Cloth Diapers 101: Misconceptions, Methods & Money

IMG 6344 731x1024 Cloth Diapers 101: Misconceptions, Methods & Money

Did you know that over 18 billion disposable diapers are thrown into landfills every year in the United States alone?

Did you know that the typical American baby will wear more than 5,400 disposable diapers from birth until potty training?

Did you know that the average disposable diaper costs $.21-$.25/diaper — which equals roughly $1,200 in diaper costs alone by the age of potty training?

Back in the 1970s, when my brother and I were babies, we were cloth diapered. I’m sure there were disposables waaaay back then, but they were expensive — and new-fangled.

Since I’m six years older than my brother, I have vivid – and frankly, not all that fond – memories of him being cloth diapered. I remember the soiled diapers soaking in the toilet and the unwieldy diaper pins sticking me every time I tried to change him.

Needless to say, it didn’t even occur to me to consider using cloth diapers when I was pregnant with my first.

And yet, after changing more than a thousand disposable diapers in the first six months of his life, I found myself looking for an alternative. Between the cost, the trash, and the icky rashes that DS1 kept getting, I had opened my mind to the possibility of cloth.

Since I didn’t actually know anyone in real life who used cloth diapers, I did what I always did with my new mom questions: I asked my message board friends. Fortunately, they had a wealth of information to share with me. They told me how easy, affordable and adorable cloth diapers are!

Cloth diapers have come a long way since the days of scratchy prefolds, sticky pins and rash-producing rubber pants.

Today, parents are buying high-tech diapers that wick away moisture from baby’s bottom, wash up easily, and dry quickly. They are paying a premium in upfront costs to save a fortune down the road.

And did I mention that these diapers are cute?

Here’s a brief rundown on your cloth diapering options today, with a few notes on cost as I go:

Prefolds, Fitteds & Covers

Today’s prefolds are made from luxurious cotton — you can even buy organic — from China or India. Cotton quilts up nicely and provides a soft and absorbant diaper. Plus, it’s by far the most economical choice, starting at as low as $1.50 per prefold. You can pin them (today’s pins are far easier to use), use a Snappi – like a clasp from an ace bandage, or just fold them in thirds and lay them inside a cover. If you want to learn more about prefolds, this article from the Diaper Pin is excellent!

Fitteds, as their name implies, are fitted to baby’s bottom. They usually attach with snaps or velcro, making them super easy to put on and take off a squirmy baby. Most fitteds start around $10/diaper and can range up to $20/diaper,  depending on the material they are made out – which can be everything from terry cloth cotton to organic bamboo!

Covers today are nothing like those awful rubber pants of yore. Most are made from PUL (Polyurethane Laminate), which is thin and waterproof, preventing moisture from wicking outside the cover and from creating a sweaty, wet mess inside the cover. Another popular option is wool, which is naturally antimicrobial, waterproof, and… it never stinks! Covers typically start in the $10 range, although wool covers can be twice as much or more.

fuzzi bunz cloth diapers 300x201 Cloth Diapers 101: Misconceptions, Methods & Money

Pocket Diapers

Pocket diapers are a truly wonderous invention. Their ease and functionality has led to a major resurgence in using cloth diapers – as I like to say, even dads like pockets! They are made up of an outer layer of waterproof material (usually PUL) and an inner layer of either microfleece or suedecloth – both of which wick moisture way from baby and help to prevent diaper rash.

In between those two layers is a “pocket”, which you can stuff with whatever insert you wish to customize the level of absorbency that your baby needs. My favorite insert is microfiber, because it’s trim and light weight, but you can use just about anything that will absorb liquid. The most popular pocket diapers today include Fuzzi Bunz and BumGenius, but there are dozens – if not hundreds – of options (some of which will be reviewed by KOAB readers in an upcoming post). Pocket diapers start from $18-20 each, plus the cost of the insert.

All In Ones

Like pockets, All in One (AIO) diapers have an inner wick-away layer and an outer waterproof layer. But instead of having to stuff an insert into the pocket, AIOs come with a snap-on (or sometimes sewn-on) absorbant layer, too. They are just like disposable diapers — except you have to wash them. AIOs tend to be the most expensive diapers, starting from about $25 each.

More Notes on Cost

There is no doubt that buying cloth diapers costs more at the outset than buying disposables does. But given that the average baby runs you over $1,000 in diapers alone, the investment in a cloth diaper stash suddenly doesn’t seem so costly.

Ultimately, your cost of cloth diapering will depend on a number of factors:

  • Which diapers you want to use – prefolds are a fraction of the cost of AIOs
  • How often you want to do laundry – and, therefore, how many diapers you need. 12-15 diapers is plenty if you’re willing to wash every other day. Washing twice a week probably requires 15+ diapers.
  • Whether you want to buy different sizes or One-Size-Fits-All diapers
  • How many children you can amoratize the initial cost of your diaper stash over – The medium-size Fuzzi Bunz I bought for DS1 are still in great shape, and believe it or not, cloth diapers hold their resale value!

I’m far from the be-all-end-all expert in the field of cloth diapering. That’s why I have brought in some expert reinforcement for more posts in this Cloth Diapering series.

Stay tuned for Cloth Diapers 201 on Friday, when you can read all about laundering your cloth diapers (Rivki from Life in the Married Lane promises it’s no big deal!) and fitting cloth diapers into a growing family.

Then next week, I’ve got two great guest posts lined up with personal reviews of different diaper systems from KOAB readers. If you would like to review your brand of cloth diapers on KOAB, please give me a shout!

