Sunday, July 10, 2011

why I switched to reusable diapers, and why I love them

some of our cloth diapers hanging on our $2 clothes line

L at 17 days old in a prefold cloth diaper
and PUL (polyurethane laminate)
  waterproof cover
For nearly two years, until I started to potty train L, I was a cloth-diapering parent. Our third baby, arriving around the end of December, will also wear cloth.

L almost 4 months old (this is the same cover
as in the first photo -- size small, I think)

My desire to use cloth diapers grew little by little. Before we ever took our first baby swimming I bought her a cloth swim diaper online because the disposable kind are so expensive. We were happy with it. We continued using disposable diapers when Shboogoo was not in a pool. I had heard that there are services people can pay to wash cloth diapers for them. That was the one brief thought I had about cloth diapers. I never imagined that they could be easy for me to wash at home. Plus, disposable diapers were familiar and "normal." Everyone used them.

L at 9 mo. in the reusable swim diaper

I was intrigued by the concept of gDiapers when I saw them on the Ellen show in 2007. I calculated that gDiaper's flushable refills would cost us more than double what were paying for store-brand disposable diapers, so we could not afford them. (gDiapers sells cloth inserts, too, but I'm pretty sure that they didn't at the time.) I think the show mentioned the differences between disposables, gDiapers, and cloth diapers, but I didn't research cloth diapers. I probably assumed they'd be too unpleasant to deal with.

9-month check-up, in a one-size
pocket diaper (I bought three
soon after she was born)

In October 2008 I was pregnant with #2. As I read some friends' blogs, I found links to the Real Diaper Association and Very Baby. I started following Jessica of Very Baby via her blog and twitter. For short definitions of prefold, pocket diaper, etc. I suggest that you read Jessica's page on different diaper styles and her FAQs. Also, a college friend had a link on her blog to All About Cloth Diapers. I read a lot there and came across other blogs on the topic, too. Cloth diapers are so much cooler than they used to be! I wanted to give them a try, and maybe make some, too.  

Two of the first Very Basic all-in-one diapers 
that I sewed starting when L was almost 11
months old (the flap-style soaker pad
lets the diaper dry faster)

WHY did I want to switch over from disposable to reusable? There is more than one reason. I hated it when my cousin asked, "Do you do it for the environment or for the cost?" Back in 2008-2009, there were probably three main reasons (not necessarily in this order) that I wanted to use cloth. Cloth diapers are better for the earth, can cost less than disposables, and are better for the baby.

L age 11 months, in a small Very Basic
AIO diaper made by her mama!

The Earth. Just in the United States, people throw away 18 billion disposable diapers every year! That means "82,000 tons of plastic a year and 1.3 million tons of wood pulp -- 250,000 trees," according to Donella Meadows, who was a professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College. "The main problem is the filling of landfills . . . A secondary problem in political minds, a primary one in the minds of environmentalists, is the waste of resources and the trail of pollution at every stage of the manufacture and disposal of the diapers." 

What about all the water used to wash cloth diapers? "The manufacture and use of disposable diapers amounts to 2.3 times more water wasted than cloth" (quoted here). I really like this from an article called Diaper Debate: Cloth or Disposable?:
“We don’t throw away our clothes or dishes each week. We wash them,” Dupuy says. “This is the same mentality. Using an energy-efficient washer and air-drying the diapers cuts a lot out of the energy cycle. No extra trips to buy diapers over and over again. No packaging waste.”

Additionally, contaminated, dirty water from the washing machine goes into the sewer system. The water is treated at wastewater plants. Ecologists say that treated wastewater is much more environmentally friendly than dumping untreated, soiled disposable diapers into a landfill.

17 months old, sitting by the clean
cloth diapers I was about to fold
(but sometimes I would simply
toss them in a basket instead
of folding).
Cost. I knew we would spend less on diapers if they were cloth. This site has charts comparing the total cost per diaper change, including washing, for different types of diapers. Even if you adjust Jessica's price comparison which is based on 70 diapers a week, using disposables will cost at least $955.50 to $1528. The lower price is for an average of 49 diaper changes per week for 2.5 years if you pay only $0.15 per diaper (a very good deal). The higher price is for an average of 49 diapers changes per week for 2.5 years at $0.24 per diaper.

I estimate that the grand total we have spent on diapering L is $600. We won't have to buy any diapers for our future children! It cost me about $145 for the 29 diapers that lasted us through the newborn stage and until L was over five months old, and we were able to continue to use the pocket diapers longer because they are size-adjustable with snaps. Our laundering cost (using Jessica's price comparison page again) was maybe $270 because I usually did less than three wash cycles, used them for 2 years instead of 2.5, and I hung the diapers to dry (preferably out in the sunlight) whenever possible. The remainder of the $600 was for supplies, mostly for sewing diapers -- pattern, fabric, elastic, etc. -- and wet bags to put the dirty diapers in. We have a large wet bag to line the dry diaper pail; the other zips closed and is small enough to go in a diaper bag. 

The reason I said that reusable diapers can cost less than disposables is that with so many adorable materials and different brands of reusables on the market, some moms buy new diapers for fun, not because their child needs more. However, they can sell their used diapers to get some money back.

