The benefits of cloth diapers

Guest post by Wendie Hays of Simple Urban Living

When I was pregnant with my first child, I did quite a bit of research on cloth diapers and decided to use them. Everyone thought I was crazy. I was told “That won’t last! You’ll switch to disposables.” Well, now I’m on the tail end of my third child in cloth diapers and I can say I love them! Cloth diapering isn’t as difficult, labor intensive, or inconvenient as some might think.

 Image from Pierrotsomepeople

The benefits of cloth diapers on the environment

Surprisingly, this is a highly controversial debate. Some will argue that the amount of water used to wash cloth diapers makes their environmental footprint about the same as that of disposables. Sorry, I don’t buy their argument. All the research in this area has been done by disposable diaper companies. Eighty percent of diapering in the US is disposable diapers. That comes out to 18 billion diapers a year.

It’s estimated that 10,000 tons of disposable diapers are tossed into landfills each day. According to the EPA disposable diapers can take up to 500 years to decompose!

Furthermore, those 18 billion diapers add up to 82,000 tons of plastic a year and 1.3 million tons of wood pulp — 250,000 trees! I don’t even see how the claim of both having about the same environmental footprint can even be made with a straight face. Sure cloth diapering uses water, but that is a somewhat renewable resource. Plastic is made from oil, a non-renewable resource. A primary concern in the minds of environmentalists is that there is a waste of resources and a trail of pollution at every stage of the manufacture and disposal of the disposable diapers.

Image from Itty Bitty Bella

Cloth Diapers 101

Interested in cloth diapers? Here is what you need to get you started:

1. A basic pre fold diaper.
2. A reusable liner (tried the flushable liners and they were more of a hassle then the reusable liners).
3. A doubler.
4. A cover. I tried the all-in-one diapers with my last baby but I didn’t care for them. They leaked every time. I rarely have had a diaper leak or a blow out with the system I use. My favorite diaper cover is the Bummis brand. I have tried several different brands. My Bummis covers are the ones that have held up the best after three kids.

Total price to diaper a child until potty trained in cloth diapers is:  $259.12 (with prices from Amazon).

I reused the diapers, covers, liners, and doublers for each of my children. I did buy a new package of prefold diapers with each child to switch out some of the diapers that weren’t looking so good.

Image from Green Mountain Diapers

The cloth diaper process: Dry pail system

I use a dry pail system. This is a basic diaper pail with a removable liner. With a baby that has not been introduced to solid foods and is solely breastfed (newborn to six months), all diapers go directly into the pail during a diaper change. After solid foods have been introduced, the poop diaper gets taken to the toilet and the solid is dumped into the toilet and flushed. This is not a big deal. It usually comes off with little effort (a little shake) and any small amount left on gets thrown into the diaper pail.


How to wash cloth diapers

  • I remove the liner from the pail and dump the diapers, reusable liners, and doublers into the washer followed by the pail liner. I don’t wash diaper covers with the diapers. I wash the covers with baby clothing.
  • I add vinegar to the fabric softener slot, baby detergent, and sprinkle about 1/4 cup of baking soda on top of the diapers. Bleach is not recommended and it reduces the life of diapers. With that being said, I do use a small amount of bleach in my diapers (my baby’s skin breaks out with bleach alternatives).
  • I run the “soak” cycle on my washer.
  • When the soak cycle finishes I run the diapers on a hot “whites” cycle, with “stain booster” and a “second rinse” (features my washing machine happens to have).
  • Line drying diapers removes stains by sun bleaching, but most of the time I dry the diapers in the dryer on the sanitize cycle.


Save thousands of dollars!

The average baby is estimated to need between 8,000 to 10,000 diaper changes assuming they are potty-trained between 2 and 3 years. At an average of $0.35 per diaper, the average parent is spending roughly $3,000 to $4,000 to diaper each of their children in disposal diapers.

For more ways to live simply, visit Simple Urban Living. 



11 Responses to The benefits of cloth diapers

  1. Yvette Hall July 30, 2012 at 9:57 am #

    I gradually stepped into cloth diapering 100% by myself. We used a diaper service for much of the first year, and gradually built up enough diaper supply to stop using the service. Even if you don’t want to get your hands dirty there are healthy options for you child… in my area the big provider is

    “Selling” the idea of cloth diapers to others is hard though. While pregnant I tried to get our family on-board and talked about cloth diapering and received a similar reception as you did. No one gave us cloth diapers, even though we registered for them. We were even discouraged by many. I think that there is a perception that it’s “so much work,” but the reality is that it is much easier than you think.

