Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Adventures in Cloth Diapering Part 1: Detergents

We wanted to cloth diaper Jem for a few reasons. First and most importantly, to keep disposables out of the landfill, as well as to save money (disposables aren't cheap and add up quickly).  I won't go into all the facts about disposables, but you can find some good info here. I haven't gone through every fact on this page to verify the accuracy of all of them, but it should give you at least a general idea of why cloth is a good idea.  Of course I certainly understand the choice to use disposables, with everything else you have to do as a parent, who has time for extra laundry too?  To be honest though, it hasn't been as time consuming as I expected it to be, and not having to lug an extra bag out to the trash disposal center every day or two has actually been quite nice!

Which brings me to another reason for choosing not to use disposables: the smell.  As a former nanny, I know how disgusting the plastic garbage bag full of disposables ends up smelling at the end of a day or two.  I had read that cloth diaper pails actually smell less, and so far that is absolutely true.  Why is this?  Well, disposables are made of plastic.  Garbage bags are made of plastic.  Plastic can't "breathe" the way cloth can, and everyone knows that to take up less space in the garbage bag you have to roll the disposables up into tight little balls: tight little smelly, non-breathable balls.  No matter how hard you try to keep that diaper genie smelling fresh and clean, when you go to open up the pail to remove the bag you are hit by a death smell that forces you to hold your breath while frantically scurrying to tie the bag and run it out to the curb as quickly as possible.  At least, that's how it's been in my experience.  Especially because, although all bags of diapers print instructions to dump solid fecal matter into the toilet, it's easier just to roll the poop up in the diaper and toss it in the bin.  That's why the bin is kept next to the changing table, right?  How many parents actually dump every poopy disposable into the toilet before trashing it?

So, naturally, cloth diaper pails tend to smell less.  It's not that they don't smell at all, but they smell much less.  Cloth diapers can breathe.  Cloth pail liners can breathe.  And it's imperative to dump solid poop into the toilet before throwing the diapers in the pail, because otherwise laundry would be a nightmare.  It is possible to get certain funky smells.  Ammonia, for instance, or a strong urine smell if baby has an infection or ate something that didn't agree with him that week.  But overall, the smell of our diaper pail has been quite bearable in comparison to diaper pails I've dealt with in the past.

Anyway, I'm digressing from what I really wanted to talk about in this post, which is detergents.  You're not supposed to use regular soap detergents on cloth diapers, because the soap and other additives can quickly build up in the fibers of the diapers and cause leaking and repelling issues, particularly if your diapers contain synthetic fibers like microfleece (which is often used to line cloth diapers to help wick moisture away from baby's skin).  So I decided to set out to find the most diaper-friendly, eco-friendly and dermatologically-friendly detergent possible.

It was important to me to find a detergent that listed every ingredient right on the label.  I tend to be suspicious of "proprietary ingredients." I understand that companies like to keep certain ingredients secret in order to prevent other companies from stealing their formulas, but when it comes to my baby's skin I want to know what's in it. If he were to have an allergic reaction, I'd want to have a good idea why.  And I've recently become aware that some companies will purposely choose not to disclose ingredients that they know to be harmful, controversial or suspicious.

After much reading and research about different brands, and coming very close to deciding on Country Save (because it's cheaper than other brands and can be bought in large quantities on Amazon), I instead decided to try Nellie's All Natural.  To be honest, I loved it and have no real complaints about the way it worked.  It kept the diapers fresh and clean, and it's unscented so you can really tell they're clean.  The ingredients were listed as "sodium silicate and coconut oil-based surfactants."  I researched sodium silicate and found it to indeed be natural and eco-friendly, with a history of not causing rashes.  I already knew what coconut oil was, it's great for soothing skin, so anything made from it had to be good, no?

Well... after I'd bought the bag, I made a discovery.  Nellie's website stated that the "coconut oil-based surfactants" were actually Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate, or SLES.  (Update: Nellie's website has now started using the term "coconut based (LAURYL) Ethoxylated fatty alcohol" instead of SLES... I am unclear whether or not they have changed the ingredient or if they've just become more vague.  A conversation with a customer service rep left me feeling that I'd been given the runaround).  I'd learned of SLES two years ago when I developed a strong sensitivity to regular brands of toothpaste and had to switch exclusively to Biotene.  SLES is a powerful foaming agent, often derived from chemically altered coconut or palm oils.  It's found in industrial-strength floor cleaners.  It's also found in many detergents, hair products, body washes and in almost every brand of toothpaste (it's what makes things foamy, and since we've been trained to equate "foamy" with "clean," manufacturers like to include it in any cleaning product).  It's been found to be just abrasive enough in small quantities to cause or exacerbate canker sores and skin rashes in highly sensitive individuals, like myself.

