Before I get too far, two things:
(1) Yes, I know the below is not health or fitness related.
(2) No, I'm not going to turn this website into a baby blog.
Ok, with that being said, let's move on...
FYI - This is the final post in a 3 part series about cloth diapering. Today's topic is about cloth diaper washing routines and a discussion about the "real" cost to cloth diaper versus disposables. If you want to know more about the range of diapers I tried and what I use for my regular daily rotation (what most cloth diaper fans refer to as their "stash"), or the other miscellaneous accessories I have to complement my stash, feel free to go check out those posts as well.
Some people really get particular with their diapers, so I may ignite a fire storm with this post but ... the truth is, I wash with Tide and Oxyclean. Technically, it's the baby friendly version of Tide (I think it's called free and pure or some such schmaltz), but whatever.
When I first started using cloth diapers, I originally used Dreft since I knew it was OK for my baby's skin. But after about a month or so of washes, I felt like the diapers weren't getting clean enough. While I wasn't getting the trademark "barnyard stink" or ammonia issues that commonly become a cloth diaper woe, I noticed that the diapers didn't exactly smell as nice as they used to and had the occasional stain on the shell. After some Googling, I realized this was likely due to the fact that Dreft isn't exactly ideal for washing cloth diapers.
While making this discovery, I ended up reading an embarrassingly wide range of opinions on the matter of cloth diaper detergents, and discovered I "should" invest in some PRETTY EXPENSIVE soaps for my diapers, which made me a little frustrated. I mean, I'm doing cloth to save money, not spend it! So, in a crabby snit, one day I just jumped into the pool and switched to Tide and Oxyclean. Technically, I felt justified in doing so thanks to this Youtube video and a few message boards I visited, but I still knew there was some risk in switching my routine and damaging my diapers.
Risk aside - I'm somewhere between 1-2 months in on this new wash routine, and so far it seems to be working, so fingers crossed.
Beyond the cleaners I use in the wash, I should let you know that I have an HE machine with a few features that makes washing easier. First of all, I just have to click buttons to add extra pre and post rinses to any wash cycle (as opposed to having to restart the machine to get extra rinse cycles as some models require). And second, my machine has a wash cycle called heavy duty, which uses more water during the wash, which is ideal for cloth diapering.
So basically, I just dump my diapers and wipes into the wash (FYI - the diaper shells and inserts are already separated, I do that when I'm changing baby's diaper so I don't have to touch the dirty diapers again later), turn the diaper pail wet bag inside out and throw that in, dump in about 1/4 of a scoop of Oxyclean, and shut the door on the washer. Then I select the heavy duty cycle, click the buttons to add an extra pre and post rinse, add the tide to the soap dispenser and push start. Done!
Note: this wash method requires about 2 hours on my machine, but since my diapers are coming out squeaky clean, it's worth the extra time. Originally, I was using the standard cycle with the extra pre and post rinses added, which saved about 20 minutes on the wash cycle ... but with the extra addition of the Oxyclean, I wanted to ensure there was plenty of time to rinse all that out - which is also why I add the Oxyclean into the wash at the pre-rinse stage.
Once my diapers are done washing, I separate out the shells and wet bags and let them air dry, and put the inserts and cloth wipes into the dryer on high heat. Technically I could machine dry the shells and wet bags on low heat, but since I'm using Oxyclean and that's potentially harder on the PUL and elastics, I'm trying to offset that possible wear and tear by eliminating the dryer instead. To be honest, the air drying isn't a big deal anyway - since I do my wash in the evening, and don't need to stuff clean diapers until the next evening when I'm free again, everything that's air dried is ready at that point anyway.
The Poop Question
A lot of people say to me ... ok, so that's your wash routine. But Natalie, what do you do with all the POOP?!
Valid concern. Poop is pretty gross to deal with.
Here's the thing, though. Right now my baby is exclusively breast fed. That means everything coming out of him is water soluble and can go straight into the washer.
