A sure sign of Spring’s imminent arrival at our household is the sunning of cloth diapers. Nothing works quite as good as the sun’s rays do at obliterating any lingering funk from the fluffy folds of a FuzziBunz. Just another reason to love the Spring.
Over the last year, I’ve had a handful of friends and family ask me for advice about cloth diapering, and in the past week, I’ve had a new mama and expecting mama ask for my input. I’ve shared my opinions and experiences elsewhere, but now that I have finally started this blog, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to share everything in one place. There is a lot of information here; don’t be overwhelmed. And don’t try to read all at once. When I was researching cloth diapering, the sheer volume of information, acronyms, and opinions out there on the web were mind-boggling. Read a bit at a time, and don’t expect to learn it all at once.
Also remember that these are mostly my opinions, and my cloth diapering style is not the same as many other mamas. This is just some insight into how I do things. Like all parenting issues, everyone needs to find their own groove, and adapt methods to what works for their family and their babes.
Quick Pros: Environmentally friendly, economical (once your stash is established), easier potty training (allegedly – we’ll see if this holds true once we start with Pumpkin), look adorable on your little one’s bum.
Quick Cons: Startup cost can be intimidating, a full diaper pail can be overwhelmingly stinky if you don’t stay on top of the laundry.
My first piece of advice is that unless you can afford it in the short-term, don’t feel like you have to build your entire stash at once. We didn’t start using cloth with Pumpkin until she was about six months old, and we bought a diaper here and there. We initially tried FuzzuBunz, bumGenius, and GroBaby (which is now called GroVia). We used disposable diapers while we slowly built our stash. We eventually settled on Fuzzibunz as our diaper of choice, and bought a starter pack of 12 diapers on Amazon for a pretty good price.
We bought mostly gender neutral colors, since Pumpkin was our first baby, and we wanted to be sure to be able to use them with a little boy if we had one. We have a good share of girly diapers as well, and I’m sure he will wear them as well, if a “he” is to be. He’s not going to care what he poops in, right?
Initially, we purchased the Fuzzibunz One Size Pocket diapers that can be sized to use with newborns to beyond 30 pounds. We also now have a good number of Fuzzibunz Perfect Size diapers in medium, which can be used 15-30ish pounds, which is the major weight range of most babies’ diaper wearing months.
What is a “Pocket Diaper” or “AIO”?
AIO stands for all-in-one. An AIO diaper has an outer layer of waterproof fabric (usually “PUL” or polyurethane laminate) lined on the inside with a soft fleecy material. Between the waterproof layer and the fleecy interior is a pocket where a thick, absorbent insert slides in. Generally, with Pumpkin, we only need one insert, but you can put in multiple inserts for heavy wetters (generally these are called “boosters” or “doublers”).
There are other types of cloth diapers that have snap-in inserts, like the GroVia/GroBaby. Our GroBaby inserts are not nearly as soft as the FuzziBunz interior, and the velcro at the waist has started to curl; the main reason we prefer snaps rather than velcro (though velcro was preferable for bleary-eyed nighttime changes when we were using cloth on Pumpkin at night…the snaps can be difficult in the dark for a novice).
This bumGenuis organic one-size diaper is one of our favorites, but we didn’t buy them in bulk because the cost was prohibitive (around $25 apiece opposed to around $17 apiece for FuzziBunz). The insert doesn’t come out, and they fit very trim. Pumpkin is very tall and slim-hipped, so this one fits her very well. There is also no insert to pull out before washing, or to stuff once it is clean; but again, that is another discussion that I will get to in a bit.
How many do you need, and how often do you wash them?
There are a variety of opinions about how many cloth diapers you need in a stash to do full-time cloth diapering for one child. I have heard estimates ranging from 24 to 40, and I know of some families that cloth diaper that have upwards of 100 cloth diapers in their stashes (acquiring unique and adorable cloth diapers can sometimes become an addiction; it may happen to you!)
Personally, we have 32 in our stash, but it has taken us about ten months to get to that number.
I should note here that we are not a cloth-diapering family that shuns disposable diapers entirely. Pumpkin wears disposables to bed at night, and on long car rides or long afternoons out on the weekends. By using cloth diapers most of the time though, we go through about a quarter of the disposable diapers that we did before. This works best for us, and it is practical for us. There are some families that have a philosophical beef with disposable diapers, and some that need to use cloth diapers exclusively because of skin sensitivities in their babes, and then there are plenty of families that do as we do, and use a combination of both.
Find a balance that works for YOUR family. Don’t feel like it has to be all or nothing. It absolutely can be, but it doesn’t have to be.
