The Great Diaper Debate


A mother is hunched over the toilet, rubber gloves to her elbows, beating out relentless stains left by her bundle of joy in his diaper. One bleach and boiling water bath soak later, she hangs a dingy piece of cotton up on the clothesline as her husband rolls into the driveway in a 1957 Chrysler.

Images similar to this often enter people’s minds when they hear the dirty words “cloth diapers.” Although the idea of cloth diapers seems archaic in this day and age, modern parents are giving this old-fashioned method a second chance, proving that saving money is never outdated. With DIY crafts, workouts and recipes flooding the Internet and our culture, thrifty has become the new trendy. Frugal lifestyle tips are growing in popularity – making their way out of the kitchen and sewing room and into the nursery.

Just over 4 million babies are born in the U.S. each year. With each child comes a mountain of diapers, adding up to a grand total of more than 18 billion one-use diapers sold nationally each year, according to the Real Diaper Association. Because parents spend anywhere from $750 to $1,000 dollars each year on disposables, an increasing number of parents are looking for a way to dispose of the mess for less.

Years before Huggies or Pampers ever came into existence, mothers wrapped their babies in square pieces of cotton secured with safety pins. Now, despite living in a world of quick and easy solutions, young parents are shifting away from disposables and back into their grandmother’s habit of cloth diapering — with a few notable changes.

Lauren Williams, from South Jordan, is expecting her first child in August. She said she plans on using disposables and cloth diapers to decide which type she prefers.

“I’m going to use both, not just cloth diapers,” she said. “I want to know what they are like. Who knows, I might end up liking them.”

Undoubtedly the biggest strike against cloth diapering is the notion that this type of parenting requires parents to get up close and personal with unpleasant messes. Although cloth diapering can be more work, Jillian Christensen, a senior majoring in German linguistics, who plans to cloth diaper her soon-to-be-born baby girl, said it isn’t as big of a deal as most people make it out to be.

“I think it’s totally ridiculous the responses I get from people about cloth diapering,” she said. “Lots of people gag and make comments about how disgusting it is going to be. Get over it. It’s a part of life that we deal with every day.”

Like most parents who choose to cloth diaper their kids, Christensen is motivated by saving money. She, however, is taking cloth diapering further than most involved in the trend.

“I’m not buying the cloth diapers,” she said. “We’re making them. That route is even less expensive than buying all these name brand designer cloth diapers. Plus we get to pick out all the fabric.”

Christensen said making your own cloth diapers isn’t as crazy as it sounds.

“If you can sew in simple, straight lines, there are patterns available for you to make your own,” she said. “The type of cloth you need is readily available at fabric stores, so it really is doable.”

Similar to old fashioned diapers, modern cloth diapers are made from cotton and other fabrics – adding comfort and less risk of skin irritation to the list of benefits for the baby. According to the National Association of Diaper Services, cloth diapering is a matter of not only comfort, but health as well.

“The comfort [of cotton] is something you know about from your own clothing,” the website reads. “It stems from both cotton’s soft touch on sensitive skin and from its breathability … Like its comfort, its natural absorbency is the polar opposite of the combination of paper pulp, plastics and super absorbent chemicals in disposables.”

Many parents agree the gel-like substance used in disposable diapers can sometimes be cause for concern. According to the NADS website, many consumers notice clear beads of gel on their baby’s skin after a diaper change. Cloth diapers use absorbent fabrics instead of chemicals, removing this problem.

Brittany Mangelson, from Saratoga Springs, started cloth diapering when her twin girls were two months old and has been a devout cloth diaperer ever since.

She said she feels cloth diapers are healthier for her girls.

“One of my twins has very sensitive skin, and we’ve found that most disposables make her break out in rashes if we use them too much,” she said. “She doesn’t usually have a problem with cloth, so that’s a benefit that I didn’t realize going into it.”

Money is usually the driving force behind parents choosing cloth over disposable diapers. Mangelson said cloth diapers save her family hundreds of dollars each year, especially because she is changing two babies at least six times a day.

“We still use disposables at night and when we’re out on long trips, but we never have to buy more than a box per month,” she said. “I spend $15 on a box of Luvs that comes with 96 diapers. If we used strictly disposables, we’d need a new box every eight days, making our diaper bill a little over $60 each month. So overall, we’re saving around $45 a month by reusing our cloth diapers.”

While cloth diapers can indeed save parents money in the long run, the start-up cost of a cloth collection can be pricey. Mangelson said overall, she has spent about $400 on diapers for her twins.

“These diapers should last me through at least one more child, so although the upfront cost seems like a lot, it really isn’t bad considering how much we’d be spending on disposables,” she said.

Modern cloth diapers come in a number of different styles. Mangelson said her favorites include brands like BumGenius and Flip diapers.

“BumGenius are easy for beginners, simple to wash and can fit your baby from 10lbs through potty training,” she said.

Although cloth diapering can be overwhelming, Mangelson said the biggest tip she would give parents on cloth diapering is to not make it harder than it has to be.

“A lot of people assume I’m dunking dirty diapers in buckets of bleach all day,” she said. “It usually makes me laugh because it really isn’t that much work at all. Your washing routine doesn’t need to be fancy and you don’t have to scrub out poopy diapers every day. As long as I make sure I take care of any solids right away, I never have issues with getting them clean. I do a small load every other day that includes a cold rinse and then just a regular hot wash. It’s easy, fast and really not very complicated.”

However, chemical-based disposables and cloth diapers aren’t a parent’s only choice. Diaper chains such as Huggies have recently come out with a solution that combines the convenience of one-use diapers with the gentleness of cloth. Huggies Pure and Natural brand and other hybrid diapers are hypoallergenic and have removed some of the chemical irritants found in traditional disposables. They also sport an organic cotton outside for a soft, fabric feel.

Like most parents who choose to cloth diaper, Randy Buck, from Alberta, Canada, decided to use traditional cloth diapers for his baby daughter to save money.

“We would use a sheet about two feet by two feet and fold it up,” he said. “Things are a lot different now.”

Buck said although he hated washing the old-fashioned cotton diapers in the toilet, he recommends cloth diapering – either traditional or modern – because it’s not only good for your bank account, but for the planet as well.

“It’s better in the end because that stuff isn’t getting taken to the landfill,” he said.

The average baby uses 6,000 diapers before potty training. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 500 million diapers enter landfills every day – each taking up to 500 years to decompose. Cloth diapers on the other hand, can be reused with each child and not enter landfills until they are close to rags.

But as it turns out, cloth isn’t the only way to go green. Another hybrid diaper called gDiapers, have reusable covers with biodegradable inserts. Mom and Dad simply remove the soiled insert and either flush it, throw it in the compost pile, or toss it out with the trash. Because the inserts aren’t plastic or petroleum based, gDiapers are easy on the environment.

Not only do reusable diapers have the potential to make the world a little greener, but they can cater to every parent’s style with fun patterns and variety of colors.

Buck’s wife Melissa said they plan on using modern, updated cloth diapers for future children.

“I am excited to cloth diaper,” she said. “The diapers are really cute. I have so many friends who cloth diaper and love it.”

Whether you are into thrifty, green parenting or not, having a supportive spouse is essential. Christensen said she is grateful she and her husband are on the same page when it comes to cloth diapers.

“Thankfully, Justin is totally on board with me,” she said. “I couldn’t do it without him.”


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