Diapers without Chemicals - Alternatives for Healthy Baby Skin
Photo by @isabelplett
When purchasing initial supplies for their upcoming baby, parents usually pay meticulous attention to materials and ingredients. Clothing made of cotton, wool, or silk, creams without silicones and fragrances, sensitive detergents for delicate baby skin, and much more. Everything that comes into contact with tender baby skin is analyzed carefully. Except when it comes to diapers. They are expected to have long-lasting absorbency, fit well, and be quick to change. However, many parents are not aware that disposable diapers are full of chemicals.
Are there any diapers without chemicals? Yes, cloth diapers are completely chemical-free and also have the best ecological footprint. Alternatives like eco or organic diapers partially meet these criteria.
Wondering what disposable diapers are actually made of? In the following, we analyze what's in them and what it means for your baby's skin. We will also introduce you to a chemical-free alternative that is healthy, simple, and overall better for your child.
Chemicals in Diapers - What's Inside Popular Disposable Diapers
You might have noticed it yourself: New disposable diapers already have a distinct chemical smell before they are even used. As soon as the first urine hits the diaper, this smell intensifies. Some manufacturers hide lotions and fragrances in their diapers to mask the chemical odor. However, mineral oils like Paraffinum Liquidum are also found in every disposable diaper.
Parents scrutinize the ingredients in creams, lotions, and shampoos. Many are not aware that disposable diapers contain exactly those ingredients that they go to great lengths to avoid in other products.
Let’s take a closer look at the structure of disposable diapers. How is it that they can absorb large amounts of liquid without leaking? Where is the concerning chemistry hidden in diapers and what can it mean for your baby's skin?
The Structure of the Diaper - From the Outer Shell to the Super Absorbent
A disposable diaper consists of an outer shell and an absorbent core. The outer shell is made of polyethylene, a thermoplastic polymer. It serves as a moisture barrier and prevents the diaper from leaking. However, the material is not very breathable and restricts air circulation within the diaper (source).
Inside the diaper is the absorbent core. It is made from cellulose materials such as waterproof non-woven fabric and protective films of polypropylene and polyethylene. It is also equipped with several layers of super absorbents . Perhaps you've heard the term super absorbent before? These polymer salts can absorb liquid volumes many times their own volume.
The tiny granules swell upon contact with urine, creating a sort of hydrogel . Surely, you've noticed how soft and gel-like a full disposable diaper feels. While this property is quite advantageous, there is a big downside: Super absorbents are pure chemistry. They are made from polymers, which in turn consist of compounds of polyacrylic acids .
Other components of disposable diapers can include:
- Acrylic acid copolymer
- Stearyl alcohol
- Liquid paraffin
- Aloe Barbadensis extract
- Synthetic rubber
Considering that these diapers are designed for prolonged periods between changes, and a child thus remains in the same diaper for several hours, it becomes clear that this cannot be healthy for the skin (source).
In the warm, humid climate of the disposable diaper, a baby's skin softens and becomes more permeable to external influences, such as the lotion found on disposable diapers. These typically contain substances that have absolutely no place on a baby's bottom (source). Dyes are also not uncommon in disposable diapers. You can recognize these by the colorfully processed inside layer of the diaper.
Are Diapers with Chemicals Harmful to Your Baby?
In a test, a French agency found that up to 38 dangerous chemicals are present in disposable diapers. However, the European Commission rejected the subsequent demands to limit the use of chemicals in disposable diapers.
Below, we compile the problems that can arise from the use of diapers with chemicals:
Drying Out the Skin
As mentioned earlier, the purpose of the super absorber is to soak up liquids within seconds. This naturally applies to all liquids. Therefore, the drying out of the skin and mucous membranes is virtually inevitable (source).
Damage to Natural Barriers
The consequence of the manufacturer-advertised hours of dryness are long intervals between diaper changes. Babies often spend many hours in the same diaper, creating a warm, moist climate that softens the skin, making it open to bacteria . Without the natural protective barrier, this quickly leads to redness and rash (source).
No Recovery for the Skin
Even if the child is changed frequently, the skin does not get a chance to recover, as a new disposable diaper is immediately put on. Often, the child is wearing a diaper 24/7, leaving no time for the skin to breathe and regenerate.
Lack of Wetness Feedback
Disposable diapers keep your child's intimate area permanently dry. When your baby wets the diaper, they may only feel it for a fraction of a second. Thus, your child does not get wetness feedback, which can prolong the time it takes for them to become potty trained. Here you can find our study on potty training with cloth diapers.
