When we were expecting our first child, I knew cloth diapering was something we wanted to explore, for both environmental and financial reasons. I can still remember how adorable the stacks of neatly folded diapers looked—ready and waiting before our daughter even arrived.
For some parents, a decision about diapers comes down to which brand of disposables works best for absorption and for fit on their baby, or even which ones are on sale at the grocery store that week. Issues like skin sensitivity or environmental concerns spur others to choose cloth.
To decide which diapering option is right for your family, you’ll want to consider your budget, time and lifestyle.
There is an upfront cost to using cloth diapers; a set that includes covers (the waterproof outer layer) costs $350 to $600, while premium brands are upwards of $800. There are also added supply costs for things like diaper wet bags (this is where you put the dirty diaper when you’re on the go) and reusable, washable cloth wipes (if you’re not using disposable wipes), as well as ongoing laundry costs—whether you’re sending them out with a service or washing them at home. Disposables are less of an advance investment, but a greater cost overall—premium brands cost around $1,000 per year.
Cloth diapers have the benefit of durability, so a good set can be used for more than one child. To save money, look for second-hand diapers and supplies.
Long-time cloth diaper user Nicole Spencer is using the same set for her one-year-old as she did for her now three-year-old. Another cost-saving factor is that the one-size hybrid style she uses grows with the baby from birth to potty training.
For some parents, cloth diapers aren’t an option because of the inconvenience of having to wash them. That was the case for Kristi Lee, a mom of two from Oakville, Ont. “I never considered cloth diapers because of the extra work I would have to do,” says Lee. “I think it takes a certain kind of person to use cloth diapers, and I knew I wasn’t that person.”
“There’s a misconception that cloth diapers have pins, rubber covers and smelly pails,” says Kerri Wanner, a mom of one and the owner of Cozy Bums, a cloth diaper store in Prince George, BC. “But today’s cloth diapers can be as easy as disposables and as easy to clean as your clothes.” You can expect two or three extra loads of laundry each week.
The diaper cleaning and prep time varies depending on the type you buy, says Wanner. Traditional cloth diapers have an outer layer and then a removable, absorbent liner or insert (sometimes called a pre-fold). All-in-one cloth diapers, with every layer contained inside the diaper, are most like a disposable—you wash the whole diaper when it’s dirty (rather than only replacing an absorbent insert). But because you go through a whole diaper with every change, you’ll need more diapers on hand, so there’s a higher upfront cost. Newer one-piece hybrid styles use an inner liner that increases absorption, lengthening the time between changes, and combine it with the all-in-one format that grows with the baby. You can also buy biodegradable flushable liners (around $7 for 100) so poop can be easily removed<.
A family can expect to use around 8,000 disposable diapers per child from birth to toilet training, generating a lot of waste. (However, as cities introduce green bin composting programs, they’re becoming more eco-friendly.) Families of multiples or those whose babes are in daycare may find disposables more practical, as not all daycares will allow cloth.
When a woman in my prenatal class overheard me say I was planning to use cloth diapers, we swapped phone numbers because she intended to do the same. We supported each other through the process. With my first, washing diapers wasn’t an issue. When our second child was born, we were living in a smaller space with a tiny stackable washer and dryer, so we switched to a cloth diaper service ($17 to $21 a week, available in larger cities) that picked the soiled ones up from our porch, and washed and returned them.
Consider combining both options—cloth at home and disposables while travelling, or overnight. You may also find that cloth diapers aren’t a snug fit for a teeny-tiny newborn bum; it’s a good idea to have some disposables on hand before your due date arrives.