Why Use Cloth Diapers?

why use cloth diapers

Diaper duty © by mhofstrand

Before lil’ SPF arrived I started researching diapers. I knew that I wanted us to use cloth diapers but had no idea what kind to buy. It turns out that there are many, many different kinds of cloth diapers to choose from. We have now been using cloth diapers for  over 3 months and so far we are really happy about using them. What follows are my thoughts on why cloth is more sustainable, not only for the planet but also for your pocketbook – the reasons why we use cloth diapers.

Why use Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable Diapers

 The first choice to be made when it comes to diapers is whether or not to go cloth or disposable. I really wanted to go cloth mostly because of how much waste disposable diapers produce (we used disposables at my in-laws at Christmas and filled a grocery bag in two days with soiled diapers!). According to wired.com “Diapers made up 3.4 million tons of waste, or 2.1 percent of U.S. garbage, in landfills in 1998 — the last year this information was collected, according to the Environmental Protection Agency”. A LOT of waste.

Disposable Diaper Information

In addition to all the waste that disposable diapers produce, most big brand disposable diapers have a lot of stuff added to them which I am not particularly fond of nor do I want touching lil SPF’s bum. Most of the top brands of disposable diapers are made with chlorine, latex,  fragrance and petroleum based lotions as well as a gel that has been linked to skin irritations and respiratory problems.

Diapers are made with all these additives so they that they are super absorbent and keep baby dry for 12 hours! In reality, baby is not dry but rather the additives in the diapers pull the moisture away from the skin but the diaper is still soiled.

Cloth diapers do not absorb similarly which means more frequent changes but baby is then always in a clean, fresh, dry diaper. For those of you who have used cloth diapers on your children, you know this also means fewer diaper rashes. The diapers that we are using are 100% cotton which from what I read are better for boys than disposables diapers which are less “breathable” and cause an increase in scrotal skin temperature which later could be linked to lower sperm count.

SPF and I cannot say that we will never use disposables as noted earlier. Chances are that for visiting friends and family we will use disposables because we really do not want to have to tote the soiled diapers around with us for the duration of our visit or ask family and friends to put poopy diapers in their washing machine. However we plan on using the “greenest” disposables we can find (which is a yet to be written article itself). I do know that from my preliminary research on disposable diapers that there are many false “green” claims.

For example many people get the compostable diapers but you need a heavy duty, industrial composter to break these down, just like you do for the compostable containers that many take-out places are using. Great idea but does not make sense for places with simple backyard composters making premium soil for free.

Cloth Diaper Information

Before becoming a parent myself, the last time that I came in contact with a cloth diaper was over a decade ago when babysitting. I was hoping there had been some advances in cloth diapers since then, to make them, well, a little less messy.  During my pregnancy I started to research cloth diapers and I was pleasantly surprised to find that yes many advances had been made. But where to start?

It seemed that there were endless types of cloth diapers available. I was overwhelmed! Fortunately a good friend of ours offered to send me the research that she did in preparation for the arrival of her daughter last winter. Her work gave me a really good starting point on the main brands but also on the different kinds of cloth diapers that exist today. Thank you Steph!

Types of Cloth Diapers

There are all in one diapers which are essentially very similar to disposables in the sense that they have the cover and inside absorbent material all attached. When one gets dirty, you simply put the whole thing in the wash.  Some brands are Bum Genius and GroViva and these cost about $20 CDN each.

All in two diapers are made up of a cover (or wrap as some companies refer to them) which can either be placed over a fitted diaper or over a pre-fold cloth insert. What is really nice about these is that you can use the cover multiple times before it has to be washed. Some brands are Bummis, AMP and Best Bottoms and they cost anywhere from $10 to $20 for the covers and $3-$5 for the pre-folds.

There are also pocket diapers. These are similar to the all in ones except that you stuff them with an insert (microfiber, cotton or hemp). These diapers have a stay dry top layer which can be helpful in combating diaper rash. Some brands are Bum Genius, Fuzzibunz and Kawaii. These cost about $20-25 each.

So how did we make our decision? Well I thought that spending $20 on a diaper was a lot so all but the two in ones were out. You have to consider that you only need 4 wraps at $15-20 each, not 25 diapers or so at $20 each. So two in ones are less expensive but also more environmentally friendly since you use less material to diaper your baby. ***

Further research into the pocket diapers like Fuzzibunz solidified our decision, I was a little disturbed to find this on their website in the FAQ’s section:

Q. The inside of my diaper is sticky, how do I fix this?

A. This is perfectly normal, it is laminated with a polyurethane lining to prevent leaks. Some people see this as being “sticky.”

