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Cloth, Disposables, or Neither?


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Our Journey Through Cloth Diapers, Disposables, and Elimination Communication 
by Michelle Pier 
         When I was pregnant with my first child, I assumed that I would be using disposable diapers, but slightly fantasized about using cloth. Before I was pregnant, I never gave it much thought since most babies were predestined to be in disposables. I knew cloth existed because my mom used cloth on me and my siblings, but it seemed like a thing of the past. After doing some research on the internet, I discovered that there was a whole new world of cloth out there. Pins were unnecessary, with velcro, snappis, or snap closures replacing them. The options went as far as All-In-Ones (AIOs), which are designed just like a disposable, with no fuss, no folding, no stuffing. It made disposables seem not-so-convenient. But I was still skeptical. What about all the laundry? How about the upfront cost? Isn't it just a lot of hassle and work?
         We were given plenty of disposables as gifts before the baby arrived, so we figured we'd use them in the beginning and that would buy us some time to build up a cloth stash. We were going to do it gradually. I started out with a dozen prefolds and about six covers that I found at a second-hand store. I spent about $45. I used cloth until we ran out, then disposables took over. Eventually, I had built up a stash that completely phased out the 'sposies.
         As for laundry, I do about one or two loads a week of clothes and miscellaneous stuff. Diapers got washed about 2-3 times a week. And honestly, I never separated anything or did any special "swishing" of diapers before washing them. When our hamper and our son's diaper pail (just a trash can with a lid, lined with a garbage bag) was full, I'd start the hot wash on the heavy load setting. In goes the detergent, then the diapers. Sometimes, during the rinse cycle, I drop in a tablespoon of vinegar, which is a natural fabric softener. There is no poop or pee on anything and everything looks and smells fresh. I hang dry our laundry (the sun will get stubborn stains out of diapers, plus it uses way less energy) and that's it! Sometimes I use the drier, and that is no biggie either. Laundry happens about three times a week and is a normal part of our routine.
          The upfront cost of cloth diapers doesn't have to empty your pockets. You can build up a stash gradually like we did, or if you have a chunk of money saved up, buy the whole stash. Personally, I recommend trying one of everything first before you invest in a large stash. There are so many options out there, and it can get overwhelming. If I were staring over, I'd get a dozen prefolds, a dozen fitteds, six covers, and a dozen AIOs. To find out what kinds you like, buy one diaper from different brands and try 'em out. At first I didn't want to buy a bunch of random diapers, thinking I'd be wasting my money to be buying "testers", but in retrospect I think it is worth it. I recommend getting together a list of brands you'd like to try, and see if friends and relatives would be willing to volunteer to buy one diaper from a selected brand. Better than investing in a large stash that doesn't work for your baby! Even if you buy a full stash of AIOs (which tend to be pricier), you shouldn't spend more than $500. And that stash will last through multiple children! Disposables usually cost about $2500 *per child* during the diapering period (an average of 2.5 years, although some babies are in diapers for up to four years, which would bring the average cost to almost $4000). Our stash of prefolds, covers, fitteds, pcket diapers and AIOs (totalling to about 36 diapers) cost about $300 and I probably won't need to spend more than $30 for the next child. You can also sell back diapers to other moms looking for an economic way to diaper. Diaperswappers is a great site to buy and sell used or new cloth diapers (and everything else for that matter!). You can also find great deals on ebay.
          The workload of using cloth is no more than disposables, in my opinion. Most of our stash was bought on the internet, so driving to the store once a month or week or *more* was not necessary. Once washed, the diapers are folded and ready to go ahead of time, so when a diaper change is needed, there is no folding to do. With our AIOs, it's just a matter of grabbing the diaper, placing it under the baby, and pressing the velcro closed. The sticky tape of disposables was often a hassle for me. They seem pointless now. The dirty diaper goes into the diaper pail, and voila. Using cloth is simple, easy, and convenient.
           When we were using disposables, the diaper pail smelled more, and we had to take out the garbage every day. Something about the combination of urine, poop, paper, and plastic just wasn't tolerable to my nose! Since we lived in an apartment on the 2nd floor and the dumpster was way on the other side of the building, this was often a dreaded task. When we were out of diapers unexpectedly, someone had to run to the store, and the baby was wrapped in--you guessed it--cloth. I've also been known to put my baby in the carseat, exploded poop diaper and all, and have to run into the store and grab some diapers. That was embarrassing and a pain in the you-know-what. Plus, we were throwing away (literally) about $30 a week.
           Even if the infinite options, the simplicity, convenience, and economy of cloth diapers don't convince you, the environmental and health reasons alone should. The following is borrowed from The Real Diaper Association's Website "The Official Blog of the RDA":


