Monday, February 6, 2017

Should You Use Cloth Diapers?


While I was pregnant with Coco, we decided we would use cloth diapers because they were healthier for the baby, more environmentally friendly, and would save us money. Then, after a few months, I was so sick of washing them. At every diaper change, I dreaded having to deal later on with the diaper I removed and they were getting harder and harder to clean despite the multiple rinses and washes I was doing. When our upstairs neighbors' daughter outgrew some size 2 Pampers and they gave us the remainder of the case they hadn't used, I felt positively gleeful every time I changed Coco's diaper and simply rolled up the adorable Pampers, wrapped the adhesive tabs around to make a neat little ball and tossed it in the garbage! Done. I really didn't want to continue with the cloth diapers. 


So I began doing exhaustive research and discovered, that in some cases, cloth diapers can actually be worse for the baby's skin, cause greater environmental impact and even cost more each month than disposables! Keep reading for a step-by-step guide as to whether you should be using cloth or disposable diapers for your baby.


Water and Washing Machine
If you're interested in making an environmentally friendly choice, the main factor you should consider is water. Cloth diapers use an incredible amount of water. They require a full water level wash, as well as a pre-wash and extra rinse. If you have a front loader, you will have to add water each step of the way because front loaders save water and their preset environmentally friendly water levels are not enough for cloth diapers. If you share laundry, using cloth adds a significant number of loads to your laundry each week and could cause conflict with neighbors.

Bottom Line: Cloth diapers are only an environmentally friendly choice if you live in an area with ample water supply. Having your own top loader is best. If you live in a water shortage or drought area, you absolutely should not use cloth diapers.


Waste Management
The other environmental factor to consider is waste management. If your garbage goes into a landfill, then cloth diapers are a great choice as they're keeping lots and lots of non-biodegradable waste out of a landfill. If your garbage is incinerated to generate electricity, then it's actually not so great to use cloth. In Zurich, they burned the garbage to generate electricity at a waste-to-energy facility. Recycling rates were high enough and waste levels were low enough that Zurich actually bought garbage from neighboring countries to keep their incinerators running! If you're looking for a happy medium, you can use biodegradable diapers. They're a bit more expensive, but they won't take hundreds of years to break down.

Bottom line: Cloth diapers are only an environmental choice if your garbage goes to a landfill. If your garbage is transferred to a waste-to-energy facility, you should not use cloth diapers.


Quantity and Dryness
When using cloth diapers, babies need to be changed far more often. Disposables pull the wetness in and away from your baby's skin, but with cloth, it's just sitting there and if you leave it, some babies will get more rashes and irritation. If you're concerned about dioxin exposure, you will find this study illuminating. More frequent changes mean more diapers, which means more laundry cycles being done, which means more detergent, hot water, running the dryer and time.

Bottom Line: If your baby has sensitive skin, cloth diapers may not be the best choice. And it's a personal weighing of factors, but depending on your electricity and water heating costs, the detergent you use and time, cloth diapers may wind up costing you more than disposables.

When we had Theo in Minnesota, there was plenty of water, our garbage went to a landfill and we had our own top loader and dryer. It would have been a good time to use cloth! But, we were so busy and I was taking Theo to work with me, so in the end we just stuck with our beloved Pampers. I subscribe to our diapers with Amazon Family and get 20% off each case. Plus, we don't have to haul them around, they just arrive on our doorstep, with our favorite wipes every month. I can't imagine ever going back to cloth, as cute as they are. Plus, there is nothing better than popping a used diaper into our diaper pail and never thinking about it (or smelling it) again!

If you're considering cloth, and passed all the qualifiers above, I'll be doing a round up of all of our favorite covers, prefolds, fitteds, fasteners, wet bags, liners, pails and detergents soon. ;) So stay tuned for that! What kind of diapers do you use? Or, if you're pregnant, what kind are you planning to use?

27 comments:

  1. We cloth diapered Georgia except for night and naps. I dont feel we saved all that much money and it is a pain in the ass. I did like line drying them in the sun and she did potty train at 22 months.

    Eli's butt has never touched a single cloth diaper. We shares a machine in Switzerland and I was so overwhelmed with two kids, then we moved--it just never happened.

    I like and used Huggies. Pampers to me smell highly fragranced. Every time I smell them I remember Georgia being born in the hospital because they used them there. Sigh.

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  2. THEY ARE A TOTAL PAIN IN THE ASS! :) I should be ashamed about the following, but I'm not. I love heavily scented things so much - Pampers, Chanel skincare, really heavy perfumes. That diaper/hospital/birth smell reminder makes me so happy every time. Yay! But Huggies are also good, and they're sold in Costco, which is a huge plus if you Costco. True about the line drying in the sun. There's something dreamy and pastoral about that. xx

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  3. With our twins, we tried cloth diapers, but they made our kids sweaty! We also tried gdiapers, but they always leaked. In the end, we went disposable. I hate that they go to the landfill, but they ultimately are what work for us. (plus, we have a front loader). Now that I'm pregnant again, I'd like to give the gdiapers another try with this baby since we still have them, but with three kids in diapers, I don't know if we'll stick to it even if they do work.

