The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Drop the disposables: Diapers

Brandy's daughter, WillowTell folks you use cloth diapers and immediately get looks of surprise, horror and disgust.  Yes, I use cloth, but these are not your mother's diapers.  They're much more absorbent, especially for night-time --- the only leaks I've had have been from disposables.  There's nothing creepier in the morning than pulling off a diaper heavy with the cellulose gel that disposables are filled with.  Cloth diapers can easily pay for themselves in a year or less, depending on the type you use, and there are few things more gratifying than knowing you will never run out.

Types of diapers

New diaper options include fitteds, all-in-ones (AIO's) and much better prefolds.  Fitteds and AIO's feature elasticized legs and waists to hold in all the goodies that come out.  They're especially handy for the more liquid poo of breastfed babies.  They are usually made from cotton, hemp or bamboo fleece. 
DiapersHemp is by far the most absorbent and feels the least wet on baby's skin. 

Fitteds require a cover, but even these are better than they used to be.  Most are made of PUL, a waterproof nylon that has none of the leakage or crinkling of the plastic pants of yesteryear.  A good number of parents also enjoy
wool soakers, which are extremely breathable and great fun for knitters.  They use the power of lanolin to remain waterproof and require very few washings. 

AIO's don't need a cover because everything you need is in one package.  The outside is PUL with a micro-fiber inside to block out wetness.  Simply add inserts to up absorbency based on the output of your child. 

Modern prefolds are much better, too.  Many are made of Egyptian cotton and really soak up quite a bit.  They have some of the leakage issues when it comes to blow outs, but many prefer their simplicity and cost.

DiapersAre diapers expensive?

Speaking of cost--how much will all this set you back?  For about $700 or so, you can diaper your child from birth to potty training.  This cost includes the diapers, covers and cloth wipes (which can be made by anybody with a sewing machine). 

Some diapers are sized and some are one-size.  One-size diapers usually cost more than those that are sized, but the cost difference is about the same either way.  Of course, if you want to spend it, there are some gorgeous and very pricey cloth diaper makers out there. 

Prices start from $1 per prefold to $13 per fitted to $18 for a AIO.  One-size fitteds cost about as much as AIO's, but the trade off is a diaper that will fit the whole time you need them to.  Here's a
cost breakdown calculator to see how long it will take your diapers to pay for themselves.

Diapers on the lineBut I have to wash them!

Laundry is old news to parents, so adding three extra loads a week for diapers really isn't much.  And how do we wash our diapers?  There are several techniques, but here's what we do: dry pail dirty diapers, cold wash with half detergent, hot wash with half detergent, cold rinse.  For good measure and extra cleaning power, you can add 1/2 cup of white vinegar to your fabric softener holder. 

Diapers can be line-dried or machine-dried, but be aware that fitteds and some AIO's can take much longer to dry because of their bulk.  Sunning diapers on the line is great to kill any germs and yeast.  An important note: if you purchase diapers from a used-diaper seller (where only pristine and well-cared for diapers are accepted), you should wash them thoroughly and sun them to avoid picking up a yeasty diaper rash.  Tea tree oil is great to rid your diapers of anything icky, just be sure to rinse them well since it's such a powerful essential oil.


There are infinitely many resources for cloth diapering on the internet, but here are a few tips and links to get you started:

  • Avoid bleach for all diapers, except prefolds.  Just like how it eats your clothes, bleach can eat your beloved cloth diaper investment.  Vinegar, tea tree oil and the sun will take care of practically all stains and germs.
  • Make sure the diaper is tucked into its cover all around--back, legs and front.  If not, you'll get leaks for sure and yet another infant wardrobe change.
  • Cloth diapers of most any kind will make for a bulkier baby behind.  This means you'll likely need to get clothes a bit bigger than you would if you used disposables.  Some baby pants may not fit, but Speesees makes a pant with extra room for people like us.
  • Your baby will definitely feel wet with a cloth diaper on and likely need changing a little more often.  But really, who wants to sit on pee for several hours, anyway?  For night time, you can make simple homemade fleece liners to help keep wetness away from skin. 
  • Diapering with pre-folds at Tammy's Recipes.
  • Crazy for Cloth at Mothering.
  • Benefits of cloth diapers at Sunshine Diapers.
  • The Real Diaper Association.
  • Cotton Babies--where I've ordered most of my cloth diaper supplies.
  • Diapering how-to at the Diaper Hyena.
  • Sweet Little Blessings--I ordered my hemp Baby Beehinds here.  Free shipping!
  • Traditional diaper rash creams will waterproof your diapers, so here's a list of the most common creams and their compatibility with cloth.
  • Cloth diapers are exceptionally cute and come in lots of fun prints, so be mindful of this addictive factor to keep your frugality in check.

style="font-family: Bitstream Charter;">Brandy and her daughter
Brandy seeks self-sufficiency on a little lot in town, tending her most sincere pumpkin patch and borrowing the neighbor's clothesline.  She lives with her husband Mike and daughter Willow, both of whom love it when she knits for them.  Check out Brandy's blog and her etsy shop (full of hand-made napkins and other goodies to help you ditch the disposables.)

This post is part of our Drop the Disposables lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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