Disposable vs. cloth diapers: The cloth rationale and how it all started…

Home/Family/Disposable vs. cloth diapers: The cloth rationale and how it all started…

Becoming a parent means double duty when it comes to decision making. You, more than ever, have to make the best choices in order to preserve your self. But with a newborn in tow, most of your time will be spent researching pointers on new daily baby-related questions, with the hope you make the best informed choices.

You can get a head start while expecting on the usual well-publicized subjects like: breastfeeding vs. formula, co-sleeping vs. crib, pacifier vs. not, baby-wearing vs. stroller… I did, and quite naturally found myself living in the attachment parenting world. But when a friend asked me, 8 months pregnant, what diapering system Green Dad and I had picked -cloth or disposable- I was caught off guard. What do you mean cloth diapering is a relevant 21st century option? In my mind, a cloth diaper was a square-shaped piece of fabric our grandparents attached on our parents’ bum with safety pins. For lack of a better system, may I add.

Well, I was told I needed a major update, and here is what I learned.

Cloth diapers come in many shapes or forms. While Indian flats (the square with the pins!) and Chinese prefolds (similar shape, with an extra layer of fabric pad in the middle) still exist, parents can now use cloth diapers that look exactly like disposable diapers (which we’ll call sposies), except you wash them after use instead of throwing them out.

Ah! THAT offered a promising start, and from there I quickly became a cloth diaper convert, for 3 main reasons:

First, safety. With all we hear about chemicals in baby products (yes, diapers and wipes included), knowing that only fabric touches my baby’s skin was the biggest plus. Note that using a diaper rash cream is not an option with cloth diapers because it could clog the fabric, hence alter absorbency. But it turns out I never needed, used or bought any diaper rash cream, despite Green Girl’s 10+ hour nights.

Second, the environmental component. It stroke a chord with me that when using sposies, you are looking at over 1 ton of waste (wipes not included) in the landfill per child. And a disposable diaper takes up to 500 years to decompose. The jury is still pretty much out on what system is most environment-friendly as cloth vs. sposie comes down to picking between using much water or filling up landfills with non-biodegradable waste. While you do need water to wash cloth diapers, I found there are many ways to greatly reduce your environmental impact (starting with using a High Efficiency washing machine, but more on that in a future post). Overall, using cloth diapers made me more comfortable about my contribution to the state of the planet we will leave to our children, than using sposies.

Third, yet not the least, were the $1,500 average savings one gains from using cloth diapers instead of sposies. The average upfront investment of $300 or so for a recommended 12 to 18 cloth diaper stash quickly pays for itself. Adding siblings to the family? You’ll cash in more savings! Cloth diapered children are typically potty trained around 2 years old, on average. So one set of cloth diapers definitely has  more than one life, and for each subsequent child you re-use them with, the cost per diaper will decrease even more. Savings will increase further if you close the loop and extend  your cloth rationale to include baby wipes. For about $1 per cloth wipe, a stash of 20 will be all you need to complete your cloth supplies. They multi-task (wipes, bibs, burp/spill wash cloth) and just like diapers, they can be re-used with future babies.

Convenience is often pinned as cloth diapers weakness. Yet, the handling is pretty straightforward: drop #2 in the toilet bowl, rinse off #1, store the soiled diaper in a laundry basin (or ziploc bags during the day at daycare) until laundry day (every 2 to 3 days) and enjoy the dryer-friendly convenience (line drying is possible, but takes longer). One may argue it takes more time, and that might be true, but I have never had to deal with a blowout, and I think cloth diapers offer me more peace of mind than sposies do. Let’s not forget that a regular laundry routine will guarantee you to never experience ever again the middle of the night diaper shortage that may happen with sposies. No more diapers on your list!

This is how, as a brand new Mom, I joined the growing cloth diaper community. And after having cloth diapered Green Girl all the way to potty training, doing it again when Green Baby came along was a no brainer.

What are your thoughts on cloth diapers? Do you have any particular comments or fears about it? Experiences to share?

Would you consider it instead of using disposable diapers? Why?


To go further, check out:

Curious about cloth diaper Part 1

Curious about cloth diaper Part 2


You’ll find both cloth diapers information and options at CottonBabies.com and bestbottomdiapers.com, two rich resource (and retail for Cotton Babies) sites.

To help you find your perfect cloth diaper, give a try to the cloth diaper finder, just enter your criteria and see what comes up!

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