When I studied abroad in Tanzania, baby wipes were like gold. The running water was erratic at best, and baby wipe baths were a respectable way to get clean.
To get your baby wipe stash to last months, it was a delicate balance of using fewer baby wipes while also achieving a modicum of cleanliness.
Stretching the life of a pack of baby wipes was a lesson that stayed with me once I got home (along with a more tenuous relationship with how frequently you really need to shower, but that’s another story).
But now that we have a baby, our baby wipe consumption has ramped up more than I would like.
We even rate diaper changes on a how-many-wipes scale. A 4-wipe change? You’re not having a great day.
At the same time, having a baby has also made me so much more aware (anxious?) about the environmental and financial impact of disposable goods.
To put it plainly, our disposable diaper and wipe use really stresses me out.
After starting to dabble in cloth diapers, the next on the list to address was reducing our baby wipe usage.
This topic is timely too, given how many family reported difficulty purchasing wipes when I surveyed nearly 100 recent parents about their baby spending during social distancing.
Before we dive into ways to use fewer wipes, here are some reasons you may wants to cut down on your baby wipe usage.
Reasons to Use Fewer Baby Wipes
There are a number of factors that may motivate someone to cut back on disposable baby wipes, including health, financial and environmental reasons.
If your baby has sensitive skin, you may want to reduce baby wipe usage. For some babies, baby wipes may cause a skin reaction like contact dermatitis. Rashing has been associated with the chemical preservatives in some wipes, such as methylisothiazolinone (MI).
For example, our pediatrician suggested rinsing off the baby wipes before use if we were dealing with a diaper rash, even when using a sensitive-skin wipe.
Now, it is important to note that the data on baby wipes’ adverse side effects are case reports, and do not provide sufficient data to assume a causal link between baby wipes (or specific chemicals or preservatives in them) and adverse reactions in babies.
Many babies use wipes without any issue. Reactions to wipes may be akin a food allergy – most babies are fine but a small population of babies may have a specific sensitivity.
Baby wipes are relatively cheap. However, over a couple years of diapering, the cost can still add up. If you use a name brand wipe, the costs will be even more significant.
A WaterWipe wipe runs about six cents a wipe at Target. Assuming you use five wipes a day and diaper for two years, you’ll have spent about $219 on wipes.
If you drop your wipe usage down to three wipes a day, your wipe cost would drop to $131, an $88 savings.
Opting for store brands saves a lot on wipe costs. Costco’s Kirkland brand wipes run about two cents a wipe, which would cost about $81 if you used 5 wipes/day for two years and $49 if you used 3 wipes/day.
But Costco is not cheaper for baby wipes – you can do even better cost-wise buying Target or Wal-mart’s house-brand baby wipes. Their wipes cost a bit over a penny a wipe, so $58 over two years of 5 wipes/day and $35 for 3 wipes/day.
Regardless of your wipe brand choice, there is money to be saved by using fewer baby wipes.
Baby wipes seem similar to toilet paper or paper towels so many people don’t realize that some wipes contain petroleum-sourced materials (plastics) and/or non-biodegradable polymers.
- WaterWipes are made of 80% polyester, which is a petroleum-derived fiber (you can scroll down to their FAQ to see the materials).
- Pampers wipes include polypropylene, a plastic polymer.
- Huggies has committed to removing plastics from their wipes (at least in some markets) in the next five years, but currently they still contain them.
Some wipes are plant-fiber derived like Costco’s Kirkland wipes, which are made of Tencel (this is the brand we now use). Though they still come in plastic packaging, and any type of fiber processing does come with resource expenditures.
Overall, cutting back on how many baby wipes you use is one way to reduce the ecological footprint of babyhood.
Ways to use fewer baby wipes
To help make your baby wipe supply last longer, here are a few ideas for using fewer wipes:
How to Use Fewer Baby Wipes
- Skip wipes for pee diapers.
Okay, this one may be controversial.
We don’t wipe after most pee diapers. At first, we didn’t realize it was okay to skip wiping during pee-only changes until I read about it on reddit (more of our parenting strategy comes from social media than I care to admit).
Disposable diapers, in particular, are very absorbent so babies stay pretty dry. In fact, it can be easier on baby’s skin to skip pee-only wiping, since the wipes themselves or frequency rubbing may increase irritation.
- Use part of the diaper for an initial wipe.
When possible, we use an unsoiled part of the old diaper to do a first pass on wiping, and save the real wipes for the rest of the clean up.
For example, if the front part of the diaper is poop-free, we’ll use that part to wipe front to back as we pull the dirty diaper away. Then we’ll go back and do a more detailed clean with a wipe.
- Grab a square of toilet paper for small spots.
It is fairly often that we get our baby nearly clean, but can’t quite finish the job with the last wipe. Before you grab a whole extra wipe for tiny detail work, try a square of toilet paper first.
A square of toilet paper uses less material than a wipe and is cheaper.
Alternatively, you could use a square of toilet paper for a first pass through. Some poop requires more elbow grease to get off, so the stronger wipe may be more appropriate for the detail work at the end.
- Try a rinse in the sink.
This tip may work better for tinier babies. Skip wiping and use the sink as a baby bidet instead.
Our pediatrician also mentioned this as an option for a gentler clean when dealing with a rash.
- Opt for reusable cloth wipes.
Cloth wipes are an easy option if you want to go fully reusable.
Some people get fancy with their cloth wipes, sewing their own or buying specifically designed cloth wipes. But pretty much any old fabric will do you. You can use wash clothes, or cut up an old shirt or blanket.
You can make a DIY cleaning solution for the wipes but plain water works just fine. You can store a few pre-wet in a container, though don’t store a lot since they could get musty.
Easier even, keep a water bottle on hand to wet wipes as needed. This would be a good second life for the hospital peri bottle!
- Consider part-time cloth wipes.
Cloth wipes don’t have to be an all or nothing endeavor. You could mix them in sometimes depending on the situation.
For example, if you still want to wipe pee diapers, cloth wipes could be a good option. You can pop a pee-only wipe straight into the washing machine so it is easy clean up.
Picturing yourself spending a lot of time rinsing out poop from cloth wipes? For easier clean-up, consider using a regular disposable wipe to get the majority of the poop off first.
Then you could use a cloth wipe in place of your last wipe to do the detail work. This would be much easier to rinse or could even be thrown directly into the laundry if its not too soiled.
- Revive dried out wipes.
Don’t toss wipes that have dried out. A little rinse under the sink or a spray of a water bottle and they’re as good as new
- Start potty training or elimination communication.
If developmentally appropriate for your baby, you could start trying to potty train. Each successful bathroom trip is another wipe and diaper saved.
Not quite ready to potty train but interested in cutting down on diaper changes? Perhaps part-time elimination communication is right for you.
If your baby has a predictable schedule or clear cues, you could put them over a toilet sometimes, sparing yourself from having to deal with another dirty diaper in that moment.
Much like cloth wipes, this doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach.
Let me know if I missed any tips, and please pass this along to another parent who may need to stretch their baby wipe stash right now.