Cloth Diapers vs. Disposables
Why should I cloth diaper my baby?
You'll save money. When you buy disposable diapers, you are throwing away money with each diaper change.
Exactly how much you'll save will vary depending on what brand of disposable diapers you (don't)
purchase and what brand of cloth diapers you choose.
You'll prevent waste. Every baby wearing disposable diapers can generate as much as one ton of landfill waste before age two. Overwhelmed?
It's more convenient. Today's cloth diapers reflect designs created primarily by parents solving problems. In the cloth diaper industry, parents are usually frustrated before they start creating. Usually, that means they work until the diaper actually works as advertised.
- Tired of blowouts? Who wants to change the diaper AND the outfit? Thankfully, many cloth diapers are designed to prevent leaks. A better design usually cuts down on outfit changes.
- Out of diapers again? When you buy cloth diapers, your diapers are always available
Planning for the unexpected is the responsible thing to do. Whether or not you choose to use your cloth diapering system full-time, it is wise to have cloth diapers on hand in case of an emergency. Can you imagine running out of diapers and the grocery store not having any diapers on their shelves?
How do diapers affect the environment?
Many parents initially look at cloth diapering for environmental reasons -- and with good cause! The Women's Environmental Network in Europe has done some great work in furthering the use of cloth diapers in Europe through educating the public about the amount of waste generated by disposables. Based on a report from the Women's Environmental Network, The Real Diaper Association reports:
- Disposable diapers are the third most common consumer product in landfills today.
- A disposable diaper may take up to 500 years to decompose.
- One baby in disposable diapers will contribute at least 1 ton of waste to your local landfill.
Landfill issues are very important. This article is one of many that discusses this issue.
Hawaii may eventually run out of places to put its trash.
Many parents there are turning to cloth diapers in an effort to reduce waste.
I found a report published by the Environmental Protection Agency. This report shows the Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste in the United States and gives an interesting view of the waste situation in the United States ten years ago. It says, "An estimated 3.1 million tons of disposable diapers were generated in 1997, or 1.4 percent of total MSW generation. (This tonnage includes an adjustment for the urine and feces contained within the discarded diapers.) The materials portion of the diapers includes wood pulp, plastics (including the super-absorbent materials now present in most diapers), and tissue paper. No significant recycling or composting of disposable diapers was identified in 1997."
The same report, published in 2005 (Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2005 Facts and Figures) showed that disposable diapers accounted for 3.6 million tons of waste and 1.5% of the total waste generation for that year. Once again, the report
specifically mentioned that no significant recyling or composting of disposable diapers was identified in 2006
Am I going to save money if I use cloth diapers instead of disposable diapers?
Other parents are interested in cloth diapering because disposable diapers are expensive! According to a recent report about Disposable Diapers from Consumer Reports, "You can expect to spend $1,500 to $2,000 or more on disposables by the time your baby is out of them." Budget can play a large role in determining what kind of cloth diapering system to purchase.
In 2005, Kimberly Clark, the makers of Huggies,reported sales of $15.9 billion. Proctor and Gamble disclosed in their 2005 Annual Report that Baby Care is one of their core businesses "with a global share of approximately 37% of the market behind the strength of Pampers, with annual sales in excess of $6 billion."
By using cloth diapers, you save money with each diaper change. The money saved on diapers can support another area of your family's finances or could go towards helping someone else less fortunate. I know of a woman who actually takes the money that she saves from each diaper change and donates it to help babies in an orphanage that Cotton Babies supports in Africa.
Are cloth diapers better for my baby?
A baby can be sensitive to the ingredients used in diapers.
From Kimberly Clark's 2005 Annual Report:
"Superabsorbent materials are important components in disposable diapers, training and youth pants and incontinence care products. Polypropylene and other synthetics and
chemicals are the primary raw materials for manufacturing nonwoven fabrics,
which are used in disposable diapers, training and youth pants, wet wipes, feminine pads, incontinence and health care products, and away-from-home wipers."
If needed, an information sheet about the specific ingredients in disposable diapers can be obtained from the diaper manufacturer at the request of your pediatrician. Using your pediatrician's advice, you should be able to choose the right diapering system. If you aren't sure
about a particular product, call the product's manufacturer to resolve any questions before making a purchase.
