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Cloth Diapers: Their Countless Off-Grid Benefits

cloth diaper benefits

Image source: Bambino Diapers.

Cloth diapering isn’t for everyone. You need to embrace the idea that your child’s mess isn’t going into a trashcan and out of your house. Instead, that mess will most likely go into your toilet and the diaper into your washing machine.

While cloth diapering has come a long way from when our grandmothers were using them, they’re still diapers. Cloth diapers are an investment. They can be a money-saving option for you and they are more environmentally friendly than disposables. Most importantly, cloth diapers are an investment in your baby’s health, keeping dangerous chemicals away from your little one.

Financial Benefits

There are a variety of estimates out there concerning the cost of cloth diapering versus using disposables. The difficulty in narrowing down exact figures is a result of the differences in prices for disposables across the United States. Hidden costs (like waste disposal for disposables and water and electric costs for washing cloth diapers) are difficult to factor in accurately. But, generally, it is estimated that a decent start-up set of cloth diapers could cost anywhere from $200 to $800 or more, and could be considerably lower if you purchase quality used diapers (off of craigslist, mommy boards, or from friends). These diapers, if cared for properly, can last for more than one child. Disposables, on the other hand, are estimated to cost $2,000 or higher per child over the two and a half years the child is in diapers. At the minimum, you’re looking at a $1,000 savings. While the startup cost of cloth diapers can be intimidating, the savings over the time your child is in diapers is considerable.

Health Benefits

Several dangerous chemicals are found in disposable diapers. Traces of dioxin, a carcinogenic chemical, are found in diapers, although the amounts are so low as to be considered of little concern. Polyurethane, adhesives and ink can be present in diapers. Lotions sometimes coat the inside of diapers and these can contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), the same cancer-causing chemicals found in crude oil. Fragrances, some of which contain phthalates (endocrine disrupting chemicals) are sometimes added to mask the smell. Sodium polyacrylate, a material that can absorb 1,000 times its weight in water, is a very common diaper component. However, due to its drying affect, skin can be harmed.

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Chemical rashes and burns have been seen on many children. Diaper manufacturers are not required to share what is put into their diapers and few studies have been done on the long-term effects on children wearing disposables. Immune system disruption, cancer and reproductive problems are concerns. When it comes to children, perhaps it’s wise to carefully consider cloth diapering as an option.

Environmental Benefits

One cloth diaper costs about the same as a medium-sized pack of generic disposables from the grocery store. But while those disposables will last you a week (or less), the cloth diaper will most likely last through your child’s entire time in diapers, and if cared for properly can last through multiple children. Disposables sit in a landfill for a long time. Current estimates state that a diaper probably lasts from 250 to 500 years in a landfill, although no one knows for sure. “Over 300 pounds of wood, 50 pounds of petroleum feedstocks and 20 pounds of chlorine are used to produce disposable diapers for one baby EACH YEAR” states the Real Diaper Association. Disposable diapers are one of the top three single consumer items found in landfills today. This startling statistic isn’t going to change without a concerted effort from parents.

Getting Started

When you first start out with cloth diapering, it’s a good idea to try out several different kinds before putting a lot of money into any one brand. Ask other families what they use. When I purchased my first set of cloth diapers, it was based off of what I had learned from my friend’s cloth diapering experiences. Her experience and advice was priceless for me! Several diaper distributors actually offer trial packs where you can “rent” nearly a dozen kinds of diapers at once so you can try them out first before purchasing.

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There are a number of different kinds of cloth diapers available. Prefolds have been around the longest; they are what your grandmother used. They’re basically a large piece of absorbent cloth that you fold and secure around your baby’s bottom. You’ll want to purchase quality ones of these to avoid excessive frustration; Green Mountain Diapers has a good reputation. A waterproof cover is placed over top. These probably require the largest learning curve to use effectively, but they are also the cheapest. Once you’re done with having children, the diapers repurpose quite well as cleaning rags, too. Contoured diapers are very similar, but they do not need folded as they are shaped to your baby’s bottom. They sometimes have snaps to secure them and require a cover as well.

Pocket diapers consist of a waterproof cover with a pocket for an absorbent insert. All-in-one diapers are just what they sound like. A cover and the lining are all contained in one diaper. In effect, these look and work much like a washable disposable. Pocket diapers and all-in-one diapers are more expensive, typically costing anywhere from $15 to $25 per diaper and can be a little more difficult to clean thoroughly, but you won’t find an easier cloth diaper to use. Most cloth diaper options come in a variety of colors and patterns. BumGenius is one of the most popular pocket diapers. I have used them as well as GroVia’s hybrid diapers (outer shell with snap-in insert). Both have worked admirably for my son. There are a number of other well-loved brands out there as well, so look around and see what will work best for you and your baby.

Cloth Diaper Care

Washing cloth diapers is fairly simple. You’ll want to dump as much of the poop as you can into the toilet. An easy way to do this is to purchase a pack of throwaway liners. These are thin sheets that can be placed in the diaper and catch the poop. Then you just lift and toss them into the toilet. You can dunk the diaper in the toilet or install a fairly inexpensive sprayer (available at most cloth diaper distributors) on your toilet. Then just hose down the diaper and place it in the diaper pail until wash time.

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Send your diapers through the wash multiple times, starting with a cold rinse, then a warm wash with detergent, and finishing up with a final rinse to ensure all the soap is removed. Most cloth diaper manufacturers recommend using specifically formulated cloth diaper soap, since many regular laundry soaps can ruin the natural cloth over time and chemical and residue buildups can occur from the constant use of regular soap. Certain brands of cloth diaper soap have led to rashes on some babies, so purchase a small amount first to see how it works for you. It is also recommended to limit putting covers through the dryer if possible since the Velcro does wear out over time.

Once completely dry, fold and assemble your diapers and they’re ready for the next change. You’ll be helping the environment, benefiting financially and keeping your baby healthy. There is nothing quite as sweet as a baby crawling around in a soft and natural cloth diaper!

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2 comments

  1. We have been cloth diapering out youngest 2 and for us the initial investment is along the lines of a year’s worth of diapers. However, the returns are cut into by the need to get specific detergents and the increased frequency of laundry. As a rule of thumb, it is 3-4 wash cycles for a load of diapers. It can be offset in the summer by using a clothesline, though.

    Also, cloth diapers, even when washed quickly, tend to develop a nasty ammonia stench and even at a gentle/delicate cycle, they can be chewed up by the washing machine.

    They also lack the visible and tactile feedback a disposable diaper gives when it is soaked with urine. So one must not rely on look and feel when gauging the time to change a diaper.

    • CanadianVet, if you are having that many problems, you might want to revisit how you are washing your diapers. Could your water be bad? Improper rinsing? Something doesn’t sound right. I hand washed my diapers for both daughters as I didn’t have a washing machine. Each one washed and hung to dry at changing time. No issues. If you can afford a new washing machine, I highly recommend the Staber washer. A fraction of the water and power use and are so incredibly well made make them a great investment. It’s a top loader that works like a front loader. Check it out.

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