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Disposable vs. Reusable Swim Diapers

Apr08

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Advice Smackdown ArchivesDear Amy,

So you (and countless others around the internet) have convinced my husband & me to cloth diaper. We have 12 bumgenius 4.0 diapers (with snaps!) on their way to our house now.

My question is about cloth swim diapers- yes or no? Which one? One diaper costs the same as a package of Little Swimmers, so it seems like a good deal. Please tell me what to do on this one!

Margaret

We’ve covered cloth swim diapers ’round these parts before — here and here, specifically. But since we’re approaching That Time Of Year and I know from experience that I’ll likely get multiple questions about them, let’s just revisit the topic one more time anyway.

Yes, we use cloth swim diapers. Yes, we highly recommend them. Not only are they much cheaper and less wasteful than blowing through an entire pack of disposable swim diapers during a day or two at the beach, I actually find them to be easier. I know, right? That goes against everything you ever thought you learned about the cloth vs. disposable debate. While most of us converts are more than happy to tell you that cloth diapering is not as hard as you’d think, few of us would ever be able to look you in the eye and tell you it’s easier than balling up a dirty disposable and tossing it in the nearest trash receptacle. Those people are dirty lying liars.

But for swim diapers, it’s different. I’m sure it still comes down to personal preference, but I always had a lot of problems with the Huggies and Pampers swim offerings (besides the price), even before we ever considered switching to cloth diapers:

1) I didn’t like the fact that they pulled on like underwear, which can be crazy difficult depending on your child’s age and cooperation level…not to mention trying to pull on a fresh one down at the beach, dealing with sand and sunscreen-y thighs. Our reusable swim diapers (Bummis Swimmis) go on with velcro tabs. I can put them on my kid either lying down or standing up. (And since they don’t get anywhere near the level of daily wear-and-tear of our regular diapers, we’ve never had a problem with the velcro wearing out. Even the ones Ezra has outgrown look brand new, and ready for another go with baby #3.)

2) I didn’t like how often I had to change them. It’s one thing to deal with disposable swim diapers for a 30-minute baby-and-me swim lesson at the Y — put one diaper on, rip off and toss afterwards — but if you’re hanging out poolside all day with an active toddler, or at the beach with a baby who wants in the ocean, out of the ocean, no, back in the ocean!, it’s ridiculous how many of those pricey disposables you can end up blowing through. Once your baby has gone in the water, the diaper swells up and sags and bags and needs to be changed. The reusable ones can basically be worn and reused until your baby poops. (If your baby is going to be out of the water for an extended period of time and going naked isn’t an option, you might want to swap the swim diaper for a real one, since it won’t absorb any pee. But you can then reuse the same swim diaper for a later dip in the water. Just rinse it out. Or not. I won’t judge.) (I’ve also been known to shove a prefold or insert into the swim diaper just to buy myself some time and save a full diaper swap-out.)

3) I didn’t like how saggy and heavy they got. I have skinny-hipped kids, and even though the swim diapers are only lightly absorbent (which is a plus for catching accidents BEFORE you go in the water, unlike reusables), they would get so darn waterlogged after a swim that they’d often slide right off my boys’ butts. Not cute. Or very comfortable looking. And it was ALWAYS at this point — after the diaper was at capacity and the leg elastic shot to hell — that my children would decide to poop, and there was never any hope of actual containment. Cloth swim diapers hold their shape and elasticity no matter what.

4) I didn’t like the rashes. Your mileage may certainly vary, but my kids got more rashes after using disposable swim diapers. They do have very sensitive skin, but I’ve found that when we’ve used the cloth swim diapers exclusively (vs. trips where we’ve half-assed it because of laundry concerns), we get ZERO rashes or chafing problems from sand. Now, we just wash them with our bathing suits or just soak them in the sink or give them a good hot rinse in the shower — they aren’t nearly as high-maintenance as typical cloth diapers in the laundry department, since you don’t need to worry about residues harming their absorbency levels.

We own three or four, I think, and this is more than enough for regular trips to the pool and long weekends at the beach. If we were just talking once or twice-weekly trips to the pool or swimming classes, you could probably get away with even less. Basically one to wear and one for backup in case of poop. I just bought some Bummis in the next size up because I assumed last years’ wouldn’t fit again…but we probably could have gotten away with them, though, since the velcro tabs allow for a big size range. (Plus Bummis run BIG, just FYI.)

This summer will be interesting, since it will be my first ever with a very new newborn (my first two were born in the fall). So…I haven’t really thought through that part yet, like what kind of diaper a teensy tiny one should wear to the beach, or when I should aim to first take him in the pool, or whether he’ll need a swimsuit and OH MY GOD I CAN’T BELIEVE I FORGOT AN ENTIRE CATEGORY OF THINGS TO OBSESS ABOUT, THANKS A LOT.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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23 Responses to “Disposable vs. Reusable Swim Diapers”

  1. shyl Apr 08 at 11:25 am Reply Reply

    I’ve never, ever used a disposable swim diaper. It just seems expensive and wrong and kind of gross. They’re pricey as heck! For the price of a pack of swim diapers, you can almost get a swim diaper that will last you at least a year.

