Last Updated: 9/28/2012
Cloth diapering is something I'd planned on doing with my children even before I was married. I suppose the biggest factors for me are health (no nasty chlorine or other chemicals on baby's skin) and cost (*so* much cheaper than disposables). I can't claim to be super motivated by the ecological aspect -- but hey, I'm happy to not be throwing hundreds of disposable diapers in the landfill!
I spent countless hours during pregnancy researching the options, familiarizing myself with the various kinds of cloth diapers, and calculating the cost. I thought I'd compile my findings here, with the hope that it will be helpful to those of you who are as overwhelmed as I was when I started!
As soon as I plunged into the world of cloth diapers, I found that the various manufacturers have come up with very *interesting* names. Every time my husband came in while I was researching, he would leave chuckling -- and no wonder! Here are a few of the more amusing ones:
~ Baby BeeHinds
~ Happy Heiny's
~ And my all time favorite: FuzziBunz
To start with, here are a few websites that helped me tremendously:
The Diaper Jungle -- Cloth Diaper Guide -- This site includes numerous articles on terminology/types ("What's an AIO?"), washing, detergents, and more!
The Diaper Pin -- Cloth Diaper Cost Calculator -- this is an interactive tool that allows you to be very precise in determining your costs.
Diaper Decisions -- Cost of Cloth Diapers -- A very helpful page that compares various cloth systems with disposables, including energy costs (which I particularly like). It's very detailed, which is helpful -- but it doesn't account for making anything yourself or using one-size diapers, so some of the costs are higher than they would actually have to be. The same goes for the disposables, which can be purchased for less when using sales/Amazon/etc. Still, this page is valuable as a cost comparison, or even as a reminder of costs to include when making your own calculations.
Here's a basic overview of the different kinds of cloth diapers available, and the cost considerations (because let's face it, that's what I'm most concerned about!):
All-in-One (AIO) are the most user-friendly, since they look like a typical diaper, and can be "applied" to the baby without any prep. Easy! Once the diaper is soiled, the entire diaper goes in the laundry. But they are generally $16 and up, and you need 18-36 of them (assuming 2-3 days between washings). That means an initial investment will be at least $300, and that's not counting extra inserts (almost certainly necessary for overnight/heavy wetters), which can easily cost $4 each. Also, these diapers tend to be more finicky when it comes to laundering.
Pocket diapers are similar to AIOs, but require one or more absorbent inserts to be stuffed into the diaper before use. They consist of a waterproof outer layer sewn to a lining layer (often made of fleece, suedecloth, etc.), with an opening in the back to stuff the inserts into. Like AIOs, the entire diaper goes in the wash after each use. They dry faster than AIOs, are a bit cheaper ($10 and up), but require a little more prep.
Using cloth diapers (not waterproof) with separate waterproof diaper covers tends to be the cheapest option, since you can find diapers for as little as $1 each (though some options can be extremely pricey), and diaper covers for as little as $3 each. The fabric diaper will be soiled at every change, but since covers can usually be wiped clean if the diaper was just wet, you only need 5-6 covers -- once again assuming 2-3 days between washings. There is more work involved with this system, since you will be folding or stuffing the diapers, placing them on your baby, and then putting on the waterproof cover. However, the difficulty varies depending on what you buy, so it's easy to customize your system.
There are several kinds of cloth diapers. The most basic cloth diapers are the flat diaper and the prefold diaper, both of which require folding. They are, however, the cheapest diapers available. A fancier version is the fitted diaper, which looks like a disposable diaper (but still requires a waterproof cover). Fitteds usually cost a minimum of $10, but sometimes cost as much as $20! So they're not necessarily the most economical choice. However, fitted diapers can be made at home for next to nothing, so they're not out of the question for the cost-conscious if you're willing to put in some elbow grease.
Waterproof diaper covers are typically made using PUL (polyurethane laminate), a polyester fabric that has been coated with a waterproofing layer. Other options include vinyl (which is rare now), certain types of fleece, and wool treated with lanolin.
So what determines cost?
There are several factors that play into the overall cost of cloth diapers. The most important is the diaper material. Fancier materials like hemp, bamboo, and wool can be very pricey, and the same goes for the weave of the fabric (velour and sherpa usually cost more than terry). Cotton is usually the cheapest material.
However, sizing also plays a factor in the cost analysis -- some diapers, covers, and AIOs only fit a certain weight range per size, which means you could end up having to buy up to 5 separate sizes to go from birth to potty training. Others are "One-Size," which means you can customize the size to fit your baby (usually by adjusting with snaps). However, consider that very few diapers can actually fit both a newborn and a large toddler, no matter how many snaps they have!
This post barely touches the surface of modern cloth diapering, but it's a condensed version of the factors I took into consideration when making my selections. In some ways, having so much selection is great -- you can micromanage what you put on your baby's tender skin, where it's manufactured, how it gets washed, and what it looks like. At the same time, all of those options makes it difficult to commit to find the perfect system! In my next posts, I'll explore what has (and hasn't) worked for us, and just what it involves.
For the other posts in this series, go here: Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4