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Environmentalist versus Pragmatist

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Before my son was born my husband and I (both liberal California types) had the deep desire to not contribute hundreds of diapers to our country’s landfills.

The one extreme I was not willing to go to was washing my own cloth diapers. This left a few options: getting a cloth diaper delivery and pickup service, biodegradable diapers, or conventional diapers.

After some research, we learned that there was only one cloth diaper service in our area and it was what would be commonly referred to as a “racket”. We looked online at our biodegradable diaper options and quickly discovered that not only are the biodegradable diapers only 60-ish percent biodegradable, but many of the options apparently started biodegrading upon impact with any fluids from your baby (eww). The best reviewed brand was Nature Babycare so we decided to add a mega-pack of Nature Babycare eco-friendly diapers to our registry to try them out. We also received a giant pack of Costco diapers and the hospital provided several packs of Pampers Swaddlers.

Fast forward several months and we have finally expended our supply of diapers and our son is ready for the next size of diaper. So what do we do?

Well I’m sorry to report that we are throwing aside our idealistic, environmentalist selves and buying the Pampers from Amazon.

What we have discovered since becoming parents is that the diaper that will allow our baby to sleep for six uninterrupted hours is the diaper for us… values be damned. The biodegradable diapers work fine during the day, but they do not hold as much and thus you end up changing baby’s diaper almost twice as often which is not only time consuming but very costly. The Costco diapers performed better than expected and I would consider using them, but the Pampers from Amazon are just as reasonably priced and have a delightful strip down the front that turns from yellow to blue when baby is wet. Yeah modern technology!

So your baby may not need to feel dry at night to log those magical uninterrupted hours of sleep, or you may have many cloth diaper options (though I’m told that cloth diapers are the worst in terms of baby feeling the wetness). But whatever you choose, realize that you are doing the best you can and you have at least two liberal California-types on your side… sorry Mother Earth, but we need to get some sleep!

14 Comments leave one →
  1. kate C. permalink
    01/03/2012 09:10

    Washing your own cloth diapers really isn’t that bad! Just an extra load every other day or so. And you can still use one disposable at night to help them sleep longer (we often do.)

    Anyway, just don’t want your readers to think that washing your own cloth diapers is so extreme they shouldn’t even consider it! It’s really not bad at all and doesn’t smell as bad as you’d think (disposables left for a day after use smell much worse – why diaper genies were invented!)

    I love using cloth! πŸ™‚

    • 01/03/2012 09:42

      I wholeheartedly ditto Kate on all points! (Including using a disposable overnight.) And I would like to add that numerous sources site cloth diapers (and the toddler actually feeling the wetness) decrease time to potty training. =)

  2. Christy permalink
    01/03/2012 11:01

    Seeing as though I have no children of my own- I’m merely the blog follower/future mother type… I’m curious as to whether Kate or Penney’s kiddos are in daycare, and if so, if your daycares allow cloth diapers? Just curious because I have a few friends with bambinos who commented that their daycare providers would only take children using disposable diapers.

    • kate C. permalink
      01/05/2012 09:16

      Hi Christy,
      Our first daycare provider (at the woman’s home) was completely fine using cloth. We would bring the clean cloth diapers in the morning, along with a wet bag, and she would put the wet and dirty ones in the bag all day, we’d take it home at night.

      Our second in-home provider did not want to use cloth. We continued to use cloth overnight (we used a special, extra-absorbant one and as our daughter was sleeping all night and not eating, it was plenty absorbant to not have to change at night) and on the weekends.

      Our third in-home provider was fine with cloth for our second child.

      Now our third child will be going to a daycare center. All the centers we had interviewed in Madison, WI allowed cloth diapers. Ours (in Iowa) says they will as well, though I need to talk with them more before our daughter starts there to see what type of cloth diapers they are comfortable with or we think will work best. (there are lots of types! Some go on in one piece identical to a disposable! Others have the diaper part, and then a cute cover that is velcroed on over the top)

      so yeah, it just depends on the daycare provider or daycare center! I would always ask, and possibly offer to show them the latest cloth diapers if they are unsure. Many people think they’re like the cloth diapers of old – diaper pins, rubber pants, soaking in stinky pails of water, etc. But they’ve come a long way from that! πŸ™‚

      • Christy permalink
        01/09/2012 08:48

        Very interesting- thanks for the feedback. Are your motivations primarily environmentally driven, or have you identified cost savings, as well by using cloth whenever possible?

      • kate C. permalink
        01/09/2012 09:37

        Hi Christy,
        Environmental benefits are pretty important to us, but we’re also cheap. I haven’t quantified it exactly for us, but especially because we’re using the same cloth diapers for three children (and we’ve mostly chosen one of the cheapest diaper ‘systems’) it definitely saves us money!

