Hidden Benefits of Using Cloth Diapers

by Sandra Ray

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Ask any frugal parent how to save money with a baby, and almost always they'll mention cloth diapers. Savings estimates, depending on what type of cloth is used, range from $1,000 to $2,000 over a three-year period. The savings increase when parents reuse cloth diapers for two or three children.

There are other benefits to using cloth diapers that some parents overlook. First, why use commercially produced disposable baby wipes when reusable wipes work just as well? Those cute receiving blankets won't get used longer than two or three months and make some of the softest baby wipes. Simply cut them into handy squares and serge the edges with a sewing machine to keep them from fraying. Over a three-year period, parents can save $300-400 making their own reusable baby wipes or using a soft wash cloth for changes.

Baby wipe solution doesn't have to be difficult either. Some parents keep a spray bottle of fresh water on the changing table and apply some to the wipe before a diaper change. There are several recipes for diaper wipe solution available on the Internet for those who wish to experiment.

A second benefit comes from the decrease in baby rashes. One study from the Journal of Pediatrics indicates that 54% of one month olds in disposable diapers had some type of rash, 16% were severe. Rash medication can be expensive. A tube of one of the leading makers of rash medicine costs approximately $6. This is just a small expense, but multiply that expense over three years and it quickly starts to add up.

Laundry savings also add up with cloth diapering. Some might ask, "If you're washing diapers at home, wouldn't you do more laundry?" Well, overall, it's really only an extra load or two of laundry per week. One of the reasons parents give up cloth diapers is lack of understanding about how to care for them. Let's examine a typical laundry regimen in a cloth-diapering household.

Cloth diapers, and any laundry for that matter, require much less soap than the industry would have the public believe. One cause of rashes in a cloth-diapered baby is too much soap being used to wash diapers. Cutting back to 1/8 to 1/4 cup of soap (liquid or powder) is more than sufficient to clean diapers or other household laundry. Plus, there is less detergent build-up in the washer in the long run. An additional rinse may help with soap residue if it becomes a concern. Drying diapers on a clothesline saves money as well. Even drying them in the dryer is less expensive than using disposables.

Some households report tremendous savings using less detergent for all of their laundry needs. Let's do the math. Some of the leading brands of laundry detergent generally cost $8 for 100 oz (liquid). The average household goes through two bottles of detergent per month, using the amount recommended by the soap manufacturer. This equates to approximately $192 per year for laundry detergent. Cutting back to 1/8 cup of soap per load can stretch that 100-ounce bottle of soap for about 3.5 months for a family of five. Laundry detergent costs just dropped to $27 per year, a cost savings of $165 annually.

In addition, cloth diaper makers warn against using fabric softeners or dryer sheets since it leaves a "waxy" residue on the diapers, making them less absorbent. Using 1/2 cup of white distilled vinegar in the wash can make clothes softer and cuts back on the amount of static cling. If the average household uses $40 per year in dryer sheets or fabric softener, this cost can be completely eliminated. Adding extra vinegar to the wash adds a minimal amount to the annual total of cloth diaper laundry. Plus, these changes outlast cloth diapering, lowering costs for a lifetime of laundry.

Some people cut their cloth diaper costs even more by making them instead of buying. There are patterns available online, or some parents have even traced a disposable diaper and just made their own pattern! Either way, materials to make cloth diapers are extremely inexpensive. Some of them are already in the household.

Flannel makes a great cloth diaper. Many parents reuse those receiving blankets or purchase inexpensive flannel in their local sewing shops. Reuse those old flannel sheet sets to make diapers as well. For the middle layer of the diaper (known as the soaker), some parents reuse old terry cloth bath towels which have seen better days. Terry cloth is extremely absorbent and holds up well in the wash over time. Fleece makes a good water resistant cover. Two layers of 200-weight fleece are sufficient. Elastic, plastic snaps or Velcro finish out the typical "fitted" diaper.

In all, there are many hidden financial incentives to use cloth diapers. Cloth baby wipes, few diaper rashes, laundry savings, and making cloth diapers at home are just a few of these benefits. In addition, there are less disposable diapers in the landfill, saving the environment as well. The Born to Love website is an excellent resource for cloth diaper information, including links to free diaper patterns and sewing tips. The early childhood years don't have to be as expensive as some tout, giving parents avenues to save money for college or unexpected expenses in the future.

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