Now why would someone go and ruin a perfectly good diaper with a plastic coating?

The final factor that made us choose Bummis was when my mum told me that the baby shower gift she wanted to give us was to pay for several weeks of diaper service for us, if they had such a service in our city. I looked into it and sure enough there was a local business offering the service! My mum had this service gifted to her with her kids and she said it really was a huge help because it gives you time as parents to figure everything else out without having to worry about poopy diapers!

As it turns out the diaper service company available to us uses Bummis. You buy the wraps and they provide the pre-folds for the time you get the service. 70 pre-folds a week. When I looked into Bummis more, I discovered that they are designed and made in my home town of Montreal, Quebec, Canada under fair labour conditions. I liked the idea of supporting a Canadian company and knowing that small children overseas were not making the wraps for our baby!

Cost for All in Two Cloth Diapers

The Bummis wraps themselves are $10 which is the lowest of any wrap price I have seen. We bought 4 small wraps. After our diaper delivery service ended we started washing the prefolds ourselves. We were lucky to find used prefolds at a consignment store here in town. So we got 24 small prefolds for $56. We also bought 4 medium wraps @ $5 a piece for $20 total.

SPF then found a seller on Kijji (kind of like Craig’s list) who was selling a diaper bucket container 4 medium covers, biodegradable liners (which we have not used yet but may when he gets to solid foods) 30 medium prefolds, 3 Bum Genius diapers and some cloth wipes. All for $50. We bought it!

So then for 2 years of diapering at least, we will pay …

  • small Bummis wraps: $40
  • 24 small prefolds: $56
  • 4 medium wraps: $20
  • kick butt bucket deal for year two: $50
TOTAL: $166

Now lets look at the cost of disposable diapers. If we bought disposable diapers and figuring that you will use about 70 diapers a week for infants and 50 a week for toddlers, over two years, that would be about 6240 diapers, at an average cost of $0.25 each (cost of Pampers) would cost $1560.

By using cloth diapers, not new, we save almost $1400 in the first 2 years being parents.  Nothing to sneeze at.

Starting to understand the logic behind why use cloth diapers?

Now of course there is also the cost of cleaning cloth diapers which one must account for. The city recently came by and installed a water meter at our house so soon enough we will really be paying for what we use which isn’t a bad thing, from an environmental point of view. It is hard to say now what that cost will be exactly but what I do like is the fact that we will be accountable for that cost, whereas if you put out the dirty diapers you don’te directly pay for that landfill site or walk by it everyday, etc.  There is also increased costs in detergent and fabric softener but there is no way we put much of a dent in the $1400 savings we will see.


One must not forget the accessories that go with diapering a baby: a diaper pail, wipes and bum balm (for rashes). We had read that diaper pails (such as the diaper genie) were quite the waste of money and that you can simply get a normal garbage can. So we went looking. We almost purchased one when SPF pointed out that it would cost us the same as the diaper pail that the diaper service was selling for $30. However the diaper pail came with a carbon filter, solid metal close latches and scented disk to keep the poopy diaper smell away. So we bought it. Again, felt good to support a local business.

As for wipes we are going with the disposables. However I have chosen a middle of the road green product alcohol free – fragrance free – paraben free. Made with organic cotton and other naturally derived fibres at a reasonable cost of $15 for 360. We may end of using cloth wipes but for now have chosen this product. The way I see it, it is no different than us bigger people using toilet paper (preferably an environmentally friendly brand).

So total cost of diapering with cloth over 2 years will be $166 plus $270 on wipes (we estimated 9 packs in a year) and $30 for the pail for a total of $466.

If you bought disposables at $1535 and $194.40 on wipes (at $0.03 each for Pampers brand and we estimated needing 6480 wipes over 2 years). Total $1729.40

Based on these numbers using disposable diapers will cost you nearly four times as much as using cloth!!! Now we got a lot of our stuff used so I calculated that if we got all the same stuff new ($120 on covers, $270 on prefolds, $60 for Bum Genius and $15 on liners) in addition to the pail and wipes it would cost $765. Still disposable diapers would cost just over twice as much as cloth. Also keep in mind that this is for one child. Using cloth you can reuse it all with the second, third, etc child.

And for anyone who is grossed out by the idea of washing poopy diapers in your washing machine, take it from someone who felt the same way a few months ago, it really isn’t a big deal. Get some rubber gloves, some tongs to get the diapers from the pail to the washer and by the time you get them out of the dryer they are good as new.

Do you use cloth diapers on your kids?  Or would you consider using cloth diapers?


101 comments to Why Use Cloth Diapers?

  • Cloth diapers make some of the best dust rags or cleaning rags ever. A great second use once the kids are done with em.

  • I used cloth diapers on my first born with no problems. You get used to taking care of them, no big deal. I confess that when my second child was born and the first was still in diapers I switched to paper diapers.

  • I noticed that you don’t factor in the extra water used in either your determination of which type of diaper is more sustainable or in your cost estimate. I think it’s worth pointing out that while cloth diapers are a greener option for most people, those in areas where there isn’t an over abundance of clean water may actually find that disposables make more sense.

    • Mrs. SPF DOES mention it – stating she does not take it into account, and, that it certainly wouldn’t make up the cost of disposables.
      By adding to landfills you are further diluting the clean water sources available. So those areas where there is little clean water will end up with even less either way. So the choice becomes: dilute your available clean water via garbage dumps filled with diapers, and fill the garbage dump – or, use water to clean diapers. We prefer to just clean them. I’ll let Mrs. SPF answer more on this as she knows much more about Eco stuff than I do.

      • Somehow I missed that paragraph, but even so I think it should be included if you’re doing a side by side comparison the way you are. Many people use special detergent for diapers and baby clothes that don’t have as many chemicals to irritate babies’ skin. That’s more expensive than regular detergent and while it may not “put a dent in the $1400 savings”, if you spent an extra $20 a year on detergent that would be about a 25% increase in your diaper cost, or an almost 10% increase in your total diapering cost (diapers plus wipes). Once you add in the cost of the water and electricity for the washing machine, you really would have a significant difference in the amount you pay, even if it isn’t a lot compared to the cost of disposables.

        As for the environmental impact, I’m not saying it’s necessarily an issue where you are, but there are areas even in the U.S. and Canada that have water issues. This normally becomes more clear in the summer when people are watering their lawns and gardens and filling their swimming pools and the city imposes water restrictions, but many states are finding the water levels in their lakes and reservoirs lower than expected year round. I’m not saying it’s the be all and end all of the environmental impact, just that I might make a different choice if I were in a state with a known water shortage or that had to pipe in it’s water from several hundred miles away (which LA does) than I would if I were living in a state that had a really good supply of clean water and sufficient rainfall to maintain it.

        In all honesty, I would love to go with cloth diapers when I have kids in a couple of years. I just know that when I make my final decision I will be looking at more than just the purchase price of the diapers themselves.

        • Again, Mrs. SPF will get to this but I want to add, that if you want to look @ water / electric then you also have to attempt to figure out the cost of fuel to go buy diapers, the cost of garbage bags to dispose of them. Then if you want to get really extreme, what is it worth to you to have a howling kid in the car when you make those extra trips to get more diapers, or worse yet, hire someone to watch the child? Our washing machine is front load (less water) and uses the cold cycle 90% of the time (less electric to heat water).
          Re: environment – either way, your losing usable water – either through seepage of increased waste, or, via your washing machine. Add to this additional taxes (money) for increased need for waste disposal, waste pick up and processing.

          Putting a precise dollar value on all of these things is extremely hard to do. In the end I simply do not see a small increase of personal water/power use being anywhere close to equitable to the damage done by the mass production (and waste from production), mass transportation systems (burning more fossil fuels), disposition (the whole waste management system), and damage (no one can claim more landfills are a good thing, can they?) done by disposable diapers. Remember, consumer goods mean a whole lot more waste / environmental damage than simply having a pile @ the dump – these items are not reusable and will continuously put large strains on our eco system. I just can’t see how the small increase in home water/power use can compare to the massive industries required to produce a throwaway item.

        • http://www.diaperpin.com/clothdiapers/article_diaperdrama4.asp

          According to the CDC (Cotton Diaper Coalition), it takes massive amounts of water ” . . . to process wood pulp into paper for throwaways. Little recycled paper is used in the production of most throwaways. The production of a disposable diaper comes at a high environmental price both in water and energy (11).” The Landbank Consultancy, commissioned by the Women’s Environmental Network in London, reprocessed Procter & Gamble’s 1991 studies that falsely claimed the environmental impact of disposables was not materially worse than cloth diaper usage. The Landbank Consultancy used Procter & Gamble’s own findings in their two studies and other information researched on the impacts of processing both disposable and cloth diapers. They concluded that disposable diapers create 2.3 times as much water waste, use 3.5