Diaper Rash and Diaper Dermatitis
All these factors contribute to skin irritation and the occurrence of diaper dermatitis. Typical reasons for diaper rash are:
- Poor/no air circulation
- Reaction to contained chemicals
- Wearing the diaper for too long
Information on diaper dermatitis, its causes, and treatment can be found here.
Disposable diapers are designed for convenience for parents: they don't leak, feel dry even when full, need to be changed infrequently, and artificial fragrances prevent unpleasant smells. The result is the classic diaper rash and inflammation, up to and including so-called ammoniacal diaper dermatitis.
Ecological Impact: How Damaging Are Disposable Diapers for Our Planet?
Aside from their impact on children’s skin, disposable diapers are also repeatedly criticized for their ecological footprint and sustainability. A large portion of the components are not easily biodegradable. On average, a child uses about 5,000 diapers until they are potty trained. That's 1,000 kg or one ton of diaper waste per child. It takes 500 years for a single diaper to decompose, and even then, microplastics are left behind, which cause lasting harm to our planet.
The absorbent core of disposable diapers, the so-called super absorbent, is almost always based on petroleum, which is a problematic material for multiple reasons related to the environment, as it directly contributes to global warming.
According to the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, 95% of all children are still diapered with disposables. This results in approximately 740,000 tons of diaper waste in one year of births in Germany alone. Due to the lack of recycling processes, the diaper waste is burned in incineration plants along with other residual waste. However, due to various chemical components, the diapers do not burn completely and a small remainder is disposed of as toxic hazardous waste .
In this article, you can find more information on the sustainability of cloth diapers.
A Mother's Perspective
When my first child was born, the use of disposable diapers was out of the question. Through my work in a nursery, I was well aware of all the disadvantages of disposable diapers. However, the extent of the issues only became clear to me once I had children of my own. My son was diapered with cloth diapers and never experienced diaper rash or other issues. Moreover, he was significantly earlier in becoming potty trained compared to other children in our circle of acquaintances.
Especially the matter of diaper odor didn't become apparent to me until later. When my son was about a year old, we had another child of the same age visiting who was diapered with disposables. Right upon entering the house, my husband asked what was smelling so unpleasant. He kept asking if any of the kids needed a diaper change. It turned out that he immediately noticed the smell of the disposable diaper and as soon as it came into contact with urine, the smell became unbearable to him. However, the child was not changed during the entire visit because the super absorber ensured a dry feeling, and the diaper wasn't considered full.
Another instance involved a burst disposable diaper—yes, that can happen, too. Changing was delayed for too long, a full diaper and lots of movement caused the protective layer around the absorbent core to tear, and the little girl's intimate area was covered with the swollen granules of the super absorber, resulting in a severe skin rash.
What is the Alternative? Are There Diapers Without Chemicals?
When it comes to disposable diapers, there isn't yet a fully satisfactory alternative. Opting for eco-friendly and organic diapers seems like a good alternative to many parents. Depending on the manufacturer, these are made up of up to 85% renewable resources. However, even these are not 100% biodegradable and still contain chemicals.
On today’s market, there are already diapers that are nearly entirely biodegradable or compostable . The absorbant core of these diapers, for example, is not based on petroleum but on potato starch. The outer shell is also easily degradable, as it is made from a corn-based material. The only component still based on petroleum is the fastener.
Another disadvantage of these alternatives is the price: Compostable diapers often cost three to four times as much as regular diapers. Moreover, due to the absence of chemicals and plastics, they cannot match the absorbency performance of a standard disposable diaper.
An alternative without any plastics and chemicals that we can still present to you: Cloth diapers. We will show you how easy Diapering sustainably diapers can be and what you need to consider in the following.
Photo by @isabelplett
Cloth Diapers: Healthy Diapers Without Chemicals
If you want to avoid chemicals and plastic and protect your baby's skin, cloth diapers are the best alternative. Nowadays, there are various reusable systems available, so there is a suitable diaper for every baby.
Reusable cloth diapers are entirely free from chemical ingredients. The skin is not irritated by mineral oils or fragrances. Instead of the super absorbent and its foil coating, your child's bottom touches only snuggly soft fabric. Unlike disposable diapers, the fabric allows the skin to breathe well, resulting in a much better diaper climate than is the case with disposables.
With cloth diapers, many diapering problems can be avoided. Rashes and recurring diaper dermatitis are much less common.
You're probably wondering whether Diapering sustainably diapers is uncomplicated. And then there's the laborious washing process. But we can reassure you, modern cloth diapers are not like those from grandma's days. That's why we at Judes have developed a cloth diaper that is as easy to use as a disposable one.
Judes Cloth Diapers - as Simple as Disposable Diapers
At Judes, we have set a goal for our diapers to be both simple and sustainable . Our diapers are chemical-free and every detail is carefully considered.
