Several options exist for diapering your baby – disposable diapers, cloth diapers, and flushable diapers. There is a debate about which option is the best for your baby and for the environment. It is not clear whether the environmental impact of washing cloth diapers is greater than that of throwing disposables in landfills. Regardless of which option you choose, several considerations should be taken into account.
Disposable diapers are, without question, the most convenient option. You don’t have to deal with washing or pinning or inserts. However, disposable diapers can be full of chemicals and other potentially harmful ingredients such as dyes, fragrances, plastics, chlorine bleach and polymer gels (sodium polyacrylate). One study found asthma-like reactions in mice exposed to VOC chemicals released by standard disposable diapers. The absorbent gels have been linked with respiratory and skin irritations.
If you want to use disposables but don’t like the idea of putting toxins so close to your baby’s skin, friendlier options do exist that are cotton-blend and free of chlorine, chemicals or gels. Some use wood pulp from sustainable forests.
Flushable Diapers and Liners
Flushable diapers are another option. These diapers are composed of a flushable liner inside a reusable shell. The inserts are biodegradable and cut down on the amount of washing typically required for cloth diapers. Try gDiapers. Alternatively, you can purchase flushable liners that work inside any cloth diaper.
Cloth diapers require more time but they can save money and reportedly result in less diaper rash and earlier potty training. Plus, if you choose organic cotton, you avoid toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers as well as chlorine bleaches and dyes. Check out our list of cloth diaper manufacturers and reusable swim diapers.
Types of Cloth Diapers
Cloth diapers come in a variety of styles –
- The basic prefolded style with a separate waterproof cover;
- a fitted style with elastic waistbands and leg openings and Velcro or snap closures with a separate waterproof cover;
- all-in-one cloth diapers with built-in waterproof covers; and
- pocket diapers with a soft inner layer, a waterproof outer layer and a cloth insert in between.
If you choose a diaper with a waterproof cover, avoid those that contain plastic, especially PVC. Instead choose one made of wool, organic cotton or fleece.
Cleaning Cloth Diapers
When washing cloth diapers, avoid commercial fabric softeners, bleach and laundry detergents containing harsh chemicals. Choose laundry products that contain natural and biodegradable ingredients so as to avoid exposing your child to potentially harmful chemicals. When released into the environment, caustic chlorine bleach can create organochlorides, which can potentially cause cancer as well as problems with your reproductive, neurological and immune systems. For more information, see the article about Green Cleaning. You may also want to consider a diaper service, which is a professional laundry service that rents reusable cotton diapers. For a list of diaper cleaner services, visit the National Association of Diaper Services’ website at www.diapernet.org.
Don’t forget the natural diaper rash cream!