    At 21 months my daughter is potty trained and that is partly due to cloth diapering. Yes, cloth diapering can improve your chances of early potty training. She’s been using the potty since she was 12 month. That’s reason enough to try it.

    Saving tons of $, being environmentally friendly, diapering your baby in chemical free diapers, and looking cute.What more reasons do you need!? And, I’m already set for any other children that we have.

  2. Terri January 11, 2013 at 8:09 am #

    Hi there!

    I just started with cloth diapering a few months ago when my first child was born and I am interested in your method of washing your diapers. Do you have a front or top load washer? I have a front load HE washer and have been having trouble getting the poop to come off of my diapers. We’ve been using three different brands of all-in-ones and until recently we had to wash them every night. It seems as tho in every load there are 2 or 3 diapers that need to be rewashed because there is still some traces of poop in the elastic around the legs. Here is my method:

    -Rinse in cold water (add in a small towel soaked to add weight = more water)
    -Wash on ‘Normal’ setting (warm/cold) with extra rinse. We use special detergent for diapers, 2 Tbsp per load.

    I actually tried to strip them last night and all that did was make them smell better, it didnt get rid of any of the stains. I was expecting these diapers to last through 2 or 3 children but they’re already stained after 3 months with the first one! Do you find the vinegar and baking soda do anything for stains in your diapers?
    Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated!

    • Family Sponge January 19, 2013 at 6:08 am #

      Hi Terri. Sorry for the delay— the writer of this article (Wendie) just had her fourth child so I am giving her space to enjoy her precious bundle of joy. When she recovers I will pass these questions on to her. I personally haven’t cloth diapered so I can’t help— yet I am sure there are many more moms who have these same problems. I’ll also post on our Facebook page and see if I can get any feedback.

    • Tina January 19, 2013 at 6:28 am #

      You could try using the hottest cycle. It will proably be the whites cycle. Cold rinse, hot wash, cold rinse. That’s what I did when we had a front loader. Also, drying them with sunlight can take stains out. 🙂 I hope that helps some.

      • Family Sponge January 21, 2013 at 7:26 am #

        Thanks Tina! Great advice. Sun seems to be a winner.

    • Family Sponge January 21, 2013 at 7:25 am #

      Hi Terri— I asked our wonderful Family Sponge Facebook community to help me out. Here is what they said:

      Yvette H: This is the only detergent that I’ve used.

      I remove any solid before putting diapers into the bin. With a newborn this may be difficult, but newborn poop should wash off easily. Using something like this may help…

      How I wash diapers
      1. I start my diapers with a cold rinse cycle
      2. I wash them with detergent on hot
      3. Rinse in cold.
      4. Any that have stains go out in the sun and that gets rid of the stains naturally.

      However I do have a top load washer, so I know that that involves more water than and front load. From my understanding, vinegar can ruin liners so I don’t use it. Best of luck getting your diapers clean!

      Sonia P: I run the diapers on a rinse cycle first and then wash them in the whitest whites (hot) cycle with Nellies laundry soda. We have never had a problem with stains. (We also remove solids before the rinse cycle.). We use Nellies for all of our laundry to prevent buildup from other detergents getting on the machine.

      I have heard to hang stained diapers in the sun to have them sunbleached and I have done that with some food stains with much success.

      Amy T: I flushed any solid waste and then all diapers went into a pail with a water/vinegar solution. Then washed in warm water and dried in sun (that was on Kauai with never ending sun). You can also buy diaper liners that help keep the poop off of the cloth diaper.

      Jessica W: Try a mixture of baking soda and the blue dawn dish soap and hydrogen peroxide or ammonia! Even gets ink pin out of clothes.

      Enid M: I never had that problem. I assume she does use didposable nappy liners to catch the worst? I always rinsed the badly soilt ones before putting them into the bucket.

  3. Kim January 22, 2013 at 5:18 am #

    I use soap nuts t wash the diapers. No chemicals and hypoallergenic (my baby has rashes and excema ) To help get the worst stains out I add some lemon juice

  4. top loading September 25, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

    If you have decided to buy a top load washer do drop by my dedicated to the topic blog 🙂

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  6. lolali December 31, 2014 at 8:47 pm #

    nice post, ecological diaper comes under organic product and it is useful for children to protect them from rashes
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  7. lolali January 18, 2015 at 11:27 pm #

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