    Instead, I use either a PUL-lined diaper cover or a Charlie Banana-brand lined swim diaper. I also have a mesh-lined swim diaper but some pools required lined diapers.

    They’ve never leaked, not during play or swim lessons. And everybody remarks how cute they are!

  2. Angela Apr 08 at 12:13 pm Reply Reply

    We inherited several FuzziBunz and while they weren’t my favorite diaper (I’m a prefold/pin/pull-on Bummis pant kind of gal) they were great for the pool (sans insert).  They snapped to be sung around the legs/waist and the fleece liner didn’t absorb much in the way of pool water.  I also had several pull-on swim diapers from Target that were terrycloth on the inside with a fabric/PUL type exterior.  They kept poops  in and a few were cute and ruffly (I’ve got girls) so one of those plus some sunscreen and we were good to go!

  3. Zinna Apr 08 at 1:24 pm Reply Reply

    Thanks for this! I hadn’t thought about cloth swim diapers so this is great. I just wanted to mention, since I have two spring babies (and a fall baby due in sept) that my boys were not allowed in public pools until they were 6 months old. The pediatrician told us that without the 6-month vaccine, we shouldn’t take the baby into a public pool. My two cents.

  4. Fiona Apr 08 at 1:54 pm Reply Reply

    Our local pool didn’t allow/trust cloth swim nappies so we used disposables, but you can buy them from the pool in packs of one or two and we used them again and again – I think we probably used about 10 disposable diapers for the whole time they were in nappies.  We just washed them out thoroughly in water and dried them in the airing cupboard.

  5. Leigh Apr 08 at 1:57 pm Reply Reply

    We also have never used a disposable swim diaper. I loved the Bummies Swimmis when my son was small, but now that he is a toddler we are rocking the Imse Vimse. They pull on with a side snap and are easier to get on someone who is running to get into the pool. They are stretchy so we are going on more than two years in the same diaper (using it once or twice a day in the summer). They also come with tankini tops for girls.

  6. Olivia Apr 08 at 2:03 pm Reply Reply

    Angela, I hadn’t even thought I could use a pocket-diaper without an insert in the pool. That is genius! I considered and then didn’t buy cloth swim diapers last summer because my daughter didn’t swim very often. She went thru less than two packs, but this summer she might see more pool action, but she will also (hopefully) be on the verge of potty learning so I really don’t like the expense of the cloth swimmers. I think I’ll check out Target or use the fuzzibunz we have.

  7. Katie Apr 08 at 4:35 pm Reply Reply

    As the mama of a 2010 May baby–I’m reading this column because this summer is the first ever big time water exposure baby will get! While I would have been open to taking baby into the water, most of our summer swimming happens outside, which means sun. And generally very cold lake water. Our pedi was pretty adamant about no sunscreen under 6 months…I may have cheated a couple of times when there were going to be long walks between beach umbrella/stroller canopy and I was worried about coverage, but it did irritate his little skin. So you’re probably don’t need much in the extra gear category :) Although I maintain there is big money to be made for someone who “invents” a sun shade for the legs/arms of a little baby in an ergo/bjorn/beco.

  8. Mary Apr 08 at 5:06 pm Reply Reply

    Tips for Amy (that you probably already know!)
    My son was born last June, so here’s what i know about swimming the first summer. 1.) No sunscreen before 6 months, so buy a big hat and some serious coverage swimwear. 2.) Before you buy the smallest sized reusable swim diaper, see if he likes the water first. The smalls only go up to 17 lbs (at least mine did) and my son HATED the pool last summer. He didn’t start liking submersion in water until the fall, and by then the diaper was useless. $15 for a single use- boo.

  9. JCF Apr 08 at 5:17 pm Reply Reply

    I’ll just add that you must make sure you get a swim diaper that either velcros or snaps, so that you don’t have to pull it down in case of poop. I used to babysit for a little girl who had a pull off one (with no snaps), and she pooped once while we were swimming. The diaper absolutely held all the poop, but it was so full of pool water (and lots of poop), that it made a terrible mess when I pulled it down. It is much more convenient to be able to lay the baby or toddler down and open the swim diaper in a more controlled manner. We have the Bummis Swimmis, but I’m sure other brands are fine too, and long as they open!

  10. Kelsey Apr 08 at 6:09 pm Reply Reply

    We got a couple cloth ones from walmart! $5 a piece! I tried the disposables, but the just don’t work for my petite girl. I’m going to check out the brands mentioned here – imse vimse and bummis swimmis, bc living in FL with an 11 month walker, we will need them! 

  11. Julia Apr 09 at 7:58 am Reply Reply

    I’ve also been using one of our pocked diapers without an insert as a swim diaper. Just use one size smaller than normal, i.e. if you’re using one-size diapers that are fully unsnapped, go back to the medium setting for a better fit sans insert.

