Adventures in Homeschooling in Southern Indiana

Sunday, March 23, 2014

10 Years in the Diaper Mines: Advice on the Pros and Cons of Cloth Diapers from a Mom of Six

I never did this - We have too many allergies for blissful line-drying!

I’ve diapered non-stop since 2004. For most of that time, I’ve had two kids in diapers. For a few, hellish months, I diapered three kids, and there were even fleeting period with only one child in diapers. At this point, I pretty much have a PhD in cloth diapers. Consider this blog post my dissertation.

Diapering is one of those flash points in the Mommy Wars, but I’ve never been a zealot about it the way I was about nursing (until I experienced the other side with a very sick baby), homeschooling (until I gained some humility) or screen time (until I got very, very tired).

Originally we chose cloth because we were broke. Today, we still use cloth – because we’re cheap. I might have envied my friends who could afford all the disposable diapers they wanted, but I never looked down on them.

So, with that in mind, here’s my round up on the good, the bad, and the poopy of cloth diapers.

The Good

1. They’re really cheap. The best thing about cloth diapers is the price. There’s a large initial outlay, but then you’re only looking at the cost of washing them. We got Motherease diapers when our oldest was born in 2004. We liked them because they snapped, they were adjustable, and they were absorbent.  In 2012, some of them were getting a little worn (after 8 years of daily washing, and 4 kids). Luckily, around that time a friend gave me some of her gently used Motherease, so we’ve got at least 6 years to go before we need more, and we may be totally potty-trained before they wear out.  Not bad for an initial outlay of $500 back in 2004.

 (Some might say that the free diapers shouldn’t figure into the economics, but when you use cloth, everyone tries to give you gently used diapers of all shapes and sizes. In fact, I once got 2 big sacks of trifolds. I kept some for emergencies and passed the rest on. That’s how we cheapskates roll.

2. They’re conversation starters. When people see you using cloth diapers, they start asking questions and sharing diaper stories. Cloth is a great way to make semi-crunchy mom friends.

3. Babies like the soft. Cloth diapers are soft, and babies love them. No one gets attached to their Pampers, even if they DO have Elmo on them.

4. They’re cute and easy to use. These days, you can find cloth diapers in almost any style imaginable. Pins are a thing of the past, and the covers are adorable.  

5. Also, they’re very cheap. Disposable diapers are so expensive. I can’t stress this enough. If you only have one income, and if you’re young and just starting a family, you don’t want to have to choose between meat and diapers. But that’s the choice you’ll end up making, because disposable diapers for a week cost as much as food.

The Bad

1. They’re a pain when you’re out of the house. These are the issues I ran into when I was cloth-only: 

 A. If you don’t use disposable wipes, you need running water to be able to wet your wipe and clean your child.

B. You need plastic bags to keep the soiled diapers from ruining your stuff or stinking up the surrounding area.

C. Cloth takes up more room in the diaper bag, and the bag gets more cluttered as the day goes on.

D. If you’re like me, you’ll get distracted when you get home, and forget to take the soiled ones in the bag down to the laundry. Then you find them a day or two later, and they’re unbearably gross.

E. Going on vacation? Trying to do it all in cloth is a royal pain.

2. You have to wash them. This means an extra load of laundry every day, unless you let them go for a few days. Then you get maggots.

3. If your laundry schedule gets off, you may run out. This is a bad scene. Trust me. Improvised cloth diapers are unbearably gross.

4. When you’re pregnant, the diaper pail will make you want to puke. Enough said.

5.  Your baby notices as soon as he’s wet. Some people claim this is a plus, because it leads to easier potty training. In my experience, all it does is train kids not to mind that wet feeling. But there’s a good chance my kids are defective.  What cloth diapers do do, (hee hee! She said doo doo in a post on diapers!) is make you have to change your kid more. We joke that the “18-24 pounds” on a disposable actually refers to how much pee the diaper will hold before the kid complains. With cloth, you have to be more on the ball.

