One of the few things I felt very strongly that I wanted to do as a parent was cloth diaper the girls. It’s also one of the things I get asked about most often (seriously, random texts from friends asking “can you tell me about this cloth diapering thing?”), and I figured it might be easy just to write about it and have someplace to point people when they ask me questions. So here’s that post.
Why Cloth Diaper?
Different people cloth diaper for different reasons. For me, there are two biggies. The most important to me was the environment. We recycle, garden, compost, bicycle, eat mostly vegetarian, and try to consume sustainable products. Knowing that the average baby produces at least 1.5 tons of diaper waste, all of which goes to a landfill and never biodegrades (seriously, even if you use “compostable” or “biodegradable” diapers, if you don’t compost them, they don’t get enough air and sunlight in a landfill to ever break down), I really wanted to find a better, more eco-friendly way to deal with diapering. The way I see it, we’re preventing at least 3 tons of landfill waste, and that’s huge.
My second reason is financial. Having two babies in diapers to potty training would cost at least $2k, and knowing I would probably at least be buying pricier eco-friendlier diapers if I were using disposables, that total would likely be closer to $4k.
Now, there are seriously dirt cheap ways to cloth diaper a baby, but I was a little afraid of the cheapest option of prefold diapers and covers. I wanted to go with the easiest options, most like disposables, where you just put on the diaper with either snaps or velcro, it’s all one piece, and all I have to do is toss it in the wash afterward– no folding or pinning or other origami type skills necessary, so I chose All in One (AIO) diapers for the newborn (NB) stage and one size (OS) pocket diapers for the rest of my diapering days. I stalked deals online (Zulily, Babysteals, EcoBabyBuys, Abby’s Lane, Cotton Babies), shopped used (Spot’s Corner, various message boards, Ebay), and received many of my newborn diapers as gifts from our registry. I personally spent $125 on newborn diapers, and did not pay full price for a single diaper.
Overall I had 36 newborn AIO diapers (BumGenius, Kissaluvs, and LilJoeys) for a total cost of $388. Additionally, after the girls outgrew the NB diapers, I sold them online for $245, bringing the actual cost of my newborn diapers to $143, and, considering what I actually personally spent as a result of receiving so many diapers as gifts ($125), essentially got paid to use cloth diapers for the first 9 weeks.
I also built up a stash of 36 OS pocket diapers (BumGenius 4.0, Rumparooz, Fuzzibunz, and Alva), plus 4 Flip covers and 12 Flip inserts, plus 12 fitteds (Rearz and Thirsties) and 6 hemp inserts (Thirsties) to use for overnights. The total cost of this stash, essentially 60 changes of diapers, which I hope will last until the girls potty train, was $545.90.
$545.90 is less than one half of what I would have spent on disposable diapers for just one baby.
In addition, I purchased two large hanging wetbags, for $30 each, and 4 travel size wetbags for various prices, one at $5, one at $18, and two for $14. That adds $51 to my total.
Other folks are convinced that cloth diapers are healthier for their babies because they don’t have chemicals in them. Others swear their kids get fewer diaper rashes (this has been true of our experience). And others claim that cloth diapered kids are potty trained easier. So, maybe some of that interests you.
What are the diapers like?
For the newborn stage, the diapers are truly not much different than a disposable. The AIOs I chose are all one piece, with waterproof fabric on the outside, soft fleece on the inside, and microfiber “soakers” (the absorbent part) in between. They closed with snaps or velcro. Because the poop of formula- and breast-fed babies is water soluble, there is nothing more required than taking the diaper off the baby, tossing it in a wetbag, and unzipping the wetbag and shaking the diapers into the washer when the wetbag gets full. They can be tumble-dried on low or hung out to dry (the sun does wonders for keeping them white and fresh), and there’s no folding or stuffing required. I really don’t see how this is any more work than tossing the diapers in the trash and taking the trash out when the bag gets full. I did not find changing the diapers to be any more disgusting than the disposables we used in the hospital.