    I have been to pools that *say* that only disposable swimmies are acceptable, but I’ve never had a problem with reusables.

  12. Clueless Apr 09 at 10:41 am Reply Reply

    About the sunscreen on babies less than 6 mon. We took a beach trip last summer when my little man was 3 mon and my niece was 3 weeks. Our peds said sunscreen is recommended if you are going to be in the sun and shade isn’t readily available; it is better than the alternative. We used California Baby without any problems. I’m not sure my sister or I had a great beach trip….with such little babies we couldn’t really do much beach playing and were stuck under the umbrella trying to nurse covered on sand, sweat and sunscreen the whole time. I would save the beach for when the baby can at least sit unassisted.

  13. Clueless Apr 09 at 10:41 am Reply Reply

    About the sunscreen on babies less than 6 mon. We took a beach trip last summer when my little man was 3 mon and my niece was 3 weeks. Our peds said sunscreen is recommended if you are going to be in the sun and shade isn’t readily available; it is better than the alternative. We used California Baby without any problems. I’m not sure my sister or I had a great beach trip….with such little babies we couldn’t really do much beach playing and were stuck under the umbrella trying to nurse covered on sand, sweat and sunscreen the whole time. I would save the beach for when the baby can at least sit unassisted.

  14. Kate Apr 09 at 12:58 pm Reply Reply

    As the mother of a May baby who spent the better part of that summer at the beach (my parent’s are teachers, they have a house near the beach and that way I had help while the hubby was at work) this is my advice.

    You don’t need a swim diaper or a swimsuit for the baby, at least not right away. I just used an unstuffed bumGenius 3.0 whenever we took him down to the water to get his legs wet (which he loved) and the two times my husband took him into the pool (which he hated). Obviously the chlorine isn’t the best for the PUL but he was only in the water a few minutes and we rinsed it our right away. If you discover that you are taking him into the pool a lot the by all means invest in a tiny swim diaper and some sort of super SPF swimwear. The rest of the time at the beach he can wear whatever diapers you usually use. If we’re there for more than I few days I use flip covers with disposable inserts because my parents don’t have a washing machine but if it’s only a few days we just use our 3.0s.

  15. Emily Apr 10 at 9:39 pm Reply Reply

    Just a note here that my pediatrician said that most (or a very large portion) of all sun-related skin damage is done in the first year of life. So, use sunscreen (over 6 months), but don’t rely on it. Try for as much shade as possible and don’t feel bad if you feel like you need to reapply sunscreen constantly. It’s worth a little headache to avoid skin concerns later in life.

  16. Rebecca Apr 12 at 12:10 pm Reply Reply

    Our community pools do not allow dispoasbles. Only cloth in our area. We use the iPlay swimsuits that have built in dipaering. Works wonders.

  17. Susan Apr 12 at 6:29 pm Reply Reply

    I have a pair of swim trunks for each of my boys (2 years and 6 months) that has a PUL/terry cloth inner diaper. I haven’t tried them out yet, but two weeks from tomorrow we’ll be in Kauai and will give them a go. Three weeks ago my older son had an enormous loose poop in his Kushies swim diaper that unfortunately leaked into the pool – gross gross gross.

    My boys both get upper respiratory infections EVERY.DAMN.TIME we take them swimming at our local indoor rec center – probably the massive humidity and warm water harboring all kinds of bacteria (see leaky diaper, above!). I do love the indoor aspect of it though, since I don’t have to worry about sunburns…

    I always recommend mineral sunscreen for little ones – yes, the thick white stuff is hard to put on, but the color and texture makes it idiot-proof – you can see at a glance where you may have missed. A few minutes of wrestling a squirming toddler is definitely worth the effort.

  18. Emily Apr 13 at 9:03 am Reply Reply

    Just a thank you to the person who wrote that pull up type swim diapers caused poop to get smeared down the leg during changes. Everytime I see swim diapers on sale, I remember this and will be getting velcro or snaps :) It does seem to make more sense.

  19. Kara Apr 18 at 1:59 pm Reply Reply

    We use Happy Heiny’s and I just found out from their website that they can be used as swim diapers by not using an insert. Tried it out at the pool and it worked great!

  20. Athena Apr 17 at 1:10 am Reply Reply

    We don’t have a whole lot of pool access, and half the time my son just goes naked into the paddling pool, so I’ll grant not the broadest base of experience. However, I quite like Bambinomio’s swim nappies.

    They’re definitely a no for anyone looking to avoid the underwear-like, as they *are* pull up, but… I dunno, snaps or velcro for a nappy that’s gonna go in the water just… it makes me nervous. But, I really couldn’t see disposables being worth it, and I could also see them being absorbent *enough* to cause problems and also make me feel icky about the idea of using them. So, bambinomio provided a good middle ground and we’ve had good experiences with getting them on, fit, comfort, etc. He hasn’t actually pooped in them yet so I don’t really know how they stand on that.

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