One of the key criticisms of cloth diapers is that they require "large amounts" of water to wash. Sure, most cloth diapers must be washed after every use (although the GroVia Hybrid diaper partially changes that fact!). Assuming typical¯ (not water-wise) practices, estimates suggest that laundering diapers could use 15,300 gallons over the course of a 2.5-year diapering period. If you use about the same amount of water as the average American household, washing diapers could account for up to 5% of your total water use.
Even though this seems like a lot of water, washing diapers is relatively efficient when you compare it to how much water is required to produce products. Drink a cup of coffee today? Growing the coffee beans in that one cup of coffee required more water than a load of laundry (37 gallons). Growing and processing the cotton used in a typical terry cloth diaper stash requires 3 times more water than will ever be used to launder the diapers. Keep in mind that not all cloth diapers are created equal. GroVia uses certified organic cotton that has a smaller water footprint than conventional cotton production. Cloth diapers may require water to produce, but with water-wise laundry techniques and the opportunity to reuse cloth on a second child, the footprint can be minimized. By contrast, approximately 9 gallons of water are required to manufacture just one disposable diaper. Multiply that water footprint by the thousands of disposables required for just one child, and the answer is simple. The real water impact is in the production of one-time-use products, not in the laundry room.
Want a water-wise family home? Here are 100 conservation tips. The easiest way to conserve water in the laundry room is by purchasing a front-loading washing machine. It will use 35% less water than a top-loader. Is bathing part of your nighttime routine? A standard 5 ft tub can hold 40 gallons, equivalent to one load in the washing machine. Bathing your baby 2-3 fewer times a week will benefit your baby's skin and more than compensate for the additional loads of laundry. Keep in mind that the real king of household water use is lawn irrigation. Irrigating your lawn twice a week for just one month uses the same amount of water as all the diaper loads you will ever wash. Therefore, the greatest opportunity for saving water may begin at the spigot. Now stop fretting about a few extra loads of laundry, and the next time a friend tries to justify using disposable diapers using "the water argument" please share some of these facts!