Another issue frequently brought up in cloth diapering circles is dioxin exposure. According to a Mothering Magazine article, entitled "The Joy of Cloth Diapers" "Dioxin, which in various forms has been shown to cause cancer, birth defects, liver damage, and skin diseases, is a by-product of the paper-bleaching process used in manufacturing disposable diapers, and trace quantities may exist in the diapers themselves."
My baby is in daycare. Is it possible to cloth diaper?
More and more daycare centers are open to the idea of using cloth diapers. Most daycares
that allow cloth diapers will only allow all-in-one cloth diapers (like bumGenius All-In-Ones).
They will require that you provide a place to store used diapers and that you take your
diapers home with you each night for washing. Be aware that your daycare center may be
governed by state regulations related to diapering. You may find that initial discussion
with the daycare more successful if you take the time to educate yourself about laws in your
state first. Home-based or private daycare providers are probably going to be more willing to
cloth diaper your child. Remember that ease of use is going to be an essential bargaining chip!
Because public perception of cloth diapering still revolves primarily around flat diapers,
vinyl diaper covers and pins, it may help to have one diaper from the system of your choice
on hand that you can use to demonstrate the ease of use.
What do I do about the poop?
Good question! I think everybody asks us this question. It is important to note that it is EASY! Modern inventions (like flushable liners and the diaper sprayer) have taken the grossness factor out of this issue.
First of all, your baby will go through different stages as they grow. Poop tends to change as your baby grows.
Breastfed baby poop is water soluble. You do not need to remove breastfeed baby poop before washing.
Around 4-6 months of age, many babies start solids through cereal. At this point, stools transition to a thicker "peanut butter" consistency. For best results, this should be removed (as much as possible) from your diapers prior to washing.
Formula fed and older babies typically have firmer stools. This should also be removed from your diapers prior to washing.
The solutions below are what we commonly recommend to families. We have many families who love the diaper sprayers and many others who swear by the flushable liners. We recommend that you evaluate the options and choose the one that you will actually use.
Flusable diaper liners laid inside the diaper allow the poop to be easily removed from the diaper. Just peel the biodegradable liner out of the diaper and flush the mess away.
Diaper sprayers are another fantastic solution. This handy little device attaches to the plumbing behind your toilet and allows you to easily spray the mess off. The small holes and concentrated spray allows the Minishower to do a better job cleaning diapers off than any other sprayer available. The Minishower does double duty during potty training as it cleans out potty chairs. The adjustable spray can also be used for feminine hygiene during the postpartum period.
It is easy to shake firmer stools off of the diaper into the toilet (no spray or liner required).
In a pinch, good old fashioned dunking will get the job done.
Will my house smell like a diaper pail?
You shouldn't have anymore odor that you experience with disposable diapers. Many cloth diapering parents actually claim to smell less diaper pail odor when using cloth diapers simply because their cloth diapers aren't full of perfumes (like disposables).
Deo-disks are an inexpensive way to deal with diaper pail odor. These non-toxic deodorizers smell like citrus and do a great job cutting down on diaper pail odor. These deodorizing disks are used and recommended by diaper services.
bumGenius Odor Remover does a fantastic job removing the odors in diapers.
The best way to combat diaper pail odor is to wash cloth diapers frequently, at least every other day.
Finally, be sure that your diaper pail has a lid on it and keep it closed.
Washing Cloth Diapers
How do I wash my cloth diapers?
As you would with the rest of your laundry, separate your diapers into like materials. Wash natural fibers separately from synthetics.
Wash the entire load on cold with detergent. Washing once on cold water is important to remove leftover "yuck" from your diapers
Wash the entire load again on warm or hot - also with detergent.
Do a second rinse.
We recommend that you line dry your diaper covers, pocket diapers and anything made with hook & loop closures. Virtually everything else can be tumble tried on medium.
If you're having problems with diapers that stink after washing:
Try an extra rinse. Sometimes detergent residue can cause diapers to smell.
Wash once with liquid Dawn (the blue formula). Use 1 teaspoon in a front loader and 1 tablespoon in a top loader. Rinse well.
If the previous solutions don't work, try 1/4 cup of bleach in the warm/hot wash cycle.
