February: Cloth Diapers

P1040222Cloth diapering (CDing) your little one is becoming more and more common (and hip, *wink, wink*). I sense that most people who are reticent to try cloth think that it takes too much time or dismiss it as “a thing a crunchy hippie does.” Neither, I say!!! At least, it doesn’t have to be. It just takes a little reframing and retraining. For February, I’ve gathered many resources for you to browse regarding cloth diapering and documented our cloth diapering motivation, set up, breaking it down into dollars and cents! Cloth diapering certainly has my vote, and I hope it will have yours after reading what it’s all about for this little family.

The Why (a bit of a manifesto):
I’d like to say that my main motivation is minimal environmental impact (originally it was) – however being good to the earth and saving money are tied for second. The main reason I do it is because have you seen the ingredient list on disposable diapers? Usually CD-friendly websites cite enviro reasons and/or cost; but I’ve found an ally here confirming my outcry at “dirty and dangerous” disposable diapers’ chemicals on my baby’s bum. First of all, an ingredients list on diapers?!? That’s a bit obscene. Question everything. We can talk about me being a little over-concerned about toxins in household products some other day (trying not to be a chemophobe), however I’ve backed up my oogy shiver at the thought of disposables with a fair bit of research and gumshoe observation. We did use disposables for a few weeks (“for convienience”) after WV was born and although that little new fangled wetness indicator strip is handy, I abhorred the “absorbent crystals” that cropped up in the wet diaper and clung to my new baby’s skin. I imagined disposable diapering a baby girl would be even more alarming as I wouldn’t want a single one of those “harmless” gummy crystals to get inside of her – I have found that some of the ingredients in diapers were removed from tampons because of their link with toxic shock syndrome in the 80’s…but they’re still in disposable diapers. That just doesn’t make sense to me.

Plastics, superabsorbent proprietary materials, sodium polyacrylate (SAP) and polyacrylate gel, tolune, xylene, ethylbenzene, styrene, isopropylbenzene and trace amounts of dioxins and tributyltin… I DO NOT want my baby’s tushy coming into contact with known carcinogens and endocrine disrupters, thank you very much. Emissions (yes, clean disposable diapers have emissions!) from single use diapers are linked to asthma (the original research). Also decreased sperm count, skin irritations, allergies, and even burns (a la the Pampers Dry Max fiasco, which resulted in a class action settlement) are associated with single-use disposables. And who knows what other touted as harmless ingredients will end up on an “oops, now your kid has three eyes just like his pet goldfish Blinky” list. I’m just applying the principle that “all drugs recalled by the FDA were once approved by the same agency” to disposables. And who would have fingered wet wipes as just as toxic, if not worse? I for one, wouldn’t have…but you can’t make this up, folks. For instance, MSN, a fairly mainstream news source, names wet wipes as one of the 12 most toxic “hot spots” in the household. It’s up there with mold, pressure treated wood, and another one on my own personal hit list, dryer sheets (use non-toxic wool dryer balls!). Hrm. So, this family did away with disposable wipes in favor of home made cloth wipes and wipe solution (affectionately called butt spray). Our next baby will be cloth diapered/wiped from day zero.

Other reasons to CD are: cloth diapers are way cuter than plastic-y disposables, you can get them used on Craig’s List or through swaps, they are often less bulky which provides increased mobility for your little one, it can be a way to meet like minded mamas – there is a burgeoning CD community. AND, I must say, it just feels kinda rad to hang up a load of clean diapers outside and watch the sun work it’s magic – an accomplishment! Here is a really comprehensive list of reasons you might find intriguing along with this fluffier one.

One final plus to all of this: you aren’t beholden to the beckoning fluorescent wasteland of Baby’s ‘R Us, BuyBuyBaby, WalMart or your local grocery store at 2am (or ever) when you’ve run out of something – you always know how much/what’s on hand, and you become more resourceful…if I was to ever run out of wipes (never has happened) I could just make some more! In a pinch anything is a diaper; I’ve used the old diaper-type cloths that I had repurposed as burp cloths, for example, or you could use a bandanna. If you exclusively used disposable diapers, doing that might seem odd or unfeasible – you are pigeonholed, in a way, by consumerism.

