Although the majority of families choose cloth diapers to save money, the “greener” profile is also a big draw. Cloth diapers keep more trash (and human waste) out of landfills and drastically reduce things like packaging and chemical processing.
Here are five diapering fabrics which are commonly marketed as being eco-friendly:
Hemp is growing more popular with every passing year. It’s more dense and absorbent than cotton, but is not as soft, so you often find it blended with other fabrics. Hemp leaves a small footprint since it’s easy to grow without a lot of water or chemicals. The mechanical processing of hemp is aided by natural enzymes, and the resulting fibers which make up the final product are the actual natural fibers from the plant. Unfortunately, commercial hemp production is still restricted in the United States; hopefully, that will change in the future.
Wool is a very unique fabric. It’s created by sheep, and that makes it very sustainable. It’s performance as a breathable, waterproof and bacterial-resistant fabric is unbeatable. But it does require special care. Check the labels and choose “organically grown” when possible, or buy re-purposed/up-cycled, handmade goods.
Bamboo is frequently marketed as a natural fiber, and it is….with some caveats. Bamboo grows as prolifically as grass, making it highly sustainable. However, the fabric that is made into cloth diapers should technically be called “rayon from bamboo,” because a complicated chemical process (including a bath in sulfuric acid) is necessary to render the rayon/viscose filaments that are woven into that deliciously soft fabric that diapering mamas and babies love. It is this process and its byproducts that somewhat dampen (but don’t negate) the claim that bamboo diapers are “green” and environmentally friendly. Is bamboo naturally anti-bacterial? The FTC is hesitant to say “yes” and the debate continues.
Cotton has been a cloth diapering standard for years. It’s soft and absorbent, easy to wash, very economical and more resistant to odors than synthetics. However, the pesticides, herbicides and insecticides used to grow cotton conventionally, as well as the large amounts of water required, are a definite drawback. You can lessen the impact by choosing the organic, unbleached variety instead.
Upcycled fabrics can include pretty much anything. The idea is that you’re buying a diaper or cover which was repurposed from something else. Lots of WAHM’s turn things like old sweaters, t-shirts, blankets and burp cloths into beautiful, functional diapers. The environmental benefit here is not so much in the fabrics themselves, but in the effort to “reduce and reuse.”
Are the environmental benefits of cloth diapers as important to you as the money savings? If so, what fabric is your favorite and why?
Note: This article was originally published at the Kelly Wels blog, but has been updated and revised.