough to guilt any mother into cloth diapering. However, in my research I also came across articles like this Washington Post write-up that assert cloth diapers aren’t really that much better for the environment once you factor in all of the extra loads of laundry and the journey of the synthetic materials used in the production of cloth diapers. So maybe that wasn’t my go-to reason anymore.
So what about cost? I was pleasantly surprised to find that even the most trendy cloth diapers end up being cheaper than disposable. Yep, I used this as a selling point for my husband. The initial investment is not cheap, though. It costs around $400 to buy a cloth diapering system so you’ll only have to launder every other day. We were fortunate that one of our family members helped us out with that cost. But think about it: those cloth diapers will grow with your child until they are 2 years old and then you can use them for your second child. On the other hand, disposable diapers cost about $60 a month so diapering until 2 years old means you spend at least $1440 per child.
In addition to savings, the other things that drove home my decision to cloth diaper were the lack of chemicals and good company practices. Most disposable diapers are made from bleached wood pulp, super-absorbent chemicals and plastic. Many of the ingredients are purposefully UNDISCLOSED. That really freaked me out. Diapers are right next to my baby’s delicate parts 24/7, so this kind of thing is important. Check out this great post on The Dangers of Disposable Diapers by Small Footprint Family. Additionally, cloth diaper companies are light-years ahead on fair worker wages and environmental footprint of cotton, compared to disposable. Cotton Babies, maker of Bum Genius diapers, run a small factory of employees who are paid a living wage, are allowed to bring their babies to work and have ample paid time off. That’s much more than Huggies or Pampers could say. Even better, Bum Genius “does not contribute to the social and environmental footprint of cotton since bumGenius’s cotton-insert diapers use GOTS and Oeko-Tex certified cotton.”
Even after all of this great news, I still worried because of all the cloth diaper fearmongering from my family and friends. Knowing my hippie ways, they’d bring up diapers with me only to respond with something like “OH we tried that before. Didn’t last long!” or “So does that mean you’ll be putting poop and pee into your washing machine?” or just a straight up “EW”. A coworker once told me that they decided to do disposable for their own sanity and picked up trash when she went on walks with her baby as penance. I also kept reading things about letting buckets of poopy water sit around your house and the swish and shake method for getting poo out in the toilet. It seemed excessive. We even installed a bidet to clean the diapers which Dave subsequently used on a poopy diaper without a diaper shield and of course it splashed directly back into his face #neverforget. “Is cloth diapering really going to gross us out and drive us crazy??” I wondered.
Hazmat Suit, circa 1918
After some research we decided to invest in Bum Genius pocket diapers (absorbency is customizable) and we’ve been surprised to find that they’re extremely easy! Granted, I have nothing to compare it to since this is our first child but I truly thought I would be busting my butt to make it work. I was ready to commit. Not only for the savings and to keep chemicals away from my baby’s bum… but also to prove to everyone that I CAN DO IT. Dave and I have now changed her diaper over 900 times, and we don’t think twice about the cloth diaper process. Even the grandparents are getting down with it because it’s essentially the same process as a disposable.
We read online that we’d barely make it by with 24 cloth diapers if we wanted to do laundry every other day. It’s true – we never feel stressed with this amount. When her diaper comes off we just throw the entire thing in the wet diaper bag hanging near her changing table and then take the bag to the washer every other day. Sometimes we’ll even go 3 days! At this point 98% of her diapers are just pee and the rest are breastmilk poos which are honestly very mild and easy to get out. For this reason, we don’t have to mess with any pre-rinsing yet. Just a cold rinse cycle followed by a hot wash with detergent. But check back in when we start feeding her solid food though (dun dun dun…). At first, I thought I could let them dry on the deck but the very first time we tried we returned to a brand new nest of baby spiders had descended upon them. The image of thousands of baby spiders crawling all over her diapers and inserts will forever haunt me. Now we just dry them on a rack in her nursery…
Let me know if you have any questions. I’m obviously no expert, just speaking from our experience so far. What is your experience with diapering? Do know of anyone who cloth diapers or prefers disposable?