Survey helping more families get started with cloth diapers

Thousands of current cloth diaper users have responded to our 2012 Great Cloth Diaper Survey so far.  Previously, I explained how the Great Cloth Diaper Survey will help you with your laundry.  But it can do more than that!

The Great Cloth Diaper Survey can help more families learn about and get started with cloth diapers!

In the second section of the survey, we're looking into where people first learned about cloth diapers, as well as when and why they decided to use them. As an organization full of volunteers looking to help more families choose cloth diapers, this information can help us reach new parents at the right place and time.

DIY hand-knitting a wool diaper soaker

Photo courtesy of Jessica in San Diego, 2012

Knowing about cloth diapers is the first step to using them.  The second step is actually procuring them. There are several important areas we're researching here:

  • the secondary market - - what portion of cloth diapers are being bought/sold/or traded used?  Is this a useful way to save money on cloth diapers?  How can we support parents using pre-loved diapers?
  • the businesses supplying diapers (and those supporting users) - - what portion of cloth diaper sales happen online? What types of businesses are providing support for the diapers they sell?  (Perhaps RDA can help...)
  • DIY diapers - - What types of diapering products are being made at home?  Can we support parents in saving money through making some portion of their own diapering supplies?
  • the factors influencing diaper purchases - - How important is price vs. other factors such as where it was made?  Are people looking primarily for certain styles or fabrics?  How heavily are people weighting reviews or recommendations from friends?

If you are currently using cloth diapers at all (even part of the time), please take the survey now! It will only take 15-20 minutes of your time.  Then pass it on to everyone you know who might use cloth diapers!  More information about the survey, including about the prizes for participants and referrers is in this other blog post.

Heather McNamara

Executive Director, Real Diaper Association

Disposable diapers in hospitals

The New York Times published an article yesterday about how hospitals are stopping the practice of distributing formula samples to breastfeeding mothers. It was interesting to read in the context of considering the use of disposable cloth diapers in hospital maternity wards (and are also often sent home with new parents).

Newborn baby in hospital-provided disposable diaper

Photo courtesy Sarah in San Diego

Like cloth diapering, breastfeeding is the healthiest option for babies.  However, formula companies recognize the crucial marketing opportunity they have with new parents in hospitals.  Samples provided by hospitals 

  • improve brand recognition for future consumers and
  • imply that the product is approved by their doctor.

If providing formula samples to new parents is so useful that formula companies give them to the hospitals for FREE, what about the use of disposable diapers in hospital maternity wards?

Would the use of reusable cloth diapers in maternity wards encourage longer term cloth diaper use?

Heather McNamara

Executive Director, Real Diaper Association

Cloth Diapers in the Media: Shark Tank

It was exciting to see cloth diapers on the popular TV show, Shark Tank, on Friday night (9/28).  What a great opportunity to show the audience that reusable cloth diapers are on the upswing given increasing awareness about the environment and a tough economy!

Unfortunately, the cloth diapers themselves were hardly addressed in the Shark Tank, with attention devoted instead to patent issues and manufacturing problems.  A lost opportunity, perhaps, but useful in that the issue of the influx of cheap cloth diapers from overseas into the market is one that needs to be discussed.

Most families demonstrate willingness to pay extra to match certain values. (For example, many families are willing to pay more for disposable diapers to receive the perceived benefit of convenience).  However, there is always a line to be drawn.

So what ARE the issues that might be considered when deciding whether or not to choose the cheapie cloth diapers?

  • Considering cheap reusable cloth diapersIs it possible to pay living wages and ensure acceptable working conditions (both in manufacturing and distribution) below a certain price point? 
  • Do lower quality materials and construction result in hidden costs of repair or replacement, or even unacceptable performance (leaking diapers or hazardous materials used)?
  • If customers give up support from the manufacturer or retailer, are they in danger of using or caring for the product incorrectly?  Do the costs of customer support get passed to local small businesses?
  • How does a choice to buy a cheap product from overseas affect the stability of local businesses?
  • As discussed on Shark Tank, is intellectual property being infringed upon?

I often explain that my goal is not to “convince” someone to use cloth diapers. It is, instead, to give families the information they need about the benefits and use of cloth diapers to make an informed decision.  In the same way, I merely suggest consideration of these issues so you can be an informed cloth diaper consumer.

Lastly, cloth diapering both inexpensively and ethically is possible. And helping low-income families get into cloth diapers is something that the Real Diaper Association supports and helps to facilitate (as discussed most recently here and here).

Heather McNamara

Executive Director, Real Diaper Association


(Update: Real Diaper Week is now celebrated via School of Cloth in the Fall. Our link updated to reflect this change.)

