Learn the Basics of Cloth Diapering in 10 Minutes
We know there is a lot of information on the Internet about cloth diapering. A whole, whole lot. But relax: cloth diapering is WAY easier than it may first appear. It really requires the same effort as using disposables— it's just different and more fun.
Just in case you don’t have a store nearby that can educate you on the topic, here is our concise take on the whole thing, college lecture notes-style:
There Are Four Big Reasons to Choose Cloth Diapers
1. Cost Savings
Up to $1800 per child!
2. Health & Safety
Remove unwanted toxins from your home environment! What’s in a disposable? Petroleum. Plastic. Bleaches. Dioxins. Artificial Fragrances. Trees. Sure doesn’t sound baby-friendly. While eco-friendly disposables may omit chlorine bleach and fragrances, many contain the same remaining ingredients as standard disposable diapers. They’re not any more biodegradable—they’re merely manufactured in a slightly more responsible way.
3. The Environment
The average baby will use 6-8,000 disposable diapers during her first 2.5+ years of life. That comes to more than 20 BILLION disposable diapers per year in just the United States. No one knows (yet), but it is estimated that it will take 500 years for each to decompose in a landfill.
Pants are optional! A 2012 online survey of 3,000 cloth diapering families showed that 5% of buyers cite fun/fashion as the most important factor in their choice to use cloth diapers.
Types of Cloth Diapers
There are many styles, each with their own pros and cons. For an in-depth discussion of each type, read this article on the types of cloth diapers on the market.
Flats, Prefolds, Covers
Key Advantages: lower-cost, easy to launder, and versatile
Disadvantages: require a waterproof cover, often require additional purchases of multiple sizes as baby grows, require folding and a closure to fasten on baby (eg – diaper pin, Snappi), have no integrated elastic to control messes
Key Advantages: polyester construction provides durability, stay dry material wicks moisture into pocket (and away from baby), many options from which to choose
Disadvantages: require “stuffing” of absorbency into pocket, require “unstuffing” (yuck!) of pocket prior to laundering, some babies are sensitive to synthetic materials
All In One Diapers
Key Advantages: convenience, simplicity, many options from which to choose, integrated features including a waterproof cover, elastic, and closures
Disadvantages: slightly higher cost (though still lower than disposables), multiple layers (if sewn together) take longer to launder
Hybrid Diapers (aka - All In Two)
Key Advantages: versatile with a variety of absorbency options, fits any lifestyle, easy to launder, better fit/function than prefolds with covers, integrated features including waterproof cover, elastic, and closures
Disadvantages: mid-range cost, multi-use waterproof shell can become soiled after single use during early infancy
Materials Used in Cloth Diapers
Finding the right (and safest) choice for your family can mean asking manufacturers specific and “tough” questions. Make sure to get what you pay for!
There are three popular choices.
- Nylon with waterproof coating: Loses effectiveness with repeated laundering. There are questions about the chemical content of the waterproof coating.
- “PUL,” or polyurethane laminate: Polyester knit with a waterproof plastic applied to one side, often applied using chemical solvents (chance of solvents entering your home). Knitted outer often treated with formaldehyde-based “DWR” (durable water repellant). Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. (PLEASE NOTE: GroVia waterproofing is 100% solvent- and formaldehyde-free.)
- “TPU,” or thermoplastic urethane: Polyester knit with a waterproof plastic applied to one side using heat rather than chemical solvents (no chance of solvents entering your home). Knitted outer often treated with formaldehyde-based DWR. (PLEASE NOTE: GroVia waterproofing is 100% solvent- and formaldehyde-free.)
Common fabrics include microfiber terry, polyester microfleece (aka “Stay-Dry”), polyester minky, polyester suede cloth (aka “Stay-Dry”).
Key Advantages: low cost, durable.
Disadvantages: require chemicals/petroleum for manufacture, can be challenging to keep clean and odor-free, can lose absorbency with high-heat laundering, can be difficult to source domestically, will not biodegrade readily, its production has far-reaching environmental impacts.
Common fabrics include hemp/cotton blends, bamboo/viscose, and conventional/industrial cotton.
Key Advantages: less expensive than organic, easier to keep clean and odor-free, retain absorbency through many launderings, will biodegrade more readily at end of useful life.
Disadvantages: require “prepping” before first use, often mis-labeled as organic, environmental impacts of production.
Common certifications include International Working Group on Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Textile Exchange (OE), US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Key Advantages: reduced environmental impacts from production, certification programs in place to ensure organic production (and sometimes fair trade), highly absorbent, will biodegrade more readily at end of useful life.
Disadvantages: slightly higher cost, require “prepping” before first use, will show signs of wear sooner than synthetics.
Common Misconceptions About Cloth
There are a few, but here are the big ones!
- Laundry – “It must be difficult, costly, or bad environmentally.”
- Only 2-3 loads per week will keep diapers clean and in supply. Top- and front-load washers work equally well. Really no different than other laundry. Cloth users report fewer “blowouts” leading to fewer dirty clothes. Water used in one wash cycle roughly equal to one shower. Energy used by electric dryers the highest possible, but still enables cost- and carbon-savings over disposables. Line-drying also an option. Most important advice: keep wash routines simple, use cloth to avoid trips to buy disposables.
- Travel / Daycare / Flexibility – “It just doesn’t fit my lifestyle.”
- Hybrid approach removes this hurdle. Wet bags are designed to conveniently store dirties while away from home.
- Too big a commitment – “Is it all or nothing?”
- “Part time” users capture many of the same benefits. At 20-25 cents per disposable diaper, savings add up fast.
- PHEW! Now that was a LOT of info in a short period of time! We look forward to hearing from you – via phone, email, or our online LiveChat – if you have any questions or want to walk through any of this in more detail.