The How:
I realized I wanted to CD WV prior to his birth – an old friend, who really influenced my decision to go the midwife and home birth route, showed me how easy it was to CD her little girl at my baby shower. Throughout my pregnancy, I saw the secretary at my midwife’s office CD her little guy (and use home made wipes) – she also added me to several Facebook groups whose purpose was CD swapping, selling and info disseminating. I slowly picked up the lingo (oh yes, CDing has its own vocabulary; see this list of terms), and purchased a few different kinds of diapers – some with snaps, some with velcro, some with pockets, some without. I decided early on that I preferred velcro and a stuffable pouch and haven’t looked back. We use gDiapers, which have velcro tabs gdiaper info that close in back and are composed of a lightweight outer cotton shell (gPant), a snap-in wipe-off-able inner liner and then get stuffed either with a biodegradable (flushable, disposable, or compostable) insert or a reusable cloth insert or prefold. This “system” fit our lifestyle best because we don’t have a washer or dryer and I could see the benefits of being able to dispose of at least a portion of the diaper as we got a hang of things early on in WVs tenure as the greatest kid on earth.

diaper drawer2GDiapers come in 5 sizes that overlap in terms of the weight of the baby using them (NB [newborn], SM, MD, LG, and XLG). I originally got 12 NB and 6 SM ones for the drop-dead awesome price of $80 (and then got three more SM, for a total of 9). We are currently using a rotation of 13 MD and I am building up my stash of LG ones (currently own 3). We never used the newborn ones because WV was too big at birth! I only purchased one at full price (but I had a coupon for participating in a gDiaper trial), and one was a gift. The rest I have collected from Craigslist, Ebay and the Facebook groups mentioned above. I almost always buy unused ones, and the CD community is such that people are quite transparent about the condition of their diapers. I also received an awesome package of hand-me-downs from “The Diaper Fairy,” which included a stockpile of 16 prefolds, which gave us the guts to transition from disposable to reusable inserts a few months ago. I’ve gathered 20-or-so other cloth diaper inserts (including 12 gCloths that actually go with the gDiapers, a few bum genius and fuzzibunz doublers/inserts) and several extra snap-in liners from Craigslist, a freebee table at a consignment store, FB, etc., and we now exclusively use cloth inserts except for when it rains (and I can’t “line dry”) or if we’re on a long car trip or vacay where we’d rather throw out the biodegradable insert instead of hoard a mess of diapers that begin to smell like a barnyard. Although, come to think of it, that might be the perfect way to piss off the TSA while they’re unconstitutionally rummaging through our stuff.

CDingChanging WV is simple and literally takes less time than using a disposable. Here’s our changing table. Nothing fancy. I lay him down, undress/unsnap, attempt to contain wiggles with distracting toys, spritz with home made wipe solution (the liquid is captured by the dirty diaper), wipe with a home made wipe, re-stuff the liner, and sprinkle with home made lavender baby powder. Voila! When we use a disposable insert, I use Boudreaux’s Butt Paste (we call it butt hummus – wouldn’t it be great to serve with carrot sticks on April Fool’s Day?) if I think it’s necessary. Since we began using the home made powder, however, he’s had no rash, so I have pretty much convinced myself that cloth + powder is the way to go. I use a lined laundry bag for dirty diaper storage and a repurposed plastic grocery bag for trash. No need for some fancy diaper geenie thingy – those things scare me. If it’s a messy diaper, I remove the mess promptly to the trash bag or the toilet. W is making me a diaper sprayer device that attaches to the toilet (you know, in his free time… he’ll chronicle its construction in a man post later). Depending on my time constraints I may just wash the diaper then and there. If not, I purchased Bac Out, on the advice of a few people, and spritz it on until I get to washing – although I really haven’t noticed this doing much of anything and won’t be purchasing another bottle once we’re done. When we’re out and about, I have two cloth bags (with a liner) with zippers that can contain a few dirty prefolds.

