Cloth Wipes for Diapering

Of all the baby care products which I believe commonly give the most toxic exposure to babies, disposable wipes top the list (it’s a close contest with lotion/chemical sunscreen).

I had carefully chosen every natural shampoo, soap, and lotion for my first two babies. So imagine my horror when my third baby was 6 months old and I finally turned over the Huggies wipes to read the ingredients. I discovered a list of chemicals I wasn’t comfortable with, including methylparaben, which I knew to be highly associated with breast cancer. And, whereas I only bathed my babies once or twice a week (thereby minimal exposure to baby shampoo), I wiped this concoction on their genitals several times a day! (Note: don’t be fooled by the “Natural Care” line from Huggies . . . the addition of Aloe and Vitamin E hardly makes up for the all the chemicals still in them.)

I looked into “natural” wipes, and these are an OK option if you can afford the price. I still buy Earth’s Best wipes or Seventh Generation wipes from for keeping in the diaper bag.  But I felt that these would be too costly for daily use, and on the raving recommendation from a friend, I plunged into cloth wipes.

Actually, I plunged into cloth diapering, but that is the subject for another post. Even with a paper diaper, cloth wipes are a huge step away from chemicals for your baby. And it’s really simple.

  1. You’ll need to obtain the wipes themselves. I purchased organic cotton flannel wipes, which are just a piece of flannel with the edges serged. A friend made nearly the same thing by zig-zagging inside a pinking-sheared edge, cut from an old receiving blanket. That is far more economical than the $1 each which I paid. I have 12 of these, and they work better than any disposable wipe I’ve tried, including Huggies with their thick texture. I also have some polyester terry “baby washcloths” in my stash . . . I don’t think they work quite as well, but I already had them, so they are a fall back. My latest addition has been Kissaluvs Terry Wipes, which are amazing for messy diapers. The thick cotton terry loop really does clean up really, really well. I have 6 of these. The number you need on hand will depend on how many you use per change, and how often you do laundry. With roughly 24, and doing laundry every 2-3 days, I’ve never run out.
  2. You’ll need a way to wet the wipe. When I first started with cloth wipes, I tried loading them into the old Huggies tub, and spraying them down with my wipe solution. However, they tended to get sour in the bottom of the container before I could use them. Now I keep the dry wipes in a stack at the changing table, and either wet one in the sink with warm water, or squirt one in my hand with my wipes solution. (I’ve also heard of spraying the bum directly.)
    I make my solution in a squirt-top bottle (most moms will have that peri-bottle that came home with them from the hospital) with water and lemon witch hazel. I fill the bottle nearly full with water, then squirt a little witch hazel in the top, shake, and the whole thing is a smell-great cleansing solution. (Note: witch hazel feels great on healthy skin, but if your baby develops a rash/broken skin it could sting; in this case, go to something more mild, like natural baby wash/shampoo in the water, or just plain water.)
  3. Since you aren’t disposing of these wipes, you’ll need to launder them. If you plan to use cloth diapers, process them right along with them. If you are using paper diapers, then rinse poopy wipes out in a utility sink before adding them into the load with underwear. To keep things sanitary, I wash our family’s underwear separate from kitchen towels and napkins. The underwear load (which would include your wipes, and any other baby clothes which have succumbed to a wet-through or blow-out) should have an initial wash cycle in cold, with half the detergent amount. This is to wash out the fluids/solids still on the fabric. Then a full wash cycle in the hottest water your machine will set for, with half the amount of detergent, and a scoop of oxygen bleach for sanitation. Line dry in anti-bacterial sunshine, or in the dryer on hot.

Body Lotion: Quench without Consequenses

Living in the Pacific Northwest, a humid climate, I don’t use hand and body lotion year round. But the dead of winter, when the frozen temps outside-and the forced air inside-suck all the moisture out of the air, is an exception. If I don’t use hand lotion, my hands begin to look decades older than the rest of me.

You too? Then lather up, but choose wisely. Many lotions are made of a petroleum base, and may be preserved with parabens. Not only will these lotions not really help your skin (although they may feel good initially), they may be toxic for your whole body. Sounds scary, but I’m not making this up, or trying to be dramatic. You can read more about the “scary stuff” at the end of this article.

