Cloth Diapering & Low Income Families

Awhile back, I read about the results of a Yale study that examined low income women and how poverty affected their mental health. One of the neat tidbits that came out was that about 30% of these mothers stated that they could not afford diapers for their babies and admitted reusing diapers.

We didn’t need a study to tell us this, or that low income mother are stressed out and prone to depression. Like, duh.

When the study came out, cloth diapering advocates and parents posted the article time and time again on social media with head shaking and finger wagging. “If only they used cloth diapers.”

I’m a huge fan of cloth diapering. I’ve wrapped all of my babies butts in cloth ,and although I really,really like The Earth, my main motivator was the cost effectiveness of cloth diapering and not the environmental benefits. I have been incredibly fortunate when it comes to acquiring cloth diapers. I got many for gifts. Several times I was able to claim a nice stash on Freecycle, brand new. The parents had decided not to cloth diaper after all and decided to pass them on to someone who could use them. Also, I can sew and make my own.

I love cloth diapers and think they’re awesomesauce. I encourage everyone to use them….when and if they can.

I was amazed at some of the really stupid commentary from the cloth diapering community when that study came out. Some people did not understand why low income women wouldn’t just do the “smart thing” and use cloth diapers. Of course, when people don’t understand the reasons why someone does or doesn’t do something, then you get the inevitable judgement and even outright shaming that “those people” don’t know better or do better.


I have known quite a few families who would like to cloth diaper but they don’t have access to a place they can buy cloth diapers. Not everyone has a bricks & mortar store near them that sells cloth diapers. Not everyone has a credit or debit card to purchase them online,either. Accessibility can be an issue for some people,depending where they live & their situation. Then the initial start-up cost of diapers. Wowza. We’re talking about $50 for 12 diapers + covers .

Even if you point out that many people do not have washing machines in their home (or maybe they live in a region that has severe water restrictions) or maybe they can barely afford to do laundry at the laundromat and that JUST one extra load makes it even harder, know what the reply was from some?

“That’s no excuse. There’s always handwashing”
(Actual comment. Sadly, echoed by others)

I’ve done that before and I have no reservations about saying it outright: Handwashing sucks. At the time, I worked at home. If I had worked outside the home, there’s no way I would have added that stress to my day. Poor women are stressed and depressed already. Handwashing shitty diapers isn’t going to improve anything. I wasn’t even stressed (or poor) at the time but it didn’t do wonders for my psyche.

To people who have a profound disconnect with poverty, when some poor person doesn’t do something they can do, it’s an excuse or a poor choice they’re making.  If a parent who is not poor makes the same parenting decision, it’s just a choice they made , not a poor one.

Feels like this is just another post from me, asking others to try to wrap their brain around an aspect of someone else’s life they never considered before and find some compassion, so I’ll wrap this up with some ideas on how to help and links.

How To Help Low Income Families Cloth Diaper

  • My old washing machine sat in my driveway for awhile before I could have it hauled away. A couple knocked on the door one day asking if they could have it. I told them the drum was cracked and leaked. They still wanted it. This couple collects broken appliances and fixes them specifically to donate to low income families. If you’re handy and have some spare time (and a truck would be helpful), this would be a nice project that could help people in your community.
  • If you have sewing skills, consider sewing up some cloth diapers to give to a family OR even better, teach others to make them and make it a group project. Youth groups could easily get involved.
  • Pick up used sewing machines and sewing supplies to donate to families who are interested in making their own.
  • If there’s a cloth diaper bank program in your area, maybe work together to fundraise laundry expenses for families without a washer at home.

These are places you can donate diapers, both cloth and disposable, for low income families.


The National Diaper Bank Network, a nonprofit that has donated more than 15 million diapers to free distributers across the nation, helps connect struggling families with local diaper banks.

Baby Buggy reports that it has helped provide 6 million items, including diapers and bottles, to struggling families.



