Parents go back to cloth diapers to save money, environment

In the Capital Region, many mothers are making the switch to cloth diapers from disposable diapers.
Rachelle Jenkins of Ballston Spa, who owns California Babestuff, holds up a doll with a cloth diaper during a demonstration at Haute Mama Maternity in Saratoga Springs.
Rachelle Jenkins of Ballston Spa, who owns California Babestuff, holds up a doll with a cloth diaper during a demonstration at Haute Mama Maternity in Saratoga Springs.

When Andrew Nethercutt learned that his wife, Alyssa, was pregnant with their first child three years ago, he began obsessing about the thought of “reeky” diaper changes.

“I pictured myself passing out by the changing table and the baby rolling off and getting hurt, or I envisioned getting a whiff of things and throwing up. I didn’t know how I was going to deal with it,” said the Albany dad.

By the time baby Gabrielle was born, however, Andrew quickly overcame his fear of diaper duty. But a feeling of trepidation soon returned when the fledgling father learned the couple were about to trade in their stash of convenient disposable diapers for a stack of the cloth variety.

“My mind immediately pictured bulky plastic and safety pins and poopy messes,” said Nethercutt, adding that leaks and rashes were also a concern. “I didn’t know why we couldn’t just go with disposables like everyone else. But my wife had made up her mind and that was it.”

Then Nethercutt did some research.

“What I discovered is that disposables wreak havoc on the environment. I never realized how bad they are. I like to think of myself as being pretty aware of my carbon footprint. So I couldn’t use them in good conscience. Then, when I sat down and calculated the savings that also came along with [cloth], especially if you launder them yourself, I was sold,” he said.

The Nethercutts, like thousands of other families, are slamming the lid on disposable diapers, and cloth is reclaiming the spotlight as the diaper of choice, fueled largely by Internet-savvy “momtrepreneurs” who have launched Web boutiques selling brands with irresistible names like Fuzzi Bunz and Baby BeeHinds.

These are a far cry from the cloth diapers you might have worn as a baby, and they’re most definitely not the diapers your parents wore.

Today’s cloth diapers are made of hemp, microfiber, flannel and other materials. They also contain waterproof outer layers that keep moisture out but still help baby’s skin breathe. They usually close with snaps, Velcro or hook-and-loop fasteners, and some diapers even contain absorbent, removable inserts.

In the Capital Region, many mothers are making the switch.

Sarah Otto did so when she gave birth to her daughter, Emma, four years ago, and she has no regrets.

Otto, who owns Haute Mama Maternity in Saratoga Springs, said the environment was a big factor in her decision as well.

According to The Environmental Protection Agency, disposable diapers are the third most common consumer product filling the nation’s landfills, with at least 3.6 million tons of diapers thrown away every year, taking as many as 500 years to decompose.

The argument has been made that washing cloth diapers at home wastes excess water, but the reality said an EPA spokesman, is that between 50 and 70 gallons of water are used every three days — about the same as a toilet-trained child or adult flushing the toilet five to six times a day. Basically, it’s a wash, he said.

Many styles

Many variations of cloth diapers exist, said Rachelle Jenkins of Ballston Spa, owner of California Babestuff, who sells myriad types of cloth diapers internationally right out of her home.

Here are some of the most popular styles.

— Prefolded diapers: These are rectangles of fabric that can be unfolded and expanded as baby grows. They can be pinned, gathered and tied or used to line other diapers to add more protection.

Prefolds are popular among many parents because they are the most inexpensive cloth diapering option and dry quickly. However, folding prefold diapers does generally take some practice, and prefolds always require a separate diaper cover.

— Baby wraps: Plastic pants are passé, although many moms still use them. Modern diaper covers come in a variety of waterproof fabrics, many of which are made of the same types of materials used in outdoor gear. Some wraps attach with Velcro while others use adjustable snaps.

— All-in-ones: These combine an inner diaper and an outer cover that’s attached to the diaper. The all-in-one is secured with Velcro or snaps.

— Pocket diapers: The outside is waterproof polyurethane, while the inside is microfleece or other soft material. The two layers are sewn together with a pocket opening in the back in which you insert a prefolded diaper or special insert that comes with the pocket diaper. The unit closes with snaps or Velcro, and when baby wets, moisture passes through the inner layer and is absorbed by the insert.

While startup costs for cloth diapers are steeper than for disposables, Jenkins points out that you need only pay for materials once because they can be used again and again.

Parents dole out an average of $2,400 for two-and-a-half years of disposables, whereas cloth diapers with covers for that same amount of time cost about $375.

Bring another child into the family, and parents can simply use the cloth diapers they already own, she said.

Caring for cloth diapers is simple.

Until they are ready to wash, keep them in a dry pail or container. Soaking is not necessary. Solid waste should be dumped in the toilet before the diapers go in the dry pail.

For those who would rather wait a few days to do a large batch, the diapers can be rinsed in cold water and then washed in hot water with a bit of detergent. Never use fabric softener as it hinders the diaper’s ability to absorb moisture.

Courtney Hughes of Greenwich said that on top of the savings, it is also nice not to have to make any “middle-of-the-night” diaper runs.

“You’ve always got a fresh batch of diapers,” she said.

Hughes, a mother of two, said she really didn’t know cloth diapers still existed when her daughter, Charlotte, was born almost three years ago.

“We got really lucky. I had a doula helping us out with Charlotte’s birth and she recommended two or three brands to try. I checked all over the Internet and we bought some. We only needed to do it for two years. After that, [Charlotte] was potty trained. That is pretty common with cloth-diapered babies because it’s so much easier for them to realize when they are wet,” she said.

Hughes is now cloth-diapering her 2-month-old son, Oliver.

many skeptics

Despite those who believe cloth diapering is the best way to go, there are still plenty of die-hard disposable users who are showing no signs of converting.

Lydia Becker of Schenectady makes no bones about the fact that she still sees cloth diapering moms as “new-age freaks.”

“Come on, people. There is nothing wrong with disposables. You use them, you toss them, you get a fresh one. That’s just the way it should be. I think I speak for millions of moms when I say I’d rather spend the extra money,” she said.

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