What detergent should I use when washing my cloth diapers? (Detergent Reference Sheet)
Choosing the right detergent for your diapers is essential! You may download a list of detergent recommendations here.
What detergents should I avoid?
Do not use detergents containing pure soap, enzymes, fabric whiteners, fabric brighteners, fabric softeners or anything scented. You may download a list of detergent recommendations here.
Do I have to sanitize the washing machine after washing my diapers?
Absolutely not. If the diapers are clean, the washing machine is clean.
How do I use baking soda or vinegar when washing my diapers?
Water, detergent, the sun and occasionally a small amount of something sanitizing like bleach is plenty to get your diapers clean and stain free. We do not recommend the use of any other additives when washing your cloth diapers. Additives can damage the waterproofness and elasticity of your diapers. In addition, they can change the pH of your diapers resulting in skin irritations.
My diapers are stained. Now what?
The best stain remover is the sun! Wash your diapers and then lay them out wet on the lawn with the stain facing the sun. It usually only takes a few hours before the stains are gone! If some remnants of the stain still linger, rinse the load again and repeat the process.
What do you do with stinky diapers or covers?
Wash your diapers again! Most of the time, stinky diapers just aren't clean yet. Detergent residue or build up may also cause odors to be retained. Check the rinse water to make sure that you don't see suds. If you do, use less detergent. A warm wash with a squirt of liquid Dawn (the dish detergent), rinsed well, does a great job removing stinky residue from diapers. When all else fails, try 1/4 cup of bleach in a large hot wash load.
My diapers smell like ammonia after being worn. What should I do to fix this problem?
The chief culprit for an ammonia smell is detergent scent or detergent residue. Make sure that you are using an extra rinse when washing your diapers and that you are using a detergent that does not contain any perfumes. A warm wash with a squirt of liquid Dawn (the dish detergent), rinsed well, does a great job removing stinky residue from diapers. Using 1/4 cup of bleach may be occasionally necessary to kill odor causing bacteria in the diapers.
I live in an apartment and need to wash my diapers in a laundromat. How do I do this?
When we started cloth diapering, we lived in an apartment and did not have our own washer and dryer. We were cautious about diving into cloth diapering so we started with a diaper service for three months and then decided that we were ready to venture out on our own. We've discovered that cloth diapering is very doable -- even when you're washing in a laundromat!
The system that we found that worked for us was simple:
Wash everything together.
Wash the load one entire cycle on cold.
Wash the load again one entire cycle on warm or hot.
Sort the pocket diapers and the covers out of the load and dry everything else.
Washing Wool Covers
To wash a wool cover, simply handwash in cold water using the wool wash of your choice. It is important that the woolwash contains lanolin. We recommend LANA Lanolin Soap. If you need to lanolize your cover between washings, try dissolving one tablespoon of lanolin in a cup of very hot water. Cool the water to the point that it feels warm and then press the cover into the water. Swish it around gently. Drain the water and roll the cover in a towel to remove excess water (do not rinse). Lay the cover flat to dry.
Dealing with Poopy Messes
Sometimes baby poo will get on the wool cover. If this happens, just rinse that part of the cover under cold water until the stain is gone, pat and then hang to dry. If an odor remains, follow the directions above for washing the cover.
When is it time to wash?
If your wool diaper cover smells like urine or like poo, it's time to wash. A wool wash with a high lanolin content and high quality felted wool will increase the amount of time between washings.
What Cloth Diapers Do We Use?
When our first son was born, we were given three months of diaper service as a gift. With the diaper service came seven dozen Chinese prefold cloth diapers per week. When the service picked up the diapers once a week, a load of clean diapers was dropped off at our front door. We used a large diaper pail and some deo-disks to store our diapers. We purchased diaper covers in several different styles to go over the Chinese prefolds. At the time, we were living in an apartment and I did my laundry in a laudromat. I had six small-sized diaper covers. This was only enough for one day with a tiny baby, so I rinsed them out before going to bed each night.
When the diaper service expired, a friend gave us a stack of premium-sized prefolds and some medium-sized cloth diaper covers. I was a little nervous about branching out in doing my own diapers at first, but soon discovered that it was actually fun! We washed our prefolds twice per week and just used a disposable diaper at night.
