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Cloth Baby Wipes Save Forests

It’s easy to forget that paper towels and conventional wipes are made with fibers that come from trees, but they are. The paper industry calls trees a “renewable resource,” and it’s true that the paper industry replants trees, which may give you the impression that there are zero problems with cutting down trees. However, it’s more complex than that. As Conserveatree notes, “Counting trees individually misses much of their value. “Saving forests” should be the resource focus. Trees are not a “crop” in the normal sense of the word. They are not planted on agricultural farmland. Before a tree farm is planted, forests have to fall and replanted trees do not make a true forest. They are usually managed intensively, with heavy use of petrochemical inputs such as pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers and do not have the wildlife, birds, amphibians and biological diversity of a true forest.

Furthermore, paper towels and conventional baby wipes are made with chemical processes and manufacturing plus transport results in pollution and both are hard to recycle. If you’re thinking you can just buy recycled paper towels or biodegradable baby wipes and be in the clear, you’re wrong. Recycled and biodegradable products are better in some ways. In fact, NRDC found that if every household in the U.S. replaced just ONE regular roll of virgin fiber paper towels with ONE roll of 100% recycled paper towels, it would save 544,000 trees. And The State of the Paper Industry says that 100% recycled paper products use 44% less energy, produces 38% less greenhouse gas emissions, 41% less particulate emissions, 50% less wastewater and 49% less solid waste. That said, recycling paper results in shortened fibers, which make recycled products harder to re-recycle and biodegradable products may not vanish like you think they will. Plus, according to the EPA’s Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste by Weight report, very few paper towels, recycled or virgin are recycled. All in all, most tree advocates agree that reusable towels are way better than recycled paper towels.

Image by kwod via sxc.

Homemade Baby Wipes Save You Money

I did some calculations a while back and found that a simple reusable baby wipe kit can save you $835.00 on average, per baby. If you have two kids you’d save about $1,700 over the span of their diaper days. In another calculation I did, I found that if you stop buying paper towels you can save $1,000 in five years, so the money saved can really add up. Plus, the savings go deeper than simply not buying real wipes or paper towels. I used a reusable homemade baby wipe kit for my son when he was a baby, and I’m still using the old cloths from his reusable baby wipe kit to clean with, thus saving me cash on new cleaning cloths. $835 is a nice chunk of change that’ll buy you plenty of organic milk or start a little college fund.

Image by Flickr User MissMessie

Other Benefits of Cloth Baby Wipes

Beyond saving trees and money, a reusable baby wipe kit has many other benefits as well, such as…

  • Conventional baby wipes are usually made with mixed fibers like conventional cotton and chemical-based materials such as polyethylene and polypropylene. Conventional cotton is packed with insecticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, plus conventional wipes contain benzoic acid, butylene glycol, parabens, phenoxyethanol, tartaric acid, propylene glycol and other chemicals. Not stuff you want to rub on your baby’s skin. Homemade baby wipes are as toxic-free as you make them.
  • Reusable baby wipes don’t come with excessive packaging.
  • You save time and gas because you won’t have to run to the store for wipes.
  • You can reuse them forever. I used my wipes as baby wipes, then switched them to cleaning rags. I’m still using some of them, and my son’s been out of diapers for about 8 years or so. Cloth has a long shelf life.

Materials Needed for a Homemade Baby Wipe Kit

Two plastic bins: One for clean wet wipes and one for dirty wipes. Look for bins that have lids you can easily take off with one hand and that can hold about 20 to 30 cloths. For safety make sure the container is too small for a child’s head to fit into, although really, you should keep any container with liquid in it, up and away from young children. I used a container like the OXO container shown above, which as you can see has an easy off lid and holds a 5 lb bag of flour or a whole lot of wipes.

Organic washcloths or wipes: Small baby washcloths are ideal for newborns because they’re tiny and extra soft, but as your baby grows, any old washcloth sizes will work.  If you can, get organic cloths, but even conventional cotton, bamboo or hemp cloths are better than disposable wipes. You’ll need about 30 small baby sized washcloths and 40 regular sized washcloths. This is assuming you do laundry at least three times a week. If you wash less, more cloths may be needed. I really only bought about 40 washcloths total and they lasted the entire time my son was in diapers.

Soap and/or essential oils: Neither of these items is necessary. Water will actually clean a baby bum just fine. I think they’re nice extras though. Use only organic, natural soap, such as Dr. Bronner’s Mild Baby Soap and if you use essential oils, make sure they’re pure, not perfume oils and baby safe. Just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean your baby can’t be allergic. Read this essential oil safety guide before using oils on a baby.

Image by Flickr User J. Whyte

Make & Use Your Cloth Baby Wipe Kit

Making your reusable baby wipe kit is as easy as three steps. First put enough washcloths for about two days into your “clean” bin and pour water over them until they’re damp, but not soaking wet (they shouldn’t need wringing out). Next fill your “dirty” bin half full with water plus a few drops of essential oils to help cut icky smells. When changing time arrives, use a clean damp cloth then simply toss it into the dirty bin. Easy as pie. If you’d like to add soap and essential oils to your clean cloths, add about 1/8 cup of natural soap and a couple of drops of essential oil to the water, before pouring it over the clean cloths. If you want to dress your kit up a bit, you can cover the containers in pretty contact paper or buy colored, not clear containers to hide those dirty cloths. When your dirty bin gets full, toss the cloths into the wash, clean out your bin and start again. Also, while this may seem obvious, be sure to clean out your clean bin once or twice a week. Standing water can become icky.

Image by Flickr User Joe Shlabotnik

How Hard are Homemade Baby Wipes?

Reusable baby wipes are not hard at all. If you use cloth diapers, you’re used to messy cloth, but even if you use disposable diapers, cloth wipes are really much easier than you think. Here are some tips:

  • Your clean wipes will be a little chilly due to the water, however, most babies don’t mind cool water. If your baby seems overly sensitive to the cold wipes simply place dry cloths in the clean bin, then use a spray bottle of water to wet it down during diaper changes.
  • You can use reusable wipes on play dates or trips to the park. Just take along some Itzy Ritzy Wet Happened baggies (or another waterproof bag) that will hold dirty and clean reusable wipes.
  • Labeling your bins “clean” and “dirty” will help your sanity. You’d be surprised how easy it is to mix up bins at 3am on just a few hours of sleep.
  • Don’t be afraid of the time it may take. It takes just minutes to wash and fill a bin with reusable baby wipes. It takes much longer to drive to the store for disposable wipes.

Image by Flickr User janetmck

Wait – Don’t Reusable Cloth Baby Wipes Waste Water?

Pro-disposable people LOVE to throw it in your face that cloth napkins, cloth cleaning towels, cloth baby wipes and cloth diapers aren’t eco-friendly, because they’re such a, “Huge waste of water!” This, to me, is a poor argument in defense of disposables. Cloth baby wipes take up almost zero room in the washing machine. In fact, I used cloth baby wipes almost exclusively, when my son was a baby, plus I also used cloth napkins and cloths to clean with (we’re a paper-towel free home) and seriously, all that cloth came up to one, and sometimes two, extra loads of laundry a week. Additionally, it takes massive amounts of water to manufacture and recycle paper products. If you’re going to use water either way, why not keep the landfills a little less stuffed.

Does your family use reusable baby wipes? Or would you at least give them a try? Share in the comments.

Lead image by Flickr User brooklyn skinny