Cloth Diapering 101

Why Use Cloth?

1. Its cheaper than disposables

Cloth diapers are reusable, so you are not throwing your money away, but investing it in diapers. You will get your money's worth! For example, newborns go through 10-12 diapers a day. If we calculate disposable diapers at .25 each (they range in price from about .10-.34 each), this would mean that you'd spend $2.50-$3 per day on diapers alone. The cost per month for the first two months would be about $90. After the first couple of months, babies will go through 6-10 diapers a day on average, so if we go with 8, we'd be looking at $2/day, or $60/month. A year would cost an average of $780. If a baby gets potty trained at 2.5 years, that would mean you'd spend $1950 on diapers, or if your baby potty trains at 3.5 years, you'd spend even more, $2730. Thats a lot of money just for diapers! Plus, this money is literally going in the trash because you have nothing to show for it after the fact. Now let's look at cloth diapers.

If we use the same scenario with cloth diapers, we can get a variety of prices depending on how much money we want to spend on cloth diapers. You can use prefolds or flats with or without covers. These are the cheapest way to cloth diaper a baby. These would range in price from $2 on average for cheaper prefolds, to $11 to the high quality name brand prefolds. Lets go with a price in the middle, $6 per prefold. If we buy 25 diapers, since we want to wash every 2-3 days, we'd spend $150 on prefolds. We'll probably want some covers to go with it since prefolds with a cover will hold more moisture. Lets say we spend $75 more to buy several covers. Now we're at $250. If you use a diaper service, the cost will be more.

If we want to upgrade to pockets, fitteds, or all in one diapers, the per diaper cost will range from about $10-$25. This might be higher or lower depending on the brand, but lets go with a higher estimate of $20 per diaper. Again, it's recommended that you have around 20 diapers so that you don't have to do laundry daily. Now we're looking at $400 for diapers. If you buy one-size diapers, like Fuzzibunz One-Size, you just adjust the tabs and you can use these diapers from newborn to toddler. If you get sized diapers, you would be able to use the diapers for about 10 lbs until your child outgrows them, and then youd have to size up. Even if we size up, here's the benefit. Lets start with one-size and our $400 diaper investment. This will last us from start to finish. Compare this to the $1950 cost of potty training at 2.5 years. Or, we could pay our $400 for small diapers, then sell these at small loss (cloth diapers typically only lose a few dollars value for used), and use the money to buy more diapers. Maybe we'd pay $700 instead. Yes, the upfront cost will be more. Paying $400 for diapers versus buying a big box of diapers for $40 is scary, but just think, that after 10 boxes of diapers, you will still have diapers to reuse at no cost, while others are still paying. Plus, as was mentioned earlier, once you have your diapers you can either keep them for your next child, sell them (youll make some good money with this on craigslist or ebay), or gift them to someone in need. If this alone isnt enough to convince you, keep reading!

2. Cloth diapers are free of chemicals

A study published in the Archives of Environmental Health (1999) says that disposable diapers should be considered to be a factor that may cause or worsen childhood asthma and respiratory problems. Also, a baby's skin is sensitive to these harsh chemicals and may contribute to rashes and allergic reactions. Taken from, the following is information about these specific chemicals:

Most disposable diapers are bleached white with chlorine, resulting in a byproduct called dioxins that leach into the environment and the diapers. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), dioxins are among the most toxic chemicals known to science and are listed by the EPA as highly carcinogenic chemicals. According to the World Health Organization, exposure to dioxins may cause skin reactions and altered liver function, as well as impairments to the immune system, nervous system, endocrine system and reproductive functions.

Sodium Polyacrylate
Sodium polycarbonate is a super absorbent chemical compound that is used in the fillers of many disposable diapers. It is composed of cellulose processed from trees that is mixed with crystals of polyacrylate. This chemical absorbs fluids and creates surface tension in the lining of the diaper to bind fluids and prevent leakage. Sodium polyacrylate is often visible as small gel-like crystals on the skin of babies and is thought to be linked to skin irritations and respiratory problems. This chemical was removed from tampons due to toxic shock syndrome concerns. As it has only been used in diapers for the last two decades, there is not yet research on the long-term health effects of sodium polyacrylate on babies.