As Andrew started to get a little bit older, I spent some time online researching overnight cloth diapers. That is when I stumbled onto pocket diapers! I'd never seen anything like that before and after doing alot of reading, I eventually ended up purchasing my first pocket diaper on eBay. My husband and I both really like how easy it was to use pocket diapers, so, as Andrew got older, we found ourselves buying more of them. I had a pretty good stash of pocket diapers by the time he potty trained.
When our second son was born, we had a fairly good-sized stash of Kissaluvs and Dappi Nylon Pants on hand. This was my favorite combination when Oscar was tiny! Not too long after he was born though, we started working on the bumGenius design. We were really wanted a diaper that worked like a disposable diaper. It was important to have diapers that grandparents and baby-sitters would be happy using. So, bumGenius was born. Six months later, our entire cloth diaper stash was made up of bumGenius diapers.
Today, Oscar is two and twenty-seven pounds. He wears bumGenius All-In-Ones during the day and bumGenius One Size Cloth Diapers at night. His night-time diaper is stuffed with two bumGenius One-Size Inserts. We size his diaper up to a large at night to accomodate the extra stuffing. If we happen to use a pocket diaper during the day, we use it on the medium setting with one insert. He primarily wears all-in-ones during the day to avoid the hassle of having to find an insert to go with every diaper. Our cloth diapers are stored in a laundry basket (straight out of the dryer) or under the sink in the bathroom. We organize by style. All-in-ones, inserts, doublers and pocket diapers all get separate piles. Because his absorbency needs are different based on the time of day, we do not pre-stuff any of our pocket diapers.
What Cloth Diapering Accessories Do You Really Need?
When you are trying to figure out what kind of diapers to get, it seems like there are a million different accessories you can buy. Each accessory has a very specific purpose. Some of those products have a wide audience and others have a narrow application. So, here is what we would recommend as the basics for most families.
At a minimum, you need a diaper pail. A plastic trash bag will work as a liner, but it isn't the most environmentally friendly choice available. We recommend a washable diaper liner (the Bummis Totes are great) and deo-disks to cut down on pail odor.
Cloth baby wipes are absolutely essential. When you are changing a diaper, the wipes usually end up on top of or inside of the dirty diaper. It makes no sense to be trying to keep the wipes separate just so you can throw them in the trash can. If you use cloth wipes, the whole pile just ends up in the diaper pail.
A wipe warmer is a nice thing to have. It keeps your wipes warm, wet and ready to use near your changing area. As an alternative, consider a bottom cleaner like bumGenius Bottom Cleaner.
Frequently Asked Questions about Cloth Diapers
Do people really still use cloth diapers?
Yes! As a matter of fact, cloth diapering has become quite the vogue thing to do, especially among environmentally conscious parents. All of the new choices in cloth diapers have made it as easy to use cloth diapers as it is to use disposable diapers.
How many do I need?
A newborn can easily go through twelve cloth diapers in one day so we recommend purchasing 12-18
cloth diapers in the newborn or small sizes. An older baby doesn't need quite as many diapers,
but you should still plan for 8 diaper changes and an overnight solution. Once you've picked out
your diapers, don't forget to get two or three dozen cloth baby wipes, a waterproof diaper tote
for your diaper bag and, if you have an older baby, a Mini Shower Diaper Sprayer is a must-have.
What does everyone else buy?
Our best selling newborn cloth diaper is the Kissaluvs Size 0. bumGenius Extra-Small All-In-Ones are the popular choice
when convenience is essential. For older children, most of our customers prefer bumGenius One-Size Cloth Diapers or bumGenius All-In-Ones.
If you are cloth diapering on a tight budget, consider using prefolds and cloth diaper covers. Most families also buy a cloth diaper pail, pail liner and deo disks.
What about overnight diapering?
Our top selling overnight cloth diapers are bumGenius combined with two of our
ultra-absorbent Cotton Babies microfiber terry inserts or our Hemp Babies hemp inserts.
Our customers who prefer All-In-Ones are buying bumGenius All-In-Ones and using an additional
doubler to boost the diaper for night-time use.
I just received my diapers. How do I start?
Prewash bumGenius, and other polyester diapers once before using. Microfiber inserts should also be washed once before using.
