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Our experience with cloth diapering

Today’s topic is inspired by a blog reader that I know through my friend Elaina. Jenny emailed me a few weeks ago with this question:

Hi there!  How’s it going up in the PNW?  It’s been raining more here than usual, feels like real weather in LA and I love it!

I thought you would be the best person to ask about cloth diapers since you are the only other brave soul to use them I know of.  People I work with are so negative and say things like “well that won’t last long,” or “it’s not realistic.”  I figure it wasn’t for them but for us I think it will work out fine.  I added gift cards to the site GroVia to my registry because I had read good things about them on a couple blogs and they have a “hybrid” system we thought about starting with since Brian isn’t as keen on cloth diaper washing right now.  I thought we could start with those and move toward real cloth diapers after he’s more comfortable using them.  Have you tried these hybrids?  Any recommendations or advice with this?  I would appreciate any advice you have. 
I need to set three ground rules before starting this post, because it will be long. The three things I am so sick of hearing and will debunk are the following:
1) Cloth diapers? Gross, I don’t want to touch poop!
2) Cloth diapers? Gross. That will never last. Good luck (eyeroll and douchey smirk).
3) Cloth diapers? Gross. They are such a waste of water.
Even after having two kids in cloth diapers over the last (almost) eight years, I still hear those things. Nope, it will never last. You’re right. That’s why I am still totally doing it.

Let’s quickly talk diaper basics. I don’t claim to be a cloth diapering expert, but again, this isn’t my first fluffy butt rodeo and I think we have it down pretty well at this point. There are so many kinds of cloth diapers, and I’m sure tons more have been added since I did all the research before Jack was born. At the core of diapering “systems” you have:

