All about cloth diapers
ALL IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT CLOTH DIAPERS
(Reading time 15 minutes)
Our knowledge about baby care has changed a lot in the last 30-40 years. Diapers, in particular, have undergone a dramatic change from reusable to disposable. We change a child's diapers around 6,000 times . So the difference is immense: does the diaper go straight to the bin 6,000 times after use or does it go back to the changing table ready for use after a wash? Whatever we decide, cloth diapers or disposable diapers influence not only the way we change diapers, but our whole attitude to baby care.
These days, modern washing machines and detergents, new insights into hygiene and, of course, innovative textiles are putting cloth diapers in a new light. This makes it easier for us to use diapers that match our idea of a sustainable everyday family life.
We have therefore compiled our knowledge for you on these pages to give you a basic overview. You will be able to consciously consider cloth diapers as a choice for your baby care.
If you have already decided that you want to use cloth diapers, you can read more here:
Wondering if your municipality might even offer financial support for using cloth diapers? We have a map on our cloth diaper grant page where you can easily check.
THE TOP FOUR REASONS FOR CLOTH DIAPERS
Whatever your reason for wondering if cloth diapers are right for you: Thank you for thinking about it!
Why should you choose cloth diapers? We'll help you with our four key messages to guide you:
For each aspect, we have collected some facts that might help you in your decision making.
CLOTH DIAPERS ARE GOOD FOR YOUR BABY
Chemistry or not chemistry?
Everything around us is chemistry. We are chemistry. But let's not take it quite so strictly for once. We mean the question of whether something was developed in a test tube or not. In disposable diapers, the ingredients are almost entirely man-made. The superabsorbent, an extremely absorbent plastic, makes up a third of the diaper . In direct contact with the skin, however, is a fleece made of polypropylene. Do you know what else is made from it? That's right: plastic bags . Many diaper brands use additional lotions on the fleece to "care" for the skin. One study showed that 4% of lotion was absorbed into a diaper after 3 hours . This contains Vaseline and paraffin oil, among other things. So if you otherwise value plant-based skin care, keep this in mind. Last but not least, disposable diapers contain fragrances to mask the chemical smell.
Your child may not tolerate one of the ingredients. If so, you'll have to go on a nerve-wracking search for a diaper that's gentle on the skin. In recent years, the trend has been towards unbleached diapers without lotions and fragrances to avoid allergic reactions . This in turn puts more strain on the household budget, as the more skin-friendly models are naturally more expensive. Alternatively, you can put protective cream on the skin. In Germany, 75% of the baby's bottom is creamed when there is a skin reaction - more than anywhere else in the world . This can be the beginning of a vicious circle. But more on this in the next paragraph.
Cloth diapers can also contain fibres that are man-made. But you have complete transparency about this. You can consciously use certain materials that your child tolerates well. There are even skin-care components, such as greased wool. Choose the material that is good for your child - preferably without chemicals.
Cloth diapers do not harm your child's health in any way. A few myths persist, but they are either outdated or simply not true. In many ways, cloth diapers are no different from disposable diapers. In some things it has a clear advantage.
More air on baby's skin
Did you know that a newborn's skin is between 40 and 60% thinner than an adult's? It is therefore more permeable and also loses moisture more easily. By the end of the first year of life, the protective function of the epidermis continues to develop . The ability to store and transport water differs from adults until the fourth year of life . If the skin barrier is disturbed by creams, heat and moisture, it cannot function optimally. It is then more susceptible to irritation. So it's important not to seal your child's skin airtight.
You can easily imagine how airtight the skin is sealed in disposable diapers. But what about ventilation in cloth diapers? Maybe you only know those plastic trousers or plastic films from the last century that were pulled over the diaper. Back then, a warm and humid climate was created in the diapers, which often led to diaper rash.
Nowadays, however, completely different materials are used for wetness protection:
- Polyurethane laminate (PUL) is a breathable and waterproof membrane that is bonded to a carrier fabric. PUL is used in medical as well as outdoor applications.
- Wool is breathable, odour-neutralising, temperature-balancing and can absorb up to 30% of its own weight in moisture without feeling damp.
Both are in no way comparable to the plastic pants of the 80s. They ensure that the diaper does not become a hothouse. Evaporation can escape unhindered so that your baby does not sweat unnecessarily in the diaper.
