We had a tough time deciding whether or not we would use cloth diapers. We thought they’d be expensive, that the laundry would be too much, that they’d smell or that I’d be grossed out by them, but through the debates, we kept coming back to the fact that they are just much better for the environment than disposables. I know that some people argue this point, so I’ve asked Jon to write up some of the research he has done on the environmental impact of cloth versus disposables. For now I’ll just say that at the most basic level, I balanced the environmental impact of doing more laundry versus adding to the landfills and the oil used to make most disposables, and decided to go with doing the laundry. At about $0.25 a piece for disposable, instead of piling up in the landfill, I have a little bit extra cash in my wallet.
We’ve been using cloth diapers for almost six months now, and love them! We wouldn’t go back. [Update: After almost 3 years, we still love cloth diapers!] We’ve changed over 1,100 diapers and the vast majority have been reusable cloth diapers. There are situations where we use disposables, but Jon has commented that that always makes him feel guilty.
Another drawback to cloth diapers is that they are bulkier, both under clothes and toting around in a diaper bag. Besides, babies don’t care if they need the next sized onsie. On the plus side, I never have the dilemma of “what should I do with this dirty diaper?” I always know what to do with it – stick it in my “wet bag” attached to my diaper bag. Given the environmental benefits of cloth, I’m happy to use them in most situations and happy to give advice and help.
The multiple-children question: We’re really only doing it on one, but I expect that it would be no harder on 2 or 3 children. The start up costs would be higher (but less than double), because you’d need more diapers, but you would have needed to buy more disposables anyhow. From an environmental point of view, I always feel bad when I’m washing them because I never have a full washer load. If I was washing for 2 or 3 children I would still wash the diapers every 1-2 days, but my washer would have more in it each time. There’s really no folding, just a little stuffing or sorting – depending what you’re using, so you’re not adding the time consuming parts of doing laundry (folding and putting away).
If you’re anywhere in the greater Boston area, go to the Diaper Lab in Somerville for a consult. They are WONDERFUL! They have intro to cloth diapering workshops regularly, that help parents get started. For example, which brands and types of diapers you should consider differ based on what is most important to you, saving money, what’s best for the environment or allergy concerns. They helped us pick out a middle-of-the-road solution. They also have an “Experiment to own” program, where you try 8 diapers and assorted accessories for a $35 “rental” fee, and then return what you don’t want and purchase what you do. I even managed to accidentally discolor some of the diapers I wasn’t enthusiastic about and they still took them back without hassle. We have gone back several times to get additional diapers and related supplies.
|The sun is a great disinfectant and bleaches things.|
What about diaper rash? When he has mild diaper rash I use a disposable liner (feels like a thin dryer sheet) that you can put in to protect the diaper from the cream. There are others that make a diaper rash powder out of browned flour or a special cream that doesn’t hurt the cloth diapers. Be careful with “regular” diaper rash cream because it will damage the diaper and ruin its absorbency. When he has very bad diaper rash I switch to disposables. Some people find that their babies never have diaper rash anymore after switching to cloth. I didn’t find that to be the case, but my son has super-sensitive skin. So far he has had fewer diaper rashes than his older brother, who has similarly sensitive skin, but it is not conclusive.
For holding the dirty diapers I have an $8 garbage can in his bedroom with a swingtop lid with a diaper bag in it. It contains the smells pretty well, I could stick a deoderizer thing on it if I wanted to, but I haven’t felt the need yet. I also have a bag on a doorknob in my living room for changing downstairs. As odd as it sounds, it is important to not have a sealed container for the diapers as the airflow actually minimizes the odor.
What about a diaper service? NO WAY on the service – it’s not environmentally friendly at all, and it makes it completely not cost effective. It’s not worth it to save that little bit of time/laundry. The services use harsh chemicals, you have to use chemicals in your house and there is tons of carbon used transporting your diapers around every week.
|Diapers on the drying rack|
What about older children? Well, interesting that you should ask… My 5 year-old is in pull-ups. This past summer when we started the baby on cloth diapers, my husband took my older son to the Diaper Lab and let him pick out two pull-ups for himself. We only need two, because he just uses one a night and we have to do wash diapers every day or two for the baby. I wouldn’t recommend this if you *only* have an older child, because it would be quite a waste of water to wash every two to three days for two or three items. However, if you’re doing it for younger kids, throwing in the older kid diapers too is not a big deal. I have found that his diapers are stinkier and more prone to leakage than the baby, so I often find myself just putting disposable pullups on him.
Whether it is to save some money in the long run, keep nasty chemicals away from your baby, or helping the environment, you should consider cloth diapers.