the great china-made cloth diaper debate

after my money-related freak-out earlier this morning, i spent practically all day researching cloth diapers. even before i got pregnant, i imagined that i would cloth diaper whenever i had a kiddo. while i am not necessarily gung ho 100% all about every facet of attachment parenting, & have in fact amused myself on a regular basis poking fun at hardcore hippie moms (who are generally way into attachment parenting), there’s a lot about it that appeals to me. breastfeeding, baby-wearing, cloth diapering, co-sleeping…i don’t want to make bold proclamations about how i definitively will parent because i just won’t know until the baby is here, but from what i have read & seen with friends who have kids, all of these choices look ideal to me.

& i’m not gonna lie: a huge part of what appeals to me about these things is the financial savings involved, & the fact that these parenting strategies are space savers, as a general rule. a brand-new budget crib is still going to cost over $100, & in my little 600-square foot bungalow (that’s probably a generous estimate), it would be difficult to find space for it. if jared & i co-sleep with the baby, all we’ll need is a bassinet or a small co-sleeper–& a lot of co-sleeping parents don’t even use those anymore once the baby is big enough to roll around. they just keep the baby in bed with them. breastfeeding takes up way less space than boxes of formula & bottles & bottle cleaning brushes, & it’s far cheaper as well. if we want jared (or a sitter) to be able to give the baby the occasional bottle & take the pressure off me for all the feedings, we can keep a handful of bottles on hand & rent a breast pump. the cost of strollers is terrifying to me–they can easily cost a couple hundred dollars, particularly for infant strollers (you can’t put a newborn in an umbrella stroller because they’re not old enough to sit up yet–they need a stroller in which they can lie down). & if you’re choosing a stroller that is larger than an umbrella stroller, like a travel system that includes a car seat, they can take up a lot of space. a sling, on the other hand, can be wadded up & stuffed in a drawer or closet when not in use. & it can enable all kinds of hands-free parent activities while baby stays engaged & snuggled when it is in use.

but cloth diapers. oh man. of course jared was pretty much on board with cloth diapers from the start, mainly from an environmental perspective. he’s an environmental historian specializing in waterways, so of course the idea of contributing an average of around 7500 disposable (but largely not biodegradable) diapers to landfills before our child is potty-trained doesn’t especially appeal to him. one could make an argument that cloth diapers take a toll on the environment in their own way, needing to be washed & using water & electric resources, but i figure–we’re going to be using the washer anyway. why not wash some diapers while we’re at it?

i looked into the different kinds of cloth diapers on the market & was pleased to see that the cloth diaper market has expanded a lot since i was a cloth diapered baby in the late 70s (flat diapers affixed with pins; my parents were given a year of diaper service as a baby shower gift, apparently). i am most drawn to all-in-ones, which are basically washable cloth versions of disposable diapers. they are already shaped into diapers, with elastic in the legs, & you just snap or velcro them shut. easy peasy! there are also pocket diapers, which are a similar principle, with a pocket in the gusset to place an absorbent insert. the benefit of pocket diapers is that the soaker insert comes out & therefore the whole package dries more quickly. there are also cloth diapers that can be adjusted with a system of snaps to grow with the baby, meaning that a single set of cloth diapers can take the baby from birth to potty training. no having to upgrade from newborn sizes to 3-6 month sizes to 6-9 month sizes, etc. i decided that these were the diapers for me, as a cloth diapering novice.

from my extensive googling, it seems like the two most popular brands of one-size all-in-ones or pocket diapers are bumgenius & fuzzibuns. new, one of these diapers retails for $15-$17. that’s kind of major sticker shock considering that you need to lay in a stockpile of at least 24 to really have enough on hand to avoid doing laundry every single day. that’s a minimum expenditure of around $400. it’s really nothing in the greater scheme of things, considering how much it costs to buy disposables (a brand like pampers averages about 25 cents each–so a new fancy cloth diaper would pay for itself in about sixty uses, which would only take a few months if each diaper is being washed & used again three or four times a week). but still!

so i hopped on ebay & discovered that there are chinese cloth diaper manufacturers that make one-size pocket diapers & all-in-ones in cute colors & patterns & sell them for $5 or $6 each, including free shipping. we could lay in a whole supply of enough diapers to do laundry only twice a week for under $300. i looked up some reviews, & some people complained that the chinese diapers didn’t fit as well as
bumgenius, or the colors faded too quickly, but mostly, the reviews seemed comparable.

the only real realm of contention was the fact that these diapers are made in china. never mind that other popular american cloth diaper brands are also manufactured in china–the fact that these discount diapers were being made & sold by chinese companies really bothers some cloth diaperers, who think the priority should be supporting american companies & keeping our cloth diaper dollars in the american economy. but what if supporting american-made diapers is going to soak me for three times as much? it’s all well & good for a solidly middle-class family, but we’re doing this baby thing on less than $30,000 a year.

