Saturday, April 23, 2011

On Cloth Diapering

Just yesterday, I happened to see that today is evidently the "Great Cloth Diaper Change" in honor of Earth Day. While I certainly do not have the time or interest or fervency to want to go meet up with a bunch of people just to change a diaper (I can do that in the comfort of my own home, thank you), I figured it was as good a day as any to write about why we love cloth diapering. Hopefully it will show that it works even for people who are not total hippy dippys (or maybe you think we are), or at least give some insight into why we've chosen that route.

For those of you completely uninterested in this sort of thing, feel free to just skip this post. Otherwise, read on!

1. Environment (as yesterday was Earth Day, we'll start with the obvious):

While we knew that we were going to try cloth diapering long before Nat was born, we used disposables in the very beginning. This was partially for ease in those first few weeks, but mostly because the type of diapers we use (pockets) are one-size-fits-all (e.g., we can use the very same diapers from the very beginning all the way to potty training) and were a leeetle big on our tiny newborn, and we were too cheap to buy a whole set just for that newborn stage. In any case, in these first few weeks when we were using disposables, it would just kind of hurt our hearts every time we took a bursting bag of diapers out to the dumpster. According to one source:
  • Diapers are the 3rd-largest single consumer item in landfills
  • Over 300 lbs of wood, 50 lbs of petroleum feedstocks & 20 lbs of chlorine are used to produce disposable diapers for one baby each year
  • It is estimated that diapers take between 250-500 years to decompose
  • For those who might wonder about the water and energy it takes to manufacture and wash a cloth diaper, disposables use 2.3 times as much, they generate 60 times more solid waste (that decomposes more slowly), and use 20 times more raw materials

2. Health:

Anyone who knows me is probably aware the chemicals kind of weird me out. I try to put as few chemicals into my body as possible, and we try to eat as many natural/whole foods products as possible. So I don't love the idea of putting chemical-laden plastic on my baby's bum every day. Plus, I'd definitely prefer to wear cloth instead of plastic intimates, so there you have it.

I've also heard some say diaper rash is far less common with cloth, although, fortunately, Nat's never had to experience it either way. Since disposables generally hold mass quantities of liquid, I think it's tempting to leave a disposable on for a while longer, increasing the likelihood of rash. With cloth, I'm usually like, oh well, we'll just change him, since it's also not costing me another precious diaper.

3. Faster potty training:

On average, cloth diapered children potty train 6 months sooner. Need I say more?

4. Ease & Time Savings:

I'll preface this one by noting that this may not be true for everyone. Some people may be perfectly content to just buy diapers off the shelves and not worry about coupons and discounts and driving around for a good deal. But because I know penny-pinching self, I am absolutely certain that cloth diapering saves me tons of time and money-induced anxiety. I bought my stash before Nat arrived and that was it. Done. I never have to research coupons or sales, I never need to walk down the diaper aisle calculating costs, and I certainly don't need to drive to a whole separate store, baby in tow, just to buy diapers. I also don't need to worry about running out one night, or conserving diapers.

Instead, I take all of about 2 minutes to throw the diapers in the wash every other day. I don't even need to carry diapers down to the dumpster! With a breastfed baby, you can just chuck the diapers right in the washer. When a baby starts solids, you have to, um, dump the other solids, but technically, you're supposed to do that with disposables, as well (which few people do, leading to a whole host of other environmental problems).

There are several kinds of cloth diapers, and the kind we use is literally like putting on a disposable (either with Velcro or snaps). It takes no more effort than putting on a disposable. What I like about pockets, in particular, is that you can customize the absorbency - so you can add extra layering for nighttime, or keep it a bit more trim for the day.

One of the most common complaints I hear about cloth diapers is the need to touch...stuff. To be perfectly honest, I have far less experience with this than my disposable-diapering compadres. Nat has never had a blow-out in a cloth diaper. Not once. That means no peeling off disgusting clothes, no immediate trips to the bathtub, etc. I was totally annoyed when we flew to Utah for Christmas and decided to use disposables on the flight and, well, Murphy's law reigns...

5. Cuteness

Nat has solid-colored, cow-, monkey-, and giraffe-printed diapers.

6. Less Stinky:

Seriously, disposables get waaaay stinkier. 'Nuff said.

7. And the kicker...COST:

I'm sure you've all heard how much cheaper it is to use cloth diapers. But you may wonder - is it really cheaper when I buy diapers on sale/use coupons/etc.? Won't it cost more in detergent/electricity/water?

Because I am totally anal and have an abiding love for Excel, I made a spreadsheet to calculate the cost savings of cloth diapers vs. disposables. I calculated it out for 2 kids, 3 kids, and 4 kids. I used the conservative assumption of a cloth-diapered baby being potty trained after 2.5 years, and a disposable-diapered baby being potty trained after 3 years. I tried it with both 6 diapers and 7 diapers per day. I tried it from the very low end of $0.03/diaper (you'd have to be really really awesome to maintain this average) up to $0.15/diaper, which is about the price of Target's Up & Up brand for the smaller-sized diapers. Here are my findings*:

Cost/Diaper Diapers/Day Cost Savings for 2 kids
$0.03 6 $13.64
$0.03 7 $79.34
$0.05 6 $276.44
$0.05 7 $385.94
$0.10 6 $933.44
$0.10 7 $1,152.44
$0.15 6 $1,590.44
$0.15 7 $1,918.94

