Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cloth Diapering with Ease

Cloth diapers. It's a good post for Halloween week. The very words conjure up frightful images: yucky yucky messes, scraping and washing in toilet water, babies and mamas getting poked with pins, not to mention those horrible old rubber pants. I better stop before we all have nightmares.

Well, never more, my friends! Cloth diapering is not what it was!

We decided to cloth diaper our boys because it's gentler on both the earth and pocketbook. And it's truly easy! We made the switch when Sammy was about one, and have been at it ever since (here's my original post on cloth diapering from back then).

Wiggle worm Daniel

My Gear of Choice (the links show where I purchased what)
This combination has been leak-proof, blow-out proof, and cute to boot. I saw far more leaks in disposables than I have in cloth. If I go too long between changes, I might have a little moisture soak into the cloth edging of the covers, but that has rarely happened. (Here is a thorough Amazon review on the Thirsties covers.) These covers are very waterproof and very comfy for baby.

The Changing Routine
I don't have a diaper pail. I searched and searched for the right one, but never found it (though getting a wet bag is on my radar), so I found my own way. I keep a little spray bottle on hand for wetting the cloth wipes (mixture of water and a few drops of Dr. Bronner's castile soap... any gentle soap would do). Here's what works for us: 

See diapers, sprayer, wipes, cream, pail, snappis, and covers.

1. Spray a wipe or two before the change.
2. Remove soiled prefold and place with dirty wipe in diaper container (mine was sold as a pet food container). 
3. Leave cover in place for reuse. I generally use my covers for several diapers in a row before they get smelly. If the diaper is very wet, I hang the cover in its place on the corner of the changing table to air out (you could put a strip of velcro on your table to hang them on). Occasionally, a cover will get a bit messy. Just toss it in the container with the diaper. It is so nice not to have to wash the cover with every use!
4. Put a new prefold in place and, if desired, lather baby's bum with heavenly diaper cream. (This homemade cream is the best thing I've ever tried -- dream come true.)

5. Wrap prefold around baby like regular diaper and fasten with snappi.
6. Wrap cover around prefold, fasten velcro, and tuck in prefold around legs. If any of the prefold is showing, you get leaks.

This only takes 1-2 minutes, depending on the diaper and wiggliness of baby.

Cleaning the Diapers
The idea is to clean every messy diaper immediately (if you wait too long, it's more likely the stains won't wash out completely). So after a change, we go straight to the bathroom, where we have a sprayer attached to our toilet. I purchased mine on ebay for maybe $25 (they're still available there... just checked).

We replace the prefold in the container, which stays on the shelf of the changing table until full (maybe 6-7 diapers), at which point we transfer the diapers to the washing machine with some shakes of baking soda (kept in my laundry closet). We also sprinkle some in the container.

Every 2-3 days we're ready to wash a few containers worth of diapers (still just a small-sized load):
  1. Cold rinse with the baking soda that's already in there. This is a good way to do an initial cleaning without setting stains.
  2. Hot rinse with some detergent added.
  3. By this time, they're quite clean, and I fill the rest of the washer with other laundry (lights or darks), and do a full load, with detergent added.
Use a gentle, earth-friendly detergent. We have mainly used Biokleen, but have most recently tried Charlie's Soap.  (If you go with Charlie's, be sure to follow washing instructions to a T. Here's what they have to say about using their product on diapers.) I found this helpful review comparing all kinds of detergents.  I am very eager to try soap nuts, as they are the most natural and economical way to wash, but have yet to order mine. I'll post an update when I try them.

Drying the Diapers
This can take a LONG time in the dryer, the one of the biggest household energy-suckers. So I usually hang-dry. We have a great collapsible clothesline dryer that we've used both inside and outside. By the way, a former 2-year-old in the house once lost the black tighteners you use to keep the dryer upright. I contacted the company (Household Essentials), and they sent me several extras completely free of charge. I was very impressed.

  • Isn't it gross to wash them out? The diaper sprayer makes this part a breeze! Do it right away and it's no problem; takes less than a minute. Nice side note: if your baby is still 100% breastfed, you can skip this. It just dissolves in the washing machine. :)
  • Do they smell? Before, yes. After, no. I have never had diapers come out smelly.
  • What about stains? If I don't spray a messy diaper right away, a stain can linger (not a smell). If it bothers you, squeeze a little lemon juice on it and leave it in the sun. You'll be good to go.
  • What about diaper rashes? Before switching to cloth, I heard cloth diaper advocates talk about how babies get less diaper rashes in cloth than disposables (less chemicals and processing). I did not find this to be true. It's when we wait too long between changes that we start to see sore bottoms. I haven't used any inserts (though I have yards of bamboo flannel waiting to be tried), so since my prefolds don't wick away moisture, we have to stay on top of the changes!
  • Can you use cloth at night? Definitely. I know lots of people who do cloth at night. I've done it many times myself (and even then, my diapers don't leak). But again, my baby is more prone to get a rash if he's sitting in urine all night (I bet those inserts would do the trick!). Right now I mainly use Nature Babycare or Earth's Best or 365 or Seventh Generation disposables (at least go for chlorine free). I don't change diapers at night, so I need something that will hold through without aggravating that soft skin.
  • I heard that the environmental benefit to using cloth is debatable (consider the hot water use, the energy, the detergents...). I have thought about this, which is why I make the extra effort to hang-dry and use natural detergents. Also, it's easy to live in ignorance of just what it takes to make disposable diapers. Here's a post detailing what goes into the making of a disposable diaper. The author cites a study which showed that in general, when compared to cloth, disposables create "2.3 times as much water waste, use 3.5 times as much energy, use 8.3 times the non-regenerable raw materials, use 90 times the renewable raw materials and 4 to 30 times as much land for growing raw materials." She also discusses the overburdened landfills and the health hazards of human waste in landfills. She may be extreme in her position (??), but it's definitely food for thought.
This is what works for my family, but there are myriad ways to do it! I know some of you silent readers are also committed cloth diaperers. For the sakes of those tempted to try it out, please share what you do. What gear do you like? How do you clean and care for your diapers? Other thoughts?


