Cloth Diapers and Water Usage

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Making the decision to cloth diaper is a huge accomplishment.  What seems like an obvious choice for every family often goes undiscovered by the majority of the population.  Ask most young adults any question about cloth diapers and the only response you’ll get is perhaps one that includes “rubber pants, pins, and a square cloth.”  Even that would be second hand knowledge, as most of them were diapered in disposables.

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But for those of us who are in the cloth diapering trenches the question of water usage has come up a time or two.  Yes, we’ve crossed the line and become “green” (pat ourselves on the back for that) but what about all the water to wash the darn things??

What is environmentally friendly about a prewash, wash, rinse and second rinse?

Don’t be fooled.  There are many ways that cloth diapering is environmentally friendly including water usage.  Let’s start with the manufacturing.

According to the book Whitewash: Exposing the Health and Environmental Dangers of Women’s Sanitary Products and Disposable Diapers, What You Can Do About It, the manufacture and use of disposable diapers amounts to 2.3 times more water wasted than cloth.  I have the book on it’s way to my house and I look forward to reading all the dirty details.

To manufacture a disposable diaper requires massive amounts of resources.  Over 300 pounds of wood, 50 pounds of petroleum feedstocks and 20 pounds of chlorine are used to produce disposable diapers for one baby EACH YEAR (from the report Diapers: Environmental Impacts and Lifecycle Analysis to The National Association of Diaper Services (NADS))

Carefully ponder what this means.  300 pounds of wood!!  Gone *poof*.  Those trees aren’t coming back anytime soon.  Not to mention that a used disposable diaper can’t be recycled like the paper you take notes on.

But what about the washing?

First, water is a renewable resource.  Water doesn’t just disappear (like the trees) when it goes down the drain.  It enters a cycle that ultimately leads to the reuse of water.

Second, many families do a simple wash and dry.  No prewash, no second rinses.  This system is excellent for prefolds and flats.

Third, where many families may overuse on water washing cloth diapers, they cut back in other water-usage areas.  Flush the toilet less (“if it’s yellow, let it mellow.  if it’s brown, flush it down.” Not my philosophy but works for one family I read about.)  Shower/bathe less frequently and for shorter times.  Recycle dish washing water.  There are hundreds of ways to cut back if washing cloth diapers seems excessive to you.

Fourth, do laundry less often.  Make sure you have a full load.  Also, use the toilet to “prewash” the poopies before they go in the pail or purchase a diaper sprayer. Use flushable or reusable liners.

If for one second you feel guilty about any part of cloth diapering STOP!  Not one of us chose to cloth diaper for one single reason.  There are many components that made up our decision.  At the top of my list is health reasons.  I choose to use cloth diapers to ultimately avoid the chemicals in disposable diapers.

You may say “well buy a non-chemical brand.”  My experience has been the deficit in absorbency and containment as well as the higher cost is not enough of a justification to simply use Seventh Generation or other “healthy” brand.

I didn’t consider the environment much when making the decision to cloth diaper.  However, one glance at the staggering statistics of landfills is enough to make me appreciate my choice.

Whether or not your water bill increases is not why you should or shouldn’t cloth diaper.  If you see an increase, re-evaluate all aspects: your washing routine, toilet flushes, showers/baths, yard maintainence, dish cleaning (either by hand or machine).

I recently received an astronomical water bill and did some research myself.  The big culprit: the toilet.  Both toilets are not cutting off after the flush.  This wastes TONS of water by constantly running.  Another reason was my increase in running the dishwasher.  Every time I got a call that someone was coming to see the house (it is for sale/lease) I’d run the dishwasher regardless of how full it was.

All these things add up.  I hope that if you have been troubled lately over your water usage that this post helps you overcome that.  Doing the research has helped me understand the numbers.

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About Autumn Beck

Autumn is a wife, mother, homeschool teacher, friend and most important a follower of Christ. She began cloth diapering in 2005 and has experienced many joys and trials throughout the years. You can read more from Autumn over at https://www.facebook.com/beautifullyblessedlashes.

View all posts by Autumn Beck

21 Responses to “Cloth Diapers and Water Usage”

  1. Suemey Says:

    Hello, I am from Costa Rica (central América btw) and we will be having our first baby. I decided to use cloth, I am a vegetarian, I work for an environmental law firm and it was the obvious decision for me and my values. I bought 42 organic flats non bleached from GMD 5 covers, 24 elemental bum genius and two pocket diapers with organic cotton inserts from a local vendor.

    I have read about the way people wash their diapers in the US and I am a little concern about it. The only place in my home where there is no hot water line is in our laundry room because we get so much sun that most houses do not use a dryer or hot water for the washer unless you happen to live on a tower condo.

    We do not have hard water, the ph is above 7 and it is a little bit acidic. So I am afraid that if I do not run a hot cycle i will be doing something wrong. Do you guys know someone who might be extra environmental driven so they refuse to hot wash? I will really appreciate any advice.

    Regards,

    Sue

    Reply

    • Jennifer Reinhardt Says:

      Are you worried about them not getting clean. There are people who successfully wash in cold water. Flats are by far the easiest to get clean. You may be totally fine. I would worry about it when there is something to worry about. Wash your cloth like you normally wash your clothes. If they smell clean and don;t cause a rash, then you are good. Congrats and good luck Suemey!

      Reply

      • Suemey Says:

        Thank you si much for your reply. I Will do that and if there is something wrong i Will come back here and ask about it. Hehe

        Reply

  2. Stephanie Says:

    I agree with this article but I hope that people know that there in not an endless supply of water and it is not considered renewable.