The OS pockets for 9 weeks and beyond have one extra step. The absorbent soaker is not sewn into the diapers like with the NB AIOs, and instead must be “stuffed” into the pocket of the diaper after washing, and removed from the pocket of the diaper before washing. This extra step is worth it, though, because pockets can be stuffed with more and different inserts to customize absorbency, for example, by using hemp inserts in addition to or instead of microfiber inserts (that typically come with most pocket diapers) at nighttime for added absorption.
The way OS diapers are in fact one-size is that they are adjustable to fit most babies from about 10 lbs to 35 lbs. Most use snaps to change the “rise” of the diaper, and either have snaps or velcro/aplix to customize the waist. The only diaper I have that doesn’t use snaps to adjust the rise is my Fuzzibunz, which use leg elastic adjustments to change the size.
My girls were born at 6 lbs and wore their NB AIOs for 9 weeks, up to about 12 lbs. At that point, they still physically fit into the NB AIOs, but had outgrown the absorbency, leading to leaks. We switched them to the OS pockets at that point and have not had daytime leaking problems.
Nighttime leaks were another scenario as we began to get stretches of sleep up to 6 hours. This led me to look into fitted diapers. Fitteds look a lot like OS pockets in that they are adjustable in size. However, with a fitted, the entire diaper is absorbent, not just the soaker, so they can hold a lot more fluid. They can also be stuffed with additional inserts to make them even more absorbent. Because the whole diaper is absorbent, fitted diapers must be used with a waterproof cover. Right now we are using Thirsties Fab Fitteds at night with an additional Thirsties hemp insert and our Flip covers and have gone up to 8 hours with no problems. Even after that long, they seem like they could hold more liquid.
But isn’t it so much work?
Even with newborn twins, I haven’t found cloth diapering to be oppressively labor intensive. If you’re one of those people who hate laundry, you might hate this too. I don’t mind laundry, or diaper laundry, because a machine does all the work, and most of the work required of me can be done while sitting on my butt in front of the TV. It’s easy enough to do the cold rinse on the diapers, and then add in all the dirty baby clothes, blankets, bibs, and burp rags for the wash. I do about one extra load of laundry per day. If I had more diapers, I could do laundry less often.
But isn’t it gross?
One of the most common reactions I get is “ewww poop in your washer.” Well, blowouts and leaks happen even with disposables, so unless you’re planning to throw your kid’s clothes out every time s/he has a blowout, leak, or spitup incident, there’s going to be poop, pee, and puke in your washer too.
Other folks are grossed out that I bought some of my diapers used, noting a squick factor similar to used underwear. Once washed in hot water with soap and a little bleach, I saw no problem with it, personally.
Another common question is whether or not I have to touch poop. So far in my experience: not any more than when we have used disposables. When the girls start solids, we will have to “plop” their poop into the toilet and likely spray it off with a sprayer attached to the toilet. But overall, I don’t feel like I’m getting my hands any dirtier than I do when I change disposable diapers.
What about leaving the house?
I don’t do much different when we leave the house, except I take a smaller travel-sized wetbag to hold the dirties until I can deal with them when I get home. If we go on vacation to someplace without access to a washer and dryer, I will either buy the disposable inserts for my Flips or use disposables.
One thing to keep in mind with cloth diapers is not to use anything on them that might coat the fabrics or make them less absorbent. This means using “cloth diaper safe” detergents and diaper creams. Lots of folks use all kinds of specialty detergents, and there are lists that will let you know what’s safe, but I use Tide Ultra because it’s cheap, easy to find at Target, and gets my diapers clean and fresh-smelling. Folks buy all sorts of indie diaper creams too, but we use California Baby, which I can get at Target. Burt’s Bees is also cloth diaper safe, as is the lanolin you might also use on your nipples if breastfeeding, as is coconut oil.
Feel free to ask!