Now that Baby Hart’s due date is less than seven weeks away, the issue of diapering is something that we’ve started to seriously think about. There are two basic choices: cloth diapers and disposable diapers. (Well, technically there’s a third choice that involves just holding your baby over the toilet whenever they need to go — you can read more about that philosophy here — but we don’t really consider that a practical solution.)
Cloth diapering, on the other hand, is something we’ve been seriously considering. And not just because of how cute and puffy a colorful cloth diaper looks on baby:
All cuteness factors aside, we’ve actually been doing some research on cloth diapering lately, and there seem to be some serious practical benefits that are making it look pretty attractive compared to using disposables.
First of all, until pretty recently, I’d assumed that cloth diapering involved complicated folding configurations, multiple layers, and the awkward use of safety pins. But it seems that cloth diapers have come a long way in modern times — some of today’s designs involve a single piece that look like they’d be as simple and hassle-free as putting on a disposable:
Of course there’s still the matter of actually washing them, which is no doubt much more work than just tossing out the diaper once you’re through with it. But when considering the costs of cloth diapering vs. disposable diapering, it looks like that added effort can translate into some pretty big savings.
The exact numbers vary from one article to another, but here are some estimates I’ve found while attempting to research how much money can be saved by re-washing cloth diapers instead of using disposables:
- $199.62 according to this article, based on 4,065 diaper changes over the course of two years. They assume a cost of $705.53 for building up the cloth diaper stash and take the cost of doing laundry into account.
- $1,117.40 according to this article, based on 6,840 diaper changes over the course of 30 months. This is assuming a cost of $610.20 to build up the cloth diaper stash, though it doesn’t factor in any costs of doing laundry.
- $1,163.87 according to this article, based on some 6,700 diaper changes over 2.5 years. This assumes a whopping $1,413.48 (!!!) spent on cloth diapers and factors in the cost of doing laundry.
- $2,293.00 according to this article, which assumes 9,000 diaper changes from birth to potty training. The savings figure is based on spending $750.00 on a cloth diaper stash and factors in the costs of doing laundry.
It’s a pretty wide range, and assumptions about the number of diaper changes, the amount initially spent on cloth diapers, the cost of your brand of disposables, and the costs of doing laundry all affect how much you can expect to save. But by all accounts the savings end up somewhere between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars — I’ve yet to see anything claiming that using disposables is cheaper — and that sum of money is definitely nothing to sneeze at.
Then there are the environmental issues. According to this article, some 28 billion disposable diapers are dumped into U.S. landfills every year. In addition to the natural resources consumed in producing these, and the fact that it takes them centuries to decompose, disposable diapers also leak human waste directly into the environment, bypassing any kind of sewage treatment process.
While it isn’t as tangible a benefit as saving boatloads of money, it would feel good to avoid contributing to the world’s environmental problems as much as possible.
(Granted, I have seen a few articles and blog posts asserting that cloth diapering and disposable diapering are roughly equivalent from an environmental perspective due to the water and energy consumed in washing the cloth diapers, but frankly, I don’t buy it. It just isn’t plausible to me that manufacturing a diaper out of plastic and wood pulp, shipping it out to your local retailer, using it once, and then trucking it off to a landfill to fester for the next 500 years could somehow be offset by the water and electricity it takes to do a fraction of a load of laundry.)
There is one undeniable advantage to using disposable diapers, though: the convenience factor. And even though we’re mostly sold on cloth diapering for the financial and environmental reasons, we’re a little nervous to commit to it out of a concern that it’ll be just too overwhelming for a couple of first-time parents like us.
What do you think? Is it unrealistically ambitious to try to go with cloth diapers instead of disposables? If anyone reading has firsthand experience with cloth diapering, especially with a first baby, I’d definitely be interested to hear your thoughts or advice in the comments.