I know, at first I didn't believe that myself, so I spent some time pre-rinsing poopy diapers, and also tried out diaper liners like this:
What I discovered is that pre-rinsing didn't really do anything except introduce unnecessary water into my diaper pail, and that diaper liners don't really work for breastfed babies. (TMI alert: they have really loose poops).
I've heard that as your child begins solid foods, cloth diapering becomes a tad more challenging in the poop category. When I hit that stage, I will likely re-introduce either the above diaper liners (as I was gifted/purchased a few boxes already), or consider buying a diaper sprayer that connects to my toilet and a spray shield:
I'll figure that part out later. Either way, I'm not too worried about it.
BTW, don't be fooled. We might call the above a diaper sprayer in the US, but any other country would see that and know it's a bidet. Moving on ...
Oh, I should add here a general note on "dealing with poop" in regards to cloth diapers: for some reason, people use poop as their main excuse not to cloth diaper. Why, I'm not quite sure. When you change a child's diaper, disposable or not, guess what?! You're gonna deal with poop. There's no way around it, you've gotta put your hands in there and clean up the mess. Plus, it's not like with cloth diapers you're up to your elbows in it ... like I said, right now I hardly even deal with it. So really, don't make this into an issue that it isn't, ok?! Thanks!!
The Real Cost to Cloth Diapering - Initial Set Up
So by now we've covered the cost to set up a cloth diaper "stash", the accessories you would need to support cloth diapering, and the wash process. I guess it's time to wrap up the discussion and get to the point - money, honey.
As I already outlined in previous posts, a general cloth diaper set up would shake out to be something like this (I'm going to make the assumption that you're NOT going to want to test out all the options I did and assume you want a "healthy" supply as opposed to a "lean" one):
3 dozen Baby Goal Pocket Diapers - $79.99 per dozen x 3 - $239.97
6 LBB Pocket Diapers - $35.99
6 Baby Goal Replacement Charcoal Bamboo Inserts - $16.99
6 Hemp Doublers - $13.50
5 Zorb Inserts - $18.50
2 wet bags for your diaper bag - free with Baby Goal 12 pack of diapers above
2 wet bags for your home diaper pail - $12.99 each x 2 = $25.98
3 wet bags for daycare - $18.99 each x 3 = $56.97
1 wet bag for weekends away that zippers shut - $14.50
Total cost - $422.40
Yeah, I know $422 seems like a lot. But let's compare that against a rough average of $65/month for disposables.
$422 for a cloth diaper set up
$65 a month for disposables
= 6.5 months worth of disposable diapers
As you can see, in about 6 months, the cloth has paid for itself - and that's without even factoring in the money you save by eliminating disposable trash bags for the diaper genie or disposable wipes (if you decide to use cloth there as well, which you should, since you'll get 12 wipes free with the 3 dozen Baby Goal diapers anyway). *Yes, I know this doesn't factor in washing - more on that in a minute.*
If the $422 investment doesn't float your boat - keep in mind that in the above set up, I'm assuming you need supplies for daycare (anything highlighted in yellow). If you're doing just an at home stash, you could eliminate the extra LBB diapers/inserts and the wet bags for daycare, getting your initial investment down to $312.45. (About 4-5 months worth of disposables.)
Further more, I'm assuming a "healthy" at home stash (3 dozen Baby Goal diapers). Realistically, you could shave that down to 2 dozen and be completely fine. I mean, I don't even go through 15-16 cloth diapers in a 2 day window, and I'm washing every 2-3 days anyway. Shaving off these excess diapers from your stash, along with the daycare eliminations above, takes another $79.99 off. This gets your initial investment down to $232.46. (About 3 months worth of disposables.)
Regardless of how you look at it, within a 6 month window, you will basically break even on cloth diapering in the above scenarios - not factoring in washing.
The Real Cost to Cloth Diapering - Washing Long Term
So, we've figured out the cost of getting cloth, but let's talk about washing and what that does to your costs as well.
Since I'm not super savvy with documenting my bills over the last year and I really have no interest in trying to figure out my utility bills pre and post baby ...
