Using Cloth Diapers in Israel

baby in elegant blue striped cloth diaperKatherine has a new baby, and asked me to share my experience with cloth diapers in Israel. Previous posts which mention them are here and here.

Some readers may asking why one would consider using cloth diapers in the midst of our serious water shortage. But disposable diapers use up more natural resources than laundering cloth; toxic materials go into their manufacture. The diapers or materials to make them must be shipped to Israel. Then the diapers have to be transported to the store, to your house, and to the garbage truck, where they are (possibly) treated and sent to rot in a landfill for thousands of years. If laundry is so bad for the environment, perhaps we should wear disposable clothes. (We’ll save the discussion on disposable dishes for another time.)

Because Katherine asked so nicely I will share my diapering system with the world. As in other housekeeping decisions, my priorities are practicality and frugality. I found it easy. I am not, as one columnist suggested, a martyr to the cause of environmentalism.

I used cloth only for my two youngest.My supplies:

  • Two or three dozen “Chinese pre-folds,” absorbent flat rectangular diapers made of layers of cotton, with extra layers in the center. I chose the pre-folds over the “fitted” diapers or fitted “all-in-ones” because they a) cost less b) dry faster c) take up less space in the closet and washing machine and d) last longer, having no elastic. For babies I needed about 36 small ones, and for toddlers 24 large ones. You can use a towel or flannel blanket in a pinch, or sew your own, even out of used fabric, with very minimal skills.
  • 3-5 “PVC” (a type of soft plastic fabric) diaper covers in each size. These close with snaps or velcro and keep the diaper from soaking onto the baby’s clothes. If you are a purist you can get wool covers.
  • A large bucket or two for wet and dirty diapers. I never soaked diapers.
  • Regular laundry detergent; my kids didn’t have sensitive skin. Yes, I know it’s bad for the environment, but I used a minimal amount.
  • White vinegar (see below).

Everything was brought from the US by me or a relative. Most cloth diapers sold here are expensive. Fitted diapers are also cotton, but shaped like disposables. PVC covers work with them too. All-in-ones are fitted and include the plastic covering. Some all-in-ones come in one (adjustable) size so they be more economical in the long run, although they take more space in the machine and longer to dry.

I tossed used diapers into the pail. I tried to change the baby as soon as s/he was wet; in the early months that might have been once an hour. As long as the baby was exclusively breastfeeding I never rinsed diapers. After they started solids I dropped bm’s in the toilet and, if necessary, rinsed off the diaper into the toilet using a “niagara” (bidet — a hose with a sprayer at the end) that we installed ourselves. Rinsing diapers was by far the most annoying part of the experience. But cloth diapers absorb soft bms much better than inexpensive disposables, and rarely leak.

I washed the diapers separately three to four times a week, in a regular (cotton) cycle at 40 degrees Celsius (warm). I used much less than the recommended amount of detergent. Detergent residue left in the diapers interacts with fresh urine and begins to stink. Well-cared-for cloth diapers smell infinitely better than disposables. If the diapers did begin to smell, I washed them without detergent, in very hot water, with a half cup of white vinegar (placed in the fabric softener dispenser). I had to do this half a dozen times over the four years I used cloth.

Any stains came out after two or three washings at most, even with the low temperature. If you have a European front-loader like most Israelis, you can fit a lot of diapers into one load. Stuff them in up to the top. As long as you don’t have to force the door closed you are fine. You should have enough diapers for a load plus extra, depending on the season and whether you line- or machine-dry.

Covers need to be washed frequently, but with the household laundry and not with the diapers. They can be rinsed out in a pinch.

To diaper the baby you lay the cover out flat, place the folded diaper inside, and snap or velcro the cover with the diaper inside, onto the baby. No pins are necessary. If you like you can use pins or “snappies” to close the diapers before wrapping with the cover. This makes the baby and diaper easier to clean. Tuck in stray diaper corners into the cover or the baby’s clothes will get wet. I never changed diapers at night, I just added an extra diaper into the cover.

