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Cloth Diaper Challenge


The challenge: Use cloth instead of disposable diapers for two weeks—without being buried alive by laundry.

Heidi and Pete Danos, of Evanston, Illinois, and their 7-month old twins, James and Elsa

Good eco-intentions

When Heidi was pregnant, mulling over the sheer volume of disposable diapers her family would be pitching into a landfill “kind of freaked me out,” she says. A business consultant, she whipped up an Excel spreadsheet to convince her husband, Pete, that cloth diapering would save them close to $2,000 before their babies hit age 2. Then the babies arrived seven weeks early, right at the start of a disastrously timed kitchen remodel, and suddenly disposables seemed like the only option that wouldn’t reduce Heidi to a sobbing mess.

Getting started

Heidi was anxious to shed the twinge of eco-guilt she felt about not using cloth, as she’d planned. There was still time, too: “We’ve got plenty of diapering left in us,” she says. Still, at the start of her challenge, “I had to force myself a little bit,” she admits. With twins, routine is king, and Heidi worried that throwing cloth diapers into the mix would upend hers. Once she got started, though, it was simpler than she thought to chuck soggy diapers straight into the diaper pail, or give poopy ones a rinse in the toilet—easy-peasy with a sprayer hose that screws into the back of the toilet tank. Every two or three days, Heidi ran a load of diaper laundry, first a soap-free cold rinse cycle to remove, um, leftovers, then a hot wash cycle with detergent (she swears by Rockin’ Green, made just for cloth diapers). “We’re doing so much laundry in our house that doing a load of diapers every couple of days is not a big deal,” she says.

Twists and turns

When the Danos clan headed on vacation to Heidi’s parents’ house in Minnesota, they left the cloth diapers at home. “I wanted my parents to invite us back,” she says. In fact, just hearing about her plans, Heidi’s mom and two grandmothers were unanimously horrified, with flashbacks of leaks and pinpricks dancing in their heads. But once Heidi explained all the new varieties—flushable liners, plushy diaper covers, Velcro or snaps instead of perilous pins—they agreed times had changed. (Check out Heidi’s take on her favorite cloth diaper brands on her blog at Meanwhile, Heidi’s husband Pete wasn’t exactly gung-ho (“He’s a great guy but wasn’t really up for the poopy diaper stuff”), so she stuck to disposables at night, when Pete was more likely to run interference with wailing babies, as well as for the eight hours a week when her part-time nanny was on duty. She did not, however, let herself feel any guilt about cloth diapering only part-time.

The aha moment

“The only problem I’ve had in the last two weeks is that I had two extremely poopy diapers,” says Heidi. “But both those poo-splosions were in the early morning when the twins were in disposable diapers. I seriously think that a cloth diaper would have done a better job because I think it would have absorbed more.”

Challenge success

The Danoses went from three garbage bags of diapers a week to less than one, measurable progress that Heidi loves. “I feel like I’m doing something good for my kids in the long run by keeping stuff out of a landfill,” says Heidi. Plus, they’ve doubled how long an econosize box of diapers lasts them, which could save $600 this year. (The spreadsheet was right!) For other newbies, she advises picking a diaper style you like, then  jumping in with both feet. “You’ll figure it out. After all, it’s not rocket science, just a little pee and poo.”


Caring ...for people and the planet

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