  1. Umm... Can I have your baby? He is such a darling. I promise I'll cloth diaper him!

    I'm committed to the cloth diaper thing, but is this something I should start day one with my first baby? Besides the fact that I perfected my disposable diaper-changing skills back at the Marshall front, I'm worried it will be a little stressful starting out this way with our first newborn. Do you cloth diaper your brand new newborns, Nonie?

    Thanks especially for the links! Sometimes when I want to try something new I get frustrated just trying to figure out where to get the gear.

  2. Sorry, you can't have my baby. He's still nuts for you though. :)

    Daniel was in disposables for his first week, then we switched over to cloth. It worked great. Actually, it's nicer in many ways because you don't have to wash out the messy diapers and they don't squirm around during changes. As far as Cameron is concerned, I think the diaper-changing learning curve will be the same whether he's doing disposables of cloth. I have friends who started cloth with baby #1, but don't do it right away if it will overwhelm you. New mamahood is already a big adjustment. You can be prepared to do cloth, then dive in whenever you're ready.

    I wanted to add a note about vacations. If we're driving somewhere and we'll be settled comfortably with a washer/dryer on hand, we bring our cloth supplies. If we're flying or going somewhere inconvenient to cloth, we just use disposables.

  3. Hello, I'm Ariel's cousin Anna Peterson. A friend of mine uses cloth, and posted some information about her gear choices, and thoughts.

    I found these links I shared informative and helpful. I've been investigating this option, so thanks for posting more info.

  4. Great post, Nonie! I plan on switching to cloth as soon as we get to a place with a washer and dryer. I've heard of hand-crank washers people put in their sinks. Am I a baby for waiting?

  5. Thanks for those helpful links, Anna. There are so many options for cloth diapering. Her g diapers are adorable!

    On that note, my choice of diapers was, in part, influenced by finances. I figured since I could get the prefolds at $2 a pop, we had to go that route. I have 3-4 reusable covers in three sizes (all different colors), which were about $11 each. When I was doing the research, I was eying the pocket/all-in-one diapers, but I'd have needed as many (at $15-$20 each) as I had prefolds. Huge price difference. It's nice to have good options at different levels. They are all very cute.

    Melissa -- NO! You're not a baby. I think it would be hard to do cloth without a washing machine (though I think Ariel tried it for a while at their Provo apartment). You could see if there's a diaper service in your area. There's a great one in L.A. County (, but it costs about as much per month as disposables, so we couldn't do it. The nice thing about services is that they generally have big, efficient washers, so it's a tad easier on the earth.

  6. I'm Nonie's friend and I love this blog so thank you everyone for the wonderful posts. I have two girls in cloth diapers right now, a two year old and an 8 month old. I got some pocket diapers that were called Katydid diapers and are now called Oh Katy diapers off of I have really liked them but it can be a little pricey at first. I think they paid for themselves after a few months. There are several other deal a day websites out there like which occasionally have good deals on diapers. We use a hanging diaper pail. The brand is Leslie's Boutique. We just wash it when it is full along with the diapers. We also use the diaper sprayer which has worked well. We use disposables for a little while right after having a baby just to have one less thing to think about. I also used cloth at our last apartment which had a washer and dryer below it. It was more work but doable. Thanks for the post, Nonie. It was fun to see how it works for your family.

  7. Thanks for the money-saving tips, Rachelle!

    I once read the idea of having a designated "diaper spatula" near the toilet and using it for most diapers. That woman saved her sprayer for the worst ones. I always thought that sounded incredibly yucky, but today I started thinking it might be a good idea to save more water. Yuckiness is all in the mind anyway, right?

  8. I just have to say, I LOVE CLOTH! I am a serious fluff addict :) I like you washing instructions, I'll have to try that if I ever get pregnant again :) (I hope I do because I have at least 100 diapers- yes you heard me right, I told you I'm addicted!)

  9. My sprayer never had enough water pressure to be of any help...I have also been lazy since moving to Ohio and haven't been able to find my diapers. I've been inspired to go find them today. Sometimes I wonder if Jonathan secretly hid them from me in the move...

    I use gDiapers with cloth inserts (because I didn't know any better when I started)
    I also have bum genius 4 that I really like.
    My friend uses the Flip system. I woud like to do that if my gDiapers ever wear out an need to be replaced. The Flip system is like your thirsties covers. Only its a snap system instead of velcro.

    Do you have any recommendations for cloth pull ups...I might have to invest in them for Isaac. I am sick of buying pull-ups and his fuzzybunz with hemp inserts no longer fit him.

    Thanks Nonie!

  10. Thanks, Nonie! Super helpful! I'm excited to get back into it.

  11. Mia, you are so cute. I hope you get to use your diapers again very soon!! :)

    Abby, thanks for the comment! Tell Jonathan it's time to spill the beans! ;) Unfortunately, I don't know much about cloth pull-ups, but would be interested to find out more. A few months after he turned two, we potty-trained Sammy practically in one day (potty party style), so he went straight from cloth to underwear. He still wears pull-ups at night (rarely wakes up dry). If I could find cloth pull-ups that would keep moisture away from the skin, I might consider that... I'll let you know if I find the impetus to do the research!