Anyway, back to the washing issue. Pumpkin usually doesn’t go through more than eight diapers a day (she is currently seventeen months old), so I conservatively can wash diapers every three days, with a stash of 32 diapers. Younger babies will go through more diapers, so the frequency will be higher.
Caring for cloth diapers.
Diaper cream with cloth diapers is an absolute no-no. The oils in the cream will create a waterproof barrier on the absorbent fleece and leaks will result. The wonderful thing about cloth diapers though is that these are natural fabrics that are in contact with your babe’s tender skin, not the kinds of mysterious compounds that are used in disposables. Generally, cloth diapered babies experience fewer rashes than babies that are exclusively in disposables. (Full disclosure – when Pumpkin wears disposables, we use Huggies or Seventh Generation, and she never gets rashes. The only time she gets rashes are when Pampers or any other perfumed diapers are put on her.)
Fabric softeners and any detergent that intentionally leaves a residue on the surface of fabrics that are being washed are also strictly a no-no. We use Charlie’s Soap now, though we started out using just plain old All Free liquid detergent. There are a lot of products on the market for washing cloth diapers; it is just a matter of finding one you like. In general, “free and clear” detergents are the best to use.
What about poop? Older babies’ poop can just be knocked off into the toilet, and exclusively breastfed babies’ poop will wash off easily in the washer with no (or minimal) need for pre-treatment. In the event of a sticky poop, diaper sprayers are a savior for many families, though we don’t have one ourselves, we just do the old-school toilet-dunk. We’ll be purchasing a diaper sprayer for use with the next baby, though…just for convenience sake. (This one, creatively named “The Diaper Sprayer”, had a good review, and many other ones on the market tend to get crappy (pun intended) reviews.) Do your research before purchasing one, but I can attest personally, they aren’t a critical cloth diapering accessory.
The only leaks I’ve ever experienced with cloth diapers have been simply due to the fact that the diaper was full to it’s capacity with urine. I call this a “squeeze leak”. Just like when you squeeze a super-saturated sponge, liquid will come out, a filled-to-the-limit cloth diaper will also squeeze out pee, usually from the legs. Cloth diapers are entirely natural fibers, with none of the freaky expando-chemical-stuff that is in disposable diapers. They do have a maximum capacity for liquids. This has happened super infrequently though, and became the main reason we started using Huggies overnight for Pumpkin. You can use extra inserts overnight, though, if you want.
This same fact about the cloth diapers having a maximum capacity for liquid is allegedly one of the reasons that potty training a cloth diapered baby is easier. While the fleecy inner layer of the cloth diapers wicks moisture away to a certain degree, a toddler in a wet cloth diaper is not going to be as comfortable sitting around in it’s own waste as one in a disposable that has chemically wicked away all of the moisture.
I have never personally experienced a poop-blowout with a cloth diaper.
The only real “con” for me.
Perhaps I am biased since I’m writing this while sixteen weeks pregnant, but the only real con for me using cloth diapers is the smell of the laundry issue. My sense of smell is heightened right now, and in the thick of my early-pregnancy nausea, washing a load of cloth diapers was dreadful. A diaper pail that has sat for a day or two too long can reek of ammonia and other foul things, and having to interact with it in any way can be momentarily difficult. For pocket diapers, the insert must be removed before laundering (it won’t work its’ way out in the wash), so if you (or your partner…ahem) didn’t take the insert out of the diaper before tossing it in the pail, it will be your job to stick your fingers in there and pull out the cold, wet insert. Just take the insert out before you put the dirty diaper in the pail, and then all you have to do is dump the whole thing into the wash. Easy.
My opinion – the bottom line.
I didn’t even get into the technical economical aspects of cloth diapering (this respected cloth diapering site estimates a savings of up to $4,000 by cloth diapering a child for the first three years of their life; multiply that times two or three, or ten if you’re planning on having a huge family). As for the environmental impact, disposables can take up to 500 years to biodegrade, up to 30% of the synthetic portion of disposables are petroleum-based products, and up to 250,000 trees per year are destroyed to create the 18 billion disposable diapers that are used per year. If cloth-diapering families are responsible with their washing schedule (overuse of water for washing can be just as bad for the environment) and employ air-drying methods for their diapers when possible, it is clearly a better choice for the environment to use cloth diapers.
Downsides to cloth diapering are minimal once you figure out a routine, and what works best for your family. Despite the wealth of information out there, you will find that using cloth diapers is easy and intuitive, just like the rest of parenting!
Plus, they’re adorable. Can anyone deny that?