Over the past few weeks, we have been doing a diaper experiment in the FSW house. The test subject: our 19 month old daughter, Little Miss Mustache (LMM). I wanted to share the results with everyone here in the hopes that we can start a discussion that will benefit all of us as we make the best decision on how to diaper our mini money mustaches.
I was thinking about writing a guide along the lines of “everything that you need to know about cloth and disposable diapering, but there have been MANY such posts written already by people farm more qualified than me. We are all intelligent people here, so if there is something you want to learn about either cloth or disposable diapers, please do a Google or Pinterest search and read to your heart’s content. Below I will share my experiences and opinions. I hope that some of you will do the same.
Many, many moons before LMM was even conceived, I came across a Pinterest post about cloth diapering. Intrigued and totally naïve, I read all I could about cloth diapering for the next several months, right up until LMM was born. It didn't take long for me to be converted – cloth was cheaper, healthier, more ecologically responsible, and there were absolutely no downsides. Cloth was the ONLY option for my special little snowflake.
So we used cloth. We used every type of cloth – flats, prefolds, fitteds, pockets, all in two, all in one, synthetic and natural. And let me tell ya, those diapers and I have been through some tough times together – meconium, washing in the bathtub, washing in shared coin laundry, and washing at my in-laws, We’ve had hard water and soft water. Before LMM was diagnosed with MSPI, she had a diaper rash so bad that her entire diaper area was as raw as a second degree burn – it took months to heal. We've had to strip minerals and disinfect after yeast infections. We've been on more long car rides and plane rides than I can even count, all with our trusty stash of cloth.
Despite all that, we loved cloth, until a few weeks ago when we just….we didn't love it anymore. We (mostly me, as I'm a SAHM) were tired of dunking and swishing, tired of laundry, tired of clothes not fitting right, and VERY tired of leaks. Seriously, we were going through 3+ pairs of pants per day. So we (okay, mostly me again – Mr. FSW, the ever dedicated husband and father he is, said “you do most of the changes, so whatever you want to do”) decided to take a break and switch to disposables while we reevaluated our religious fervor to all things cloth diapering.
For the past couple weeks, we have been using disposables and…I think I'm in love. Leaks are all but a thing of the past (we still occasionally get one at night because she drinks water several times at night). The pants I put on LMM in the morning are usually the ones I take off her at night. When she poops, I clean up her bum, wrap up the stinky diaper, and throw it away. No dunking and swishing, no poop water flying all over my toilet, and it takes half the time to do the change. She has had no issues with rashes because her skin is not in constant contact with urine-soaked cotton. Her clothes fit the way they should. I can't tell you how awesome that last one is. No more getting new outfits and wondering whether I'll even be able to get it on over her bubble bum. Now she has a very trim bum!
We looked at the health and environmental benefits of each way to diaper. I am not an environmental scientist, nor am I a doctor, but the conclusion that I came to was that each way to diaper has roughly the same impact on both health and environmental factors. Cloth has fewer chemicals, maybe. Disposables keep your baby drier and help prevent rash. Cloth uses gigatons of clean drinking water to get clean. Disposables send gigatons of plastic and human feces to landfills. Which one is more unhealthy for your baby or then environment? The debate rages on, but I think that in the end, they are both roughly the same.
What about cost? A basic setup for cloth diapers will run you $500-$750. Amortize that over three years (the average time a baby is in diapers)and you've got $14-20/month. We spent double that on our cloth diapers because we really love cotton all in ones (this was before our frugal Mustachian ways), so that's more like $40/month. What about washing? Everyone's utility rates are different, but we have found that with the amount of detergent, electricity, and water we were using, we were spending $15-20/month to wash our cloth diapers. That's a total of $30-40/month. More for us because we spent so much on our cloth diapers.
How much does it cost to use disposable diapers? It depends on what brand you use. We tried Target brand but they were stiff, scratchy and uncomfortable for LMM. Plus, they leaked a lot. I HATE leaks. We tried Luvs, but when they were wet, they sagged in an uncomfortable way for LMM and she would come running up to me asking to be changed every hour. We tried Pampers Baby Dry and Pampers Cruisers and we really love them. The Cruisers work well for us overnight and when I know she is going to be extra rambunctious. The Baby Dry are a great everyday diaper. I get size 4 Baby Dry for 16 cents each with Amazon subscribe and save. The Cruisers were 17.2 cents each on Jet.com with their new customer discount of 15%. LMM has sensitive skin so we use seventh generation wipes. On Amazon or Jet they are about 3 cents each. On an average day we use 6.5 diapers and 6 wipes. At 17 cents each for the diapers and 3 for the wipes, that's right at $40/month for name brand diapers and wipes. For people who are happy using store brand diapers and wipes (My SIL has happily used target brand for all four of her boys), they can actually use disposables for LESS than the total cost of cloth diapers. I should also say that smaller sized disposables are less expensive than bigger sizes. Size 1 Pampers Baby Dry are 11 cents each with subscribe and save, but you use more diapers per day with younger, smaller babies, so I think the total cost per month averages out to be the same as your child gets older and moves to bigger sizes, but goes through fewer diapers.
I don't want it to seem like I am disparaging cloth diapers – far from it! I think they are a wonderful choice for many parents. They were a wonderful choice for us for 1.5 years. Our diapers still have some life left in them, so we are keeping them in case we decide to use them for mini mustache #2 someday. But for now we are sticking with disposables. The money we spent on our current stash is a sunk cost. We save $20/month on utilities and detergent. And now we don't have to buy a toddler size cloth diaper stash for about $300 (LMM is 90th % for height and 80th for weight, so the one size are already getting small). So going forward, we are looking at roughly the same monthly cost for cloth vs disposables.
In the end, the conclusion that I came to was that, like so many other things in parenting, it just doesn't matter which one you choose. Both ways to diaper are effective. Both have pros and cons. And in the end, your kid will grow up and potty train, never giving any thought to which kind of diaper she wore.
What have been your experiences with cloth or disposable diapers? Do you believe one is truly better than the other? What advice would you give new parents?