Monday, May 17, 2010

Cloth vs.'s NOT a tie!

Recently, in the wake of the Procter & Gamble media storm surrounding their new version of Pampers Dry Max diapers, the disposable diaper giant has been claiming that disposables are not worse overall than cloth diapers. Hmmm, really? They posted a Facts vs. Myths page that tries to sell this idea, but I'm not buying it. When reading results from skewed and biased "studies", it's really easy to believe something that sounds unbelievable...when you want to. Parents don't want to think about how much their diapering decisions are impacting the earth, filling our landfills and that they might be affecting the future health of their children. They want to do what's best, but sometimes that conflicts with what they have time for or think they can deal with. But I implore you if you are a parent of a child in diapers to read this and be patient with me as I plead my case. (if you want to skip reading about my whole cloth diapering experience, just skip to the bottom where I list the pros and cons or visit the Real Diaper Association)

When I first became a mother, I planned to cloth diaper, but I was scared that it would be more work, and the outlay of $$$ at the get-go seemed daunting. What if I bought a type of cloth diaper that I didn't like? It's not like you can just return them... And what if I couldn't handle it and gave up? The perfect solution seemed to be a diaper service, so I signed up. It turned out that I was an overstressed, under-rested new mother with a baby that seemed to cry all the time. Dealing with the cloth diapering service included forgetting to leave the diapers out for the service pickup on the right day, gagging at the stink that came from the pail when I had to toss dipes in near the end of the week, and forgetting to pay the new bill from the service that never seemed to send me a tangible reminder that it was coming due. It was all a bit more than I had bargained for and those little Swaddlers that came home with us from the hospital seemed SO much easier! By the time my son was 3 or 4 months old, I was over it. I figured I had given it a try and it just "wasn't for me". That's how I let myself off the hook, but every time I walked a stinky, heavy bag full of disposable diapers to the trash chute over the next 2 years, I felt a twinge of guilt, as I think many parents do. Yes, it's hard to pretend that you don't know exactly where all those bags are headed. And how long they'll be there, and how many other ones are heading there the same day, all over the world. How sad. Is this really the legacy I wanted to leave my baby?

The biggest problem for me was that all the other facets of my life were getting "greener and greener". So apart from the normal, "oh, I feel kind of bad that I'm throwing all these diapers away all the time..." guilt, I also had this part of my life and routine that seemed more and more incongruous as time went by. If I thought throwing away thin little paper napkins at each meal was such a big deal, why did I keep buying (and tossing) all these bulky, chemical-laden disposable diapers? I know why. Because I thought disposables were easier and I din't think I could handle it.

So, when I was pregnant with my second child, I started talking to some of the other moms I knew who cloth diapered at home. This seemed to make sense since we'd buy the diapers once, and then just RE-USE them. The only things we'd have to continue to buy would be detergent, and possibly wipes (but you can even use cloth wipes made of great fabrics like bamboo and flannel and just wash them with your diapers!). With a second baby on the horizon, the $$ savings was a draw. My husband estimated that instead of buying premium diapers for 2+ years, we would spend $2000 less by buying cloth diapers. That was a big selling point! We also went to a cloth diapering info session at BeByBaby, a local baby shop, and got to see all the different types of cloth diapers in person. Seeing how they were used, how they felt, and learning the pros and cons was really helpful and clinched the decision for us. That day, we bought a few cute covers, these cool little things called Snappis, and our pail and liner, as well as our special detergent (we bought Charlie's Soap), and were excited to get started when our baby entered the scene...