Cost/Diaper Diapers/Day Cost Savings for 3 kids
$0.03 6 $65.31
$0.03 7 $163.86
$0.05 6 $459.51
$0.05 7 $623.76
$0.07 6 $853.71
$0.07 7 $1,083.66
$0.10 6 $1,445.01
$0.10 7 $1,773.51
$0.15 6 $2,430.51
$0.15 7 $2,923.26

Cost/Diaper Diapers/Day Cost Savings for 4 kids
$0.03 6 $116.98
$0.03 7 $248.38
$0.05 6 $642.58
$0.05 7 $861.58
$0.07 6 $1,168.18
$0.07 7 $1,474.78
$0.10 6 $1,956.58
$0.10 7 $2,394.58
$0.15 6 $3,270.58
$0.15 7 $3,927.58

Um, yeah, lots of potential money savings. Money that could be put towards a trip to Africa (such as the one for which I still have not posted pictures...right. About that.).

That said, I totally understand that cloth diapering is not for everyone. It probably doesn't sound like it after my little novel, but I do. I don't think I could do it if we didn't have a washer/dryer in our unit. I also understand that other people probably have a more reasonable level of money-anxiety than I do. Others may travel a ton and just find it too difficult (we did use disposables on our Africa trip). But I hope this at least provided some reasons to consider it, or to give you a little nudge if you're already thinking about it.

Questions? Do you think we're crazy? Are you amazed that I've managed to wax poetic for so long about diapers?

*Ugh, sorry, for some reason, blogger won't keep the spacing right in the charts. Hopefully you can still read it.


Mandy said...

Thanks for the post, very interesting, just this week I have been thinking about cloth diapers and trying them out. Thanks for the information.

Becca said...

This actually makes me really jealous. Someday we'll live in a unit with a washer and dryer and we'll be able to do this :( I wonder, Oh Anal One, if it cost $3 for every load of wash, how would cloth diapers balance out against disposables? (I suppose I could figure this out but math gives me anxiety)

Seriously, though. Jealous.

Jill, Ty, Megan and Lillian Campbell said...

I've considered cloth off and on, and really wanted to use biodegradable G Diapers while in India because of the impact the waste from disposables would have on the village where we lived. After weeks of calculations and research (I have a certain level of money anxiety too...), I decided we just couldn't afford them. I'm going to have to start researching the options for this next one. Oh, and since we're staying with my mom while Ty's deployed, I should probably get permission before I start throwing diapers in her washing machine. :) I'd be interested to hear an update about the ease of use once you start adding solid foods, too!

But seriously - breastfeeding and cloth diapers - so amazing for so many reasons, and money's the least of them!

natalie said...

So interesting. One requirement I have before having a baby is having a w/d in my unit, so that part is feasible (do your calculations here account for water usage/heating costs/detergent production and purchase and waste that goes into doing so much laundry?).

Also, not to be graphic, but what do you do about chunks? Do you have to like, scrape them off into the toilet before? I totally dig every other aspect, but the idea of a cloth diaper soaking up baby poop then just twirling around in my washer grosses me out. And having to do an extensive hand-rinse process for every one just seems exhausting and not so feasible.

I am so glad you wrote about this. It is something I am dying to learn more about.

Maxine Parrish said...

Which brand do you use? My friend lent me a huge stash of Apple Cheeks pockets to try out. They were great for Isaac who loved the colors, but they were terrible for Samuel who does NOT lie still for even a millisecond for me to manage the snaps (I heard the velcro types wear out fairly quickly in comparison). Alas. I was all for it, too.

preethi said...

Mandy/Jill - so happy you're considering it! I'll definitely update once Nat starts consuming more than a teaspoon of bananas. :) Let me know if you have any other questions!

BT - based on my prior assumptions along with an assumption of 4 kids and 7 diapers/day, you would have to be paying more than 13.3 cents per diaper to make cloth financially beneficial while paying $3/load (or $1.50/day based on every other day laundry). Let me know if you want me to run any other combos (e.g., different numbers of kids, diapers/day, potty training times, etc.). :)

Natalie - my financial calculations do account for detergent/electricity. While I haven't done the calculations on the environmental costs of production/water usage/etc., the source I linked in the "Environment" bullet has some good info. Also, I'll email you about your other question. :)

Max - we use mostly BumGenius one-size, with a few FuzziBunz one-size and Happy Heinys one-size thrown in. We actually vastly perfer the Velcro to the snaps - they are way easier to get on (especially with a wiggly baby!) and it's much easier to get a good fit. On occasion, they get stuck in the washer, but eh - it's really not a big deal. We haven't had any problems with the Velcro, but in the event it gets super worn, I figure I'll just replace the Velcro (and by replace, I mean have my crafty mother replace).

Josh said...


Thanks for the review on Rockstar Diaries. I lost my phone with both of your phone numbers soon after we met up.

Research Elimination Communication (EC).


Alex said...

I agree! We are often cloth diaperers... but not on trips. We use gdiapers with cloth inserts. Has Nat started on solid foods yet? I love the flushable diaper liners when input and output become more solid. Just flush it and go!

Julia said...

I clearly have no life, because after you mentioned this post today, I was entirely too eager to read it ;) Really quite bizarre considering I don't have kids. The cost factor is absurd. From a environmental standpoint, too, I'm so glad people are getting back on the cloth diapering band wagon.

Julia said...

oh p.s. yes please do post Africa pix :)