Cloth Diapering – Why?

The number one reason why people don’t use cloth diaper is probably that they don’t know enough about them and they think they are awfully complicated to use… It sure is the first thing that came to my mind when I first considered diapers. I will address that concern later in the – How? sequel to this post, but I decided to start with the main reasons why people do use cloth diapers: money, environment and health.

Cloth diapers cost less than disposables. Sure, there is an initial investment involved, and it can seem quite costly if you purchase good quality diapers (which will pay off later, because if you buy cheap ones, you may not stick to it and they will have little resale value when you get sick of them). For instance, we bought about $600 worth of diapers when preparing for the arrival of our baby. You need to put the money upfront, but it’s nothing compared to the cost of disposables, especially if you plan on having more than one child. According to some sources, disposable diapers and wipes cost around $2000 over the life of one child. Of course, you have to factor laundry and reusable washcloths into the cloth diaper equation. The estimates I have seen added another $400 for laundry. You are still at about half the cost of disposables. That’s really straightforward! A diaper service is more expensive and can get close to the price of disposables, but most estimates still put them a bit cheaper. And there is a large market for second hand reusable diapers if your stash is still in good condition when you are done with diapering.

The number two reason, which was number one for us, is environmental factors. Some people disagree with that, saying that if you factor in the water needed for laundry, rinsing diapers or flushing diaper liners, the harsh soap and bleach needed, etc., cloth is not any better than disposables. But after doing a lot of research, I disagree. First, you don’t need bleach or harsh soap. We use an environmental, biodegradable, phosphate-free detergent, and very little of it, and our diapers are perfectly clean. Also, even if it is true that cloth diapers need quite a bit of water (although there are several ways to save on that front too), it is too easy to forget that water is also needed to manufacture disposable diapers. How much? Well, that’s the catch: the numbers most people use are provided by disposable diapers manufacturers, which are a doubtful source, to say the least. And you still need to factor in all the other resources needed to manufacture thousands of disposable diapers as opposed to only a few dozens of cloth ones (you can further reduce the impact of those by buying organic cotton or bamboo diapers). Finally, there is the issue of disposing of the diapers. They fill up the landfill, they pollute tremendously (it is actually illegal to dispose of human waste in garbage, but who actually washes poop off from disposables?), they don’t break down at all, and even so-called biodegradable disposables won’t actually degrade since they will be nicely packaged in plastic garbage bags and stuck in the middle of a landfill.

But even if cloth diapers were not actually better for the environment than disposable ones, there would still be the issue of health. Disposable diapers are full of toxic chemicals. Here is what the Less Toxic Guide has to say on the matter:

Harmful ingredients: dye, fragrance, plastic, toluene, xylene, ethylbenzene, dipentene

Disposable diapers consist of a plastic exterior, an inner super-absorbent layer treated with chemicals, and a liner. One commonly used absorbent chemical, sodium polyacrylate, can trigger allergic reactions. Disposable diapers may also contain dyes and dioxin, a carcinogenic by-product of the chlorine bleaching process.

A study conducted by Anderson Laboratories in 1999 and published in the Archives of Environmental Health found that disposable diapers release volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), including toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and dipentene. All of these VOCs have been shown to have toxic health effects, such as cancer and brain damage, with long-term or high level exposure.

The researchers also discovered that mice exposed to the chemicals released by disposable diapers were more likely to experience irritated airways than mice exposed to emissions from cloth diapers. These effects were increased during repeat exposures. The authors suggested that disposable diapers may cause “asthma-like” reactions and urged more study into a possible link between diaper emissions and asthma.

That almost says it all… Except for the issue of heat: disposables tend to heat up the skin more because they breath less, which is bad especially for little boys whose fertility can suffer.

On top of those three main reasons, there are a few bonus ones. For instance, cloth diapers (at least good quality ones) work better. In 3 months now, I have never had a leak, whereas people using disposables complain about them all the time. They also look better, at least in my opinion, and they seem more comfortable for the baby (would you prefer paper or cloth underwear?). They seem to make potty-training easier, as the toddler can feel the wetness better than in disposables. Finally, cloth diapered babies seem to have less rashes… Maybe because you tend to change cloth diapers more often – disposables should be changed just as often, but since they absorb so much, people are less likely to.

Are there downsides to cloth diapers? Sure: you have to wash them, but it’s not as complicated as people think. You have to bring them back if you use them while you’re away from home. And they are more bulky, giving your baby a bigger bum. That actually scared me a bit; I thought I would hate it. But I got used to it really fast, and I just use larger clothes to accommodate the diapers. Et voilà! As a convert who initially had absolutely no intention of using cloth diapers and who had never met anyone who did before I got pregnant, I have to say that I love my bamboo diapers, I have not used a single disposable diaper since I left the hospital with my son, and I have absolutely no regret.

Stay tuned for the sequel…

2 Responses to “Cloth Diapering – Why?”

  1. Anne Says:

    Bon, un petit commentaire en français, ça va être plus rapide. Aurais-je été une mauvaise mère? Si je devais faire un choix actuellement entre les deux types de couches, je ferais fort probablement le même que toi. Cependant, quand Emmanuel est né, je n’avais pas de laveuse… ni d’argent pour l’investissement initial…
    J’ajouterais cependant quelques bémols à ton texte. Premièrement, lorsque les calculs sont faits sur le coût des couches jetables, on compte si je ne m’abuse 8 couches par jour, ce que je n’ai jamais utilisé, justement parce qu’elles sont très absorbantes. À l’âge d’Elliot, j’utilisais 3 ou 4 couches par jour maximum, et Emmanuel n’a jamais souffert de la moindre irritation.
    Je partage tout de même ton avis et t’encourage à continuer.


  2. sophie Says:

    Wow! Je change au moins 10 couches par jour… Il faut dire que contrairement à certains bébés, le mien continue de faire caca presque à chaque boire. Mais je n’ai pas écrit ce texte pour te faire sentir coupable (toi ou qui que ce soit d’autre), je crois simplement que les gens ont des idées préconcues contre les couches de tissu et ne considèrent pas que c’est une option réaliste, alors il faut les faire mieux connaître. Moi-même, sans ma voisine qui m’a aiguillée vers des ressources super utiles, je n’aurais sans doute pas osé faire le plongeon. Je lui suis très reconnaissante!