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This is the last post in my Best Cloth Diapers series. Check out the other posts in this series if you want to learn more!
- Top 5 for the Budget-Conscious
- Top 5 for Those Who Need Low-Maintenance
- Top 5 for the All-Natural Family
Today I will discuss the top 5 cloth diapers for families that are choosing cloth as part of an eco-friendly lifestyle.
Before I get into this, here is a little disclaimer: any diaper (cloth or disposable) has an impact on the environment. There isn’t any way to diaper a child that doesn’t have some sort of impact. You can look into “elimination communication” if you really want to minimize the impact as much as possible, but I won’t be discussing that here but I’m no where near an expert on it.
The goal with this article is to help those that want to reduce their footprint decide in which ways they want to do it. There will be trade-offs. There isn’t a clear winner for the most eco-friendly diaper material because of those trade-offs. You will have to decide which makes the biggest difference to you.
All that said, all cloth diapers have the potential to reduce environmental impact, but some do a better job than others. Any cloth diaper will reduce waste in general, but there are other factors to consider when it comes to the environment, too.
One thing to consider if you’re choosing cloth to reduce your footprint is the material the diapers are made of. Conventionally grown cotton is pretty resource-intensive to grow. Lots of water is used, as well as pesticides. However, organic cotton significantly reduces the negative impact on the environment and is much more sustainable. It can be domestically grown in the US and many other places, making it an excellent diaper material choice. If you want to reduce your ecological impact, always choose organic!
Hemp is another sustainable material. It grows incredibly fast, uses little water, and naturally reduces pests, which means that pesticides aren’t needed. Hemp can be grown in a wide variety of places which also helps with sustainability (though legally, it cannot be grown everywhere in the US yet). The process of turning it into a fabric can be done mechanically or chemically. The chemical process raises more environmental concerns than the mechanical process, so some hemp fabrics are considered better than others.
Hemp is often blended with cotton when used as a material for diapers. Hemp on its own isn’t as soft, and while it can absorb a lot of liquid, it is a slow absorb-er. Mixing with cotton can help with those concerns.
Bamboo is another natural material with an eco-friendly reputation, but it is also a little more controversial. Perks of bamboo are that it grows incredibly fast and doesn’t really need large amounts of water or pesticides, much like hemp. It can also be chemically or mechanically processed like hemp. Chemical processing is much more common (bamboo rayon), and the same concerns are raised as with hemp. It’s also more limited in where it can be grown, so you have to consider the impact of shipping the material.
Many cloth diapers are made from synthetic materials, specifically polyester. Polyester is made with chemicals and petroleum, which makes many people weary. Microfiber is one commonly used synthetic material. Microfiber has the potential to lose some of its absorbency capacity over time (however, I’m still using the same microfiber inserts from 5 years ago, so I wouldn’t worry too much about this).
PUL and TPU are the most popular materials for the outer layer of a cloth diaper. They are both synthetic, but PUL is chemically bonded while TPU is heat bonded. TPU is considered biodegradable within 4-5 years, and some believe PUL may be as well. These materials may not be environmentally perfect, but they have solved so many issues that old-fashioned cloth diapers had that caused people to rejoice over disposable diapers. This has allowed cloth to be a more viable option for modern families, which is a good thing, and in my opinion this pro outweighs the cons.
As for the microfiber found in many diapers, some people feel it takes more water to adequate clean microfiber, but in my experience that isn’t true. Natural fibers absorb more water than microfiber overall, meaning they may require more water to adequately wash, and some of them are bulkier, meaning that they take up more room in the diaper pail and may mean you can’t get as many days worth of changes in one load of laundry. Natural fibers also dry much slower, and many people end up using the dryer, which adds energy costs.
Which Is Best?
As you can see, there are some trade-offs with all of these materials. I don’t think there is a clear-cut winner. You also need to remember that in the end, you might buy anywhere from 25-30 diapers and use those diapers for years and years, even through multiple children if you have more after you invest in cloth. It’s not like you’re filling a whole closet every year with them or something. The most important thing is that you do the best you can with the information that you have. Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to pick the perfect diapers. They don’t exist. Rather, just focus on the following:
- Consider your lifestyle. The best thing to make your diapers eco-friendly is that they get used and reused for years. That means it is important to consider your lifestyle when making your diaper choice, because if the diapers you choose don’t work with your lifestyle, you’re going to either give up on cloth or get rid of them and get new ones.
- Consider your priorities. Is it most important to you to reduce the water and electricity you use in your home for your diapers? Or are you more concerned about the manufacturing impact? The answer may sway you in a particular direction for your diaper choice.
- Always choose organic when possible. This is less of a concern for bamboo or hemp (because they are typically grown without pesticides anyway), but definitely opt for organic cotton if you want to be eco-friendly.
- If choosing synthetic materials, go for quality. Sometimes 100% organic cotton isn’t in the budget, or you really want to be able to line dry your diapers quickly so you opt for synthetic materials. You will want them to last a long time, so choose quality brands. Try to avoid “cheapies” like Alvas or Happy Flutes. It’s also possible to do a mix of synthetic and natural, such as pocket diapers (pocket shells are usually made from polyester) with hemp or bamboo inserts.
- Consider buying used. Buying used is one of the most eco-friendly things to do. You can be much less concerned about the type of diaper material because these diapers are already purchased and in circulation. That means there is no point in feeling guilty if you buy diapers made with conventional cotton (or whatever else you were conflicted on). The alternative was throwing them out, which is wasteful for perfectly good materials. There are many buy/sell/trade groups on Facebook if you’re interested. See here for prepping used diapers before you start using them.