Tributyl-tin (TBT)
Many disposable diapers contain a chemical called tributyl-tin (TBT). According to the EPA, this toxic pollutant is extremely harmful to aquatic (water) life and causes endocrine (hormonal) disruptions in aquatic organisms. TBT is a polluting chemical that does not degrade but remains in the environment and in our food chain. TBT is also an ingredient used in biocides to kill infecting organisms. Additionally, according to research published by the American Institute of Biological Sciences, tributyl-tin can trigger genes that promote the growth of fat cells, causing obesity in humans.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Disposable diapers frequently contain chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These include chemicals such as ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene and dipentene. According to the EPA, VOCs can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, damage to the liver, kidney and central nervous system as well as cancers.

Other Chemicals
Other chemicals often used in disposable diapers include dyes, fragrances, plastics and petrolatums. Adhesive chemicals are used in the sticky tabs to close the diapers and dyes are used to color and make the patterns and labels that mark diapers. Perfumes and fragrances are used in some disposable diapers to help mask odors.

3. Potty training happens at an earlier age

A benefit to using cloth diapers is that babies who have been cloth diapered tend to potty train at an earlier age. This is because babies can feel the wetness immediately, rather than have an absorbent diaper, and it is uncomfortable. The idea is that babies will make the connection and will be more apt to potty train.

4. It's better for the environment

If we go back to the amount of diapers a baby will typically use in the course of his/her lifetime, that's a lot of diapers! The term disposable is deceiving because the diapers that get thrown away don't just disappear- they end up in landfills. Dont forget that disposable diapers take about 500 years to decompose and their production uses huge amounts of plastic and wood pulp. According to the Clean Air Council, approximately 18 BILLION disposable diapers end up in landfills EACH YEAR. This is totally unnecessarily when you consider that there is an easy and cost-effective solution! Even when diapers have outlived their functionality, you can still use them for other things. I am currently using my daughter's old prefolds as cleaning rags. They are absorbent and still have plenty of life left in them.

5. Its easy!

There are tons more cloth diapering options nowadays compared to 20 years ago. Yes, you can still use prefolds with pins, but with the invention of snappis, you dont have to worry about accidentally jabbing your baby. Or if you prefer a simpler route, you can use fitted diapers with or without covers, pocket diapers, or all in ones, which is a one-step diaper. All you need to do is snap the diaper in place or use aplix (Velcro). After you change your diaper, you dump the waste and throw it in a diaper pail or wetbag. Then you wash your diapers every 2-3 days.

6. Cloth diapers are cute!

There are so many cloth diapering options and 99% of them are cuter than disposable diapers. As was mentioned earlier, these diapers come in all sorts of styles, materials, and prints, so your baby's bottom can be squishy, adorable, and yes, even a fashion statement instead of just a boring diaper. Because of this, you should be warned that cloth diapering is addicting and may lead to other cloth diaper-related purchases like yummy smelling diaper rash creams (that are perfectly ok to use with your cloth diapers) or detergents made for cloth diapers.

Have fun!

What are the different types of cloth diapers?

When people think of cloth diapering, they typically think it involves this type of diaper. The cheapest, but possibly the most complex type is flats. These are somewhat flat square or rectangular pieces of fabric that you fold using various folds so that your baby is covered. Then you use a snappi or pins to secure the fabric. The benefit is that these are cheap to use and easy to wash. You can position the diaper to make it work for your baby's fit, and as well, when you are finished diapering, you can always use these as rags around the house. The negative with flats/prefolds is that you will need a cover with them because they are not totally absorbent, and you will require more diaper changes for the same reason. Prefolds (Indian Prefolds, Chinese Prefolds): These are very similar to flats, but the difference is that they have three panels. The center one has more absorbency. These are typically the types of diapers used by diapering services because they are easy to wash. Again, you will need a cover with these, as well as snappis or pins to secure the fabric.

