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Cloth Diapering

Chelsea Labbe
College Composition
Environmental Portfolio

Many parents cringe at the thought of trading in their convenient single use diapers for their cloth counterparts.  Although there are many misconceptions about today’s cloth diapers, they are not like what we heard about from our grandparents.  People worry about the time it may take, the mess and smell they leave behind and the initial cost.  I used to think of cloth diapering as an inconvenience to my fast paced life and was disgusted at the thought of having to swish diapers in my toilet and smell them sitting in the laundry.  Times have changed since those days, as there are more options to cloth diapering than ever imaginable.  Some hands on training and education on the topic and I was hooked!  Parents and caregivers should cloth diaper because it is an eco-friendly, cost effective, cleaner and healthier alternative to disposable diapers.

Parents and caregivers rely on the ease of waste management with disposable diapers, tossing the soiled diaper in the trash and moving on to another single use diaper.  Parents don’t often think about how they are contributing to the 16 billion disposable diapers added to our landfills annually (Hinds 33).  If you read the label of a disposable diaper package, it recommends shaking out fecal matter into the toilet before disposal.  I personally don’t know of an parents who follow that recommendation.  If people did, it would save an estimated 2.8 million tons of human waste from entering our landfills (Hinds 33).

The contents of these diapers won’t be contained forever, as the rain and decomposition of these landfills will lead to the leakage of human waste into our ground and public water supply.  I have no doubt that there will be a serious threat of contamination to anyone who comes in contact with the dieapers, or the space they once occupied.  Another worry is for the animals that might consume the waste, or birds and flies, who might contaminate other areas of the world.

Not only is cloth diapering environmentally friendly, it is also cost effective.  Though there are several brands of disposable diapers that vary in price, the average cost  of disposable diapers is around 25 cents each.  For older children who are potty training, an underwear-like pull-on diaper costs around 40 cents each (Brody 7).  Over the course of a single child’s diapering years, parents will spend an estimated $2,500-$3,000, depending on the brand of diaper, how often you change your child’s diaper and when potty training occurs.  When cloth diapering, there is typically an initial investment of $300 for a few doazen cloth diapering (Linn C.1).  This $300 investment will also carry you through subsequent children’s diapering years, for an additional savings.

For parents who are unable to afford the initial start up cost of cloth diapering, there is an amazing resource, Miracle Diapers.  There are Miracle Diaper locations all over the United States, but will ship cloth diapers to anywhere in the world.  This organization is targeted towards low to moderate income families and sends these families in need free cloth diapers.  Families are able to use the diapers until their child outgrows them.  At that time, you would send the outgrown diapers back to Miracle Diapers and trade up for a larger size.  When your child is fully potty trained, you send those diapers back, so another family can benefit from the use of those diapers.  In the past 3 years of their existence, Miracle Diapers has saved parents over a million dollard just from being able to cloth diaper over 1,000 babies (Miracle Diapers).

Parents are often concerned about the additional cost of paying for a diaper delivery service.  There are only 3 diaper services in Maine, which all 3 service the mid-coast area.  Diaper services eliminate the need to wash your diapers at home, which saves time for busy families.  Washing diapers at home is not as bad as it once was, before the paraphernalia became available.  Parents used to have to dunk and swish cloth diapers in the toilet and wash on hot water cycles.  Today there are diaper sprayers, which allow you to effectively and quickly spray the contents of the diaper into the toilet.  Potty pails are available and waterproof diaper pail liners that keep your soiled cloth diapers concealed and sanitary until it’s time to wash them.  These pails keep odor to a minimum and are as easy to use as any other laundry hamper you have at home.  From personal experience, baking soda in the pail and washing machine keeps odors minimal and keeps your diapers whiter.  In my experience, dirty cloth diapers should be washed every 4-5 days and it takes no longer than going out to buy disposables.  A trip to the store, buying them, loading them, driving home and putting them away is more of a process than a simple load of wash every week.