These are the flat rectangle pieces of absorbent cloth that most people think about when they hear “cloth diapers”. They are the ones we wore as kids with safety pins and rubber pants. They haven’t changed that much in the years since I was doing some business in my own diaper, but the securing tabs are much better and you no longer need safety pins. For the covers, you can simply use a water resistant cover that looks basically like a diaper. You put the prefold on the kiddo, secure it with some tabs, and then put a cover over that.
Prefolds were not for me, but they were a super cheap investment to find out that I didn’t like them. And with Jack’s GERD, we used them all day long for months on end as burp rags. I purchased Jack’s through Green Mountain Diapers, and they have held up well after all these years. Prefolds are the most economical option out there, and some people have great success with them.
Fitted Diapers
Fitted diapers look like a disposable diaper in that they have the securing tabs incorporated in to the diaper itself. It is an absorbent piece of material, but they are not water proof. You still need to put a cover over them. We used fitted diapers at the newborn stage, and they in turn have been worn by about six other babies in our lives over the years. We have lost one in all that time due to the condition it was returned to us. For covers, we used Thirsties and had good success.
We also had some small and medium fitted diapers that were great to supplement our other pocket diapers (see below under pocket diapers) when the boys were still very little and by the end of the day we couldn’t figure out how we changed 13 diapers in 12 hours.
Fitted diapers usually aren’t that expensive, but they generally come in xs, small, medium, and large. That means once your child has grown out of one size, you need more diapers to fit your needs. Some fitteds have sizing that grows with your child.
Pocket Diapers
Pocket diapers seem to be the most popular type of cloth diapers used today. You have a water resistant cover with a soft piece of thin fleece on the inside. You stuff an absorbent insert (usually microfiber) in-between the cover and fleece. Moisture is wicked away from the baby’s skin and “stored” in the insert. One of the benefits of pocket diapers is that you can stuff in multiple inserts, thus making them more absorbent as needed.
The options for securing pocket diapers are either a velcro system, or snaps. Velcro tends to wear out and needs to be replaced after a few years. They also get linty over time. I have always preferred snaps, but Troy is a velcro fan all the way.
Most pocket diapers will fit a baby from about 10 pounds and above. They have snaps down the front that allow you to adjust the size of the diaper as your baby grows and should last you through potty training.
Popular pocket diapers are Blueberry, Bum Genius, and I’m loving Alva Baby after they were recommended by a few blog readers on Facebook.
All-in-Ones (AIO)
AIO diapers are when the inserts are basically attached to a water resistant cover. You don’t need to remove the inserts for washing or stuff them after they’ve been cleaned. We have a few Bum Genius AIO from Jack, and they’ve held up well. I feel like the rise on them (how far they come up in the front) isn’t as high as other diapers, but they work fine. They are the thinnest fitting diaper we have, so they’re good when Bennett wants to feel slim and trim. 🙂 They make great diapers for the diaper bag because you don’t need to remove the insert before putting them in wet bag (more about wet bags below).
The reason I didn’t use more AIO diapers for our boys is that (at least back when I purchased them), they were more expensive than pocket diapers…and they take forever to dry. Forever. How long? F-O-R-E-V-E-R.
Like pocket diapers, most AIO diapers have adjustable snaps down the front to grow with your child.
Hybrid diapers
These I know the absolute least about. Poor Jenny, those are what she wanted to know about. From what I understand, they have a reusable cover, but either a flushable liner or a liner you throw away. There are many different systems out there, and I have heard mixed results, but for everyone who loves a product, there is always someone who doesn’t. It may be the best diaper for you!
As someone who has used cloth for years now, I always laugh when someone says “I would never use cloth because touching poop is gross”. Yes, yes it is. That’s why I don’t do it. Here’s the secret for you: the vast majority of people who use paper diapers touch waaaaaaaaay more poop than cloth diapering parents. Why? The blowout factor. I remember horror stories from friends of them having to cut off clothing because of blowouts. Outfits, car seats, and high chairs totally destroyed, and the clean up causing lasting trauma for the parent. In the two years we used cloth on Jack, we had two blowouts. Two. TWO. Bennett has had a few more, but it is almost always user error and not the failure of the diaper. When we do any air travel, we use paper diapers. When we went to LA last May, and from the time we left the house until we got on the plane, Bennett had three clothing changes due to blowouts in the paper diapers. I touched more gross baby stuff in the Sea-Tac airport due to those diapers, than I ever had in cloth. “But Sarah,” you say, “what about getting the stuff off the cloth diaper”? Well, friend, I’m not using my hand to clean that diaper. 🙂
