As a new mom, I want to be green or green-er. I have (faint) ideas about preserving the planet for future generations, and teaching my daughter about responsible stewardship.
However, as a mom, I also need to stay sane. Over the past several weeks, I’ve converted my family over to using cloth diapers about 80% of the time and disposables 20% of the time. Wit this 80:20 approach, I’m saving hundreds of dollars a year, saving the planet (part-time), and saving my sanity.
Here’s how I transitioned over to cloth diapers — most of the time — without blowing out my brains.
I had considered cloth diapering before the birth of our daughter (and only child) last summer, but those good intentions had long faded before her birth in July. We brought her home in disposable diapers and continued for the first several weeks. But when she started leaking through them at night, I started looking for plastic covers online. That search led to loads of cloth diaper references, which led me to try a few.
I was stunned by what’s out there. I was expecting the cloth diapers my parents were reared in, thick fluffy white towels and loads of metal safety pins.
Cloth diapers now have fabric loops, Velcro, or snaps — no more pins. And while there are newborn and toddler sizes, most of them are a one size fits all, meaning they can fit a baby from 7-35 lbs. (You keep adjusting the snaps or other closures to accommodate their growth.)
And while there are some downsides in general to cloth, we avoid them. Why fuss? As my husband puts it, “I don’t want to have to think. If I have to think about it, I’m working too hard.”
We do cloth diapers:
- At home. Which is where our baby is, most of the time.
- At daycare. The daycare she attends is a large center with 500+ children, hence they have a cheap deal with a local diaper laundry service. (To be clear, she wears daycare cloth diapers, not ours.)
We use disposable diapers:
- Overnight. (She’s no longer wetting through them.)
- When we’re away from home. I don’t want to lug around a poopy diaper. There are special soiled diaper bags you can purchase for fairly cheap (around $8 or less), or you can just use a plastic bag, but again. I don’t want to have to work that hard.
So basically, we use cloth diapers about 80% of the time and disposables the rest of the time. Occasionally, when I’m feeling lazy, I’ll reach for a disposable diaper. (i.e. I don’t want to have to deal with a soiled cloth diaper later, just gimme a disposable now.)
But going green-er isn’t about being perfect. It isn’t all or nothing. It’s about putting in as much effort as you’re reasonably able to make as much of the time as possible. An all or nothing approach sets you up to fail. As soon as you “mess up”, you decide, “I can’t do this anymore.” With a hybrid approach, you’re always winning and feel you good about your successes instead of beating yourself up for falling short.
Even with making cloth diapers more reasonable for us, there are still upsides and downsides to consider if you’re thinking of doing a hybrid transition. Let’s start with the downsides.
-Soiled diapers are still nasty. There’s no getting around that. You can’t just plug your nose and walk it to the garbage bin outdoors. For heavy amounts of soil, you’ll have to soak it in water first and then toss it in the washing machine.
-Cloth diapers are much bulkier. My daughter can wear a full size larger in cloth than she does in disposable with the extra bulk it adds to her bum.
-More laundry. For some, it might me 2-3 extra loads a week. For us, it’s minimal. We’re already doing a load a day and tossing in an extra half dozen or so diapers with each load. (Yes. That’s right. We toss in soiled diapers with our other clothing and linens.) And while it’s recommended to air dry the diapers, that’s too much work. We dry them on the lowest gentle cycle.
And while I know some moms hand wash diapers in the tub, if you don’t have a washer and dryer at home, cloth diapers are going to be much more work.
-They can stain. If the soiled ones aren’t soaked before going through the machine, they will come out stained. I’ve found fairly cheap and effective ways to lift stains (without using bleach), but stains will happen from time to time. Some moms just use to deal with them. (Because really, who’s going to see the crotch panel of your baby’s diaper?)
-There is an upfront investment. We shelled out around $ 240 upfront to get started, which is a staggering amount to pay vs getting a pack of disposables for $10 – $30 at the supermarket.
To get started, I hoarded Target gift cards. (From all of those buy 3 of this, get a gift card for $X type deals.) Once I had enough, I used all those gift cards, along with a 20% off everything coupon, to buy 15 bumGenius all-in-one cloth diapers at target.com. Had I not used this approach, I would’ve put them on my baby registry, requested them as Christmas gifts, or just bought one or two at a time.
-The savings. We’re saving greens by being green. At around $50 per month for disposable diapers, over 24 months, that’s $ 1,200. Not to mention diaper bins and liners. We’re saving nearly $1,000 by cloth diapers most of the time. And that’s just with Baby #1. If we have a second child, we’ll be saving $2,000 which is a staggering amount.
-The “green rush” from saving the environment. The cost of sourcing and transporting materials used to make disposable diapers leads a sizable carbon footprint. Often times bleaching agents are used to make the diapers white, and disposables may contain other irritating chemicals an dyes too. And disposable take about 500 years to decompose, contributing millions of tons of untreated waste dumped in landfills each year can contaminate our ground water.
-Not having to trek to the supermarket to haul home huge boxes of diapers. In a tundra state like Minnesota, this benefit cannot be emphasized enough.
So these are the upside and downsides I’ve experienced firsthand. I’ve heard other moms say that cloth diapered babies need to be changed more frequently since they are less absorbent and babies are more prone to getting rashes. I’ve never seen this with our daughter. We don’t diaper her any more or less frequently in cloth vs disposable. We just change her every few hours when she needs it.
It’s worth noting that we use all-in-one diapers vs cloth inserts, and all-in-ones cost about 3X as much as cloth pocket diapers do.
And I wouldn’t paint all disposable diapers with the same broad strokes. Some of them are greener or more eco-friendly than others. Brands like Seventh Generation, Honest Company, and Earth’s Best tout greener benefits like sustainable, ethically sourced materials. And recently the first ever biodegradable, compostable diaper, DYPER (R) entered the market. But green disposable diapers cost substantially more. A 164 count box of DYPER disposables, for example, costs 3X more than a box of Pampers.
It can play out like a quandary: how badly do I want to save the planet vs my wallet vs my sanity. And while the moral vagaries of landfills and waste might tug gently at your soul, typically your sanity will win out (if you can afford it), then your wallet, and then the environment.
For me, using cloth diapers when and where it’s convenient and disposable everywhere else works. I’m still sane. Running on oxytocin from baby grins, lots of black coffee, and that green “rush” I get from saving the environment. Most of the time.