Do You Really Want Spend More to Expose Your Baby to the Dangers of Disposable Diapers?

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Dr. Mercola's Comments:


This is a must read article if you or someone you know is raising children. Not only can it save them money on diapers but it can help reduce the exposure of toxic chemicals in disposable diapers. And lastly it is also good for the environment. This article is from the Weston Price Foundation and I am proud to be on their advisory board.

It is a great organization and would encourage you to consider joining their organization. You will receive a quarterly journal that I find enormously helpful and always read cover to cover. Their membership page lists other benefits If you are interested you can print this form and sign up

They also have their 7th Annual International Conference of the Weston A. Price Foundation, in Chantilly, Virginia (near Dulles International Airport), featuring fine speakers, delicious food and CEUs for many health professions on November 11, 2006. For further details you can visit their site.

By Jen Albritton

The idea of cloth diapers dredges up unpleasant visions for some-pokey pins, leaks and other unmentionables. Believe it or not, cloth diapers have made a dramatic turn for the better over the last few years.

No more pins to prink your fingers, fewer leaks, and no more toilet dunking. This happy news will soften the blow of discovering some of the dangers of disposable diapers. Not only do babies adorned in cloth tend to potty train earlier than those in disposables, there are some health and environmental risks to ponder. Luckily, you have a choice!

Why Choose Cloth Over Disposable

Back in the 1950s, nearly every little tyke in the U.S. wore cloth diapers. Proctor & Gamble changed that statistic dramatically by introducing Pampers, a one-time use, throw-away diaper, in the early 1960s. Today, a vast majority of babies wear disposables. On average, babies use about seven disposable diapers per day,1 a number that varies with age and frequency of changes. This can mean up to 8,000 diapers per baby for their diapering phase of life.

When deciding between cloth or disposables, one should consider the following three areas: environmental burden, chemical exposure for the family and financial impact.

Environmental Concerns

Both disposable and cloth diapers have their environmental costs. The question is, which is higher? First, disposables place a burden on the environment through manufactured materials (often synthetic). The plastic in disposables takes an extended time to break down. There are different estimates as to how long, but it is more than several lifetimes.

With the billions upon billions of disposable diapers thrown into landfills every year, any estimate gives a bad result, regardless of how you look at it.

The second issue is waste management with the viruses and other contaminants from untreated feces and urine that may find their way into our soils and community water supplies.2 Although this scenario has not been clearly established as a current problem, the possibilities are real.

Have you ever read the back of the box for disposables? When you do, you will find a statement that baby soil should be put into the toilet before the diaper is disposed of in the garbage. Human waste is not meant to be in landfills, but when was the last time you tossed the contents of a disposable diaper into the toilet? This is a practice thought to be only necessary for cloth, but in fact should be done with both.

For cloth diapers, water usage, energy cost, the cost of detergent, and chemicals emitted from detergent are issues to be considered. Washing cloth diapers certainly uses more water than dumping a disposable diaper in the trash, but one must look at all the sides.

For instance, newer washing machines are more water efficient. Moreover, some argue that washing diapers twice per week uses less water than an adult uses in a day of flushing the toilet. Finally, the chemical intake from detergents is moot if you use environmentally safe detergents.

Financial Investment

Arguments ensue regarding whether disposable or cloth diapers are more of a financial strain on the family budget. The money spent on disposables and wipes is cut and dried, with ranges depending on preferred brands. Cloth gets a little fuzzier. Costs for electricity to heat the water and run the dryer vary; laundry detergent and depreciation of laundry equipment may be additional considerations.

With the high-tech varieties of cloth diapers available, someone can pay as much as $15 or more per diaper. However, if you stick with the less fancy products, the cost is actually quite reasonable. Here is my personal financial breakdown (see My Product List below for details on these products).

Diapers (two dozen infant and four dozen regular) $400; wraps (four of each small, medium, and large) $108; doublers (6) $10; wipes (60) $35; diaper pail $15; two diaper pail liners $30; extras (e.g., changing pads) $30. Grand total = $520.

On a personal note, I purchased more regular sized diapers than I eventually found necessary. I would recommend two to three dozen instead of four unless you have more than one child in diapers.

Having multiple children use the same diapers also significantly cuts costs. Furthermore, products can be purchased and sold through the community or on the internet to save money. When I started purchasing my diaper stash, previously used products were selling for almost as much as new, so I chose to buy new. (I also hear that, when your diapering days are over, diapers make fantastic house rags!)

The cost of disposable diapers averages around 20 cents apiece. The price can be even higher if more natural products are used. Let's calculate, using the average of seven diapers a day at 20 cents each: $1.40 per day, $9.80 per week, $39.20 per month, and $470.40 per year. The low end age for potty training is two and a half years, for an estimated grand total of $1176 spent on one child! Using the more environmentally-friendly diapers, which run as high as 50 cents a pop, makes the total closer to $3000! Wowzers!

Chemical Exposure

Numerous chemicals are emitted from commercial disposables, such as those from the polypropylene liner and polyethylene backing.3 In fact, scientists have discovered that the chemicals in disposables, when inhaled, are toxic to the respiratory system. Although studied on mice, the response was clear and the researchers concluded that diapers should be considered as one of the factors that might cause or exacerbate asthmatic conditions.4

Disposable diapers contain bleached materials. Although the U.S. paper mill industry has made improvements to reduce toxic waste output over the last few years, concerns remain surrounding this process. Ultimately the manufacture of diapers with bleached products puts all humans and animal at higher risk for health damages.5,6,7 We would all do well to avoid these hazardous chemicals.

Although there is no specific scientific link between diapers and the aforementioned conditions, the manufacturing of diapers with bleached products puts all humans and animals at a higher risk in general.

We would all do well to avoid these hazardous chemicals. Moreover, could dioxins still remain in the diaper itself, thus exposing your baby and family to them more directly? Possibly, but this is not something supported by scientific study.

Even more worrisome are the super-absorbent diapers, which often contain cross-linked sodium polyacrylate, a powder that turns to a gel in contact with liquid. This is the same substance associated with toxic shock syndrome from ultra-absorbent feminine hygiene tampons.8 Although negative health symptoms have not been directly linked in the case of diapers, these types of chemicals are just better to avoid, especially when they are in products in close contact with such sensitive areas of the body.

There are more environmentally friendly disposable diaper manufacturers that do not use chlorine in the bleaching process (such as the maker of Tushies). Although they are more expensive than conventional disposables, using these products reduces the health concerns posed by chlorine and its toxic byproducts.


Although disposables are convenient, cloth diapers are running a close second with new product designs. The act of putting on the diapers is quite similar. For example, velcro wraps close in the cloth diaper and are simply washed with the diapers when wet or soiled. All-in-one diapers skip the cloth diaper insert step and have the cloth sewn inside and the wrap outside, acting like a disposable but washing like a cloth.

Cloth diapers do not need to be presoaked or even rinsed off, as many people believe. If unrinsed diapers are not appealing, an option is flushable liners that are just lifted off and flushed down the toilet.

When planned right, cloth diapers should add only two more loads of laundry per week. There is also the option of a diaper service, which through economy of scale uses less energy and water per diaper than home washing. However, diapers are shared with other members and the service may not use detergents you find acceptable.

What about when you are out and about or traveling? Unless you are a stickler when it comes to using cloth, these are fine times to use disposables. But for those hardcore cloth users out there, nylon tote bags are an easy solution. They cinch up, close in the smells, and can be thrown in the laundry right along with the diapers at home.


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