Real Simple Mama

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Cloth Diapering 101

Thinking about cloth diapering?  Wanting to know more?  This is the first in a series of posts in which I’ll tell you everything you need to know about CD.  See if it might be right for your family – it works for us, and we love it!

I have done both disposables (first kiddo) and cloth diapers (second kiddo), so I feel I have a really balanced, experienced perspective on the good and bad of each.  I’ll try to level with you as we go along.

Cloth Diapering 101 - RealSimpleMama

Cloth Diapering 101 – RealSimpleMama

Additionally, if you’re thinking about cloth diapering, here are the first questions you need to answer for yourself:

*Does cloth diapering sound like it would work for me?

*If so, should I look into getting prefolds and covers, pocket diapers, or all-in-ones? (It’ll make sense momentarily, stay with me).

*What about cloth wipes?

I’ll also warn you – while I’ll give you my opinion about general CD stuff, i won’t go into brand names and reviews here.  Don’t want to overload you.

Ok let’s get started!

diaper cloth prefold cover

Tiny in her prefold and cover!

So what is cloth diapering, anyway?

Cloth diapering is essentially the use of washable, reusable fabric to diaper your baby, instead of disposables.  People choose to cloth diaper for a number of reasons (this is the good):

*Better for the environment;

*Saves money in the long run;

*Better for your kid’s skin, especially if they’re prone to excema or allergies;

*You know exactly what’s in them and on them;

*Great materials like bamboo, hemp, microfiber, or organic cotton;

*Potentially easier on circumsized boys as they’re healing;

*Resell them once you’re done and get some money back;

*Cute patterns and colors, which are fun and addicting!

Here’s why I chose to cloth diaper this time around (this is good too): I had wanted to do it with my firstborn, but we were overwhelmed with being new parents; we had to send kiddo off to daycare at three months old, and felt that CD would be too high of a learning curve for us. Now that I stay at home, it was something I really wanted to try.  It will certainly save us money in the long run – especially if you have people buy cloth from your registry, hint hint – and I’ll be able to sell them when I don’t need them anymore.

part of my stash

part of my stash

I actually enjoy washing them and hanging them outside to dry.  It feels like I’m on my own little homestead.  Plus I love all the cute colors and patterns, and knowing that my daughter has a safe, simple diaper on her bottom.  (I also always hated the swishing sound my son made as he moved while wearing a disposable diaper, it just bugged me). I personally haven’t noticed an increase at all in my water bill, washing diapers 2-3x/week, and I watch my finances like a hawk; while I do prefer to dry them out in the sunshine, I do have to use my dryer sometimes, but my energy bill hasn’t gone up either.

Here’s what to know up front about CD (this is the bad): it will cost you a decent amount up front to build up a “stash” – depending on the style you go with, anywhere from $150-300 usually.  So there’s that.  It does save you money over time, but it’s sometimes hard to accept that you’re paying upwards of $17 for a diaper (especially for the guys). And unless you have a ginormous baby at birth, you’ll first need a set of “newborn” diapers, and then once baby hits 15-18 pounds you’ll graduate to another set.  So essentially you’ll have to buy diapers again. (Yes you can sell your newborn stash at that time, but you probably won’t get all your money back). My daughter was six pounds at birth, and she’s almost four months old now and still in newborn size cloth.  So it just depends. I’m gradually buying full-size stuff for when she gets bigger, since it’s inevitable anyway.

It’s also going to feel like a hobby, especially in the beginning when you’re getting into a routine.  Doing laundry is a pretty easy chore since you can just throw stuff in the washer and walk away, but technically it is more laundry. You’ll have to do research on your water (I have very hard water where I live, for example, so I have to do some extra tricks when washing) as well as your washer/dryer/detergent setup so that you can optimize your process.

Like everything else, practice “diaper application” the best you can before baby gets here, but you’ll have to learn what folds or brands or styles you like once you get your little bundle of joy home. It may sound silly but practice on a stuffed animal or your cat to get the hang of diapering. Just watch for claws.

If you’re super squeamish about bodily functions, know that breastfed baby poop can go straight into your washer – no need to rinse them beforehand or do any extra work. But once your kid starts solids around 6 months old, their poop will be more like adult poop. At that point you’ll have to remedy your routine a bit – a lot of people get a diaper sprayer which hooks into the water line on your toilet, and they spray or “plop” the poop into the toilet before taking them to the wash. Keep this in mind as it’s something you should take into consideration now. Check out my article about CD wash routines to get a glimpse into the gear and methods available for this.

A Few More Things to Consider

Newborns will go through 10-16 diapers a day (pee and/or poop) for a few weeks; usually a newborn stash needs to have at least 2 days’ worth of diapers, so you’re looking at a minimum of 20 but I would suggest more like 24-32.  More diapers means doing laundry less often.

