Down and Dirty With Cloth Diapers

cloth diapersIn discussions of infant-centered emergency preparedness, the topic of cloth diapers inevitably gets brought up.

“They’re good for 72 hour kits because you can reuse them,” is what I hear most often.

“So good for when the SHTF,” is another one.

There’s just one problem – I’ve noticed that the people gushing about the emergency preparedness applications of cloth diapers don’t actually use them, themselves. This creates the false impression that one could simply go out, buy some diapers to put in your B.O.B, and have done with it.

Yeah, that’s not really how it works. There are a lot of good things to say about cloth diapers. I’ve been using them for a little over four years, now, with three children, so I have at least some knowledge base here. We did save some very real money by opting for cloth; the initial cost will tend to turn your hair white. Our preferred brand tends to run about $18 per diaper, but in the long run we saved at least $1000, if not more.

Many people choose cloth diapers for their babies, and for a wide variety of reasons. Some parents are concerned about carcinogens found in disposable diapers, others favor the physical appearance of the diapers. Whatever reason you may have for looking into cloth diapers, there are some things you need to know about how to use them before you choose to rely on them in an emergency.

Before I continue, I should clarify what I mean when I say “cloth diapers,” because there are many different kinds. Most people hear the term and think of the old-fashioned prefolds that were worn with plastic or rubber pants. Those are certainly still around and are available for purchase, but doesn’t represent the current landscape of the cloth diaper market. Most people I know (myself included) prefer one-size pocket diapers – these have adjustable snaps, and must be stuffed with a liner, usually made of microfiber or similar. My kids have worn them from about three weeks after birth until potty training. And yes, they have lasted that long, too. There are also “snap-in-one” diapers, “all-in-one” diapers, and hybrid diapers. And with the invention of the snappi and polyurethane laminate covers, even flats and prefolds have experienced advances.

Reasons Why You Might Want To Think Again

  1. Cloth diapers are re-usable, but require a large amount of water to wash them. This should be a major consideration when packing your Bug-Out-Bag. 72 hour kits are for evacuations – will you be evacuating to a place that is guaranteed to have laundry facilities? If you don’t have access to a washing machine, will you at least have a bathtub, and will you be okay with doing diaper laundry by hand? These are important questions you need to ask yourself.
  2. Using cloth diapers can involve something of a learning curve. There are many different brands of cloth diaper, and depending on your baby’s physique (e.g. chubbiness of legs in proportion to the circumference of their waist) some brands may be more prone to leaks than others. Some problems can be solved by fiddling with the diaper itself, but other problems may require that you purchase another brand altogether.
  3. You will need more than just the diapers: wet bags, diaper sprayers, and special detergent. If you attempt to make the switch to cloth without the use of these accessories, it will be that much harder for you. It is absolutely essential that you use only cloth-diaper-friendly detergent on your cloth diapers. Regular detergent can lead to a build-up of soapy residue that will negatively impact the diapers’ absorbency and consequently shorten the life of the diaper.
  4. Cloth diapers require time and maintenance. I’ve had at least one child in diapers, and sometimes two, for four years. In that span of time, I have had to do an extra load of laundry at least every three days. When I had very young babies, it was closer to every other day and, at times, even daily.

So what’s in my own 72-hour kits? Disposables, known to my kids as “paper diapers.” They don’t take up as much room as cloth diapers, and don’t require any maintenance. They are a good solution to have on hand for times that require quick and easy diaper changes with little fuss.

You’ll probably read the above and be sworn off cloth diapers forever, because of how dull and dreary-sounding it appears. I hope you decide to keep reading, though, because there are more points to consider.

Reasons Why You Should Make The Switch to Cloth Diapers

  1.  A short-term emergency is one thing; what about a long-term emergency? Say there’s a tremendous disruption in shipping, and Costco’s inventory runs dry and you can’t get disposable diapers anywhere, not for love or money. Having cloth diapers on hand could be a real blessing, especially if you are already familiar with them. Even without the SHTF scenario hanging over your head, you won’t ever run out of diapers if you have a stash of “fluff.” Gone will be the days of midnight runs to the store to get more diapers.
  2. Cloth diapers last a long time. I got, on average, about two and a half years of use out of each of my posh bumGenius diapers. They don’t last forever and do wear out, but are extremely cost effective in the long run. “Old-school” diapers – prefolds and flats – have been known to last a decade or more.
  3. Yes, you do save money. Lots of money. I only wish I kept track of exactly how much money we’ve saved over the four years we’ve had our cloth diapers. We did need to purchase additional cloth diapers when my daughter was first born, and that set us back about $250, including the cost of detergent. Compare this to the average estimated cost of disposable diapers in a child’s first year, about $600. Our electric and water bills have not been significantly impacted since we began using cloth.
  4. Less trash in the landfill. Take a walk down the diaper aisle at any grocery store. Everything in that aisle is going to go straight into the trash.

A note on the Mommy Wars

The Cloth vs. Disposables debate has been at times heated and bloody. Rather than engage the rhetoric from either side, I’ll try to be a little diplomatic: as you’ve seen above, both kinds of diaper have their pros and cons. Circumstances change, and your situation may warrant one over the other. Some children develop horrible rashes in response to cloth diapers, in which you could argue that disposables are in the best interest of the child, if you have a choice. Other babies, however, get rashes from disposables.

My two boys loved their cloth diapers, but my daughter (now on the cusp of potty training.) starts crying if I try to put a cloth diaper on her. To be fair, her skin is more sensitive than her brothers’, and she breaks out in hives. It’s a battle that I have ceased to fight; after four years of exclusive cloth diapering, wherein I have battled a myriad of rashes and yeast infections and all kinds of things, I bought a big ol’ pack of disposables last week. I felt a little like I was abandoning my principles, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

Have any of you had any experience using cloth diapers in during an emergency? What was your experience?

Cloth Diapers

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