Beyond babies and bums: Cloth wipes for all ages and stages

I’ll confess. My favorite thing about cloth diapering our son is not the cost savings or even the moral superiority I feel from taking the (harder) more eco-friendly route. (I’m kidding about the moral superiority, but only a little. I was raised a Yankee. If it’s more work, it must be better.)

DSC_0640

My favorite thing about cloth diapering is cloth wipes. These things are genius. Soft, absorbent, and really effective at cleaning up a big mess without getting it on your hands. (TMI? You’re reading about cloth diapering. If that offends you, you better just stick with Huggies and save the planet some other way.)

Rant aside, with cloth wipes you control exactly what goes on your baby’s sensitive skin twelve times a day (or twenty, in the case of my son as an infant). Many commercial wipes are made with harsh chemical including parabens, a class of substances that Walmart is moving to ban from personal care products in its stores over the next few years (so you know it’s gotta be toxic!). Would you want that stuff on your intimate areas?  If not, you shouldn’t put it on your baby’s. 

(There I go ranting again…  The subject of cloth diapers does that to me.  And sometimes the eco-friendly alternatives themselves aren’t spared.  But that’s a subject for another day.)

Back to the positive…  With cloth wipes you can avoid concerns about chemicals.  In addition, you can adjust the cleansing formula to suit your baby’s skin (sensitive, dry) and even customize the smell with essential oils. (Anything that makes diapering more pleasant is worth a try, no?) Below I’ve provided the most basic recipe, but you can find several more involved recipes here and others with a simple web search.

If you’re cloth diapering already, just store and wash the dirty wipes together with the diaper liners. (We use the Diaper Dekor brand of stink tank.  They’re not just for disposables, people!  Cloth diapering parents need a place to stash their kids’ little nasties, too, you know.  Just because we use cloth doesn’t mean we want to smell that shhh, Baby’s sleeping!)

If you don’t currently use cloth diapers but want to try these, plan to wash these alone or with other super dirty laundry, or consider making a full-scale switch and ditching disposables altogether.  (I’m working on an in-depth post on staying sane while cloth diapering. Stay tuned!)

Initially, we used cloth wipes just for diaper changes. But we liked them so much that when our son got older and I found myself cleaning his hands and face more often than his bum, I bought a second set, along with another wipes warmer, to keep in the kitchen. I use it often to wipe his hands when coming in after playing outside, cleaning his hands before a meal, and wiping his face and hands after eating. Those ones I throw in with my regular load of kitchen towels, etc… I use the same solution as I do for diapering, restocking both warmers at the same time (about once a week).

We will keep the kitchen set up going long after our son is out of diapers (when will that be again?). These are simply the quickest and easiest way to clean his hands and face before and after a meal (am I the only one who doesn’t always have the patience for the toddler-at-the-sink routine?).  Seriously, if your child is out of diapers and you have a wipes warmer laying around idle, consider setting up a cloth wipes station in your kitchen.

Cloth wipes are also great for between-bath cleanings of every other part of a baby or child that gets dirty. (And what part doesn’t, like, their shoulder blades?)  These are quick, effective, and very comforting no matter how you use them.  (Oh, and they’re cheaper, too.  See the cost comparison at the bottom.  No spreadsheets this time, but a couple of graphs. *wink*)

Ready to start your own cloth wipes set up? Here’s what you’ll need:

DSC_0642

  • Cloth wipes – You can make your own or buy them (like we did) here. I love the flannel ones best.  (Note: Some wipes warmers come with a few free cloths, which is great, but they aren’t enough. You’ll need to supplement.)  Two 15-packs was enough for us, along with the freebies, for both the changing table and the kitchen.
  • Bottle – I use a Blender Bottle because it is easy to fill and mixes the solution really well, but any type of empty bottle would work.
  • Olive oil – Any type you would eat should be fine. Extra virgin is not necessary, but organic is nice.
  • Baby wash – I used California Baby for several years because it’s super gentle and natural. The lovely smell is still synonymous with my son’s babyhood for me. More recently I switched to Dr. Bronner’s because it’s more versatile and affordable.  (I’ll post an ode to it one day.)  Trader Joe’s sells a quart of the peppermint-scented one for 10 bucks – the cheapest I know of – while Amazon carries more flavors and sizes for a bit more.
  • Water – tap or distilled, if you’re hardcore. 
  • Wipes warmer – I suppose this is optional when it’s warm, but not in the winter, in my opinion. Wet and cold wipes makes for unhappy babies. We use a Prince Lionheart one (two of them actually) which came with a few fabulous cloths, but any type with a simple lid will do. (Avoid the premium kind with an opening designed to dispense disposable wipes like a tissue box.)
  • Warmer pads – These are necessary if you use a wipes warmer. They maintain the moisture level and prevent bacteria growth. Replace it every 3 months, or as directed. Buy the one that goes with your model. This is the one for the warmer we use.

Directions:

1. Fold and stack clean cloth wipes. If they are not square, note which way to fold so they will fit in the wipes warmer. Mine are slightly longer on one side and fit in the warmer better if I fold on the short side.

DSC_0631

2. Rinse out the warmer pad and place, dripping wet, into the bottom of the wipes warmer.

3. Place wipes in the wipes warmer on top of the pad. You can pile them to the top of the container if you’d like (about 3 inches).