If you choose to cloth diaper, you can select all of one style (see below) or have some of each. I’d also recommend getting some of a few different brands, until you learn what’ll fit your baby best.

Lots of stores or online retailers will put together packages for you to buy at a discount, or you can even buy used (or rent them). Remember that the newborn sizes will only work temporarily, so you may want to find a more affordable option at least for them.

You should also get a wet bag (leakproof cinching bag which you put dirty diapers in) or a diaper pail. There are some made just for cloth diapers, and also smaller ones to take when you leave the house. Things like a wipe warmer are more of a luxury.

fluff cloth diaper prefold cover infant

Look at that cute lil fluff butt!

The Three Types of Cloth Diapers

This has nothing to do with brands, but the various styles of cloth diapers you can go with. They will vary in price but most major CD brands make all three styles. Right now, think about what might work best for you.

All cloth diapers have two main parts: the outside cover, which is usually waterproof, and the inside absorbent part which is against your baby’s skin. The outsides come with either snaps or velcro, and this is the part which has cute colors and patterns. The inside is what will be made of anything from hemp to organic cotton, and has to be changed/washed with every poop or pee. So choose if you prefer snaps or velcro (or some of both), and what style(s) you like.  Confusing, I know. Read on, and all shall be revealed.

All-In-Ones (AIOs)

AIOs are the closest to disposables in their amount of effort. The outer and inner parts are sewn together, so everything is “all-in-one” piece. Using velcro or snaps, you just put the diaper on your baby like a disposable. That’s it. They’re also slimmer than the other two styles, so they’ll look less bulky under clothes. These are the easiest for people to use if they’re not accustomed to CD (daycare workers, babysitters, other family members).

Two downfalls to AIOs – every time your baby poops or pees, the whole thing has to go into the wet bag. There’s no dirty part to change out, it’s all one part.

Secondly, they are the most expensive type of cloth diaper. Convenience comes at a price. They’ll usually run about $17-25, or more if it’s a custom design. You will be able to use them over and over again as you wash them, but it will cost you a lot to build up a stash of just AIOs.  Remember that a newborn will go through 10-16 diapers a day for a while.

I personally have 2 AIOs which I use for when we go out and I don’t want to carry around a lot of stuff. The brand I have doesn’t fit my daughter well so I don’t trust it for nap time or overnight. But it’s a good quick solution and my husband feels more comfortable using these than the others we have.

Pocket Diapers and Inserts

This option comes in two parts – a waterproof cover with a built-in fabric pocket, and the insert. Essentially the insert is a long piece of fabric which you stuff into the pocket of the diaper (think of a slim menstrual pad without the adhesive). Every diaper you buy will come with at least one insert, and you can buy extra inserts too. These are much cheaper than AIOs because they’re not as convenient. You have to do more work, but you don’t have to pay for it.

part of my pocket diapers and inserts

part of my pocket diapers and inserts

Most people stuff all their diapers as soon as they’re clean, so that they have a stack of them ready to go at the changing table. (You could also just stuff them as needed, but I’ve never heard of anyone doing this and I would imagine it to be quite stressful). Some moms recruit the dads to sit and stuff diapers at night while watching TV. Once they’re stuffed with their insert, these diapers are just one step to put on, much like a disposable or an AIO.

The bad news is the stuffing – there’s a learning curve to this. And you have to make sure that the insert comes out of the pocket when it’s time to get washed. (Depending on your washer, it may do this on its own, but if not then you’ll have to pull it out manually… ew).

This is also a one-and-done diaper; if it gets peed in, the whole thing has to be changed. The insert lives inside a layer of fabric so the diaper itself will get soiled too.

A friend gave me a whole bunch of full size pocket diapers and inserts for free (thanks Jackie!) but they’re still too big for my daughter. In playing with them though, I got frustrated – you have to put the insert in a certain way, and fix it if it doesn’t go in correctly or bunches. So for now, I can honestly say that I hate these. I have them to use when my baby gets bigger, but right now I’m planning on using them as a backup only.

sun-drying diapers is a thing of beauty

sun-drying diapers is a thing of beauty

Prefolds and Covers

This is the cheapest, most basic option. A prefold is like the diaper your grandma used way back when – essentially a big, soft, square of fabric. You fold it up (or sometimes fold it before putting it on baby, hence the term “prefold”) and then fasten it. Whereas Grandma probably used safety pins to put it on baby, there are now other options like the Snappi, which are faster and safer. Then (unless you like to live dangerously) you put a waterproof cover on over the baby. Two parts, not connected to each other at all. Sounds like a ton of work, but you can do it really fast once you get the hang of it.

There are lots of different ways you can fold the prefold to make it work with your baby’s thighs and tummy, even catering to if they’re a boy or a girl (their pee tends to gather in different parts of the diaper).

