Should your family use cloth diapers?

Tenille Bonoguore and Rebecca Cuneo Keenan face off on the topic of cloth vs. disposable diapers. What's the right choice for your family?

Photo: iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

“Yes, your family should use cloth diapers”
Tenille Bonoguore, Mother of two

The hardcore cloth-diaper mom washes the nappies nightly, sews her own liners, probably sings while doing laundry and enthuses at length about the benefits of cloth to anyone within earshot.

I am not that mom. I use a cloth-diaper service and keep disposables on hand for all-day outings and emergencies. (With seven-month-old twins, there are just some luxuries I cannot do without — sanity being one of them.) But I’m here to tell you that the annoying cloth-diaper mom is right. These things really are amazing.

Read more: Ultimate guide to diapers>

We started with disposables, but when we discovered that our city doesn’t take them in the green bin (oops), we faced a conundrum: Go cloth, or build a one-family shrine to “convenience” at the local landfill. So we made the switch, full of intrigue (me) and concern (my husband) that our home was about to transform into the Temple of Poop.

I am hugely relieved (ha!) to tell you that the results, so far, are entirely positive. Cloth diapers cut down on garbage, reduce diaper rash, and, we’re told, may lead to earlier toilet training.

But best of all, there’s also a heck of a lot less mess. The vaunted choice of eco-warriors actually has its most direct environmental benefit right inside your home: No more poop explosions! In disposables, what should have stayed inside the diaper was, in fact, escaping with such force that it was reaching my daughters’ armpits. Now, even minor leakage is a rarity, thanks to the plastic covers that capture both the poo and the accompanying odours.

I know I can only say “less mess” thanks to the fact that I’ve wimped out and use a pickup and cleaning service. We remove the dirty diapers and drop them in the pail for someone else to deal with. But the diaper service company uses high-efficiency, water-saving equipment, and regular delivery saves me driving to a store to buy disposables.

I worry about how long it takes for all those diapers in the landfill to break down. Years after we’re gone, I don’t want the only remnants of our society to be cockroaches, VHS tapes and several continents piled with soiled diapers. That’s why we chose cloth — at least I can tell my girls we did our part.

“No, your family should not use cloth diapers”
Rebecca Keenan, Mother of three

I wanted to cloth diaper my babies. I really did. I tried a diaper service, and I tried washing my own, but we always went back to disposables after a few weeks. You just can’t beat them for both cost and convenience. (You can have one or the other, but not both.)

I’d also argue that the estimated prices of disposable diapers on pro-cloth websites are lies. I’ve seen claims that they’ll run you as much as $85 per month. Excuse me while I spit my tea across the room, because I’ve never spent more than $30 a month on diapers, and I’ve raised three babies. You watch for sales and buy in bulk. Done.

Cloth diapers, on the other hand, can cost a fortune. There are dozens of varieties: all-in-ones, pocket diapers, fitted diapers and covers galore. You need a big enough stash to go a few days between washes, a proper diaper pail, the right kind of detergent and ample space to organize your diaper collection, amounting to an upfront cost of several hundred dollars.

Read more: Diaper-free baby>

Of course, you can still cloth diaper on the cheap if you’re fully committed. (Use only pre-folds or, even better, flats that you fold yourself, and find some second-hand covers.) Just don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s going to be easy. Folding and fitting a diaper around a relentlessly growing and squirmy baby, multiple times a day, is definitely an art. Forget about asking your mother-in-law or your babysitter to figure it out, and forget about the one-handed nappy swap on a park bench. In fact, once that baby starts motoring around on her own, forget about cloth diapers altogether.

I’ve been there, and I can tell you that you’re going to wind up spending a lot of time Googling things like, “How to get the ammonia smell out of cloth diapers” and “How to do an origami fold.” That’s how you’ll be lured into the cult of online cloth-diapering forums. Soon you’ll be sewing your own diapers out of worn-out receiving blankets and mixing your own toothpaste. It’s at this point that I remind my fellow well-intentioned moms that they didn’t mean to go all Little House on the Prairie. I know, you wanted to save money and be a little more eco-conscious, but this is too much. It would have been easier to buy that Prius after all.

A version of this article appeared in our January 2014 issue with the headline “Should your family use cloth diapers,” p. 82.

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