Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

From the cloth

Lawrence families get behind reusable diapers for their environmental, economic benefits

One-year-old Max Ruland plays with his cloth diapers in his room. His mother, Sandy Beverly, says buying used diapers makes cloth diapers more affordable. She also cuts down on the cost by washing the diapers herself rather than paying for a diaper service.

One-year-old Max Ruland plays with his cloth diapers in his room. His mother, Sandy Beverly, says buying used diapers makes cloth diapers more affordable. She also cuts down on the cost by washing the diapers herself rather than paying for a diaper service.

November 6, 2007


Cloth diapering

Lawrence mother Sandy Beverly talks about her experience with cloth diapering. Enlarge video

Sandy Beverly and her 1-year-old son Max play in Max's room on Thursday. Beverly says she decided to try cloth diapers because she thought it was better for the environment and cheaper than using disposable diapers.

Sandy Beverly and her 1-year-old son Max play in Max's room on Thursday. Beverly says she decided to try cloth diapers because she thought it was better for the environment and cheaper than using disposable diapers.

Sandy Beverly sets cloth diapers out to dry on Thursday while her 1-year-old son Max watches. Beverly says using cloth diapers requires a bit more work than using disposables, but the extra effort is worth it for the environmental benefits.

Sandy Beverly sets cloth diapers out to dry on Thursday while her 1-year-old son Max watches. Beverly says using cloth diapers requires a bit more work than using disposables, but the extra effort is worth it for the environmental benefits.

Cloth diaper info session

When: 10 a.m.-11 a.m. Saturday

Where: Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt.

Sandy Beverly sometimes feels like Ma Ingalls from "Little House on the Prairie."

When she's putting out her son's cloth diapers to dry in the backyard, it occurs to her that mothers have been performing roughly the same ritual for centuries.

"I feel a connection to women in the past," says Beverly, a Lawrence mother of two. "But I don't have to wash them by hand. That's nice."

What's also nice, Beverly says, is that she feels like she's doing her part to protect the planet by using cloth diapers.

She's not alone. An abundance of Web sites and bustling message boards, as well as two national organizations devoted to cloth diapering - the Real Diaper Association and the National Association of Diaper Services - suggest a slow resurgence in the practice.

That growing interest seems to be reflected in Lawrence, where Amber Lehrman and her husband recently sold the city's only diaper service - which they opened three years ago - because business was getting too brisk.

"At one point we were washing 500 diapers a week," Lehrman says. "That was about a dozen families."

And that doesn't account for parents who wash diapers at home.

"Anymore, I see people all the time with cloth diapers out and about," says Lehrman, who used cloth diapers for her two children. "I think it really is a growing market."

Still, the practice is far from mainstream, even in liberal Lawrence.

That's why Lehrman, Beverly and two other local mothers are playing host to an information session about cloth diapering on Saturday morning at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt.

"The reason I didn't do cloth diapers with my first son is because I didn't have any examples. It seemed intimidating to me," Beverly says. "I want people to have an opportunity to learn about it and see some moms who do it."

Bare essentials

Beverly used disposable diapers with her first son, Simon, now 4 years old, because she thought cloth would be a hassle. But by the time she had her second son, the Lehrmans had opened Express Diapers in Lawrence and Beverly gave cloth a try.

"Eventually I found out it was not overwhelming to wash them myself," she says.

Cloth diapers are generally made from cotton. The most basic styles are secured using safety pins or hook-and-loop fasteners. A waterproof cover goes over the diaper to prevent leaks.

Cloth diapers are bulkier than disposables. Most single-use diapers contain a chemical called sodium polyacrylate, which absorbs up to 100 times its weight in water and allows manufacturers to streamline their product. Cloth diapers, on the other hand, get their absorbency from additional layers of fabric.

Beverly has learned to accommodate that extra bulk.

"I tend to use one-piece clothes instead of pants," she says. "When I use pants, I've been getting bigger ones and rolling them up or cutting them off."

Some diaper covers incorporate Velcro and snaps. There are even all-in-one models, which can cost up to $18 each, that combine diaper and cover, making changes as simple as with disposables.

