Now that we’re expecting baby #2 (and I’ve given myself permission to blog more about personal, creative, and mommy-type subjects) I have a backlog of posts just waiting to be finished. One such post is about our experience with cloth diapers.
When I was pregnant with Monica, I had all the best intentions to cloth diaper. They can save money, are better for the environment, can be better for diaper rashes, can be used with multiple kids, and certain brands have good resale value. I read lots of blog posts about the topic, including ones from Young House Love [1, 2, 3], Daily Garnish [1, 2], My Life in Transition, and random ones found on Pinterest as well as talked with some friends who used cloth. Allison also shared her experience with cloth diapers (including with a toddler) shortly after Monica was born.
Looking back, my research may have been a little one-sided since all of the sources were very pro-cloth diaper. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but many of the bloggers’ lifestyles are a bit different from ours, so I didn’t get the most realistic view of cloth diapering. And let’s be honest, I was wooed by the sweet siren song of savings.
To cut to the chase: Should you buy cloth diapers?
Without looking at the economics (we’ll crunch numbers later), I think cloth diapers are a really good choice when you are home with your kids full- or part-time, work from home, or if your childcare (like a grandparent, home daycare, or nanny) is willing to use cloth diapers. Even if these don’t totally apply to you, cloth diapering can make a dent in the diaper budget over time if you plan on using them with multiple children.
Right after Monica was born (and we were getting using to life with a newborn) we just used disposables. It didn’t really cost us anything since we received some disposables at baby showers. We tried cloth when she was a few weeks old, but none of us were really ready for them. We transitioned to cloth full time (except for when we left the house) when Monica was a little over 1 month old. Yes, you can use cloth on-the-go and store the dirties in a wet bag, but we never got into it.
Newborns go through approximately 10 diapers per day, and we have 20 cloth diapers, so that meant I was washing diapers about every other day. Things weren’t too smelly or messy during the first 6 months since Monica nursed exclusively. Breastfeeding poop rinses and washes off pretty easily.
Once my 12 weeks of maternity leave ended, we could only use cloth during nights and weekends since Monica’s daycare only uses disposables. It still made sense to use cloth when she was a little baby and needed her diaper changed more often.
Though as Monica started to go longer between diaper changes, especially when she started sleeping longer stretches through the night, and we used more disposables, I started washing diapers every 2 or 3 days. When Monica was little, she wore cloth at night (double stuffing as she got bigger), but then we started using disposables at night. I guess you could say she was well-hydrated before bed.
Eventually, we were only using cloth on the weekends, and even then, we felt more comfortable using disposables when we were out and about. We then started using disposables more at home because we didn’t want to play Russian roulette with a giant poopy cloth diaper (especially once she was eating solids multiple times a day). That meant I was only washing diapers once a week. At that point, the benefits of cloth didn’t seem as good to me. And while I never minded doing the laundry, it felt wasteful to run a whole load of laundry for just 5 diapers.
It’s been a few months since we’ve used cloth diapers consistently and I’m OK with that. Monica isn’t ready to be potty trained yet (she’ll be 2 next month), and it’ll just be easier to stick with disposables until then. We’ll still hold onto the cloth diapers for baby #2 and Monica can practice her big sister skills using the cloth on her dolls and Bucky Beaver :)
As I said, laundry never felt like a huge burden, even when I was washing our cloth diapers every other day. About half of our cloth diapers would be in use while the other half was either in the wash or hanging on the drying rack. That meant they didn’t have too much time to get stinky.
When I took a dirty diaper off, I just threw it straight in the diaper pail (a flip top trash can with a diaper pail liner). I never bothered taking the inserts out. And 9 times out of 10, they would find their way out of the diaper cover in the washing machine.
Once Monica’s poops got more solid (when she started solids), we started using Bummis diaper liners in size small. The poop would stick to the liner and usually “protect” the diaper. It was one little extra step to peel off the liner and put it in the disposable diaper pail. Depending on how solid or messy the poop was, sometimes we’d flush the liner and said poop down the toilet. We never bought a sprayer because the liners usually did the trick. And I didn’t really want poop to splash on me. The liners are also good way to protect your cloth diaper if you want to use diaper cream. Though we would usually just use disposables to be conservative and since she didn’t need cream very often
Since every washing machine, cloth diaper, and laundry detergent is a little different, caring for cloth diapers is more of an art than a science. If nothing else, you want to be sure you’re using the proper detergent. I chose Rockin’ Green detergent in Bare Naked Babies (unscented).