How Do Judes Work?
In essence, the diapering process with Judes is exactly the same as with disposable diapers. Used diaper off, new diaper on, the motions are the same. The only difference is that the used diaper goes into a so-called diaper bag instead of the trash.
Think of the diaper bag as a sort of laundry net . It ensures that the smell of the used diapers doesn't spread. It is odor-proof yet breathable. The latter is important because: The more oxygen that gets to the diapers, the less ammonia can form. Ammonia can damage your cloth diapers over time and even lead to skin irritation.
Our diaper bags are designed to make the washing process simple and hygienic . You just unzip the bottom of the bag and put the sack into the washing machine. The motion of the washing drum causes the diapers to fall out of the bag by themselves, so you don't need to take them out one by one.
The structure of the diaper is also quick and easy to explain: The inner diaper is made of 100% organic cotton and is very absorbent. User experiences show that the diaper can hold up for up to 12 hours, easily competing with conventional disposable diapers, and all that without any chemicals.
The inner diaper is surrounded by our stylish outer diaper. It serves as the moisture barrier and ensures that your child's waste stays inside the diaper. It is made from 100% recycled PUL (PUL stands for Polyurethane Laminated and is the layer that creates the water barrier) and perfectly adapts to the movements of your child.
When changing the diaper, you usually only need to wash the inner diaper. As long as the outer diaper hasn't come into contact with stool or urine, you can air it out and reuse it.
By the way, you can separate solid waste in advance with our Poo Paper - so it doesn't end up in the washing machine. The use of this thin paper makes it especially easy for you: When the diaper is full, you dispose of the paper along with the stool in the trash, and put the rest of the diaper into the wash or diaper bag as usual.
For What Age Are Judes Suitable?
Here too, the system of our cloth diapers is well thought out, as our chemical-free diapers can accompany your child throughout the entire diapering period. For this, two sizes are available:
- Size 1: Our Newborn size fits your baby from birth until a weight of 7.5 kg (approximately 16.5 lbs).
- Size 2: Fits your child from 7.5 kg to 15 kg (approximately 16.5 to 33 lbs).
Thanks to the Velcro closure, the cloth diapers are continuously adjustable and can thus be perfectly adapted to the child's body shape. The flexible and stretchable leg gussets of the diaper ensure a perfect fit without restricting freedom of movement.
Does the Bulky Diaper Bottom Restrict Movement?
This misconception persists, even though it has been disproven many times. We use an innovatively thin fabric for our inner diaper. Up to twelve layers of the fabric are stacked to provide tremendous absorbency. Additionally, the outer cover adapts perfectly to your child's body and movements. Compared to other cloth diapers, Judes creates a significantly slimmer diaper bottom and allows for all the child's movements.
Children in cloth diapers learn to move just like all other children at their own pace. Whether they wear disposable or reusable diapers makes no difference. My son, despite wearing cloth diapers, started walking freely and confidently at 10 months old. My daughter started walking later, but she enjoyed climbing early on. I never felt that their diapers restricted them in any way.
Photo by @olivia_greige
Diapers Without Chemicals: The Benefits of Cloth Diapers
Cloth diapers compared directly with disposable diapers. The following are the benefits of cloth diapers:
Protection of the Skin
Clearly: chemical-free diapers are gentler on your baby's skin. They are also significantly more breathable, thus preventing unwanted skin reactions. The skin's natural protective barrier can regenerate itself and doesn't require support from creams or ointments.
Sensing Moisture Feedback
As previously discussed, the super absorbents in disposable diapers prevent your child from feeling wetness during urination. This natural bio-feedback, however, is important for the process of becoming potty trained. Cloth diapers, on the other hand, provide your child with the necessary wetness feedback. Your child can feel when they have wet the diaper and can communicate this. The cause-and-effect relationship established through wetness feedback helps your child understand the sequence of action and outcome, and is the reason why children in cloth diapers are typically potty trained much earlier than those in disposable diapers.
Cloth Diapers Are Cheaper Than Disposable Diapers
Even if the initial costs seem daunting, cloth diapers are the more affordable option over the diapering period. Even including the costs of washing and drying, you will still spend less than what disposable diapers would cost. Additionally, cloth diapers can be passed on to the next child. A good cloth diaper can even last through up to four diapering periods. If no more children are planned, used cloth diapers can also be easily resold at good prices.
In this article, we’ve compared the costs of cloth diapers and disposable diapers in detail, taking all factors into account.
Since reusable diapers are not disposed of immediately after use, unlike disposable diapers, you can avoid a lot of waste by using cloth diapers. Even wet wipes can easily be replaced by our soft washcloths.
