7 Days of Part-Time Cloth Diapering

December 18, 2018 in Motherhood

When I was pregnant, cloth diapering was firmly in the “Oh no, never” category of parenting things I wanted to try. Changing Evie’s diapers would be my first time getting up close and personal with human waste and the thought of spraying poop off fabric at the end of the day made me queasy. But as Evie got older, I realized we were wasting a lot of disposable diapers. Well, not exactly “wasting”— they were serving a purpose, if only briefly, and then into the garbage they went.

I decided to give cloth diapers a try for a week to see how it compared to using disposables. Here’s what I found out!

Cloth vs. Disposable

The benefits of cloth diapers for the environment are mixed. It takes a lot of water to grow cotton and it’s production is laden with chemicals, including ones that emit greenhouse gasses. Most disposables (not including some of the fancier, more expensive kinds) are made of plastics that never decompose and emit methane after they’re tossed in landfills.

As for the cost, I started this experiment assuming that cloth would be less expensive than disposable. We’ve spent $324 so far this year (February to December) on disposable diapers— how much could we save next year if we made the switch?

Important note: it’s impossible not to talk about poop when you talk about diapers. So, here’s your warning: there is poop talk ahead. 

Day Zero

After sorting through a giant bag of cloth diaper supplies from a neighbor (thank you, Jaclyn!), I started the washing process. My own laundry process hasn’t changed much since college (insert clothes, turn on machine), so paying attention to temperature and detergent was new for me.

Our usual detergent wasn’t on the recommended list from Fluff Love University, so we made a quick trip to Target. That night, I washed all of the covers with Tide and hung them to dry all over the bathroom, then soaked the inserts in bleach for 30 minutes. Then the inserts and liners went in the wash on hot, then in the dryer on super hot/extra dry/spare no energy expense.

Day One

“Is that a cloth diaper?” my husband said when I brought Evie downstairs for breakfast. I avoided eye contact. I had hoped to get him on board with using cloth part time, but I was also okay with making this a solo endeavor.

I noticed over the course of the day that cloth diapering slowed me down. Folding the inserts into the cover took some practice. Actually, I’m still not sure I’m doing it correctly, but it isn’t leaking, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Evie was extra fussy all day for unknown reasons. I changed her pretty often just to be sure that it wasn’t wetness that was causing her bad mood.

After I put her down for the night, I grabbed the cloth diaper pail and started the laundry. That was the hardest part— instead of sitting down at the end of the night, I had two loads to do (a cold rinse for soiled diapers and then a warm wash for all of them) and I had to stay up to put them in the dryer.

Diapers used – Six
Savings – $1.68 (@$.28/diaper)
Times poop got where it shouldn’t go – Two

Day Two

I picked out a snazzy teal cover for Evie’s first diaper of the day and added a liner on top of the insert. Initially the liners confused me— what were they for? A little googling helped me figure out they helped wick moisture since cloth doesn’t pull urine away the same way a disposable would.

I was curious if her mood would be better than the day before or if she was cranky because of the new diapers. Turns out day one was a random fussy day, since today she was in much better spirits.

Everything went great until the evening, when I had to go out and wasn’t able to finish the diaper laundry before I left. I stayed up late waiting to put them in the dryer, which wasn’t much fun at 11pm.

Diapers used – Six
Savings – $1.68 (@$.28/diaper)
Times poop got where it shouldn’t go – ZERO!

Day Three

Nothing noteworthy. Getting good at folding the inserts and sticking them in during changes! Daniel still has zero interest in learning how it works or handling cloth diapers, period.

Diapers used – Two
Savings – $.56 (@$.28/diaper)
Times poop got where it shouldn’t go – Zero!

Day Four

We didn’t spend much time at home and Daniel was taking care of diapers most of the day, so we used only one cloth diaper.

Day Five

We were out all day and decided not to cloth diaper. It was nice not having to do laundry in the evening!

Day Six

Weekend over, back to cloth diapering! Nothing noteworthy to report, except my usual annoyance at staying up late to do laundry.

Diapers used – 5-6 (forgot to count)
Savings – $1.68 (@$.28/diaper)
Times poop got where it shouldn’t go – Zero!

Day Seven

Daniel did all of the diapering today (best husband!) so we didn’t use any cloth.

Week in Review

Cost

This week, I saved a total of $5.60 on disposable diapers (womp womp). That was definitely less than I expected, even given the fact that I took a few days off. I did a little math to figure out how much we’d save over the course of an entire year.

If we use an average of 6 diapers/day at $.28/each, we will spend $613.20 each year on disposable diapers. If we decided to use cloth, we’d be spending $273.75 on electricity/water (you could save a bit by air drying instead of running the dryer) and $80 on detergent (since you cannot buy exact amounts of detergent, I rounded up.) So the total cost of a year of cloth is $353.75.

This doesn’t include the cost of cloth diaper supplies- a pack of 12 inserts is $30 on Amazon, 12 liners are $32, and a six pack of covers are $30, so if you’re starting with nothing add another $62+.

So according to my estimates, cloth diapering will save us approximately $259.45/year – if we used cloth every day, and not just part time.

Time

If you value my time at minimum wage ($15/hour in Seattle) and guess that I spend 30 minutes/day on each load of diaper laundry, the value of my time for a year of cloth diapering is $2k+. Yikes.

I recently found out that I don’t have to wash cloth diapers every night like I thought, so washing every 2-3 days would cut that down a bit.

Final Thoughts

Now that I’ve tried cloth diapers for a week, I’m having a hard time coming up with reasons to continue. They are possibly slightly better for the environment, the money saved isn’t significant (for me, at least- if you have more than one kid in diapers, it may be), and I spent double the amount of time I usually do on laundry. I did get a lot of personal satisfaction out of reducing the amount of garbage we were generating each week.

This trial also helped me realize that the value in disposable diapers lies in the freedom they afford caregivers (who are mostly women). There are so many other things I’d rather do with my time than wash and fold diapers, and the idea that the cloth diapering mother is the superior mother seems flawed. It should be a choice women can make, but not lauded as the superior option.

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