        Ok, now because I was curious I had to check prices. I went to and loaded up my cart with about everything we have of cloth diapering stuff: ~$300. (~24 prefolds each of two sizes, 6 small bummis covers, 4 medium bummis covers, snappies, some bum genious) We do laundry every other day or every third day when the baby gets a bit older. That does include ~$80 worth of Bumgenious diapers that we have and use for overnights, but wouldn’t be absolutely necessary, in my opinion. They also haven’t held up as well as the others. (however I have friends that just use strictly bumgenious and love them!)

        Anyway, by my estimates, Target diapers are ~$0.17 each (size 1 are less, size 5 more, etc. so that’s approx average.) I think we’d probably use ~5 diapers a day at this age, probably only ~4 when they get a bit older. (Meg – does that sound right?). So, using those numbers, I came up with a very rough (and probably under-estimate) of ~$280 per year for disposables. So, estimating 2 years of diapers (most people potty train later than that)… I’d say cloth is definitely cheaper, especially if you use the diapers for more than one kid! Now, I didn’t include the cost of the water or the detergent to wash the diapers, and I don’t have an easy way to calculate the water cost (my environmentalist husband will tell you it’s much too low, so people waste too much of it!), but I just roughly calculated the cost of the detergent and baking soda you use to wash, and since you only use ~1/4 the detergent as a normal load, I calculate the cost of washing to be ~$1 a month, for washing every other day. (VERY rough – and detergent costs can vary depending on where you are in the country, at least it seems like it on

        well, now my cheap side feels even better about using cloth! πŸ™‚ Even if we have to use disposables some of the time (or a lot, if the day care won’t take cloth), I think that by using cloth during the maternity leave and on weekends you’d still save money – particularly if you have more than one kid – but those calculations would be more complicated and depend on how long your maternity leave was, etc!

        note on brands: When we’ve had to (or for overnights) we use the Target brand and have found those just as good at holding in leaks as the Pampers in our experience (no wet stripe on them, though that’s new, they didn’t have that even 2 years ago!). And no one has mentioned this, but we’ve gotten our worst ‘blow-outs’ when we’ve been using a disposable (sometimes we use them when traveling – though other times we bring cloth, it depends when and where and how long we’re going!). Target diapers are cheaper than Pampers, usually, but still more expensive to keep buying week after week compared to the one-time expense of the cloth!

        More questions?? πŸ™‚


      • 01/11/2012 13:39

        We use probably about 5 diapers per day at 3 months, with another one or two at night.

      • 01/11/2012 13:41

        Don’t forget the cost of electricity to run the washer and dryer!

      • kate C. permalink
        01/11/2012 16:48

        It’s true! I’m not sure how much that would be exactly. Will thinks running the dryer once might be $0.20. So, that’s another $2-5 a month perhaps to wash/dry them? In the end, I’m happy with the environmental benefits, and the $$ savings (with three kids especially) is an added bonus!

      • 01/10/2012 08:43

        Here I go ditto-ing Kate again! We did figure out calculations for the kids being in daycare 4 days/week and came up still saving money, though not nearly as much as if you could use cloth all the time. We also bought the pre-folds and cheapest velcro covers. And I TOTALLY ditto Kate on the blow-outs – I don’t know why more people don’t use blow-out protection as their ONLY reason for choosing cloth!

      • kate C. permalink
        01/10/2012 12:08

        Penney – we’ve never met, but apparently we’re on the same page when it comes to cloth diapers! πŸ™‚

    • 01/05/2012 12:40

      My response is going to mostly ditto Kate again – we interviewed several home daycare providers (in Michigan) and only one of them was willing to use cloth diapers, who we didn’t end up going with, so we’ve always had to use disposables during daycare hours, but have used cloth otherwise.
      And again ditto-ing Kate, once our first was no longer eating overnight we first doubled up a cloth diaper (we use the cheapest variety known as chinese pre-folds) and eventually could use just a single cloth diaper when he was maybe 1 1/2 or 2.

  3. ryan permalink
    01/03/2012 11:54

    thanks for looking out for the rest of us sinners πŸ˜‰

  4. 02/03/2012 18:13

    Ditto to washing your cloth diapers not being that bad. It’s not fun like some internet retailers make it out to be, but it’s not the worst thing ever. Also, we sometimes line dry the diapers to help cut back on energy usage. The sun is great for getting out stains!

    Our water usage hasn’t noticeably increased (maybe because I shower less often? Haha).

    I know we’ve saved money this way, but we were fortunate to receive all of our cloth diapers as gifts. Even if we hadn’t, we would save money using cloth (we want to have more than one child and love the prefolds). I don’t think the environmental arguments are as clearcut.

    Do what’s best for your family. If we were a dual income family, then maybe we wouldn’t use cloth and maybe we would.

    I love the honesty of this post. I hope new moms read this and can feel better about their choices. We use cloth, you use disposables, and that’s ok!

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