Monday, September 9, 2013

Everything you need to know about cloth diapering

1. It's not hard!
2. It's not (that) gross

I think some of my family and friends thought I was a little nuts when I said we were going to use cloth diapers but 5 months going strong, I don't regret it! I can't imagine how many disposable diapers we would have gone through by now. Sure I know friends who received lots of diapers at their baby showers but unlike the cloth diapers I got those disposables won't last forever. The one package of newborn diapers we did use was gone after just 2 days! What I'm trying to get at here is that cloth diapering is a big money saver.

There are a  lot of guides online to cloth diapering, I'll share some of my favorites later on, but some of them are so long that I think they make the process seem intimidating. My goal is to give you a quick and dirty guide to how I have diapered my daughter and show you how easy it is.

My supplies:

Pocket diapers: our overnight diaper
  • 1 package of newborn disposable diapers
  • assorted wipes (whatever we got at my baby shower)
  • about 30 pre-folded cloth diapers assorted brands
  • 6 one size pocket diapers assorted brands with 7 inserts
  • 4 one size Flip diaper covers
  • 4 newborn/small size diaper covers with umbilical stump snap
  • 1 wet bag
  • All Free and Clear detergent
  • 1 diaper bucket with lid

Before baby: We put the word out that we would be cloth diapering and registered accordingly. We got about 8 packages of a variety of prefolded diapers. What's a prefold you ask? Well a flat diaper is a large 1 ply square of fabric which is folded down to fit baby's butt and provide layers of absorbency. A prefold is a smaller multi-ply (prefolded) rectangle of fabric which requires less folding to fit baby's bottom. I also purchased 5 pocket diaper covers. A pocket diaper cover is a water resistant cover, shaped similarly to a disposable, with a soft inner layer which opens towards the back to allow you to stuff a liner or diaper inside.
Newborn cover: see the snap for the the umbilical stump?
To start out, I washed all of my new prefold diapers 3 or 4 times using the free & clear detergent. Temperature and other wash settings weren't a big concern, these first washes are just to remove chemicals from the cloth to make sure the diapers are fully absorbent.
I also sewed a few of my own newborn sized covers with an additional snap at the front to accommodate the umbilical stump. While I felt super accomplished, I don't really recommend making your own covers although I know that lots of people do. It was a large investment to get all the tools and supplies and a huge pain in the butt. I made two covers to start and intended to make more after my daughter was born and I had a chance to test them out. Yeah right! The last thing I wanted to do when my baby finally fell asleep was to wrestle elastic around the edges of a slippery piece of fabric.
Getting dressed to go home from The Midwife Center
Birth and week 1: We packed our diaper bag for the hospital with disposable newborn diapers. Why? Because when a baby is born their first bowel movements consist of tarry blackish green sludge called meconium. This stuff is sticky and difficult to remove from baby's bottom and we'd been tipped off by a number of sources that it would be equally difficult to remove from our cloth diapers. I delivered in a birth center and we were released the same day so we used almost a full package (about 36 diapers) by the time the meconium cleared out (2 1/2 days) and we moved on to normal bms and cloth diapers. We've only used cloth diapers ever since.
First time wearing a cloth diaper
Love that giant butt!
In those early days we experimented a lot with how to properly fold the diapers and I might have obsessed a little over all the crazy folding techniques I found detailed photographic guides to on various cloth diaper forums. I started out using what's called a "Jelly roll fold." It's way fancier than what I do now but it worked for us at the time.  Here's one of those fancy photo guides I mentioned to show you how to do it.

At home: I have my diapering station all set up like any other parent, just with slightly different supplies. My dirty diapers go into a bucket with a lid instead of a trash can or fancy expensive diaper eating contraption. When I change my daughter's diapers I lay a diaper folded into thirds the long way into a Flip diaper cover and strap it on much like a disposable diaper would be. I use the same cover multiple times until it gets soiled or wet, usually I only need one or two a day. Our covers have velcro closures to make frequent day time changes easier. Usually I lay a diaper underneath her too in case she pees while being changed. We got a few packages of Gerber diapers (the ones you find at Walmart, Kmart...) which aren't very absorbent and we haven't used those as diapers since she was a newborn but they're okay for this purpose and as burp cloths. I don't use diaper cream anymore because 1) I didn't find one that worked for us 2) once we started using Earth's Best sensitive wipes, my daughter stopped getting rashes and 3) most diaper cream isn't good for your cloth diapers.
Once Genevieve started sleeping through the night I started putting her in a pocket diaper stuffed with two inserts at bedtime and so far this has served us pretty well. These over night covers have snap closures which are a little more challenging to secure but since I'm only putting it on once at night and it's got double stuffing to hold in I like the extra security. The soft inner lining wicks the moisture off her skin so she isn't bothered by the wet diaper the way she is in her daytime diapers without lining.

