The cloth vs. disposable diaper debate

Cloth diaper babyFirst comes the exciting news of pregnancy. You celebrate, tell friends and family, maybe daydream of coaching the baseball team.

Then come the decisions. Will you nurse or use formula? Will you find out the gender of your baby or wait to be surprised? Will you use cloth or disposable diapers?

Plenty of parents choose disposables because they’re unaware of other options. But there has been a growing trend toward cloth diapers, and those who choose the latter are often vocal about their choices.

“I could talk about cloth diapering all day,” Jared Harrison said.

With a daughter about to turn 3 years old, the Conewago Township, York County, resident is passionate. But he only got tuned into cloth about a year ago.

“Nobody educates you about it. Nobody talks about it in birthing classes. Breastfeeding and formula gets more attention,” Harrison said.

Harrison, 35, and his wife discovered the benefits of cloth diapers through a weekly webisode on the Internet, run by a lactation consultant and midwife in New Jersey.

Heather Klinefelter, owner of Growing Up Green in York, experienced similar frustrations.

“Six or seven years ago, there was a wealth of information on the Internet, but it was very difficult to just make a decision looking at pictures and reading reviews,” Klinefelter said. She ended up traveling to Washington, D.C., to discuss her options with someone in person.

“Everyone has their own opinion on what’s best for them,” she said. In the end, she chose cloth diapers for her boys, now 2 and 5 years old.

What’s the cost?

Despite the initial investment, the cost was more affordable over the lifetime of her children. She was also concerned about the environmental impact of throwing away thousands of diapers over three or four years.

The environmental impact was also a deciding factor for York resident Tabitha Phillips.

“We try to live as intentionally and environmentally conscious as possible,” she said, adding that her mother had used cloth diapers.

She did, on the other hand, get a few strange looks from friends.

“They call me a hippie. When I actually show them the diaper, they’re always amazed,” Phillips said.

“I think a lot of people hear horror stories from their moms about pins,” Klinefelter said. “But diapers nowadays are all snaps and breathable fabrics.”

Is it a time commitment?

Cloth diaper detractors are also often wary of the time commitment and, often, the yuck factor.

“That was the comment I got: ‘It sounds good now, but just wait till you return to work,’” Phillips said. But Phillips hasn’t found the laundry to be an issue. She throws them into the washer, runs the rinse cycle and lets them soak overnight. In the morning, she washes and rinses them again. When she comes home from work, her husband helps her fold the clean diapers.

“I was also afraid it was going to be stinky,” she added.

“You do think about it, and go ‘Oh, that’s kind of gross,’” Harrison said. “But if your kid poops in his pants, you’re not going to throw them in the trash. You’re going to wash them.”

Pros and cons of cloth diapers

Click the chart for a readable PDF version.

What about a service?

Of course, for parents who want to avoid doing laundry, a diaper service becomes an option.

“You don’t have to rinse or soak the diapers,” explained Jim Campbell, owner of Baby’s Choice Cotton Diaper Service. Based in Neffsville, Lancaster County, the company delivers to the eastern portion of York County.

“The diapers are ours, so we wash them. You shake out the solids when the baby is older, but there’s no extra fuss or handling of the diapers,” Campbell said.

They’re cleaned in hospital-grade washing formulas, sanitized and pH-balanced, with no added phosphates or perfumes. As for the cost, Campbell compares it to cloth diapers you’d wash yourself — if you don’t put any dollar value on your time.

“Electricity is (also) an expense for washing and drying,” he added.

But more than 90 percent of U.S. parents prefer disposable diapers because they’re easier to use, according to the Los Angeles Times. And for some families, they’re still thinking of the environment.

“In a community where your waste is incinerated and the waste is turned into energy, as in York, (it’s different than) if you live in a community where you know your trash goes to a landfill,” said Matthew Peregoy, a stay-at-home dad in Bonneauville.

What’s convenient?

In the end, the convenience of disposables won out for Peregoy.

“Even though I’m an at-home parent, we don’t stay at home all the time,” he said. “It’s more convenient to have a disposable diaper.”

For users of cloth diapers, travel can present a challenge. When Harrison and his family went on an 11-day cruise in December, they chose disposables.

“What are you going to do with almost 50 (dirty) diaper inserts over 11 days?” he asked.

And although cloth diapers have changed from the horrors of yesteryear, there are still a few problems with fit.

“Unfortunately, they don’t make onesies (to fit) cloth diapers,” Phillips said with a laugh. “My little 6-pounder looked like an odd bug with a big bottom.”

Sarah Chain

I'm an avid reader and book lover living and working in downtown York. Follow me on Twitter at @sarahEchain.

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