Disposable diapers contain traces of Dioxin, an extremely toxic by-product of the paper-bleaching process.  It is a carcinogenic chemical, listed by the EPA as the most toxic of all cancer-linked chemicals.  It is banned in most countries, but not the U.S..1

Disposable diapers contain Tributyl-tin (TBT) - a toxic pollutant known to cause hormonal problems in humans and animals.2

Disposable diapers contain sodium polyacrylate, a type of super absorbent polymer (SAP), which becomes a gel-like substance when wet. A similar substance had been used in super-absorbancy tampons until the early 1980s when it was revealed that the material increased the risk of toxic shock syndrome.3

In May 2000, the Archives of Disease in Childhood published research showing that scrotal temperature is increased in boys wearing disposable diapers, and that prolonged use of disposable diapers will blunt or completely abolish the physiological testicular cooling mechanism important for normal spermatogenesis.18

Dryness and Rash:

The most common reason for diaper rash is excessive moisture against the skin.19

Newborns should be changed every hour and older babies every 3-4 hours, no matter what kind of diaper they are wearing.20

At least half of all babies will exhibit rash at least once during their diapering years.20

Diaper rash was almost unheard of before the use of rubber or plastic pants in the 1940s.21

There is no significant difference between cloth and disposables when it comes to diaper rash.22

There are many reasons for rash, such as food allergies, yeast infections, skin sensitivity, chafing, and chemical irritation. Diaper rash can result from the introduction of new foods in older babies. Some foods raise the frequency of bowel movements which also can irritate. Changes in a breastfeeding mother's diet may alter the baby's stool, causing rash.19


In 1988, over 18 billion diapers were sold and consumed in the United States that year.4  Based on our calculations (listed below under "Cost: National Costs"), we estimate that 27.4 billion disposable diapers are consumed every year in the U.S.13

The instructions on a disposable diaper package advice that all fecal matter should be deposited in the toilet before discarding, yet less than one half of one percent of all waste from single-use diapers goes into the sewage system.4

Over 92% of all single-use diapers end up in a landfill.4

In 1988, nearly $300 million dollars were spent annually just to discard disposable diapers, whereas cotton diapers are reused 50 to 200 times before being turned into rags.4

No one knows how long it takes for a disposable diaper to decompose, but it is estimated to be about 250-500 years, long after your children, grandchildren and great, great, great grandchildren will be gone.5

Disposable diapers are the third largest single consumer item in landfills, and represent about 4% of solid waste.  In a house with a child in diapers, disposables make up 50% of household waste.5

Disposable diapers generate sixty times more solid waste and use twenty times more raw materials, like crude oil and wood pulp.3

The manufacture and use of disposable diapers amounts to 2.3 times more water wasted than cloth.3

Over 300 pounds of wood, 50 pounds of petroleum feedstocks and 20 pounds of chlorine are used to produce disposable diapers for one baby EACH YEAR.6

In 1991, an attempt towards recycling disposable diapers was made in the city of Seattle, involving 800 families, 30 day care centers, a hospital and a Seattle-based recycler for a period of one year. The conclusion made by Procter & Gamble was that recycling disposable diapers was not an economically feasible task on any scale.17

