10 Things Cloth Diapers Are Not

I love cloth diapers. I live cloth diapers. I will talk to anyone who is willing to listen about how awesome cloth diapering is. Heck, I make a living writing about cloth diapers … I am not sure that disposable-diaper blogging is such a lucrative niche. However, my blog is not about telling parents they suck for not using cloth, nor is it about trying to convince parents happily using disposables that they absolutely must try cloth diapers. I want to be a resource for the cloth-committed and the cloth-curious, but I also want non-cloth users to feel welcome at the Den! Cloth diapering isn’t perfect. If you love it, you put up with minor inconveniences and can rattle off fifty reasons why it’s the best. If you’re not into cloth, you can likely do the opposite. It’s called confirmation bias, dontcha know!

While I have taken a deep, long drink of the cloth diaper Kool-Aid, I’m not so naïve as to think that cloth diapering is all cupcakes and rainbows all the time.

10 Things Cloth Diapers Are Not

1 – An excuse to judge other parents

You are not a superior parent because you choose cloth diapers. That’s all I’m gonna say about that.

2 – A perfectly “green” solution to diapering

I will definitely smack down any argument that cloth diapering uses too much electricity and water to be environmentally friendly. The impact of laundering your cloth diapers is a fraction of the impact of manufacturing and disposing of disposables. That said, cloth diapering, especially with “modern” cloth diapers, is not a zero-waste, zero-impact solution.

Microfibre, which is commonly used for absorbency, is made of plastic. When we wash microfibre, tiny fibres are washed away and often wind up in aquatic habitats and into the digestive tracts of the creatures who live there. (See: “How the Tiny Threads in Our Clothes Are Polluting the Bay”)

In terms of natural fibre diapers, bamboo isn’t without its impacts either. “Bamboo” cloth diapers are made with what is labelled as “viscose from bamboo” or “rayon from bamboo.” To turn a bamboo stalk into this fabric requires a great deal of chemical processing, making it a man-made fibre more akin to polyester than to cotton. (See: “Bamboo textiles no more ‘natural’ than rayon”)

The waterproof exterior of most diapers is polyurethane laminate, again, a type of plastic, just like the fleece or jersey fabrics that line most diapers. When cloth diaper components made of synthetic materials have reached the end of their usable life, we still need to put them in the landfill where they will take many centuries to biodegrade. The argument in favour of cloth, of course, is that from birth to potty, one baby uses only a few dozen cloth diapers—that are eventually thrown away after (hopefully) being used on multiple babies—compared to the sheer thousands of disposables used by one baby for the same amount of time.

For the lowest impact options for cloth diaper fibres, look for hemp and wool. The absolute greenest diapering is no diapers at all: elimination communication.

The cloth diaper industry itself can sometimes puzzle those with an eco-warrior spirit. More and more, brands are capitalizing on a sort of consumer frenzy that is created by releasing “limited edition” prints or colours. I have personally fallen victim to this many a time! While minimalism is certainly the most sustainable worldview, collecting more cloth diapers than you realistically need is far from minimalist. I also find it hard to swallow the fact that most cloth diapers travel so many unnecessary kilometres to reach their final #FluffMail destinations. Whether it’s because they’re manufactured overseas, shipped to North America, unpackaged and then re-packaged to be distributed to retailers all over the continent, or because customers don’t order from the shop closest to them, many diapers travel so far they deserve AirMiles! This most certainly does not apply solely to diapers, but online cloth diaper shops seem to be especially competitive when it comes to shipping charges, which leads to someone in Newfoundland ordering a diaper from Alberta even though there’s a Maritimes-based retailer from whom they could also order but with higher shipping costs.

3 – A “get out of jail free” card

Just because you use cloth diapers doesn’t give you a free pass to forget about other ways to green your lifestyle. Choosing cloth is awesome, but it’s not enough. Luckily, cloth is often a gateway drug to a world of other reusables, from menstrual products to “un-paper” towels to family cloth!

4 – Feasible for every family

Every so often I see a post about a disposable diaper drive collecting diapers and money to help low-income families. There will always be people chiming in suggesting that “those people should just use cloth diapers!” I can think of a lot of reasons why cloth is not an alternative for every family, regardless of income. We all have to pick our battles as parents and try to find a balance. While I love to show people ways to cloth diaper on the SUPER cheap side, I have no illusions that cloth is the magical solution to diaper need. Cloth diaper lending charities are amazing—showing people how to use really inexpensive items to make fully functional diapers is rad. But cloth is not feasible for every family.

5 – A one-stop shop

I don’t think I know any cloth-diapering parent who bought a cloth-diapering starter kit and happily used it from birth to potty without making any new purchases. It’s definitely an excellent marketing ploy to put “everything you need to cloth diaper” in one convenient box. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t buy such a box, just don’t buy it thinking you will never need to add or remove anything from your stash.