How the Great Cloth Diaper Survey will help you with your laundry

The Great Cloth Diaper Survey promises to fold and put away at least one load of diaper laundry a week for you.  NAME another survey that can help you that much!! Okay, so not really. BUT, the Great Cloth Diaper Survey really CAN help with your laundry! How? This past spring, the Real Diaper Association released our Cloth Diaper Laundering Guide.  It was released as part of a new section of our website on cloth diaper laundry, where we are addressing all the corollary concerns that people have about cloth diapering.  How are we doing that?  In the same way we do all our work - using an evidence-based approach that relies heavily on research.

Cloth diaper laundry science from the Real Diaper AssociationAmong other things, we are looking at these survey results for the following information:

- - What kind of access do cloth diapering families have to laundering facilities? Is it possible to cloth diaper if you don't have your own washer and dryer?

- - How regularly are people bleaching their diapers and what are they using? Cloth diapers are often criticized because of their use of chlorine bleach. But what portion of diaper laundry actually includes chlorine bleach?

- - How much detergent are people using and what other additives are they including? Comparing detergent and additive use to other factors such as frequency of laundering, diaper type, and water type can add to our research to answer more of your questions about washing cloth diapers.

So, if you haven't yet donated the 15-20 minutes of your time it will take to complete the survey, please do so!! Then pass it on to everyone you know who might use cloth diapers even some of the time!  More information about the survey, including about the prizes for participants and referrers is in this other blog post.

Heather McNamara

Executive Director, Real Diaper Association

Stop Bumming Around

High Tech High (HTH) is a set of project-based charter schools in San Diego County. My husband teaches 12th grade at the Chula Vista HTH. The schools are innovative and almost entirely teacher led so they spend a lot of time practicing and collaborating to hone their project focus.  This summer, before they started school, teachers at HTH Chula Vista participated in a retreat where they formed teams to design and present a project to advance the mission of an assigned local nonprofit. The goal was to learn about nonprofits with which their students could collaborate and to refamiliarize themselves with the process of designing and implementing a project, which they do (and ask their students to do) over and over again throughout the year.

One team was assigned to the Real Diaper Association. We provided them a set of readings and access to our website for their initial study. The team then conducted interviews with Lori Taylor and myself, attended a local San Diego Real Diaper Circle meeting with me, and visited the local landfill where they learned more about diaper waste. They presented their "Stop Bumming Around" project plan to other teachers and students, where it was met with great interest from the students. They focused the project around these essential questions:

  • How do societal pressures shape our lifestyle choices? How can we effectively communicate messages concerning sensitive topics? The team, only one of whom had children, were interested to learn that many parenting decisions are sensitive topics due to societal pressures. Our focus on Nonviolent Communication and our use of it to talk with parents about their diapering practices made a lot of sense in this context. They also saw the usefulness of this style of communication in other situations students might encounter as well.
  • What is the value of oral histories? What is the power of data? Here they were interested in determining what types of information affect various people. Is it more effective to use oral histories to share information about diapering or is hard data more effective?
  • Is new better than old? Many people sell cloth diapers by calling them "modern", in common with all the "new" and "improved" advertising. Many users, though, often find success with simple, reusable cloth diapers like prefolds or flats, which tend to get marginalized by this marketing tactic. The team found this to be a useful concept to address with their students as they develop their consumer minds.

The project summary reads:

"Students will work with the Real Diaper Association of San Diego to help in their mission of increasing the use of cloth diapers and creating a cultural shift in the image of cloth diapers. Students will collect data for the organization on cloth diaper use and knowledge - qualitative data in the form of oral histories and quantitative data through a detailed survey. Students will research the economic, environmental, and health benefits of using cloth diapers. And they will ultimately investigate the power of effective communication skills, particularly using non-violent communication for discussing sensitive topics. Students will use their research and communication skills in creating a cloth diaper conversion kit to give to expectant parents."

Cloth Diapers in Hospitals Overall, it was a fun collaboration that we're hoping to continue in the spring. In support of this effort, we have also written a grant proposal to cover costs in a larger project to get cloth diapers into hospitals. As demonstrated in a 2003 University of Surrey study (Uzzell, D., & Leach, R.. The implementation and evaluation of cotton nappy provision at east surrey hospital maternity unit), parents are more likely to choose cloth diapers the earlier they are exposed to them. Therefore, parents could benefit by using cloth diapers in the maternity ward and being exposed to them in prenatal and basic baby care classes at hospitals. Watch this space for more information as the projects take off in 2013!

