Children inspire a series of discussions, sometime debates, and OK, face it, occasionally heated arguments between the most loyal and loving life partners. Luckily, some decisions are easy… like whether to use reusable diapers or throwaway diapers. No brainer, right? Disposable diapers are easier. Or are they (Velcro seems pretty easy)? Disposable diapers leak less. Or do they (Hemp seems pretty absorbent)? Disposable diapers use less water, but does that outweigh the environmental impact of human waste wrapped in plastic and sitting in a landfill for 500 years? The Great Diaper Debate has been waged since the first disposable diaper was introduced into the US in 1949. Convenience vs Laundry? Water Use vs Landfill Space?
In 2008, the Environment Agency in the UK published an Updated LifeCycle Report, confirming that the ability to line dry cloth diapers, wash at reasonable water temperatures and reuse the same set of cloth diapers on more than one child made cloth diapers the more environmentally-responsible choice.
Luckily for today’s parents, cloth diapering has evolved from the first mass produced cloth diapers in 1887. Modern cloth diapers are easy to use, can be laundered at home, have a high resale value on auction sites such as Ebay and Craig’s List, and are available in a variety of styles and fabrics to fit every family’s fashion sense and finances.
Considerations in How to Buy Cloth Diapers
Resembling the original cloth diapers that have been used since the 1800’s, flat and prefold cloth diapers are cut fabric that are folded and secured around baby. Flat diapers are a single layer of fabric cut into a square, and prefold diapers are a rectangle divided into thirds with additional layers of the fabric in the center panel where baby wets. Replacing giant (and often intimidating) safety pins that held traditional diapers in place is the modern Snappi®—a T-shaped stretchy fastener with teeth on each of the three ends to grip the fabric similar to an Ace Bandage®. A snug fitting diaper wrap may be used to hold the diaper in place instead. Available in bleached cotton, unbleached cotton, organic cotton or hemp blends, flat and prefold diapers are an ultra cost effective option ranging in price from $1-$8 each. Available in preemie, newborn, infant and toddler sizes, these diapers require a waterproof diaper cover to keep baby’s clothing and crib dry. They are fast drying, but have a longer than average learning curve to perfect folding techniques. Without elastic around the legs, flat/prefold diapers can be more prone to leaks.
Hourglass shaped fabric eliminates tricky folds, while maintaining a simple, usually single layer, trimmer fitting diaper—narrow between the legs to reduce bulk with wide wings to wrap comfortably around baby’s waist. Thicker, plush cotton or hemp fabric is more absorbent with less bulk than flat or prefold diapers. Some contour diapers have an additional diaper doubler sewn into the center of the diaper for added absorbency. Contour diapers require a Snappi®, snug fitting diaper wrap, or diaper pins to hold it in place, as well as a waterproof diaper cover. These diapers have a faster drying time and a shorter learning curve than flat or prefold diapers, but still prone to leaks without elastic at the legs. Reasonably priced at $7-14 each, they are usually sold in two sizes.
Shaped to cradle baby’s bottom with added elastic at the legs to contain messes and attached Velcro® or snap closures at the waist make them easier to use than flat, prefold or contour diapers. Moderately priced at $6.50-25.00 each, fitted diapers are sold in one*, two, or three sizes, and are available in cotton, organic cotton, bamboo, or hemp/organic cotton blend. Considerably thicker (and more absorbent), fitted diapers take a substantially longer time to dry than contour, prefold or flat diapers. Fitted diapers require a waterproof diaper cover to keep clothing and cribs dry, but do not need additional external fasteners. Fitted diapers are an exceptional starter potty training pant, providing superior leak protection while still allowing your toddler to feel wet.
Shaped diapers with elastic legs, attached Velcro® or snap waist fasteners, plus an attached outer waterproof layer and (usually) an attached stay dry inner layer make pocket diapers very easy to use. The back waist seam is left open to create a pocket between the outer waterproof layer and the inner layer, where an absorbent pad is inserted. Pocket diapers are meant to be changed completely with each diaper change – not just the insert (even though the stay dry layer may feel dry, urine has soaked through it). The pocket opening results in super fast drying times but longer assembly times, and provides tremendous versatility. Heavy wetter soaking the crib sheets after 12 hours overnight? Simply switch the absorbent pad from microfiber to hemp, or insert two pads instead of one. At $16-$25.50, pocket diapers are sold in one*, two, three, or four sizes.
All-in-One (AIO) Diapers
Shaped diapers with elastic legs, attached Velcro® or snap waist fasteners, an attached outer waterproof layer, (usually) an attached stay dry inner layer and one element to the pocket diaper—a sewn-in absorbent pad—resulting in the easiest of all cloth diapering options. Comparable to disposable diapers in terms of ease of use, AIO diapers are a single unit that is easy to secure and doesn’t require any additional parts, making it a great option for dads, babysitters, travel, and daycare. Ranging in price from $9.50-$25.00 and available in up to four sizes, All-in-One diapers can be one of the most expensive diapering options. AIOs are very trim fitting, but the sewn-in absorbent layer requires one of the longest drying times.
Ultra-modern one-size cloth diapers are a sub-category of diapers that are designed to fit most babies from birth to potty training with either a snap down rise or cinching leg elastic. For the uber-green parent, one-sized diapers are the show stopper. Instead of tossing 5000-9000 disposable diapers, eco-responsible parents can diaper a single child with 36 diapers at a cost of $15-$25.50 each. One-size diapers are available in a variety of styles – from AIOs to fitteds, with pocket diapers being the more widely used style.
At a cost of $0.15-0.45 each, throwaway diapers cost families an average of $2000 per child and comprise the third largest component of US landfills. Available in a myriad of styles to fit every lifestyle, fabrics to fit every personality, and price ranges for any budget, reusable cloth diapers are the fiscally-responsible and eco-responsible choice among today’s modern-chic parents.
Editorial provided by Robin Morris, President of eco-POLITAN in Lakewood, Colorado.