That brings us to the laundry factor for cloth. And for many people, this is where it may not make sense to use cloth diapers. If you have shared coin-operated laundry, it may be too inconvenient and expensive to get those suckers clean. For every person out there who uses cloth, they have a favorite wash system and detergent. When Jack was a baby, we were in an apartment with our own regular top loading washer and dryer. Back then I tried tons of different kinds of detergent and fell in love with Rockin Green. It was great and worked awesome for us.
Fast forward to Bennett’s arrival, we have an HE top loader, and I started having stink issues with our diapers. The lack of extra water in the cycles meant things weren’t getting rinsed as well. I tried other detergents out there, and even took the advice of a popular cloth diapering blogger and started using Tide. I still had the stink issues, and my eyes burned any time we were doing laundry. I finally found Dropps and have been so happy every since.
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of the laundry cycles. First, when a baby is only consuming breast milk or formula, their poop is water soluble and does not need to be rinsed. Some people say you should rinse formula diapers, but really I think it’s fine. We have a basic motion activated $30 stainless steel garbage can from Costco as our diaper pail. You want something that is hands-free, so even a simple step pail is fine too. You put a large wetbag in the pail to store the dirty diapers. The wet bag will get washed with the diapers, so it is best to get two. How often you wash will depend on how many diapers you have, and how full your pail gets. With about 32 diapers, we wash every two to three days.
When babies start to eat solid foods, their poop changes. It gets grosser. Not that it was ever really pleasant, to begin with. Everyone has their own system of cleaning that up, but we use a toilet sprayer that has lasted us eight years and still works like a champ. It is simple to hook up, and takes clean water from your toilet tank and lets you spray the dirty diaper off in the bowl. We have a little plastic pail we use to transfer the cleaned diaper from the bathroom to the diaper pail. My friend had a shower hose that was long enough to reach from her shower to her toilet and she used that for her cloth diapers. Basically, whatever works for you. I am telling you though, getting a sprayer is worth it!
We also use flushable liners on top of the microfleece in Bennett’s diapers. They do say they are septic safe (we’re on sewer) but use at your own discretion of course. With these liners, 95% of the time we’re able to just throw the liner and the waste in the toilet and don’t even need to spray the diaper clean. On diapers that are “pee only”, I put the liner in the diaper pail and they go through the laundry just fine. I’ve found that I can reuse them about three times before they start to be too shredded to work. We’ve only used two rolls in seven months, making them an economical purchase. If you have velcro closures on your diapers, they will stick to them, but it is not a huge deal.
When I launder the diapers, we start with a cold rinse. It is a short cycle that just does its best to get the diapers rinsed and ready for a deep clean. The next cycle for me is the wash cycle. There are a lot of disagreements in the cloth community if the wash cycle should be hot or warm, but I do hot and my diapers are fine. I use the “Whitest Whites” mode on my washer because that produces the hottest water. You could just do a normal wash set to hot as well. This cycle is when you would use the detergent. If using normal (i.e., non-cloth diapering specific detergent), you would want to use half of the normal amount to avoid soap build up on your diapers. Build up can cause leaking and stinking issues over time. After the wash cycle, you would do another cold rinse to make sure all the extra bubbles are gone from the diaps.
From time to time, you will want to strip the diapers to remove any build up, lingering odors, or stains. There are many methods on how to do that, and I’ve tried most of them. What works best for me is to do the first two cycles in our routine – cold rinse then hot wash – and then use Mighty Bubbles in a soak. I’ve never had great results soaking them in our washer because our washer will only allow for a two-hour soak. Instead, I take the clean diaper inserts and throw them in the bathtub with two Mighty Bubble pods, and the hottest water I can muster. I make sure all the inserts are submerged, and I let them sit there for about six hours, agitating them around occasionally. Then a cold rinse, and they’re like brand new.
And yes, that seems like a lot of laundry, a lot of work, and a lot of water being used. I can tell you we were always able to keep up with it, even when I was working/commuting 40-60 hours a week with Jack. Once you get a routine down, it’s not that much work. As to the water, well, water from your washing machine is a renewable resource. It’s cleaned and returned to the water cycle in most jurisdictions. Water and fuel from the disposable manufacturing processes far exceed the impact of cloth. This article has some interesting facts if you are curious. Down and dirty, disposable diapers use “20 times more raw materials, two times more water and three times more energy to make than cloth diapers”.