6 – Made to last forever

Cloth diapers get laundered in hot water with lots of detergent (unless you want them to be stinky) more often than any other article of clothing you own. Elastics will loosen. Velcro will lose its stick. PUL will eventually start to crack. Sometimes laundry machines eat diapers. Don’t get me wrong: you should definitely be able to use the same set of diapers from birth to potty for one child. The more diapers in your stash and the less frequently they’re washed and worn, the more likely you’ll be able to use your diapers on a second or third child. They are repairable, but like most things in our world today, in many cases it winds up being cheaper buying new ones than repairing old ones. Sometimes parents expect too much out of a cloth diaper. If you have a pair of underwear with shot elastics after being worn every third day for three years, I doubt you’d be surprised or even disappointed. Sometimes parents are horrified when a diaper that’s been used that much calls it quits.

7 – As easy as disposables

I do not find cloth diapering hard. But that’s because I love everything about it. Of all the household chores, it just so happens that laundry is the one I hate the least. If, for some reason, you had to iron cloth diapers between each use, I have a feeling I would not be using cloth diapers. I definitely have pro-cloth arguments up my sleeve to suggest that cloth is actually easier than disposables. But that’s only true if you derive some joy from using cloth. I love that my kitchen garbage pail doesn’t get all stinky, and I don’t have to keep taking out the trash: to me that makes cloth easier. I love that I don’t have to run out to the store when I’m running low on diapers: to me that makes cloth easier. But I do not think I would actually win a debate on this issue: throwing away diapers rather than washing them is definitely easier.

8 – All or nothing

Just because you’ve chosen cloth diapers doesn’t mean you are committing an unforgivable sin by using disposables sometimes. It’s not a competition in which the baby whose bottom has nary touched a Huggies comes out the champion. Likewise, if you use disposable diapers, it doesn’t mean you can’t use cloth part time.

9 – The key to early potty training

A lot of people brag that cloth diapers will help your child potty train earlier because they can feel the wetness. I might argue that cloth diapers make it so your child is used to feeling a bit of wetness and putting up with it! Cloth-diapering parents are notoriously saddened by their child potty training (no more cute diapers!), so they may even be in less of a rush to potty train their child than the parent who is tired of buying diapers every month. (That lack of rush might be helpful in that it favours a child’s motivation to use the toilet over a parent’s desperate desire for their child to use the toilet!) My son potty-trained later than many of his peers, and as you well know, he was a cloth-diapered baby.

10 – A passing trend

Cloth diapers are here to stay, and I think social media has played a large part in helping them spread. When I talk to my aunts, whose children are now adolescents, I hear that cloth diapering wasn’t even on the radar of most soon-to-be parents. Nowadays, choosing disposables or cloth is at least something most parents are considering. Parents who are an automatic “no way José” to cloth aren’t likely to read my cloth diaper posts, and that’s okay! My goal with my blog is to help the cloth-curious come over to the cloth side … and to help the cloth-committed stay there!

5 responses to “10 Things Cloth Diapers Are Not”

  1. Rachel Ethridge

    What brand is that diaper with the forest animals/foxes?

  2. Linda White

    I used the old prefolded white cloth diapers and diaper pins for my kids with rubber pants. My oldest is 32 and I used them for all 4 kids. I did use disposables at night because cloth leaked and away from home they were inconvenient to clean, etc . The new cloth diapers look a lot more complicated, and more expensive but sure look cute on little bottoms!

    1. Lindsay

      In some ways they’re less complicated! My mom also cloth diapered us like you did, and she’s pretty impressed with my kids’ fancy diapers!

  3. Margaret

    6 kids, oldest was born in 1983, youngest in 1992… old-fashioned, home-laundered cotton fold diapers with diaper pins and pull-on rubber pants (for all), and for the first few weeks after each baby was born, diaper liners. Washing machine laundered and hung on the outdoor clothesline to dry, and for nighttime, diapers were doubled for absorbency. Economical, traditional, versatile, tried & true reliability.

  4. Cheryl L.

    Lindsay, I absolutely love this post. I know I’m many years late to the discussion but I wanted to tell you that. I am cloth diapering my profoundly disabled older child and everybody thinks I’m nuts, and I’ve heard that some think I’m just trying to be greener than thow. I have a lot of reasons for going on this journey at my son’s age but I have never intended it that way. I just don’t think it’s that hard and it works for us. I actually tried to launch a blog when I started some years ago called Cloth Diapering David but it never caught on. I wish I could have been so eloquent as you are in this post. Thank you.

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Welcome to my Wolf Pack!

My name is Lindsay and I am a 40-year-old mama of four trying to live an eco-friendly, budget-friendly life! I am a substitute teacher and Child Passenger Safety technician in Calgary, Alberta. Join me on my adventures!

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