Without further ado, here are my top 5 recommendations for eco-friendly cloth diapers. Remember to consider the points above when making your selection.
My opinion is that hybrid/all-in-two diapers are one of the best systems for eco-friendly cloth diapering outside of repurposing your own materials (see #5) or buying used. If you want to buy brand new diapers for your family, this is the route I would personally choose first.
Why is that? All-in-twos (or hybrids) are a two-piece diapering system consisting of a waterproof shell and an absorbent insert that sit or snap inside the shell. The first reason I prefer this style of diaper has to do with how you can reuse the cover through multiple changes. Unless the baby has a messy poop, you can just take out the wet insert, wipe the cover down, and put in a dry insert at diaper changes. Then only one single insert goes into the diaper pail, and you probably just go through a couple covers a day.
This means you can collect many more diaper changes before you need to do a load of laundry. If you have enough materials, you could probably stretch out your diaper laundry to once every 5-7 days! This drastically reduces the amount of water, electricity, and detergent you need to use to clean your diapers.
The next reason is that you have insert options that you buy separately from the shells. That means you aren’t buying any microfiber or conventionally grown cotton without actually wanting to buy it. Grovia does have a synthetic insert option available if you wish, but they also have organic cotton soakers, which I would recommend in this circumstance.
The last reason I think these are a great choice for eco-friendly families is that they greatly reduce the need for disposable diapers in situations such as travel. You can use biodegradable disposable inserts when needed for vacations, or even just long days out of the house instead of succumbing to Pampers. If you are out of town, the covers are easy enough to hand wash in the sink when needed, and they dry quickly.
The biodegradable inserts are called BioSoakers. They are Oeko-Tex 100 certified and free from plastic, chlorine, fragrances, and dyes.
Best Bottom Diapers function similarly to the Grovia Hybrid. However, you have the option to get a hemp or bamboo insert with this diaper. While cotton offers wonderful absorbency, both hemp and bamboo offer even more! That makes these diapers a great match for heavy-wetters. There are many more insert options to meet your needs.
The Best Bottom diaper shell offers a double gusset at the leg, which help prevent any leg gaps. Cloth diapers should never leak, and if they do, leg gaps are often the cause. That is why so many people love the double gussets on the Best Bottom diapers.
Cotton Babies (makers of bumGenius) is a fabulous company that really considers its ecological impact when designing their diapers. They make a point to only use organic cotton when cotton is used in their diapers. The bumGenius Elemental is an all-in-one diaper made from 100% organic cotton, and an outer waterproof layer of PUL.
BumGenius Elementals are made in the USA and are Oeko-Tex certified. They are a great option if you really had your heart set on an all-in-one. The only cons to 100% organic cotton all-in-ones is that they take awhile to dry!
The Elementals are a great quality all-in-one that you can expect to last for years. They are pretty trim fitting for an all-in-one, and bumGenius has so many lovely colors and prints available.
Pocket diapers gained a lot of popularity because they are easy for daycares and grandparents to use (if you sent them pre-stuffed). They are easy to customize or bulk up the absorbency with different types of inserts.
Pocket diapers are almost always made from an outer layer of PUL and an inner layer of micro-suede (or fleece), and 99% of the time come standard with microfiber inserts. This is where the Kawaii Premium Bamboo Pocket Diaper breaks the status quo!
The outer layer is made from TPU with an inner layer of Grade A 100% organic bamboo fiber. It also comes with 100% organic bamboo inserts–no microfiber at all! Bamboo inserts are very trim and absorb more than microfiber.
I always recommend people have a couple pocket diapers in their stash because they can be very convenient, especially when needing to add absorbency for nighttime. The Kawaii Premium Bamboo Pocket is the perfect choice for families wanting the most eco-friendly pocket diaper possible.
5. Repurpose Old Materials
Another option for eco-friendly cloth diapering option is to repurpose old materials. This choice might be more fun if you’re crafty, but even if you’re not you can make it work. There are many items you’re sure to have around the house that you can upcycle into diapering materials. This would be a very green way to make your diaper collection.
Old towels can be cut and hemmed into inserts. Flour sack towels are another popular option–many people have flour sack towels around the house for cleaning. They’re incredibly absorbent and can be folded to put inside a pocket diaper or any cover (such as the Grovia or Best Bottom covers described above).
If you have old cotton t-shirts, they can also be cut up, layered, and sewn together to make inserts. If you’re at all good with a sewing machine, you can take a whole t-shirt and turn it into a diaper!
You don’t need to be a perfect sewer–after all, its just diapers! They just need to work, right?
Waterproof diaper covers may be a little more tricky to create yourself. If you sew, you can take things such as old shower curtains and sew a cover. If you knit, you can always knit wool diaper covers. Wool absorbs 3x its weight in liquid before it leaks which makes it an excellent outer layer for a diaper. If you’re like me and not quite so crafty, its worth it to buy a few Grovia or Best Bottom covers and just create your own inserts to use inside.
I hope you have gotten some great ideas for what to look for in cloth diapers to make your selections as green as possible. Along with choosing the right diapers, its also important to make sure you have a good wash routine that uses the correct amount of water (not too much and not too little…because too little will become too much when you have to rewash them), and its a good idea to line dry or use a drying rack for your diapers if you want to save energy.
Here is a great space-saving drying rack to consider if you don’t have a lot of room. It is easy to install anywhere you have some wall space. When not in use, you can push the rack in towards the wall. It’s a great addition to any laundry area.
Which of these eco-friendly cloth diaper options interests you the most? Do you have any other suggestions? Let me know in the comments!