Fitted Diapers
Fitted diapers require no folding. They are shaped like disposables and typically have aplix or snaps to secure the diaper. The legs have elastic around them to secure messes. These can be more economical than all in ones, but they do range in price and some brands arent any less expensive. The great thing with fitted diapers is that they do hold in a lot of moisture, which makes these popular as night time diapers. Because these aren't waterproof, you will need to use wool or a cover, so it is a 2-part system. The good thing with this though is that when you change the diaper, you don't need to change the cover or wool unless it is soiled. You just change the fitted diaper and reuse the outer layer. For negatives, fitted diapers are thicker so they do require longer drying times. Also, they need the cover for complete absorbency.

Pocket Diapers
Pocket diapers also look similar to disposables, and these have two parts to them. The waterproof diaper has an opening on the bottom where you stick in the insert, which is usually made of terry cotton, but can also be bamboo or another material. Without this insert, the diaper won't have absorbency. You can add several inserts to make the diaper hold in more liquid, but at a certain point the diaper will become too bulky. Pocket diapers have a fast drying time and work well for daycares because they are just like disposables in how they are used. The price range for this varies by brand. Drawback here: after they dry, you will have to stuff the inserts into the diapers.

All In Ones (AIO)
These are the most like disposables. Like pockets, they can have snaps or aplix to secure the diaper. The difference between the two though, is that there is no stuffing. All you need to do is secure the diaper on the baby, and once soiled, take it off and replace with another. There is no extra cover to buy, and these are really easy to use, which is why many daycares, parents, and grandparents love them. AIOs vary in price, but are more expensive than flats and prefolds. Also, the drying time is longer because these are thicker.

Hybrid Systems
These are relatively new in the cloth diapering world. Hybrid diapers typically have an outer shell with varying size options, with an inside part that are may or may not be disposable. These diapers are made for people who want convenience and don't want to deal with the mess or who want fast drying times. The insert fits in the shell either by just being placed in, or by folding this into thirds. Once the diaper is soiled, the insert is taken out and thrown away or washed. The shell can be worn until it gets dirty. The benefit is that drying time is quick and messes are either just thrown away or contained. You can switch out organic or microfiber inserts for disposable if you are travelling. The negative is that the fit is not for everyone, and there are multiple parts to the system.

How many cloth diapers will I need?

This depends on the age of your baby and type of diaper. Heres a quick list of how many diapers babies use per day on average:

Newborn: 10-12 diapers
Infant: 8-10 diapers
Older babies/toddlers: 6-8 diapers

You will want to buy enough diapers so that you can wash every 2-3 days. This would mean 20-36 diapers for a newborn, 16-30 for an infant, and 12-24 diapers for a toddler, with the variations being determined by type of diaper and how often you plan on washing.

How do you care and wash cloth diapers?

There are a couple of methods that people typically use when it comes to storing soiled cloth diapers. One is the wet pail method, and the other is the dry pail method. The wet pail method involves a container or pail filled with water. The dirty diaper gets put into the pail so that stains don't set. This method isn't the recommended choice, as it can be a breeding ground for bacteria, there's the potential for the pail to get knocked over, and it's also a choking hazard. The dry pail method is simple. Soiled diapers get put into a diaper pail with a pail liner, or a wet bag is used to store the diapers. Both work well at masking odors, but if needed, some baking soda or pail deodorizer help keep smells away.

When you are ready to wash, fasten the aplix (Velcro) tabs so that you dont get a diaper chain. Do a cold rinse first to loosen things up and then wash on hot with another cold rinse afterwards. There are many different types of detergents that are cloth diaper-friendly, and the amount you use depends on whether or not you have a HE washer. Kirkland brand/Tide works well, but you will need to see what works for you. Just make sure it does not have softeners, which will repel the water. Once your diapers have been washed, they should smell clean and fresh, and not like urine or ammonia. If they don't smell as nice as you want them to, try washing again. Some people will use distilled white vinegar or baking soda occasionally to get rid of smells, or Oxyclean. When it comes to the cloth diaper wash routine, this is somewhat varied and individual. There are many factors that come into play such as type of washer, detergent, hard/soft water, and type/fabric of diapers. What works for some does not work for others. Play around until you find a good routine for you.

After some use, especially with hard water, diapers do tend to get what is known as build up. This is when the detergent doesn't wash all the way off the diaper. It leads to stinky diapers that are not as absorbent, so once a month or whenever you start to notice smells, you'll want to do what is known as stripping your diapers. If you notice that you are stripping often, you might need to change your wash routine. There are a few ways to strip diapers. One way is to take clean diapers and wash them on hot one or two times without using any detergent. This will pull the detergent caked on the diaper out, and youll notice some suds as it's being washed. Another way to strip diapers is to use Dawn liquid soap. If you have a front-loading washer, use about 1 tsp of Dawn, and if you have a top-loading, use 1 tbs. Then wash on hot and make sure all the Dawn gets out of the diaper.

How do you dry diapers?

A great way to dry diapers is to line dry. It's relaxing to go out and hang the diapers, plus this method is completely free as far as energy cost and use. The benefit of the sun is that it does help bleach stains from diapers, which is why people often recommend sunning your diapers. Also, it doesn't put as much wear and tear on the diaper, as extreme heat does tend to wear a diaper down eventually. However, this method isn't totally practical in the winter or if you live somewhere where the sun doesnt shine 365 days a year. An alternative then is to use your dryer. You'll want to try to dry the diapers using the least amount of heat as possible- the medium heat setting should be good. The length of time the diapers are in the dryer varies depending on type of diaper. All in ones tend to need more time because they are thicker than pockets, for example.

What about poop?

One of the big reasons people are reluctant to cloth diaper is because they are worried about what to do with the poop. When a baby is small, the poop is typically more liquidy, especially if the baby is breast fed. Formula-fed babies tend to have thicker poop. In any case, up until a baby begins solids, the poop is water soluble, which means it will wash right off. You dont have to do anything else. After 4-6 months, when the baby is eating more solid foods, youll want to dump the poop in a toilet before putting the diaper in the diaper pail or wetbag. This is pretty easy, but there are some ways to make it even easier. Flushable liners go between the baby's bottom and the diaper, and all you do with these is remove them and flush them away. Theres no mess to deal with. Another option is a diaper sprayer, or mini shower. This usually attaches to the side of a toilet and the strength of the water can be adjusted. You can just spray this on the diaper to remove any excess waste in the toilet. Both are great inventions, but not totally needed. A good shake of the diaper will usually remove most of the waste. Sometimes you might need to use a little toilet paper as well.

Can I use cloth diapers at daycare?

A lot of daycares do allow cloth diapers, and with ones that initially seem unsure, a little bit of education about cloth diapers goes a long way. Some daycare providers don't realize how easy cloth diapering is, and picture old fashioned diapers with pins, which would be a hassle to them. If you are planning on using cloth diapers at a daycare, its a good idea to use pocket or all in one diapers for simplicity. If you want to go a step further in simplifying, you can even use diapers that have aplix (Velcro) so that the diaper is essentially the same as a disposable in how it is used. You will need to take the dirty diapers home daily in a small wet bag and make sure that you provide cloth diaper-safe rash cream, as regular creams like desotin will harm your diaper.

How do I get rid of stains?

The best way to get rid of stains is to sun your diapers. All you need to do is hang your diapers up and let the sun work its magic. After a few hours, the stains should be gone. If theyre not completely gone, just rinse the diapers again and hang them up for a bit longer. Repeat as needed!

Do I need to wash the diapers before using?

Yes! I know its super exciting to get fluffy diapers in the mail and the immediately you want to run and put them on your baby. Slow down! Most diaper manufacturers recommend washing the diapers several times before using. There are various recommendations as far as the number of times to wash pre-use, but here is a sample of manufacturer washing instructions. All brands recommend using a reduced amount of detergent and typically, you will want to wash several times before using for optimum absorbency.

Separate the insert and the diaper. Run a cold rinse with no detergent. Second, run a hot cycle with detergent. Don't use bleach. Last, do a cold rinse if needed. Tumble dry on low or hang to dry. Never dry on hot.

Lil Joey
Run a cold rinse with no detergent. Second, run a hot cycle with detergent. Don't use bleach. Last, do a cold rinse if needed. Tumble dry on low or hang to dry. Never dry on hot.

Separate the insert and the diaper. Run a cold rinse with no detergent. Second, run a hot cycle with detergent. Don't use bleach. Last, do a cold rinse if needed. Tumble dry on low or hang to dry. Never dry on hot and if you are using a HE machine, don't use the sanitize cycle on the pockets. The high temperature can melt the laminate bond and using this cycle on the pockets will void the warranty.

How do I wash wool?

Wool covers are great for many reasons. They are comfortable for your baby to wear, they help keep body temperature up in the winter and down in the summer, they are antibacterial, they repel water, and are a breathable material. Wool is also easy to clean. First off, you don't need to wash wool every time your baby wears the cover or soaker. Since it is anti-bacterial, it wont smell or hold in odors. You typically wash wool once every couple of weeks or when soiled. The natural oils in wool will keep them clean. When you do wash, you can fill a sink up with lukewarm water and a wool wash. Let the wool soak for about 15 minutes, then gently squeeze out excess water. Make sure not to wring the wool tightly. You can also place the wool on a flat towel and roll the towel up to soak up moisture. Then lay the wool flat on a dry towel and you are done! About once a month or so, you will also want to lanolize your diapers. You can do this using a lanolin spray or solid lanolin. With a spray, you just spritz on the soaker. With solid lanolin, you fill up a bowl with hot water and add 1 tsp. of lanolin, along with a few drops of baby shampoo. Mix this together until everything has dissolved, then pour the mixture into a sink or bucket filled with warm water. Stir together. Then put in your wool and let sit for about 15 minutes. Drain the water and get rid of the excess moisture using a towel. Lay flat to dry.

What cloth diapering accessories are recommended?

You will want a diaper pail with a 1-2 pail liners or wet bags to keep dirty diapers. You'll also want detergent that is cloth diaper-friendly, as well as rash cream that is safe for use with cloth diapers. You might want to buy a diaper sprayer as well, and have several small wet bags so that you have a place to put soiled diapers when you are out and about or for daycare. If you use wool clothing or covers, you will also want wool wash and lanolin. If you are going to use a dryer, to conserve energy costs, wool balls are recommended. These cut drying time by up to 50%.

Why should I use reusable wipes?

Once you get into cloth diapering, you start to notice how wasteful other things are. Disposable wipes are a one-time use thing, which means you use a few wipes on the baby (depending how big of a mess) and then throw this away. Like disposable diapers, this can get costly and also creates a mess in landfills. People thought about how to resolve this problem and came up with a few methods. You can buy cloth wipes or even cut out your own using old rags or flannel. As far as the liquid part, there are various brands that have wipe solution. Options are to spray the solution on the baby's bottom and wipe, or sometimes you will mix a wipe cube or solution with water and it turns foamy. You can even make your own wipe solution using various types of oils and aloe.

Anti-fungal Wipe recipe:
  • 1 cup of water
  • cup aloe Aloe Vera
  • 1 tablespoon of vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Calendula Oil
  • 2 drops Lavender or Chamomile Oil
  • 2 drops Tea Tree Oil
Mix the ingredients together and then saturate wipes. Put the leftover solution in the fridge.

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