To reach their full absorbency, unbleached Chinese prefolds and hemp products should be washed 5-8 times
with very hot water and approximately 2 tablespoons of detergent in each load. This removes oils and waxes
from the cotton and hemp (normally removed during the bleaching process) that prevent liquids from absorbing into the diaper.
White prefolds only need to be washed 3-5 times before use. To shink the
products to their proper size, we recommend drying between each pre-wash.
My unbleached prefolds/hemp inserts are leaking!!
Make sure that you've prewashed them enough. Remember, they need
to be washed 5-8 times in very hot water with a tiny bit of detergent
in each load. If you have used your diapers before and haven't encountered
this problem, I recommend putting a folded soft terrycloth washcloth (Kissaluvs Baby Wipes will work well)
inside the prefold diaper. The terrycloth will be able to catch the pee before it rolls off the diaper.
The cotton is absorbent, but sometimes it doesn't quite 'grab' the liquid fast enough to keep it from
rolling off and around the edge of the cotton. This method will also enable
your baby to go coverless in a prefold diaper with fewer leaks.
More about Diaper Fasteners
You have many choices when looking into diaper fasteners. Use this table to help you decide which one is right for you!
Usually made of metal and having a plastic or metal head, a diaper pin has a sharp end that is used to pierce through two layers of fabric to secure them together.
Hook and loop fabric usually sewn onto the diaper or diaper cover
Plastic or metal snaps are usually used in either the diaper or the cover.
T-shaped plastic device with plastic hooks on each end used to grab and hold the material.
Tried and true. This was what your mom probably used. Doesn't wear out often.
Very fast and easy to use.
Very simple to use and snaps rarely wear out.
Very fast and convenient to use.
Risk of poking baby. Sometimes its difficult to push a pin through the fabric. Tough to use when diapering a wiggly toddler or baby.
Wears out eventually and can cause snags on other items when being washed.
Not as adjustable as hook and loop. Snaps take more time to 'snap' which can be an issue when diapering a wiggly toddler or baby.
Must be replaced every six months.
An Explanation of Common Cloth Diapering Terms
A B C D E F G H I J
K L M N O P Q R S T
U V W X Y Z
An all-in-one cloth diaper that has a waterproof cover and an absorbent inner liner and built in closures. It is all one piece. These diapers commonly fasten with hook and loop or snap fasteners. They may also be made of wool as the outer layer. All In Ones are frequently used by parents who need a convenient diaper for a day care, for quick and easy changes on the go, and by parents who just want the convenience of a one-piece diaper along with the ecological advantages of cloth.
is a hook and look fastener commonly used on cloth diapers. Other types of for hook and loop fasteners used on cloth diapers include Velcro® and Touch Tape®
is a brand of cloth diaper cover. Bummis diaper covers may be hook & loop closures, snap closures, or pull-on. This is a high quality brand and all of their products get our highest recommendation.
Bumkins is a brand of diaper cover and an all-in-one. Bumkins are known for being made of colorful breathable nylon fabrics.
A cloth diaper is a washable, reusable diaper made of any one (or several) types of fabric. A cloth diaper usually requires a cloth diaper cover.
A contoured diaper does not have elastic at the legs or waist. The wings need to be fastened with pins or a Snappi or the diaper should be used in conjunction with a hook and loop style diaper cover. Contoured diapers are generally most appropriate for day-time diapering and always require a diaper cover of some type.
Chinese Prefold Diaper (also abbreviated CPF, UBCPF and IPF)
A flat diaper (thicker in the middle than it is on the sides) that comes in multiple absorbencies and sizes
. This diaper is the foundation of an economical cloth diapering system. Chinese Prefold Diapers come in two colors, white and unbleached. The unbleached diapers have not gone through a whitening process. They come with many of the original cotton oils still in the fabric and may require extensive washing to make them absorbent. Once these diapers have become absorbent, they are known for being softer than the white diapers. Quality differences affect the usability of this style. Some products commonly sold in the mass market stores are made with cheaper cotton, fewer layers of fabric or even a foam product as the primary absorbent layer. All prefold diapers sold at Cotton Babies (including Chinese prefolds and Indian prefolds) are diaper service quality.
Diaper is the American word for nappy.
