Cloth Diapers 101

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Have you ever thought of trying cloth diapers? You can save a lot of money and it can be more economically friendly, but getting started can be a bit overwhelming. I’ll help you get started.

You Will Need:

  • 8-24 Cloth Diapers. How often do you want to wash diapers? Eight will get an older baby through the day if want to wash daily. I’m not too keen on that idea, so I bought 24 and it works well doing laundry twice a week (we use disposables on Sunday and at night). A younger baby would need 30-36 to go for three days. A stash of diapers will cost you anywhere from $50-400, depending on what style and brand you go with. It feels like a lot, but remember that you’ll be spending $25-100 PER MONTH on disposables. I’ve spent a grand total of $200 on my cloth diapers and saved at least $400 in the process (it could have been more if bought more expensive disposables). We’re going to re-use the diapers on any siblings that come along, so our savings are compounded. You can save even more by getting your cloth diapers used (Just wash well first. If they have stains, sun bleach them- wash, then lay out to dry in the sun). I have found that Cotton Babies has consistently low prices and runs frequent sales.
  • Cloth Diaper-Safe Soap. Since cloth diapers often have natural fibers and are on baby’s skin for a long time, it is important to use a good soap, like my homemade laundry soap. You can also buy fragrance- and dye- free detergent like Seventh Generation and All Free & Clear if you’d rather not make it. There are even detergents specifically made for cloth diapers, that you can find where you buy your cloth diapers.
  • 10-40 Cloth Wipes. If you’re doing cloth diapers, you may as well do cloth wipes. You can certainly buy them, or you can do what I did and cut up flannel. You can edge the fabric with a sewing machine, but honestly I didn’t and after almost 2 years, they have barely frayed. One note though- flannel works well but don’t use cotton, I tried cutting up an old T-shirt and the ends tend to roll up, making it not terribly helpful as a wipe (good for cleaning up little spills and toothpaste dribble, though).
  • Spray Bottle. Since cloth wipes aren’t pre-moistened, you’ll want a spray bottle handy. I use water only, but you can add a very small amount of witch hazel (1tsp) or rosemary essential oil (1-2 drops) to help clean & disinfect. A drop or two of lavender essential oil will help soothe diaper rash. A friend of mine swears by a mix of water, a little baby wash, olive oil, witch hazel and tea tree essential oil.
  • Diaper Rash Cream. I’m not sure if any baby has ever gone through diapering and never gotten a rash. Diaper rash cream is a must. With cloth, there are special considerations. Natural Rash cream is best, so as to not strip the fibers of their absorbency. The absolute best diaper rash cream we’ve used is coconut oil. Boudreaux’s Butt Paste, Natural (the green tube) also works well. It does stain the diapers sometimes (which can be fixed with sun bleaching, if you care. I don’t so I just let it be stained.) but they are still absorbent.
  • Dirty Diaper Receptacle & Liners. You’re going to need to put those dirty diapers somewhere. For cloth diapers, you’ll want a “wet bag” (a large bag that is waterproof on the inside). Actually, two- so you always have one even when you do laundry. You can put the bag in a diaper pail or even a lidded trash can to cut down on smell, or you can be super classy like me and just hang it on the wall/door knob or set it on the changing table. Closing the bag and/or adding baking soda helps with the smell.

Styles & Brands

There are several styles of cloth diapers. The three most common are:

  • Shells & Inserts. While some people do still use a cloth diaper and pins, it’s much easier to use a waterproof shells and insert the cloth diaper- AKA prefold- (folded in half or thirds) inside. This is the cheapest way I’ve found to cloth diaper. Econobum (from Cotton Babies) will let you get all the diapers you need for $50-100, depending on how often you want to wash. Plus they are super easy to use! When you change a diaper, you take out the insert and wipe the shell if it’s not too dirty (replace it if it is), then put a new insert in. This is how we got started; we had to switch to pockets for Man Cub’s sensitive skin.
  • All-in-Ones. These are the easiest (and most expensive) option. In this option, the waterproof shell and absorbent fabric are stitched together. You just fold over the flaps of absorbent fabric and you’re good to go. Everything stays together in the wash. I tried this and actually preferred the pockets because they seemed to fit better (Man Cub is quite stocky).
  • Pockets. The diapers in the image above are pocket diapers. Pocket diapers have a waterproof shell on one side and cloth that wicks away moisture on the other. You stuff the inside (or pocket) with absorbent cloth liner(s). We use Bumgenius 5.0 Pocket style diapers & love them- they are particularly good for sensitive skin.