What does this all mean?  It means that SLES has developed a bad name, not for entirely unfounded reasons, though it certainly won't hurt everyone.  Would it cause a skin reaction on a little baby wearing cloth diapers that were washed in Nellie's?  Probably not, since the detergent is designed to wash out entirely and not leave any traces on the diapers.  Jem didn't have a problem with it.  However, like I said, I don't like it when manufacturers don't disclose their ingredients.  I understand why they probably do it (though I admit I can't say for certain): I would think other customers are also wary of purchasing baby products containing SLES, since babies tend to have such sensitive skin, and they might lose some business if they wrote the proper name on the label.  Why risk losing business if the product works, doesn't cause rashes and is, indeed, eco-friendly?  But it left me feeling just a little bit cheated, like I'd been lied to a little. I'm a full disclosure kind of gal.  So I decided when the bag of Nellie's was finished, I'd try another brand.  If I didn't find any other that I liked, I could always come back to it.

I considered Rockin' Green, a formula used by one of my friends and by many in the CD community.  However, now I was being even more careful.  Two of the ingredients listed in RG are "natural chelating agents," and "bio-degradable surfactants." Since the bag didn't actually say what those chelating agents and surfactants were, I emailed Kim, the founder and owner of RG.  She was very nice but could not tell me what those ingredients were, since they were proprietary.  She only said they were indeed natural and eco-friendly, and did not include SLES or any coconut-based ingredients.  I thanked her, but decided to try something else first.

I decided to go with Crunchy Clean.  A family-run business founded by a mom in her kitchen, Crunchy Clean has only three ingredients: sodium carbonate (washing soda), sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and sodium percarbonate (oxygen cleaner). It is indeed about as environmentally and dermatologically friendly as they come, and I loved it almost as much as Nellie's, if not more.  It didn't quite get stains out of my diapers as well as Nellie's did, but that was okay with me, I just laid the stained ones out in the sunny living room window and the stains bleached out naturally.  I was happy.  I felt truly crunchy. :-)

And then, alas, about five or six months in, our diapers started repelling and leaking like crazy.  Jem was constantly waking up wet and uncomfortable.  Was this due to the diapers themselves?  They'd never done this before. Was it the Crunchy Clean?  How could it be, since CC doesn't contain soap or brighteners or anything that could junk up the diapers?  We discovered the answer after noticing a chalky white film on our shower head.  We had hard water.  The minerals in the water were clogging up the fibers in our microfleece.  What to do?  Buy new diapers?  Heck no, those things were expensive!  We'd have to find a way to soften the water, which meant either special ordering a case of Calgon water softener along with the detergent, or switching detergents.

First we had to strip the diapers of the minerals that were already in them.  For that I used RLR Laundry Treatment (which I bought at Diaper Junction because, including shipping, they had the best price I could find).  I have no idea what's in it.  They claim to be eco-friendly and all natural, but since all the ingredients are proprietary, who can say for sure?  However, since it's only meant to be used once a month at most (I only used it that once), and I'd heard good things about it, I bought a few packets for less than $2 each.  Whatever is in it has a very powerful foaming agent, so you have to rinse the diapers about seven or eight times after using it, but it worked.

Since the only hard water diaper detergent I'd really consistently heard good things about was Rockin Green's Hard Rock formula, that's what I went with.  It worked quite well, and we even stopped getting stains.  I still don't know what all the ingredients are, but desperate times call for desperate measures.  It was a few dollars more than the CC I'd been using, but you do what you've got to do! We did start having some ammonia issues (not kind to baby's bum) which probably didn't have anything to do with the detergent, but I can't be entirely sure.

And then we moved.  I made sure to find out what the new town's water was like, and though it's still on the hard side it's not nearly as hard as in the town we moved from.  So I decided to save a few dollars I'd try a new detergent I'd started hearing rave reviews about, Lulu's in the Fluff.  It lists the same three ingredients that CC does, but according to "Lulu" the actual chemical makeup is somehow different.  Not being a chemist I have no idea how.  But I CAN tell you that it works quite well in our water so far.  Somehow it's formulated to work in moderately hard water.  We are getting a little staining, perhaps not quite as much as we did with Crunchy Clean.  But again, a little sun bleaching and the stains are gone.  "Lulu" was also quite helpful in suggesting we start rinsing our diapers before throwing them in the pail to help clear up the ammonia issue. We'd started using a fish tank ammonia neutralizer which had only been helping reduce the smell somewhat (yes, you can do that...if it's safe for fish, the most sensitive creatures probably on the planet, it's safe for baby diapers. It works great for some people, just didn't work too well for us).  After buying a diaper sprayer and getting accustomed to ringing out the wet diapers by hand (not quite as gross as it sounds), the ammonia buildup is almost entirely gone. :-) Thanks Lulu!

So, that's where we stand so far.  I've tried Nellie's, Crunchy Clean, Rockin' Green and Lulu's, and I've liked them all. Nellie's and RG seem to be a bit better with reducing stains, CC and Lulu's are probably the simplest and most truly eco-friendly.  All of them use minimal packaging, which is always a plus!  If I try anything else I'll be sure to post about it here!

Monday, February 21, 2011

My favorite baby products thus far...

... are as follows:

~ Primo Infant Bath Seat: Okay, yeah, it's plastic, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a bath product that isn't.  At least this one is small, simple, functional, and a great hand-me-down!  It fits perfectly in our sink.  It fits perfectly UNDER our sink.  Works just as well in the tub.  I love it, Jem loves it.  I do lay a towel down over it to make it more comfy.  Not a huge fan of the piece that sticks up into the crotch area, but Jem doesn't seem to mind it at all!  If you have a good sized kitchen sink (that can be cleared of dishes fairly easily), don't waste any money on expensive baby bath tubs that you can't store anywhere.  This is all you need!  Search for it on Amazon, the reviews are all glowing (except for those from a few unfortunate people with tiny sinks).

~ Merry Muscles Jumper: Yeah, it's expensive and so's the shipping (it ships from Canada), but it's awesome.  First of all, you can use it starting at about 2 months, provided baby can lift his/her head.  This is 2 months sooner than any plastic jumper. Of course I debated about buying one till Jem was 4 months so we lost out on that feature, but he was so strong he totally could have.  It's the only jumper on the market designed to be ergonomic (they sell a larger version for special needs children to help with Physical Therapy).  It contains very little plastic (mostly heavy duty fabric with steel parts and a bungee cord).  It's lightweight and compact (comes in a cardboard box about the width/height of an LP cover and not much thicker...minimal packaging is always a plus).  If you get an extra hook (or "Kling Klamp," if you need to attach it to a door frame), you can just install that at Grandma's and easily transport the jumper back and forth with you, rather than get two big, plastic jumpers that you're constantly tripping over.  Stick it on a shelf in the closet when you're not using it.  Cons: like I said, it's expensive! Also, not nearly as easy to get baby in and out of as your traditional plastic jumper.  There are no toys, bells or whistles (though it's easy enough attaching link toys and watching baby try to "catch" them!)  But overall, the pros far outweigh the cons!  We love it, and so did Jem (now he prefers cruising on the furniture... but he can use it till around age 2, so maybe he'll want it again at some point!) Search for videos on YouTube of babies in the Merry Muscles jumper.  So sweet!

~ Fisher Price Rock 'n Play Sleeper: Also contains some plastic (they say you can't stick the plastic part in the washing machine, but I did anyway in our top-loader and it worked fine... just don't try putting it in the dryer), but it was the only baby bed on the market that tilted upward to reduce reflux and the risk of SIDS.  Firm but padded and comfy.  Be sure to start using the buckle as soon as baby starts rolling over!  I loved that sometimes Jem would start to wake up, and the gentle rocking he created just by moving his arms or his head would lull him back to sleep.  Not always, but, you know, sometimes.  When he wasn't really hungry. :-)  We've retired this, as he is now in a crib, but this was so great to use instead of a bassinet to have him at arm's reach.  It also folds and is very lightweight and easy to pack in the trunk for trips to Grandma's (or anywhere else).  But sturdy! Note that this is in no way an eco-friendly product.  So keep that in mind. Maybe get one used?

~ The Miracle Blanket: at first Jem was a bit too small for it (crept up over his face a bit), but after about a month or so it became a godsend during the worst of his colicky phase.  Also, after my anti-PVC packaging email spree to baby product manufacturers, The Miracle Blanket people sent me a very nice note to assure me their packaging is regularly tested and is PVC-free, phthalate-free and lead-free.  Apparently they initially wanted to use cardboard packaging but it kept getting crushed during shipment from the factories.  They weren't able to answer my question about what they do use to soften the plastic, but I give them points for taking my concerns seriously.  And you can at least feel a little better knowing that the worst of the potential additives aren't present in this product.