Heather McNamara

Executive Director, Real Diaper Association

Summer with the Real Diaper Association

Photo credit Novia Gavins, 2009

Last week, we held a webinar to update our volunteers about the work we've conducted over the summer at the Real Diaper Association (in between beach outings, of course). These volunteers bring the information back to their communities to help more families find and use reusable cloth diapers. Since some of our readers may also find this information useful, I will recap our work here. Cloth Diapers in Municipal Zero Waste Planning As I've written about here in the past, local volunteers successfully advocated that the City of Oceanside adopt a zero waste plan that included recommendations for increasing cloth diaper use. Real Diaper Circle Leader Accreditations We accredited several new Real Diaper Circle Leaders to educate and support families in their communities about using cloth diapers: Kansas City Real Diaper Circle – Aaron Dutton of Independence, MO Greater Lansing Real Diaper Circle – Lynn Ross of Lansing, MI Northern New Jersey Real Diaper Circle - Alexis Weinstein of Hillsdale, NJ Honolulu Real Diaper Circle - Jennifer Nguyen of Honolulu, HI We are also better supporting our accredited Circle Leaders with an updated handbook and supporting digital resources, and are in the process of creating a fabric binder that will explain the fibers and fabrics used in cloth diapering, including information about caring for them. RDA on Pinterest In case you missed it, we launched our Pinterest account this summer! Boards include Handouts for Cloth Diaper Workshops, Circle Leader Videos, Cloth Diaper Info, How Others Do It, and many more. Please follow us and alert us to other good content to include! Cloth Diapers in Hospitals We've long wanted to follow up on the work started a couple years back by volunteers related to getting cloth diapers back into the maternity wards at hospitals and therefore introduced earlier to all parents. Starting with a collaboration with High Tech High Chula Vista, where teachers researched and planned a project to implement with their students in the spring of 2013 to assist the Real Diaper Association, we developed a larger project plan for which we've applied for grant funding to conduct next year. As with most of our projects, this one begins with a research phase and ends with a direct action component that would allow any parents to advocate with their local hospital to bring in cloth diapers to their maternity wards and/or their prenatal / baby care classes. Parent Savers podcast I was the guest expert on the diapering episode for the ParentSavers radio show. It turned out to be a great resource for new parents expecting their first baby, so please feel free to pass it on! We're working with Ventura County Real Diaper Circle Leader Janice Roodsari to write a cloth diaper blog series for a new website for natural-minded parents to focus on attracting new parents to cloth diapering. The first post is titled What is a Diaper and Why Would You Need One? and is ideally suited for new parents just approaching the idea of diapers for the first time, so is another great resource to pass on. 2013 Great Cloth Diaper Change and Real Diaper Awareness Month The new organizing committee has begun work and the date has been set for the 2013 Great Cloth Diaper Change! Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 11am LOCAL TIME! Mark your calendars and watch the Great Cloth Diaper Change website for more information. Since conducting Real Diaper Week in conjunction with the Great Cloth Diaper Change this past year led to an overload on many hosts, we decided to move it to the fall, starting with Real Diaper Awareness Month this November. Watch here for more details as they emerge from the joint RDA/Real Diaper Industry Association committee... The Great Cloth Diaper Survey! Lastly, we created, with the help of some statisticians, our first comprehensive current cloth diapering practices survey, intended for 10,000+ responses. The results will be used to create new education and support resources based on the needs and practices of the cloth diapering community. We are also offering high quality DIY reusables as prizes for participants and referrers! Here's the blog post that includes all the details about the survey. Of course, none of this work could be done without your support. Thanks to all our members, volunteers, and donors for continuing to support the cloth diaper movement! Heather McNamara Executive Director, Real Diaper Association

All About Poop: The Dirty Secrets of Diapering

One of the often-cited reasons for choosing throwaway diapers over cloth diapers is the aversion to handling poop. In this post I'll explain why poop is a concern regardless of diaper choice, and then I’ll describe some of the methods that make properly disposing of poop easy and efficient.

Poop belongs in the toilet

Just because a baby wears throwaway diapers does not mean that the diaper and all of its contents should be thrown in the trash. In fact, the American Public Heath Association reminds us that more than 100 different types of viruses are excreted through human feces (including polio and hepatitis 6) and can live for months after passing from the body. This may include the “live viruses” used in vaccines for routine immunizations. If untreated solid waste goes into landfills via throwaway diapers, this can affect the safety of a community’s water supply. Therefore, it’s in everyone’s best interest if the solid contents of disposable diapers are placed in the toilet to be sent through waste treatment facilities.

Not convinced? That’s ok. I wasn’t either at first, so I decided to see what the manufacturers of some popular disposable brands have to say.