4. Pour 2T olive oil, 2T baby wash and 2c water in a bottle. I used to measure it out once or twice every week until I got smart and just put measurement markings on the bottle itself. Now I just fill the oil and baby wash to the fill lines and top up with water. Easy peasy. (And yeah, that glass bottle in the photo above was totally for artful effect. I use a Blender Bottle I’ve dedicated to this job alone.)
DSC_0629

5. Shake the cleansing solution really well and pour over the wipes. I used to pour a little bit in between every 2 wipes thinking it made a superior end result – evenly moistened wipes that weren’t too wet or too dry. It does, and it might be worth the time and effort when you have a squirmy baby. But as my son has gotten older and more patient (and me less so – the righteous glow of cloth diapering has faded somewhat) I’ve realized that I can just pour a ton of solution over the whole pile and squeeze any excess out at the time of use.

DSC_0643

Whichever method you choose, don’t skimp on the fluid. It’s better that the wipes be too wet than too dry. Excess can be wrung out (or you can just sneak some clean, dry cloths under the pile in between complete refills, another seasoned cloth diapering mama trick). If there’s not enough solution, your warmer pad may dry out and start to brown. It can’t fight bacteria in that state.  Keep it wet and rinse it out every week.

6. Plug in the wipes warmer. The cloth wipes can be used immediately, but will be warm (and more luxurious) in about an hour.

Cost comparison  ***with a correction***

Still not convinced?  What if I told you cloth wipes would save you hundreds of dollars?  Let me break the numbers down for you.

I ran some quick calculations comparing my cloth wipes setup to Kirkland brand (from Costco) and Seventh Generation.  (***The correction I made stems from having pulled the price of Kirkland wipes off Costco.com, where they are listed at $29.99.  Two days ago I went to the warehouse itself and they are only $19.79.  I re-did the calculations to reflect the corrected price.  The cost savings of cloth over Costco is not as dramatic at the lower price, but the environmental and other benefits remain the same.  And the savings is greater than zero.  Sorry for the initial error!)

Kirkland and Seventh Generation are the two brands that most moms I know use (either because they are environmentally-minded, frugal or both).  I have used both, too.  I know those cases of Costco wipes are appealing.  I’ve bought them myself.  And they seem super cheap at the time.  But eventually it adds up.

This first graph shows how the costs accumulate over the first three cases of disposable wipes alone.  (I estimate each case will last you about 2 months, just for some perspective.)  While cloth wipes start out more expensive (because of the initial investment in the cloths themselves assuming you buy them, i.e., the “fixed cost”), the low “variable costs” make them cheaper in the long-run.  (It costs about 2 cents per wipe to make the cleansing solution.)

By the time you’ve burned through the first case of Seventh Generation wipes (containing 768 and costing $32.19 at Diapers.com), you’ve already spent more than cloth wipes would have cost you (including the initial purchase of 30 flannel wipes).  The first case of Costco wipes (which has 900 at $19.79) is cheaper than cloth, and the second one, too, but only barely.  By the time you purchase the third case from Costco your cloth alternatives would have saved you 6 bucks (plus the money you would have spent on other stuff you didn’t really need from Costco, am I right?).

2 case graph_v4

Admittedly, $6 over six months is very small.  But if you’d buy Seventh Generation the savings with cloth would be $60.  Furthermore, in the long run you’ll be saving more like $15 and $5 per month by using cloth instead of Seventh Gen or Kirkland brands, respectively.  The savings is higher in later months because once you’ve invested in the cloth wipes, you need only compare the marginal costs of cloth and disposable.  Cloth wipes (once you own them) cost about $0.02 each to make up, whereas Kirkland and Seventh Gen are $0.02 and $0.04 each, respectively, and you’ll use twice as many as cloth (at least!).

Over the three years you may be diapering, those pennies add up.  As the chart below shows, cloth wipes could save $160 over Kirkland brand or $510 over Seventh Generation.  That no small potatoes.

3 years bar chart_v2

As with any economic analysis, I’ve made several key assumptions upon which these final figures depend.  They include:

  • 2 disposable wipes or 1 cloth wipe per use
  • 8 uses per day, on average (Initially it will be more as infants require a lot of diaper changes.  Over time, you use less for diapering and more for their hands and face.  This is just a rough estimate of the average use over 3 years.)
  • The cost of wipes warmers and pad refills is excluded as you would likely buy them whether using cloth or disposable wipes.

If the merits of cloth wipes (i.e., ease, convenience, low environmental impact, customizability) have not convinced you, perhaps the cost-savings will.  I guarantee that once your darling is finally out of diapers you will be able to think of some great use for that $160 to $510.  Toddler car seat?  Mini-getaway? Several cases of wine?  A fancy sewing machine?  (Remember, you’re gonna need a new hobby to use up all the time you’ll have on your hands once you no longer have to wash (nasty) cloth diapers and wipes. *wink*)

That reminds me…  Hey kiddo!  Let’s go practice using the potty again.  Mama needs some more free time.  Sigh.

~~~

By the way, I have a friend who swears by homemade disposable baby wipes (and I can vouch for her method). You get the same chemical-free benefits, with the convenience of just tossing them when you’re done. If you’re not using cloth diapers but want more control over what goes on your baby’s skin, this may be a good option for you.

It’s really simple. Make up a bottle of the same solution as above. Tear off a bunch of Bounty Select-a-Size paper towels (the brand is very important I’m told), stack them and slide them into a plastic zip-top bag. Pour solution over the paper towels until the desired moisture level is achieved. Done. These will be room temperature, of course, but have the added benefit of being very portable. You can easily move them from room to room, take them outside or in the car. They are very convenient for all the mess that comes with little ones.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliated links. If you purchase through these links I will receive a very small commission which helps to support this blog. (Thanks!) That said, the recommendations are mine alone. I really do use and love the products I’ve mentioned.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *