Transcript: The Benefits of Cloth Diapers vs Disposables For Infants

This is a text transcript from The First Time Mum’s Chat podcast. The episode is called The Benefits of Cloth Diapers vs Disposables For Infants and you can click on the link to view the full episode page, listen to the episode and view the show notes.

Helen Thompson: Way back in episode 5 of First Time Mum’s Chat, I put together an episode called Which Nappies Are Best for Your Baby, where amongst other things, I discussed cloth versus disposable diapers. I regularly receive inquiries from moms wanting to know more about cloth diapers versus disposables. I have been on the hunt for someone to chat with on First Time Mum’s Chat, and I was delighted to recently connect with April Duffy, who runs a very busy community on Facebook, entirely dedicated to cloth diapers.

This buzzing community has in excess of 50,000 members, and what better place to start immersing yourself in the world of cloth diapers! During our chat, you’ll hear April share loads of tips and insights, including details on the different types of cloth diapers available, the huge cost savings you can make by choosing cloth diapers over disposables, the different materials that cloth diapers are manufactured from, and the advantages, how using cloth diapers often speeds up their potty training.

And so much more.

For those of you located outside of North America, just a note before we get started. Diapers are what you would call nappies, just to clear up any possible confusion. Now onto the interview.

Hi April and welcome to First Time Mum’s Chat. It’s a pleasure to have you here. As you know, the whole world of cloth diapers is a topic that I’ve wanted to explore in more detail for a while on the podcast, and it’s great to be chatting with somebody who is so knowledgeable.

April Duffy: Well, thank you for having me. It’s a topic very near and dear to my heart. Back when I became pregnant with my first daughter in 2014 – 2015, I was always the one in my family who was teaching everyone what recycling bin to put everything in and that type of thing. I knew I wanted to do the cloth diapers or nappies versus the disposable, so I went and tried to find out what I should buy and stock up and everything and the information was just all over the place, everything was conflicting, it didn’t make sense and my background is actually in journalism, so I was like, okay, well I need something to keep me busy while I’m at home with baby anyway so let me figure it out and make a website and the group and they all just kind of snowballed from there, really.

Helen Thompson: Oh wow. Yeah, my parents way back in the 60s, we were all cloth nappied. In those days, they had, I remember the pins and the plastic pants and soaking. I think they soaked it in a bucket with NapiSan or Milton, I think it was called, and then putting them all in the washing machine. I probably remember that more from my younger sister but mom and dad were really adamant about cloth nappies, but things have changed a lot since the 1960s. No plastic pants and big nappy pins anymore.

April Duffy: I remember when I first told my family, okay, this is what I’m doing. They were horrified because they all had memories of the bucket of blue disgustingness in the corner and all of that that goes with it and the pins and the rubber pants and all of that and no, it’s completely different.

I’d say it changed really in the 90s. All the new fabrics and all that kind of stuff came out and sewing at home that you had the snaps and people just really innovated in the 90s and it’s completely different now.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, cause I was looking at your website and you have so many different brands and I was just thinking as a first time mom, it must be so daunting, sort of thinking help, where do I start, I want to do this, but how do I know what to get for my baby and what size? So I guess you did a lot of research. So how can you make it more simple for a first time mom that just wants to go and get the nappies and just think, right, I’m gonna do this.

April Duffy: Yes, it’s so much. I feel like nowadays we don’t have that village behind us. So you don’t have grandma saying, okay, you buy this, you buy this, that’s what you do. Mm So people go online and just the wealth of information online is completely overwhelming and it’s just too much.

I wish that I could give a simple, 1, 2, 3, and you’re done but because people have access to so much information, I find no matter what you tell them, they’re gonna find something else and wonder if that other thing is going to be better than this. So what I tell people, if you wanna start with cloth diapers, learn about the different styles first, but realize that you don’t have to go in depth to everything.

Just think about your situation, who’s gonna be changing the diapers and that kind of thing, and whatever stands out to you, start there.

Helen Thompson: Yeah , I also noticed on your website, I’m just intrigued to say this because I thought it was very interesting, I’m not quite sure how to say this, but you have certain snap down nappies that you can have to help with the umbilical cord when babies are quite young and when I read that, I thought, wow, that’s really amazing.

April Duffy: Yep. Yep. Well, back a long time ago, really you only had what they call now flat diapers, which is just a single cloth of cotton that you fold up and pin on baby. Now most of the variations that you’ll see are pol on the outside. So polyurethane laminate, it’s basically polyester that has plastic on one side and then they’ll put different combinations of fabrics on the inside and most diapers nowadays are one size. So they fit from about 8 pounds to about 35 pounds, which will normally get you to potty training. But then there’s also a newborn diaper that have the umbilical cord slapped down and I’m not explaining it very well, but every diaper is contained in itself for the most part, unless you go to some other styles and they can be fitted in all kinds of different ways and they fit from the 8 pounds to the 36.

Helen Thompson: I know and you have different kinds. You have the bamboo ones and you have ones that you put, is it a cloth or something you put inside?

April Duffy: Yeah, do you want me to go quickly over over…

Helen Thompson: Oh yeah, let’s go quickly over it.

April Duffy: Let me roll up

Helen Thompson: I’ve looked at,

April Duffy: So, the way I explain it is you’re gonna come across, I think the last count was something like 10 or 12 different kinds of styles of diapers but every diaper, you’re gonna need an absorbent inside and a waterproof outside.

Helen Thompson: Mm-hmm.

April Duffy: just how those two bits are put together that changes the style of the diaper. So you have an all in one diaper, which is all of the absorbent inside that you need sewn right in to the Pul waterproof outside that you need. So everything’s all in one package, good to go, you put it on, take it off, done.

Then you have an all in two diaper,

Helen Thompson: Hmm.

April Duffy: which just like it sounds, the diaper comes in two pieces. So you have the absorbent inside that snaps into the waterproof outside, and then you have something called a pocket diaper, which it’s also in two pieces but instead of snapping in and just laying flat in the diaper, you actually take the absorbent inside and stuff it into the cover, which has a nice kind of fleecy inside. So you stuff it in the pocket that’s made.

Helen Thompson: Can that be bamboo?

April Duffy: Yep the absorbent inside comes in a ton of fabric choices. There’s cotton, bamboo, hemp is really good. There’s the synthetic materials like microfiber and bamboo charcoal. There’s all kinds of things you can put in there to soak everything up, and that’s that kind of that category of diaper where you’re putting it all together and the two pieces or the one piece fit in, and it’s almost like a disposable diaper at the end of the day, because once they’re together, you just put them on, take them off, you’re done.

But then you also have what I think are kind of more like the older style of diapers. You have pre-folds, flats. A pre-fold is just a flat that’s already folded, and fitted diapers that look like a disposable diaper, but it’s actually just the absorbent inside and for all those diapers, you get those pieces and then you need a diaper cover, which is the waterproof outside, and you kind of mix and match those pieces with the cover.

Helen Thompson: Oh, okay. It sounds as though there’s quite a few to choose from, but I think the all in one would be better because then you don’t have to think about anything. It’s like having a disposable nappy, but yet you can wash it and reuse it. That’s just my opinion.

April Duffy: It is nice, especially if you have somebody who’s also going to be changing your baby, but they’re not quite on board with cloth diapers yet. Those are fantastic because it’s just like a disposable, they don’t have to think about it or put things together or all of that kind of stuff. The only thing is they take a little bit, they’re a little bit harder to wash and clean properly, and they’re a little bit less adjustable. So for the two piece diapers you can adjust the absorbency to fit your baby if you have a heavy wetter, so on and so forth, whereas the all in one, what you get is kind of what you get and it has to work for your baby or it doesn’t. So there’s that to consider.

Helen Thompson: And you mentioned hemp and bamboo. I thought bamboo was quite absorbant, but then you mentioned that hemp is very good. What’s the difference between hemp and bamboo for absorbency?

April Duffy: Between hemp and bamboo, there’s not too much difference. Bamboo is much more processed than hemp. Hemp is very absorbent, it’s the most absorbent fabric you’re gonna get for a cloth diaper and it’s just the way it’s made, the more it’s washed, the more absorbent it gets. Bamboo, after you wash it for a while, it doesn’t get more absorbent, it kind of is what it is, but it’s very good, bamboo is fantastic, it’s right up there with hemp. They’re both great. Those kind of natural quote unquote fibers are just fabulous for diapers.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, I can imagine. That was gonna be my next question about what’s the pros and cons of both cloths and disposables. Other than the landfill, we all know that there’s too much landfill but what are some of the other benefits.

