Form-Fitted Cloth Diapers: Quality Test Performance and Bacterial Analysis after Use and Laundering

By Stone, Janis; Brackelsberg, Phyllis | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Form-Fitted Cloth Diapers: Quality Test Performance and Bacterial Analysis after Use and Laundering


Stone, Janis, Brackelsberg, Phyllis, Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


Abstract: Two form-fitted cloth diaper designs were analyzed for quality assurance and microbial contamination. Formfitted cloth diapers subjected to 150 laboratory launderings showed increased leakage as the number of launderings increased. Water repellency of the diaper cover remained constant with Design I but decreased with Design II. Microbial analysis did not show significant E-coli contamination after form-fitted cloth diapers were used by children under 2 years old and laundered by mothers at home. Parents investing in form-fitted cloth diapers can get a minimum number of diapers at first then use larger sizes as the child grows.

Disposable diapers have been widely accepted by mothers of infants and small children since their introduction 30 years ago. However, recent concern about solid waste disposal costs and landfill inventories, which clearly have shown the impact of disposable diapers, have led some policymakers to recommend a return to the use of cloth diapers (Lehrburger, Mullen, & Jones, 1991).

Recognizing the convenience of the form-fitted disposable diapers that tended not to leak, a few apparel manufacturers in the early 1990s introduced form-fitted cloth diapers (FFCDs). Two such designs, designated Design I and Design II, were obtained for use by 20 mothers with children under 2 years old for the purposes of this study and were described previously (Stone & Brackelsberg, 1997).

Although historical family use of flat cloth diapers suggested that cloth diapers could be maintained in a satisfactory sanitary condition, the FFCD designs presented a different laundering problem. The FFCD manufacturers' instructions recommended low-temperature washing and drying, non-chlorine bleach, and mild detergent. It was unknown whether the multiple layers and stitched-in-place design might act as a filter preventing the wash water from flushing out soil and bacteria, especially with the low temperatures specified. It was unknown whether the attached waterproof cover on the Design I diaper might prevent soil removal and microbial cleanup. For sanitation purposes in diaper care, liquid chlorine bleach and hot water washing was usually recommended (Stone, 1990).

The purposes of this research were to (a) review related literature, (b) determine whether mothers' home laundering could maintain FFCDs in a sanitary condition without buildup of microbial contamination over a 12-week period of use, and (c) examine the diaper performance on physical tests following repeated laboratory launderings.

Literature Review

A recommendation that cloth diapers should be promoted as more environmentally sound than disposable diapers came from a study of environmental impact and lifecycle analysis sponsored by the National Association of Diaper Services (Lehrburger et al., 1991).

However, another cradle-to-grave environmental analysis of cloth versus disposable diapers concluded that "both single-use and reusable diapering systems use quantifiable amounts of raw materials, energy, and water; and have quantifiable releases to the air, water, and land...It is not clear if solid waste is more important than water consumption...." (Franklin Associates Ltd., 1992). This study included home laundering, but the focus was on differences in atmospheric emissions, waterborne wastes, and solid waste generated from diaper use with assumptions based on costs in communities of more than 100,000 people. These environmental studies about diapering alternatives did not consider the family perspective or the effectiveness of home laundering in sanitation and soil removal.

The effects of various home laundering treatments were investigated by Janecek, Manikowske, and Bromel (1981). They determined detergent concentration had no effect on bacteria surviving after home laundering, but that bacterial count was reduced in home laundering by increasing water temperature, using a disinfectant, and drying at 160 F. …

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