And with diaper services - which Lehrman says cost a few cents more per diaper than buying disposables - parents can toss soiled diapers into a pail without even rinsing them, put them by the curb once a week and wait for new diapers to arrive.

The bonus, Lehrman says, is that cloth-diapered babies tend to potty train up to a year earlier than those who wear disposable diapers. That more than pays for the extra expense of a diaper service, she says.

Environmental debate

Although routines vary by household and a baby's age, Beverly says she washes a load of cloth diapers every other day and hangs them to dry. She believes the amount of water and other resources involved in that process pales in comparison to the energy consumed in the production and distribution of disposable diapers.

"I know there is some controversy about that," Beverly says. "I suspect that the cloth diaper proponents exaggerate their case a little and the disposable diaper proponents exaggerate their case a little."

Indeed, there are passionate advocates on both sides of the debate, which apparently escalated in 1990, the 20th anniversary of Earth Day. Many states were considering taxing or banning sales of disposable diapers. Industry leader Proctor & Gamble commissioned a study on the environmental impact of its product that found laundering a cloth diaper over the course of its lifetime consumed up to six times the water used to manufacture a single-use diaper and produced nearly 10 times the water pollution.

For their part, cloth diaper proponents cite reports that say 18 billion single-use diapers are thrown in landfills each year, taking as many as 500 years to decompose and commonly containing raw, untreated sewage. They also say it takes upwards of 82,000 tons of plastic and 1.3 million tons of wood pulp, or a quarter-million trees, to manufacture the disposable diapers that cover the bottoms of 90 percent of the babies born in the U.S.

Cloth diaper proponents also have concerns with chemicals used in disposable diapers and say diaper rashes occur less frequently with cloth.

'Disposable' time

Karl Brooks, a professor in Kansas University's environmental studies program, hasn't researched any scientific studies about the environmental impacts of cloth versus disposable diapers. But as a parent of two children during the disposable era - and someone who has thought a lot about environmental policymaking in America - Brooks believes cloth diapers will remain a minority choice.

"American families seem to have very little 'disposable time' to pick up the intensive responsibilities of using cloth," he says. "My mom in the 1960s probably spent dozens of hours a week managing cloth diapers, and she didn't work outside the home.

"Over two-thirds of American women now work outside the home, and I seriously doubt they would trade away (family) time for diaper care."

Brooks encourages environmentally minded people to lobby diaper makers to use recyclable materials for the paper and plastic components of their products.

"Gigantic businesses that make disposable diapers are much better placed to absorb the costs of using those materials than are families," Brooks says.

Not 'all or nothing'

Beverly, who recently left a full-time job to stay home with her 1-year-old son Max, doesn't get too wrapped up in diaper politics. She's more interested in the practical underpinnings.

In fact, she uses disposable diapers at night because Max wets through cloth then.

"One of the things I want people to know is that it doesn't have to be all or nothing," she says.

Beverly says the initial investment in a cloth system might seem cumbersome. The simplest prefold diapers, purchased new, can run more than $20 per dozen. But Web sites like offer used products for lower prices, and cloth diapers can be used hundreds of times before they wear out.

"I know I'm saving money," she says. "It's a great feeling to go into Target on my monthly trip and not buy diapers."


igby 10 years, 7 months ago

Very, very bad idea. Example, polution in the air, flesh eating bacteria travels with mold spores. Do not hang these out on a clothes line to be contaminated. Use a clothes dryer please.

brookcreeker 10 years, 7 months ago

Professor Brooks implies that cloth diapering is largely impractical, even for stay-at-home moms (after all, dads certainly couldn't be concerned with diaper laundry). Modern cloth diapering takes little effort, even washing the diapers at home. Neither my spouse nor I stay at home with our child during the day and we take turns doing the small diaper load at night. It requires little effort. Furthermore, the article fails to mention that Snappis ( have rendered diaper pins completely useless. I know of no one today who uses pins. In fact, I doubt we would have chosen cloth if pins were the only option.