Here’s how things worked for us. Once the we were running low on cloth diapers (or the diaper pail was getting full), I’d take the pail liner out of pail and take it directly to washing machine. Then I’d dump the diapers into the washing machine, flip the pail liner inside out, and put the pail liner into the machine too.
Then I set our washing machine to Normal with a Pre-Wash and Extra Rinse following Cotton Babies’s recommended washing routine:
- Pre-wash once on warm or cold with 1/2 of detergent. Recommended for a full load of laundry.
- Heavy-duty wash on hot (140F/60C) with enough detergent for one heavily soiled full load of laundry.
- Depending on how messy the diapers were, I would either program the washer for Heavy or Normal Soil Level.
- And while our washer does have a “Sanitize” setting, it always seems to trip the breaker when we use it. So “Normal” setting it is.
- Follow with one cold rinse
About 1.5 hours later, I’d put the inserts in the dryer (on high) and line dry the diaper covers and pail liner. Restuffing the liner in the diaper covers was usually done while watching TV.
Running the numbers
Cloth diapering can be as frugal or as expensive as you want it to be since cloth diapers range in price depending on the styles and features. It’s also possible to buy used cloth diapers of varying conditions, but we bought all new in the hope of using them with multiple babies.
Here’s what we used:
- 20 cloth diapers (BumGenius 4.0 with snaps). These adjust to fit babies 8-35+ lbs and include a newborn insert and larger insert. I bought 18 cloth diapers from Cotton Babies when they ran a buy 5 get 1 free promotion ($86.90/6 diapers). We also received 2 cloth diapers as a baby shower present. This means 20 diapers cost us approximately $13/diaper.
- 2 large diaper pail liners – $16.50 each
- 1 smaller wet/dry bag (we ended up using this as a travel laundry bag for Monica and for the pool) – $21
- 1 large trash can with a tight-fitting lid – about $60
- This is one place I know I spent a little more money. I bought a 30 liter simplehuman trash can from Target since they were all out of the Threshold ones. I’m sure I could have shopped around, but I just wanted to get the trash can and be done with it. Plus, I didn’t see any plastic ones I liked.
- Rockin’ Green detergent – $15.95
- 1 roll of small Bummis liners (for when she started solids and poops got more solid) – $6
- Roughly $400 to start out
In addition to these up-front costs, I bought more detergent when Monica was 5 or 6 months old and we still have a little bit left in that bag (about 1.5 years later). I also bought more liners when Monica was a year old and there is about 10% left of the roll.
Our disposable diaper of choice is the Pampers Swaddlers. They used those with Monica in the hospital, the Swaddlers work for her, and we didn’t feel like trying anything else. We also bought Huggies when we traveled to Montreal and Honest Co. diapers on sale from Target for our trip to New Orleans.
After analyzing our diaper purchase data (mostly through Amazon Mom – 20% off diapers (!) and you can try for free for 30 days), we average roughly 22 cents/diaper since the cost per diaper increases as you go up in size. In order to break even with cloth (at the $400 start-up costs, ignoring utilities – but Alison does have a detailed calculation), we need to use cloth diapers 1,818 times. Said another way, disposable diapers cost us about $1.50 – $2/day (assuming 7 – 9 diapers/day at 22 cents/diaper). That’s 200 to 250 days straight of exclusive cloth diapering (roughly 7 or 8 months). Between Monica and baby #2, I know we’re breaking even and saving money. How much we’re saving is going to change with time.
I’m still going to hold onto the cloth and start using them when baby #2 joins the picture. I bought a bunch of gender neutral (and yes, some pink) cloth diapers to use with Monica, so I don’t think we’ll need to buy many, if any, more if we have a boy. And even though Monica was a bit bigger when she was born (9 pounds 1 ounce), we didn’t attempt cloth until she was a few weeks old. If nothing else, we’ll probably wait to start cloth until after the baby’s cord stump falls off. And since we’ll have our hands full with toddler and newborn this time, we might wait until the babe is a few weeks or month old before we try cloth again.
Another perk of cloth, especially since we’re heading into summer, is that they can be used without the liner as swim diapers. So Monica will be able to get a few extra uses out of them this summer :)