Despite what I wrote above I do feel good about helping the environment, and I loved putting a clean cloth diaper onto my baby. After a while I found disposables repulsive. Cloth diapers mean no Friday afternoon diaper runs, and no shlepping dirty diapers to the garbage room. Clean diapers were a washload, not a car ride, away. We managed a two-day yom tov with planning; I think for one 3-day Rosh Hashanah we used a few disposables. I also used disposables for overseas trips and babysitters.
Feel free to ask questions, but I know nothing about current prices.  If I had to do it again, I would consider not using diapers at all. At the time I didn’t think I was capable.

image: Lourdes Cristina

Comments

  1. Do you think it’s really feasible for working moms?
    I considered using cloth diapers but my husband wasn’t interested in the idea. I was surprised by how expensive the cloth diapers were. I also worried that it would be rough laundering them with such a small washing machine. You weren’t doing an absurd amount of laundry with the diaper load on top of everything else?
    I listened to a podcast about using no diapers–that’s quite an unusual approach. I think you definitely need to be at home for that….

  2. I had no idea cloth diapers were still being used by people instead of regular diapers.

  3. It still looks like a lot of work, especially when both parents are working.

  4. My mother used cloth diapers with my sister. She used a diaper service which took care of all the cleaning though. I’m not sure cleaning those would be the nicest job in the world. In my daughter’s orphanage (and in many orphanages in China) they don’t use diapers and the kids are potty trained between 6 months and 1 year old – it’s an interesting concept.

  5. mother in israel says

    Rafi–that’s why I write the parenting blog.
    Yael–there is a wide range of prices and styles of cloth diapers. At that point, a few extra loads of diapers didn’t seem to make a big difference.
    I-D: Flexibility to do laundry at different times made it easier. The hardest part for working mothers, though, is the caretaker/babysitter. Most mothers just ask them to but the diaper as is in a bag and they deal with the mess at home. But as we know mothers have to choose their priorities.
    Orieyenta–diaper services are notoriously bad for the environment; they use harsh chemicals and loads of water. Cleaning the diapers, though, isn’t so hard–the machine does most of the work.

  6. a martyr to the cause of environmentalism
    I loved this. Next time you get called that somewhere, I’d like to read more. I volunteer for our local environmental commission, but when anyone gets environmentally-religious, I get nervous. That’s when no one is listening to anyone anymore. There seem to be an anti-environmentally-religious crowd, too.
    I’m still trying to get my daughter (age 6) in touch with her elimination instincts. I can’t imagine that starting as a baby would have helped, though I can understand how a diaper prolongs the learning. Or maybe I’m trying to get her to not wait until she feels the instinct so strongly, but to think ahead that she might need to pee. So maybe it’s going beyond the instinct and planning ahead. Our instincts only take us so far.

  7. A New Mom in Israel says

    I am about to be a new mom (one month to go). After doing a lot of homework I am planning to use cloth diapers. I had my Mom bring me a set from the states and I am excited to begin. I have to say that the more I learn the more I am convinced I am doing the right thing for my baby, my pocketbook and the environment. The hardest part is explaning myself to all the people who think I am crazy, dumb or both. I would love to meet other cloth diaper mom’s in Israel. I have one friend who is doing it in Beer Sheva but other than that I thought I was the only one.
    Keep up the good work,
    anais

  8. Lion in Zion says

    at what age were your two youngest toilet trained?
    my mother-in-law claims my wife and her siblings were toilet-trained before 12 months, which i attribute to the unavailability of disposable diapers.
    i don’t understand the diaperless method, unless you have the baby strapped to you all the time.
    “The diapers or materials to make them must be shipped to Israel.”
    you’d think that a country will so many large families (with the arabs and datiyyim) would have a domestic diaper industry

  9. Lion in Zion says

    “We buy in quantity whenever there’s a sale. ”
    costco

  10. For those who aren’t as organized as all that… in defense of disposables, my sister and I both use disposables, and we never end up making last minute diaper runs. We buy in quantity whenever there’s a sale.
    In Israel, Huggies can run as high as 76 shekels. If we see them for 55 or less, we buy 2 packs each time we get to that place. Our preference is for Huggies. If Titulim Premium go under 40, then we’ll also buy those. We currently have about 10 packs of diapers. If you buy them and the baby outgrows them, all the shops will take full packs and exchange them for full packs of another size.
    It may be not as good for the environment, but it’s easier on the mom.
    All of the people I know who have done EC have not had an easy time.

