Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Cloth Diapers: not just for hippies anymore

Admit it, you are curious. You meet a mom at the park who seems normal, but then you catch a bit of bright yellow fabric sticking out as her baby crawls away. Cloth diapers!? What is she, some kind of goddamned hippie supermom-wannabe with nothing better to do than laundry?

It's never too early to start complaining to your baby about your parents' diapering choices

Actually, chances are that while she does care about the environmental impact of diapering, she is also really looking to save money & make her baby's bum as cute as possible. In other words, she's not as weird as you think.

Defensive? No way.

Ok, maybe a little.

It's just that I feel like most parents dismiss cloth diapering without giving it a fair shot. Here are my top 6 cloth diapering myths - do any seem familiar to you?

(also, I know no one ever posts a "top 6" anything. I was shooting for five and miscounted. Don't tell my preschooler.)

6. Cloth diapers are expensive
Diaper for diaper, cloth diapers are more expensive than disposables. If you want your kid exclusively in cloth, you will probably spend a few hundred bucks on your diaper stash (though you can cut this way down if you buy smart and/or used). But here's the kicker: once you buy them you don't have to buy any more. With disposables you should expect to spend around a few THOUSAND dollars from birth to potty training. And there is no discount for a second kid. With cloth you can use the same diapers for a second (or third! or forth! woah there) kid with almost no additional cost.

Another way to do the calculation is to say that with disposables, you'll pay about $70/month (this is what babycenter says to estimate, your milage may vary). So if you spend $200 on your cloth diaper stash, you only have to use them for 3 months to recoup what you were going to spend anyway. If your kid isn't potty trained at 3 months and you use them longer, you are basically getting free money. If you use them for a whole different kid (or sell them to a different parent), you are a bona fide financial genius.

5. Cloth diapering requires joining some kind of cult
False. You joined the cult when you decided to become a parent and read blog posts about diapers. Cloth diapering just makes sense. Except when it doesn't. Like when you are traveling, or live in an apartment with no washer, or work 60 hours a week, or just didn't get the diapers washed because you were busy managing the rest of your life. Our baby is in cloth about 75% of the time. Our older kid was in cloth 95% of the time until 7mo, disposables from 7mo - 15mo, then in cloth probably 70% of the time until potty training. Look at the calculation in myth #6 - you don't have to commit to never buying a disposable diaper again to make it worth it to try cloth.

4. Cloth diapers are prone to leaks.
Seriously? Have you seen a cloth diaper in the last 10 years? The days of plastic pants and assumed leaks are over, there are a wide variety of super adorable waterproof covers and diapers to chose from. There are really only two reasons cloth diapers should leak: your child has outgrown the absorbency of their diaper (same thing happens with disposables) or you washed them incorrectly (so gunk builds up on the diapers and they don't adsorb as well).

Cloth diapers really shine in terms of leaks with little babies who are very susceptible to blowout poops. Ask any cloth diaper user - cloth is WAY WAY WAY better for preventing the up-the-back blowout. Astonishingly better. Better enough to turn you into some kind of cloth diaper evangelist that writes blog posts about how awesome her diapers are.

Ahem. Moving on.

3. Cloth diapers are a lot of work
Cloth diapers are slightly more work than disposables, but really not as much as you think. About 3 loads of laundry/week more work. Once you figure out your washing routine you will find the diapers just flow into the laundry cycles you are doing anyway.

If your baby is exclusively breastfed, cloth diapering is SO EASY and SO AWESOME (see #3 above). Just throw the dirty diapers in the wash with no extra treatment and the breastmilk poop totally dissolves. After your kid starts formula or solids, you will have to spend a few minutes dealing with poop before you throw the diaper into the pail. Honestly, it's less work than the diaper change itself.

In my opinion, this extra work is really the only reason to use disposable diapers. If you take a look at your crazy life and decide the extra work for cloth won't fit, then it won't fit, and you should not feel guilty for one additional minute.

But just do me a favor and own up to that choice instead of spewing the following...

2. Cloth diapers aren't actually any better for the environment.
This one really burns me up. I think this myth comes from a UK Environment Agency report where they estimated the carbon footprint of manufacturing and washing cloth diapers could be higher or lower than disposables, depending on how you wash them. If you make good washing choices you can bring the carbon footprint down by 40% compared to disposables. But in my opinion, this calculation misses the point. An estimated 27.4 billion disposable diapers are used each year in the US. That's 3.4 million tons. Those diapers are sent to landfills, where it will take 200-500 years for them to degrade. That is millions of tons of feedstocks (trees, water, petrochemicals) used to make the diapers that get used only once, then sit in the landfill. There is no way you can make me believe this doesn't matter. Those disposable diapers are also filled with human waste (which is actually illegal to send to a landfill, but no one enforces this for diapers). With cloth, the waste goes into the sewer system, where it can be properly treated.

I guess it boils down to this: using disposable diapers instead of cloth is a totally reasonable choice. But let's not insult anyone's intelligence by pretending it's a green one.

That one is kind of a downer, huh. Let's move on to myth #1...

1. Cloth diapers are gross.
False. Babies are gross. The diapers are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.


So there you have it, my rant of the week about diapers. May the poop be with you.

p.s. There are lots of great resources online if you are interested in the practicalities of getting started in cloth - some of my favorites are Amalah's guide to cloth diapers and the Cotton Babies site. Also the diaperswappers community.

10 comments:

  1. "Babies are gross". Heh. I love you. Let's hang out soon.

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  2. Totally makes me want to use cloth diapers for baby #2!! Great post

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  3. We use them about 60% of the time. (Not at night and I use disposable when out & about). Best place ever for cloth diapers is the Diaper Lab in Somerville. They're super knowledgable and have a "rent to own program" to test out different diapers. http://www.diaperlab.com/index.php Skip the G diapers from Babys R us!

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  4. JulesRules9/6/11, 8:45 PM

    I am a die-hard Pampers fan, but you forgot to mention what I believe to be the most compelling reason to use cloth diapers: Early potty training. Up until disposables became widely available in the 1950s-60s, you had kids learning how to use the potty at ages that today seem laughable. (My info comes from "Diaper Free Before Three," which points out that in the '70s, you would have had to get a prescription for a size 7 diaper that is widely available today). I'm not up for washing cloths (for one thing, I live in a condo with a common laundry and the idea of schlepping dirty cloth diapers up and down the elevator is too gruesome to contemplate), but don't think it hasn't crossed my mind that we could be TOTALLY out of diapers WAY earlier than most people today expect, but which would actually be entirely age-appropriate.

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  5. How do you clean them?

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  6. @Anonymous - the details vary from person to person but in general, you shake the solids into the toilet, then throw the diapers in the pail. When the pail is full, throw them in the wash. Do a pre-rinse, then a wash with soap, then an extra rinse with no soap.

    @Mamab - Diaper Lab sounds awesome! We lived in the Philly area when we bought our stash, so they weren't even on my radar.

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  7. Good Post! I used cloth diapers and wipes for my daughter who is now 4. She was fully potty trained at the age of 21 months. I bought my diapers new and used. My favorite was pocket diapers which I would pay only $11 each. I would stuff them with microfiber wipes at $5.00 for a 5 pack at walmart in the shop section. They absorbed more and I never once had a blow out. People thought I was nuts but I must say I had 2 friends borrow diapers when they couldn't get their child to potty train mind you they were almost 3 at the time. They both had their kids trained within a week from using cloth and both said they didn't realize how easy it would be to use cloth diapers.

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