Sometime in the first trimester of my pregnancy I came across a statistic saying that diapers take over 400 years to decompose and that the average baby uses over 8100 diapers from birth the potty training. I was totally floored. Excuuuse me, HOW many diapers does a baby need? And what happens to them after? Nothing?? It was not something I had ever really considered before. I shared this information with my husband, who happens to be an environmental consultant, and we quickly became interested in an alternative, but what?
Cloth: An Alternative to Disposable Diapers
At the time we were living in Laos, in South East Asia, so I took my research to the world wide web. I was so excited by what I found, modern cloth diapers were not just environmentally friendly, they were absolutely adorable! Not to mention soft, easy to clean, and widely available!
I quickly realised there were a huge amount of brands available across North America, Europe, Australia and Southern Africa.
Image source: https://www.mamanatural.com
Deciding on a Style and Quantity
As I fell deeper down the black hole of the modern cloth diaper world I started to feel slightly overwhelmed by all of the options.
So many different styles and acronyms: Pockets, Covers, Fitteds, Ai0s, Ai2s… it is enough to make a novice run to the store for a pack of Pampers. But I had time, baby boy wasn’t coming just yet, so I dove deeper into the world of PUL covers and bamboo inserts.
Eventually I settled on a Canadian Brand called Glow Bug and their sleeve- style diapers. It is general consensus across the cloth diaper community that you should try several different kinds of styles and brands on your baby before you commit to just one.
There is a large online second-hand community in many countries where people can acquire different styles to see what works best for their bubs before growing their collection.
However, being overseas in Asia we didn’t have this luxury, so I ignored all the advice and put all our eggs in one basket. We purchased a set of 24 diapers designed to fit from 7lbs to 35lbs and hoped for the best.
Thankfully this style and brand work wonderfully with our little one and he has been in cloth since he was about 8 weeks old. We currently have around 24 – 35 diapers in our stash from about 4 different brands which all work nicely for our now 20 month old son.
If you are just starting out and have one child in diapers you should be fine with about 25 diapers for one child, but the addiction is real and sometimes you just *need* another print.
Washing Cloth Nappies
I often get asked by curious friends about the cleaning of the diapers. The friend asking usually scrunches their nose and says quietly “But what about the *poo*?” I can honestly say it is not a big deal.
Dirty diapers go off the bum and into a wet bag (waterproof bag designed to hold dirty diapers) or into a bucket in our bathroom. Any diapers with (whisper voice) *poo* get rinsed into the toilet and then straight into the bucket.
Every 2-3 days all diapers get dumped into the washing machine at night for a rinse, long hot wash with regular detergent and a rinse, they wash over night and in the morning are hung out to dry in the hot African sun. And that’s it! Fresh, soft, natural fibers on our baby’s bum day in and day out.
To be honest, once you get into the swing of things, doing the diaper laundry feels like a lot less work than remembering to run to the store for another bag of disposables every few days. I’m certain that if we had to remember to buy diapers that often we would have had to potty train at 6 months. Sorry kid, we can’t adult like that, use the toilet.
3 months old showing off some of the Glow Bug diapers he still wears at 20 months
The Long Term Benefits
There is of course a larger up-front cost to cloth diapering but by the time our son potty trains using only 35 reusable diapers versus over 8100 disposables will have literally saved us thousands of dollars (and the savings will continue with any future siblings!). The savings are great but our main drive to cloth diaper has always been the environment.
Living in Botswana we are especially aware of our water consumption. Due to the 16 year drought that only just came to an end this past year (Pula!) we were living with water shortage mesaures when we first moved here and we did not have water 3 days a week.
I never felt this hampered my ability to keep fresh, clean cloth diapers on my son and there are lots of ways you can re-use water to help rinse your diapers before they even go in your washing machine if that is a concern for you.
“We do not inherit the planet from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children”
Some people go as far as saying the water used to wash cloth diapers negates their environmental benefits, but just because we wash our dishes doesn’t mean we should all start using disposable plates and cutlery at home right? The myth that cloth diapers consume more water than disposables is just that, a myth!
Give Them a Go!
Whether you are interested in cloth diapering for the environment, the savings, or the cuteness you will surely enjoy the many benefits!
Here are a few resources to get you started: