All About Cloth Diapering: Eco-friendly, Economical (& So Dang Cute)

cloth diapering is not nearly as messy or complicated as it sounds, even with two in diapers.  we love that we're radically reduce our household waste, protecting our kids' skin from harmful chemicals, and saving money, too.  let's be honest:  having a baby means dealing with poop. since throwing away diapers won't get you out of that, why not consider cloth diapering, even part of the time?

gentle, green, and safe
you do change a cloth-diapered baby more often than one in disposables--around every two hours or sooner, during the day--but that's a good thing.  infrequent changes can lead to rashes and skin irritation, and we don't know the long-term impact that exposure to synthetic chemicals in chlorine-bleached disposable diapers has on children's bodies--especially sensitive reproductive organs.  more frequent changes don't bother me when i stack the gentleness of cloth against disposables. 

saving money on cloth
all told, we spent over $400 on diapers, covers, and cloth wipes, which sounds like a ton of money and certainly is a lot to spend up front, but try this math on for size:

8 diapers/day x $.20/diaper x 365 days/year x 2.5 years =
$1460 to diaper one kid in disposables
[doesn't include the added expense of wipes or pull-ups]

if you use prefolds exclusively or buy used diapers, you could pay half of what we did.  now that we're diapering our son with the same diapers, our $400 investment is just $200 per kid.  The Eco-nomical Baby Guide: Down-to-Earth Ways for Parents to Save Money and the Planet is a helpful resource for diapering on budget and offers a natural parenting perspective on ethical consumerism.

creating an online gift registry or registering with a local boutique or home business that carries cloth (web-search "diaper party") are great ways to let friends and family help you get set-up, since big box stores fall short of the kind of items you'll need for your cloth-bottomed babe. 

prefolds, fitted diapers, and covers
we use a combination of cloth diapers, including prefolds, fitted diapers, and a few all-in-ones and pockets. [green mountain is a fantastic mom-owned business and a wealth of information on the many options available in cloth diapering.] prefolds are flat diapers that are pre-folded and sewn thicker in the middle for added absorbency, and they are the least expensive diapering option.

old-school diaper pins are no longer required:  something called a snappi secures prefolds similarly to how you'd fit an ace bandage. (some people fold their diapers in thirds, cover, and go, but i find that "snappi-ing" ensures a better fit and allows me to use more generous fitting covers over both prefolds and fitted diapers.)  when you get the hang of it, prefolds are very reliable.  their cotton fibers are great on baby's skin, and they will never retain odors.  

fitted diapers resemble disposables and have less of a learning curve.  (we use one-size-fits-all mother-ease brand.) they're great for overnight, away from home, babysitters, and diapering multiple kids, but you pay significantly more for the convenience.

you'll still need a cover to leak-proof both these kinds of diapers.  we use mother-ease covers: they're adjustable, don't leave marks, and their generous size range is wider than many other covers. we air them out between uses and probably use them 4-5 times before washing, unless one happens to get soiled.  we also inherited a few decades-old wool covers which are still in great shape. wool covers are expensive, but their natural fibers are breathable and won't ever wear out. 

all-in-ones and pocket diapers 
all-in-one (AIOs) and pocket diapers are water-proof without needing a separate cover and are nice for diapering overnight, on-the-go, and babysitters.  AIOs take longer to dry because of their absorbent layers, but pocket diapers are similarly easy to use and dry well since the absorbent middle gets removed for the wash and stuffed back in for later use.  both are a nice diapering system if you can afford it, but i prefer the diaper/cover combo for affordability and ease of rinsing.  the two pockets we purchased last and are wearing faster than every other kind, so definitely do you research before making any big investment.

washing instructions 
we rinse soiled diapers in the toilet using a diaper sprayer and put all diapers in lidded pail lined with a water proof liner.  wash diapers every 2-3 days, soaking them overnight on cold with
charlie's soap and oxygen cleaner.  close the lid and run that load in the morning, and follow it with a second hot load with another scoop of charlie's and oxygen cleaner.  at times, we've used biokleen bac-out, baking soda, or vinegar to keep odor at bay or even a little tea tree oil in the final rinse for disinfecting, but diapers get clean and stay bright with charlie's and oxygen powder.

you don't have to use charlies soap, but it's good for diapers (and sensitive skin) because it rinses so clean.  never use anything with enzymes or brighteners.  inexpensive powdered detergents are usually a better choice than liquids, which contain more ingredients that can irritate your baby's skin and may not rinse out of your diapers.  detergent residue can cause diapers to leak or retain odor and can cause rashes.

sunning diapers on the clothesline fade stains like magic and protects your diapers from the damaging heat of the dryer.  do no use bleach--it's not good for skin, diapers, or the earth. you can safely keep diapers clean  without it. 

items that make cloth diapering a breeze

1. a spray bottle (or hospital peri-bottle) for water and a bar of olive oil soap to use with cloth wipes.  truthfully, we still use disposable wipes for most "yucky" changes, but cloth wipes are also great for making sure baby is dry and wiping hands, noses, and faces.
2. kissaluvs diaper lotion potion is a concentrate of natural essential oils that you mix with witch hazel in a spray bottle. i spray, wipe, and dry them at changes to keep bottoms clean.  (it's a definite non-necessity, but i love it, and one bottle has lasted years.)

3. a diaper sprayer (like a bidet) attaches to our toilet and makes rinsing dirties so simple.  i love my sprayer and have a hard time imagining rinsing soiled diapers without one (even those most do just that.)

4. a washable water-proof diaper pail liner keeps the pail clean and helps transport diapers to the washer.

5.  a small, zippered water-proof wet bag makes it easy to stow a dirty diaper while away from home.  (they're so good, too, for wet swim suits.)

6.  charlie's soap washes diapers clean and doesn't leave residue for odors to cling to, like most detergents will over time.  it's safe for sensitive baby skin and the environment.  although we've begun making our own laundry soap, i prefer charlie's for diapers.
the idea of cloth diapering can be overwhelming, but the learning curve is not so steep--and it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing thing.  some people use cloth at home and disposables at day care or cloth during the day and disposables at night or on the go.  there are no rules, and it's definitely possible to ease into it gradually as you build up a "stash" of diapers you like and become more comfortable and confident with the system that works best for your family.

give cloth a try. you might just love it.  i dare ya;)


Anonymous said...

i am so impressed! i thought about cloth diapers for about a second with this last baby and just didn't do it. i think if i were starting out, i would've been right there. you have a great system though!!

Kelly said...

very helpful, suzannah!! we're hoping to take the plunge soon...our hopes were after maddie is potty trained, but thats taking a bit longer than we expected ;)

Kelly said...

Haha! I thought this sounded familiar :) Thanks for sending it again to me!

Wilson Ramblings said...

what brands do you use?

magda said...

I saw your comment on simplemom. The post from inhabitots using your photo is here: They do not give any attribution.

Also, here:

'Becca said...

This is a really encouraging, thorough post! I loved cloth diapers too, especially the Mother-Ease fitteds. The synthetic fiber in them is in the core of the fabric (the part that touches baby's skin is cotton) and that's what makes them so soft and flexible--cotton diapers can get stiff, especially after line drying. I used vinegar or Bac-Out in the wash and never had to strip them.

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