April Duffy: Most of the people I come across aren’t switching to cloth diapers for the environmental benefits. There obviously are plenty of environmental benefits but a lot of the times the most attractive thing is the cost. You’re saving so much money with cloth diapers. Actually now, I’d be talking in American dollars but I can tell you that going by averages of how many diapers a baby will use, about 8,000 throughout their birth to potty, going by the average cost of disposables on Wikipedia and, and so on that works out to about $2,000 per child. About $2,000 to get you from birth to potty and disposables using average US costs and all of that.

Helen Thompson: Wow and can you imagine the landfill on that too?

April Duffy: Well, 8,000 diapers, yeah for every child.

Helen Thompson: And when they grow up, their nappy might still be sitting there. That’s amazing.

April Duffy: I’m sure some of your listeners, their parents and possibly even grandparents were in disposables. Those diapers are still in that landfill. We don’t know yet when they break down. So taking that $2,000, if you think about reusable diapers, it’s kind of hard because the cost varies so much between different diapers. Some diapers you can get for super cheap that are $6, some you can get really expensive, fantastic overnight diapers for $30, so I took an average of, okay, you’re buying fantastic diapers across the board, let’s say about $18 each. Those are premium diapers though and given how many you’d need, you’d be saving about $1,575 US for that child.

That’s how much cheaper it would be and then those diapers are used on the next baby, right? So the next child costs you zero or if you’re not having another child, you can also sell them used. There’s a huge used cloth diaper market as well.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, I think that’s amazing, it’s just amazing how much waste there is.

April Duffy: Yeah.

Helen Thompson: And it’s also more natural for the child. I think from my understanding, that if you’re wearing cloth diapers babies know more about when their nappy is full. I mean obviously not a small baby, but when they’re getting to the, 18 months mark, they tend to feel that it’s more full so they know that they need to go to the toilet more. Is that right?

April Duffy: Absolutely on average a baby in cloth diapers will potty train a little bit sooner than babies in disposables. Cuz you’re right, in disposables, they have all these chemicals that make it stay dry, so the baby doesn’t feel it when they go. So they can’t put their body signals and the wetness together. Whereas if they can feel the wetness, that’s another way of training them. Oh, I just went potty. I have to go potty, right?

Helen Thompson: I think when I was brought up, I think my parents used to say that we were all toilet trained much younger than the average and looking back on it, I think that probably had something to do with it.

April Duffy: And also mom didn’t wanna wash those diapers forever, right. So she was

Helen Thompson: Well, yes, yes, of course.

April Duffy: She was pushing it a little more, probably!

Helen Thompson: Yes. True. So with the pros and cons, is there anything we haven’t mentioned.

April Duffy: Well, I think that another nice thing is, you know, we’ve all run out of diapers at one time or another, and you don’t have to make that midnight trip to the grocery store to see what’s there. yes, If you run out, you just pop a load of laundry on and you’re okay in about an hour.

Helen Thompson: Yeah and you can also leave your baby free to just lie them on a towel and just let them kick free while they don’t have a nappy on, let them go for it. I mean, it’s more natural for them too, I guess.

April Duffy: Oh, it’s good for them. Yeah, absolutely. So there’s the environmental, there’s the financial and, sorry, I pulled it up here. So using that $18 average, it would only cost you about $432 to buy a good stash of reusable diapers.

Helen Thompson: That’s not bad!

April Duffy: No, not at all and you can cut that down for sure by buying used, by buying cheaper diapers, absolutely.

Helen Thompson: Roughly on average and this is gonna be different for each baby, but how many cloth diapers would you have to buy for a baby?

April Duffy: It’s hard to say because it really depends how old your baby is. So if you’re starting from birth, you’re gonna need a little bit more, cause newborn babies go to the bathroom every five minutes, it almost feels like, versus an older baby that can hold it a bit longer. And it depends too how often you wanna wash them.

Helen Thompson: Yes, that’s true.