P1030533To wash diapers, prefolds, etc., I rinse them with cold water, scrub each with a tad of Dawn in the sink with a cuticle scrubber, rinse again, heat up a giant pot (W’s beer brewing pot) of water and boil them all for ~30 minutes, and do a final rinse. I hang them up outside or occasionally will dry them by the heater. If we’re fortunate enough to be at one of our parents’ houses, I’ll use All Free and Clear, put them on an extra wash and rinse cycle and dry them with dryer balls (which makes them nice and soft).

The Cost Breakdown:
Cloth diaper costs are obviously going to vary widely based on the type of diaper you settle upon and how you purchase them. I am estimating (based on email and recall), because I haven’t kept stellar track of each Craigslist transaction (W will not be pleased to read this) that for the 12 NB, 9 SM, 13 MD and 3 LG + the 12 gCloths and other prefolds and liners I have purchased, I’ve spent approximately $326. I’ve been very choosy about purchasing them – both quality and price. I never paid more than $15 for a single gDiaper (outer cover + inner pocket). That said, we knew we wanted to cloth diaper, but we didn’t jump into it feet first, so there were other costs associated with WV’s butt. We did start with disposables (spent approximately $50, and we also got a few packages from friends), then we transitioned to biodegradable diaper inserts with the gDiapers because we were leery of having to hand wash everything but sufficiently done with disposables (spent $458 on gDiaper biodegradable inserts…that’s where they getcha) and now, finally, we are 100% cloth diapering! I would have liked to use fewer biodegradable inserts just because they did cost as much as a regular diaper AND I discovered they also contained SAP in them which, although better contained than in a disposable, really irritated me (pun intended). Total Pierce Household to-date diaper (disposable + cloth) expenditures: $834. I suppose I’ll spend around $75 more to finish buying the large sized gDiapers outers. I’m watching a few on Ebay right now. And then we will NEVER spend another penny on diapers…not for WV, not for future babies…YES!!!

Multiple sources cite, you guessed it, multiple total costs incurred using disposable diapers. I’ve found disposable diapers range in price from 30 to 40 cents per diaper, depending on the size and brand. How long are kids in diapers? I don’t know that yet. Conservatively, if it’s 2 years, assuming an average of 35 cents per dipe X 10 changes per day = $2555.00. Wow. Now, I know that I’m not taking into consideration the intricacies of disposable diaper use with age – as a child grows he/she will presumably use a few less diapers, however, the bigger kid diapers cost more. I also wonder if there is a subtle marketing psychology associated with that pesky indicator strip, encouraging new moms like me, who don’t know better (you look at that thing and it turns blue) to use more than 10 per day.

A mega-box of the “environmentally friendly/sensitive skin” type wipes (which we had been using until converting to home made) costs about $12.50, which comes out to 3.26 cents per wipe. Estimating 2 wipes per diaper change X 10 diaper changes per day = ~65 cents/day, or $237 in wipes per year. That’s almost $500 in dang wipes I’ve saved over a 2-year period. W: “Think of how much beer I could buy!” Of course, those are averages – some diaper changes require one wipe, others not so much. And that’s not counting wipes used for sticky hands, other messes, etc. However, check this: I bought receiving blankets (you could use any soft/absorbent fabric scraps) for $1 at a garage sale. I cut them into 7 X 7-inch squares. Boom. Wipes. I used pinking shears, for a nice edge and you could sew around the edges if you want, but honestly, they are just wiping butts. They don’t have to be fancy. The small amount of baby soap I use to make wet wipe solution is so negligible I can’t calculate an associated cost. The most expensive ingredient in it is Tea Trea Oil – purchase price: $6. I’m sure that will last well beyond 2 years. That is $7 for wipes and butt spray; if you were making new wipes yearly (I might; who knows, they could get ratty) then add another dollar to that for a two year total of $8.

Washing cloth diapers:
“But surely, there’s a cost associated with washing your cloth diapers,” you say? Here’s the silver lining to not owning a washer or dryer: washing cloth diapers pretty much costs nothing but time. I wash our cloth diapers by hand in exclusively cold *brrrr…winter well water*. Our well water costs nothing BUTT if we had a machine washer, I’ve calculated the cost of the electricity used to wash them here. Two loads of diapers/wipes per week (based on cycling through my stash of 36 inserts roughly twice weekly) would ring in at $70/year (our kWh cost about $.12). Cost of a giant bottle of Costco All Free & Clear with a coupon is $14.69 (will last approximately a year).

