Over the last twenty years, a slow revolution has been taking place in the diapering industry. Parents all over the globe have been ditching disposable nappies and choosing to use cloth diapers on their babies instead.
This may come as a surprise to people who still picture cloth diapers as the flat birdseye lampin. But try Googling “cloth diapers,” and you will realize that cloth diapers today have gone through leaps in design, making them a viable and often preferred option for many parents.
Modern cloth diapers are shaped like disposables, but are made of luxurious fabric like velour, suede, and laminated polyester. Sewers contour and elasticize them to fit a baby’s body and attach fasteners made of hook and loop (Velcro) or snaps. In place of the chemically-treated pulp in disposables, manufacturers attach soakers made of hemp or polyester to absorb urine. The leakproof plastic shell found in disposables is replaced by waterproof or water-resistant cloth.
In the United States, a patent for a modern cloth diaper cover was granted as early as 1951.* However, the current wave of popularity of cloth diapers only began in the 1990s, as a North American cottage industry. Mothers sewed modern cloth diapers for themselves and sold them via mail order, and then later, online. Because of e-commerce, the idea quickly caught on, and cloth diaper manufacturers began mushrooming across the globe.
In the Philippines, a growing variety of modern cloth diapers are available both online and in stores. Online retailers Pinoybaby Store and Eco Baby Boutique, manufacturers such as Next9, and distributors of imported cloth diapers such as Fuzzi Bunz, have emerged with a common mission of making modern cloth diapers more available to Filipino parents.
Choosing CLOTH over disposables
Why are parents making the big switch? Converts to cloth diapers cite the financial savings, the gentler impact on the environment, and the non-toxicity of cloth, in comparison to disposable diapers.
Myth: cloth diapers are more expensive than disposables.
Modern cloth diapers seem expensive at first — ranging from P300 to P1500 per piece, but because they are rewashable, and often also adjustable, the resulting savings are staggering. A child will use around 6,000 disposable diapers by the time he is 2 years old, for a total cost of P60,000. On average, a stash of 30 cloth diapers–enough to last until potty-training–costs only an average of P22,500, or just 1/3 the cost of disposables. This price can go even lower depending on the diaper brand.
A disposable diaper is 6 to 12 pesos per piece, but a modern cloth diaper can be as cheap as 80 centavos per use if one child uses it, and even cheaper than that if it is passed onto a younger sibling.
Myth: cloth diapers harm the environment because you end up using so much water to wash them.
Modern cloth diapers are actually kinder on the environment. Disposable diapers are single-use, with five or six of them (double for newborns) going straight into the trash can per day. They are rarely recycled, and most are not biodegradable. The nappy that your child wore for all of four hours will take 500 years to decompose, and we are not yet sure if they will ever fully break down. In 2003, disposable diapers were identified as the third largest single consumer item in American landfills. In households with babies, disposable diapers often comprise 50% of household waste!
We have not yet even taken into consideration the carbon emissions used to make 6,000 disposable diapers for one child, and the numerous raw materials needed to run diaper factories.
Thousands of disposable diapers clogging up a landfill.
For the first 2 years of 1 child’s life = 6,000 disposable diapers = 2240 lbs of non biodegradable GARBAGE
In contrast, cloth diapers have a much gentler impact on the earth. Washing does involve water, but a family can easily incorporate green habits in their washing: reusing rinse water to water plants or flush toilets, and line-drying rather than tumble-drying. And for sure, the carbon emissions for producing 30 cloth diapers for a child can in no way match the emissions used to make 6,000 disposables!
Fact: Disposable diapers contain traces of toxic chemicals.
Apart from bleaching chemicals, disposables contain trace amounts of the toxic chemical Tributyl-tin. Most brands also absorb urine into a polymer that can provide a breeding ground for the same bacteria that cause toxic shock syndrome among tampon-users.
Cloth diapers do not contain these synthetic chemicals. Many parents who choose cloth note other health-related benefits as well. Some notice that toddlers in cloth diapers are easier to toilet-train. And because fabric is porous, cloth diapers can be cooler than disposables. This is significant not just for baby’s comfort, but also because using plastic-lined disposable diapers has been found to lead to higher scrotal temperature in baby boys. It is suspected that using disposables may have a long-term effect on testis maturation and sperm count.☼
Caring for cloth diapers
One fear that parents have is the perceived difficulty of washing cloth diapers.
However, cloth diapers are easier to care for than some people think. Fabrics like velour and suede line the inner part of many cloth diapers, repelling poop so that it easily comes off just by shaking or spraying with water.
Once the poop has been sprayed off, it is a simple matter of throwing the diaper into the washing machine, or hand-washing as usual.
The two most important tips for washing cloth diapers are: (1) to avoid using detergents which contain fabric softeners or optical brighteners, as these can reduce absorbency, and (2) to avoid soaking for too long the parts of the diapers that have polyester laminate (PUL) waterproofing in them (an hour or two is fine; overnight is too long). If parents find that their cloth diapers have lost some of their absorbency because of residue from detergents or diaper cream, they can easily “strip” the diapers by rinsing them in hot water, or washing them with regular dishwashing liquid.
Popular kinds of cloth diapers
Retailers today offer several different cloth diaper types to choose from.
Pocket diapers are most similar to disposables: they are shaped like disposables, and the absorbent soaker (called an “insert”) can be removed for washing.
Another popular system is the cover-plus-insert system. The parent places a soaker on top of a waterproof cover, similar to placing a sanitary napkin on underwear. When it’s time to change the child, the parent simply replaces the insert and reuses the cover.
Most cloth diapers on the market today are also adjustable, and can be modified with built-in snaps or elastic to fit newborns or toddlers.
Ease of use
Parents are often surprised at how easy cloth diapers are to use these days. The growing number of parents choosing cloth nappies is proof that modern cloth diapers are here to stay.
*Liana Sherman, Maria Donovan: Inventor of the Precursor to Today’s Disposable Diaper,” accessed at www.arizonahistoricalsociety.org/nhd/docs/LIANA’S_NATIONALS_FINAL_NHD_PROJECT_ON_MARION_DONOVAN.pdf
✝Real Diaper Association – Diaper Facts, accessed at http://www.realdiaperassociation.org/diaperfacts.php
☼C-J Partsch, M Aukamp, W G Sippell Scrotal temperature is increased in disposable plastic lined nappies.Division of Paediatric Endocrinology, Department of Paediatrics, Christian-Albrechts- University of Kiel, Schwanenweg 20, D-24105 Kiel, Germany. Arch Dis Child 2000;83:364-368. Also click here for a BBC article on it: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/941174.stm
The author, Rowie Palacios, is the owner of Pinoybaby Store and a founding member of the Cloth Diaper Association of the Philippines.