  11. LiZ:
    if only…

  12. trilcat: BTW Shefa Shuk has been having an amazing sale on Huggies 3 for 145. Don’t know if it’s still going on.
    MII: Disposables use water in manufacturing, but since all diapers here are imported, it’s not our water being used (probably another country where they have plenty of water to spare), as opposed to the water it would take to wash cloth ones, which
    will come from our sources.
    But cloth diapering does sound cool, though i’m already overwhelmed with laundry without it.

  13. I used cloth with my 3, although not as much with my son as with the twins. My girls were toilet trained at 22 months. My son at 24 months. My mother says we were all in cloth and we were all trained at or before 2.
    We didn’t do EC (Elimination Communication), but my friend does it and it’s a very neat dynamic. I was interested, but figured it would be too much work with twins, but my friend is ECing her son when she has a 3-year-old to chase, so it is possible. I’m going to at least try ECing with this one and I definitely want to go exclusively cloth with this one, although I reserve my right to the single disposable at night. 🙂

  14. When I had three under three, we had a diaper service deliver 270 diapers a week.

  15. thanks for the post! I bought my cloth nappies from South Africa, and got my sister to shlep them to me. They were half the price of the ones you can buy here. Although I have worked it out, even with the high priced shaped cloth nappies sold here (at tinok yarok and other places), you still end up saving money if you use cloth over disposables. And as I cleaned up the great poo disaster of 2008 yesterday I was cursing that I used a disposable in the middle of the night, because in the morning his crib looked like the scene of a murder (just brown not red – ugh! 🙂
    Last night I used a cloth nappy plus cover, and there is a tiny spot on the sheet – I think there’s actually a lot less laundry with cloth because the baby doesn’t ruin so many outfits with poo explosions.
    For my cleaning routine I keep the used nappies in a bucket with lid (no soaking) until I’m ready to deal with them. Then I take them out and scrub the poo stains with laundry soap – Syntabon here – and then I put them on a 40 degree wash. I prefer to do that rather than use a longer wash because I don’t want to use too much water.

  16. mother in israel says

    Leora, the columnist was referring to cloth-diaperers in general. Good luck with your daughter. Some kids just take a bit longer.
    A New Mother–good luck and I wish you an easy birth!!
    LiZ (did you change the preposition there?): I think the titulim brand are made here. My son was trained at 2y9m, on his own (i.e. I waited until they were ready), the same age of his older brother in disposables. My youngest decided she was finished at 20 months, on erev Sukkot, when I was expecting a house/sukkahful of guests.

  17. mother in israel says

    TC: I know many who have done EC successfully.
    Abbi: Is importing water from other countries via disposable diapers environmentally sound?
    Reiza! Beshaa tova, nice to see you.
    TD: That’s a lot of diapers.
    Katherine: It sounds like you are already an expert. . .looking forward to your own post.
    TC: Agreed about the sun. I didn’t think I needed to write that I line-dried 95% of the time.

  18. mother in israel says

    Katherine, I updated the post to include a link to your blog.

  19. A friend who does cloth diapers highly recommends drying them on the line in the sun whenever possible, because it bleaches out stains and kills germs.
    I can barely remember to not run my sweaters through the dryer…

  20. mother in israel says

    Abbi, so does it make sense for Israelis to use only disposable dishes?

  21. MII: I think the issue is that we are having a water crisis here. So, in terms of our local environmental issues, disposable does use less water than cloth.

