Why bother with cloth diapers?

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I had my doubts…

So I’m a new mom, like really new.  Our baby, Weston, is officially 11 weeks old as of tomorrow. I’d say for the last 5 or so years I’ve been dedicated to living as sustainable a life as possible and I feel just as strongly about incorporating sustainable habits into all things involving the baby.   As soon as we knew I was pregnant, my husband Shaun and I started talking about the major aspects of baby living and how we could create a sustainable game plan around them. We concluded that the areas that we needed to consider were toys, clothes, nursery, bottles, and of course, diapering. Full disclosure- I will not solely be covering baby stuff on this page, but being only weeks into this crazy new life, it seemed like the obvious place for me to start. I specifically wanted to start with cloth diapering because this seemed to be the topic that scares people the most.  99% of the people I told about our plan to cloth diaper were either appalled by the idea or gave us that ‘good luck with that’ look, or the majority just straight out said, ”I’m curious how long that’ll last.”  Also, based on my fb and instagram, it feels like almost every one of my virtual friends (aka college acquaintances I spoke to once or twice but know everything that’s going on in their life, because that’s the world we live in now, and I’m okay with it) is pregnant or JUST had a baby too! If I can convince or inspire even a handful of you to choose cloth diapering or switch to cloth diapering I will consider this post a success.

I’ll admit, the fact that no one but my sister who had also cloth diapered, thought it was a good idea got to me a little.  I started to think there must be something super complicated or wildly inconvenient that we weren’t considering, but I’m here to announce, there wasn’t! So, when we were in post-pardum for the 2 days at the hospital we used the single-use diapers provided by the hospital, and yes, tossing a dirty diaper and using a disposable wipe obviously top the list in terms of sole convenience, but if you really want to be more empathetic to the needs of the earth and reduce your waste, making the decision to take on the slightly  less convenient process of cloth diapering is a major way to do this.

Weston at 1 1/2 weeks old, wearing the bumGenius Elemental Organic one-size cloth diaper in Hummingbird. He weighed under 8 lbs at this point and the tightest diaper setting fit him perfectly!
Weston at 1 1/2 weeks old, wearing the bumGenius Elemental Organic one-size cloth diaper in Hummingbird. He weighed under 8 lbs at this point and the tightest diaper setting fit him perfectly!

Not So Fun Facts:

Some mind blowing facts to help sell you on my opinion: Americans throw away  27.5 billion disposable diapers a year. That means they end up in landfills.  A lot of people don’t realize how terrible our landfill system functions and why they are SO harmful for the environment.  Without getting too technical, they are essentially holes carved into the ground and lined with plastic. The US alone has over 30,000 landfills (active & inactive). Landfills release methanols and carbon dioxide gas. Methane in particular traps heat in the atmosphere…stuff we’ve all heard. But, did you know that waste doesn’t actually decompose in a landfill. All disposable diapers, even the “compostable” ones contain some elements of plastic. Plastic takes between 800-1000 years to decompose.  So these diapers literally go nowhere. Most disposable diaper brands use chemicals to reduce odors, which can leak from landfills.  Americans add over 7.5 billion pounds of disposable diapers into landfills each year. Disposable diapers are the 3rd largest consumer item in landfills and makes up 30% of non-biodegradable waste. The thought of the millions of people that have babies every year and all of their disposable diapers piling up for hundreds of years was enough of a turn off for me. Does that wildly overwhelm anyone else?!

Cloth Diapering 101:

Okay, so after a decent amount of research (admittedly done by my husband  not me, thanks Shaun!), we determined that the ideal number of cloth diapers to purchase is 24. Cloth diapers have been perfected over the years and you can get one type of diaper for the entirety of the period that your baby wears diapers- from new born to potty training days, so 24 and DONE.  The diapers need to be cleaned every other day- nothing special- when the baby is only drinking milk/formula you literally just throw the dirty diaper directly in the wash.  Once the goods are solid, then you rinse them off in the toilet and then throw them in the wash. Don’t worry they sell handy little bidets designed specifically for this. It’s basically a hose that attaches to your toilet’s water pipe and costs less than $40.  When the diapers are waiting to be washed and need somewhere to go when dirty, you just need to get a wet bag and throw them in.  Then, you pour the entire bag and the bag itself into the wash and do a heavy duty wash and hang dry.  The second thing to consider is wipes.  Wipes take the same path to the landfill as single-use diapers so please don’t take a shortcut and convince yourself that the cloth diapers are effort enough. I mean why commit only 50%? You simply need to buy enough organic cloths that you can just wash your dirty ones with the diapers and not run out.  For the cleaning element you need a spray bottle.  The solution is SO easy: 12 oz water, 3 tsps olive oil, 3 drops concentrated baby shampoo, a few drops lavender essential oil.  Works like a charm.  That’s it. That is the whole process.  I promise you, after making it through the first day, you will be a believer.  I was so nervous that I used the excuse that I wasn’t supposed to get out of bed for a week after labor and had Shaun change the baby’s diaper that entire time.  I could’ve gotten up on occasion, but I was totally psyched out by the whole process- so I get it, it’s intimidating!