amazonratz 10 years, 7 months ago

The only great thing about cloth is the big supply of dust rags after the kid is out of them! I used them with my first child. Tons of work, stinky, hard on my hands (rinsing), and in the long run, still an environmental problem. Also most day-care centers won't use them. I agree--pressing the corporations to make their diapers recyclable and providing community sites to do so seems to be the best solution.

redneckwoman 10 years, 7 months ago

I used both on all 3 of my kids. Cloth at home, disposable at night & the once a week trip to town running errands. All though it got hubby out of most of the diaper duty. I also shocked the doc. once when I left the house with a cloth on baby #2. The whole office commented on how "brave" I was to be useing cloth. I will agree that it is impossible to find daycare that will let you use cloth. I worked with baby # 1 and had one that said they would loose their lisence if they were caught using cloth in there daycare. All in all it still saved me a lot of money.

Ragingbear 10 years, 7 months ago

Soap is pollution. You use soap to clean them. You need electricity to dry them. Either that, or use the professional services that cost an arm and a leg and use chemicals instead of water.

lori 10 years, 7 months ago

Depends on the soap you use, rb, and how you clean and dry them. Igby, you have any reliable sources for your recommendations? Particularly the one involving moldspores speading staph. I'm not sure I buy that. Sunlight has antimicrobial action. Hanging them out is similar to drying them in a dryer. Dryers generate a higher heat, true, but no sunlight action.

I found childcare that had no problem with cloth diapers. I honestly didn't feel that cloth was any more of a hassle than disposable. Babies generate so much laundry, what's a few more items per day?

While I used cloth because it was less expensive and seemed like it was less harsh on the environment in the long run, my main reason for using it was that my kids were pretty sensitive to something in the disposable diapers. I don't know if it was the chemicals in them, or the heat the diapers generate or what. Diaper rash and yeast infections in my oldest disappeared when we switched to cloth. We used disposables sometimes at night and for some trips, but we couldn't use them too long or the kiddo would end up with a raw bum. So for us it came down to the fact that it was simply healthier for our kids to use cloth.

lori 10 years, 7 months ago

Are you referring to diapers or babies, b3?

Kat Christian 10 years, 7 months ago

I swear the women of this generation are a trip. My mother used diapers on us and I used them on my kids. If fact cloth diapers are better for babies then those chemically treated paper diapers which has caused an upsurge in diaper rashes since their inception. Paper diaper came on the market when my youngest was almost out of diapers (Pampers). I used them twice and each time he got the worst rash. Unless you change your baby every 1/2-1 hour to prevent diaper rash don't use these things. There is no air circulation to the skin, plus the chemical they use I think are harmful to their delicate skins. Cloth diapers are the way to go. You do need to shake the poo off of the diaper before putting it into the diaper pail. Use a diaper cleaning soaking solution (can't remember the name of one) to soak the diapers until you get enough for a load. Use dreft or tide or something mild(unless your baby is allergic to them) to wash the diapers in. You can even use a fabric softener, if not allergic. No way is hanging them outside a danger. The sun will kill an bacteria - the dryer will tend to yellow them over time. When diapering your baby tuck in the middle section of the diaper (the part that will fit between their legs) so the diaper doesn't sag and will hold in any matter the baby deposits, plus if they are beginner walkers there is less bulge between the legs. By all means use cloth diapers. Other than that one episode where my son got rash from pampers - none of my other two children EVER got diaper rash not once. Also mom's don't let your babies sit around in wet diapers. Change them regularly.

badger 10 years, 7 months ago

My mom used cloth on me, lo these many decades ago. Not because of a lack of disposables, but because like lori's kids I reacted badly to something in them. Then, shortly after I was born we moved to Germany, where cloth was the dominant option. She could afford a cloth diaper service on a junior officer's wages because there was intense competition on base between diaper services. Because they had to be brought in from the States, disposables were actually the more expensive option anyway. My parents took me traveling and hiking all across Europe in a baby backpack using cloth diapers, and it went just fine.

