Chemicals in Cloth Diapers

        Are there chemicals in cloth diapers? My first son was diapered with disposables and not a day goes by that I don’t wish I used cloth. When I switched from disposable diapers to cloth I did so for many reasons. The primary reason was to limit my children’s exposure to chemicals. After reading about a toxic chemical spill from a disposable diaper factory…I wondered why toxic chemicals were in diapers in the first place?! In addition to limiting chemicals, other benefits of cloth include: decreasing chemical production, reducing fuel used in transporting the items often from overseas, reducing chemicals used in packaging and landfill waste. Plus…they’re adorable! The thought hadn’t crossed my mind that chemicals could be present in cloth diapers until recently. What do we really know about the makeup of cloth diaper inserts? How they’re made and the origin of their materials?

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Our cloth diaper journey started with a gifted set of 12 econobum cotton prefolds and 2 covers. I later branched out to pocket diapers with microfiber inserts; 2 Bum Genius 4.0s were our first pockets. I was already familiar with microfiber and had experience with the fabric; I have reusable cleaning towels and I appreciate their absorbency and durability…great for diapers right?
I make it a habit to pay attention to labels. Food, products etc. and I am especially cautious about ingredients since my toddler’s bone tumor removal surgery and ongoing issues. I paused when I read the phrase “…polyester is a synthetic fiber developed from coal, air, water and petroleum” (1). I immediately thought of my microfiber inserts and polyester cloth diaper stay-dry liners. Could the very cloth diapers I’m using to help protect my children from chemicals be exposing them to chemicals too?!! Are the diapers I put on my children every day composed of chemicals? Synthetics? Here is an exerpt from Wickipedia about Microfiber (2). (Some of these links are affiliate)

So now I’m worrying. My Microfiber Inserts read “80% polyester, 20% nylon” and others that I own read “100% polyester” all read “made in China.” They lack information about fiber makeup, origin and composition on the tags lead me to research online. Although these cloth diaper inserts are considered CPSIA compliant…they leave many questions in my mind about the safety, impact on the environment, and overall practicality in cloth diaper use. What about our Alvababy Diapers? No CPSIA compliance there! Is something derived from oil or other chemical compounds safe to use on my child’s personal areas? Isn’t avoiding chemicals the reason I switched from disposables to cloth?!

My next thoughts lead to diaper covers, were they composed of chemical compounds too? PUL, an acronym for Polyurethane Laminate is a term used frequently with diapers to describe the nearly waterproof layer on covers, pockets, and in many AI2s. The most frequent way PUL is created is when a cotton fabric is laminated with Polyurethane through either a solvent or a hot melt process (5). Polyurethane is typically made from isocyanates and polyols. Other materials are added to help processing the polymer or to change the properties of the polymer. (I have no idea what that means either) but essentially is made up with chemical compounds. (6). Read more about Ployurethane from the American Chemistry Council.

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      So what about cotton? I have many cotton diapers and inserts and find that the absorbency is superb. I was already aware of articles and research on the chemicals in cotton, one of the most heavily treated crops with pesticides (3,4), but I wondered where parents like me, looking for the most chemical free cloth diaper solutions, could turn. I can come to only one conclusion…dye-free organic cotton or natural fiber is the way to go!! I’m even switching my menstrual products to reusable organic cotton menstrual pads and a menstrual cup! I never thought I’d do reusable menstrual products but I dove in and adore them!

With all of this information…I feel our cloth diaper experience coming full circle. The prefolds that I once felt were sub par to microfiber pocket inserts are now at the top of my favorites!!I am not a chemist, nor have I run studies about exposure to microfiber and PUL on infants…but I do know that I am a Mom the practice of limiting chemicals I expose my children to…and am in the process of switching to natural fibers completely. How do I plan on doing this? Prefolds, Fitteds and natural fiber inserts like organic cotton, bamboo and hemp. Is it possible to completely eliminate chemically made fabrics from our lives? Hard to say. Will I do my best to keep natural fibers in our household. Yes!!! I’m buying more and more Made in the USA Cloth Diapers and Organic Fibers like the two diapers below.

What about the Microfiber diapers I have in abundance? I’m still using them here and there. Why? I believe that cloth diapers with microfiber and PUL are still better then disposables? I do believe so. The laundry list of ingredients in disposables scares me. Although the companies have articles reporting that their ingredients are non-toxic…there is a reason they don’t list the ingredients and are not forthcoming with this information. Ever see a list of ingredients on a box of disposables? On the company’s website? No…. and if a company isn’t listing ingredients they have something to hide.
For overnight, the longest amount of time my child will spend in one diaper, I’ve switched to organic cotton fitted diapers and wool covers. I love our Humbird Products (affiliate banner below) and find that this combination is a great way to overnight diaper. I *hope* that my efforts are helping and that limiting chemicals now will lead my children to have long and healthy lives!

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1. http://www.madehow.com/Volume-2/Polyester.html
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microfiber
3.  http://ejfoundation.org/cotton/the-deadly-chemicals-in-cotton
4. http://ejfoundation.org/sites/default/files/public/the_deadly_chemicals_in_cotton.pdf
5.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyurethane_laminate
6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyurethane
7. http://www.americanchemistry.com/

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