So that the hip joints develop healthily
Cloth diapers encourage the so-called bend-and-spread position. This puts the hips in a position that promotes healthy development. Even if your child does not have a deformity, wide diapering in the first months of life is recommended prophylactically across the board for all babies in many countries. Once the hip joint has matured, wide swaddling is definitely not harmful. Please note that wide diapering may not be sufficient if your child has hip dysplasia. Cloth diapering does not replace splints, spreader trousers or other medical aids.
Out of sight, out of mind?
Thanks to great advertising promises by disposable diaper manufacturers, parents tend to change disposable diapers less often. In Germany, parents change diapers 4-5 times a day, elsewhere diapers stay on the child even longer. In countries where cloth diapers are predominantly used, the diaper changing frequency is 5-8 times a day . In the first year of life, a baby goes in the diaper every hour, in the second year about every 90 minutes . So if it is only changed every four hours during the day, it has already urinated four times by then.
With cloth diapers, you automatically change more often because you have a better overview of your child's excretions. We recommend changing diapers every 2-3 hours. No matter what type of diaper you use, the diaper will not be dry after the third pee. If you also have a bowel movement, the skin becomes even more irritated. Moisture increases the permeability of the skin and enzymes in the stool attack it. The risk of dermatitis increases significantly .
With cloth diapers, you can actively model to your child the importance of taking care of themselves. Many older babies love watching or helping to choose a diaper or putting it in the cupboard. They enjoy being able to take care of themselves together with their parents.
Time to potty train
When your child is ready to get potty trained, cloth diapers can help them do so. The feeling of wetness gives him the signal that something is happening. Even if you have been using disposable diapers until then, it is certainly not too late to start using cloth diapers at this stage.
CLOTH DIAPERS ARE GOOD FOR PARENTS
Diaper time is quality time
In many conversations with parents who have had experience with both diapering options, we notice the following: they feel a more intense bond with their child when cloth diapering. Of course, the love for the child is independent of the diaper. However, parents feel more pleasure and fun during baby care with cloth. This also changes the communication during diapering and about diapering. Children benefit from this both health-wise and emotionally.
Value through fabric
There is no denying it: Cloth diapers feel more valuable than disposable diapers in all respects. Even those made of polyester are more pleasant to the touch than the film or fleece of a disposable product. It does something to you. You literally feel that you are doing your child good by wrapping it in something of value. Or is the quality enough for you if it ends up being for the rubbish?
Communication about elimination
Have you ever thought about how important it is to communicate with your child about eliminations? For us adults, it's an adjustment because we don't talk about it at all anymore, making ourselves invisible to others. For our children, it is super helpful to find contact with themselves through communication . With cloth diapers, you get clearer signals about when your child is eliminating. You get a better idea of how much and what has been passed. You can quickly see at what times of day your child is excreting and notice changes in developmental phases immediately. The amount, smell and appearance of the eliminations even give you valuable information about your child's health.
Almost every family finds themselves in a situation where they run out of disposable diapers at the most inopportune moment. For many, the diaper waste does not fit into the small residual waste bin or may not be disposed of via this bin in the first place. The diaper waste then has to be collected and taken separately to the landfill - what a hassle! Either way, the distances to purchase and dispose of multiply when using disposable diapers. Even a diaper subscription only saves your own trips, but not those of the parcel carrier. And those of the refuse collectors.
Cloth diapers, on the other hand, have a short route: from the changing table to the washing machine. Because once you have your cloth diapers at home, there is no further effort apart from washing them. And apart from the washing costs, you don't have to pay any more money than you would if you had to buy diapers on a regular basis.
More transparency in consumption
With disposable diapers, you can never be sure exactly where the materials come from and how they are made. After all, the big manufacturers produce globally, so the processes and routes are very complex. Cloth diapers are still a niche market. Especially in Europe, there are many brands that emphasise producing regionally, fairly and with sustainable materials. It is much easier for you as a customer to get information about the manufacturing conditions and material composition. If this is not the case, it is just as easy to look for another brand.
Cloth diapers connect people
Last but not least, it's like riding a 2CV in the past or a cargo bike today. Every time you meet, you nod conspiratorially to each other as if you belong to a secret club. Those who meet other cloth diaper families thus have a common denominator. Whether on or offline, it's fun to exchange ideas about cloth diapers and also to inspire each other to live a sustainable family life.
