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Baby Bum Sweater (Wool Soaker) Baby Bum Sweater (Wool Soaker)

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Buying, Making, and Using Cloth Diapers


Disposable diapers are expensive and unhealthy for both the environment and a baby. A box of disposables costs around $20. With the average baby needing 8-12 changings each day, at least a few boxes will be necessary every month, and that cost really adds up after three years of diapering.

Disposable diapers, being made of synthetic materials, take years to break down in a landfill. Some brands of disposables market chlorine-free diapers that are able to break down in far less time – around two months. Unfortunately, a landfill is not the same thing as a compost pile, where air circulates to help materials begin their biodegrading process. A landfill is packed tight, not allowing air to enter through the entire hole of matter. Though chlorine-free diapers offer a chemically-healthier choice for baby and Mother Earth, the price is far greater than traditional disposables and they will still load landfill space for some time.

Use of resources – using disposable diapers consumes much more of the worlds resources, compared to re-using a washable diaper.

The inside of a disposable diaper consists of sodium polyacrylate, an ultra urine-absorbing fill that turns to gel when wet, and is sandwiched between layers of synthetic, plastic-like materials, including Dioxin and Tributyl-tin, both very hazardous substances. Not only are these ingredients harmful to private areas, but the lack of wetness felt by a baby, because of the amazing absorbency, makes potty training more difficult.


Green Living Tips

1.    Know Your Budget (and the Different Styles of Diapers Available).

Just like any major purchase – furniture, cars, or homes – when buying cloth diapers, you must know how much money you can, and are willing to spend. Depending on your budget, there are many choices in the style of cloth diapers you wish to use. From the least to most expensive:

Flat folds are large single-layer square sheets that must be folded multiple times, pinned, and worn underneath a waterproof cover1. Flatfolds must be washed after one use, but the cover can be aired out and reused several times unless it becomes soiled. They take the least drying time because they are a single layer.

Prefolds are smaller rectangular sheets, with a three-column layering of 3-6-3 or more, that require small folds to shape the diaper. These are pinned and worn underneath a waterproof cover1. Pre-folds must be washed after one use, but the cover can be aired out and reused several times unless it becomes soiled.

Contoured diapers are flat diapers (no elastic) cut in the shape of a disposable diaper. They can be pinned or just laid inside a waterproof cover1. Contours must be washed after one use, but the cover can be aired out and reused several times unless it becomes soiled.

Fitted diapers are the same shape as a disposable. They fasten with aplix2 and go underneath a waterproof cover1. Fitted diapers must be washed after one use, but the cover can be aired out and reused several times unless it becomes soiled.

Pocket diapers do not require a cover. They have a waterproof outer and absorbent inner layer sewn together with an opening in the back in which to stuff soakers3. These are more personalized diapers, as the absorbency can be customized depending on the baby’s wetting patterns and whether it is for daytime or nighttime. Pocket diapers must be washed after one use.

All-in-Ones are the closest to disposable diapers. They do not require a cover. All layers – the waterproof outer, soaking middle, and absorbent inner – are sewn together. They fasten with snaps or aplix2. All-in-Ones must be washed after one use, and take the longest to dry since they are so thick.

2.    Try It Before You Buy It.
Before you jump into one style without having ever tried it, buy a sample package. Some cloth diaper retailers (online is your best selection) offer samplers – a variety of cloth diapers and covers1 which allow you to try the different brands and styles in order to find which ones work best for you and your baby. Once you are certain of the cloth diaper style and cover you like, make your purchases, but shop around before you buy from any one store, as you can find occasional sales to help reduce the total price.

Super Green Tips

1.    Make Your Own Diapers!
Unless you are worried that a stranger will comment on the uneven seam of the dirty diaper you are removing, making your own cloth diapers does not take as much sewing skill as you may think. You need a disposable diaper in your baby’s current size, cotton fabric (a used t-shirt will work just fine), a dish towel, elastic, aplix, and of course a sewing machine, thread, and needle.

a.    Use the disposable to trace the shape three times, fastener tabs included, onto the cotton fabric and cut it out.

b.    Fold the dish towel into thirds to make a rectangular-shaped soaker, and sew it onto one of the cotton pieces.

c.    Layer the pieces with the soaker in the middle, reversed so that the diaper can be turned the right way after sewing.

d.    Sew layers together leaving an opening along the top front of the diaper.

e.    Sew elastic along the top back and along the legs, then turn the diaper right-side out.

f.    Make a stitch alongside the elastic pieces to hold them in.

g.    Sew closed the opening at the front.

h.    Sew a hook piece of aplix onto the inside of each tab, and a long loop piece along the top of the cover front.

