Cloth Diapers: Eco-Friendly and Parent Friendly, Too
The one choice that must be made when becoming a parent, that is inevitable, is what kind of diapers you are going to use during infancy and early toddlerhood. It seems simple right, pick up a box of disposables and be done with it? Before you decide, or even if you already have, allow me to introduce you to a more eco-friendly (and frugal) option: cloth diapers.
Many people turn up their noses at the mention or thought of cloth diapers; I was one of them. Why in the world would anyone want to wash their child’s soiled diapers? My response to that now is “Well, you wash and reuse your underwear, right?”
Why switch to cloth diapers?
Disposable diapers greatly affect the environment. It is estimated that over 20 billion disposable diapers are used each year in the United States, resulting in 3.5 million tons of soiled diapers ending up in America’s landfills. Though no one is sure how long it takes a disposable diaper to fully biodegrade, the Environmental Protection Agency argues it is centuries.
Many families also struggle to provide clean diapers for their children and have to reuse disposable diapers, which increases the risk of rash and infection. Every child deserves clean diapers; but the costs, per child, can be oppressive. The cost of one month’s worth of diapers for just a single child can be up to eighty dollars. If the average age of a child who begins potty training is two years old, then this would be nearly $2k dollars per child. Given that 5.3 million children under the age of three live in ‘poor’ or low-income families, this cost can be a real burden. If transportation is an issue, as well, parents may be forced to buy smaller packs of diapers at stores that do not sell diapers in bulk, which causes the cost of diapers to go up.
A baby uses over 5,000 diapers before they are fully potty trained. Many families choose to use cloth diapers because they will not have to worry about having enough money to buy disposables. Families can invest one time, lasting them up until potty training.
What are the benefits?
You are now probably wondering how much cloth diapers cost, how they are washed, and how they are used. Anyone, including you, can start cloth diapering their baby for a hundred dollars. Yes, $100 can and will buy you enough diapers to last your child until potty training. I know this because I have a hundred dollar stash that I use to diaper my son.
I remember standing in the diaper aisle with my oldest son, having $40 in my pocket that was to last us until payday, trying to decide how I was going to make it stretch and still have enough for food and gas. The reason why we chose to cloth diaper our youngest son is because we still want and need to save money. We realize that the money we wasted on disposable diapers was money that could be used elsewhere. It doesn't matter to us that we are in a different financial state now than we were when our oldest was in diapers. I also know that things happen and money can disappear quickly and I didn’t want to have to stand in the diaper aisle again cringing at the thought of throwing away our money.
The diapers that we use are called flat diapers and they are the most basic and economical diaper your money can buy. If you want to buy modern cloth diapers it will cost you at least $300 - $500 for your child. I know that seems steep, but you are investing that money one time. After your child is potty trained, you can even re-sell or donate the diapers. Buying used diapers really cuts down the initial investment cost. Most importantly: you’ll never be met with the worry about running out.
Washing cloth diapers can be intimidating at first. Even if you don’t have a washer and dryer, you can hand wash and hang dry diapers. Don’t worry too much though, it is simple once you find out what works for you. The main concern of parents about cloth diapers is, what do you do with your child's waste? There are a few things you can do:
- If a baby is exclusively breastfed then his or her waste will be water soluble. It is okay to throw the diaper in the wet bag until laundry day and wash it. Trust me, it will wash out. If there is a stain, you can wash it and dry it in the sun. The sun acts as a natural 'bleach' and will get the stain out without the harsh chemicals.
If a baby is formula fed or is eating solids then you may need to get the waste off before washing. You can do that using a few methods, the most common is the use of a diaper sprayer, an attachment that hooks to your toilet.
When it comes to actually washing, you will want to establish a good routine. I rinse the diapers, put them in a hot wash with detergent, and then I rinse again. If detergent is left in the diaper it can cause other issues so you want to make sure all is rinsed out well. I also hand wash because it cuts back on water usage and I like to hang dry, too.
If I am going out, I always carry with me:
- 3 extra diapers
- Cloth wipes (I wet them before I leave the house and store them in a wipe carrying case)
- Wetbag (to store soiled diapers)
No family should ever have to choose between diapers, bills, or food. Every child deserves a clean diaper and we only have one earth, that we must treat well. Disposable diapers are the third largest single consumer item in landfills. If a home contains a child that is not yet potty trained, then 50% of that household’s waste is due to disposable diapers. I hope this very brief introduction allows you to make a more informed choice on what diapers you will use for your baby. If you are looking into or just starting to use cloth diapers, here are some great resources that helped me: All About Cloth Diapers, Dirty Diaper Laundry, Fluff Love University, and the Real Diaper Association.
All photos provided by the author.