Friday, February 14, 2014

Cloth Diapers: Friend or Foe?

Sometime during the long nine months we were waiting for Jack to show up, the topic of diapers came up (as it should.)  My wife had the novel idea to use something she was referring to as "cloth diapers."  The words brought up images of poor children wearing ragged looking diapers made out of old clothes because their families couldn't afford proper disposables.  We live in the 21st century and we throw away our fecal matter without having to handle it more than necessary - why would anyone do anything differently?  While it may have taken me a little while to shine to the idea of using cloth (I initially likened it to wiping our asses on blankets), I eventually did, and we are pretty much using it daily with the exception of night time and trips outside the house.  What made me eventually come around?  Five things...

1. The Enviornment

According to The Real Diaper Association, it's estimated that 27.4 billion disposable diapers are used each year in the United States alone.  Of these 27.4 billion diapers, about 92%  end up in a landfill.  It's currently unknown how long a diaper will take to break down, but it's generally assumed that this entire process will take around 250-500 years.  That's a long time to wait for a huge amount of waste to decompose and anything my family can do to limit that number (like I said, we still use disposables sometimes) is a good thing for the environment.

2. Benefit to baby

This is something I didn't realize until my wife showed me the research but apparently cloth diapers help reduce diaper rash.  From what we read, since babies can feel the moisture more in a cloth diaper, they'll let you know when they need to be changed faster than with the regular old disposables. This can also cause them to potty train sooner.  On top of that, blowouts are a lot less common due to the way cloth diapers are fitted around the baby's bottom and sides.  We've been using cloth diapers for a little while now and haven't experienced a blowout like we had with disposables, and in my eyes that's a plus.  Finally, a lot of regular disposable diapers contain chemicals that have been known to cause irritation in some babies.  We got around this with disposables by using organic diapers but with cloth you're guaranteed they're chemical free!

3. They look awesome

Star Wars diaper from Etsy shop Tooshas
Seriously, have you gone to Etsy recently and typed in cloth diapers?  If you haven't, go for it.  I'll wait...

I'm a bit ashamed to say it, but this here was the one I was most excited for.  Sure, I don't want my son to experience diaper rash and I want to save the planet and all, but have you seen that Star Wars diaper?  Oh!  And they have Baltimore Orioles ones?  Oh man, look at that Superman one with the cape!  Seriously, if you aren't careful, you could go broke picking up awesome cloth diapers.

4. The cost

This was another big one for my family and probably one of the biggest reasons I got behind this movement. says the following when it comes to costs:
We estimate that each baby will need about 6,000 diapers7 during the first two8 years of life.  The following estimates are based on prices in San Francisco, California.
Disposables.  For these calculations, let's assume that a family needs about 60 diapers a week.  In the San Francisco Bay area, disposable diapers cost roughly 23¢ per store-brand diaper and 28¢ for name-brand.  This averages to 25.5¢ per diaper.  Thus the average child will cost about $1,600 to diaper for two years in disposable diapers, or about $66 a month9.

Diaper Services.  Subscribing to a diaper services costs between $13 and $17 each week depending on how many diapers a family decides to order.  Let's assume the family spends roughly $15 a week for 60 diapers a week.  This equals $780 annually and averages to $65 a month.  Over the course of two years, the family will spend about $1500 per baby, roughly the same cost as disposables, depending on what type of covers are purchased and what type of wipes are used.  If one adds in the cost of disposable wipes for either diapering system, the costs increase.

Cloth Diapers.  For cloth diapering, each family will probably need about 6 dozen diapers10.  The cost of cloth diapering can vary considerably, from as low as $300 for a basic set-up of prefolds and covers11, to $1000 or more for organic cotton fitted diapers and wool covers.  Despite this large price range, it should be possible to buy a generous mix of prefolds and diaper covers for about $300, most of which will probably last for two children.  This means the cost of cloth diapering is about one tenth the cost of disposables12, and you can spend even less by using found objects (old towels & T-shirts).

National Costs.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were about 19 million children under four in 2000.  We could probably assume that there are about 9.5 million children under two and therefore in diapers at any one time.  Based on previous studies, we estimate that 5-10% of babies wear cloth diapers at least part time.  We will average these figures to 7.5% of babies in cloth diapers and 92.5% in disposables.  This means that about 8.8 million babies in the U.S. are using 27.4 billion disposable diapers every year13.

Based on these calculations, if we multiply the 8.8 million babies in disposable diapers by an average cost of $800 a year, we find that Americans spend about 7 billion dollars on disposable diapers every year.  If every one of those families switched to home-laundered cloth prefold diapers, they would save more than $6 billion14, enough to feed about 2.5 million American children for an entire year15.  Coincidentally, the 2002 U.S. Census reveals that 2.3 million children under 6 live in poverty16.

Tax Savings.  In some specific circumstances, when cloth diapers have been prescribed for the treatment of a disease, tax savings may be available through the use of flexible spending accounts and medical expense deductions. This could represent a 10% - 35% savings on the cost of diapers depending on the family's tax rate.23

When we found out we were going to have a baby, my wife and I made the decision to have her stay at home for two years.  As a teacher, she was able to do this and keep her job for the duration, but she would not be getting a paycheck.  To go from two salaries down to one is extremely difficult and we're still learning how - but by using cloth diapers this is just one thing we can do to help.  It's an expensive up front cost but by asking for them for a shower gift,or having relatives buy you some, you can practically spend nothing out of pocket yourselves on diapers.  We have about 22 or so cloth diapers and we are still on the lookout for more cool designs.  You don't need this many if you enjoy doing laundry (we don't), but at around $20 per diaper, it can get pricey.  There are cheaper options as well you can look into. I believe Target has a good brand of cloth diapers although I can't speak to them as we haven't used them.  The bottom line is that you will save money in the long run by using cloth diapers.


5. My wife said so

Like I said, I was very hesitant at first.  I thought of nothing but the disgusting clean up.  Turns out, it's really not that bad.  If my wife hadn't been so pushy about it and felt so strongly about using them, I don't know if we would have done it.  But I'm glad she insisted because looking back it's a good decision we made that has benefited the family and for that, I'm thankful.  And by the way, have you seen those Batman cloth diapers?!?!

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