Ask Eartha: For diapers, is cloth really better? |

Ask Eartha: For diapers, is cloth really better?


From what I have read, it seems like cloth diapering is still more environmentally friendly than disposable. Would you agree with this?

” Jinger Hamilton, Dillon

When I was pregnant, I assumed that cloth diapering was the greenest option and happily after some investigation, soon discovered that thanks to innovative products the practice had become relatively easy.

Regardless, it took me some time to learn the best way to diaper with cloth. I would unstrap the dirty diaper from my son’s body, pull it out of the wrap and reload with a fresh diaper and strap it back on to him. That was the easy part.

I would then quickly move to the bathroom and flush while holding the diaper in the initial rush of water. Then it was a plunge, scrub, scrub, plunge, examine, swish, swish, scrub, scrub, plunge, examine. Then I’d ring out the excess water and hang it to dry on the edge of the diaper pail and wait for a full washer load of dirty diapers to accumulate.

This meant that dirty, mildewing diapers could sit around for up to five days before I had enough to fill the washer.

One day I was plunging and scrubbing in an effort to remove a particularly stubborn piece of poo. I had already flushed and scrubbed trying to work the residuals loose and was reaching for the handle of the toilet for a second flush when I felt a shadow fall upon me. I am not talking about a figurative shadow; I mean a true shadow ” cast by none other than Mr. Steward.

I must mention at this point that Mr. Steward was not on board with my choice to cloth diaper and made it clear from the get go that he would not be using the toilet bowl as a washboard at any point in our son’s diapering career.

I looked to the bathroom doorway to see him standing there with a smug look upon his face. He clearly was deriving some perverse pleasure from watching me work wrist deep in the toilet bowl.

“Sure are using a lot of water to get that clean, don’t ya think?” I heard him say.

I ignored him and kept working But his words kept playing through my mind and I began to pay more attention to the water and energy that I was using to clean the diapers. I cringed each time I turned the dial on the washing machine to hot, but I knew that the water had to be at least 140 degrees to kill the bacteria in the diapers.

I had been so enthralled and convinced that cloth was the only option for a lover of the planet that I never noticed all of the resources I was using in my effort to reduce waste.

So I began to do some research. I stumbled upon the book “The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices,” written by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The diaper information fell under the heading of “Don’t Worry or Feel Guilty about Unimportant Decisions.”


Perplexed I read on. They cited study after study. One concluded that cloth was best, the next concluded that disposables were. In a full cradle to grave study it was determined that as far as energy is concerned home laundering used 27 percent more than disposables. Looking at water use, they found that cloth diapers used a little over two times as much water as disposables. But disposables produced about two times as much solid waste.

As washing machines become more efficient you would think that cloth diapers would come out the victor, but disposables at the same time are becoming thinner and thinner, producing less waste.

My husband had already invested in a supply of Seventh Generation disposable diapers and would use them whenever he was the one diapering. I began to use them myself and found they were more my style. And I have never looked back.

Mostly because I realized that the Union of Concerned Scientists is right. There are more important things to worry about. Neither option is better nor worse. I don’t think that anyone can go wrong here. Pick what works best for you and put your energy into pursuing things that have a bigger impact upon the earth.

Look at reducing your need to drive and travel. When you buy a new vehicle get the most fuel-efficient one possible. Eat less meat and more organic produce. Use efficient appliances, heating, and lighting. Choose an electricity supplier that offers renewable energy.

These are actions that the Union of Concerned Scientists feels warrant more thought and effort than whether you should use cloth or disposable diapers. I agree. Do what you can to live simply ” and make the big choices the important ones.

Eartha Steward is written by Carly Wier, Holly Loff, and Beth Orstad, consultants on all things eco and chic at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation in our mountain community. Eartha believes that you can walk gently on our planet, even if you’re wearing stylie shoes.

Submit questions to Eartha at or to High Country Conservation Center, PO Box 4506, Frisco, CO 80443.

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