When you hear the phrase cloth diapers perhaps you imagine clumsy diaper pins, a poop-filled washing machine, and a general sense of inconvenience. Just like the car seats, strollers, and cribs of yesteryear, cloth diapers have come a long way in the last few decades.
When I was pregnant with my twin sons and considering investing in reusable diapers, I’d hear my friends rattle off phrases like, “all-in-ones,” “pre-folds,” and “PLU covers.” Cloth diapers have advanced so much in recent years that they have their own language. And for those just entering the world of diapering it can be overwhelming to figure out what to buy, where to buy it, and how to use it once you get it home.
At almost three years old, my sons are almost (fingers crossed) potty-learned. Over the years we’ve occasionally used disposables, especially when traveling. But, for the most part, we’ve used cloth and I can honestly say that I never felt overwhelmed with laundry, never had a leak, and never regretted the money we invested. Along the way I’ve experimented with different brands, shopped online and in stores, and traded diapers via diaper swaps, and I’ve come up with this trusty guide examining how and why to use cloth diapers, where to buy them, and how to make sense of the dizzying array of options out there.
Let’s first tackle the why question. For many families, using cloth is the answer to their baby’s sensitive skin and the allergic reactions caused from the synthetics and petroleum byproducts in disposables. For others it’s an outgrowth of their commitment to reducing waste. It is estimated that each disposable diaper takes about 200 years or more to disintegrate and that these diapers make up over five percent of total landfill waste. Just to give you an idea of how much waste they create, homes with children in diapers create approximately 50% more waste than homes without them.
When I was pregnant I knew I wanted to reduce our household waste, but what truly drove my dedication to cloth was sitting down with a calculator. As I worked up a budget for our expanding family, I soon discovered that the average baby goes through $550 worth of diapers in their first year alone. And that’s for the cheap diapers. The name brands can run you as high as $800 a year. Most babies aren’t potty trained until at least two or longer. So when I added that all up multiplied it by two for twins, I realized that disposable diapers would cost us a total of $2,200 or more. As a family on a tight budget, that struck me as a needless, and totally preventable, waste.
So we pooled all the money from our baby showers, used some of the Walmart gift cards we received from family and friends to order cloth diapers via their online store, and made a $350 investment in over 30 high-quality, reusable diapers. Sure, $350 sounds like a lot, especially when you spend it all in one chunk. But in the end that investment saved us around $1,400. I consider that a pretty good deal.
First let me make clear that cloth diapers are a bit more time consuming than disposables and if you’re working full-time the money saved on cloth diapers may not be worth the extra minutes it takes each day to stay on top of the laundry. However, it is important to note that once you develop a diaper-washing routine, and invest in handy tools like a diaper sprayer to help make the job easier, using cloth becomes nothing more than a few extra loads of laundry. In some cities you also have the option of hiring a diaper service that will pick up, wash, and return clean diapers. We never tried this, but for some busy families this is a solution, even if it does bring on an added expense. In the end you’ll still end up saving.
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