Everything you ever wanted to know about how to use cloth diapers
Over the last two years I’ve gotten a lot of questions along the lines of, “OK, so tell me about cloth diapering? How do you do it? What do I need to know?” So here’s what I say.
Why do you use cloth diapers?
Well there’s the obvious: it’s good for the environment! I’ve actually heard mixed things about this. Some people argue that it’s really a wash because of the extra water and energy you use to clean the diapers. But other people say cloth diapers are still better. I guess it comes down to whether you want to throw away tons of non-biodegradable diapers or use a little extra water and electricity. (And there’s also all the water and electricity used to make those tons of disposable diapers.)
Cost. The accepted knowledge is that cloth diapers are cheaper than disposables. I recently saw a breakdown of the costs that wasn’t as different as I expected, but still – they’re cheaper.
Gentle. The cloth diapers are soft and chemical free and they just seem so much nicer on baby’s bum. Plus they have better air-flow so baby is less likely to get diaper rash.
Potty Training. According to some people, babies who use cloth diapers are easier to potty train and potty train earlier. I don’t know if this is true, but hey, it’s worth a shot, right?
And finally, they’re just so god-damn cute!
OK, so what do I need to buy?
The cost-saving isn’t going to seem obvious at first because with cloth diapers it’s an initial investment of a lot of money. But once you’ve made that initial investment they’re almost free, whereas with disposables you’ll be shelling out cash for years. So here’s what I bought (almost everything here can be purchased at www.nickisdiapers.com or Amazon; or go old school and check out your nearest cloth diaper store):
- 21 bumGenius 4.0 one-size pocket diapers (I think you could get 18 and be fine)
- Flannel diaper wipes
- Spray bottle for wipe solution
- Dr. Bronner’s soap (mix with water for wipe solution)
- Diaper pail
- 2 FuzziBunz diaper pail liners (one to use while the other is in the wash)
- Sprayer for toilet
- 2 Planet Wise wet bags to take in the diaper bag (again, an extra in case the first is in the wash)
- Country Save laundry detergent
- RLR Laundry Treatment
- Charcoal diaper pail filter
- Lemon scented deodorizing discs for diaper pail
- Tilvee Mandarin Remedy Balm
How does it all work?
I chose bumGenius 4.0 one-size pocket diapers with the snaps. It seemed like people really love these diapers and so far, I do too! I definitely think the snaps are better than velcro, and I like the pocket diaper element (the covers have a pocket where an insert goes; the inside of the cover is microfiber and wicks moisture into the insert – the part on baby’s skin stays pretty dry). They’re also one size, so you can change the snap settings and use them from 8-35 pounds. We started using them when Adeline was 2 months (she was too little at first and then things were sort of chaotic with the move) and she can still wear them at 20 months. But I know people who use others and love those, too. So just read some reviews, talk to some people, and get what you think will be best for you. I bought 21 at first, but like I said, I think you’d be fine with 18. You’re only supposed to wash 12-15 at a time, so you’d still have some to use while the others are in the wash/drying. The reason I bought 21 is because I wanted to be sure I had enough. You have to line dry the covers, so it does take a bit to dry. And then you have to find time to put them back together, and, you know, time can be hard to find with a baby around.
I also use cloth wipes because if you’re going to be doing the laundry anyways, why not? Plus, I actually think the disposable wipes really irritate her bottom. So I fill a spray bottle with water and then put in a few drops of the Dr. Bronner’s soap. A disclaimer in case you’ve never used Dr. Bronner’s before: the bottle is covered with a whole bunch of really wacky religious rantings, but the stuff is totally fine. You can buy it at Target, so it must be legit, right?
So, when it’s time to change a diaper, I just spray some of the solution on a wipe and use it to clean her bottom. Put a clean diaper on, then deal with the dirty diaper. I pull out the insert, and throw the insert, the wipe and the cover into the diaper pail. If it’s a poopy diaper, I dump the poop into the toilet. Now that she’s on solids, it’s often solid enough to just drop right in. Otherwise I use the toilet sprayer to rinse all the poop off. When she was exclusively breastfed, I actually just threw the poopy diapers right into the pail. But some people rinse those as well. Either way, you’ll probably get some stains on the diapers, even with regular washing. It’s fine, after you wash them they’re totally clean. It’s like when you store tomato sauce in a tupperware container, and then even after you wash it there’s a red stain left. (More on getting the diapers extra clean later.) If needed, also put on a diaper rash balm. Regular creams will make the diapers leak, so you have to get a cloth-diaper-safe balm. I use Tylvee Mandarin Remedy Balm. But as I mentioned above, she doesn’t get rashes very often because the cloth diapers have good air flow. (Keep in mind, though, that the cloth diapers don’t stay as dry as the disposables nor do they hold as much liquid, so you need to change them more often, especially when baby is young. Just remind yourself that those disposables stay so dry thanks to lots of yucky chemicals that you don’t want anywhere near your baby’s beautiful tush.)
As I said, I wash about 12-15 at a time. That usually means about every other day, maybe every third day. You don’t want to wait any longer than that because it will really start to smell. We use Country Save detergent (don’t use something like Tide because it will cause the diapers to leak). You put the covers, inserts, wipes and the pail liner into the wash and run a cold rinse. Then put the detergent in and run a hot wash. Then finish with two hot rinses. Dry the inserts and the wipes in the dryer, and hang the covers up to dry. Be sure to use only a little bit of detergent in the wash, because otherwise it will build up and the diapers will start to leak. Either way, you will probably want to strip the diapers about once a month.
Stripping the diapers.
Even if you use the right laundry detergent and not very much of it, detergent will build up over time and cause the diapers to leak. (Only pee, I’ve only had one poop blowout with cloth diapers. Ever.) You also might get stains and they might start to smell a bit. At that point you know it’s time to strip the diapers. You can use Calgon, bleach or RLR. I try not to use bleach too often; RLR seems the best. So do the normal cold rinse first. Then add detergent and the RLR or Calgon and run a hot wash. Then run several extra hot rinses. The idea is to get all the detergent out, so run as many rinses as makes sense. I usually do about four or five. Then dry as normal.
When we go on an overnight trip I don’t bother with the cloth diapers (that just seems excessive). We typically use the Whole Foods brand non-chlorine diapers in that situation. But any other time we leave the house, we’re still in cloth diapers. Just put an extra diaper or two in the diaper bag and bring a wet bag. Then if you need to change on the go you can just throw the dirty one in the wet bag and put it in the diaper pail when you get home.
I know plenty of people who use cloth diapers at night, but we never have. She’s such a sensitive sleeper that I’ve always wanted to be sure there are no leaks. So we use pampers overnight diapers.
So, there you have it! This is what has worked for us so far. Obviously, there are a ton of options when it comes to cloth diapering, so just do what works for you. I’d love to hear from others what has worked for them, any great tips, or any questions that I didn’t cover.
And a bonus: Adeline in the same cloth diaper from above at three months old!