There is also the misconception that washing cloth diapers at home will end up costing as much as disposables.  This is apparently because of the hot water washed, drying and use of laundry detergent.  However, when washing cloth diapers, it is important to only use ¼ of the amount of laundry detergent you would use in a normal wash.  This eliminates residue and build up on your diapers.  Too much detergent causes water repellency on the cloth, rather than the absorption needed for diapering.  The idea that cloth diapers have to be washed several times in hot water has long passed.  It is now recommended that they be washed in cold water, to conserve energy (Linn C.1).  It is also important to know that using vinegar or tea tree oil as an additive in your wash will keep your diapers fresher and maintain anti-bacterial properties.  Instead of drying them in a gas or electric dryer, parents should choose to line dry them when possible, as the sun acts as a natural whitener and keeps them smelling cleaner.

Cloth diapers 20 years ago consisted of a square, 7 layer piece of cotton that you pinned around your baby’s bottom and some kind of waterproof cover that inevitably leaked.  Today, there is no need for pins, as those have been replaced by Velcro, snaps and snappis, a t-shaped rubber fastener (Paul 57).  The modern cloth diapers have elastic leg and back gussets, for added protection against leaks and make these new cloth diapers more functional than ever (Paul 57).  They are sngger to the body and contour to your baby’s curves, mimicking the appeal of conventional disposable diapers.  Today’s cloth diapers are less bulky, more appealing and come in a variety of baby skin friendly materials.  Cloth diapers come in cotton, hemp, bamboo, velour, micro suede, fleece, wool and other renewable resources.

Many moms with children who have sensitive skin, including myself, will tell you that using cloth has resulted in fewer allergies and diaper rash for their children (Paul 57).  My youngest child has eczema and was on steroids for the severe diaper rashes he would endure in disposable diapers.  Two days after starting cloth diapers, my son’s rash cleared up and never came back.  Cloth diapers are also healthier, as the fabric against baby’s skin is breathable.  Disposables come in paper, plastic and other materials that the diaper companies wont tell you about, because they are proprietary.  After the alarming reaction my son had in disposable diapers, I was curious to see what might be in these diapers that caused his diaper rash.  Three years ago, I personally called Kimberly-Clark, the makers of Huggies ™ Diapers, only to find out they were not able to disclose the materials used in their products.  Customer service at Kimberly-Clark said that if my son had a severe reaction to their product, to have my son’s Asthma/Allergy specialist mail them a letter of concern.  The letter would need to be sent directly from the business office and state a specific material product he was allergic to.  Only at that point would they disclose whether that particular ingredient/material was present in their diapers (Kimberly-Clark).

Currently on the Kimberly-Clark website, they offer sustainability reports to show their increasing awareness of the environmental impact they make.  Kimberly-Clark now discloses the use of synthetic fibers, such as Polymers (Kimberly-Clark 23) and does state “consumer products contain natural fibers derived from wood pulp” (Kimberly-Clark 21).  This to me is not reassuring, as these are just partial contents of their disposable diapers.  Am I supposed to feel better that some of what’s in a disposable diaper is natural?  It’s still another tree chopped, preserves and combined with perfume, dyes and “unknown” chemicals.  This is not what I wants sitting on my baby’s bottom for any amount of time.

Cloth diapers are on the rise, especially as the economy worsens.  Cloth diapers can save parents and caregivers a lot of money, especially for those expecting to have more than one child.  Cloth diapers are more environmentally friendly than the disposables that will sit in a landfill for years to come.  Aside from any scientific data or statistics, the easiest way to decide is to weigh the impact.  Buy a few dozen cloth diapers that will last through the diapering years of all your children, or the 10,000 or so single use diapers for each child.  My hope for anyone considering cloth diapering is that they understand it’s not a huge monetary investment, but instead an investment in your child’s health and future on our green earth.



Brody, Jane E. “Personal health; Plan of action can keep toddlers clean and dry”
NEW YORK TIMES May 4, 2004: 7
Hinds, Michael decourcy.  “Do disposable diapers ever go away”
CONSUMERS WORLD December 10, 1988; 33
Kimberly Clark.
Phone 1-888-525-8388

Kimberly Clark. Sustainability Report 2008: Synthetic Fibers: 23

Kimberly Clark. Sustainability Report 2008: Fiber Procurement: 21

Linn, Virginia.  “Better for baby? New cloth diapers also kinder on planet, advocates say”
PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE Pittsburg, PA: March 19, 2008: C1

Miracle Diapers
Paul, Pamela.  “Diapers Go Green”
TIME 171 No. 3 January 21, 2008: 57