there are other cloth diapering options, like using flats (which intimidate me–i am willing to pay a bit of a premium for the convenience of a diaper that is shaped like a diaper), & buying used. i have no problem with used cloth diapers, but even used bumgenius & fuzzibuns generally sell for about twice as much as new chinese diapers. & there are so many other brands out there, each of which has its own quirks in terms of pocket opening, lining, snap placement, etc–i could pretty easily stock up on used cloth diapers at the baby consignment store near my house, where they sell for between $5 & $10 each, but i’d have a lot of different brands of diapers (unless i was very choosy) & i’m afraid it would be confusing for jared & me.

i know this is a topic where there’s a learning curve, & by the time my baby is a few months old, i’ll probably be a pro at cloth diapering & so many of the things that intimidate & confuse me now will seem really basic. but unfortunately, the baby is going to need diapers as soon as it’s born, so i’m stuck guessing, using my best judgment, & taking advice from more experienced friends to get me started. the whole “support america” argument really bothered me because…i won’t say that it’s not financially possible for some people to only use american-made cloth diapers, but people are entitled to prioritize their limited resources, & some people might prefer to spend only half their cloth diaper budget on diapers & use the other half for all the other baby expenses that crop up, like a children’s health insurance plan, a car seat, or just paying the bills so the baby will have a place to live. one person said that they would be happy to walk new moms through flat diapers if they can’t afford to lay in a supply of american-made pocket diapers & all-in-ones, but maybe a new mom would rather have a physically convenient diaper experience than an american-made one. i think that’s where i’m at. i don’t especially make any effort to buy exclusively american-made for myself; why should i bother with my baby? i don’t know.

Published by Ciara

Ciara Xyerra wrote zines for the better part of two decades. She has a brilliant & adorable preschooler named Ramona & sews as much as she possibly can. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her boyfriend. She enjoys catching up on "The New Yorker", meatball subs, keeping it cranky, intersectional post-third wave feminism, dinosaurs, & monsters. If you have nothing nice to say, she recommends that you come sit here by her, so you can say not-nice things together.

9 thoughts on “the great china-made cloth diaper debate

  1. Hi Ciara, I’m on almost the exact same pregnancy timeline as you are, so it’s been fun (and useful!) reading your pregnancy posts. I actually found out I was pregnant a couple of days after you did, which was of course wonderful.

    I definitely appreciate all the research you’re doing on things like the merits of cloth v. disposable diapers, it’s awesome to have a source of great, well-researched information. So, thanks!

    One thing I’m wondering is whether you have any suggestions for other good internet-based information sources on pregnancy and/or forums. I know you’ve had negative experiences on some TTC forums, but I was hoping you might have some suggestions for smart, useful sites dealing with pregnancy and baby issues. I ask only because you seem like such a font of useful information in all other baby-related arenas.

    In either case, please keep on posting!

    1. honestly, i barely even dabble in pregnancy stuff online. i thought i’d be a ravenous consumer of pregnancy/baby websites once i got pregnant, but it’s been just the opposite. i look at that stuff less than i did when i was in TTC mode, & i haven’t cracked any of my serious pregnancy books (though i’ve read lots of memoirs & humor books about pregnancy/parenting). occasionally i look at the pregnancy boards at, but it’s mostly just sonograms & belly bump photos. i’m sure serious discussions about parenting strategies happen every now & again, but the fluff traffic is too high for me to really invest in wading through & finding it. maybe a couple times a month, i google wherever i’m at in my pregnancy & read about how the baby is the size of a kumquat (i don’t know how big a kumquat is) & growing fingernails or whatever.

      i have a handful of parent friends & mostly when i have specific questions about something, i just post there & ask them. for example, they have prevailed upon me to maybe not be so wimpy about pre-fold diapers, which are way less expensive than pockets & all-in-ones. & some of them have given me good suggestions on where to get pre-folds on the cheap if i insist on buying them new.

      most of the stuff i know about pregnancy/babies/parenting (which i feel is really not much, especially on the latter two topics) comes from having just read really widely on these topics for at least ten years before i ever got pregnant. i enrolled in midwifery school in 2002 & didn’t get pregnant until 2012, so obviously this has been an area of interest for a really long time. & mostly it has come from reading books, not websites.

      maybe i need to cobble together a bibliography?

  2. Thanks, Ciara. A bibliography would be awesome, but I know it’s a lot of work, so either way, your posts are great!

  3. Hi Ciara! Just stumbled upon your blog while looking up my own TTC stuff and… There is so much I like! The name of your blog is funny and when you write, it feels very much like I’m on the phone with you having a conversation in the moments where I’m being the good friend and letting you yammer on about what is currently overwhelming your thoughts… Right before I chime in with my unsolicited advice! Lol ok ok, I’m not having stalker fantasies, it’s just that your blog feels more raw conversation vs. demonstrative opinion or researched fact. And I like it!