April Duffy: If you’re going right from newborn and you’re washing daily, which sounds crazy to me, but if you wanna buy just a little bit to try them out, you’re happy to wash daily. Probably about 24 would be a good starting place. Yeah. You wouldn’t have to worry so much about running out on that day before you get them in the wash and dried and all of that. But that’s only cause newborns go to the bathroom so much.

Helen Thompson: Well, yes because all they’re drinking is milk, so I can understand that and how long do they take to dry?

April Duffy: It depends what kind. So I know a lot of my answers are, it depends. I apologize.

Helen Thompson: I understand that. It’s a difficult question to answer because each one’s different, isn’t it?

April Duffy: Yeah, if you’re using a flat diaper, the older style diapers, they can be dry in in no time but if you’re using it all in one, that takes some time to, to dry just cuz there’s so many layers sewn together. So yeah, it really depends what style use, that’s why there’s not just all in ones and there’s not just older style diapers because being able to separate those two parts in different ways helps people cut down on the drying time.

Helen Thompson: And can you put them in a dryer?

April Duffy: Yeah you can. Just the plastic parts you can’t put on high, but you can put them on medium or lower, and that’s no problem.

Helen Thompson: Yes, so the natural fibers for the baby I assume they don’t get as much nappy rash.

April Duffy: I have spoken to pediatricians about it. There is actually less diaper rash in cloth diapers than disposables. It’s just a different kind of diaper rash. The most common diaper rash you’ll see in cloth diapers is a moisture sensitivity, just because they don’t have that stay dry stuff.

So it’s a learning process of learning when the diaper is wet and you have to change baby and the different things that you can do to keep the skin dry, like fleece liners and barrier creams and that type of thing. So it’s a little bit of learning that way versus, in a disposable, the most common rash are really from the chemicals and that type of thing.

A lot of parents come to cloth because they just can’t use disposables cuz their baby gets a rash every single time.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, I’ve worked in childcare and I’ve seen some nappy rashes and some of it looks so red and sore and you have to change the baby, you have to wipe it and it’s agony for them and you know it’s hurting them, but you’ve still gotta do it and I find it horrible.

April Duffy: Yeah, my daughter, I didn’t realize it at the time, but she had a food sensitivity to yogurt and she would get those sore rashes and it’s the worst. I don’t envy anyone who has a baby with a bad diaper rash. It’s terrible.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, it’s not nice and you can also use cloth wipes as well, can’t you?

April Duffy: Yeah, absolutely. So just, small pieces of fabric and you’re just wetting them. You don’t even need any fancy solution or anything, just water and a cloth and you’re good to go and if you’re using cloth diapers, you just throw them in the wash with them and done and done. It’s actually easier cause you don’t have to separate your garbage from your diaper.

Helen Thompson: I was gonna say, how do you do that? I mean if you’ve got a lot of poo in a nappy, I suppose you put it down the toilet?

April Duffy: Yep, you’re actually supposed to do that with disposables too. If you look carefully at all the packaging, you’re not supposed to throw out the waste. You’re supposed to put it down the toilet as well, but people don’t.

Helen Thompson: No. They just wrap it all up in a nappy.

April Duffy: So if your baby is exclusively breast fed, so EBF, then it’s actually water soluble and you don’t have to do anything. It’ll wash clean away, it won’t kick up your washing machine, it’s perfectly fine and then once they start formula or solids, then you need to put it in the toilet and there’s different things you can get to make that easier, like a cloth diaper sprayer or you can use disposable liners as well. There’s lots of methods to make it a little bit easier. You don’t have to touch anything if you don’t want to, let’s put it that way.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, but you are touching when you’re changing your baby. As a childcare worker I would always wear rubber gloves, but when you’re changing a nappy as a mother, you aren’t gonna put on rubber gloves all the time. That’s another bad thing for the environment is rubber gloves.

April Duffy: That just jogged my memory about another benefit of cloth diapers, less blowouts. So everyone’s always like, oh you have poo to deal with in your washing machine. If you’ve had a baby in disposables, you know that there’s going to be poop in your washing machine regardless, cuz disposables have this thing called blow up where it just goes all over them but cloth diapers have more room and more give, so when there’s that pressure from baby going, it has more space to occupy so it doesn’t go right up the back.