Of course, I was the original hippie baby, because in addition to bodily rejecting disposable diapers, I developed a sensitivity to most brands of formula. The Army docs regaled my mom with tales of all sorts of horrible things that would happen to me if she wasn't able to get me to eat the 'right' nutrient-enriched food. Nursing was a last resort, they told her, because a modern baby just couldn't develop right that way...Hee! The seventies were funny!

I think that the point made above, that babies generate so much laundry that what's a couple more items a day, is a good one. When my sister had two kids under three, she was doing a load of their laundry every two days just to keep up, plus the rest of the family's laundry once a week. Throwing a couple-five diapers into the already-running load of whites had little environmental impact at all.

secretresistance 10 years, 7 months ago

My daughter likes to play with her Fuzzibunz just like Max. What a cute picture to find in the LJWorld of all places!

Cloth is hazardous to health? I guess we're in real trouble then, since we don't do much of disposable anything. It's amazing to see how much $$ gets thrown away every day in the form of diapers, wipes, paper towels, and even toilet paper.

If people were less concerned with the ultimate convenience, and more concerned with their personal impact on other living things, the world would surely be in better shape.

unite2revolt 10 years, 7 months ago

We use cloth diapers everywhere, the only place we didn't was at LMH. We also still use diaper pins. I would warn people considering diaper pins that you really don't need a lot of them. We got way more than we will ever need. 4 pairs is plenty. For our next baby my wife is actualy making our own cloth diapers at home on her serger. This will even further reduce the "Start-up" cost of cloth diapers and allows us to custom size some newborn diapers with room for healing belly buttons. Admittedly my wife handles the vast majority of the laundry and diapering, but I do help some and I have not had any problems using cloth diapers or diaper pins. Also another way to defray the start up costs is to simply put the diapers on your registry and let someone else buy them for you.

operaame 10 years, 7 months ago

Man this is so frustrating... I was so excited to see there was an article about cloth diapers in the Journal World. I feel it was not informative enough (or in the right way), at all. I don't believe that is the fault of the interviewees or the author - more information is needed. Most of the experienced cloth diapering parents use very little, if any, detergent on their diapers, actually. When they do, it is bio friendly. Most hang dry. Not a health hazard, for God's sake. We wash in baking soda, vinegar, Bac-Out, Simple Green, tea tree oil, etc, etc. Many of these solutions contain bacteria fighting properties. Disposables, Bio friendly or other simply do not break down well enough to merit any attention. I wash my diapers every 3-4 days. The diapers of today - at least the ones I use - have an airflow design that resists rashes. My daughter has never had so much as redness. Further, she has never leaked - overnight or during the day, nor has she had any uncontainable blowouts. Not all cloth diapers have that success rate, but the ones I use are famous for their leak proof design. Fuzzibunz are cute, but not leak proof. Cloth diapers are not much work at all. The old prefold kinds are - but mine are not. I find them very practical. Hanging them in the sun adds the benefit of removing stains, by the way. Heavy blanket around their stuff - nope. Now, I have seen some heavy stuff hanging tons of times from disposables. Those thing contain - and contaminate. For me, bottom line: cloth diapers are nowhere what they used to be. Information is key. It was so frustrating to hear so many opinions that were based on ignorance. All in all - cloth diapers are FAR more eco-friendly, even with the detergent and dryers. Diaper services - I don't know much about them, but I did hear that some launder the diapers multiple times, which in my book is not a good idea, for the diaper of the environment. I, for one, can't stand the thought of putting 12 or so disposable diapers a day into some landfill. But, I also hate the idea of throwing away that money. Further, I hate the idea of harsh chemicals being close to my baby's skin. Those are my reasons. I don't judge people who use disposables, but I sure wish people would be more open minded to it. Please let me know if any of you would like more information. I would be glad to help.

unite2revolt 10 years, 7 months ago

I should also add that we don't use plastic covers, we got some and tried using them for a while but really the diapers are plenty absorbant for a single wetting. My wife made felted wool pants called soakers out of old sweaters. We put him in those for things like overights, dressup occasions where we need him in the same outfit most of the day, and long road trips, etc. That said I spent a lot of time changing my shirt. =)

bearded_gnome 10 years, 7 months ago

from the Baj: The Army docs regaled my mom with tales of all sorts of horrible things that would happen to me if she wasn't able to get me to eat the 'right' nutrient-enriched food. Nursing was a last resort, they told her, because a modern baby just couldn't develop right that way:Hee! The seventies were funny!

... so, does this explain why you turned out liberal?

terrapin2 10 years, 7 months ago

Another alternative to disposable and cloth diapers are flushable diapers. They are called gdiapers and work very well. The outside is cloth then there is a plastic-like liner (it is not plastic, it breathes better, no rash) and a flushable insert (like a big maxi pad). You keep several of the cloth outer layers and inserts that are both machine washable and buy the flushable refills like you would disposable diapers. The flushable insert is made of a material from wood pulp that is very absorb able and breaks up in the toilet like toilet paper. This puts the human waste where it belongs, down the toilet, and not in our land fills (more of a health hazard b3). You can even compost the wet ones if you want and when you are on the go you can still throw them away, but they will biodegrate very quickly unlike disposables that take 500 years to break down. We put 50 million disposable diapers in the land fills every day in this country. They are the 3rd largest contributor to the landfills behind paper and food containers. Gdiapers are very easy to use and eliminate the stinky diaper pale and no washing messy diapers with our other laundry. Also, no more laundry to do than adding maybe one extra outfit a day to the already huge amount of laundry any family does. You should go to their website and check them out. ( They are sold online or at the Merc.

pace 10 years, 7 months ago

LOL Cloth diapers should not be hung in the sunshine. There is a person who doesn't know reality. Look that one up. I used a mixture, you do get more rash with the disposables. With the staph infections going around, especially in day care and public settings it is best to keep the skin unbroken. Diaper rash and sores are not only uncomfortable they can lead to other infections.

Haiku_Cuckoo 10 years, 7 months ago

A far better solution would be to train your babies to use a litter box.

  • No disposable diapers to clutter the landfills.
  • No need to wash cloth diapers (As Ragingbear said, soap is pollution)
  • It provides a unique bonding experience with the household pets.

lori 10 years, 7 months ago

Pace, please explain why cloth diapers shouldn't be hung in the sunshine.

mom_of_three 10 years, 7 months ago

The only other drawback to hanging diapers outside is if the kid is allergic to grass, trees, etc.
My youngest and I have severe allergies in the summer and fall, and we can't hang any laundry outside if we wanted to. If anything we were allergic to stuck on our clothes, we would be sneezing all day.

justthefacts 10 years, 7 months ago

Stories about taxation or death don't bring out near the number of commenters that a diaper story does. Guess that shows who is reading and/or commenting. And priorities.

People need to take a chill pill. It amazes me how upset people get about things these days. Bottom line, nothing we do is without some kind of impact on others or this earth. And bottom line, we are all going to die some day of something. No getting around it. And people who seek to soften that reality are only increasing the number of professional victims in the world.

We would all have happier (if not longer) lives if we'd stop trying to tell each other how to act in every given situation and stop trying to protect everyone from everything that we perceive to be bad (for them or us). Whatever happened to "live and let live" concepts? Do what you want with your kids and their diapers. It's your life and your child. There simply are no black and white answers for most things in life. Get used to it.

Larry Bauerle Jr. 10 years, 7 months ago

My wife and I used cloth with our first two just to save money. We had enough to go two weeks and fill two diaper pails. We both changed and rinsed them, and went to the laundrymat together. We could clear out a laundrymat in seconds flat when we dumped out the pail. When we felt we could afford them, we switched. Made the parenting "experience" just that much more fun :-)

badger 10 years, 7 months ago

Silly gnome! I'm a moderate badger! A true liberal would have preferred the soy formula (tofu-in-training) to nursing. Nursing's hardly a vegan option. It's practically cannibalistic! Does PeTA know about the conditions in which the mothers are kept? Some of them can't even forage for their natural grasses.