CLOTH DIAPERS ARE GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
Avoiding waste on a grand scale
The most obvious effect of cloth diapering compared to disposable diapers is that you save a lot of waste. A huge amount! Each diapered child leaves behind about 1.25 tons of diaper waste over three years . Many also wear night diapers for an extended period after the diaper-changing period. But let's take a look at how this looks in total. In Germany, there are about 2.3 million children of diapering age .
Want to read some eye-opening numbers?
2,875,000 tons of diaper waste is theoretically produced by these children. This accounts for about 5-10% of household waste . The volume of diaper waste (dry weight) in the EU is equivalent to the annual municipal waste of over 1.4 million people .
The production, distribution, use and disposal of diapers cause 2,700,000 tons of greenhouse gases per year . This is equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of over 1.5 million EU households .
Statistically, according to a Statista study, 7% of children in German households with children under four are cloth diapered . This already saves over 200,000 tons of waste. So you see: every diaper counts. No matter whether you use cloth diapers part-time or completely. With every unused disposable diaper, you reduce the huge pile of diaper waste.
The problem with waste
Although disposable diapers are largely made of plastic, they have to go into the residual waste. That is the great tragedy. If it could be broken down into its individual parts, it would be possible to recycle and reuse some of them. Unfortunately, however, this is not possible because the diaper is contaminated by excreta and, as a composite material, cannot be recycled either. In Germany, the most recyclable material possible is sorted out of the residual waste. The rest rots or is "energetically utilised", i.e., incinerated.
In a sustainable everyday family life, we follow the principle of Reduce - Reuse - Recycle as much as possible. Fortunately, the federal law of the German Waste Management Act (Kreislaufwirtschaftsgesetz) sees it the same way. Here, §6 on the waste hierarchy states:
Disposable diapers only make it to the penultimate level of the hierarchy, while cloth diapers are at the top. Methods are being worked on to recycle some components of diapers. However, it is unrealistic to realise this on a large scale. Four complete recycling plants would be needed for Berlin alone . Can it really be that we can't get beyond the fourth level with these huge amounts of waste? Is this what our contribution to climate protection looks like?
If you want to learn more about the life cycle assessment and disposal of diapers, check out our article on this.
Using resources appropriately
Of course, there is no denying that resources are used in the production of cloth diapers. Cotton consumes an average of 13,000 l/kg. Organic cotton requires up to 91% less water due to the much better humus conditions ! Our organic cotton terry cloth insert therefore uses only 70 litres of water with its weight. So production is not an issue when it comes to the consumption of resources. Of course, energy and water are needed for diaper cleaning. How much you use is up to you. You can find a sample calculation in our article about washing cloth diapers.
On the other hand, disposable diapers are produced again. To be exact, about 6,000 times for one diapered child. A direct comparison is not meaningful here, as disposable diapers require completely different resources. The point is, however, that each diaper uses them once. Then there is the resource consumption for 6,000 times of packaging and 6,000 times of transport. We consumers have no influence on this. Arte produced a very informative documentary film on this a few years ago.
Some people say: yes, but at least the waste can be used for energy through incineration. That is true. However, the proportion of recyclable waste is not particularly high. Across Europe, energy can be recovered from 25% of diaper waste through incineration . This recovered energy does not compare to the energy expended to produce it.
"When you take fossil fuels out of the ground, make plastics out of them, and then burn them for energy, it becomes clear that that's not a cycle - that's a line," says Rob Opsomer .
We are not interested in calculating in detail which product consumes more resources. They all do! We want to encourage you to use a product repeatedly instead of throwing it away after each use. It doesn't matter if it's a shopping bag, a straw or a diaper.
If we are going to use resources, then please use them appropriately and consciously. With cloth diapers you can choose from a wide variety of materials, and even completely avoid fossil resources (plastic).
CLOTH DIAPERS ARE GOOD FOR YOUR BUDGET
Price advantage for cloth diapers
Statistically, a family spends about 50 EUR per month on baby hygiene (Statista.de). In concrete terms, depending on the brand, 25 to 60 EUR go into the diaper account. If you calculate this over a diapering period of three years, you will have spent between 900 and 2,100 EUR, used and thrown away . On top of that, you may have to pay additional waste disposal fees or the cost of special diaper waste bags.
Cloth diapers have very different prices. Depending on the quality, place of production and equipment, you can expect to pay between EUR 250 and 700. With used diapers you invest even less money.