    Anyway, my point for stating all of this way back on a June post? Well, this post kind of stuck out to me when weighing the Chinese/American cloth diapers. I personally would love to cloth diaper my kid(s) when the time comes so seeing your research on diapering costs here definitely caught my attention. However, in the last 15 years, there have been far than the fair share of deficiencies with consumer goods imported from China, that I’m not sure I personally want to take that risk on the new un-tainted skin of my child. Sure, 75%+ of all other goods have been just fine for most of us. But I think I would agree with the theories that do align with that fear of WWCPD or “what would Chinese products do?” I do want cloth diapers for my kid(s) but realize the up front cost is almost physically staggering. If used is still ok with you, I’d definitely pick up a few of those. Additionally, my friend/mom kept a few disposables around for those days when leaks were repeating or when a friend or family member wasn’t sure how to properly fold and apply cloth diapers. That came in handy. I’m still reading your blog in order, but have you figured out what you’d like to do yet? I’m curious on your thoughts after all this time.

    1. obvs i have had to figure this out because my baby has been born. i stocked up on a couple dozen pocket diapers from a company called green bees. she is based in oklahoma, but i am 99% sure that her diapers are made in china. which is fine with me–the price is right! i think they were like $8 each or something. a few friends also got me some bumgenius pockets (american-made) for my baby shower, but almost no one gave us cloth diapers of any sort, even though they dominated our baby registry. i didn’t put any clothing on our registry, but EVERYONE got us clothing. i guess when you’re shopping for a baby shower, it’s more fun to see a cute onesie & buy it than it is to buy boring old cloth diapers as selected by your pregnant friend from some obscure cloth diapering website. even though that’s what we really needed.

      i augmented my pocket stash with a bunch of cute covers by rockabye booty & a few dozen prefolds from green mountain diapers (also made in china, but considered more or less the gold standard in prefolds). i got a dozen newborn size & a dozen small, because i was predicted a pretty large baby according to ultrasounds–eight or nine pounds, had she gone to term.

      instead, she was two months premature & they put preemie pampers swaddlers on her in the NICU. we weren’t allowed to cloth diaper until we got her home. the second she got home, i treated her diaper rash with a few squirts of breast milk. it cleared up immediately & hasn’t come back. i also started diapering her in newborn prefolds (they’re just a tiny bit big, & the smalls would be WAY too big–if i drape a small prefold over her, it entirely hides her) & preemie covers by litewraps. it’s been great! she seems comfy, we haven’t had any leaks, they’re really easy to use. her skin is tolerating the cloth very well. i’m just washing them in the same detergent we use for everything else (arm & hammer, no fragrances) & it’s working out fine.

      i would have been happy with used cloth as well, but even a lot of that is used stuff that was made in china, so if that’s something you really want to avoid, you’re still going to have a tough time & you’re going to be paying a premium. for example, $12-$15 for a used bumgenius pocket (retails new for around $18) as opposed to $8 for pretty much the exact same diaper made in china, new. ramona is still too small for the pockets, because they are for babies over eight pounds or so, so it remains to be seen how they will work out for her, but i’m really happy with the prefolds/covers system & if i had it to do over again, i probably wouldn’t have purchased any pockets at all until she was crawling–if then. prefolds have turned out to be so much easier than i expected them to be, & by comparison, pockets seem like a pain in the ass (because of the stuffing).

      i’ll write an update on this soon on the regular blog.

  4. I AM interested in your new take now that you’ve been diapering the lovely Ramona. You did make me think about the future of my cloth diapering desires. Not that I’m second guessing it, but about how many to have on hand. 12 might have seemed like enough for someone like me thinking (dumbly, I admit) something like 1 or 2 per day like an outfit! LOL Yes, please laugh at me and make that face at the screen! haha I’m not totally baby-dumb, just apparently practicing absentmindedness! But I’m starting to think you’re right, 30-36 might be a better line of thought. I have to tell you though, both myself and my husband’s jaws dropped at the breast milk trick for the diaper rash! I don’t know where you found that out, but I have had friends battle diaper rash and I’m thinking it’s not taught in “class”. When I become a mom, that just might be the very most valuable piece of info I’ll take with me! Thanks!

    1. i seriously did LOL at the idea of a baby only going through one or two diapers a day! no way, dude, you need a lot, especially with a newborn, because they pee like twelve times a day & can poop multiple times a day too (though some lucky breast milk providers get babies who digest the milk so easily, they only poop like once every two weeks–this does NOT describe ramona). i have 36 diapers in my current regular rotation & i do laundry every other day. there is always a decent stack of fresh diapers remaining when i do laundry, so i could probably push it back to every third day, but you have to tread carefully because you do not want to be down to one diaper & the rest in the wash when the baby has a poop explosion.

      you’ve probably already seen it, but i did write a new post the other day about my experiences cloth diapering so far. take it all with a grain of salt because ramona is only six weeks old & i’m sure i still have a LOT to learn, but if you have other questions, feel free to ask! & no probz on the breast milk tip. i forget where i heard it, but trust me, splashing a little breast milk on there is so much nicer-smelling & -feeling than coating the baby in desitin. that stuff smells really weird & is really gooey. i can’t imagine she likes the way it feels.

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