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 toilet. The 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!