The most common reaction I hear to the prospect of using cloth diapers is something along the lines of “I could never deal with all that poop!” Well, I hate to be the one to let you in on this little secret, but if you have a baby, you will be dealing with a lot of poop.
Why use cloth
For me, the thing that initially got me interested in cloth diapering was the cost savings. Babies are expensive. I always knew I wanted a lot of them, and I knew I wanted them close together, but I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to afford the $80 per month per child that it would cost to keep those little booties covered. Once I decided to make the switch, I discovered some other benefits as well:
- Cloth diapers contain the mess better — When Arthur was in disposables, he blew out with Every. Single. Messy. Diaper. You think cloth diapers are gross? I would much rather wash a diaper actually made for the purpose than have to scrub several outfits a day (and those stains are hard to get out!) in addition to whatever surface dear little one was sitting on. Yuck.
- Cloth diapers are cuter — I know it’s not a big deal, but I love that cloth diapers actually look like some form of clothes. Honestly, in the warmer months, more often than not, my babies don’t even wear clothes when we aren’t leaving the house. But something about a baby in nothing but a disposable just isn’t quite the same as a baby in nothing but cloth. If I want to snap a picture to capture a cute moment, I would much rather they be in cloth. Plus, now that I have a little girl, I can put her in dresses without needing a separate diaper cover.
- Cloth diapers are gentler — The first time I took Arthur to a doctor’s appointment in a cloth diaper, my pediatrician asked if I noticed he was getting fewer rashes in cloth. I hadn’t known beforehand that would be a benefit of cloth, but once he pointed it out I realized that it was true.
- Cloth diapers are better for the environment — While this admittedly isn’t the top priority for me in any list of considerations, I am always glad when it’s a byproduct of choices I’ve made for my family. The statistics on the amount of trees and fuel used to manufacture disposable diapers and the amount of waste they produce in landfills is mind-blowing.
What you’ll need
Given that one of the biggest motivators to using cloth diapers is long term cost savings, it can be a frustrating barrier that it involves a significant initial investment. It can also be overwhelming to sort through all of the different types of cloth diapers available and seemingly complicated accessories to know what all you even need. But that doesn’t have to deter you, with this affordable set from LilBit you can get started for only the cost of a month’s worth of disposables and start saving right away! I would recommend getting two sets to begin with, then adding another set or two later if you feel like you need more. You can even start with just one set if you wash them every day.
- Diapers — Prefolds, contours, and pockets, oh my! If you want to do your own research, you can spend months and months getting lost down the rabbit hole of endless options. In my own decision-making journey, I settled on LilBit’s two-piece one-size-fits-all style. As you can see they fit my 6-month old baby, my 2-year-old, AND my 3 1/2-year-old, and those are not even the smallest or largest that they can adjust to. It is nice to not have to buy a whole new stash of diapers as your baby grows out of them, and it is especially convenient if you have more than one baby in different sizes because they can all use the same diapers.
- Inserts — The cute fabric part of the diaper serves the same function that the rubber pants of the past used to serve. They keep the outer clothes clean and dry, but they are not actually absorbent. Inserts are the part of the diaper that actually holds liquid, and there are as many kinds of inserts as the diapers themselves. I love the charcoal inserts that come with the LilBit set. Most other inserts are white and stain easily, but these dark colored inserts stay looking clean and the charcoal helps them stay fresh. I usually just change the diaper and insert at the same time, but you can change use the same diaper more than once and just swap out the insert, so you can get some extras for that purpose. Be especially careful of microfiber inserts, they are too harsh to be right up against baby’s skin, so they must be put in a pocket.
- Liners — Disposable liners are not technically necessary, but they are the key to making cloth diapering almost as easy as using disposable diapers. When your little one has a messy diaper, the solids can be easily removed and disposed of with the liner and there is much less mess to worry about on the diaper itself. The LilBit set comes with a roll of 100 bamboo liners. These are nice because they are stretchy so they can fit nicely around the insert and stay in place well. They are also flushable, which is especially convenient. You can buy additional flushable bamboo liners when you run out.
- Sprayer — If you want even less direct interaction with the yucky bits, you can get a sprayer like this one for around $20. I have gotten by cloth diapering three babies for three years without a separate contraption to rinse the dirty diapers, so you can certainly get started without one. For me, it wasn’t the diapers that were so bad, after all the liners catch most of the solids so there’s not much to clean up after that. What made me decide to finally get one is having two boys potty training. Cleaning cloth diapers isn’t so bad. Cleaning undies is disgusting. Again, if you are a parent, you’re going to encounter plenty of poo whether you cloth diaper or not.
How to use cloth diapers
With all of the different styles and parts and snaps all over the place, cloth diapers can seem daunting. Cloth diapers have come a long way though, and they really are just about as easy to use as disposables. There are many things about modern parenting that overcomplicate or overstimulate and make us long for “simpler times,” but the number one thing I hear from older generations that they wish they’d had when they were raising their kids is these amazingly simple cloth diapers. No complicated folding or sharp pins, these function just like disposables.
- Assembling the diaper — Technically these are pocket diapers, which means you can put the insert inside of the pocket on the diaper shell so it doesn’t touch your baby’s skin at all, but I prefer to just lay down the shell and lay the insert on top. It’s less work: no stuffing the insert before using and no trying to pull it back out when it’s soggy or dirty. I also find wrapping the liner around the insert keeps it in place better than just laying it on top of a stuffed diaper.
