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Cloth diapers are in reach of all families

Monica Beyer is a mom of four and has been writing professionally since 2000, when her first book, Baby Talk, was published. Her main area of interest is attachment parenting and all that goes with it, including breastfeeding, co-sleepin...

Any family can do cloth diapers

Diapers are a necessary expense when you have a baby, but some parents find themselves needing to choose between buying a package of diapers and buying food or paying the bills.
Baby in a cloth diaper

What many parents don’t realize is that using cloth diapers is a viable alternative, even if they don’t have a washer or dryer in their home.

Disposable diapers are expensive, and cloth diapers can seem even more out of reach — after all, there is a start-up cost involved, and they need to be washed. A recent CNN article discussed how families sometimes struggle to come up with money for diapers, but the author believed that cloth diapers simply aren’t an option for those who aren’t able to wash at home. However, every year thousands of families demonstrate just how doable it really is, and a leading cloth diaper advocate hopes that this information can be used to inspire moms and dads who may be struggling to buy another pack of disposable diapers.

Handwashing and Flats Challenge

Kim Rosas, owner of Dirty Diaper Laundry, organized the first Flats and Handwashing Challenge. She was inspired after reading a news article that outlined some unsafe and unsanitary practices some families put into place because they could not afford to buy more disposable diapers — moms trying to wash and “air dry” disposable diapers or scraping out solid waste and reusing them.

“As a cloth diaper advocate I’ve always believed there are some exceptions to the rule and that disposables have a place, yet I knew that in desperate situations the money savings of cloth diapers would be an immense help to these families,” she explained.

Parents who sign up for this challenge are encouraged to use flat diapers exclusively and only wash them by hand for an entire week. “Flats were the obvious choice — they are super cheap, available at major big box stores (as flour sack towels or burp cloths), and wash and dry easily,” Kim told us. “Before advocating this method I had to ‘put my money where my mouth was’ so I started doing it at home. I invited others to try it and, surprisingly, a lot of people signed up.”

You can wash your baby’s diapers by hand in the sink, but Kim suggests creating a camp-style washing machine on the cheap. Flats are ideal for this purpose as they are made up of one layer of material so they wash easily, rinse easily and dry quickly — even indoors.

Jessica, mom of two, handwashed diapers when her youngest was a small baby. They washed them in their bathtub and got their older child involved in the action too — and made it fun. “It was worth the savings for us, especially at that time,” she said. “We couldn't afford to diaper our 3-month-old with disposables anymore, and the Laundromat was too expensive for us at the time too.”

Helping push cloth to the mainstream

Kim, along with other cloth-using parents, was dismayed at how easily cloth diapers were dismissed by the CNN writer. She recognizes that the author comes from a disposable diaper bank background — she is a founder of the National Diaper Bank Network, an organization that helps local diaper banks stock up on and distribute disposable diapers to parents in need.

Stack of cloth diapers

Kim said that she wished diaper banks provided at least a little information on cloth diapers and how they can really help family budgets and keep babies warm and dry. “A package of disposables is a band aid, but a stash of cloth diapers is a cure for diaper need,” she explained.

Starting a cloth diaper stash from scratch can seem daunting, but if you buy the more inexpensive types (such as flat diapers or prefolds) and do it a little at a time, you can have a couple dozen diapers in no time. “It might not seem like a lot of money when you buy [disposable] diapers every week, but it can add up to $1,600 for one child in two years of using diapers, much more if they potty train later,” Kim explained. “Considering that minimum wage is around $8 (even less in many states) that adds up to 200 hours of work. That doesn’t even include the taxes taken from their pay!”

Cloth diapering is a viable option in most circumstances and even using cloth part-time can add up to a lot of savings. Consider letting your friends know about cloth diapers and point them towards resources such as this piece from Dirty Diaper Laundry, which shows parents how to cloth diaper on a budget. Moms shouldn’t have to choose between diapering their baby and putting food on the table — and with cloth, they don’t have to.

More on cloth diapers

Cloth diapers you're sure to love
Why moms choose to cloth diaper
Fall in love with cloth diapering

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