The Poopy

1. Breastfeeding poop goes better with cloth. Breastfed babies seem to explode out of disposables. The poop goes up their back, and all over everything they’re wearing. Worst of all, they always time these poop-splosions for when you’re about to leave the house or out in public without a spare outfit.  Cloth diapers do a great job with breastfed poop, and it washes out of them with no special effort.

2. Solid food poop is extra gross with cloth. Toddler poop is incredibly nasty. It’s nice to be able to wrap it up, toss it in the garbage, and forget about it. With cloth, you need to rinse it in the toilet, and then wash it. And it stains the diapers like crazy. In fact, you’ll probably want to run a bleach load in the washer after the diapers are done, because toddler diapers are that gross.

3.  If your kid gets a staph infection in the diaper area, cloth exacerbates the problem. I’ve had kids with diaper staph on several occasions. Because cloth creates a warmer, damper environment, the bacteria spreads quickly and thrives. While you’re treating an infection, it’s good to switch to disposable for a week or so.

4. If you have especially big kids who potty train late, you may outgrow the cloth. And the ‘training pants’ only work if your kid has a will to train. We’ve run into this with every single kid. Again, this only applies if your kids are slow potty trainers. But if you’re a family where it takes until close to 4 to get the potty thing down, you’ll probably need to switch away from cloth at some point.

5. If you have the money, try a mix of cloth and disposable. From an environmental perspective, cloth versus disposable is a toss-up. So if you have the money to use cloth when you can, and disposables in a pinch, you can have the best of both worlds. That’s what we do now that we’re at a place in our lives where we can have disposable diapers in the house AND still buy pork roasts.

It’s really just a matter of taste, time, and resources.

 If you’re just starting out and literally can’t afford a single disposable diaper right now? I understand. And it will get better.  If you’re reading this and thinking “That sounds like way too much work – it’s Pampers all the way,” then go with disposables, if you can afford it. After all, cloth diapers only save money if you actually stick with them.

Anyway, that’s my take on the pros and cons of cloth diapers. Feel free to harangue me in the comments if you disagree with my conclusions.


Anonymous said...

When you travelled in the past decade, did you bring the cloth along, switch to disposables, how did you deal with it?

I like the point about getting attached to the cloth diapers over disposable. I find the feeling is much different. With disposables it's more like, eew this is gross, let's throw it away. Cloth, it feels more like baby's super-absorbent underpants. I see my baby in them, not elmo.

It helps to use a fleece liner for solids. Fleece doesn't fray, so it's an easy DIY, just buy a metre and cut rectangles. Toddler poop was less gross when I could just tip the liner into the toilet and the poop would usually just pop off.

Deirdre Mundy said...

The first few times we traveled, we tried to do it with cloth. It...did not work well.

We usually stay with family, and they were skeeved out by the idea of diapers in the washer. So we had to store them up, hope we didn't run out, and then wash them when we got home.

So, we switched to disposable on the road. Now that we have more income, I also use disposable when we'll be out of the house for several diaper changes, because they're so absorbent. The infant may not care, but the toddler really prefers it if I don't make her stop what she's doing to get changed - especially when we're at a park, zoo, or whatnot.

The fleece liner idea sounds great! I'll have to give it a try - some fabrics give my kids weird rashes (not from the materials, but from the texture. We are an exceedingly rashy family), so I'll have to see if fleece+diaper area is a good combination.

Linus said...

We have also used a fleece lined pocket diaper for all of our toddler diapering and we've never had to rinse them. The poop just falls off into the toilet or trash or whatever...

I also use disposable wipes when out and just put them into the diaper and dump them with the solids when I'm dealing with them later. As for the bulky stuff and gross stuff in the diaper bag, we found a great wet/dry bag that has a two zipper pockets, one of which is lined with a water proof liner. Clean diapers and spare pants go in the dry section, wet diapers in the lined side. It has a snap loop so it can attach to the strap of the diaper bag or stroller or whatever and it was really great when we had a newborn in trifolds. I just threw it in the wash with the diapers when we got home.