Updated March 1, 2022
Babies generate more than 2,000 dirty diapers in just their first year. So, for parents the decision about what kind of diapers they will use —cloth or disposable — will have a big impact on their finances, the health of their baby, and the environment.
Why use cloth diapers?
There are many good reasons to use cloth diapers instead of disposable ones. If you wash your baby’s diapers at home, cloth diapers will cost about $1,000 less than disposables over three years. Cloth diapers are also more breathable and don’t contain harsh chemicals, making them more comfortable for baby and less likely to cause diaper rash and other issues.
Cloth diapers are also much more environmentally friendly. Disposable diapers use 20 times more raw materials than cloth diapers. Producing a one year supply of disposable diapers for one baby requires more than 300 pounds of wood, 20 pounds of chlorine, and 50 pounds of petroleum. Disposable diapers also generate 60 times more solid waste. Over 90 percent of disposable diapers end up in landfills, where they make up 4 percent of all solid waste. Estimates are that it takes 250 to 500 years for these diapers to degrade in a landfill.
Of course, cloth diapers need to be washed regularly, which requires energy (if you use a washing machine) and clean water. However, it is easy to recycle dirty wash water into a grey water system (the water from our baby laundry feeds a pretty little flower garden) and washing diapers by hand even eliminates the need for electricity. The negative environmental impact from cloth diaper usage is very minimal, and can even positively affect the environment if the nutrient rich wash water is utilized to feed plants (avoiding certain food/medicinal crops) and if diapers are hand washed to avoid electricity use.
Cloth baby wipes and cloth diapers go hand in hand. Like cloth diapers, cloth wipes save money, eliminate waste, and don’t contain harsh chemicals like packaged commercial wipes often do. Besides, if you’re using cloth diapers, you’re already doing laundry often so using cloth diaper wipes doesn’t really create more work for you.
Make Your Own Diaper Wipes
Making your own cloth diaper wipes and natural diaper wipe solution is really easy. Using homemade wipes can be just as convenient as the packaged wipes. I simply put however many wipes I’ll use over a day or two into a tupperware container and pour the solution over them so they are wet, but not dripping when used. I keep the container of wipes at our diaper changing area and take a little ziploc bag of them with me in the backpack when we’re out and about.
Cloth Diaper Wipes
Cloth wipes are easy to make. Use a soft fabric, like flannel. First, cut the fabric into wipes. I made 6×6 inch squares, but the wipes can be cut into any size/shape you like. Next, you’ll want to sew around the edges of your squares (or other shapes) to keep the fabric from unraveling. It’s quite easy just to do a zigzag stitch around the edges of each wipe, but if you want to get fancier with it you certainly can. Or just use old t-shirts cut into squares and skip hemming, since they won’t fray. This is a easier option and has the added bonus of upcycling a old t-shirt or two you don’t wear anymore.
If sewing isn’t your thing, you can also buy a package of thin baby wash cloths to use as wipes.
You’ll want 24-36 wipes, depending on how often you do laundry. I made 36 wipes before my little one was born and that has always been plenty for us, even if I skip doing laundry for a day or two.
Diaper Wipe Solution
Thankfully, making the cloth wipes is the most time consuming part of this whole process, and you’ll only need to do that one time to get started.
Once you have your wipes made, it only takes a few minutes to whip up a batch of diaper wipe solution. You’ll want to use this solution up in a week or two, so if you don’t think you’ll use a 500 ml in that amount of time, you can make a smaller batch.
You will need:
- 400ml of distilled or filtered water
- 50 ml liquid castile soap
- 50 ml sunflower oil
- 500 ml bottle
Add water to the bottle. Next add the soap & oil. Shake well. Pour over cloth wipes.
Using cloth diapers & wipes is good for your baby, your wallet, and the environment. However, there are times when using cloth diapers is definitely less convenient than disposables. When traveling, for example, cloth diapers can be difficult to manage if you don’t have a good place to wash & dry them. If you do need to use disposable diapers, try to use non-toxic, biodegradable brands.
Looking to find out more about cloth diapering? This great post from Wellness Mama will take you through the basics.
Fallon Morell, Sally and Thomas S. Cowan, MD. The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care.