Despite its high-quality production in Germany and the multi-size concept, the ManufakturWindel is in the average price segment. This is due to the advantageous system and the long service life of individual elements. A package for a washing cycle of three days costs less than 500 EUR. With the high resale value, you can also reduce the costs considerably. We will gladly calculate this for you on our cost comparison page.
Washing is cheaper than you think
A big concern is the resources and therefore costs involved in washing cloth diapers regularly. But don't be concerned:
- First, we live in a region where water is not a scarce resource. So, in contrast to the uncertainty about how scarce water is in the regions where disposable diapers are manufactured, we can use water for washing with a clear conscience.
- Secondly, we can control energy costs with the washing temperature.
- Thirdly, we can choose between drying on the line and in the tumble dryer.
Additionally, depending on the cloth diaper system, we can significantly reduce the amount of laundry. To sum it up: When washing, the costs are divided between electricity and water consumption, detergent and wear and tear on the washing machine. If you add all of this up, the cost per wash is about 0.80 EUR. If you wash every three days, you will pay about €100 per year for washing. For a complete breakdown of washing costs, see our page comparing the costs of cloth diapers and disposable diapers.
If you wash your diapers, for example, overpants, outer diapers and inner diapers, with your normal coloureds, the cost of washing diapers is also reduced. A three-piece system like the WindelManufaktur diaper therefore has enormous advantages in this respect compared to a one-piece diaper system.
On the other hand, you will also have to do extra laundry if you use disposable diapers. Many diapers leak liquid stool. The pressure with which it shoots out often makes the entire baby wash dirty. We would actually prefer to wash a diaper because that is exactly what it is supposed to do: catch the excretions and protect the clothes from them.
Cost of additional diaper items
When you buy disposable diapers, you often add the pack of wet wipes, the refill box for the diaper pail, the disposable diaper changing mats, plus diaper cream and disinfectant. These are costs that are not incurred when cloth diapering.
It stands to reason that you can also use washable cloths to clean the bottom. Since you only use water, you don't irritate the baby's skin. The only thing you need to use are bin bags for diaper fleece, and the changing mat is of course also made of washable material. Of course, you can also use reusable wet wipes and changing pads if you use disposable diapers. Even this would be a big step towards environmentally friendly diapering. We wrote an article about the devastating consequences of wet wipes in the sewage system.
Since cloth diapered children are changed more often, creams are usually not necessary either. And since you're not afraid of excretions, you don't need disinfectants either. Water and soap are sufficient.
Expenditure on diapers over three years
We have calculated for you the costs that you will incur on both sides. Over a diapering period of three years, you will spend between 700 and 1,400 EUR on cloth diapers, including accessories, washing and drying. On the other hand, you will spend between 1,500 and 3,900 EUR for disposable diapers including accessories and waste disposal fees.
So you always get away cheaper with cloth diapers. The price advantage is only rather small if you compare the maximum expenditure for cloth diapers and the minimum expenditure for disposable diapers. Realistically, however, you would probably choose a similar price category in both segments. So, economical cloth diapering compared to cheap diapering with disposable diapers already brings you a price advantage of 800 EUR. Cloth diapering with more expensive systems and dryers are better off at 2,500 EUR compared to eco-diapers and wipes.
You can find a detailed list on our cost comparison page. Stephanie's husband once gave us a completely detailed calculation from a business point of view in his blog article comparison of the costs of cloth diapers and disposable diapers. There you will also find a file to download for your own calculations.
When the second child comes...
Since the diapers don't end up in the bin, they can be reused for the next child. Then only the washing costs will be an issue. With the second child, the cost of cloth diapers will be around 300 to 600 EUR. With the costs for disposable diapers, only the diaper pail can be reused. Everything else you have to buy again. You then save 1,000 to 3,600 EUR. If you take the expenses for both children together, you end up with a saving of
1,100 to 6,900 EUR
For the 3rd and 4th child you can calculate the savings yourself ;-)
If you don't have any more children, you're sure to find a new cloth diaper family on the second-hand market. And if nothing else works, you can retire the absorbent inserts as cleaning cloths. You can find an example of a resale of our diaper on our cost comparison page. So from the second child onwards, the difference is striking. Financially, buying cloth diapers is always worthwhile.
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 Angenommen, eine volle Windel wiegt durchschnittlich zwischen 200 und 250 g, dann ergeben 6.000 Windeln ca. 1,25 t.
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 Schätzung abgeleitet aus Destatis.de
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 Preisvergleich auf Windeln.de