    Reply

    • Katie Says:

      Right on. And it would be wise to not tell people that trees are not a renewable resource: they are! Untrue statements give a bad impression to those who are considering cloth diapers. :/

      Reply

  3. Dibbs Says:

    bac-out is available at whole foods for much cheaper than online (plus no shipping cost!). i got a 32 oz bottle for $6.99. i just put about 3 squirts in the pre-wash, then country save detergent (or any other additive free detergent) in the regular hot wash, then extra rinse, and the diapers smell clean. it’s the only stuff that got the stink out of my microfiber inserts.

    Reply

  4. Kelly Says:

    I’m using G-diapers and am looking for a bio clean product that a friend of mine told me about. Instead of rinsing in the toilet and throwing in the pail she is using bioclean, thousands of enzymes, in the pail to clean off the poop – and then washing with the laundry. Has anyone else had luck with this? There are many bio clean products out there. Is it the same one that you would use in your garbage disposal/plumbing?

    Reply

  5. Mer Says:

    We have a high efficiency washer that uses less water, but my question is this: how can I insure that my diapers are getting a good wash with this type of machine? There’s no soak feature as in a standard washer. This would actually make a good post–moms who are concerned about the environment are likely to have a front-load HE washer like mine, and diaper wash instructions just don’t match up with what our washers do.

    Reply

    • Autumn Beck Says:

      I have read that with a FLer some moms pause it after it “fills” in order to allow it to soak. Also, moms have told me that they use a trash can to do the soak. The best way to ensure they are getting cleaned is to wash solids off in the toilet, use enough detergent and do atleast one extra rinse.

      Reply

  6. Sarah Says:

    Autumn,

    Cloth diapers in larger sizes are available online, we got ours through clothdiaper.com.

    Reply

  7. marjorie Says:

    my daughter is 15 years old and a bedwetter.i use cloth diapers and rubberpants on her at night.i have not noticed any increase in our water bill at all.she was in disposables after she started wetting and broke out in rashes,so i switched her to the cloth diapers and rubber pants.she hasnt had a problem since.i also diaper her for special occasions and holidays under her dresses.she will be making her first communion in may and will wear one of her diapers and rubberpants under her communion dress.

    Reply

    • Autumn Beck Says:

      could you tell me where you found cloth diapers that fit her? i have readers interested in this.

      Reply

  8. Shayla Boyd-Gill Says:

    I agree that water usage is minor compared to the impact that disposables and other convenience items have on our environment. We can always find creative ways to reduce the amount of water we consume; however, we can not reduce the amount of diapers that fill our landfills. They will continue to grow in numbers.

    Reply

  9. Serenity Says:

    I have been cloth diapering for a year havent noticed any difference in my water bill. We are expecting our second child and will reuse my daughters diapers. The same investment for 2-3 kids without the waste in a landfill is amazing. Im definitly sticking with it.

    Reply

  10. Catherine Bolden Says:

    Great article, Autumn! Its amazing to know that cloth diapers are so much better than disposables. Yes, it does take more water to wash them, but the great thing about water is that it is a renewable resource! Of course we shouldn’t waste it, but at least we are not permanently adding more to the landfills for our kids to deal with.

    Reply

  11. Michelle Thomas-George Says:

    I forgot to say I’m a WAHM of 3. 11,7,20 mos. and I breastfed each one for at LEAST 12 months-the most was 15 mos. with my last. KUDDOS to all the ones who do it! Your baby is blessed!

    Reply

  12. Michelle Thomas-George Says:

    Thanks so much for your articles!!!! Some of them are of no use to me but others hit the spot! I am the ONLY one I know who uses cloth diapers but I am trying to spread the word and I don’t want my facts to be wrong so I love your articles-especially this one!!! My water bill has remained the same by watching showers and using the dishwasher more and not hand washing much. Also, by doing laundry in full loads and hanging my diapers to dry I am saving money at the store by not buying as many diapers!!!! YEA!!! I use the cloth at home and disposables while out and about. I buy my diapers from a WAHM (work at home mom) I made a friendship with over EBAY! Awesome deals and great girly print diapers. I just put in a new order for 18 more AIOs last week for $100. (I only had 12 AIOs to start with early summer). I use Melaleuca products to wash them (as well as everything from soaps, cleansers, shampoos, and tooth care as well.) I also carry tote bags and shopping bags (way before most people even started!) We cut down on cans and 20 oz. plastic bottles in the home and just for convenience and use to go coffee mugs alot. I’M A GREEN MOMMA AND LOVIN’ IT!!! HAPPY HOLIDAYS and HAPPY CLOTH DIAPERING MOMS!!!!!

    Reply

  13. Kelly Says:

    I have noticed a slight increase in my water bill since using cloth. However, I rinse obsessively because my daughter has sensitive skin. I just switched detergents, and I have already noticed less suds, which to me means one less rinse!
    I heard this argument as well…most people would agree it is better to use “real” plates as opposed to paper plates, real glasses, real silverware, etc. No one ever says that it is better to use disposables because you have to waste water washing the real stuff. Same with diapers.
    The couple dollars a month my water bill has gone up is nothing compared to the cost of disposable diapers. And if you line dry your diapers, you are being even more environmentally friendly!

    Reply

  14. Kait Says:

    While Seventh Generation doesn’t use chlorine to bleach their diapers, they still use the gel. Which is a bummer, because otherwise it would be a very good alternative (albeit an expensive one).

    Reply

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