2.    Make Your Own Covers!
Making a waterproof cover is even easier than making cloth diapers, and wool gives you longer lasting protection, good for daytime and overnight use. All you need is a disposable diaper a couple sizes larger than your baby is currently wearing, an old 100% wool sweater, elastic, and aplix.

a.    Use the disposable to trace the shape, fastener tabs included, onto the sweater material and cut it out.

b.    Sew elastic into the legs and the back waist.

c.    Sew a hook piece of aplix onto the inside of each tab, and a long loop piece along the top of the cover front.

d.    Fasten the cover so it does not catch on other material and wash the cover to felt4 the wool.

e.    Squirt a dab of lanolin5 in the bottom of the bathroom sink and dissolve it in hot water. Soak the cover in this liquid for about 20 minutes. Remove it, roll it in a towel to squeeze out the excess water, then lay flat to dry. Repeat this process every few weeks, or when you notice diaper wetness leaking out.

Effectiveness / Result

Initially, cloth diapers do cost more than a box of disposables, however, after the purchase, no more costs arise other than laundering items like detergent, and additives such as vinegar, baking soda, or borax. Sewing your own diapers can also save a great deal of money since materials can be recycled or purchased at a thrift store.

Using 100% cotton as a diaper offers an absorbent, natural material. Since cloth diapers absorb, but do not draw away all moisture, the baby will feel wet. Though this does not bother most infants, it will help with potty training. Since the child will notice wetness as they grow older, they will learn the sensation faster than disposable diaper-donning kids.

PUL diaper covers are not the healthiest material. Just like disposable diapers PUL covers contain harmful chemicals. With a diaper cover, however, the material is not touching the baby, rather guarding the cotton diaper from leaks. Still, using wool, a natural, breathable fiber, impressively prevents leaks and allows air to circulate throughout the diapering system. Air means less chance of diaper rash, and less rash means a happier baby.

If nothing else, cloth diapers help the environment by limiting the amount of waste going into landfills and seeping into the ground. Go green and use cloth diapers.

The Facts

1. One child goes through approximately 8-12 diapers each day.

2. One year of diapering a baby in disposables uses 20 pounds of chlorine, 50 pounds of petroleum, and 300 pounds of wood.

3. A single diaper can take up to 500 years to disintegrate in a landfill.


4. The following is an average cost breakdown of disposable diapers:


Per diaper


Per day


Per week


Per month


Per year



Today, the average potty training age is 3 years, bringing the total disposable diapering process to a cost of $1612.80-$2257.20. If you tack on the cost of disposable wipes, the price rises even higher.


5. The cost of a cloth diaper system varies greatly depending upon which style of diaper is used. Flatfolds or prefolds with several covers in different sizes are far less costly than pocket diapers or all-in-ones. Still, a complete cloth diapering system can be purchased from around $300.00-$1000.00, and they can be reused for later children or sold for money.


6. Up until the 1950’s when disposable diapers were introduced, 80% of the world’s babies were potty trained by age 2, and many before that.



#1 Most waterproof covers are made from polyurethane laminate (PUL). Current covers wrap around and fasten with aplix2, however traditional rubber pants, usually pull-ons made of vinyl or nylon, are still available. #2 Aplix is a hook and loop fastener like Velcro. #3 Soakers are absorbent pads in a cloth diaper used to catch urine. They are generally made of cotton terry, hemp, or microfiber. #4 Felting wool is a process in which wool is thickened, or tightened, as a result of shrinkage. #5 Lanolin is a substance naturally found in sheep’s wool, giving it a water-resistant quality.
Submitted by Marisa on Jun 15, 2008