Cloth diaper covers come in all shapes, colors, fabrics and sizes. They are used to 'cover' up a cloth diaper and keep your baby's clothes dry.
In (dire) Search Of... you might see this term used on for sale or trade boards when someone is in a hurry to find a particular item. A few popular cloth diaper trading forums are Diaper Swappers
and Diaper Pin
Flat Diaper (flats)
A "flat" refers to a diaper that is typically 27"x27" square. Flat diapers can also refer to the famous rectangular flats (no longer produced, but formerly made by Curity). Flat diapers can be folded many ways to accomodate different ages and shapes. Flats are very flexible and are generally considered a one-size cloth diaper. These are the diapers that our grandmothers used to diaper their children. They come in many different fabrics, including flannel, birdseye cotton, gauze and hemp, and have been staples in diapering for generations. Today, many parents purchase flat diapers to use as a nursing coverup, light-weight blanket, sun shield, pocket diaper insert or a burp cloth. These are the best diaper for traveling or camping as they can be easily washed out in the sink and hung to dry overnight.
Fitted Diaper (fitteds)
A fitted diaper has elastic at the legs and at the waist. It also has some type of closure to hold the diaper on the baby. This closure can be hook and look or snaps. A fitted diaper requires a cover. The absorbency of fitted cloth diapers varies based on the materials used in the construction of the diaper. Cotton fitteds are an inexpensive and popular choice. Hemp fitteds are slightly more expensive and also more absorbent than cotton.
For sale or trade...
Nappy is the European word for diaper.
Nylon pants are styled similar to the traditional plastic diaper pants but are made of breathable nylon material. Common brands of nylon pants include Dappi
and Bummis Super Whisper Pant
. The Alexis Nylon Pants were very popular until they stopped producing them a few years ago.
One size diaper (OS)
A one size diaper usually fits a child from birth up until about 30 or 35 pounds. This sizing is achieved by strategic placement of snaps on the front of the diaper. This allows for the front of the diaper to be folded over and for the closures to be snapped on top of each other. As the baby grows, several snap settings allow for waist and leg growth. A popular one size diaper is bumGenius
A pocket diaper is usually made of two layers of fabric sewn together to form a pocket for an absorbent insert. The entire diaper fastens onto your child and does not require the additional use of a cloth diaper cover. Pocket Diaper Inserts
can be made of microfiber terry, cotton terry, hemp Chinese Prefold Diapers
or even a regular kitchen towel folded to size. Popular brands of pocket diapers: bumGenius
, Happy Heinys
, Fuzzi Bunz and Ellas Pockets.
Plastic pants were commonly used when I was a baby. They are made of vinyl, a material that releases dioxins when warmed. We do not recommend using plastic pants! Plastic pants do not allow air to circulate and help to create the perfect environment for yeast to grow causing severe diaper rash.
This abbreviation is commonly used for "Work At Home Mom". Much of the cloth diapering industry is run through business that operate out of homes.
A wool soaker is basically a diaper cover made exclusively of wool. Due to its high lanolin content, wool works very well as a cloth diaper cover. It can hold up to 40% of its weight in moisture. Highly recommended for any type of cloth diaper, including Kissaluvs
or Chinese Prefold Diapers
This is the simplest of all cloth diaper folds. Fold the diaper in thirds with the thick part in the middle, fold any excess length towards the back and lay in a velcro® or snap diaper cover.
Angel Wing Fold
Follow instructions for the Newspaper Fold. After laying the diaper in the cover, fold the back edges open like wings. Use these wings to secure the diaper with a Snappi Diaper Fastener or diaper pins.
Bikini Twist Fold
Lay the diaper flat, place the baby on the back of diaper, pull the diaper between baby's legs, twist 180 degrees. Using the back wings of the diaper, use a Snappi Diaper Fastener or diaper pins to secure the diaper closed.
Too Much Bulk Fold
This is a little harder to manage because it requires an extra step but if you're having problems with the front of the diaper being too bulky you can try one of the two following solutions:
Using the Newspaper Fold, put the excess diaper length folded towards the back of the baby instead of the front. This will cut down on absorbency for a little boy but will reduce the amount of bulk in front.
Using the Angel Wing Fold, fold the diaper down a few inches in back BEFORE starting the instructions for the newspaper fold. This option was the most effective for us.