  22. A few comments:
    1. MoI: I would like to add to Rafi’s question “Do you think it’s really feasible for working moms?” — and ask do you think your comment “If I had to do it again, I would consider not using diapers at all.” Is not using diapers at all, feasible for working moms? It seems to me that it’s a perfect way to be enslaved to infants.
    2. There’s lots of research going on to bio-degrade plastics (one kid figured out how to quickly biodegrade plastic makolet shopping bags). At my company, we were given glass coffee mugs to save on the paper coffee cups. However, I find the amount of water needed to clean the mugs, staggering. With Israel’s dire water shortage, maybe we really should be using bio-degradable plates and cups? I’m in agreement with Abbi…it just seems to me that cloth diapers are more suited for countries that have more water than we do.

  23. I remember when my sister was a baby, at first my mother used cloth diapers (with a diaper service) and rubber pants. Sounds like the cloth diaper technology/equipment has improved a lot since then! I’ve only met one mom here who cloth diapered, a very nice “crunchy” gal who also gave birth to her kids at home.
    BTW, I’ve heard people claim that if instead of hanging the diapers to dry you lay them on the grass (it would have to be very clean grass!), they’ll get even whiter because of the chlorophyll in the grass. I don’t think too many people in Israel would be able to try this idea, though!

  24. just to add something – one can buy eco friendly disposable diapers for 70 shekels a pack – 65 in the pack. So that is also another option – they’re not hugely more expensive.
    Mom in israel – thanks for the link – damn, now I need to actually post something 🙂

  25. I have triplets and exclusively cloth diaper them.
    Most of disposables (even the “eco friendly” ones have SAPs that are very harmful to the environment and are so-so on children’s bums. That was the main reason I chose to use cloth diapers.

  26. mother in israel says

    Jameel, like I said above, it would be more challenging for working moms but isn’t everything? We all have to pick our priorities in life. As for the mugs, a “staggering” amount of water isn’t necessary to wash dishes. I’ve actually been thinking about how to save water while washing dishes so look for a post on the subject. Biodegradable disposables still have to be manufactured and transported. I don’t have statistics but I can’t believe disposables are ever more ecologically sound. There are better ways to save water.

  27. mother in israel says

    Katherine–post about diapers, and include baby pix.
    RR: never heard about the grass. But cloth diapering is much easier than it was for our parents.
    Miriam, do you wash yourself or use a service?

  28. Hi All
    Just discovered this great blog, I write for http://www.greenprophet.com an Israeli environment blog in English here is a link to an article about cloth nappy suppliers here in Israel, also Bambino Mio Prefolds are available in Israel too now.
    http://greenprophet.com/2008/02/15/144/eco-mum-nappies/

  29. mother in israel – your wish is my command! no pictures, but two videos 🙂

  30. I wash myself. With 3, I wash daily. So, if you only had one then figure 3 days of diapers can fit in the machine (really depends on size of machine).
    I guess when we finalize plans for our next trip to Israel I should offer to bring some diapers. LOL

  31. According to what I’ve read, the best way to save water while washing dishes is to use a dishwasher. (really!)
    Fortunately, this fits well with my minimal-work attitude.
    I decided that next time I buy dishwasher tablets, I’ll try the eco-friendly ones.
    What I can say for hand-washing, though, is that the best way (speed & water-wise) is to fill a small dishpan partway with water, pile in as many dishes as are covered at once, turn off the faucet, take them out one by one, scrub each side with a soaped sponge or brush, pile up elsewhere, and then rinse the whole pile quickly under water about as hot as you can take it.

  32. mother in israel says

    Miriam, I had two in cloth for a few months, but I hereby award you the Mother in Israel prize for “martyr to cloth” hands down. 😛
    TC, I use inexpensive, environmentally friendly substitutes for all the dishwasher stuff.

  33. LOL! I admit freely that I get a lot more joy from our cloth diapers than is considered normal.
    For dishwashers, Bac Out’s powder is the best. Ecover I had some trouble with, but love the Bac Out. Not sure if you can get that in Israel, though.