- Putting on the diaper — All of the snaps look a lot more complicated than they actually are, I promise. There are two sections of snaps, one for adjusting the rise (the height or length from crotch to belly button) and one for adjusting around the hips. In the picture of my kiddos you can see the rise snaps at all three levels from medium to large, but in reality, I have only ever used them at the medium height, and it has worked fine for me from new babies to potty training age. The hip snaps function just like you are used to with disposables, just wrap the straps around your baby’s waist, and rather than a sticker or velcro, they snap in place at the right size.
- Changing the diaper — One of the biggest adjustments when switching from disposables to cloth is that there is no clear indication of when the diaper is “full.” Cloth diapers don’t have a yellow line that turns blue, they don’t get larger when they’re full, they don’t become squishy and soggy. Even the best cloth diapers don’t hold as much liquid as disposables do, so you will have to change diapers a little more often and you will have a period of trial and error in figuring out how often that is. Cloth diapers almost never have blowouts, which is amazing, but they definitely can and will leak plenty as you learn how long your baby can (or can’t) wait between changes. One crucial step when you first get them is to wash all of the inserts in the hottest water possible, or even boil them in a big pot of water. I didn’t read the instructions when I got mine and I thought my cloth diapering adventure was a bust when Arthur leaked out of his diapers every 30 minutes. You can also double up on inserts if you need even more absorbency.
Where to put the mess
By this point you’ve learned that you can get started with cloth diapers for the same cost as a month of disposables and that you can use cloth diapers as easily as disposables. This is the point where cloth diapers do vary significantly, because cloth diapers get washed and reused, not dumped in a landfill, but if you do it right it’s really not so bad.
- Dispose of any solids — With liners this is as easy as putting them in the toilet or the trash. Remember even wipes, liners, and other things marketed as “flushable” don’t break down in the sewer, they just don’t get caught in your pipes. The best practice is to flush liners for dirty diapers and just throw them away if they’re only wet.
- If needed, rinse the diaper and insert — Here it is, the part you’ve been dreading, but there’s really nothing to dread! Wet diapers can go straight into the wash, soiled diapers of exclusively breastfed babies can go directly into the wash, diapers with just a little bit of a mess left after removing the liner can go directly into the wash. For those rare diapers that do need a little extra care, you can rinse them out in the toilet, not the sink, so that none of that yuckiness goes in the same place you wash your face and brush your teeth. You can either dunk it in and scrub it by hand or get a sprayer for even more ease.
- Have a dedicated spot for diapers waiting to be washed — Diapers will need to be washed a certain way and you don’t want them touching all of your other clothes anyway, so you’ll need a small hamper specifically for them. It should be covered to keep odor and bacteria in and it should be something easy to clean. I just use a small covered garbage can. Some people use a 5 gallon bucket and keep water in it so the diapers can soak while waiting to be washed, but I’ve never had any problem with stains as long as I follow the above steps right away and then wash the diapers frequently.
- Wash the diapers every 2-3 days — I always run my diapers in two cycles. First, I wash them with cold water to get out any stains, then with hot water to sanitize. I use detergent in the first cycle, then only water in the second to make sure they are well rinsed so there is no lingering soap or remaining ammonia from the urine. You don’t have to be shy about using plenty of detergent to get the gross stuff out since you will run another cycle to get the soap out. There are all kinds of detergent specifically for babies or even specifically for diapers, but I use my favorite Arm & Hammer detergent, the same kind that I use for all of my clothes. The most important part of getting diapers really clean is running plenty of water through them. Remember, most clothes get dirt and stains on the surface, but diaper inserts are specifically made to pull in liquid and lock it inside, so it will take more to get it thoroughly cleaned out. Many people hang-dry their diapers, but I just go ahead and use the dryer because I’m impatient. Even with all of this washing and drying, I have used the same diapers for four years and they all look as good as new.
- Strip the diapers occasionally — Over time, even when you perfectly wash the diapers every time, the trace amounts of urine, detergent, and other things will build up. You may notice that your diapers are not as absorbent or that they have a strong ammonia or even grassy type smell. When this happens they need to be “stripped,” or more thoroughly cleaned to get them back to their original state. The easiest way to do this is to run them in a nice long hot cycle with about 1/2 cup of washing soda (not baking soda!) and 1 cup of vinegar.
When to make exceptions
Some people never buy a single disposable diaper in their life, and I think that’s amazing. I have used cloth on trips when I am at a family’s house and have easy access to a washer and dryer. I have used cloth diapers on a week long camping trip, washing them in a 5 gallon bucket with a plunger and drying them on a clothes line in the open air. But I have also found that it is worth it to us to use disposables sometimes, and there are still significant savings from using cloth most of the time. Even with all of the benefits of cloth diapering and the ease of my tips and tricks, I will admit sometimes it’s still just easier to use disposables. We have decided to always use disposables at night because they are so much more absorbent. We also use them when leaving the house, because even with wet bags to store used cloth diapers in, when toting around things for three kids under three, it is just easier to keep the bulk down in any way possible. Sometimes we just use disposables on the weekends too so there is one less thing to worry about and a little more time to spend as a family.
Who should use cloth diapers?
You! You’ve got this. If you’re considering it enough to have made it through this whole article, then you should absolutely get a set and try it out, you will be so glad that you did!