Cloth Diapering

I am going to confess something. When my first child, Hannah, was a baby we used disposable diapers. We clad her little bottom cheap throwaway diapers that we bought in bulk, then we turned them into little sausages using our Diaper Genie. It was fast and easy – I’ll say that much. But I was not entirely happy with the choice. There was a lot of diaper garbage each week – diaper garbage that is still sitting in a landfill today, 5 1/2 years later. Diaper garbage that will likely still be sitting in that landfill 1000 years from now.

I did some research when I was pregnant with my second child, Jacob. And I made the decision to switch to cloth. They are super-cute and much easier to use than they used to be (no pins!). In the long run, they are far cheaper than constantly buying disposables. Most importantly, I believe that cloth diapers are have a much lower environmental impact.

While I think that cloth is clearly the more sustainable choice, it’s not as clear-cut as one would hope. Studies show contradictory data. Some claim that the water and energy used in washing cloth makes its environmental impact roughly equal to disposables. Others cite the number of tons of disposables added to landfills each year, or how many trees were cut down to make them. If you want to read about it yourself you can check out articles here, here, here, and here.

Before I got started with cloth diapers I did some reading. You can find some good articles online that explain what types of diapers are out there, and discuss the various pros and cons. I like this one and this one. Then I checked out some online reviews to see what other people thought. Finally I went shopping online and ordered a few diapers to try out.

I bought my diapers new. If you wanted to do this more cheaply, you can buy second-hand at Diaper Swappers, on craigslist, or even at local kid swaps. You can also make your own diapers, or re-purpose old sheets or receiving blankets. By no means do your diapers have to break the bank.

I ended up trying 11 different diaper styles and models. I tried contours and fitteds, pocket diapers and all-in-ones. I have tried diapers with snaps and diapers with velcro. One size diapers and sized diapers. I’ve also tried 4 different types of diaper covers, a wet bag for travel, and a reusable diaper pail liner. I can see why my husband found cloth diapers confusing at first!

Out of all of the diapers that I tried, my one-size pocket diapers have remained my hands-down favorites. Jacob is 2 years old now, and we’ve been using the same diapers all that time. They’ve fit him well from the time that he was a 7 1/2 pound newborn, up through being an active, 26 pound toddler. They’re straightforward to use, they contain the leaks (even at night) and they dry very quickly.

OK, so they’re cute, but the real issue is dealing with the dirty diapers, right? After all, you can’t just throw them away. And the laundry pail, doesn’t it smell? That’s what I was worried about, and it was my husband’s biggest concern about cloth diapers.

When babies are still exclusively breastfed, their diapers can just go directly in the wash. And that breast-milk poop smell isn’t bad at all. Once babies and toddlers are eating more solids, then the poop is more of an issue. Generally, I just shake any poop off into the toilet and flush before putting the diaper in my diaper pail. I use a washable liner in my diaper pail that just gets dumped into the laundry with the diapers, which makes the laundry pretty easy.

There is a bit of regimen to laundry (pre-wash cold, regular wash hot, extra rinse hot), but it’s manageable. I often hang my diapers to dry in nice weather, since the sun acts as a natural bleaching agent. This reduces the wear and tear on my diapers, and uses less energy, so it’s a green choice, too. In fact, I like hang-drying my diapers so much that I’ve started hang-drying other laundry, too. Washing diapers has been a gateway to other sustainable choices.

While there might be some mixed evidence, I feel better about my choice to use cloth diapers than I felt about my choice to use disposables. I am definitely a convert at this point.

What about you? Have you used cloth diapers? What do you think about the environmental impact of cloth vs. disposable? I’d love to hear!

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You can catch up with Amber’s adventures beyond the diaper pail on her blog at

4 Responses to Cloth Diapering
  1. carrie
    August 30, 2010 | 4:42 pm

    I’m not a mom yet, but I’ve still learned quite a bit about cloth diapers because so many of my friends are moms and I’m their eco-resource :)

    one quick addition to your post–concerning the studies that are on the fence about cloth diapers. there’s lots of evidence to suggest that if you’re only talking about one kiddo, cloth diapers and disposables aren’t far and away different in their eco-impact on a global scale. however, the big eco-savings comes in once you use those diapers for a second kiddo.

    so that’s definitely something to keep in mind too–you can give them to a friend or relative or save them for another member of your family!

  2. Nicole
    September 3, 2010 | 11:13 am

    We cloth diaper during the day but use disposables at night and when we’re away because we’re just not that dedicated. Honestly, the reason we use cloth (one-size pockets) is because she has sensitive skin and her skin is so much better when she’s in cloth.

    What I’ve heard about the environmental side is that it’s pretty much 6 of one, half a dozen of the other. The energy and hot water you use to clean the cloth diapers is approximately the same as the effect of disposables in a landfill.

    I think that’s wrong, though.

  3. Wash It or Trash It? « daddyhack
    September 7, 2010 | 10:47 pm

    […] Cloth Diapering ( […]

  4. Colleen, Baby Bellhop
    September 17, 2010 | 4:44 pm

    As is the case with many debates, you can find ‘evidence’ to support cloth as a better option, and ‘evidence’ that suggests the impact of disposables = cloth. The problem is that the research for each argument is usually done by the folks who have a vested interest in a particular answer which makes for little neutrality.

    I initially used disposables with my son and then switched after he was a year. There is a ton of energy AND water that goes into producing disposables, all of which wind up in the landfill. Cloth diapers will eventually make their way to the landfill as well, but they can be used for another sibling, sold, used as rags, etc. before they make their way there. Plus, they’re *cute* and surprisingly fun to use.