My stinky pants happy as can be in his sassy cloth diaper

Traveling with Cloth Diapers:

One final aspect of cloth diapering that I want to touch on is travel. If you tend to stay at airbnbs like my husband and I, then there really isn’t much to figure out. It is my experience that most airbnbs have a washing machine, so the process is business as usual. You just have to make sure you pack every single diaper or you will run out! In order to do this we do a wash right before we leave for the trip and actually bring the damp, clean diapers in a wet bag and just hang them as soon as we get to our destination. If you do not have access to a washing machine during your trip, this may be an occasion that you have to resort to single-use diapers (if you have another solution, please share in the comments section!). However, imagine if we all used single-use diapers only when traveling, we would still be producing significantly less waste. For those occasions that you find yourself using single-use diapers, see my single-use diaper blog post – a few options are significantly kinder to the earth than others.

Some additional quick tips to keep in mind when cloth diapering:

  • When you leave the house make sure you pack your cloth diapers, cloths and a spray bottle in your diaper bag!
    • Seems obvious, but if you are used to always having disposables in your diaper bag, this might take a minute to get used to as you have to load up the bag before you leave the house.
  • Make sure you also keep a mini wet bag in your diaper bag at all times.
  • I recommend purchasing a mini spray bottle (make sure you get glass and not plastic!) so that this can live in your diaper bag and you don’t have to lug around your big spray bottle.
    • I keep it to 2 ounces so that it works for our travel and can be carried on a plane too!
  • Do not use ANY creams, lotions, oils, petroleum jelly when cloth diapering.
    • We did NOT know about this in the beginning and we were loading petroleum jelly on Weston during his first 2 weeks of life and we destroyed a few diapers 😦 they were getting mildewy and we didn’t know why! We needed to apply petroleum jelly after his circumcision and this should have been the ONLY time we used a single-use diaper.
  • You can use cloth diapers from day one, if you want to.
    • People say to not use cloth diapers when your baby is still producing meconium. Not true. This washed out just fine.
  • Cloth diapers are really darn cute.
    • In the warmer weather, get some baby t-shirts and and you’ve got an easy and adorable outfit, no pants/shorts needed!

If you have any additional concerns that I did not address feel free to comment and start the conversation or email me directly! Remember I am new to all this too, so there may be situations that we haven’t encountered yet! also, I have a feeling that this post will have a part two when weston’s number twos take on a new form 😬

Interested in reading about some other cloth diaper experiences? Check out some of my favorite eco bloggers: simplylivandco, wondermamas, thegreenmama

4 comments on “Why bother with cloth diapers?”

  1. Awesome post! I love how you point out that cloth is really not that big of deal. 👏🏻 I thought it would be way harder and was shocked at how simple it is. I loved not ever running out of diapers and wipes, the money we saved and how drastically much less trash we created. They actually hold up great if you get stuck having to throw them in the dryer like me. We were super minimalist and only did a stash of 18 so always ended up never having time to wait to air dry haha. Loved how you pointed out it doesn’t have to be all or nothing either, every little bit helps and if you end up needing to supplement with disposables overnight or on road trips or with grandparents babysitting, it happens. Can’t wait to follow this blog 🙂

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  2. Thank you so much! I am so glad you mentioned the dryer. You are absolutely right. We have also had a few instances where we ended up using the dryer and the diapers turned out just fine! I am so happy that my message resonated with you and I extra appreciate the love on my first post 🤗

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  3. This is a wonderful blog Kait. I love the voice and tone. Early in my career I worked at consumer reports. We were often asked about cloth vs disposable diapers so our sustainability engineers did research. Here’s what their advice was: those who live in regions where there is a plenitude of water but very little space for landfills, like the northeast, are better suited for cloth diapers. But those who live in regions that are arid and where water is scarce, like the southwest, would be better advised to use disposable diapers because of the amount of water it takes to wash diapers. This made a lot of sense to me. But I have always been conflicted about the use of so much plastic. The water situation has only gotten worse since then, especially with the explosive growth of southwest cities. What do you think ?

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    1. So I’ve taken some time to respond because I have been digging deep for some answers and they are frustratingly hard to find. I think your conclusion is correct. What the research or lack-thereof exposed is that we really have to come up with a more energy efficient way to process cotton (a future post). However, it appears that most of the research was done prior to 2015, with the most in-depth study being from 2008 out of the U.K. Since then, I think that washing machines have become significantly greener. Since the 2008 study concludes that cloth and disposable are essentially equal in environmental impact, this leads me to believe that more efficient washers would put cloth ahead now. Doesn’t quite touch on water scarcity, but it was as close as I could get. I’ll be keeping an eye out for newer studies!

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