Questions? Comments? What’d I miss? See you in the comments!

Comments

comments

Comments

  1. thanks for a good breakdown of cloth diapers – my friends all seem to think I am nuts, and yet we are using the same diapers on child #2 that we used on child #1 so we are already seeing cost savings, plus I have figured out a system (fitteds under fleece pants) that works for us and am in the process of selling off the pockets that we aren’t using. (size Large FuzziBunz – made in the USA -see posting on http://www.babycottonbottoms.com/bargain_basement.htm for more info) so you can make back part of your investment.

    • Thanks for commenting, Rachel. Isn’t the resale value crazy? Glad you found a system that works for you so well!

  2. I used fuzzi bunz with my daughter. loved them. totally converted my husband and family to loving them too.
    but once we found out we were having twins…and I was so exhausted I couldn’t keep up with the laundry, we quit. and oh, the guilt

    • Yes, we too have been on-again, off-again… I’m very familiar with the guilt. We moms are pretty hard on ourselves, huh?!

  3. I was about to launch into a long comment about my experiences here but I’ll email you and maybe I can turn it into a post instead!

  4. We’ve used cloth for 4 babies so far. After trying a few different systems, we use exclusively pocket diapers. I put them all together as I take them out of the laundry so it is truly like changing a disposable. I’ve bought almost all of our diapers used, mostly from http://www.diaperswappers.com. I tracked my costs at the beginning, comparing to what I would have spent on disposables, and after just several months we broke even. We use mostly Fuzzi Bunz and SNAP-EZ but I like to try out different pockets, and will sell if I end up not liking them.

    For years we had 3 in diapers and yes it was a lot of work but diapering 3 babies is a lot of work anyway. ;) The money we saved was definitely worth the small amount of extra time and resources I spent on laundry. I did sell quite a few diapers after our youngest was potty trained (for almost what I paid for them) but I have a stash ready for the next one.

    And to see those cute little diapers on my babies’ tushies – priceless!!

    • We have an on-again, off-again relationship with cloth (mostly due to v. hard water issues), but I agree — a cloth tush is the cutest!

  5. Sorry, Mara! You lost me on this one!

    I see complete value (my sanity is worth a lot!) in disposable!

    But kudos to anyone who uses them!

  6. I would have done cloth no problem- just the idea that a single diaper stays thousands of years in a landfill was enough for me. Unfortunately Day Care hands down adamantly refused- even the all in ones. And since most of her diapering 5 days a week happens at day care…. I couldn’t figure out a good way to do both. And all of the more “organic” diapers either didn’t fit Miriam (to the point of digging into her hips and abrading her skin) or gave her a (really bad) rash. So we ended up with regular ole pampers and the environmental guilt piles up and up…..

  7. We used Bum Genius pocket one size cloth diapers with#1 and were very happy until she was 18 months old when she would leak overnight even with extra inserts. We ended up using cloth during the day and a good overnight disposable for sleeping (she slept so much better not needing 2 changes a night and so did I). She outgrew them completely before she was two and is now in disposables and Bummis cloth training pants- they make terrific training pants. I don’t feel bad about it at all- she is the height and weight of an average three year old at 2.3 years.
    #2 is mostly in cloth and we put her in disposables at night (I like sleep). The diapers have mostly held up but we have tossed two covers that fell apart. Bum Genius makes good diapers but the velcro tabs fall apart and die. If I were going to do it again, I would buy diapers with all snaps.
    The extra laundry for 24 diapers is not a big deal and we saved a small fortune.

  8. i considered going the cloth diaper route, but my laundry situation with either baby didn’t really allow for it (didn’t own a washer with my first and with the secind doing laundry requires going down the stairs out the front door around to the back driveway and down very precarious stairs, we’re lucky of we do laundry once or twice a week!). but kudos to all you who do use them!

  9. Loved it! What a great run-down of all the choices. Today’s cloth diapers are certainly a far cry from what our parents used. Thank goodness!

  10. I am expecting my 3rd child this summer. I have always used disposable diapers and fely so guilty doing it. I love the idea that we can help the environment and save money at the same time. I have been trying to do some research online and I am getting very overwhelmed. Do you think you can help direct me?
    I appreciate any help I could get. Everyone I know uses Pampers!
    Thanks,
    Jordana

    • B’Sha’ah Tovah, Jordana! Read through this post, then stay tuned, because I have a whole series of guest posts from readers and experienced cloth diaper’ers coming up. Next one is Friday, then two or three more next week! We’ll be sure to include lots of links, so you can check out even more information. When you’re ready to start ordering your cloth, ask questions here – or on the other posts – and I’m sure you will find lots of help from KOAB readers.

    • b’shaa tova – if you are the same person who posted on the next entry and are in NY, I would gladly walk you through your options and help you figure out what might work best – wish there had been someone local when I started! perhaps Mara can share my email w. you.

  11. Tagged this post for the Jewish homeschooling blog carnival #5! Come on over!

  12. galileegirl says:

    Do you have any posts on cloth menstrual pads?

    • Mara Strom says:

      I don’t – that’s one thing I just have never gotten in to. (Too squeamish, I guess.)

      • galileegirl says:

        You cloth diapered and a little blood freaks you out :)? Oxygen cleaner works magic on blood stains and its super frugal (especially with the amount of females we have in our family!).

        A) You could get some free samples to review

        or

        B) Guest post?

    • Haha, I totally hear you on that, Mara. Galileegirl, I’ve been really happy with the Diva cup, and their pads have been great, too. I really need to get some more, actually. Here’s a link to their site – http://divacup.com

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