~ Pura Kiki Stainless Steel bottles: We switched from Born Free Glass (since we discovered chipping on one of them that rendered it useless). Can be used with Avent, Born Free and Think Baby wide nipples, and probably any other wide nipple. The flow of the nipple it comes with is a bit fast for a newborn, and I'm not sure if they sell a slower one.  Even now we use the Born Free nipples with these for a slower flow.  The only other "flaw" is a curled lip at the bottom of the nipple ring that collects a tiny bit of water while you warm it up (probably not a problem if you're using a bottle warmer instead of warm water).  My husband thought the bottle was leaking on his hand but it was just this little bit of water.  Otherwise we haven't had any problems, they don't leak and are durable and come in bright, pretty colors.  Easy to clean too (just make sure you dry that little lip well).  They're expensive (about $40 for a 3-pack of 5 oz. bottles) but worth it!

Silicone pocket bib:  I swear this was actually my idea back when I was nannying, and someone beat me to the patent office (more power to them, if it had been left up to me it would have stayed an idea forever, I'm not terribly motivated about such things).  We have the Summer Infant Bibbity, which is actually made of TPE (mix of plastic and rubber).  I put it on the registry thinking it was silicone, and if I had it to do over I probably  would have gone with one of the Ulubulu Silly Bibs (100% natural silicone).  But the Bibbity does work great and is cheaper. Just not as green!

Sophie the Giraffe:  For a teething toy, she's ridiculously expensive, but now we know why.  She's awesome.  I call her "Jem's girlfriend" because he's constantly sucking her face and nibbling her ears.  She's 100% natural rubber, and although the squeaking was annoying at first, now that Jem's at an age where he gets excited about toys that make noise it's worth it.  Important note: She's basically a dog chew toy with baby-friendly appendages, so if you have a dog be forewarned!

Uncle Goose Wooden building blocks:  The best blocks around, made in the USA with very safe, non-toxic paints and very durable: so far no teething marks, and Jem sure has tried!  He loves knocking these down!

Wonderworld Stacking Rings: "Made from environmentally friendly rubberwood, non-toxic water based paints as well as biodegradable fabrics" (from Amazon.com).  Oh, and I believe they're a fair trade product, or close to it.  Bright, colorful, tactile... one of Jem's favorites!

Evenflo "Cozy" glass bottles with silicone sleeve: We mostly just use these for storage.  It's the sleeve I really love.  Easy to take on and off, and makes freezer storage much safer (imagine dropping one of those babies without one?)  Cons: Not the best bottle for feeding (babies seem to generally prefer something wider, especially if they're usually breast fed. Pouring the milk out of these is sometimes a pain if you're only trying to pour out an ounce or two... spillage can occur. Update: they seem to have started making the sleeves out of some kind of plastic.  Bummer.  Well, as an alternative, Born Free does make a silicone sleeve for their glass bottles, as well as a pump-to-bottle attachment!  Much more expensive though.

~ Breathable Bumper: I've used it before and I admit I love it.  Reduces suffocation risk while still keeping little limbs out of the space between crib slats (poor Jem had a couple of rough naps before we put this on).  Easily washable and doesn't rip easily, so if you can find one used you can avoid the dreaded vinyl packaging and just throw it in the laundry!

~ Bumbo Baby Seat: We got ours on Freecycle, and have every intention of paying it forward, so I have no guilt on this one.  Never caused any spinal issues for Jem. My nieces also had 'em and their spines are also fine, thank you very much!  Of course, the Bumbo MUST be used only on the floor, preferably a carpeted or padded one, since eventually babies will learn to wiggle out of it.  This is just a great place to sit baby while you're in the room doing other things.  Not a place to leave baby and walk away.

Fisher Price Papasan Cradle Swing: Um, yes, lots and lots of plastic. I would not recommend this as an eco-friendly product in any way, shape or form, as we put this on our registry before we got really serious about going green. But for almost two months it was Jem's favorite place to be in the world, and helped him get to sleep during some really rough spots.  Then he decided he didn't want it anymore.  But that's our finicky baby!  Now they've apparently made it even better (swivels in all three directions, not just two).  Of course any baby swing might've worked just as well.  Who knows?  This one was a gift from Grandpa, and we liked it. Folds to be somewhat compact, if storage space is an issue. Again, getting one used would be my recommendation! Once we're done having kids, ours will be up for grabs! :-)

~ The Da Vinci Emily White Convertible crib: It's gotten mixed reviews because it's made of pine, a soft wood which nicks easily.  But that's what I ordered rail guards for!  It's very sturdy and pretty, I love that it converts to a toddler bed, and it's gotten excellent safety ratings.