Helen Thompson: Oh yeah. And that was probably nicer for the baby as well.

April Duffy: Oh, yes. Well, they’re more comfortable. Right? I don’t know if you’ve ever worn plastic underwear, but it’s not.

Helen Thompson: No, I haven’t and I dunno that I’d really like the idea of wearing plastic underwear and that’s what you’re putting on your baby when you’re putting disposables on.

April Duffy: And they can feel it. Their skin is so sensitive, they feel it almost more than we do, right.

Helen Thompson: Yeah I’ve seen the nappies that especially when they’re really wet, how they get really big and they’re nearly falling off.

April Duffy: Yeah. I don’t know if people who use disposable diapers notice the smell, but once you switch over to cloth diapers, they’re not the ones that smell. If you’ve ever smelt a pile of dirty disposable diapers, that is the worst smell!

Helen Thompson: Yes, I have.

April Duffy: Most people think that cloth diapers are the one that’s gonna give you the smell problem, but no!

Helen Thompson: No, because they’re more natural fibers, there’s not so many chemicals in them reacting with the poop and the wee. It doesn’t sound very nice.

April Duffy: A dirty disposable diaper doesn’t smell like human, it smells, I don’t know what the smell is, but it’s terrible.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, I, I’ve, yeah, I smelt it. It’s like even a smell of urine is, is horrible and that, that make that mix amongs the chemicals of an nappy. I can understand and it’s teaching them that feeling of having a natural feeling in their body. You know what I mean?

April Duffy: Yeah, absolutely.

Helen Thompson: So, yeah. Is there anything else that you’d love to add?

April Duffy: I could talk about this stuff for forever! First and foremost, don’t get overwhelmed. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by everything that’s out there and take it step by step. It’s not as hard as it seems, don’t get overwhelmed by all of the information. I run a Facebook group and we’re close to 51,000 people now on there who come and they share their experience, but most people post and ask questions when they’re having problems.

So, don’t go into these places and assume that everyone’s having problems. So don’t get overwhelmed by all the information and don’t get overwhelmed by all of the stories that you’re hearing online of problems. That’s probably, my number one piece of advice.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, cuz as we’ve said, I think there are so many things out there and just take one step at a time and think, right, okay, well I’m just gonna buy these ones and if they don’t work, I’ll post on your group, for instance, saying, I’ve tried X, it didn’t work for my baby because of A, what have you tried, or my baby’s got a rush, or I can’t work it out. I can’t work out the poppers or I can’t work out this. So having a group like yours is very, very supportive to moms.

April Duffy: It’s fantastic. You know, mom groups have a reputation online as being a little bit toxic but the cloth diaper community, it’s actually just a fantastic community. They’re just a wonderful group of people that are willing to help you at any point.

Helen Thompson: That’s what I’m planning to do with the first time moms is have that community because we’ve lost that village, we’ve lost that opportunity. The main reason was to build up a community for first time moms who could talk about these things that we’re talking about because you just don’t get that anymore.

April Duffy: You don’t and having a podcast is brilliant because I can just remember the late nights sitting up and feeding and having no one to talk, to, being able to listen to information would also be just fantastic. What you’re doing is wonderful.

Helen Thompson: So you’ve mentioned you have a Facebook group. After hearing this podcast, I’m hoping that mums will think, oh wow, this is exciting, I’d like to find out more, how would they do that?

April Duffy: Yeah, I’m all over the internet as cloth diapers for beginners. So you can search on Facebook and also is kind of the hub of all the information, and you can contact me through there.

Helen Thompson: Well, thank you for coming on. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you. Thank you so much, April. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you and I hope that it’s been beneficial to the moms out there. I did a podcast myself on cloth diapers, which was one of the first ones I ever did, gosh, quite a while ago.

April Duffy: Thank you for inviting me. I’m sure it’s helpful. Like I was saying, this podcast must be so helpful it’s great. It’s great what you’re doing.

Helen Thompson: I’m sure that April has given you a good grounding into the whole world of cloth diapers, and I highly recommend checking out her website and Facebook community. I’ve included links in the show notes, which can be accessed at Next week I’m chatting with Lacy Reason, who is a certified lactation counselor, all about breastfeeding and latching.