I have mentioned before that my family doesn’t cloth diaper, but I do love the idea of cloth diapering. It’s a great way to reduce your impact on the environment. Because of this, I asked several of my friends to write guest posts about cloth diapering. This first post in a multi-post series is by a dear, childhood friend of mine, Katie.
Before our little one was born, I decided to try cloth diapers because I believed that they would be a better use of both environmental and financial resources. I just couldn’t justify all of those used disposable diapers piling up somewhere. This feeling was potently strengthened after our little one arrived and we went through 1100 diapers in the first two months! Despite the added energy and water consumption required to wash cloth diapers, they are still radically better for the environment and perhaps the most earth-conscious decision parents can make.
Once I began researching cloth diapers, I found myself overwhelmed by the sheer number of options and opinions. There are many styles of diapers (and numerous manufacturers, each with subtle differences), laundry routines and trouble-shooting solutions. And, like most things, the internet provides a wealth of conflicting information. After a lot of research, I had really learned very little because like most baby gear, each individual has different preferences. For example, some people prefer all-natural or organic fabrics, while others prefer the moisture-wicking and cost benefits of synthetic fabrics. Most people now prefer the fastening options that do not require diaper pins. There are also numerous opportunities to match various manufacturers’ styles to your little one’s body type, such as more generous leg openings or a longer rise. The sheer number of options can be frustrating, but it also means that you have a lot of alternatives to try if you are dissatisfied.
There seems to be a growing recognition of how overwhelming the cloth diaper product line-up can be. One prominent cloth diaper vendor, Jillian’s Drawers, offers a cloth diaper trial for a mere $10 (provided you return the items promptly if you choose to not pursue cloth diapering), as well as a variety of sample packages.
Of course, trying out a lot of cloth diapering products can eventually translate to a significant investment, especially if you prefer cloth diapers with more features and/or organic fabrics. This has been a disappointment to me as I naively imagined that cloth diapering would represent substantial cost-savings. I still believe that we will save a lot of money in the long run, but at only seven months into cloth diapers, the cost benefits have probably been fairly minimal. A large part of that is that our little one has grown at an incredible rate and is very tall. As a result, many of the cloth diapers and covers that we tried had to be “retired” early, typically due to the rise being too short for our little one. For example, we tried and loved Thirsties Duo-Wrap Snap Size 1 which is advertised to last until about 9 months or 18 pounds, but our little one outgrew it around 4-5 months and 15-16 pounds. As our little one’s growth slows down, I expect that each size of cloth diapers will last longer and thus be more cost-effective. Of course, our real savings will come when we can reuse all of these diapers with our anticipated second child.
I want to emphasize though that it IS completely possible to save A LOT of money with cloth diapering. The bare minimum supplies would only be about $200, plus laundry detergent & utilities. I also made simple cloth wipes out of 2-ply 8-inch squares of cheap flannel which have been a significant savings. And rather than using any kind of wipes solution or expensive cloth-approved diaper rash cream, I prefer nearly-free plain water for the former and completely-free indirect sun exposure for the latter. Line-drying your diapers can also drastically reduce your cloth-diaper-dependent energy bill. If you are fortunate to be able to dry them outside, sunlight also has amazing diaper-brightening properties! In addition, depending on your sewing ability and/or your willingness to learn, you can make your own cloth diapers.
An unexpected benefit of choosing to use cloth diapers has been the fabulous customer service I have received from cloth diaper vendors. My favorite detergent company (Rockin’ Green) offers free and prompt trouble-shooting assistance. When I asked their advice on how to fine-tune my laundry routine when I was battling diaper rash, they sent me a free sample of the new formula they were developing. They then offered to make me custom detergent until the new formula would be commercially available several months later.
When I inquired about the availability of one particular diaper style, a favorite diaper manufacturer (ESBaby) offered to send me a free prototype of a new pattern she was developing for that style, provided I gave her feedback on the redesign. ESBaby will also further customize their patterns by adding or trimming inches in the rise or crotch width, and covering the diapers with customer selected prints (or even customer-provided fabrics). As an added bonus, many of these vendors are either work-at-home moms or moms transitioning into full-time careers. It is a huge frustration to me that there seems to be serious professional stigma attached to women who want to return to the workforce after choosing to stay home with their young kids so I love supporting these mom-driven businesses.
Finally, anyone who chooses cloth diapers seems more than willing to help others get started or trouble-shoot. I have personally benefitted from some great advice and instruction in this way, including an incredibly helpful and clarifying email from the other cloth diaper guest blogger, arranged via an email introduction from Molly here at Two Little Grasshoppers.
There are some mild disadvantages to cloth diapers. The biggest issue for us has been battling diaper rash. Most people advertise that cloth-diapered babies rarely have diaper rash because they are changed more often. We changed our little one 16-20 times a day for the first two months and still struggled with diaper rash. In fairness, we seem to have a family predisposition towards diaper rash. We pretty much have this condition under control now due to the reduced frequency of output by our little one and routine preventative air and indirect-sun exposure.
Obviously, cloth diapers require you to spend more time with your diapers. Dealing with soiled cloth diapers seems no worse to me than dealing with soiled disposable diapers (Disclaimer: our little one is still in the very early phases of solid food, so perhaps this issue might become more unpleasant in the future). It does take some time, every day so far, to wash and fold cloth diapers, although far less time and effort than I expected. I am fortunate to be able to stay home with my little one and his diapers which makes this process even easier. I believe that it would be possible to use cloth diapers while working outside of the home, but it would require more flexibility and commitment and would be undeniably harder to manage. But even partial use of cloth diapers would make a huge impact on the environment!
Another minor inconvenience has been finding roomy enough clothes to accommodate the added bulk of cloth diapers. Our little one is fairly slim too, so I imagine this must be really difficult if you have a more Rubenesque baby. In particular, pajamas are a problem. Federal law mandates that children’s sleepwear either be made out of a non-flammable material or have a slim-fit so as to minimize the danger of the clothes igniting in a fire. As a result, the overwhelming majority of children’s sleepwear is not cloth diaper-friendly. Skirts are pretty forgiving for little girls, while stretchy knits work best for other bottoms. There are some brands that I’ve tried that have a more generous fit, like Zutano, Hanna Andersson and Wal-mart’s Garanimals. Except for the latter, these brands are pretty pricey though which was another small disappointment to me.
We have used disposables while traveling and both my husband and I strongly prefer cloth diapers. With cloth diapers, it is much easier to customize the fit and style to our little one. In fact, perhaps “CD” should stand for “Customized Diapers” rather than “Cloth Diapers!” Additionally, the materials are much softer and more comfortable (we imagine). We have also experienced significantly fewer blow-outs and leaks with cloth diapers. Finally, they seem more breathable and trap less overall moisture.
To briefly summarize, I’ve listed below the pros and cons of cloth diapers from my experience.
Cloth Diaper Pros:
- Customizable fit, materials & absorbency (cute prints can be an added bonus)
- Can be much cheaper
- Softer against the baby’s skin
- Better containment of bodily waste & odor
- Fabulous customer service & support while often supporting mom-driven businesses
Cloth Diaper Cons:
- Time & energy to wash diapers
- Diaper rash (this might be fairly unique to our situation)
- Can have significant upfront costs, especially if choosing to use premium diapers
- Requires roomier clothes that may be more difficult to find