Ok guys, you have a new son or daughter. Your wife is hurting physically and mentally exhausted. Your job is to do what your wife says and change the diapers. She feeds and you deal with the poop, plain and simple. Your first challenge – disposable or cloth? Be a man and go cloth. There is nothing more unmanly than reaching for a pretty little, flowery smelling disposable diaper laced with toxins that will be in a land fill when your great-great-great-grandchildren wear their first diaper.
Don’t fall for the anti-cloth diaper propaganda, which goes something like this. “Oh, cloth diapers. They are so complicated and yuck, why do you want to deal with the poop?! And who wants to wash all those diapers. Just use disposables, they are simple and easy.” Sounds nice but that is a load of crap. Putting on a cloth diaper is no more complicated than putting on a disposable once you learn how. And if you can’t take two minutes to learn how to put a cloth diaper on your child, here is a directory of adoption agencies, there is a loving family near you that will love your baby.
Disposable diapers are a scientific and engineering marvel. They take all the separate pieces needed for a cloth diaper and turn it into one little plastic, paper package (watch and read how disposables are made). But that process comes with chemicals and waste. I am not looking for the coolest gadget to cover my baby’s bum. I am looking for the safest, most comfortable, eco-friendly, and cost effective approach. Cloth wins on all accounts.
The reality is that you will change your baby’s diaper 6,000 to 8,000 times before he or she is potty trained. That means collectively, Americans throw away 7,580,000,000 pounds of non-recovered, toss-it-in-the-landfill disposable diapers. That is 2.3% (by weight) of all municipal waste in the country, #3 behind newspapers and beverage containers. Because the diapers are covered over by dirt, no sun, air or water reaches them and they cannot decompose – even if they are marketed as biodegradable.
I can hear the chorus of, “But what about all the water and energy used to wash cloth diapers?” Procter & Gamble, maker of Pampers, made the argument that disposables used no more water and energy than cloth back in the 1990s. But Landbank Consultancy took the same data and found that, “disposable diapers create 2.3 times as much water waste, use 3.5 times as much energy, use 8.3 times the non-regenerable raw materials, use 90 times the renewable raw materials and 4 to 30 times as much land for growing raw materials.” Hard to see how P&G got their results until you remember that they have a very strong finical incentive to make you believe disposables are not destroying the environment. In my research, I cannot find a true cradle to grave energy and water assessment for manufacturing cloth diapers. Existing studies start at the manufacturer and leave out the energy and resources needed to make the paper and plastic inputs to assemble the diaper. My hypothesis is that the extraction and manufacturing of the paper and plastic takes much more energy and water than the manufacturing of the diaper. (Please send along any information that can help prove or disprove this hypothesis.)
Don’t believe or care about the environmental argument? How about health? Your baby sits in a diaper 24 hours a day for over 2 years. While there have been no definitive studies saying the chemicals in diapers are harmful to your child, but why would you choose a product that potentially has dioxin (shown to cause cancer, birth defects, liver damage, skin diseases, and genetic damage), tributyl-tin (shown to hormonal problems in humans and animals), and sodium polyacrylate (substance removed from tampons because of its link to toxic shock syndrome)? Organic cloth diapers are the alternative. Why is this even a choice?
Still not buying it? Let’s talk dollars.
If you go disposable, you will need to buy all 8,000. That can run you up to $2,500 just for the diapers (8,000 diapers at $0.31 a pop). With cloth, you need 24 infant cloth diapers and 24 regular cloth diapers. Go with Osocozy Prefold Indian Cloth Diapers. They are $34.99 per dozen (infant) and $39.99 (regular), for a total less than $160. Cloth diapers are starting to be trendy, so there are a host of new fancy types of cloth diapers, like BumGenuis, gDiapers, etc. that can cost you an arm and a leg. Ignore them. Some are disposable diapers in disguise and others are just gimmicks. All your baby needs is a soft piece of cotton cloth between his or her legs, not some over-designed fashion diaper.
Next are diaper covers. Disposables come with a built-in polypropylene waterproof shell. Cloth diapers are cotton and need a waterproof cover unless you want to smell like pee all day. It only takes an extra minute to put on a cover. I bought eight Gen-Y Universal Covers (lead and phalate free, PVC and latex free) at $21.99 a piece. These covers are adjustable by size, so you snap them down for infants and let them out for larger babies. I assume I will have to buy another round of 8 covers once my little guy gets bigger, so total on diaper covers will be $350.
