Friday, July 29, 2011

The Big Change

So, you might have noticed that I haven't updated in a while.  But there's a good reason...I promise.  My wife and I had a baby about three weeks ago, and in the weeks and months leading up to the birth as well as the time since, updating my blog hasn't been high on my priority list.  However, I do like taking time to pen my thoughts about various aspects of life, so I am going to do my best to post the occasional update every now and then even though my free time has shrunk significantly.

This post, then, is a little different than usual, since it is going to focus on just one topic:  cloth diapers.  Sure it might seem like kind of a silly topic for this blog, or most blogs, but since my wife and I have become parents it is something that we have worked hard on, and it is also a topic about which we have received many questions.  So I thought I would take some time and explain a few things about our cloth diapering methods, successes, and failures since we have started it with our little boy.

First things first: why cloth diapers?  Aside from the sheer environmental impact that disposable diapers (even supposedly environmentally friendly versions) have, there is a rather significant cost benefit as well.  We haven't worked out the math exactly, but a one-time purchase of diapers was around $275, versus a weekly expense of around $20 for disposables.  Granted, cloth diapers also carry added expenses of detergent, energy, and water (especially with near-daily washings) but in the long run the cost benefit should be fairly significant.  We also wanted to try cloth diapers just because it seemed like it wouldn't be much of a hassle, and we had heard stories from friends and bloggers who have been able to make it work. What we can say for sure is that cloth diaper techniques sure have changed from a few decades ago.  Long gone are smelly ammonia-filled diaper pails, plastic pants, and giant safety pins.  Today's cloth diapers are vastly improved over their baby boomer-era forebears, and if you haven't investigated the concept in a while you might be pleasantly surprised at what's available nowadays.

As of the writing of this post we have been using cloth diapers for one week, and even though that is not much time to really come to grips with the big picture of how it is going to work out, it does provide some preliminary data on whether we will be able to make this happen.  Let's start with the basics.  Here, in no particular order, is everything we purchased to make this cloth diaper experiment come to fruition:

12 Bum Genius Elemental One Size Fits All cloth diapers. It seems like if you ask ten people about cloth diapers, you will get ten different opinions, so don't take this as a universal statement of what will or will not work.  My wife read some very encouraging remarks about these diapers on a blog called Young House Love, so we decided to give them a try.  We have also heard good things about a brand called FuzziBunz, and some friends of ours gave us some cloth diapers by a company called SunBaby.  This might be a case of finding out what works for you and going with it, but I must admit it is a bit of an investment to just try something and hope it works.  I can say that the BumGenius have worked extraordinarily well for us, and the few mishaps we have encountered have been largely an issue of sizing--it's taken us a few tries to figure out which combination of snaps on the diaper fits our ten-pound baby the best.  You might want to think about getting more, like 18 or 24, depending on how often you change your baby's diaper, but for now 12 seems to work fairly well for us.

Bum Genius Diaper Sprayer.  If cloth diapers are the shotgun, this thing would be the ammunition.  It is easy to install, and works exactly like the sprayer you might have in your kitchen.  Unfortunately it is also the weakest link in the whole system, since the build quality is not exactly stellar.  Still, it works well and by adjusting the flow rate (i.e. by only turning the water valve halfway instead of full-blast) we have learned to minimize drips along the hose and still get the dirty diapers very clean. Installation, for the less mechanically inclined out there, was a breeze and took about 10 minutes.  It comes with very clear instructions and I am fairly confident that anyone could do it.

Charlie's Soap Laundry Liquid. Like the diapers themselves, opinions on the soap in which to wash them are extremely varied.  We found a list online comparing various laundry soaps for cloth diapers, and to be honest it probably doesn't matter which one you use as long as it's free of dyes, perfumes, etc.  Some friends of ours have had good luck with Rockin' Green detergent, and we have heard good things about various other brands too.  We actually called a store that specializes in cloth diapers to get their opinion, and they also recommended Charlie's Soap.  We also priced it out and the Charlie's Soap was actually cheaper (by anywhere from 5-10 cents per load) than buying regular Tide at Wal-Mart.  (We are washing our diapers about once a day, and a small load is plenty of water to take care of them all.)  It does a great job with the diapers, and using a half-squirt of liquid (roughly equivalent to 1/2 ounce) in a small load of laundry gets the diapers plenty clean.  We have noticed a few stains on the cotton, but I don't think that impacts the effectiveness at all.  And from what we have read, these stains basically disappear if the diapers are dried in the sun, which we plan on doing (see below).