A Note about Closures: There are three ways to close a diaper: snaps, hook & loop, and pins/clips. Snaps are pretty self-explanatory. Many brands have a number of snaps so you can adjust the fit. Hook and loop (AKA velcro) offer a snug fit, but have to be washed in a certain way so that they don’t catch on other fabrics. Pins & clips (like Snappi) are used if you use a prefold with or without a cover. We went with pockets with snaps for ease and because Man Cub figured out velcro pretty early on.

I recommend trying one of each kind/brand you’re interested in (see if you can get it used or borrow) for a while until you find what you like, then stock up! I have spent a LOT of time trying to find the cheapest way to get cloth diapers and I’ve found that Cotton Babies has consistently low prices and runs frequent sales. As I mentioned above, I recommend Econobum and Bumgenius. Want to try more brands? In my very official research (I asked other moms on Facebook), my friends also recommended Growvia, Kawaii, and Little Nickis.

 

Care

This is the routine I use for washing diapers every 3-4 days:

  • Wrinkle Free/Permanent Press cycle: Quick wash, cold/cold, extra rinse, with 1 scoop of detergent.
  • Wrinkle Free/Permanent Press cycle: Heavy wash, hot/cold, extra rinse, with 1 scoop of detergent.
  • Line dry shells/pockets and machine dry inserts on high for 1 hour.

That’ts it. It’s pretty simple! Don’t want to wash twice a week?

  • If you wash daily, you only need to do one wash: Wrinkle Free/Permanent Press cycle: Heavy wash, hot/cold, extra rinse, with 1 scoop of detergent.
  • If you wash only once/week, follow the above routine but add about 1/2 cup baking soda to the second wash to kill the smell.
  • For hard water, you can use a hard water detergent or soap nuts (thanks to The Cloth Diaper Report for the info, article here)

FAQs

  • Q: What about the poop? A: Okay, I may be alone in this, but poop really doesn’t gross me out. Maybe it’s from mucking out barns (I’m a country girl), but it’s just never been a big deal to me. I have gotten questions on what I do with the poop with cloth diapers, though. You do have to flush the poop once it’s solid or substantial. The great news is once the poop is really solid it will just fall off the diaper into the toilet. There are also all kinds of accessories you can get to help with poop if you’re the squeamish type. There are flushable cloths that you lay on top of the diaper and pull off to flush. I had some of them but honestly most of them were wasted because I had a hard time estimating when he would poop (so most of them just got peed on). You can also use a flushable wipe to pick up the poop and toss it in the toilet. You can also get a diaper sprayer. It looks like a small hose that attaches to your toilet. You use it to spray poop off the diaper, I use the “Dunk & Swish” method, which works quite well for us (there’s no way I can describe it succinctly so just go watch the video; thanks). 
  • Q: What about night? Can you make them more absorbent? A: You can double up on inserts or use a more absorbent material, like wool. Ultimately, we were already doubling up during the day so we just went with a disposable overnight diaper. There are no awards for going 100% cloth, and while it was my original goal, that was something I had to let go of pretty early on.
  • Q: How do sizes work? A: Newborn diapers are not only smaller, they also have a cut out for the umbilical cord. We got some Rumparoos in a newborn size but they were not absorbent enough for us, and leaked, so we just went with disposables until Man Cub’s cord fell off. After you get past the newborn stage, you can choose to do sizes or not. Some diapers (like Bumgenius 5.0 [pocket] and Elemental [all-in-one], and Econobum [liner & insert] are One-Size, meaning they adjust from about 8-30 pounds. They are great because you only have to buy one set of diapers. Other brands (Like Flip & Fuzzibunz), come in 2 or 3 sizes. Theoretically, they would fit better, but honestly I never had a problem with fit in the Bumgenius because they are so adjustable.

One last note:

Know when to quit. Man Cub recently had two huge growth spurts, and apparently his bladder was a lot of that growth. The cloth diapers just can’t hold up to him anymore without adding extra padding (which would make it nearly impossible to get his pants on). While usually you can cloth diaper all the way to potty training, Man Cub is a big boy and I just needed to stop. Regardless of why you cloth diaper, know that it’s okay to take a break or even stop if it’s too much for you. That’s parenting, isn’t it? Very little we do or figure out is permanent. We have to do the dishes daily and the laundry certainly feels daily even if it isn’t quite. You have to teach your toddler not to chew furniture every day (maybe that’s just me). Anyway, I loved our cloth diaper journey and now I’m loving disposables. Go with the flow, mama, and don’t beat yourself up if your cloth diaper plans don’t pan out exactly as you thought.

What is your experience with cloth diapers? Do you have any questions to ask?

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