P1040262Butt friendly, environmentally friendly, and wallet friendly. And we’ll be spreading out this value even further with each subsequent child. After our baby-diaper days are over, I can resell them and recoup some dough…or I could become a Diaper Fairy. I think I’ll do the latter. I feel glorious!!! If you look at this comparison table (below) – you get an even better idea of the true cost of pure cloth vs. disposable – I’ve removed my transgressions with purchasing disposable diapers and biodegradable inserts but added in some items that I know come with the cloth and disposable territories. Have I convinced you yet? No doubt, there is upfront time in making the wipes and butt spray, and the way I wash our diapers, but there is also time associated with going out to buy single use items. There’s even time associated with buying them online and having them shipped to the house (which would cost extra anyway).

cost breakdown

Annnd I do believe I just wrote BUT(T) a grand total of 31 times.

So, there it is. I hope my strong opinions on wasteful, toxic, ugly, expensive single-use disposable diapers and wipes has given you food for thought. Perhaps you don’t have a little one but are thinking of going the cloth diaper route, or are disposable diapering and wondering what it took for one family to make the switch. Short of going diaper-free (as most developing nations and some really hippie parents do), I’m a firm believer: cloth is the best for my baby.

PS: A final note – as you can see, we’re a bit late in getting together our “February” blog post. All my fault. I kept researching and researching. I had numerous panic attacks as I discovered article after article about toxins in disposables. I wanted to cram more and more info in. I started feeling like hyperlinking was a poor substitute for a references section. I must remember: this is a blog, not a scientific paper (and I like it that way!). Gah!!! I had to cut myself off. Maybe I’ll write a formal research paper on cloth diapering someday, haha. Oh, and it’s not a dual-post this time…W agrees with everything I’ve said here (he proofed it for me) and is in the throws of finishing his MS thesis, so, ahem, dealing with a different kind of doo-doo. He’ll be back to the blog soon.

Signing out for now,
Dr. Mom.


7 thoughts on “February: Cloth Diapers

  1. Thank you for this! I followed a cloth diapering community for awhile, but I like the ones you’ve linked much better. It’s been awhile since I’ve done my research, but this is the most I’ve seen someone talking about gDiapers, and I like it! I’m pretty convinced now for number three, and wishing I’d stuck with it for the first two…

  2. I’m glad gdiapers worked for you! We tried them and couldn’t ever seem to get a good fit. However, we didn’t give up and after several other kinds (Flips, diaper junction, homemade babyville, running about $140 in experimentation) became BumGenius 4.0 fans ($300 for the stash!)–and our daycare loves them too. We hated using cloth wipes on poop, though they were fine for everything else, so we found some biodegradable wipes and haven’t looked back…(Little A’s poop (think nitrogen) will make nice flowers–too crunchy? ). We’ve used maybe a box in three months…

    Isn’t it great how much money we can save? We aren’t as hard core and put our diapers in the wash so we are spending a little more–but we put them out to dry on the drying rack. The dryer costs quite a bit more to run than the washer. The washing machine is magic. I don’t pretreat, dump in the All Free and Clear, and it all comes out clean and takes a lot less time than running off to the store for the disposables with a newborn. Time is precious and worth a lot more too me now!

  3. Love it! You’ve completely convinced me that cloth is better…only I just don’t know if I can justify the switch for only a few more months of diapering. 😦 Oh the things I would do differently if I could have a do-over on my first few years of mothering…

    • Thanks, Emily! You know what? I just remembered – I have a whole stash of diapers we didn’t use (my mom’s garage sale find) that you are welcome to borrow! We aren’t using them right now! They are in used condition, but my mom washed them a bunch and they are totally clean and stain free…not sure if they will fit S, but I can bring them tomorrow and you can decide! They are a little more on the neutral-to-girly side, too! Diaper Fairy!!! 😀

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