The Pros and Cons of Cloth Diapers - Public Goods

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The Pros and Cons of Cloth Diapers

When my first son was born, I considered cloth diapering him, but felt too overwhelmed by all the run-of-the-mill first-time parent stresses that I never got it together. Baby lying down with white cloth diaper

Plus, we were living in a one-bedroom apartment without our own washer/dryer, and the idea of schlepping diapers down to the shared laundry room several days a week didn’t sound feasible.

During my second’s son’s pregnancy, I became determined to cloth diaper. I wasn’t about to dump hundreds more disposable diapers into landfills, and I was hoping cloth diapering would save us some money. The promises of early potty training cloth diaper aficionados assured me of was also a draw, though I wasn’t banking on it.

There was still one problem, though. We hadn’t yet moved out of that one-bedroom apartment without a washer/dryer, and I was pretty anxious about how cleaning the diapers was going to go.

I scoured the internet for advice. I was surprised how few tips there were for making cloth diapering work as an apartment dweller. Most of the advice involved soaking diapers in your bathtub (no thank you), or air drying them to save time and money (slightly more palatable, but still not ideal). I fantasized about using a diaper service, but that cost nearly $80 a month where we lived, which would have been more expensive than using disposables.

Toward the end of my pregnancy, I connected with a friend who was a cloth diaper devotee, and she helped me come up with a plan to make the whole thing work. I purchased a heavy duty trash can with an airtight lid along with a large wet bag that fit inside. The idea was for me to use the “dry pail method” where soiled diapers aren’t soaked or washed out after each use, but kept in a tightly sealed container until you launder them. This works best for babies who aren’t yet eating solid foods, for obvious reasons.

I also invested in some diaper pail deodorizer I could spray on the diapers before placing them in the bin, as well as some cloth diaper-specific laundry detergent. My friend told me I’d probably need to wash the diapers twice a week. The only problem with this plan (as opposed to cleaning and soaking them after each use) was that there might be stains. I could live with that.

I also liked the idea of putting natural cloth against my newborn baby’s skin: it just seemed right.

The best part was purchasing and admiring the diapers themselves. We got a bunch of pre-folds (the material that goes directly against the baby’s body and absorbs the waste) in various sizes, as well as a bunch of different diaper covers. Those covers were so much cuter than any disposables I’d ever purchased, and I could see how people got totally obsessed with their cloth diapers. I also liked the idea of putting natural cloth against my newborn baby’s skin: it just seemed right.

The equipment and diapers cost me around $300, which could be a bargain compared to purchasing disposables (about $50-80 a month, depending on the brand, age of baby, etc.). But that would only be the case if that was all I was going to need for the entire duration of my kid’s diapering.

Because I would be using a coin-operated washer/dryer, I had to factor in the roughly $5 it would cost me to wash and dry them, multiplied by however many times a week I’d be doing it. So, not exactly a money-saver there.

Still, I was excited to begin the cloth diapering adventure, and began using the diapers soon after my baby was born. I did purchase some disposables, I will admit. Newborns go through so many diapers and change sizes so rapidly. I hadn’t purchased that many teenie-tiny cloth diapers, so I did a combo of cloth and disposables for the first few weeks.

After that, I basically used cloth diapers when we were home, or only when taking short journeys out. If we were going to be out all day, which wasn’t often, I used disposables. I also used disposables at night. My babies nursed a ton at night, and the last thing I wanted to deal with then was diaper changes or soiled sheets. Cloth diapers do well at catching your baby’s pee and poop, but you do have to change them more often than disposables, so I gave myself that luxury at night.

I would say I used cloth diapers 80% of the time during my son’s first year of life. The whole thing was doable, but not as easy as I’d hoped.

The dry pail bin method worked, the smells were minimal, and I really only needed to wash the diapers twice a week. Washing them, however, really was a pain, mostly because I had to walk down three flights of stairs, carrying both my baby and the diapers. Then I had to figure out where to put the baby while I loaded and unloaded the washer and dryer. I usually wore him in a baby carrier, but that became more difficult as he got older. I would try to wait for my husband to come home from work to help, but that wasn’t always possible.

Still, I would say it was basically manageable for that first year. However, as my baby got older, cloth diapering without a washer/drying became untenable. Not to get too graphic, but after you introduce solid foods, baby poop becomes pretty gross. It’s not solid like adult poop, but it’s not totally liquid either.

So the “dry pail” method wasn’t going to swing it any longer. We had to wash the poopy diapers out each time and do so promptly. We tried to make it easier for ourselves by investing in a diaper sprayer, which is a device you attach to your toilet that emits a high powered spray of water (similar to a bidet). The idea is that you can quickly clean the diaper out over the toilet and be done with it.

Let’s just say we had more than one mishap with our diaper sprayer, which may or may not have caused baby poop to spray all over the bathroom.

I’m pretty sure that was the last straw for us, and I switched to disposable diapers soon after. The good thing is that by then, my son was about a year-and-a-half and didn’t use as many diapers as he did when he was younger. But he still wasn’t totally out of diapers till he was past three, so that was still quite a few more disposable diapers I had to purchase and deposit in landfills.

If you are an apartment dweller interested in cloth diapering, don’t necessarily let my story deter you.

All and all, I consider myself a cloth diaper failure. I am glad I did it, and that I saved a few diapers from the landfill. However, the whole thing was slightly more stressful than I’d hoped it would be, and I definitely did not save any money. In fact, I’m pretty sure I spent more money on equipment and diapers than I would have if I’d used disposables from the get-go.

I don’t have any regrets, however. The diapers were lovely, and there was something really nice about using them against my baby’s soft, perfect skin. Oh, and I still use the pre-folds to this day: they made awesome, highly absorbent cleaning rags!

If you are an apartment dweller interested in cloth diapering, don’t necessarily let my story deter you. There is probably a way to make it work more easily and perhaps for longer than I did — and maybe even for less money. Or maybe you won’t be as bothered as I was by cleaning, soaking, and drying the diapers in your home so that you can avoid the laundry room or laundromat altogether.

And perhaps you’ll have better luck with your diaper sprayer than I did. One can only hope.

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