Most diaper brands do not recommend you dry diaper covers on hot. During the winter, I hang all my diapers and covers inside to dry overnight and then put the inserts in the dryer for about 10 minutes in the morning to fluff them up. During the summer, they go out on the clothesline and a nice sunny day with a breeze, and they’re done in a few hours.
With cloth, you will find that you can’t use most diaper creams without a barrier between the baby’s skin and the diaper. Creams and lotions can cause wicking and leaking and nobody likes a leaky diaper. You can simply put a small piece of cloth or even toilet paper in the diaper to protect it if you need to use a cream. With both boys, we have never had diaper rash (crosses self), and I attribute that to our cloth usage.
Wipes – you can use whatever you want! My thinking was since we were already doing diaper laundry, I didn’t want to also have a little garbage can just for wipes in the boy’s room. So, with Jack, I invested in eight of those little packets of Circo washcloths from Target. I think they’re like $4 for six washcloths. You can make your own (I didn’t know how to sew when until Jack was around two or three), buy them, or just use disposable. We use disposable in the diaper bag. I can tell you for a gross diaper when we’re out and about, it will take about five disposable wipes. At home, it would be maybe two cloth ones.
For wipe solution, we use Baby Bits mixed with water in a spray bottle. One bag will last you until potty training. You can also use a few drops of baby mild body wash as well. I’ve seen people using essential oils in DIY wipe solution, but I would not do that. Babies do not need strong oils on their skin, and some, like lavender, are not good for boys. Just play it safe and use a baby wash.
Even if you are not interested remotely in cloth, Baby Bits or a gentle homemade wipe solution can be great for your kiddo. My friend’s daughter had horrible diaper rash, so I sent her a few Baby Bits through the mail. We giggled because they kind of look illegal and assumed the post office would send someone to investigate us. Shut up. We were really tired and that was exciting at the time. Anyway, she used a spray bottle with the Baby Bits, and paper towels for wipes and her kiddo’s diaper rash went away within a few days. She was a long-term convert.
If you choose to use cloth while out of the house, it would be good to invest in two to three small zippered wet bags. Even if you never cloth diaper your kids, having a wet bag in your diaper bag is invaluable for anything that gets wet or gross. They are worth their weight in gold.
Night-time can be the hardest time to use cloth. We had no problem with using cloth with Jack at night, but Bennett has proven more tricky. For now, we have just thrown up our hands and use one disposable diaper per night until I can find a better solution. Or until the little punk ass can sleep 12 hours without needing to nurse. Whichever comes first. Dear god let it be sleeping through the night.
If your kiddo is in daycare, you’ll want to make sure they will allow cloth before investing in diapers. Some facilities won’t allow cloth, but I find it is more out of them not knowing how far cloth has come. Most people are shocked when you show them a pocket diaper because they were picturing having to wrestle your kid to diaper them, put a safety pin through the diaper, and slap on some rubber pants. Simply educating many people can go a long way to them being accepted at certain facilities. You can still do part-time cloth at home even if your daycare doesn’t allow them.
Unless you become obsessed with having the cutest and latest cloth diapers (it is so tempting, believe me), cloth diapering can be very economical. A typical set of about 24 pocket diapers will run you under $300 depending on the brand. Accessories (wet bag, cloth wipes, etc.) might be around $100-150. So, do it cheaply and you’re looking at under $500. The average cost to use paper diapers from birth to potty training is around $1,500 per kid. When you consider the upfront investment costs of cloth, also keep in mind the savings if you use them for more than one kid.
A cloth diaper without the insert becomes a pool approved swim diaper. You can also use the covers over underwear when out and about during potty training.
Well, friends, I think that is about all I can say about cloth. They have worked for us over the years, and I’m a huge advocate for them. But at the same time, I realize they may not be for everyone. As to my second point at the top of this post (“Cloth diapers? Gross. That will never last. Good luck (eye roll and douchey smirk)), I will simply say this – you never know what will work for you until you try it. I find in most cases when people try to talk you out of something you are interested in, it is because a) they are scared of the idea, b) they have tried it themselves and weren’t successful so they think no one can succeed, or c) someone took a pee in their Cheerios that morning. So to Jenny and all the other people who want to try cloth, give it a shot. You can find them used, and some companies offer trial programs to see if you like it. Don’t be scared, because, at the end of the day, nothing is cuter than a big ole fluffy butt. Resistance is futile. Join us. Come to the fluff side…