    Also, I also think Pampers have a really strong fragrance, which I don't understand at all! Plus, I'm allergic to them. We loved Huggies, and actually, our grocery store brand (Wegmans) has diapers that we really like as well!

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    1. Three kids in diapers will definitely be exciting. Why not give the gdiapers a whirl?! Could it actually get any crazier? ;) Congrats on your pregnancy! Enjoy it. xo

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  4. The secret to making cloth diapers the best is to combine them with EC! EC for us has meant: Happy baby bottoms, easy to wash cloth diapers, way more civilised for parents and baby, earlier potty trained kids. We washed our cloth diapers in a front loader and had no problem getting them clean but they also were never super dirty because we caught a lot of the output in the toilet.

    EC truly changed our lives with our babies. We did it combined with disposables instead with our second (we were busier and lazier mostly) and still had great success with EC. We love having the prefolds around for cleanup during potty training (which happens much earlier and easier with EC'd babies) and for big spills (my older one once decided to water the floor instead of the houseplant with a full watering can - haha!). For anyone who is able to be at home with their kids, EC is so magical.

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    1. Your analysis also only focused on the consumer and post-consumer point, ignoring the environmental costs associated with production. Even given the substantial water used in washing, I can't imagine manufacturing thousands of diapers per child is energy and water efficient. However, for anyone whose main metric for choosing is environment impact, EC is no question lowest environmental impact and honestly so much easier in practice than it sounds.

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    2. I looked up some articles on EC and I'm so impressed! That does sound really difficult, but I love that you did it. It's true that disposables are produced, but so are cloth diapers and covers, often including plastics and other non-earth-friendly materials that aren't perfect. I did intend for this post to be a criticism of cloth. Sure, they're reused, but that doesn't automatically make them the right choice for everyone and every location. Major props to those who use them and make them work. So impressive!

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    3. I totally get using disposables for waste as we did the 2nd time,just combined with EC. I really wish it were more mainstream as it was shockingly easy (at least the lazy still-diapered way we did it so misses were NBD) and as my initially very skeptical husband said "it's just so civilised!".

      Of course cloth diapers are manufactured too but on a much smaller scale and ours that we didn't reuse with our 2nd we sold to another family, so 24 cloth diapers can work for probably at least 4 kids even if not all in the same family. I get that they didn't work for you (and me neither half the time).

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    4. *For convenience (in first sentence)

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  5. As a fan of cloth I was excited to see this post, then dismayed by the negative tone. I look forward to your cloth roundup post for a more encouraging look at the topic.

    We have washed cloth in one of those dinky "portable" washers and hung to dry (inside and outside), and washed in a front loader then dried in a dryer. We use flats and I love them because they are super easy to wash and dry in any situation. Also, as the previous poster mentioned they are great for cleaning up wet messes of all kinds :) But I am not a purist, we use disposables (usually Babyganics) for all day outings and overnight trips.

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    1. It's true, I definitely am not pro-cloth and when pregnant friends ask me if they should do cloth, I always say no. It's a question I get from readers all the time, so I decided to write this post rather than give my opinion over and over again. Many friends still want to do cloth (just as I did when friends discouraged me while I was pregnant;) so that's why I'll do the follow up post.

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  6. So I never entertained the idea of cloth diapering after I asked my mom friends (I was the last to have a child) and they literally laughed at me. Heck no! they said. So I took them at their word. I did decide to use Babyganics brand diapers and loved them. I also used Honest Co and found that they were stiff and leaked. The Babyganics worked great until my daughter moved into size 5's and they were too thick between her legs and she would pull at her crotch area and fuss. Because they don't have the moisture wicking technology, they just have a lot of material for absorption. So I recently switched to Pampers and I had to nod my head in agreement with you all - they smell so strong!!!!!! Like I can't tell when my daughter has pooped! Doesn't help that I am pregnant again and congested, but jeez is it strong. I noticed Huggies at Costco - are they as good as Pampers?????

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    1. I also found that Honest diapers leaked. 7th Generation, too. I actually never tried Babyganics. Huggies do work quite well, and don't smell the way Pampers do, but I find them a little stiff.

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  7. I was a little turned off by the negative tone for cloth diapers too. I agree there are a number of factors each person should consider for whether cloth diapers is an eco friendly choice. But I feel you pointed out more negatives than positives. I used prefold cloth diapers with both my boys and loved them. I rarely had to do a prewash or double rinse, but did find a top loader was most effective. There are also liners and other ways to simplify and stream line the washing. Neither of my boys had issues with rashes or irritation and one of them has extremely sensitive skin. I guess I just wanted to share my own positive experience with cloth diapers in case someone reading was weighing their options.

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    1. I definitely pointed out more negatives than positives. Partly from my experience and partly to dispel the myth that cloth is always better. It's a question I get from friends who are pregnant and readers all the time. I'm glad to hear cloth worked well for you! And that you didn't have any washing issues. I'll follow up with the cloth diaper round up, because lots of people still want to do it!

