There is nothing more spiritual or sanctified about using cloth. Using cloth does not make you a holier or better mother. But there is a substantial cost savings. If you prefer to make up that cost elswewhere by saving money someplace else, that’s fine. But part of getting control of your budget is actually knowing where the money is going and where it could be trimmed. You’ll make better decisions about trimming if you are informed about costs.
There is a much confusion in some circles about the cost of cloth vs disposable. A consumer magazine once did a study comparing the environmental costs of the two options, and they concluded that they were about the same. I have my doubts about that since you can use a cloth diaper about 200 times, and then you can use it for other things, too. But I never used cloth diapers for environmental reasons. I used them strictly for economic and health reasons (some of my babies had bad skin reactions to certain disposable brands). So long as you don’t have to have the fanciest, most expensive brand name in the latest cloth diaper model, then cloth diapering is a significantly cheaper route- and it does not actually take a whole lot more time than disposable if you can organize your supplies.
We have had two in diapers at the same time. Using cloth versus disposables made the difference between eating and not eating. I’ve never tried to argue somebody into cloth diapers when they used disposable just because they preferred them, but when somebody says there is no significant price difference, then I speak up, because I know that is not true, and I hate to think of somebody struggling to make ends meet making such an expensive decision based on bad advice from the researchers in some lab. The foundations of this post were written a decade ago when a parenting forum I was on featured somebody saying just that- that there was no price difference between the two. After I wrote the earlier version of this post, she went back and checked and she said she’d been mistaken- she’d misread that study on environmental costs and thought it was talking about economic costs. People had believed her about a topic where her claims obviously did not make sense because she was saying something they wanted to believe.
You can get *good* cloth diapers for very reasonable prices. Don’t buy the cheapies in the grocery or department store. Put the word out that you are interested in doing cloth, there’s a good possiblity that someone will give you the diapers they never used. You can call a diaper service and ask if they have diapers you can buy. Diaper service diapers are, in my opinion, the very best. They are thick and absorbent, and they will often sell you their used diapers at very reasonable prices. You can check out garage sales, thrift shops, and consignment stores.
I have used cloth diapers with all of mine (not exclusively, sometimes we used
disposables), and I think the most I spent on diapers is about twenty dollars for
four dozen diapers and diaper liners. I bought them at a yard sale from a lady who had surprise twins and just couldn’t face cloth. Her diapers were great. I found the liners to be more of a nuisance than an aid.
I promise you don’t have to have the most expensive brands and a dozen different ‘diapering’ accessories. Those baby catalogs really go to some people’s heads. We used plain rectangle shaped cloth diapers, diaper pins, and vinyl pants (look for these at the thrift store). I carried plastic grocery bags with me to keep wet and soiled diapers in (with Pip, yes, I even used cloth diapers to go places. Money was especially tight. With others I used disposables when we were out and about).
Cleaning them isn’t as complicated as some have made it sound, either. I’ve written two posts about laundering with cloth diapers. You can read them here and here.
Revised and edited for entry into the August 4, 2007 edition of Frugal Fridays