I'm going to redirect you to a two blogs I read about diaper washing.
Here - assumption = about $130/year to wash & dry
Here - assumption = about $125/year to wash & dry
I know two blogs isn't a lot of research, but as the saying goes: "good enough for government work". And honestly, to me even $130 seems high for what amounts to about 3 extra loads of laundry a week. But, what do I know?
Anyway, let's just stick to the $130 and call it good. Assuming your child is in diapers for 3 years (36 months), then costs would shake out like this:
Cloth - $230 to $422 for diapers + $130 a year for washing (x3) = $620 to $812
Disposables - $65 average per month x 36 months = $2340
Cost Savings - $1528 to $1720
Wow, FIFTEEN HUNDRED?! That's quite a savings. And yeah, I would consider that a pretty legit number. To add some perspective, I just read an article not too long ago in the New York times quoting that the average American spends around $2500 on disposable diapers over the lifetime of each child. And I KNOW the costs I estimate for cloth are correct since I did it myself. So yeah ... a $1500 savings. That's kind of a lot!
And keep in mind - that doesn't even consider the fact that you could also eliminate trash bags and disposable wipes. Even at $5 a month for that over 36 months, you would add at least another $180 to the above figures, if not more.
Put that $1500 + $180 into a future college fund ... you *might* even be able to pay one semester of college tuition with the interest included. Might.
Ugh, let's not talk about that. So not ready for that money suck.
*Before moving on, note that I didn't add to the above scenario the cost for a potentially future needed diaper sprayer, spray shield or diaper liners. Since I will likely use the sprayer and shield, and that will only add another $50+/-, I'm not too worried about factoring that into this analysis. Do keep in mind, however, that the liners cost about 5 cents each ... so that will make a substantial impact on the above numbers over time. Either way you look at it, though, you should still financially come out ahead in the above scenario, even with liners included.
The Real Cost to Cloth Diapering - Environmental and Health Impacts
OK, so we've been really focused on the financial part of cloth diapering. But, one of the things I haven't talked about much in this whole series of blog posts is the environmental and health impacts of cloth diapering. To be honest, this post has gotten pretty long, so I don't want to drag it out too much more. However, there is some real weight to this topic as well, and I don't want to just skip it totally during this conversation. So, before I go, I'll just make a few quick points, and you can do more research if it interests you:
- Over 20 billion diapers find their way to US landfills each year. Disposable diapers are the third largest single consumer item in landfills, and represent about 4% of all solid waste. Additionally, in a house with a child in diapers, disposables make up 50% of household waste.
- The manufacture and use of disposable diapers amounts to 2.3 times more water wasted than cloth. Additionally, over 300 pounds of wood, 50 pounds of petroleum feedstocks and 20 pounds of chlorine are used to produce disposable diapers for one baby EACH YEAR.
- No one knows how long it takes for a disposable diaper to decompose, but it is estimated to be about 250-500 years, long after your children, grandchildren and great, great, great grandchildren will be gone. Even so called "eco friendly" diapers that are labeled as biodegradable often do not biodegrade in landfills as they are typically dumped inside plastic trash bags, covered and not exposed to sun or air (which aids in the biodegrading process). And even if any diaper did decompose, eco friendly or not, as they decomposed they would release chemicals and dyes as well.
- Baby’s poorly developed outer skin layer can absorb about 50 different chemicals if you use disposable diapers, wipes and standard baby products. Just to pick two of those chemicals:
Dioxin - a chemical by product of the paper bleaching process used in the manufacturing of most diapers. Dioxin is carcinogenic, listed by the EPA as the most toxic of all cancer-linked chemicals.
Phthalates - the plastic softeners that were recently banned from children’s teething rings and other toys because of toxicity. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, meaning they mimic human hormones and send false signals to the body.
Yeah .. pretty gross stuff.
And ... that about wraps it up. A full summary on why I cloth diaper, what I use, and the costs (financial, health and environmental) behind them. After reading what I had to day - what do you think? Feel free to comment below.