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Should I Use Cloth Diapers or Disposables?

To Cloth Or Not To Cloth

By Amalah

Hi Amy!

I’ve read your blog like a book, thoroughly enjoying the humor and furtively glancing at my office door in case my boss pops in wanting to know what’s so funny?  Thanks for all that you share about your life, it really helps newbie parents!

So I’m 12 weeks pregnant, and very interested in at least trying cloth diapers when our baby is born. The first cloth diapers set I heard about on another blog was the GroVia Hybrids, which made a lot of sense to me.  Then I’ve read about your obsession with FuzziBunz and prefolds. I’m willing to try a sampling of each to get our feet wet and find out if cloth diapering is even for us, but here’s the 2-part dilemma.

1.  My husband is not on board at all.  We’re talking no way Jose, are you kidding me?  Partially it’s because he’s grossed out by diapers in general and is a bit of a germaphobe, both of which are going to be eye openers for him when the baby arrives and he’s wiping all kinds of nasty fluids.  I’m confident that he’ll get more comfortable with practice, but the biggest issue he has about cloth diapers is washing them in the same washer where all our clothes are cleaned.  I’ve tried explaining the science behind it, but it grosses him out to think he’ll be wearing poop shirts.  Any advice on this?>

2. The other thing he points out, which I kind of agree on, is practicality with our lifestyle. We live in Egypt and travel a…lot… His other beef with the idea of cloth is “what do we do with stinky gross cloth diapers while traveling” Is this where the cloth and disposable harmony comes in? And since getting more cloth supplies will require stocking up while in the states and making due if we don’t have something we need, is it even worth our time trying?

thanks!

I think the whole “cloth diapers are back in vogue” thing has caught a lot of people by surprise — a lot of husbands and grandparents, anyway, judging from the emails I get on this topic. I still remember my husband’s face when I turned to him one random day and said that I was thinking I’d like to switch to cloth diapers. We were over four months in on our second baby, for the record, and I basically had the idea like, that day and proceeded to get completely gung-ho about it in a manner of hours. Anyway, his face was Very Skeptical Side-Eye, over the whole thing. But he was intrigued over the cost savings, he’s quite the save-the-earth type, and by that point he was no longer apprehensive about diapers in general. He’d changed a few thousand or so, after all.

But for your husband’s specific concerns (which are valid! and probably shared by a lot of people!), here would be my responses (which you can totally frame as coming from “your friend who cloth diapers and has THREE KIDS and KNOWS WHAT SHE’S TALKING ABOUT and who is only KIND OF A LITTLE BIT CRAZY”):

First, let’s talk about the grossness of cloth vs. disposable. And let’s agree on the fact that ALL DIAPERS are kind of gross. Your baby is going to poop and pee into something, and you will be responsible for handling and disposing of that something, be it cloth or paper or plastic. But if I wanted to lobby for cloth being less gross, I’d focus on these points:

1) Disposable diapers are more susceptible to the dreaded, not-at-all mythical “blowout.” This is a very regular, common problem when your baby is a newborn, as the poops are very liquid and come out…uh, very forcefully. Disposable diapers are all about the fit around the legs, but there is absolutely NO protection or barrier around the back of the waistband. It just kind of…sits flat against your baby’s back, and poop will shoot up and out of the diaper. All over your baby’s back, clothing, carseat, crib, swing, or YOU. I have literally cleaned baby poop off the back of a baby’s NECK. It’s THAT REAL, PEOPLE. This problem can happen pretty regularly until six months or so (when solids are introduced, and the poops get grosser and bigger but at least stop shooting out at top speed). It can also crop up again in toddlerhood when your baby is only going once or twice a day and oh dear god, that’s a man-sized poop! And you just sat down on it and rolled around on the floor and ohhhh, YAY. There are still days when I am so very thankful for having REAL elastic around my baby’s waistband.

2) On that note, let’s do away with the notion that if your washing machine will be a poop-free zone if use disposables. Ha. HAHAHAHA. There will be poop on your baby’s clothing, bedding, blankets, etc. You will be putting poop in your washing machine pretty much no matter what. (Breastmilk baby poop is nothing, though. There’s no point in trying to shake or rinse or anything: It’s right on par with like, a yogurt stain or something. Washes right out.) When your baby gets bigger, you can shake or rinse off the solids into the toilet before tossing the diaper into the pail. (And for the record, I would recommend shaking solids out of disposable diapers too, because otherwise your diaper pail is disgusting and emptying it on trash night is an exercise in oh-god-don’t-let-the-baggies-rip terror. So again, the idea that disposables are some kind of amazing shield against having to actually deal with/handle/see/inspect your baby’s waste isn’t super realistic.)

3) Cloth diapers require special detergent. Special clean-rinsing detergent, which will actually lead to less residue in your washing machine and less “carry-over” from one load to the next. I also recommend adding an extra rinse at the end of your diaper wash cycle, just to flush everything out one last time. I swear to God no one in my family has ever walked around wearing a poop shirt. Most of the diapers are just…wet, anyway. For all the talk about babies and poop and ZOMGPOOP, the reality is MOST diaper changes are urine only.

4) For traveling, this depends. I have traveled with cloth diapers and disposables, and sometimes a hybrid of each. There are pros and cons to BOTH, trust:

a) Disposables take up more space in your luggage, especially since you’ll always want to pack a million more diapers than you THINK you’ll ever need. (Because you are correct: You will always need more diapers than you think.)

b) Disposables are awkward when you’re a guest in someone’s home and aren’t handling the trash disposal. We once stayed at a family’s condo and very literally walked each and every dirty diaper down to the other end of the hall to the building’s trash chute. Even if you use those handy odor-repelling baggies (you know, because it’s great to create even MORE non-biodegradable waste), I’ve never really enjoyed leaving behind a wastebasket full of diapers at someone’s home (or even a hotel).

c) If you go somewhere with a washer and dryer, you can pack fewer diapers. And don’t worry if your destination doesn’t have the “right” detergent or you can’t soak them overnight or anything: The occasional half-assed laundry cycle will not cause your diapers to disintegrate at the seams or anything.

d) You travel with cloth diapers, you travel with a wet bag. You put dirty diapers in the wet bag and zip it up. Mash it into the bottom of your suitcase, bring it home and dump the whole thing, bag and all, into the washer. That’s…about it for special gear or accessories. Pretty mild, as baby travel gear goes. I promise, it’s not scary at all and dirty diapers in a bag don’t really take up any additional room in your luggage AND a good wet bag will COMPLETELY lock in the odors and dampness. I use the ones by Planet Wise and they come in a variety of sizes, for just one or two diapers (like for your carry-on, on the plane, etc.) for up to several days’ worth.

5) You can always go halfsies. Dude, cloth diaper at home and buy disposables when you travel. Use disposables on the plane and switch back to cloth at your destination. Whatever you want to do! It’s OKAY. You will not fail at cloth diapering if you opt to not use them 100% exclusively all the time. You will not automatically turn them into a bad investment (or not “worth it”) if you occasionally grab from a pile of emergency back-up Huggies, you know?

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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 Ama...

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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