Maybe the best part? The covers are potentially reusable. If pee or poop didn’t go all the way through your prefold, just change the prefold and use the same cover again! And prefolds are the cheapest way to go, by far.

my newest fluff mail - more covers!

my newest fluff mail – more covers!

Problem is, these are the ones which come with the highest learning curve. You have to fold the prefold around your baby, hold it with one hand and fasten it, and then basically go through the motions again to put on a cover. You could be lazy like me and forego the fastener altogether, since the cover will hold the prefold in place, but it’s still more steps than the other styles. That means that it’ll be more work for a daycare worker or inexperienced cloth diaperer, too.

This is what we do! I personally have grown to really love prefolds, they’re so versatile and easy to use. I skip the Snappi and just fold the prefold, and then snap my cover on top. At night, I do a prefold plus an extra insert laid on top of it. My daughter looks ridiculous with her huge fluff butt, but she goes 8-10 hours without a change. We have 24 small prefolds and started out with six covers, but I’ve increased it to ten.  Now I only do laundry once every 3-4 days.

But What About Wipes?

I will be straight with you on this – I do not use cloth wipes all of the time. I have some, but I was asking around and doing research before my daughter was born. It seemed to me that no matter what I did, the cloth wipes were going to be a pain. And I do not want to CD if it is going to be more trouble than it’s worth.

Update March 2016 – I want to save some money and I hate the amount of disposable wipes I’m using, so I caved and started cloth! I actually like it, it makes washing a lot easier. The only thing I hate is that I do have dump all of them out and wash them and the container once a week (even if they hadn’t been used). Shoutout to LoveJoy Shoppe – Sara has the cutest wipes that you can use for all kinds of stuff.  I bought two sets and looove them! I make a solution of purified water and a tiny bit of baby soap, shake it up and pour in my wipes container. Done.

See my full article about cloth wipes here – includes a recipe for the wipe solution!).

Here are the options that were told to me by other CD moms: you can either make a natural solution to put on the wipes, or you can keep it in a spray bottle. If you keep it on the wipes in a typical white container, you have to wash all of them a few times a week or they will start to mold and mildew. Yes, even if you did not use all of the wipes. And that includes having to make a new batch of solution, too. The spray bottle option would keep you from doing that, but then you have to spray wipes every time you change a diaper. No thank you.
I guess you could potentially keep the wipes in one of those containers and just use water? I do not know. Maybe once my older child is potty trained, and I only have one in diapers, I will be more adventurous. But for now, this is where I drew the line on cloth diapering.

My decision was made easier when I found out that you can use disposable wipes with cloth diapers. And my first thought was, “do I have to throw the wipe in the trash, and the diaper in the wet bag?” Nope! Everything can go in the wet bag, and into the washer later. Most disposable wipes could go all the way through the dryer and not cause any damage. I have tested it and can attest that this is true. The wipes came out in little balls, which I just picked out and put in the trash. But it’s quite easy to pick them out, they don’t disintegrate into a big mess or anything. (I use HEB brand wipes, by the way).

When I do now is usually pull the wipes out of the washer after I do my prewash, before I add soap and do the full wash. But if I forget, no harm done. I use unscented disposable “all over” wipes. Even with a big messy breast-fed poop, I usually do not need more than two wipes.

don't worry, she loves them! honest!

don’t worry, she loves them! honest!

Closing Thoughts

Looking back, would I still want to do cloth diapering? Hell yes! Though I have a few more things for you to think about…

If your child is going to have to go to day care or be watched by someone during the day, I would show them this article and talk to them about it. Get their thoughts, look up some YouTube videos and make the decision together. It is only fair.

Whether or not you are going to be with your child during the day, realize that you will have to wash diapers at least twice a week. Most people I know do it every other day. If you want to do laundry less frequently, you have to have more diapers.

If you really want to try cloth diapering but are worried about cleaning them, you could always use a diaper cleaning service. They usually pick them up from your door, clean and sterilize them, and drop them back off. This would be a great gift for someone to get you right when the baby is born. Put it on your registry!

On that note, put as much of this stuff as possible on your baby registry if you can. Every little bit helps. And look online as well as at local baby stores, even Facebook or craigslist. There are ways to “strip” diapers to get them super clean, and many people sell gently used cloth diapers. If you feel passionate about cloth diapering, there are plenty of options to help them be affordable. Don’t let money be the reason you don’t get to do it!

Do keep some disposables around the house. It is actually comforting to know that I have a few in case my washer explodes, or I want to take a day off from cloth.

Most importantly, be honest with yourself. This is a learning experience and will cost you some money upfront. For our family, it has been totally worth it and I have found something I truly enjoy. But only you know if cloth diapering would be beneficial for your family.

Check out my other articles on cloth diapering too!

Is your brain full now? Do you feel like a cloth diapering expert? Leave a comment below with your suggestions and experiences. Contact me if you have more questions, or if I can do anything else to help!

Happy diapering!

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for share this …

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