When she was born, we did use the disposables from the hospital, and didn't turn down the gifts of disposables from family and friends...but we knew that when they started to run out, we'd start up with the cloth. I think it might be smart, especially for new parents, to give yourself a couple weeks to just get used to the chaos of having an infant before jumping in to cloth diapering with both feet. When we started in earnest, my first impression was a bit of surprise at how easy it was! After a few more weeks, I bought some assorted types and brands of cloth diapers from an acquaintance so I could try them out before buying a whole stash of anything. Our experience was that the prefolds with covers worked best up until about 12 lbs, and then the pocket diapers seemed to become our favorites. Now we use a combination of 13 Fuzzi Bunz and Bum Genius pocket diapers with a couple prefold backups. I do 2 or 3 extra loads of laundry/week, which isn't a big deal since most moms feel like they do lots of laundry anyway, and since nothing gets wrinkled if I don't "fold" it right away, it's pretty low maintenance as far as laundry goes. The routine is easy, and we are not throwing any diapers away on a regular basis!! Now I feel so good about keeping our carbon footprint small, refraining from adding more diapers to the landfills and keeping chemicals off of our baby's skin. Plus, she looks adorable in a dress or tee shirt and a cloth dipe!

Here are the real comparisons from my viewpoint.

  • First and foremost, there is way more waste involved in the manufacture, constant shipping, and disposal of disposable diapers. Even if creating, packing, and shipping created the same amt of waste for a cloth diaper as for a disposable (it doesn't), you'd have to multiply the number for the disposables by THOUSANDS for each baby, whereas the cloth dipe is only made, packaged and shipped ONCE.
  • Some say the water used to clean cloth diapers tips the scales back to the center. It doesn't! It is estimated to take 2.3 times more water to make a new disposable diaper than to wash a cloth one...and that does not take the new HE washers into account. It is also estimated that the amount of water used to wash a load of diapers is equal to the amount of water that would be used to flush your toilet 5 times. So cloth diapering actually saves water over potty training! Ha!
  • Cloth diapers are not more difficult to use. They have come a LONG way since the rubber pants over safety-pinned cloth. The "pocket-style" diapers we use in our family are so easy I don't even have to show babysitters how to use them. There are styles with alpix (hook and loop) closures or snaps, and both work great. Even when we do use regular cloth diapers, called prefolds (what my family thinks of as burp cloths), we use these cool Snappis to hold the cloth together...SO much easier, faster and more safe than pins!
  • When you are out and about, it does seem easier to use a disposable that you can just toss. But I have found it's not more difficult to just put the used cloth dipe in a bag (I still just reuse produce bags from the grocery, but you can get these really pretty "wet bags"...) and then into the pail when you get home. Sometimes that's even proven easier than trying to find a garbage can!
  • Like I mentioned my my personal story, Cloth Diapers actually SAVE you money over time. Pretty easy to win this one over disposables since I now feel like my baby's diapers are virtually free. Here is a link to a great, local, mom-owned company that has starter kits that make it really easily affordable to get started.
  • Wetness that doesn't breathe causes diaper rash, and (most) cloth diapers are breathable. Disposables are not. Plus, they use all kind of questionable chemicals that have been cited to cause terrible rashes and blisters on some babies. Some of these chemicals are also known hormone disrupters and carcinogens. Do you want that next to your baby's butt?
  • Cloth diapers are CUTE! They come in all kinds of colors and patterns and beat silly characters any day. Hands down.
  • And last but not least on my list, is the fact that we need to ditch products that depend on petroleum for their manufacture. The major catastrophe happening in the Gulf of Mexico right now is directly related to our dependence on oil. We need to make some major changes, and getting rid of our abnormal dependance on disposable diapers is a big step in the right direction.
For more statistical information on Cloth Diapers vs. Disposables, please visit the Real Diaper Association.


  1. Great point about petroleum dependence related to disposable diapers. You'd probably like this:

  2. Thanks for posting this great link, Heather. I love the tagline: "If your diaper's not cloth, it's Garbage". So true...

  3. Well said, Kristen. To go even further, local organic cotton should be stressed as conventional cotton growing is an extremely polluting industry. It accounts for 25% of pesticide use worldwide and takes about 700 gallons of water to make one t-shirt. So yay for organic cloth diapers!

  4. Good point, Rebecca. And even with the added cost of "premium" organic cloth diapers, there is still a seriously significant financial savings over the period of time you diaper your well as a significant impact on our environment! Thanks!