L about 20 mo. old; size medium diaper

Better for the Baby. This was a surprise to me and something else to feel good about. Most disposable diapers contain dioxin because it is a by-product of the paper-bleaching process. "Dioxin in various forms has been shown to cause cancer, birth defects, liver damage, and skin diseases" (EPA, "Integrated Risk Assessment for Dioxins and Furans from Chlorine Bleaching in Pulp and Paper Mills" -- referenced here). Unlike disposables, cloth diapers don't contain Tributyl-tin (TBT) - "a toxic pollutant known to cause hormonal problems in humans and animals" (more information here).
Our cloth diaper stash, part 1. Seven of the
9 medium Very Basic AIOs I made (not
everything can be clean all at once). On the
bottom are cloth wipes; a lot of them are
just baby washcloths, and I made others by
serging around 6x8" scraps of old flannel. 
The bottle with the black lid is pail
freshener from Rockin' Green. The wipes
container holds disposable liners, which
make it easier to flush poop.

Cloth diaper stash, part 2. Diapers that need covers.
So, that's how I made the decision to cloth diaper. When L was 9 or 10 days old I ran out of disposables and started using the cloth diapers. What kind did I use? Before she was born I bought newborn prefolds, Thirsties covers, and Snappis in an eBay auction. I enjoyed using those, plus 2 inexpensive fitteds from eBay, and 3 Smartipants pocket diapers. In December
my sweet visiting teacher, who had cloth diapered two of her kids more than a decade ago, gave me three waterproof covers, two cloth changing pads, 8 larger prefolds, and 8 fitted diapers and some cloth wipes she had made. Once I had finally sewn my AIOs I didn't use prefolds and fitteds as much, but they were still useful. I ended up making 14 small diapers and 9 mediums, and I have supplies left over to make more.

Signs like these are irrelevant for a cloth-diapering parent, who always takes dirty diapers home in a wet bag.

A few months ago I wrote this status on Facebook:
"I love cloth diapers."
A friend responded, "Really and truly? . . . Why do you like them so much?"

Really and truly. For lots of reasons, including some that I didn't discover until after I started cloth diapering.

  • I love that they are comfortably soft against my daughter's skin.
  • They don't go in the landfill.
  • They are much cheaper.
  • I'll use the ones we already have for future children.
  • They don't contain harmful chemicals like disposables do (see
  • I can just put them in the washing machine instead of going to the store to buy more.
  • "Blowouts" are awful! As long as it fits right and you don't leave it on the baby for too long, a cloth diaper keeps its contents in so nothing gets on anyone's clothing. During L's 20 months we've had maybe three blowouts or leaks.
  • The cloth diapering community (online) is wonderful! 
  • They don't get squishy like disposables do.
  • And they're cute.
I agree with my online friend who wrote this in an email to me before L was born: "I love cloth diapers and even though I used the throwaway kind with my first until potty training, and always thought cloth would be horrible and disgusting, I would never go back!"


  1. What a great post! People are always asking me if I still like cloth diapers, like they're expecting me to change my mind because its so crazy, but I don't see that happening! I love using cloth too and agree with all your reasons. I'll have to refur my friends here since you've got it spelled out so nicely. :) Thats really cool that you made your own AIOs too! I've wanted to get some but they're so expensive that I haven't justified it yet. Maybe I'll have to look into making some!

  2. What a nice comment! Thanks. I had no idea that you use cloth diapers! :o)

  3. Very thorough post - thanks for spelling it all out! And I especially love to see the RDA references. Glad the info is helpful to you as you spread the word about cloth diapers!!

  4. How do you choose which diaper to use on your child? I just started doing research and there are over 100 different types. My child is older as well but I want to make the switch because I think it will assist in potty training. Thanks!

  5. @Anonymous:

    I'm sorry about my delay in answering your question. It's kind of a tough one, though. Yeah, there are many many different brands available, and opposing opinions -- such as next-to-skin fabric that keeps baby dry versus fabric that lets the child feel when he/she is wet (which is good if you're close to potty training). I had decided that all-in-ones looked the most convenient, and I liked the idea of sewing them so they would cost less (and I could support Very Baby). I chose prefolds in the beginning because of my online friend's suggestion. I tried smartipants just because they had a special at $13 each (I've seen better deals on other sites, such as -- click on clearance).

    If you're going to have any other children you may want to buy some one-size diapers. However, they will probably look silly / be too big at first on a newborn so you may want to wait at least a few weeks before putting them on a new baby. Have you seen the blogs of women who review lots of different cloth diapers? Besides, there is

    These might also be helpful:

  6. Manda - I was just peeking at Very Baby to see what the new owners had been doing, and found your link to this post on their facebook page. It's such a great post! And I'm glad they've left most of my articles and references up. So much great info here, and I just love your Very Basic AIOs! Still my favorite diaper after all these years :o)

    Hope all is well!

  7. Excellent Post Manda. I agree with you completely and am happily using cloth the second time around. One more added and surprising bonus you might mention is that cloth diapers have an amazing resale value. Used diapers in excellent condition sell for about 70% of their sticker price.

  8. Do you know anyone who uses the Elimination Communication method? Years after returning from Paraguay, I realized that the locals used it widely. I'm fascinated by it, but really know only what I've read about it since I've never met anyone who has used it after I finally knew what it was. (I would have asked more questions in Paraguay, had I known).

    1. I don't think I do know anyone who does it like all the time. I think it'd be hard/impossible if you have older children who need attention too.


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