First up is Pampers. Although I couldn’t find this same advice actually printed on any packages of Pampers on the shelf at my local store, Procter & Gamble nevertheless offers this advice on the Pampers website: “Dump bowel movements in the toilet.”

Next we have a package of up&up diapers (Target’s brand). Target keeps it short and sweet, recommending “shake soil into toilet.” 

Seventh Generation remembers their manners, requesting that we please flush solid waste. After all, they are projecting an image as a “green” way to diaper!

And last but not least, Kirkland (Costco’s brand) wants us to know that it’s important to empty the contents of a soiled diaper into the toilet “before placing used diaper in a proper receptacle”. (That’s just a nicer way to say “before throwing it away”.)

Therefore, we’ve established that whether we use throwaway diapers or cloth diapers on our babies, we should all be properly disposing of solid waste in the toiletThe American Public Health Association says so. The disposable diaper manufacturers say so. We should all be doing it no matter what kinds of diapers we’re using!

 How to handle the poop

So how can we make the process a little less... well... gross? Here’s a quick run-down of the various methods that cloth diapering families use for getting the poop off the diaper and into the waste system

1. Do nothing! The fine print: This is certainly the easiest method, but it applies only to the exclusively breastfed baby. The poop of breastfed babies is very liquidy and completely water soluble, allowing it to drain after the first rinse before the wash cycle. After the diaper goes through your washing machine, there won’t be a trace of poop left behind in the washer. Believe me. I was apprehensive at first, and I inspected every crevice of my washing machine with a flashlight in hand. It really does wash away completely!

2. Dunk & Swish. I’m not talking about basketball. This method is old-school and is what my mom, Janice, used to do. (Read her post about cloth diapering in the 70s and 80s here.) You dunk the diaper in the toilet bowl, swish it around, and wring it out by hand.

3. Scrape It. I’ve heard that some people just keep a spatula by the toilet so that they can scrape the solid waste off the diaper and into the toilet bowl. (If I were going to use this method, first I’d take a Sharpie to that spatula and clearly mark it for its new purpose. That’s not a utensil you would want to see in your kitchen ever again!)

4. Spray It. This seems to be the preferred method today. Diaper sprayers hook up easily to the side of the toilet and work just as easily as the kitchen sprayer on your sink. You can buy them from nearly any cloth diaper retailer, or some handy folks make their own using basic supplies from a hardware store.  Or, if you have the kind of shower head with a wand and it will reach over to your toilet, just use that.  Spray the solids from the diaper into the toilet, then place the wet diaper in your pail.

5. Peel & Flush. Some families use biodegradable liners that go in between the absorbent diaper and the baby's bottom.  This liner is slightly thicker than toilet paper and catches the solid material, while any liquid soaks right through to be absorbed by the diaper.  When you take off the diaper, you grab the edge of the liner, peel it off, and flush it down the toilet.

I hope that you now realize that, regardless of diaper type, it's important to dispose of poop in a safe and sanitary manner. If handling poop is your biggest concern about cloth diapering, don’t let it hold you back! Removing poop from cloth diapers is far easier than removing it from disposables. Plus, as a parent, you’re going to be dealing with all kinds of bodily functions from your child for many years to come, so you might as well get used to it!

RDA Volunteer Courtney Moser co-owns Over the Moon Diapers in Memphis, Tennessee with her awesome mom, Janice Bogott. To see a picture of baby Courtney in cloth diapers along with a picture of grown-up Courtney with her baby boy in his modern cloth diapers, click here!


Announcing the 2012 Great Cloth Diaper Survey

For years, the Real Diaper Association has wanted a comprehensive picture of how people use cloth diapers.  This information could be used to guide future projects and educational campaigns, and serve as a set of baseline information that we can use when working with allies to accomplish our mission.  To do this, we need to reach beyond our regular constituents, deeply into the world of people who cloth diaper but who are not RDA members. For this, we'll need your help, both to participate and to spread the word. Read on...


Who we need

The purpose of this survey is to understand current cloth diapering practices. Therefore, this survey is for CURRENT CLOTH DIAPERING PARENTS ONLY. While we value all our cloth diaper supporters who used cloth diapers in the past, our goal with this survey is to learn how to help more families choose and use cloth diapers. The Real Diaper Association is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and we will use this information to influence how we educate parents about cloth diapers.

How much time will it take?

This survey should take you 15-20 minutes to complete. There are 80 questions across 9 pages.

Participant incentives

As an additional incentive to participate in this non-commercial survey, we'll be doing a couple of prize packages. Three (3) random survey respondents will win some amazing hand-crafted DIY REUSE gifts (in line with our mission of promoting REUSABLE cloth diapers!).

