Saturday, January 9, 2010

Why Cloth Diaper?

Our Story

My cousin had a baby about 7 months before I did. At her baby shower my Aunt asked me, “So—are you going to use disposables or cloth when you have a baby?” This followed a conversation between all of my Aunts and my mom about swishing dirty diapers in the toilet. With images of my hands covered in poop fresh in my mind—there was only one answer to give, “YUCK!!! Disposables, of course!” Disposables are soooo easy right? And I was scared enough of all the things that being a parent entailed.

Ethan was born in September and was automatically swathed in disposables. We were generally pretty happy with them—minus the huge blow outs he had every day and the extra bag of trash that we took out every week. We didn’t have any real extra cost at this point because we were given so many diapers and wipes as gifts. Things changed when I was laid-off at the end of November—which sounds awful but actually ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me. I was the primary bread-winner for my family and penny-pinching was number one on my list of priorities.

At the end of December our diaper stash was running low and I had just started attending LatchOn Lenawee, a group that supports breastfeeding in Lenawee County. To my surprise every single woman in this group cloth diapered. EVERY SINGLE ONE!!!!! I thought they were crazy. Then they showed me how easy (and fashionable) it was, and gave me the environmental and health reasons to cloth diaper. They talked about how I could even make my own to save more money. I actually got kind of excited—maybe this WAS something I could do. I went home and did some more research. The points below detail some of the information that sealed the deal for us. Maybe they’ll help you too!

Cost Savings

Most babies wear diapers until they are between 2 and 3 years old sometimes later if they wear disposables—babies that wear cloth often times potty-train earlier because they can tell when they are wet. You use on average between 6-8 diapers a day which means that you will spend from $1,500-$3,500 and probably more with the increased cost of petroleum products every year. Cloth diapers involve a one time cost that ranges from $200-$1,000, depending on the diaper system that works for you.

The first things my husband asked me about is the additional costs from washing diapers. We have a top-loading machine and a gas dryer, although I dry my diapers outside in the summer, and I make my own laundry detergent—so I know for sure it doesn’t have any perfumes or additives. I wash diapers every three days…so on my side I figure the extra cost is about .08 cents per diaper. The authors of Diapers: Environmental Impacts and Lifecycle Analysis say that, “The water used to wash diapers at home amounts to flushing the toilet 5 or 6 times a day, unless you have a high efficiency washer.” So although there are some additional costs with washing your diapers, the cost benefits of cloth are definitely still there.

For those of you that want some real concrete numbers—I know you’re out there—I wish I had the web smarts to put together a really cool calculator that would provide that information for you—unfortunately, I don’t. Diaper Pin does have a really great calculator though…check it out.

The Environmental Impact

Let me first say that my husband and I never thought we would consider ourselves environmentalists. Sure we cared about the earth, we didn’t litter, I used to bike to work and road public transit when we lived in Chicago, and we grow a garden. But in the past year I would whole heartedly say things have changed. I think that starting to cloth diaper was a large part of that. Once you realize how much you can impact the earth by making small changes…it’s easy to continue to do that in other parts of your life as well.

Based on a report from the Women's Environmental Network, The Real Diaper Association:

+ Disposable diapers are the third most common consumer product in landfills today.

+ A disposable diaper may take up to 500 years to decompose.

+ One baby in disposable diapers will contribute at least 1 ton of waste to your local landfill.

And that doesn’t even include the additional environmental impact of the materials used to make, package and ship them to your local grocery store. According to “Diapers: Environmental Impacts and Lifecycle Analysis” the materials used to make disposable diaper for one baby each year include:

+ Over 300 pounds of wood

+ 50 pounds of petroleum feedstocks—doesn’t that sound awful?

+ 20 pounds of chlorine

So here we are in the middle of an environmental crisis—don’t cloth diapers make sense? You not only are helping to save petroleum, energy and trees, you’re also saving the earth from the additional impact of millions of diapers sitting in landfills for 500 years.

Your Baby’s Health

A baby can be sensitive to the ingredients used in diapers.

From Kimberly Clark's 2005 Annual Report:

"Superabsorbent materials are important components in disposable diapers, training and youth pants and incontinence care products. Polypropylene and other synthetics and chemicals are the primary raw materials for manufacturing nonwoven fabrics, which are used in disposable diapers, training and youth pants, wet wipes, feminine pads, incontinence and health care products, and away-from-home wipers." This superabsorbent material becomes a gel like substance when wet. In other words have you seen weird gel like material on your baby’s bottom when you change them after wearing a disposable diaper? Does that seem like something that shouldn’t be there? The authors of Whitewash: Exposing the Health and Environmental Dangers of Women's Sanitary Products and Disposable Diapers, What You Can Do About It. contend that “a similar substance had been used in super-absorbancy tampons until the early 1980s when it was revealed that the material increased the risk of toxic shock syndrome.”

Another issue frequently brought up in cloth diapering circles is dioxin exposure. According to a Mothering Magazine article, entitled "The Joy of Cloth Diapers" "Dioxin, which in various forms has been shown to cause cancer, birth defects, liver damage, and skin diseases, is a by-product of the paper-bleaching process used in manufacturing disposable diapers, and trace quantities may exist in the diapers themselves."

To Wrap it Up

We will never go back to disposables--we know that the cost of them is to much for both our babies and the environment. I hope this article helps you make that choice for yourself, your baby, and your world.


  1. Great story! I wrote a similar post on my blog about how we got started with cloth. Keep up the good work here! I just started sewing recycled wool covers and am interested in more patterns - particularly for knitting if you ever do those. I don't knit but a lot of my relatives do, and I would love to share some well-tested patterns with them.

  2. Hi! I'm a mama just starting out CDing. I wanted to note on the part about Toxic Shock Syndrome - the gel stuff only contributes to TSS because of how much it absorbs. It doesn't have anything to do with the "toxicity" of the substance itself. I'm not convinced that the gel is really safe, but TSS happens when that area becomes too dry - creating an ideal environment for the staph bacteria to multiply and make you sick. Just wanted to put that out there. I'm in no way pro-disposable anything, really. Just wanted to correct any misconceptions there might be. Thanks for an awesome blog!