What to look for:

  • A lotion with a vegetable oil base. Good oils might be coconut, Kukui nut, avocado, palm, Macadamia Nut, apricot, sunflower, Shea butter, or olive oil. Since these literally could be “food” for your body, your skin will recognize it for the building and healing nourishment it needs. Castor oil, Aloe Vera, and vegetable glycerine are also good for the skin and plant based.
  • If your skin is very dry, look for a lotion without water. Although you’d think that thirsty skin needs water, it’s actually the other way around. Water evaporates off your skin, leaving less moisture and continuing the wet/dry/chapped cycle. Plus, it’s really just a filler you don’t need to pay for.
  • Look for a statement on the bottle that there are No Parabens. Even if the list of ingredients doesn’t state them, they may be in there if they are less than half a percent. It’s best when the bottle states clearly that they haven’t been added.
  • Not many of us in the Northwest are concerned about sun burns in winter, but if you live in a place where you get sun exposure year round . . . well lucky you! 🙂 And you’re probably looking for a lotion with a low SPF just to have some light overall sun protection. So look for the Active Ingredient of Titanium Oxide or Zinc Oxide; both reflective mineral sunscreens that are non-toxic and even recommended for babies.

If you are looking for a lotion with light SPF, try this Baby Mineral Sunscreen from Avalon Organics, this Chemical Free SPF18 Sunscreen from Alba Botanica, this Organic Age Reversal Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30 from Desert Essence, or this Hand and Body Lotion, SPF 15 from Jason.

The “Scary Stuff”

Petroleum base (may be called petrolatum or mineral oil). They are made from crude oil, and have the following cautions in the Cosmetics Safety Database: Cancer, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Other moderate concerns for this ingredient:
Persistence and bioaccumulation, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Occupational hazards. Since the things we rub onto our skin are absorbed into our bodies, these seem like a bad idea for a lotion base.

Also, they coat the skin to not allow for water evaporation (this may initially help with dry skin) both don’t truly moisturize and repair skin from the inside out.


Often found near the end of the ingredient list, this “family” of preservatives (Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, Paraben, etc.) have received more attention (and demand from consumers that they be pulled from products) after the 2004 Scientific Study which showed parabens to be found concentrated in breast cancer tumors. Of course, this study doesn’t prove that parabens cause breast cancer and there is a lot of debate; I read a reveiw by a different doctor who thought it was irrelevant because even though parabens can mimic estrogen in the body, the amount of “estrogen” giving off from the parabens is a drop in the bucket compared with all the other estrogen in the woman’s body. (I couldn’t help but think that this guy missed the point entirely; that toxicity of foreign chemicals could be implicated in cancer growth, not just the amounts or balance of hormones in the body.)

At any rate, I’m not going to wait 25 years for the scientific community to do all their studies; parabens don’t have a place in my body-care regime, or that of my family.

Chemical Sunscreens

Sunscreen is good for you (Titanium oxide and Zinc oxide, or just a hat), but many chemical sunscreens aren’t. This article titled The Chemical Sunscreen Health Disaster is a real eye opener to the dangers of chemical sunscreens. The three main concerns are: 1. They are powerful free radical generators 2. They often have strong estrogenic activity 3. They are synthetic chemicals that are alien to the human body and accumulate in body fat stores.

Chemical Sunscreens Include:

Benzophenones (dixoybenzone, oxybenzone)

PABA and PABA esters (ethyl dihydroxy propyl PAB,  glyceryl PABA, p-aminobenzoic acid, padimate-O or octyl dimethyl PABA)

Cinnamates (cinoxate, ethylhexyl p-methoxycinnamate, octocrylene, octyl methoxycinnamate)

Salicylates (ethylhexyl salicylate, homosalate, octyl salicylate)

Digalloyl trioleate

Menthyl anthranilate

Avobenzone [butyl-methyoxydibenzoylmethane; Parsol 1789] – This is the only chemical sunscreen currently allowed by the European Community. However, its safety is still questionable since it easily penetrates the skin and is a strong free radical generator.