Referral incentives

ALSO, we will similarly reward the three (3) people who refer the most respondents to this survey (so be sure to leave your email address AND give credit to the source who referred you on the last page of the survey!).

Why you REALLY want to help

I mentioned "additional" incentive above. The incentive that you ALL receive for participating in the survey is the knowledge that your responses will set the tone for future efforts to help more families find and use reusable cloth diapers. You have already discovered the benefits of using cloth diapers, and your responses will help us share this knowledge with more families. For your time and thoughtful consideration of your responses, please accept our sincere thanks! YOU are the people increasing awareness about cloth diapers among your friends and family. We are proud to work alongside you in the cloth diaper movement and are committed to helping you get more babies into cloth diapers!

Click here to take the 2012 Great Cloth Diaper Survey!

And, when you're done, PLEASE share it with everyone you know who uses any cloth diapers at all!!

Diapering Through the Years: One Mom / Grandmom's Experience...

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...there were cloth diapers. But they were not nearly as cute or user friendly as they are now! I know I am going to date myself by saying this, but do you realize how lucky you are to have the kind of choices you have? It's almost enough to make me want to have another baby--no wait--what am I saying?! I think I'll just enjoy using these newfangled diapers on my grand baby, have fun ordering and selling them at our store, and call it a day!

My baby in her 80's cloth diaper

I raised three girls whom I cloth diapered from the late 70's to mid 80's. Of course, most of my friends thought I was crazy for not using the "wonderful" disposables that could make my life so much easier! As a child of the 60's, I was quite aware of Mother Earth and was happy to help her out, but frankly it was the fact that my girls always got horrible rashes with disposables (we used them on occasion while traveling) that kept me using cloth. I didn't want those chemicals next to my baby's bottom! Also, as a stay at home mom, the significant savings didn't hurt either.

My only choice then was between flats and prefolds. I tried to use the flats--REALLY--but it took forever to fold them down to the right size, and I usually wound up with a massive monstrosity that came unfolded the minute I tried to slide it under the backside of a squirmy baby. So I upgraded to the "expensive" prefolds, along with my trusty diaper pins (I color-coordinated them to baby's outfit--I know--OCD!) and plastic pants. Courtney, my middle daughter and partner at Over the Moon Diapers, dubbed this system the 4 P's--Prefolds, Pins and Plastic Pants.

As far as the laundry went, it was pretty simple. I threw everything into a hot wash with either Ivory Snow or Dreft detergent and chlorine bleach for one complete cycle, followed by another complete cycle with just hot water. Stripping wasn't a term used then--at least not in the context of diapers! My preference for drying was the clothesline, but that didn't always happen. The chlorine bleach was a bit hard on the plastic pants, but I never had any stink issues with them and just replaced them when they got brittle. A 3-pack was really inexpensive, so I didn't mind having to replace them every so often.

My baby and grand baby!

The diaper bag was a bit more tricky--no wet bags in darling prints back then. But...we had empty bread bags and metal twist ties that worked like a charm--where there's a will, there's a way! Of course, I don't buy bread anymore--I like to make my own with whole wheat and coconut oil--but that's another blog. So now I just drool over all the adorable accessories--the fun never stops!

So, there you have it...the diapering system that involved the occasional "diaper pin in the end of my finger" pain (better me than baby), and the ever so lovely "dunk and swish with my bare hands" method of removing, well, you know! I guess that's why I get so excited about today's modern cloth diapers. They are far cuter and easier to use than the 4 P's, they are just as environmentally friendly, still save you tons of money, and...I can still color coordinate with grand baby's outfit to my heart's content!

Janice Bogott, Over the Moon Diapers

How to fold a t-shirt diaper

My boys wanted diapers for their dolls, so I folded t-shirts into diapers. They loved it. So I took some pictures of the folding process as I taught it to them and thought I'd share.

1. Lay t-shirt out flat.

2. Grab t-shirt at edge of collar and drag in toward center.

3. Do the same thing on the other side, so they overlap.

4. Fold down top so sleeves are only half as wide.

5. Bring bottom up, folding down to fit nicely up to baby's belly button.

6. Bring sides around and pin.



In case the pictures are difficult to follow, my 5-year-old son offered to demonstrate on video.  He struggled with the pinning at the end, so I stepped in.  Since then, he's mastered pinning (apparently anything involving a sharp object is worth practicing - - now I'm just wondering how to incorporate that concept into our homeschooling life).

Heather McNamara

Executive Director, Real DiaperAssociation