Why Cloth?

Try being a first time momma and casually tossing out the idea that you want to use cloth diapers. The reactions you’ll be met with will be a mixed bag of crazy looks, laughter, bewilderment, and the occasional “she doesn’t know what she’s getting herself into.” The fact is, cloth diapers have evolved just as everything else, but they still haven’t made their way into the mainstream enough for most people to have lost the mental picture of safety pins and a swatch of fabric. As it turns out, there are tons of reasons for deciding to use cloth diapers, and we’ll get to all of those, but before that decision can even be made, before those reasons can even start carrying any weight, the mental block that many people have against them needs to be lifted. The idea that they’re an inconvenient mess for a new mother who is all ready expecting to be overwhelmed, needs to be overcome before anyone cares to launch into a discussion about the environment or money.

Like I said, I’ll get to the reasons why you, and everyone you know, should be using cloth diapers, but first, here’s my story about how I got to the point of even making that decision.

When I was pregnant, I made a point of researching every little thing I could get my mind around so naturally, the subject of using cloth diapers landed on my radar. Honestly, I started out expecting to write it off. For the sake of being fully informed, I sat down prepared for a quick Google search, but just giving them that little fair shake was enough for me to fall in love. Like most everyone else, I was picturing our grandmas’ diapers, but that is not what I found.

I began by focusing on how they would fit into our lifestyle, with cost and everything else aside, whether or not they would be practical on a day-to-day basis. When I was pregnant with my first in 2011, there were no local resources for cloth diapers, but I found endless YouTube videos showing me how modern cloth diapers are worn, washed, stored, etc. They showed me that changing, rinsing, washing, and living with cloth was actually not that big of a deal. Now, we even have a local store that not only sells cloth, but hosts how-to demonstrations and is always available to help guide people and answer questions. My bias was instantly shattered, and I was able to relay that same information onto my husband and family to help get them on board.

Now that I’m convinced cloth diapers are something that would be reasonable to live with, the question becomes: Why would anyone want to live with cloth diapers?

  • There is a considerable cost savings in using cloth diapers.

Depending on the style of diapers you decide to use, your initial investment is going to be between $150 and $500.

Now I’m going to break down the math for a child that wears diapers for two years. I’ll use the higher estimate of $500 and be super conservative on all of the estimates that work against cloth diapers. I’ve heard all the arguments nay-sayers will toss out there.

If you do two loads of diapers per week on a hot/cold cycle with a top loading machine, based on the average cost of energy in the US in 2012 ($.12/kWh), and the average cost of water, ($2/1000 gal.), and $.10 per load of detergent, you will spend $104 on laundry (there’s an online laundry cost calculator to help do the math). I did not factor in drying because most manufacturers advise against it.

That brings the cloth total expense to $604.

According to babycenter.com, (this is not a site which advocates for cloth diapering), the cost of disposable diapers will average out to $72 per month. That comes to $1,728 over two years. There will also be costs for garbage bags, drives to the store, diaper genies, etc. I’m not going to bother factoring any of those costs though because the savings is all ready $1,124.  

It’s worth pointing out that many children are not potty trained on their second birthday. Furthermore, the cost of detergent was kind of a made up guess on my part because I make my own and the cost is far less – less than $.01 per load – and that’s an option that everyone has. Also, these calculations are based on only one child, when realistically, a cloth stash will live through multiple children. Alternatively, there is a resale value. Purchasing used diapers is a great way to keep costs down or to recoup your initial investment. Finally, if you plan before your child is born and add them to your registry, you may not have to spend any money in the first place.

For my family specifically, we received many of our diapers as shower gifts so we ended up spending around $250 ourselves. Based on local rates and homemade detergent, I am spending $20 per year on laundry. It’s looking like my daughter may very well be potty trained by the time she’s two, but we have another baby on the way for whom I will not purchase a single diaper. If that child is potty trained in two years also, that’s a grand total $330 my family will have spent on diapering two children for four years.

  • Disposable diapers contain toxic substances that are in contact with your child’s most delicate areas.

Dioxin – This stuff is banned outright in many countries, but in the US, it simply cannot be produced or commercially used, which means that it’s presence as a by-product of the bleaching process is A-OK. The reason for the ban is the following EPA-recognized side effects: liver damage, weight loss, wasting of glands important to the body’s immune system, a variety of reproductive effects from reduced fertility to birth defects, and cancer.

Tributyltin (TBT) – This is a compound which has been banned by the National Maritime Organization because studies have shown that it causes fertility problems in both humans and animals. It is not banned by the EPA for use in human products, so in disposable diapers, it is used for preventing the growth of bacteria.

Sodium polyacrylate (SAP) – SAP is the reason that disposable diapers are crazy-super absorbent. It is no longer allowed in tampons because it causes Toxic Shock Syndrome, but continues to be used in disposable diapers. 

A side note about SAP is that it is so effective at absorbing that it also draws moisture from the skin.  While some cloth wearing babies get rashes because the moisture is close to their skin, (there are styles of diapers with barriers to prevent this from happening), other disposable-wearing babies get rashes from dryness (ours did, which cloth fixed). Also, SAP may contribute to the notion that children who wear cloth diapers potty train sooner -it is easier for them to recognize when their diaper is soiled.

  • The environment cannot handle more disposable diapers.

It goes without saying that disposable diapers are single-use and therefore end up in landfills – all 8,000 of them per baby. If there are four million babies born each year in the US, that’s 32,000,000,000 diapers.

That’s one big pile of crap.    

The estimate is that it takes between 250 and 500 years for a disposable diaper to decompose. If we assume it’s somewhere in the middle, 375 years, a hypothetical diaper that was thrown away in 1638 would finally be gone in 2013. If you want some perspective, US Constitution was signed in 1787.

Disposable diapers constitute approximately 4% of our landfills. On top of that, through their manufacturing process, they consume (and dispose of) massive amounts of petroleum, wood, chlorine, and other materials, including water, which is estimated to be far greater than that which is consumed in laundering cloth diapers.

  • Cloth diapers are awesome!

That may sound like my opinion, but it’s really a big, huge fact. In addition to all of the things mentioned above, they’re super easy to use. In future posts, I’ll guide you through the different styles, how-to, etc., but for now, you’re just going to have to trust me that they really are awesome!


Tell Us!
What made you decide to consider cloth diapers? Do you use them already?

October 21, 2013 by Allison Lund
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