Disposable diapers are very good at removing the wetness away from the baby. Sometimes, too good and they leave your baby’s skin too dry, causing a rash. With cloth diapers, you need to make sure you change them as soon after the dump or pee as possible, or they will get too wet and get a rash. Personally, I don’t want my kid lying around his excrement any longer than he needs to, but just in case, I add a fleece liner between him and the cloth diaper. Its like wearing a Patagonia jacket around your ass – pretty nice. When your baby pees, it passes through the liner and gets absorbed by the cotton diaper, keeping the moisture away from his or her bottom. Go out and get 24 Knickernappies Stay Dry Fleece Liners to start. They are $1.75 a piece. Let’s assume you will buy 48 over the course of diapering, so that is a total of $84.
Then you need wipes. If you go disposable, you will need to buy 24,000 wipes (estimating 3 wipes per 8,000 changes) and that will run you another $1,000. My advice, don’t use them. If you are a germaphobe, you probably should have considered that before giving birth to a pooping-machine. And wipes can contain alcohol, perfume, chlorine, and dioxin. If you can’t get over it and feel compelled to use a disposable wipe, use a chlorine-free, alcohol-free wipe, like Seventh Generation’s.
To wipe your child’s butt, your best option is to fill a spray bottle with soap and water (I actually don’t even use soap – I am a horrible dad). Go out and get a two dozen fleece or flannel wipes. Think about it, would you rather wipe your butt with a wet wipe or your favorite, soft flannel shirt? Those will run you no more than $50. But let’s double that to $100 incase you need some more reserves. After the diaper stage, you can use them as wash cloths.
And there is one more thing you need for cloth diapers. The Snappi! Possibly the greatest invention in the last 10 years. When I tell people we are doing cloth diapers, some people actually say the pin was the reason to choose disposable. That is plain stupid and code word for “I am too lazy to think about what is best for my child.” (FYI – I searched several variations of “baby stuck by diaper pin” and received zero Google results.) Regardless, the Snappi resolves this irrational fear altogether. You simply hook it on three points of the diaper and the diaper is securely fastened on baby. A Snappi costs $4.55. Let’s buy 5 for $25 just so you aren’t without one in a pinch.
So those are the materials you need. But one more complaint remains. Doing laundry. The propaganda goes that if you choose cloth, you will be doing laundry night and day. Plus, wasting all of that water and energy. Again, this is crap. First, you are going to be doing laundry night and day anyway. Plus, as your wife is nursing in the middle of the night, you ass better not be napping. You best be changing the baby’s diaper before the feeding (and many times after) and you mind as well throw in a load of dirty diapers.
And don’t fool yourself that disposable diapers get you away from the poop. Not a chance. Your little poop package is waiting for you in the diaper no matter what kind you are using. Personally, I think we as a society have gotten way too uncomfortable with our poop. Like death, it is part of life. Deal with it. With disposable, you need to throw it in the trash. With cloth, you knock it off into the toilet and then throw it into a diaper bag you so smartly placed next to the toilet. You then just dumped it into the washing machine. You pre-soak them in cold water for 4 minutes and then wash them on hot with Tide Ultra powder ($10 every 2 weeks). You will be washing onsies, blankets, etc. non-stop so sorry, so the laundry argument is bunk.
Washing cloth diapers does take energy and water. It takes 45 gallons of water to run a very inefficient washing machine, so let’s assume that’s the one you have. Let’s say you are doing an extra load of 12 diapers (plus wipes, liners and covers) a day for 2.5 years. That is 41,063 gallons of water over 2.5 years. Water in our town is $.190 per 100 gallons. That is $78.
Finally, let’s assume that the electricity cost is $1 for washing and drying (very high estimate). A load a day for 2.5 years is $912. If you have a front -loading and an energy efficient machine, you will spend a lot less on electricity.
How much water and energy does it take to extract all the raw materials in a diaper and then manufacture it? I cannot find a figure for how much energy or how many gallons of water is used to produce 1 ton of paper. But the EPA states that if you recycle one ton of paper, you save 7,000 gallons of water. That means making diapers uses at least 7,000 gallons of water and we can assume it takes a lot more than that to make the plastic and assemble the diaper.
So let’s add it up.
COST OF DISPOSABLE DIAPERS (2.5 YEARS):
8,000 disposable diapers: $2,500
24,000 disposable wipes: $1,000
COST OF CLOTH DIAPERS (2.5 YEARS)
48 prefold cloth diapers: $160
16 diaper covers: $350
48 Fleece liners: $85
48 Fleece/Flannel wipes: $100
5 Snappies: $25
2.5 years of laundry detergent: $650
So you will save over $1,000 with cloth, without even calculating the environmental and landfill costs. So go cloth. Once you get your system in place, it is easy. My wife was skeptical. But after a week she said the greatest things a husband can hear from his wife, “I have to admit, Dan was right.”