  34. MII – you’re right about how much easier we had it then our mothers – my mom used to tell me how they had to go to the well to get the water, then make a fire to boil the water (they lived in a village in Hungary).
    I look forward to reading about inexpensive environmentally friendly stuff –
    Sophie, so glad to see you here – isn’t it wonderful to read like-minded posts?
    about saving water – for everything, it’s that old stitch in time – so easy to wash off dishes when food not stuck on – but I’m sure that’s another post, about how to not procrastinate!!
    about other ways of saving water – there are, some easy, like quck showers, or more complicated (but I do it) just fill basin (again like in the old days) and reuse the water from the basin for washing floor, or flushing toilet. Or recycle water from washing machine to use as gray water (tho not common yet, hope it will be) (but again, also not common in Israel to have gardens for the gray water).
    Klara

  35. A New Mom in Israel says

    Hi Mother in Israel,
    You mentioned in your blog that manufacturing disposables uses twice the amount of water required to launder cloth. I would love to quote you on that. Where did you find that fact?
    New Mom in Israel

  36. mother in israel says

    A New Mom:
    I looked at my original source, borntolove.com, and could no longer find that quote and reference on that site. I will update the post. Also, it seems that I am wrong about diaper services: they have more efficient washing systems and use less water and electricity than home laundering. But that may not be the case if you air-dry the diapers. Also, several websites claim that home-laundering causes more pollution than disposables because of electricity. Again, this is reduced if you air-dry, and depends on how high you heat the water.
    I also think that there is a huge difference in water consumption between top and front-loaders.

  37. A New Mom in Israel says

    According to this article which quotes a neutral academic source.
    Lehrburger, Mullen, James, Diapers: Environmental Impacts & Lifecycle Analysis, January 1991
    Disposable diapers use 37% more water than cloth diapers and 70% more energy.
    Another source says that washing cloth diapers uses between 50-70 gallons every 3 days which is about what an average adult flushes down the toilet.
    A New Mom in Israel.

  38. A New Mom in Israel says

    http://www.borntolove.com/e-concerns2.html
    The above link includes the quote that disposables use 2 times as much water. I didn’t look at the original source but I thought you’d like to know.
    A New Mom in Israel

  39. I didn’t know that there were still cloth diapers around!
    I used them for my 5… a long time ago. I laundered them in a hot pre-wash cyle with towels and my husband’s underwear.
    By the time my baby was born (almost 25) many people here were using disposables.
    Old diapers make great rags!

  40. A New Mom in Israel: A great source for links to research on cloth diapers is Mothering.com. 🙂

  41. EC sounds like the Sherman Method.
    Are they similar?

  42. mother in israel says

    Keren, I’m not familiar with various approaches to infant training.

  43. mother in israel says

    Katherine, no, I didn’t use liners.

  44. Mother in Israel I meant to ask – do you use liners for your diapers? If yes, where do you get them from? The rice paper ones I was using cost about 2.5 times more in Israel than from the UK where I got some before. annoying!

  45. mother in israel says

    Keren, yes, I have heard about Sherman. It involves using your muscles to retain the fluid and releasing it periodically. I believe they do claim it is similar to toilet training in general, whatever the age.

  46. Sherman method does not relate to infant training, but is for ladies to do away with sanitary supplies and is supposed to work

  47. any way to get in touch with you?

  48. mother in israel says
  49. My favorite U.S. cloth diaper brand is smartipants! A one size fits all modern cloth diaper and very cost effective, also owned by a jewish family in the USA!!

  50. Jennifer Bachman says

    Hi – I hope you are still blogging…my family is planning to move from Florida to Israel within the year. We have recently become vegan and are using cloth diapers on our 5th child, who is 2 months old. I am a reflexologist and wondering 1) if you know how difficult it would be to be vegan on kibbutz (possible, even?) and 2) what would be a good place to start looking for a job in reflexology. I figured you are in this circle of people who might know…
    thanks!

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