Cloth Diapering – generally speaking…

Why do it? 

A new baby opens up a whole new world of choices, and one of those choices is inevitably what to put on baby’s bottom.

As close by as our grandparents’ generation, this wasn’t much of a choice – it was cloth or nothing! Our grandparents’ cloth diapers weren’t much to look at, just a simple square of big cotton cloth, folded multiple times, fastened with safety pins (with which one nervously hoped not to prick baby or parent) and waterproofed with some ugly crinkly rubber pants.

Then disposable diapers started becoming more readily available and affordable, and many in our parents’ generation gratefully jumped on the bandwagon, liking the convenience.

However, in the last 10 years there has been a slow, but steadily growing move back to diapering with cloth.

This isn’t your grandparents’ version of cloth diaper though. Today’s modern cloth diapers are far more attractive than their disposable counterparts, available in an infinitely wide variety of materials, colors, patterns and variations.  These cloth diapers have been designed, tweaked and improved on by a whole lot of mothers to make cloth diapering in 2012 super cute, super fun and super easy.

The question is – why would a parent choose to go the cloth diaper route?  Here, we look at some of the reasons why lots of parents who come to us asking about cloth end up as enthusiastic converts.


Ever worn paper underwear? Or paper clothing? We love cloth for a reason – it’s soft and comfortable and breathable against our skin. And lots of babies love cloth for those very same reasons.


Disposable diapers sure are thin, and they absorb a whole lot. While disposable diapers used to be made of many layers of wood pulp (making them bulky), they now contain SAPs or Super Absorbent Polymers (among other things like bleach or chemical dioxin). These SAPs are great at absorbing a lot of liquid, but they also release gas (that’s that funky chemical smell many disposable diaper using parents are familiar with) and also leach natural moisture away from the skin.  When SAPs are wet they become a gel-like substance which has been shown to improve the environment for the growth of bacteria.

Many disposable diapers contain traces of Dioxin which is an extremely toxic by-product of paper-bleaching. Dioxin is a carcinogenic chemical which has been banned in most countries and yet can still be found in many brands of disposable diapers.

Disposable diapers contain Tributyl-tin (TBT) – a toxic pollutant known to cause hormonal problems in humans and animals.

There have been some studies that have also shown that the scrotal temperature in boys wearing disposable diapers is increased and that prolonged use of disposable diapers will hamper the physiological testicular cooling mechanism important for maintaining scrotal temperature. This has an impact on male fertility later in life.

The Environment

Over 90% of single use diapers end up in landfills. No-one knows exactly how many years it takes for a disposable diaper to decompose, but it is widely estimated to be calculated in 100s of years and not decades.

Assuming a potty training age of 2 years, every baby will go through around 4,000 diaper changes. That’s a lot of disposable diapers waiting to decompose.

Some other environmental facts on diapering :

–         Disposable diaper packaging usually require that fecal matter should be disposed of in the toilet before discarding, yet hardly anyone does this – that means waste is not being processed through the sewage system, but is, instead going into landfills.

–         Disposable diapers make up 50% of household waste in a house with a child

–         Disposable diapers generate 60 times more solid waste & use 20 times more raw materials (like crude oil and wood pulp) than cloth diapers

–         Disposable diaper manufacturing and use amounts to 2.3 times more water wasted than cloth

–         Over 135kg of wood, 20kg of Petroleum feedstock & 10kg of chlorine is used to produce disposable diapers for 1 baby each year


Disposable diapers are cheaper on the pocket of parents in the short run.

In the long run, there is no dispute that cloth diapers are the cheaper option. Many cloth diapers now come in one-size-fits-most designs that mean that a single large upfront large purchase will last for the entire lifetime of a child.

The use of some types of cloth diapers like prefolds (those diapers without parts like snaps, elastics and polyutherane waterproofing) will even last through multiple children even with heavy use.

Depending on the way a child is cloth diapered (costs vary considerably), a parent can save up to 80% compared to using disposable diapers.


Many parents fear that cloth diapers are inconvenient and difficult to use.

As with many new things there is a learning curve for cloth diapering, and it can be overwhelming to be faced with so many different choices. Man made fibers like polyester? Or completely natural Organic cotton? What about stay dry options? What is Bamboo fiber exactly? Wool covers for waterproofing?

Learning the basics is pretty easy once you get your hands on the products though, and there are lots of shops now in Malaysia where you can feel and touch a cloth diaper – it’s pretty basic when you get down to it. All you need is something absorbent and something waterproof over the top of that to keep any messes in.

And washing machines and dryers make cloth diapering a cinch.  Simply wash like your regular clothing.  Some tips are just to use a detergent that doesn’t have enzymes or biological agents, no fragrances if your baby is sensitive and no fabric softener on your absorbent material(fabric softener does not actually soften fabric but coats fabric – so if you use fabric softener on your cloth diapers it will make the fabric repel liquid instead of absorb it).

Many parents have cloth diapered simply and without hassle by using modern cloth diapers. In fact, some even think that using cloth diapers are less of a hassle than disposable (for example, disposable diaper blowouts where poo shoots out the diaper and up the back of the baby are almost nonexistent with cloth diapers as the back elastic around the cloth diapers contain messes much better).

Try out some cloth diapers and you might find you and your baby loves it.  And not to worry if you don’t –try again when your baby has grown out of that hectic newborn stage. There are lots of parents out there who cloth diaper sometimes and use disposables sometimes – it’s all about what works best at that point in time.

Oh, and did we mention? There’s nothing cuter than a cloth diapered babies’ bottom – no disposable diaper will ever be able to compete with that!


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