First, a disclaimer: I think cloth diapers are the coooolest. Disposables lack the fun/cozy/aesthetically pleasing aspects of reusables. But I certainly don’t think using cloth diapers somehow makes anyone a better parent than disposables-users. I think that idea–that cloth-diapering parents are acting holier-than-thou by the mere fact of using cloth diapers–comes partly from a widespread misperception that cloth diapering is hard, and therefore a showy sacrifice (for the kid or for the environment, or both). Actually, my partner and I like cloth diapers and have found that using them is no big deal.
When we were planning a pregnancy and figuring out a budget the first time around, I happened across a web page that no longer exists. A couple with a small baby had created a site for their child and, after urging from curious friends and acquaintances, added a page on how they use and take care of cloth diapers. Their method was way simpler and more clearly explained and less gross than the instructions I was finding on most cloth diapering sites; they made us feel like cloth diapering would be great, and we started out with that unknown family’s method and tweaked it as necessary once we had our baby. Given that I’m terrified of bodily fluids and squelchy things of all kinds (except, oddly, amniotic fluid) and my husband is terrified of poo, it seems noteworthy and encouraging that we’ve both had a really positive experience with cloth diapering.
Here’s what we’ve found with regard to supplies and cleaning:
- We’ve always used prefolds (the flat fluffy things that we most commonly think of when we imagine ‘cloth diapers’) with various sorts of covers. This page just deals with prefolds (as opposed to including all-in-ones and so forth) because that’s what I know and love.
- We use and enthusiastically recommend a Snappi instead of diaper pins. You can use a single Snappi on every diaper for six months, at which point it’s stretched out quite a lot and needs replacing. Diaper pins are dull enough to slow down the process considerably and add frustration, yet sharp enough to puncture one’s thumb once they finally pop through the thick fabric.
- We bought unbleached DSQ (diaper service quality) Chinese prefolds and recommend getting at least 1 dozen ‘infant’ (dark green edge), 2 dozen ‘regular’/‘standard’ (white edge), and 2 dozen ‘premium’ (dark blue edge): if you can afford it, you’ll be happier with 2 dozen in the infant size too. The small ones later make excellent doublers for naps and nighttime, as hard as that may be to believe while you’re holding your tiny newborn.
- We also love our large zippered wetbag (to carry in the diaper bag) and zippered pail liner (to hang on the wall at home–though of course you could use it in a pail if you preferred) from Happy Tushies. After years of service, the zipper on the pail liner gave out, and we replaced that bag with a Large Cloth Diaper Wetbag from Planetwise; it’s beautiful and great, too.
- We have a few dozen cloth wipes of different varieties (we won some, and some were a gift, yay free wipes!). We never put anything but water on the wipes. We also use the wipes for spitup, stuffing in my bra to catch letdown from the non-feeding breast, etc.
- Regarding diaper covers: We found we needed two nighttime (two-layer) fleece diaper covers plus four or five lighter/daytime/regular fleece diaper covers in our baby’s current size during his first year. Once his poo got more solid and he slowed down with the nighttime poos, we needed fewer covers and simultaneously found that the fleece ones were getting stinky and a bit leaky—so we switched happily to the more expensive but great wool covers. Fleece covers are machine washable, which is nice for the mushy poo days; you need to hand-wash wool covers, but only very rarely unless they happen to get dirty—and they miraculously fight odor. (We used mostly Stacinator fleece and wool covers. We also liked Polar Bummi fleece covers, but they close with Velcro rather than snaps—so around his first birthday, when he was running around without pants because it was hot out, our child figured out how to take them off.) Later favorites were Recycleeze wool covers and, for nights and naps, an Aristocrats Wool Soaker (we wish we’d gotten two of the Aristocrats earlier–just be sure to wash a couple times before using, or it won’t do much). You can also make diaper covers or buy them from individuals on Etsy and lots of other sites.
- Weleda Calendula Diaper Care clears up the occasional diaper rash (especially an issue for us after long car trips) quickly, and smells good, too (not like baby powder). The Diaper Care appears to be the same stuff as the Diaper Cream (we’ve used both), and the Diaper Care costs way less per ounce. (The Baby Cream is totally different.)
- We didn’t need doublers until our child was about six months old (they wouldn’t fit a tiny baby anyway), and after that we used them at night and for long car or plane trips. There are lots of shapes, sizes, and materials. They help prevent leaking, and the kind with a layer of fleece next to the baby’s skin help wick moisture away to keep a wet baby asleep or a bit happier stuck in a car seat. Newborn- and infant-sized diapers make excellent nighttime doublers as the baby gets bigger.
- We did dry storage, rather than keeping a wet pail. Because eww, sloshy, right? Anyway, by this method, all diapers go directly into the wetbag or pail liner to await washing time. There’s no need to rinse the diapers in any way, ever. Flush poop when it’s flushable, of course, but just roll the diaper up and stick it in the diaper bag when it’s not. Wipes go in the bag, too.
- When the bag’s full, or every few days at the longest, dump the bag’s contents into the washing machine, set it on cold and on the largest size, and run a rinse/soak cycle with only water. Then add a small amount of unscented detergent (too much detergent can cause buildup and decrease absorbency), turn the setting to hot, and run the longest wash cycle. That’s usually the end of the washing part; if they smell off, run a short cold-water wash with only water. We never had an odor issue that couldn’t solve.
- Then they go in the dryer on hot, or out to dry in the sunshine. If you hang diapers to dry, they’ll be stiffer than if you use a dryer; if that bothers you, a short spin in the dryer at the end helps.
- Follow the care instructions for the various sorts of covers (but it’s a good idea to hang them to dry whether they can go in the dryer or not, to help prevent wear and tear). I hand wash wool covers with wool wash and then roll/press them in a bath towel to get out extra moisture before hanging them to dry, speeding the process considerably.
- We simply continued with our normal diapering system when traveled, which we did a reasonable amount during the diapering years. For very short trips, we just brought our big wetbag (encased in a couple layers of garbage bags to contain any stink) and transported the dirties back home for washing; for trips longer than a few days, we found places to stay where we could access coin-operated laundry facilities, and generally cut the process down to a single wash cycle rather than doing the rinse beforehand. We have also occasionally handwashed some of the wet (as opposed to dirty) diapers to stretch our supply slightly without actually doing laundry, although you have to keep in mind that they’re quite absorbent and can therefore take FOREVER to air-dry inside. For certain types of travel, I’m sure it would make more sense simply to switch to disposables for the trip, but it’s certainly not necessary to do that for all trips–and we prefer keeping all our family’s routines in place as much as possible so that we don’t have to readjust when we get back home.
- Some people worry that other people who take care of their baby will be distressed by and/or insufficiently skilled to use cloth diapers. Some daycare centers outright refuse to use cloth diapers, so obviously babies end up in disposables while they’re there. (Some centers are more flexible about all-in-ones or prefolds; it’s certainly worth asking if it matters to you.) But as far as individual childcare providers go, really, if someone’s not competent enough to fold a piece of cloth and put a cover over it, he or she is probably not competent enough to take care of a child. It’s just not that hard. Similarly, if someone cares so little about your parenting choices that the cloth diapers somehow annoy him or her in their weirdness, is he or she really awesome enough to hang out with your kid? Anyway, we never encountered a problem with anyone not wanting to use our diapers; most people were psyched to learn about them.
Page last updated: 26 July 2012