Elimination Communication
Okay, so all that said... and now I will talk about not using diapers at all! Yes, you read correctly, I mean diaper free, even if it is done just part time.
Elimination Communication is a way of tuning into your baby's signs that he or she needs to go. These signs are there from birth, they just tend to get phased out when the baby gets used to using its diaper as a toilet. When we started using cloth diapers on our first child, I noticed that sometimes when I'd go to change his diaper, either he was dry, or he'd start peeing before I got a clean one on him! So I began using some of the tips I'd read in the awesome book Diaper Free and made the "psss" sound while I held him over the bathtub or the toilet, and believe it or not, he peed! I was thrilled, LOL. I've been hooked ever since. I've been able to save myself so much laundry since we've started applying this method of communication. Its so common in many places all over the world where disposable diapers (or modern style cloth diapers for that matter) have not permeated, that there isn't even a name for it. It just IS.
I think something that is really important about this is that you do not ever force your child to do something they do not want to. If my son was uncomfortable or resisted going over the toilet or wherever, I simply took him off, did something else for a little while and tried again when we were comfortable. Or I'd just drop it completely if he just wasn't in the mood.
The second time around, when little Kenny was born, I wasn't motivated to try, because I was so caught up and stressed out with life and motherhood at the time. When he was just over a year old however, I was motivated to really give it some effort. And there has been much success! I give the cue signs at random, and just take him to the bathroom when I think he might need to go. Whenever I remember, really. There is no pressure on anyone to do anything. We just go with the "flow" (pun intended!). I hope to be done with diapers altogether sometime in the near future, whenever that is!

Disposable Diapers

The average baby spends 2-3 years in diapers, totalling 8000-10000 diapers or more

The average diaper costs $0.35ea.

Total costs during the diapering period= $2800-4000 + sales tax and gas money to get diapers averages about $3000-4500!!!

Contain Dioxin, an extremely toxic by-product of the bleaching process. EPA lists it as the most toxic of all carcinogenic (cancer causing) chemicals

Estimated 250-500 years for disposable diaper to decompose...multiply that by at least 8000 diapers per child in the U.S. alone! That’s one big pile of you-know-what.

Contain Sodium Polyacrylate, the super-absorbent gel crystals inside the diaper that soak up wetness, which you may sometimes find on your child’s bum. It can increase the risk of toxic shock syndrome, and in one study, showed that as little as 5g ingested by an infant could cause death.

Contain Tributyl-tin (TBT), a toxic pollutant known to cause hormonal problems in humans and animals

In a household with a child in diapers, disposables make up 50% of household waste.

When worn for long periods of time, disposables heat up much more than cloth diapers and can overheat boys’ reproductive organs.

Disposable diaper packages say to discard fecal matter into the toilet before throwing away, yet less than to 1% of all waste from single use diapers ends up in the sewage system.

Cloth Diapers

8000-10000 diaper changes in 2-3 years per child

Average at least 150 uses per cloth diaper

Average diaper cost ($14 in a range from $3-25) x 36 diapers= approx. $504 for a full stash

Price range for a full stash (3 dozen or 36 diapers) is approx. $120-900 depending on how simple or elaborate you want to get.

Every 1 cloth diaper saves you an average of $52.50 worth of disposables (150 disposables)

Laundry 2-3x a week costs about $1.25 in energy (free if you line-dry!) and costs about the same as 5 toilet flushes a day in water.

Prices of cloth diapers range from $3-25

Endless options to choose from to meet your baby’s size & absorbency needs

Very simple, convenient, one-piece waterproof diapers (called all-in-ones) are available, and no pins are necessary!!

Cloth is healthier for your baby, the environment and for you! Manufacturing cloth uses 2.3x less water, 60x less solid waste, and 20x less raw materials (like crude oil and wood pulp) than do disposables

Total diapers needed per child: Approx 36 (usually means laundry every 2-3 days)

Your stash can be used on multiple children!

All Hung Out


There is something very satisfying about line-drying diapers. Sure, there are what some would call the "disadvantages" (stiffness, more work, time consuming) of hanging diapers to dry, but really, the satisfaction in seeing them all on the line is worth it. There is something very real, very cozy about. Those are the diapers that go on your baby, just like clothes. They're cute! This was the first time in about a year that I've line-dried the diapers, and I think it will be worked back into our routine. It saves a LOT of energy/money especially considering the amount of laundry that we do. My toddler runs around and plays or helps me with the laundry, while my infant sits in his baby chair and watches in awe. Its a peaceful, homey moment (well, unless the toddler is throwing a tantrum) that was worth more than the time and work saved by throwing the laundry into the dryer.

Enter Our Store

Fruit of the Womb
Michelle Pier
P.O. Box 2844 Hagatna, GU 96932
(671) 472-1284