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  8. Let's face it, once your little one turns one, their rate of growth really tapers off, it kind of feels like my boy has been wearing Huggies diapers Size 3 all his life! I have photos to remind me that he was once small enough for the Huggies newborn diapers, but it's's tough to remember those times.
    couches lavables

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    1. Theo has been in size 5 since he was one! But Coco wore size 3 forever, too. :)

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  9. We mostly cloth diaper (disposable at night) and do it for environmental reasons and ... 'anti consumerism/self sufficiency' reasons (we like to make a lot of our own products rather than always having to buy things). I think your environmental run down was off because it doesn't take into consideration the impact of producing disposables (water use, bleach, gas for transportation, etc). And then they go through multiple kids (either in your own family or re sold to another family after you're done or donated to an organization that refurbishes them and provides them to families that may not be able to afford cloth). We run our cloth diapers through one cycle, not three, and hang to dry so there's that too. It is a pain to do so much washing but I found it just becomes part of the norm. Having said that, I only have one baby and I had a full year maternity leave so I imagine its much harder for mothers that are working or juggling more than one kid! But if environmental impact is your main concern, there is no question cloth is better. ~K

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    1. I hear what you're saying! Good points. But cloth diapers are manufactured and produced and transported and shipped from Amazon, too. I'm still not convinced that the environmental impact is that drastically reduced. I will suggest in my round up post to any moms considering cloth that they buy used for sure. Then the impact is very high!! Congrats on a full year (or more) of cloth diapering! That's awesome. xx

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  10. Thanks! So many things didn't work out as expected so I'm glad cloth did ;) But just to argue further for cloth (lol) cloth is only produced and shipped once. As opposed to.....not sure how many boxes of disposable diapers one buys in the lifetime of diapering one kid? A box every couple weeks? So produced/shipped x 1 versus produced/shipped x 48ish? I totally accept other reasons for using disposables but not the environmental one! ~K

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    1. Actually, it is! LOL ;) http://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=56347 There is virtually no difference at all. xo

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    2. The spacing is all crazy on my screen. Not intentional!! ;) xx

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    3. Super interesting link and glad to see a whole life cycle analysis. Definitely makes secondhand cloth seem like the best approach to cloth! So ignore my point about about the number being manufactured above... clearly it all balances out of you're buying new cloth diapers!

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    4. You had me panicking for a minute there! But then I googled and you can also find studies that find cloth to be the better choice so I don't know which to believe. http://infohouse.p2ric.org/ref/30/29640.pdf
      None of the studies I saw for either side are more recent than about 15 years so we probably need new ones. One thing to consider is that no study can measure the impacts over the next few hundred years accurately. Obviously this is the first time in history we have been discarding plastics in such large quantities so we can guess what will happen long term but we don't actually know. So…even if I were to use the study you mentioned as the most accurate, it still misses the potential burden we're passing on to future generations. After all, this is the reason we're reducing plastic bags, bottled water, fast fashion etc. I think this is the most in depth I've thought about this so thanks for the motivation :) (And…no shame, I use disposables too).~K

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  11. I wanted to cloth bum so much (fun UK term...) but I had a baby with the skinniest little legs and in spite of trying four different brands, using liners, and persevering ah different points as she grew, they ALWAYS leaked around her legs, often only after a very short time. So I packed up my cloth nappies and donated them to a collection for refugee mums- I reasoned that disposables must be hard to get hold of in camps and on the move so hope someone somewhere is finding them helpful. Pregnant with number 2 and just looking at the tiny nappies gets my hormones flowing. I find it interesting g that you don't seem to use supermarket own brands in the US? Here I swear by Aldi or Tesco. Pampers are just so perfumed and so expensive!

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  12. I used cloth with Hunter (prefolds with PUL or wool covers) until he was about 18 months old. I did it for the eco-friendly factor (I just couldn't imagine contributing to all those diapers sitting in a land fill) and also I just prefered the idea of organic cotton next to my baby's skin. It was a pain in the butt and probably not the most eco-friendly option living in drought-ridden SoCal, but there you have it. I probably stuck with it as long as I did because when I told everyone while I was pregnant that I was going to do EC and cloth, they all thought I was crazy. I wanted to prove it could be done! I have so much respect for families who do EC full time. I tried it part time when Hunter was a few months old and I could never catch his pees but I caught many poops in the potty, at least one a day. At around 5 months old his morning poop came like clockwork between 4-5 am. Since he was sleeping right next to me, he would wake up squirming and I knew he needed to go, so I just put him on his little potty! With Paloma, I used a local cloth diaper service until she was 10 months old then switched to 7th generation disposables, which work fine for us. I tried a little bit of EC with her and caught a few pees (mostly taking advantage of "potty-tunities" which are common times babies pee: when they wake up from a nap, get taken out of a baby carrier or car sear, etc), but EC just requires so much dedication!

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