Planet Wise Wet Diaper Bag. We bought two of these (one large and one medium) and they work great so far.  After we spray down the diapers we drop them in the large bag and zip it shut.  When we do laundry we just wash the diaper bag along with the diapers, and use the small bag in the meantime if we need to.  I'm not sure how well these will hold up after several months, since the plastic lining seems a little thin, but we'll just have to wait and see.  At least they're not super expensive.

Seventh Generation Wipes.  I'm not sure if these are directly related to cloth diapers, but we use them so I figured I might as well include them here.  They seem to work as well as any other wipes, and apparently they're better for the planet or something like that.  I've read about some Seventh Generation products that are more marketing hype than anything, but for now they work fine and we'll probably continue to get them.

Minky Retractable Clothes Line. As I write this post the thermometer reads about 102 degrees outside, and shows no signs of abating.  So we figured we might as well make use of the heat and try to dry the diapers outside.  Keep in mind that some of the laundry cost involves drying the diapers, and we have found that we can get these dry after two cycles in the dryer by essentially turning them inside out before sticking them in.  Also, drying outdoors is not nearly as fast as the dryer, so you might need to purchase some additional cloth diapers to make up the difference in drying time.  And we have not actually tried drying them outside yet, so this may or may not even work at all.  We have the clothesline itself installed on the side of our house, but we won't have a post in the ground to which we can attach the line until tomorrow (hopefully). So take this with a grain of salt, and try at your own risk.

So that's everything we started with, which brings the up-front cost to somewhere around $500.  I know that seems like a lot, but buying disposables will cost that much in about 4 months.  We also put several of these items on a baby registry, so a lot of them were given to us at baby showers.  As for the actual usage of everything, it's been mostly positive.  For two weeks we used disposables since our baby was still a newborn and the cloth diapers were so big they would rub against his umbilical cord.  But since switching to cloth, the most notable difference (other than not having to throw away dozens of disposables each week) is that our baby's bum is a lot cleaner when we go to change him.  The uber-thick cotton lining of the diapers absorbs way more liquid than a disposable diaper, and changing our baby is simply a lot less messy than it was before.  But I should also note that the diapers don't fit as snugly around his legs as disposables did, and we have had two incidents of some unexpected messes.  But since we got the adjustable-size diapers we are pretty sure we just need to find the sweet spot with the sizing options.  To be honest, I have been surprised at how much stuff these diapers do catch, and the couple accidents we have had have been pretty minor.

The actual diaper-changing process isn't much different either, and I find the snaps to be a lot easier to deal with than the sticky/velcro tabs on disposables.  It does take about 1-2 minutes longer per diaper change to rinse out the diaper with the sprayer, but I don't see this as a big hassle.  There have been a few times when our baby was really fussy and we had to let the diapers sit folded in half for a little while before we could spray them down, but again, this is by far more the exception than the rule.

Cloth diapers also have the added side effect of essentially increasing our baby's clothing size by a couple of units.  There's definitely an added bulk to work around when putting on onesies or other clothes that go over his bottom, and we have found that some of our 0-3 month clothes just don't fit anymore when he's wearing cloth diapers.  I don't know that this is a bad thing in and of itself, just something to be aware of if you are planning on using cloth diapers.  Also, our baby was nearly 10 pounds at birth but as I have mentioned a couple times, the diapers are a bit tricky to find the right size on him.  Even though our One Size Fits All diapers claim to fit babies as little as 7 pounds, I wouldn't recommend it.

After all that, what's the verdict? I give the cloth diapering a solid A-.  It's not perfect, but it's not bad at all, though we still keep some disposables on hand for when we're away from home or if there's some kind of emergency.  The few hiccups and bumps in the road have been easy to overcome, and we really like that we're not shelling out money for disposables all the time.  The energy cost is something that must be considered, though, and if you're a hardcore environmentalist you might argue that the electricity to run the dryer so much (especially since most of our electricity in the United States comes from coal-fired power plants) negates the environmental and cost benefit of disposables, but if our idea to dry them outside pans out I think this will be less of a concern.  And since we live in Oklahoma, the temps are mild enough for most of the year to make outside drying more feasible.  As with all baby-related issues you will get 20 different opinions if you ask 20 different people, but for my part I'm solidly siding with cloth diapers.  At least for now.  We'll see how things go in a couple months, and whether or not I change my tune by then.  :)

1 comment:

Stringman said...

Cloth worked fine for our kids, but we also used a diaper service and let them take care if buying and cleaning the diapers. We weren't loaded with cash either so it must have been pretty affordable.