Thursday, December 19, 2013

Diapers on a Dime (Low income cloth diapering)



The newspaper headlines rarely catch my eye, but an article on how low income families struggle to buy diapers instantly got my attention.  It began by interviewing a family with young twins, who explained how stressful it was to constantly worry about running out of diapers between paychecks and how they sometimes had to decide between paying bills or buying diapers. They estimated that they go through $40 worth of disposable diapers a week and on an income of $2000 a month for a family of 5. That is a huge expense.  Oftentimes the end of the month left them with no money and no diapers so the mother would board the bus to go get an emergency ‘3 day supply’ from the homeless shelter.

The article went on to mention some families are  even resorting  to reusing disposable diapers by scraping out the feces, or leaving a diaper on until it’s actually bursts because it is so full. As the article progressed I kept hoping that it would mention cloth diapers, that is until I read what they said about it. They said that cloth was not allowed in daycare, and that it can’t be washed in Laundromats. By the time it mentioned the potentially high start up cost of cloth diapering the casual reader is left convinced that cloth diapering is not an option for families struggling to pay for disposables.

What I wish the article had said is that cloth diapering is in fact a very realistic option for families in need.  The diapers that they may be able to afford might not be the fanciest, but any type of cloth diaper is far better than having to reuse a disposable and risk bladder infections, or diaper rash. You simply have to go back to basics and think outside the box.

Diapers can be made from any absorbent material lying around. Flour sack dishtowels, receiving blankets and old t shirts can be used in place of commercial flats or prefolds diapers. They can be laid in a cover or secured with a snappy (or diaper pins). Covers can be made without sewing from old polar fleece blankets or traditional pull-on pant style cloth diaper covers can be purchased for as low as $5 a piece. If someone can sew (or knows someone who can) they can up-cycle thrift store wool sweaters into wool soakers. Cut up t-shirts or washcloths can serve as cloth wipes.  A peri bottle or other squeeze water bottle can be used as a diaper sprayer, or traditional dunking and swishing.  If the budget allows a cloth diaper kit like the Econobum package can provide prefolds and covers for 12 diaper changes.

If the family does not have their own washer, or dryer they can do their initial pre-rinse in the sink then do their long hot wash at a laundry mat (if permitted) or in a bathtub. If they lack a bathtub a 5 gallon bucket and plungers can work as a camping style washer. Since flats (and t-shirts) are so thin they can be air dried indoors in an hour or two.  Since the diaper stashes would be so small they could also be combined with regular baby laundry (this can be done as long as laundering the clothes is done with a detergent suitable for diapers and without fabric softener).

Ultimately, the newspaper article inspired me to do my part to spread the word about low cost cloth diapering. Hopefully we can all work together to spread the word about cloth diapering so that no family is forced to choose between buying diapers, or putting food on the table. 

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