Smartipants: Earth-friendly diapers for baby's booty on a budget

As a young Army wife and mother with a second baby on the way, Jessica Burman remembers looking for coins in the couch cushions because, "With 25-more cents, I could go to WalMart and buy diapers," she said.

As every family knows, it's a cost that adds up. The Real Diaper Association calculates that buying 6,000 disposable diapers (averaging .25 cents per diaper) for one child over a two-year period comes to a whopping $1,500. Burman estimates the figure is closer to $3,000 per child over a three-year period. That's a lot of searching around in the couch. Not to mention the fact that 92% of all disposable diapers used in the U.S. (27.4 billion per year) wind up in our landfills. It makes me wonder where that other 8% goes, but I digress.

Burman believed there had to be a better, cheaper way. She searched, "raising kids on a budget" online and discovered message boards discussing cloth diapers. In an interview with WalletPop, Burman admitted the old-fashioned idea wasn't immediately appealing. However, there are only so many cushions to overturn, "I thought, we can do anything we need to do, right?," said Burman. "We can do this."

"People were making their own diapers," said Burman of her research more than a decade ago, "using velcro on the sides to make them look more like the disposable kind" and layering a waterproof diaper cover over the top. "But it was not good enough," said Burman who found the velcro rough and irritating against baby's skin, and the diaper covers "crunchy."

"For heaven's sake, we use the Internet ... we've sent people into space," she said voicing exasperation over the lack of diaper development. "There's got to be an easier way." And a diaper designer was born.

Her mission: "How do I get the least expensive, easiest to use solution?"

More than 10 years, four kids, a previous diaper business, and dozens of designs later, Burman finally delivered. Smartipants, a unique pocket-style cloth diaper made of ultra soft, performance fabric that wicks away moisture, stands up to washing and is adjustable to fit newborns to age three.

"I came up with the one size design," said Burman, "because it's not a savings if you have to buy five different sizes." Priced online at $39.95 for a pack of three, Smartipants includes an adjustable diaper and removable insert that does not have to be taken out before washing. "Nobody likes pulling out the diaper insert when they're gross," said Burman who experimented by, "washing a lot of diapers" before achieving her "Aha!" design moment.

Burman also hoped to make earth-friendly choices more affordable. "I wanted to make it possible to make environmental family decisions on a budget," she explains, "because when push comes to shove, money is going to win out. If you don't have it, you don't have it."

Burman says buying 24 Smartipants totalling $320 should be all a baby needs from birth to potty training. After that, they are passed down to the next sibling, zeroing out the costs of diapering baby number two, three, four ...

All in all, it's a tall order for an itty-bitty baby product. WalletPop wondered if Smartipants could really live up to the hype. We brought in baby extrordinaire and discerning diaper afficiando, Sir Pee-A-lot, AKA, my darling neighbor Zander and his diaper savvy, skeptical mom, Audrey Smith.

When asked if she and Zander would be willing to test drive Smartipants for a few days, she raised one eyebrow and gave me a look that said, "I've-got-three-children,I-like-my-system,-I-am-the-girl-scout-leader-family-chauffeur-tutor-activities-director-chief-cook-and-bottlewasher-I'm-doing-a-renovation-and-you-want-me-to-do-what?" Ummm, yeah. Would you mind ..."I'll do the washing," I offered weakly.

"Well, I'll try them," said Smith, without a whole lot of enthusiasm, "but I've been using cloth diapers for years." Currently diapering baby number three using a diaper service at $80 a month, this mom is adamant that cloth diapers are more gentle on the skin, reduce diaper rash, and are easier on the environment. She didn't take me up on my laundry services, and I handed over three Smartipants diapers for the experiment.

Two weeks later, I checked in with Smith and Sir Pee-A-Lot. "We're still using them," reported Smith, "and I don't think we're going to stop." The surprise was evident in her voice, "they are very absorbent," she said, "and they really do wick away moisture."

Smith said Zander often has to be changed once an hour ( hence his nick name), however, despite his productivity the exterior and interior of Smartipants stayed dry. "Then, when you open it up, the pad would be soaked."

Smith wondered how the diapers would hold up overnight, the ultimate test. Usually, the family relies on a disposable, overnight diaper to avoid 2 a.m. changing sessions but the absorbency had been so good Smith wanted to give them a try. Unfortunately, even Smartipants were no match for Zander, and Smith changed him back to a disposable around 3 a.m.

One of Smith's favorite features was the feel of the diaper fabric. "The wraps are soft ... everything is so soft ... much softer than any other diaper cover I've ever used." In fact, she says it's also one of the best looking diapers she's ever used. "When I saw them I was impressed with the quality, and the colors were beautiful," said Smith, "they're cute enough the baby could wear just a little t-shirt and a Smartipant." She describes other diaper covers as ranging from plastic-y to vulgar.

Smith also praised the adjustable snap design and said her husband was amazed that the diapers really could go from a small size to a larger one. "The snaps are nice because they are easy to use, very sturdy and industrial," she said, "but not metal ...and not Velcro, which "catches on stuff in the dryer." Smith found the adjustable front was also helpful in positioning the absorbent pad specifically for the needs of a boy.

As for dealing with "number two," Smith reported the wicking action of the fabric again performed with flying colors. She said solid waste was easily removed from the diaper without leaving much residue behind. Smith cautioned, however, the results would probably be different for a newborn. "I don't know how that would work out," she said, "I might have used a cloth diaper inside for the loose stool."

Bottom line: "I was really impressed with the design," said Smith, "if I had known about them earlier I would have bought 20 of them."

More than a thousand friends on the Smartipants facebook page agree. Ameya Warde Schrimpf wrote, " I don't know if it's just our washer or what, but our SmartiPants themselves come out of the WASHER dry! Maybe a tiny bit moist, but we don't even dry them. Only the inserts get dried, but they could easily be hung up ... SmartiPants is what I recommend to people without washers/dryers."

As for Burman, necessity truly was the mother of this invention. "I didn't know how I was going to afford to buy diapers," said the Smartipants creator, "I didn't know having children would inspire me to be anything other than a mom ... but now, this feels like a mission to me. Who knew, of all the things I would be an expert in, it's diapers."

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