Should You Use Cloth Diapers?
True tales from satisfied and disappointed families who've tried them.
They Worked for Us!
“They make ecological sense”: Colin Beavan, a New York City dad best known for his blog noimpactman.com, switched to cloth diapers as part of his yearlong project “to attempt to live without making any net impact on the environment.”
Beavan’s daughter toilet trained early, and Beavan is convinced that is because of cloth diapers.
“She was more in touch with her functions,” he says. “And the sooner she trained, the less resources we used.”
Stephanie Butler of Newcastle, Ontario, also chose cloth diapers due to environmental concerns: She weighed the pros and cons of landfill versus water usage.
Butler refers to a 1980s study cited in a June 2006 review in the Green Guide, a publication put out by the National Geographic Society that features green living tips, product reviews, and environmental health news. The study, funded by Procter and Gamble, Pampers’ parent company, found that laundering cloth diapers posed environmental concerns due to high water usage. Subsequent studies funded by environmental groups found the opposite to be true. Still, in a synthesis of cloth diaper research, the Guide does not promote cloth diapers as a clear winner when it comes to the environment. In areas plagued by drought, for example, disposables may be a better choice.
“Cloth works better for my baby’s skin”: But there are other factors to consider when deciding whether to make the switch. Lisa Adkins, founder of Drybees Diapers, switched to cloth when her son developed a horrible rash. Her doctor suggested eliminating chemicals from his life. Adkins gave up disposables and the rash disappeared.
Chemicals including ethylbenzene, styrene, and toluene, which have all been linked to respiratory toxicity, tributyltin, which has been shown to be extremely toxic to aquatic life, and super absorbent polymers, are all ingredients in disposable diapers, according to the Green Guide. The polymers raise concerns because they’re thought to often leak out of a wet diaper, and babies can handle and ingest them.
“They make financial sense”: Isadora Howard Karp, a parent in Boston, Mass, chose cloth diapers because it seemed like a natural progression of her family’s values. (They also compost, recycle, and use rags in place of paper towels.) But for Howard Karp, one of the biggest perks has been financial. Karp uses inexpensive cloth diapers and says the savings has been great.
Stephanie Butler agrees. “We spent a few hundred dollars on one-size fits all diapers that lasted over four years and two kids,” she says.
According to the Real Diaper Association, a nonprofit, volunteer association dedicated to cloth diaper advocacy and education, an average family spends about $1600 on two years’ worth of disposable diapers. Two years’ worth of cloth diapers can cost as little as $300.
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