Amy Beth

August 18, 2013

Cloth Diapering: The Why’s and What For’s

The decision to use cloth diapers was probably one of the first parenting decisions I ever made. Right off the bat, I decided to go the unconventional route. This perhaps should have been a warning of things to come. I think I knew of a few friends who had done it, so for some reason during that overwhelming time of preparing to BECOME A PARENT I decided to spend my time reading about diapers. Maybe that seemed simpler than childbirth or discipline. But whatever the reason, many of the advantages to using cloth diapers resonated with my aspirations to be some kind of earth-loving minimalist anti-establishment homestead-y type of person. I have not actually achieved any of those titles, but I do cloth diaper. So there’s that.

Why cloth?

First of all, why would someone choose to cloth diaper? Isn’t it a lot more work? And do mothers of new babies really need more work to do? My answers: not really, and definitely not. We have been using cloth diapers for a year and half. It’s such an ingrained part of our routine now that I rarely even think about the fact that we are doing something odd, and of all the new experiences that come with being a new parent, cloth diapering barely even registers on the radar of “difficult things.” So once you get over the fear that it might be a lot more work, there are actually a lot of reasons why you might choose to use cloth diapers on your new little bundle of joy.

You need to keep your baby budget as low as possible.

One of the big reasons many people decide to cloth diaper is for the savings. While it can take an upfront investment of several hundred dollars, once you have your stash you won’t ever have to buy diapers again. Over time, it can be a huge savings. Most people who have done the math estimate that you’ll usually save over $1,000 from birth to potty training by using cloth. And that’s just for one baby. Many families will use the same diapers on multiple children, saving even more money. Here’s a very thorough breakdown of the cost of several different types of cloth diapers vs. disposables. Look at how cheap it is to use prefolds!

You want to keep your baby away from harmful chemicals.

Obviously the chemicals in disposable diapers are not causing widespread danger, but for some sensitive babies it can be a source of skin irritation and discomfort. I personally like to keep our home as chemical-free as I can. I know the absence of chemicals doesn’t hurt anything, but I’m not always convinced that the presence of chemicals is perfectly safe. If I can find a more natural alternative that works just as well, that’s generally what I’m going to choose.

You love the earth and don’t want to kill it with excessive waste.

This is probably the second biggest reason many people choose cloth. It’s just a lot better for the environment. It is estimated that 7.6 billion pounds of disposable diapers are discarded in the US each year. Those diapers will take hundreds of years to decompose. That’s a lot of diapers sitting around in a landfill. Admittedly, there are a lot of other things sitting around in landfills too, but I try to reduce waste where I can. While I’m not always very good at it, I know I’m producing a lot less by using cloth diapers. It saves me from my wannabe environmentalist guilt.

You don’t want to deal with diaper blow outs.

To many moms of newborns, diaper blowouts are just a fact of life. They are bound to happen, often at the most inconvenient of times, so you better have a change of clothes both for your baby and yourself. However, that was never really the case for us. I can count on one hand the number of times we had to deal with a blowout. And a couple of those times were when our boy was temporarily in disposable diapers. Since cloth diapers are made of much more substantial material than disposable diapers, they can fit a lot more snugly (while still being comfortable) around the waist and legs, so even the biggest and messiest explosions will often stay contained in the diaper.

You think babies stink.

And you’re right. They often do. But we have found that cloth diapers seem to stink a lot less than disposable. I think something about the reaction of the chemicals with a wet diaper just make the odor more pungent. Also, since cloth diapers are often thicker than disposables, it provides a nice stink barrier. Now, your baby will still stink on occasion. There’s no preventing it. But often a wet diaper won’t smell at all and a dirty one will be mild enough that it won’t seriously offend anyone. It will just let you know that your baby needs to be changed.

You want your baby to be adorable at all times.

I’m not gonna lie. The cute factor was a big part of why I wanted to cloth diaper. Some would say, “But nobody ever sees the diapers!” But those people have obviously never been around children. Babies run around in nothing but a diaper all the time. And parents get tired of wrestling their child into clothes or having to pick out a new outfit every time the child eats, so they put on the essentials (a diaper) and leave it at that. When you cloth diaper you can still feel like your child is being fashionable. Just spend some time browsing a cloth diaper store and see if you can resist the cuteness. Disposable diapers just don’t generate as many ooh and awws.

You hate to shop, or you love it!

I’m on the hate to shop side. So with cloth I only had to buy my diapers once and they never had to go on the shopping list again. We don’t have to run to the store because we ran out of diapers, and I don’t have to tire my brain with thinking about where I can get the best deal on diapers with the best coupons. I’m done with diaper shopping for all eternity. It’s fabulous. However, if you love to shop, you’ll have a lot more fun shopping for cloth. A lot of it might have to be online, but it can still become a pretty good hobby. There’s a very active market out there for secondhand diapers, so many people will sell diapers they have so they can have money to try out new diapers. If you pay attention you can snag really great deals, win free diapers in giveaways, and even collect exclusive limited time designs. I don’t think shopping for disposable diapers can ever be described as “fun.”

If any of these things describe you, you might want to consider cloth diapering. If you’re wanting to learn more about using cloth diapers I found some of the following sites to be really helpful and informative.

  • Dirty Diaper Laundry – In-depth reviews (complete with videos) as well as great information on beginning cloth diapering.
  • The Diaper Pin – More reviews from lots of moms who have used cloth diapers.
  • Padded Tush Stats – Even more reviews and basic introductory posts.

Charlie has been very happy in his cloth diapers. We find them to be simple, effective, and adorable.