~ Fleece crib rail guards: I ordered ours from BabiesRUs, unaware (though I should've been) that they were packaged in PVC (and this packaging was particularly potent).  The waterproofing on them is polyurethane, which is safe for babies but, well, it is still plastic.  I love how they look and I know they will save the wood on the crib once Jem stands up and starts biting the rails.  I would, however, recommend either making them yourself or buying them handmade on Etsy.  I don't really think the waterproofing is entirely necessary...

Things I could've loved, but...

~ South Shore White Cotton Candy changing table/dresser: I love the style.  I mean, I LOVE the style. So convenient in every way, and I love that the top part can be removed as baby grows up and outgrows the changing table.  But I didn't know the awful truth about particle-board and formaldehyde until just after we bought it.  We debated sending it back, but ended up buying an eco-friendly sealant instead, which (hopefully) is keeping it from off-gassing.  If this was made of real wood, I would be in love.  But I sadly now have mixed feelings about it.  It's also apparently very difficult to put together, and some parts were broken/missing when we got it (though they were replaced for free without having to send anything back).  Luckily, my husband loves a project.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Where'd you get that cool plastic toy?

In my home, the answer to this will usually be either "It was a gift" or "We got it from Freecycle." The larger the item, the greater the likelihood of such an answer.  After all I've read about the toxins produced and dispersed into the atmosphere during the production of plastic products, I try as hard as I can not to contribute to further production waste, and that means getting plastic items secondhand when we need/want them.  As an added perk, we also get to keep someone else's "trash" out of the landfills!  We also ask our family members to only buy Jem wood or stainless steel toys (you know, for Christmas and other special occasions) or to get them secondhand. So far they've been wonderfully cooperative!

Here are a few of the items we've found on Freecycle.  I'd say that so far we've saved several hundred dollars this way - talk about an added perk! Sorry about the poor picture quality, I can't seem to find the camera, and my cell phone camera is not exactly the greatest substitute...

 This exersaucer is in excellent shape! A little vinegar and it was clean as new.
Save $40-50 dollars on a Bumbo that's in new condition without the excess packaging? Yes, please.

These giant Brik "legos" sure are fun to knock over after Mommy builds a tower with them!

Little Tikes Country Kitchen.  Missing a few things - the fruit bin, dishwasher basket and phone - but all Jem really wants to do at this point is open and close the doors anyway!  It was quite a mess the day we got it, but we left Grandma to babysit and by the time we came home she'd given it a good vinegar scrub, and now it looks almost new!

Jem likes to run over mommy's feet in his walker.  He's really good at getting through doorways, over carpets and around corners.  Best part is that it folds up for easy transportation.

I have no idea what this toy is supposed to be, the people who gave us the exersaucer and the walker threw it in when my husband went to pick them up.  Some kind of standing entertainment center is my best guess, but the supports that help keep it upright are missing, as are some of the pieces on its face.  Jem doesn't care, it still lights up and plays music just fine.  I took two of the legs off so he wouldn't try to pull himself up on it and topple over.  As you can see, I had trouble pulling him away when I took the picture.
Okay, this isn't plastic.  It also wasn't from Freecycle, it was an $80 purchase from Craigslist. But considering what it was originally worth and the great shape it's in, plus how much more comfortable it is than similar models I tried out brand new in stores... It was a steal and I was happy to give it a new home.  It also came with an ottoman which we are no longer using.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


I am just a mom who is doing her best to reduce the impact of production waste and environmental toxins on her son and on the planet.  I do this by cloth diapering and carefully researching the ingredients in the detergents I use on those diapers; making my own organic baby food and breastfeeding; buying toys, bottles and dishware made of wood, stainless steel and glass with non-toxic finishes (wood toys and glass bottles, not vice versa!); using organic, non-toxic soaps, lotions and ointments as often as possible; cleaning toys and household surfaces with earth- and lung-friendly substances like vinegar and hydrogen peroxide; and by obtaining needed or wanted plastic items secondhand, usually on Freecycle or Craigslist.  Jem is my son, and though like most babies he suffers from the occasional diaper rash and tummy troubles, he has otherwise been healthy as a horse so far. He's never even had a real cold (knock on wood). I like to think that is at least in part to the effort his father and I have made to keep our home as non-toxic as possible while still allowing him to have enough exposure to germs to build up his little immune system.

This blog is a place for me to review my favorite baby-friendly products.  It is NOT an attempt to put down mothers and fathers who choose to do things differently than my husband and I.  We understand that other people have to make different choices based on their own circumstances, and we fully support those choices.  I will never make judgmental statements about other parenting decisions in this blog.  As far as I'm concerned, all parents who love their children and are determined to do the best they can by them deserve one anothers' full support.  We're all in this together!