Why consider using cloth diapers? Plastic and paper diapers are so easy to throw away - why would any thinking person use cloth diapers? I've been selling cloth diapers since 2006 - and I used them on my own daughter from birth to potty learning. Believe me, I have been asked many times to explain why anyone would choose cloth diapers!
In my mind, the real question is why anyone would spend thousands of dollars on single-use diapers when reusable diapers are so easy! Here are some of my top reasons for using cloth diapers.
#1 - Cloth costs less.
While the initial startup cost may seem intimidating, even the most expensive cloth diapers will cost less than using paper diapers for your baby's first 6 months - and most are even more cost-effective. Huggies did a study that showed that 1 in 3 American families is struggling to afford single-use diapers. This huge manufacturer of paper diapers admits that 1 in 3 families has to choose between adequate diapering and putting food on the table.
The Real Cost of Disposables - Paper diapers cost about 18-40 cents each, depending on the size (disposable diapers cost more as your baby grows). "Natural" or biodegradable brands often cost more. The cheapest average price I have found is about 28 cents each. You can do the math a lot of ways, but the simple answer is that the average family will spend about $2,000-2,500 buying over 6,000 single-use diapers over the first 2 1/2 years of a child's life.
Throwaway wipes will add in another $400 or more. The constant need for diaper rash creams, ruined outfits from poop blowouts, sales tax, gasoline, and the extras you pick up when you run out to buy diapers add even more.
You can cloth diaper for as little as $100 - but the average is closer to $300-500. Cloth wipes will cost you about $40. Well-cared for diapers will usually last long enough to cover more than one little bottom - giving you even more savings on a future baby or a little bit of cash back if you sell your used diapers.
Compare the cost of cloth $100-500 vs. $2,000-2,500 and you can see why cloth makes so much sense. Washing and detergent take very little extra money and you'll see savings also in gasoline and other expenditures.
If your kid is in potty training plastic diapers for any length of time - you are in for some real sticker shock.
#2 - Cloth is better for your baby.
Diaper Rash - Diaper rash with properly cleaned cloth diapers is far less of a problem than with disposables. Leaving any diaper on your baby for hours is bad for their skin. Diaper rash has increased dramatically since the use of single-use diapers began. Bacteria and fungi thrive in damp, warm, nutrient-filled environments like the inside of a wet or dirty diaper.
Plastic diapers are not very breathable. They are full of chemicals, dyes, perfumes, and heaven-only-knows what else. Many babies are allergic to the chemicals. Just last week, my nephew came back from a camping trip with his family and I decided to help out by giving him a bath. When I put him in the bath I was surprised to see most of his backside, legs and tummy covered in an itchy red rash. Upon closer inspection I saw that his single-use training pants had caused an allergic reaction. His rash was in the exact shape of the training pants with worse redness anywhere the elastic had touched his skin.
Know what is touching your baby. Disposable diapers contain traces of Tributyl-tin (TBT) - one of the most toxic chemicals ever invented - as well as traces of dioxin and other hormone disrupting chemicals.
The super absorbent polymers (SAP) that make disposable diaper so absorbent were linked with the Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) outbreak when used in tampons. Those weird little gel beads that end up all over your kid when they leak out of the paper diaper are SAP. By absorbing so much liquid they were found to increase bacterial growth in tampons.
We also know that those gels are dangerous if inhaled or ingested (many dogs have died after eating a disposable stolen from a trash bin). Many children have choked on pieces of their diapers that have come loose or been torn off by curious little fingers.
Plastic diapers offgas - and may increase asthma risk. Single-use diapers contain perfumes and other chemicals that offgas (waft into the air). Asthma has increased dramatically in the last few decades and while there is a lot of speculation as to why - as a mom, I try to avoid things that will worsen my little girl's asthma. This includes fabric softeners, perfumes, and disposable diapers.
In fact, the creator of Happy Heiny's diapers got started when she was trying to find a cloth diaper that fit her premie daughter. She was able to document that her daughter needed fewer breathing treatments when she was in cloth diapers.
Boys may be at risk due to heat in diapers. The temperature inside of a disposable diaper is about 1 to 3 degrees higher than the baby's body temperature. We know that SAP heats up slightly when it absorbs water - making the inside of a plastic diaper even hotter. Not only is this uncomfortable for baby, high diaper temperature may increase the the risk of infertility in baby boys. Testicles are outside of the body because they need to be kept cooler than body temperature. We know that infertility has increased in the last 30 years, but we do not know all the reasons.
At least one researcher is speculating that higher scrotal temperatures inside single-use diapers may play a role. When a boy is born, his testicles have usually not descended into the scrotum yet. This typically happens on its own with no intervention. Developing testicles need to descend to outside the body before a boy reaches one year old or he may suffer permanent damage to his reproductive abilities in the future. For boys with a delayed or insufficently descended testicle, there is often irreperable harm done to future sperm production. If boys are this sensitive to their own body temperature, it is possible that the higher temperature inside of a paper diaper could cause great harm.
Overall safety is simply unknown. We also know that there is not one single study that shows whether wearing SAP-filled diapers close to damp, sensitive skin for 2 plus years is safe. We do not know what is absorbed by baby's skin. We do not know how well these chemicals have been studied, or even if they have been studied for safety including how much of them ends up in baby's blood stream. Manufacturers are not required to test these things before bringing products to market, or to test the interactions of these chemicals in our bodies.
#3 - Cloth is better for the environment.
Each year, about 18 BILLION plastic diapers are thrown away in this country. At an estimated cost of over $7 BILLION a year. Each of those little parcels of waste will take hundreds of years to decompose in a landfill. "Oh, the water use! Detergents! Electricity!" the sposie lovers cry in mock fear for the environment. Hogwash! No one is suggesting that adults use paper diapers or disposable clothing. Washing stuff takes a toll on the environment for sure, but not nearly the toll of disposables!
The disposable diaper industry has worked hard to obscure the environmental facts about cloth diapers vs. disposables. No single study has truly looked at the life cycle of both paper diapers and cloth diapers side by side. Most studies that have compared the two have actually been funded in part by the disposable manufacturers themselves!
The most complete study done so far found that cloth diapers are better for the environment if reasonable washing methods are used. That means using typical US water temperatures and using diapers that don't require extensive drying time.
Water Use - Washing cloth diapers uses water. Water is a renewable resource, even in the desert. It makes sense to conserve where possible, but water use need not be excessive when using cloth diapers. Washing cloth diapers every 3 days requires about the same amount of water as an adult flushing the toilet throughout the day.
Petroleum Use - Conventional plastic diapers use the equivalent of about one cup of crude oil each. That means that diapering each baby requires about 7 barrels of oil! Even if you choose a "natural" brand, a lot of energy is used to create a single-use diaper. Synthetic fabrics such as polyester also use petroleum - but producing 24 diapers is a far cry from producing 6,000 diapers per baby!
Consider the fuel used to haul all of those ingredients to a factory, and to cart off the waste products. Then the fuel needed to haul 6,000 diapers to the store where you buy them. Then even more fuel for you to drive to the store and haul them home. Finally, there is even more fuel used to haul the resulting 2,000 pounds of waste-filled diapers to a landfill. Whew!