The 411: Cloth Diapering

By Krista Smith

For as long as I can remember, I have been an eco-conscious person.  I have vivid memories of making posters that read, “Save the Earth!” and standing on the corner of the cul-de-sac where I grew up, hoping that everyone who passed by would start recycling immediately.  As a teenager I bought secondhand clothes, used a refillable water bottle, and faithfully returned bottles and cans to the store for recycling.  The World War II era mantra of, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!” stuck with me into adulthood so, naturally, when I began preparing for the arrival of my first child, I started researching ways to go green as I entered this new season of life called Parenthood. 

When I started reading up on the process of cloth diapering, I honestly felt a little overwhelmed.  I had never even SEEN a cloth diaper in person, had no idea what to expect, and found myself drowning in a sea of choices.  Thankfully, there was a fantastic little cloth diaper/natural parenting store not far from where we lived, and my husband and I were able to sit in on a Cloth Diapering 101 class.  I was immediately hooked on the idea, and my husband was supportive, so we started purchasing a few secondhand cloth diapers. Little by little we built our stash, all mixed and matched with varying brands, styles, and sizes.  I could not WAIT for the sweet baby wiggling inside me to come on out so that I could pop a cloth diaper onto that booty. It wasn’t until after my oldest child was born that I really started to understand that for me, cloth diapering was about more than just being eco-conscious.  It was financially leaps and bounds more cost effective for our little family, cloth diapers were more gentle on my baby’s skin, we never ever had to make a late night diaper run, and OH MY GOODNESS were those fluffy little butt covers adorable or what?!

I have now been cloth diapering for almost 5 years, including a year and a half of diapering 2 children at the same time, and I have no regrets.  Most of the diapers we bought for my oldest are still in use for our second child – I haven’t had to buy a single diaper in the past 2 years.  Neither of my kids have had much of an early interest in potty learning and it’s not something we push in our household.  I figured that either I was going to wash soiled diapers or wash soiled underwear if I pushed them to potty learn before they were ready, so why rush?  When my oldest son was ready to stop wearing diapers he was 3 1/2 years old – it was a super smooth transition.  My second child seems to be following in the steps of his older brother, and we don’t mind one bit.

Cloth diapering can be done a number of different ways – it all depends on what’s best for your family.  As for us, we are #teamclothdiapers for life.  Or, at least, until they feel like pooping on the potty.

A few common objections to cloth diapering

  • Ew.  That’s gross.  What about the poop? Gross things come out of kids.  Gross things come out of all of us.  I’m not going to throw away every piece of clothing that gets pooped on, puked on, peed on, bled on, etc.  I’m going to wash those items properly and use them again. And yes, poop is gross.  Did you know that you’re actually supposed to dump poop from disposable diapers in a toilet, not throw them in the garbage?  Check the side of a box of diapers – last I heard it was printed right on there.
  • Aren’t cloth diapers kind of expensive? Yes and no.  The up front expense can be daunting, however, there are a lot of ways to save money on cloth diapers.  One way is to ask for cloth diapers as gifts.  Let’s say a box of size 2 disposable diapers costs $25 and contains 192 diapers.  You can find a high quality cloth diaper for the same price, or even less.  When my kids were very young, I found myself washing diapers every other day, meaning that one diaper got used approximately 3 times per week.  If that cloth diaper is adjustable in size, it could easily last from birth through potty learning; So, let’s call that 3 years.  3 times per week x 52 weeks x 3 years = 468 uses.  If you have a second child, there’s a good chance that the same diaper would last the length of that child’s diapering journey, so that’s 936 uses.  Even accounting for laundry soap, water, and electricity, there is still a strong case for cloth diapering in terms of saving money.
  • Doesn’t washing cloth diapers take a lot of time? Sounds complicated. My absolute favorite quote on this subject is that cloth diapering is, “Just another load of laundry.”  I am NOT a huge fan of laundry, but I have lived in 2 apartments (city water) and a house (well water) and I’ve never had any issues getting our diapers clean.  Doing the washing is just part of our family routine, and it’s been completely worth the extra few loads of wash per week.

Hands-on Learning

Some people do best deciding about cloth diapers by seeing actual cloth diapers and talking in person to someone with experience in using them. If you have a store local to you that sells cloth diapers, chances are pretty good that they can walk you through what all of the options are and their benefits and drawbacks. There may also be meetups/support groups in your area centered around birth and parenting or eco-conscious living that can offer support.

Local resources

The Little Seedling, Ann Arbor, MI
Modern Natural Baby, Ferndale, MI
Livingston County Birth Circle: Cloth Diaper Chats. See our Facebook events page for upcoming dates/times. (At the time of publishing this blog post, there is a chat scheduled in one week. Click here for more info.)

Further reading

All About Cloth Diapering
Fluff Love University
Mama Natural