The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 11, 2013

Cloth comeback? Better materials, fasteners give parents new reasons to use cloth diapers

By Sarah Coyne
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — There's a small revolution under way in infant care practices, and it has nothing to do with the at-home versus working-mom debates. It's not breast versus bottle, either.

It's a bit more end-result oriented: We're dealing with cloth diapers, folks.

The problem with encouraging new parents to use cloth diapers for their babies is that they've already heard their own parents' opinions. Thirty years ago, cloth diapers -- folded rectangles, safety pins and rubber pants -- were common, and they were commonly reviled. If you weren't dealing with diaper rashes from poorly ventilated bottoms, you were dealing with blowouts and leaking.

It wasn't a formula for fanaticism. When disposable diapers landed, they were a huge hit.

Fast-forward a few decades, though, and the cloth diaper situation is almost unrecognizably different. There are hundreds of brands of cloth diapers on the market now.

You can find organic hemp alongside microfiber or bamboo inserts. And forget about rubber pants -- today's diapers come with breathable outer shells in fashionable patterns of wool or polyurethane-laminated fabric. These shells are easier to use than old-school diapers. Many come with adjustable snaps and buttons, so a baby could wear the exact same outer shells from the newborn stage all the way up through potty training.

New parents who are considering cloth diapers can be overwhelmed by all of their options. There are hybrids, pre-folds, all-in-ones and pocket diapers, often with trademarked closure methods, all promising to be the simplest and most effective.

But cloth users also tend to be zealots -- they cheer loudly and often about the superiority of fluffy bottoms. Here are some things to consider if you're still trying to decide whether or not cloth diapering is right for your family.


Entrance fees into the cloth-diapering game are not cheap. One pocket diaper can cost anywhere from $12 to $18, including the necessary inserts. You'll want about 24 diaper sets so you're not bound to be washing diapers every single day, plus a few extra-absorbency inserts for nighttime use. When the initial outlay is compared with what you would have spent on disposables, things get interesting.

Whitney Weston, a local mom, spent about $300 to begin her cloth diaper stash, buying some new and some second-hand. She calculated that she would have been spending at least $20 per week, or roughly $1,000 a year, if she'd been using disposables. If her son, Evan, is completely potty-trained by 3 years old, she will have saved somewhere in the range of $2,700.

Extend those same diapers across multiple children, and she's got a winning formula.

Saving the earth

Besides money, there's another thing you'll definitely be saving if you choose cloth: landfills. One child can use thousands of disposable diapers during babyhood, with each one going to a landfill.

Plastic and chemicals do not biodegrade very efficiently, meaning the earth is riddled with old, poopy diapers. Cloth, on the other hand, can be passed down to friends and family, or sold for a bit of profit. Sun-bleached and properly cleaned, cloth can last years and remove tons of waste from our already overburdened earth.

Happy to help

With so many options available, cloth diapers can seem unnecessarily intimidating. To sidestep all the confusion, find a friend who uses cloth and start asking questions.

Cloth diapering families seem especially enchanted with the method. They'll probably welcome you into their homes, show you their newly installed toilet sprayer, demonstrate their laundry habits and let you play with the real thing in person. If your luck holds out, the baby will have a fecally impressive performance to prove the worthiness of his or her cloth diaper.

Messes no matter what

New moms and dads may not have realized it yet, but they'll be dealing with lots of bodily evacuation in the coming months and years of parenthood. When you start worrying that you'll be grossed out by scraping yucky stuff from a cloth diaper, remember this: You'll be scraping yucky stuff regardless.

Babies are notoriously explosive. Even if you choose not to cloth diaper, you'll be cleaning slimy stains with surprising frequency. If you do use cloth, they can be added to your baby's other laundry or thrown in with the household towels, making for not much more work than you'll already be doing.

Trial run

Before you strike down cloth diapering, remember that it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing ordeal. Start small. Try a handful of diaper brands to get a feel for what you like best, and use disposables in the meantime.

To lessen your worries, find a baby boutique, explore the merchandise, and consider this your first battle won: You'll never fear cloth diapers again.

Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog, http://thisheavenlylife.blogspot. com.