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9 comments on “Our experience with cloth diapering”

  1. Thank you for this post!
    I had disposable diapers for both my boys (paritally because I went back to work so early after the 1st and just did not need another thing to do) also I calculated how much store brand diapers would cost and it came out to be 25โ‚ฌ a month (30$) so I just went with that and set aside my green feelings for sanity.
    BUT a friend had given me a few BUM GENIUS ones as a gift, and they were just sitting there….. until you gave me the idea for the swimming diaper.
    THANK YOU! As the little boy is very skinny, the normal swimming diapers left a little bit to much room open (to an extent where my husband refused to sit in the babypool because he saw something leave the diaper…. well well) but the BUM Genius has the velcro so it can be really tight around the skinny baby, and everything is better!

  2. We used cloth for our second baby (she was insanely allergic to anything disposable, to the point of bleeding – it was terrible), and we came through the other end unscathed. It was a learning curve but after investing in a couple of lidded buckets (I thought it would be easier to lift smaller buckets, than try to lug one huge one!), the pre-soaking made things a lot easier. Every morning I would drain the nappies and get them into the washing machine, then rinse the buckets, and fill them with nappy sanitiser solution and water, ready for the day’s offerings ๐Ÿ™‚ Once the nappies were done, they’d go out on the line for a good sunshine-y drying. We used nappy liners, and as you did, the wet ones just went straight into the soaking buckets, the lumpier ones were emptied into the toilet and if they weren’t too bad, went into the buckets, if they were awful, they were flushed away with their contents. It took a bit more time in the mornings, but it was so worth it for our little one! So, having used disposables and cloth, I think I should have gone with cloth the first time around, leaving disposables for outings. My two cents’ worth ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I don’t have kids yet (they’re part of the plan though…more on my mind these days lol) but I kinda love this post. I am super intrigued by the idea of cloth diapering…but I doubt I can get my hubby on board. But hey, maybe with this post I can show him some of the benefits?? Maybe ๐Ÿ™‚ Love your blog, and the fluff butt is adorable <3

  4. I used cloth diapers for two years with my oldest until just before we potty trained her. She is a camel and pees just a few times a day and it was to the point that no amount of stuffing a cloth diaper could contain the deluge when she did go.

    My second was cloth diapered only a handful of times. We had gotten a high efficiency washer and I struggled to get the diapers clean enough and didn’t have enough energy to keep washing the same load three or four times every two days to keep the stink at bay.

    We had more blowouts on average with cloth and I don’t know where people get this crazy high cost for paper diapers – we spend $30 every other month on Target brand diapers and have gone through two Costco sized boxes of wipes in two years. All told we will have spent a little over $500 on diapering the second kid, which is definitely less than I spent on cloth diapers (trying to find the right system for us at the beginning). The environmental cost is a different thing for sure but using disposables does not have to be expensive.

    I’m glad we cloth diapered and I’m glad I gave it up when I did. Those prefolds are workhorses – in addition to diapers we have used them for a very refluxy baby, as burp rags, as nursing pads, and now they are the kids’ towels for wiping spilled and messy play. Those things have been washed hundreds of times in five years and are still going strong.

    • Until I found this detergent, I was close to throwing in the towel with our HE washer and stink issues. I’m glad I found a solution that worked for us.

      How often do you change diapers? Cloth is every 2-3 hours, so I have no clue as to what is normal. When we went to LA for five days, I spent $30 on paper diapers alone. And they weren’t fancy name brands. I think just the Target brand and a store brand we brought from home. Maybe we changed them too often (being used to cloth), or maybe the cost savings if you buy them by the case is dramatic, but we were out a bunch of cash for less than a week.

      Troy’s favorite use for the old prefolds are as shop towels. You’re right in that they are useful in so many ways around the house!

  5. We love our cloth diapers and you can even get money back through resale when you are all done with them. Definitely easier, greener and cheaper than disposable! My babysitter loves them!

  6. Oh my gosh! That’s last photo is so adorable!

    Thanks for all the info! I want to try the stuff you use for wipes. When I was on baby number 3 I wanted to try cloth diapers but my husband was against it so I made him buy the 7th generation disposables. it was also harder to come up with the money upfront for the cloth.

    • It was just the right moment with the smile and the arm out!

      The upfront cost is not to be sneezed at for sure. We got some for our shower with Jack, and it helped immensely.