There is a certain amount of 'live and let live' to be done, but there's also a certain amount of "stop throwing so much junk into landfills, K?" I mean, I'm not hating on the parents who use disposables, so much as saying that hey, here's this thing, all the kids in my family have had it done this way (even by two working parents), and it reduces the amount of non-biodegradeable waste you produce by a factor of 10, easily. It's worth consideration.

creamygnome 10 years, 7 months ago

"The bonus, Lehrman says, is that cloth-diapered babies tend to potty train up to a year earlier than those who wear disposable diapers"

Well yeah...I'd start crapping in the t-bowl as soon as possible too if I had a heavyass blanket around my business all day.

But seriously...who cares? Let's try to get those kids to behave in public places instead of worrying about their butt protection.

Hug_It_Out 10 years, 7 months ago

I like Haiku's idea. If they have an accident on the floor we can always smack them on the nose with a rolled up paper...diaper.

wildcat86 10 years, 7 months ago

It just depends on your preferences, really. My mom used cloths diapers on me 21 years ago and on my brother 19 years ago, but stopped using them when we got rashes. So yes, they can be bad for some babies, but not for all, and they are still being used as you can gather from this article. If you think about it, disposable diapers cause environmental problems because the just sit in waste dumps until it gets taken care of.

operaame 10 years, 7 months ago

Anonymous user

4th_grade_education (Anonymous) says:

And why is this in the Arts & Entertainment section? Aside from laughing at these idiots, I find nothing artistic or entertaining about cloth diapers

4th_grade_education, why are you so angry? I find seeking ways to help with the environment very creative. Creativity is artistic. Incidentally, I am an artist, myself - a professional opera singer. I moved to KC from NYC only 3 years ago. The rest of the country and some of the world seems much more enlightened environmentally - (look at the listings for cloth diapers in other cities on I expected so much more from my alma mater city (Lawrence), than negative, hateful comments about things I thought people in Lawrence cared more about. There is nothing "crazy" or "idiotic" about caring.

Teri Chambers 10 years, 7 months ago

we cloth diaper our baby. we both work full time. our sitter uses the cloth diapers we provide. no problem. i think the comparison of energy between disposables and cloth is probably equal. however, i know i'm not putting poop in a landfill that will leak into my drinking water supply and i'm not filling up that landfill!

not to mention that the spiraling skulls cover my girl has is so darned cute on her fluffy butt!! :-)

operaame 10 years, 7 months ago

And I would have no objection to an article about your opera singing in the Arts & Entertainment section of the newspaper. I simply feel this article belongs in the Living section instead. Techniques for disposing of human waste is not an artistic concept. Especially when it is all about cloth diapers, which have been around for hundreds of years, and thus not creative.

4th_grade_education: Thank you for being congenial. Your point is valid. I do agree - it is strange that it is in the arts and entertainment section. However, I do believe if you saw the new cloth diapers people are coming up with all the time, you might see how they can be considered creative: colors, patterns, styles, etc. The concept of cloth diapers has been around for hundreds of years, but they have evolved immensely over the last 20 or so years. That evolution would not be possible without creativity. I still agree that it probably needs to be in the Living section, and I am almost positive they didn't put it there because they considered it to be artistic - lol.

I will admit I feel a bit defensive regarding the subject. Upon deciding to cloth diaper my daughter, I was met with so much resistance and ridicule. I was shocked. Most of it was by my own family. I found it came mostly from their ignorance of the subject, assuming cloth diapers were like ours Mother's. Not only that, but I was surprised to find how many people made fun of it with a political slant. I assumed people would at least embrace the concept because it saved money. However, I also naively assumed people would understand my not wanting to add that much waste to landfills. After all, one must admit, billions of diapers being deposited into landfills a year by America alone is a real issue. They don't biodegrade for hundreds of years. You don't have to be an environmentalist, or liberal, tree hugger, or crazy person to see that's a problem, right? At least, that is what I thought. Nonetheless - Cloth diapers continue to be surprisingly easy for me. We are saving thousands of dollars and we have already kept around 1440 disposable diapers from being deposited into landfills in my daughter's short 4 months. To me, that is pretty cool.

Kat Christian 10 years, 7 months ago

Allergies are psychosamatic - no such things it's a figment of your hypochoniac imagination.

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