Why on Earth would a present-day parent still use cloth diapers like our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers used to when the alternative is so much more convenient?
Parents today use cloth diapers because of environmental, financial, and body awareness benefits. Additionally, they are making more and more informed decisions when it comes to choosing materials that come in contact with sensitive baby skin.
In this post, I’ll explain how cloth diapers benefit the environment, family finances, increased body awareness, and why an increasing number of parents are saying no to the chemicals in disposable diapers.
Better for the environment
There are two main points regarding environmental friendliness. The first is sending less waste to the landfills and the second one is being aware of how many nonrenewable resources are used for disposable and cloth diaper production.
Less waste goes to landfills
This one is kind of obvious. If you aren’t throwing used diapers away, there is immediately much much less to dispose of.
But how much garbage are you really saving by choosing cloth diapers?
On average a child will generate about a ton of waste in their first year in the landfills. Yes, you read that right, literally one ton of garbage only from using disposable diapers in the first year and almost two tons by the time a child is potty trained. And the worst part – they are all still there and they will be for a very long time since they take about 500 years to decompose.
Just imagine, around 6000 used disposable diapers (an average child goes through this many diapers until potty training) sitting in the landfill, very slowly rotting away.
When I first learned this, I was still using disposables for my first child, and it absolutely blew my mind. I couldn’t stop thinking about that mountain of garbage that I’ve already added to the world’s landfills in the first 6 months of diapering my baby. I had to stop this and decided immediately that I need to transition to cloth diapers as soon as possible.
Fewer resources (including water) wasted
I can already hear your next question. What about all the water you are using by doing that more laundry?
While it’s true you’ll use more water for washing cloth diapers, the number doesn’t come near the water used for the production of disposable diapers.
Compared to cloth diapers, the production of disposable diapers actually wastes 2.3 times more water. They also use 20 times more raw materials, like crude oil and wood pulp. 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 (source).
Better for family finances
A majority of families will easily get a full stash of new cloth diapers by spending less than $600 which will amount to about $900 over the span of 2.5 years. Check out this post to see the complete price breakdown of cloth diapers vs. disposable diapers.
The number can obviously be much higher if you go for every new print and buy all the new releases but it can also be significantly lower. If you go for the cheapest options you can spend as low as $250 and even less if you buy used diapers. If you’re crafty, you can also make your own cloth diapers and save even more.
You can use the same set of diapers for your next baby and the cost per child halves just like that!
And the best part? You can sell your cloth diapers at the end of your cloth diapering journey and if the diapers are still in a good condition, you can probably expect anywhere from 20-50% return on your initial investment!
Let’s compare these numbers to the cost of disposable diapers. By taking an average of $0.26 per disposable diaper and multiplying it by 6000 we get $1,560. This is already almost $1,000 more when compared to the before-mentioned $600 for a full set of cloth diapers. For the next child, the total cost of disposable diapers comes close to $3200 while you don’t have to spend anything for your second child. Doesn’t this sound amazing? All that extra money that you can use for something really valuable to your child.
Better for body awareness
You’ve probably heard how the majority of babies in the 1950s were potty trained by the age of 18 months. Right now the average potty training graduation age is about 36 months. The age has doubled in the last 7 decades!
The difference between those babies? In the 1950s almost all were cloth diapered and right now almost all are using disposable diapers that prevent the child from feeling any wetness even if the disposable diaper is really saturated.
In most cloth diapers the baby will feel the immediate consequence of elimination and will very quickly learn that a wet diaper comes from peeing in it. They definitely don’t like the feeling of wetness (who would?) and often demand to take the wet diaper off by becoming fussy.
These babies probably won’t have to learn from scratch about their normal bodily functions after a couple of years because they will already know what it feels like to eliminate.
Disposable diapers are known and heavily marketed for being ever-dry so the baby doesn’t have to feel any wetness. Is that really such a good thing? I won’t deny it, this can be really helpful in some situations (but even then you can use stay-dry materials in cloth diapers and achieve the same) but overall I strongly disagree with this approach.
Better for sensitive baby skin
Have you ever tried to research the materials disposable diapers are made of? I have and it surprised me how many companies can get away without listing all of the ingredients used in the process.
Apparently, some ingredients fall under the category of “trade secret”, so companies are not obliged to share all of them. While they probably can’t all be toxic, I’m definitely not willing to take that risk anymore. Not with my baby’s thin sensitive skin.
Disposable diapers can contain (traces of):
- SAP (Super Absorbent Polymer), the main ingredient that absorbs 300 times its weight in water and retains it,
- dioxins, an extremely toxic by-product of the paper-bleaching process. It is a carcinogenic chemical, the most toxic of all cancer-linked chemicals,
- perfumes, most likely considered a “trade secret” and therefore don’t have to be revealed fully,
- dyes and colors, which can irritate some babies,
- phthalates, that have potentially toxic effects to the developing endocrine and reproductive systems. What is most concerning is that they don’t have to be disclosed by US law.
I will always choose natural fibers, such as organic cotton, bamboo, wool, and hemp over disposable materials. These will feel much more natural next to the baby’s skin. And the best thing about them? They aren’t pretending they’re something else or even hiding a hidden ingredient somewhere in the process.