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.
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?