5 thoughts on “Cloth Diapering & Low Income Families

  1. I don’t….WHAT. Yeah, I know the comments. Mothers are notoriously shit to eachother, and they get even worse when you throw in things like breastfeeding, cloth diapering, etc. (I REFUSE to use the term “crunchy”. That’s obnoxious.) I’ve been doing both breastfeeding and cloth diapering advocacy for impoverished areas for a while now: and you know what? People are disgustingly judgmental. I’m down in the trenches a bit- going to be more so once we move to a more urban area, and I KNOW these struggles firsthand. Anyone that makes the nasty call may lob an anecdote at you as to how they understand: but I have serious doubts about the truth in their stories. Because if they HAVE been there- I’m just blown away. Not that you have to have been there to have full compassion, but….man. Handwash. Holy crap.

  2. I am kind of in that area where cloth diapering would be very economical IF hand washing were part of it. I have to pay $3 per load for laundry, and my laundry budget is almost exclusively used for keeping my husband in work clothes and my oldest in school clothes, so adding at least 8 diapers per day to that would be an extra 2-3 loads a week (these are not high capacity machines). That’s $6-$9 a week, which is exactly what I spend for a small pack of generic disposables. That amount of money is worth saving the time to me, and definitely the….yuck, of hand washing. Cloth diapering is the better option environmentally, and I wish it were more feasible for me time-wise. If I had my own washer and dryer or local (affordable) diapering service, I would certainly do it.
    I very much appreciate your post and your efforts to get people to see things from another view.

  3. It is at times like this, that really hate my own gender. What an embarrassment. I really want to be wrong about my assumptions of an afterlife, just so bitches like this can have some level of hell waiting for them on the other side. Something awesome, and epic and Dante-esque, where they spend an eternity in this gigantic diaper pile, washing and scrubbing, while breastfeeding 9 children from 7 breasts and washing and peeling organic vegetables with their 14 limbs. All day, every day. No rest, no reprieve, no death. ONLY this.

  4. I think you have raised many excellent points when it comes to cloth diapering and low income families.

    I wouldn’t rule out handwashing as an option, nor would I discredit everyone’s attempt at suggesting it as coming from a place of misunderstanding and disconnect.

    I am the blogger who started the Flats and Handwashing Challenge 3 years ago in response to the media attention that covered diaper need. I admit that some participants take it as a “game” but the true intention has never been that. Doing this each year has enabled me to collect lots of data that I can then use to help others who have to or choose to handwash their diapers.

    There are more families doing it than you would think, and I’m glad they have a resource for ideas that help reduce the time and contact with shitty diapers (like the camp style washer made from a bucket and plunger) and ideas to reduce the strain of wringing the diapers, which I have always found to be the hardest part of handwashing.

    Last year several people brought up my current situation, which is far from poverty. I can see how this discredits the event and the sentiment. I assure you, life hasn’t always been this comfortable and I’m well acquainted with poverty and the trials it brings. I was younger, and left it behind thanks to a little luck and a lot of hard work.

    What I hope, more than anything, is that this event and the suggestions for ways to cloth diaper cheaply (using t-shirt flats, flour sack towels, and homemade tie-on fleece covers or even a cloth diaper bank) has at least given families a shot at cloth diapering without the start-up cost. In reality, I don’t expect or assume that families will or should handwash. It can be the last thing someone wants to do after working or going to school. I do resent that the media never mentions cloth diapers as an option when addressing low-income families. It can be a blessing to families who can make it work, and even empowering! It is something they can control and having a set of reusable diapers is a constant. Money for disposables is not.

    “Low-income” families are in a very large range of situations. Some may be able to use cloth, some have washing machines, some have SAHM’s, some have single parent homes, and some have dual-incomes but are they are the working poor.

    I’ve volunteered to teach at various places in my city and none will have me. It is disheartening. Only recently did a diaper bank begin that is also giving cloth diapers to families who will take them and they have welcomed me to teach a class. It may be an eye-opening experience for me but I welcome it.

    Sorry for the long comment, but I felt the need to express the “other side” of people who do advocate for handwashing. I agree with so much of your article. No one should be made to feel guilty about their choices and every baby deserves clean diapers.

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