No Unpleasant Odors
Diapers without chemicals smell less. Although they ensure that urine is quickly absorbed and the diaper remains leak-proof, they can generate unpleasant odors. If you store used diapers in a diaper pail, you will notice a strong stench in a very short time. With cloth diapers, you avoid this problem. With proper storage, there are no unpleasant odors until the next wash - and there can be a good three to four days between washes. In terms of absorbency, you will also suffer no disadvantages, as cloth diapers even absorb urine and liquid stool better than disposable diapers. Therefore, they remain leak-proof even for heavy wetters and liquid stool.
I am continually surprised by how odor-neutral cloth diapers are. It was already extremely rare for my elimination communication children to have stool in their diapers. And when it did happen, I simply did not smell it. Not even when the child was sitting on my lap with a full diaper.
Healthy Body Posture
Cloth diapers are inherently a bit wider in the crotch area compared to disposable diapers. This slight spreading of the legs promotes a healthy hip development. Here you can read reasons and benefits for the wide diapering technique.
Rarely Leaking Diapers
The design of our cloth diapers ensures that overflow is avoided. Well-fitting leg cuffs and an additional back elastic offer perfect protection, even with squirting breast milk stool. Here you can find out why Judes are more leak-proof than disposable diapers.
Strong Environmental Performance with Chemical-Free Diapers
According to a study from 2021, from an ecological standpoint, there is no better decision than using cloth diapers. However, even with cloth diapers, a poor environmental footprint can be achieved if mistakes are made in their use. Below we show you what you need to pay attention to if you want to maximize environmental conservation:
- The cloth diapers should be used for as long as possible and ideally handed down to other children. High-quality diapers can be used by up to four children.
- Make sure to fully load the washing machine before starting it. This can be achieved with an advantageous diapering rhythm - cloth diapers should nevertheless be washed no later than the fourth day. Additionally, you can add more laundry to the diaper wash to fill the machine. Towels and bed linens are especially suitable for this.
- Use an eco-friendly laundry detergent. However, make sure that your detergent still contains all the components necessary to wash your diapers gently and hygienically.Here you can find tips for diaper washing.
- Air dry the diapers. Using a dryer automatically worsens the environmental footprint.
- Look for diapers that grow with your child. After the newborn size, the next size should suffice for the rest of the diapering period. Stretchy cuffs and an adjustable closure ensure a good fit.
- Wash your laundry below 60 °C. However, we encounter a dilemma here because: ecologically sensible does not necessarily mean hygienically sensible. For the best hygiene, you should therefore wash your diapers regularly at 60°C.
Photo by @isabelplett
Choose Judes and Say Goodbye to Diapers with Chemicals
Disposable diapers are not doing any favors for your baby's skin nor the environment. Both the absorbent core and the outer shell are made exclusively of plastic and chemicals. It's not uncommon for this combination to cause irritated and sensitive skin. When a baby is born, parents strictly monitor the ingredients in various creams, lotions, or shampoos. There is also a slow shift in thinking when it comes to using disposable diapers.
Alternatives like eco-friendly and organic diapers are increasingly avoiding the use of chemicals and plastic in production - yet none are 100% biodegradable and free of chemicals and petroleum. Thanks to research, we may soon have compostable diapers made from 100% degradable materials. Yet then we face another problem: Where should such high quantities of diapers be composted? A normal garden compost would overflow within days, not to mention the smell. Large central composting facilities could be a possibility, but currently, they are not in sight. Disposable diapers continue to fuel the overfilling of our planet relentlessly.
Cloth diapers offer a solution to both issues. They do not use any chemicals. While some parts made of plastic are unavoidable, here at Judes, we use 100% recycled PUL in the manufacturing of our cloth diapers. Cloth diapers are durable and can be passed on to the next children once diapering is over. Thus, a single cloth diaper can be in use for a good 10 years, while a disposable diaper ends up in the trash after just a few hours. With proper use, cloth diapers have a significantly better environmental footprint and are gentler on our planet in both production and usage.
And for your baby's skin, the diapers without chemicals are the better choice. Natural fabrics like cotton provide a comfortably soft wearing experience without falling short compared to the disposable diaper. Cloth diapers are breathable, which protects your baby's skin. Even if they can't quite keep up with the super absorbents, cloth diapers are also incredibly absorbent and can be worn for extended periods. Like disposable diapers, it is not necessary to change them at night, as they can hold up for up to 12 hours.
Using cloth diapers is just as simple as using disposable diapers. We avoid complicated wrapping systems and instead have developed a diaper system that makes the switch to cloth diapers extremely easy.