Wet bag & two newborn covers
On the go: I did have my doubts at first about cloth diapering on the go but I'm glad to say we've survived many days out and about, including a few road trips. I just make sure to pack plenty of diapers plus a spare cover or two and I have a small bag made of water proof fabric with a zipper which I put dirty diapers in until we get home. In all honesty, I have forgotten to pack this bag a few times and in a pinch any old plastic bag works just fine. I've had absolutely no problems with smell or leakage in my diaper bag.

Washing: I wash diapers when we start to run low. Usually this takes about 3 days.

  1. Cold water wash with Free & Clear detergent: I run the whole wash cycle, rinse and all for a "normal/delicate" load. This first cold wash removes the solid yuck though so far the :solids" aren't very solid. Once I get to that point we may need to tweak things but my plan is to have a dedicated spatula in the bathroom to scrap waste into the toilet before tossing the diaper in the bucket. 
  2. Hot water wash with Free & Clear detergent: again the full wash & rinse. This one sanitizes and really deep cleans the diapers
  3. Extra rinse: just a normal cold water rinse. This makes sure all the detergent is out of the diapers to maintain full absorbency. Our current washer has a switch to automatically do an extra rinse cycle so I just hit that switch for the second wash. If the diapers have started to get an ammonia smell I add white vinegar to the rinse cycle by pouring it into the fabric softener dispenser when I start the wash.
  4. Dry: I take out my covers and hang them to dry. That part is important because the heat of the dryer will ruin the water-proofing on the covers. The diapers and inserts usually just go in the dryer for a normal tumble dry. I've line dried them a few times which is supposed to be better for them but they would become stiff and I felt like that wouldn't be very comfortable. 
Flip diaper cover: our daytime diaper.
So that's really everything. Pretty simple right?? My wallet is definitely happy about our choice! and look how cute these things are!

As promised, you can find links to diaper databases, dictionaries, tutorials, how-to, fancy picture guides, and other head spinning diaper information here. Seriously though, these are the sites I used to get started. You'll find that you have a lot of choices to make when it comes to cloth diapering, I've just shared with you what's worked for us.
Feel free to ask questions in the comment box below. 


  1. I think people who cloth diaper would say 'yes you can'... but is this really feasible if you work a lot, after you go back to work? I don't think daycare would use them? Plus, I'm away 50+ hours per week (my kid would be with me during part of that, but time at home is laundry time and the extra step seems daunting since I never get my laundry done as is.)

    1. I can't say from experience because I'm currently a stay-at-home mom but I think you're right about daycares not cloth diapering. My guess though is that you could potentially find home-run daycares more willing to work with you but that's a whole separate set of concerns. Cloth diapering doesn't need to be all or nothing. My half sister was cloth diapered but her mother left disposables for sitters. Some families use disposables over-night or while away from home.
      Is cloth diapering right for everyone, all of the time? Probably not or they wouldn't have invented disposables in the first place. My point here is that it's more feasible than I think most people today believe it to be and it's worked out well for my family.
      As for laundry, I've found it helpful to post the wash instructions in my laundry room so everyone knows what to do. I also don't fold my clean diapers, I just toss them in a wicker basket in my changing area which saves me some time.

  2. Hi! I'm new to cloth diapering, and my baby is about a year old, so maybe this first question isn't relevant to you yet. Do you use liners or prefolds? We tried two liners for the first time today, and he soiled right through them. Also, I love the spatula idea, but where do you store it between uses? Our baby boy hangs out on the bathroom floor when I need to brush my teeth, etc, so I just don't know where to keep it when I'm not using it. Thanks!

    1. I have both liners and prefolds and I use the two of them differently. When I use the Flip style cover which is just a shell I use a prefold, usually in a kind of triangle fold. With the pocket diapers we usually use the inserts. i'm not positive what you mean by "soiled through them" but if you mean a blow out where mess leaked out the edges of the diaper you may need to put the cover on a little tighter. Sometimes we have REALLY messy diapers where the Flip cover is soiled on the inside in addition to the prefold but it's been a while since any mess has leaked completely out of the diaper. Since writing this post, we've started solids on a regular basis so we are starting to get into the really yucky stuff.
      As for the spatula, I'm thinking in a cup either on top of the toilet tank or in the cupboard under the sink (if you have one) would be two options.
      Thanks for the questions! I hope this was helpful to you.