Friday, March 19, 2010

All About Cloth Diapering

This is the second installment in our series of "how we do things" around here. I first spoke about "Exclusive Pumping" a few weeks ago, and today I tackle the hefty subject of cloth diapering.

First of all, let me spell out a few truths about me & cloth diapering:

  1. Cloth diapering is not a life or death thing. While I'm a huge fan of cloth diapering, I'm not so adamant that you must cloth diaper that I will judge you if we don't. I'll let you in on a little secret: Even though we cloth diaper almost 100% of the time, we still use disposables every now and then (gasp!!), and I'll later explain why. [Cloth diapering may hereafter be referred to as "CD".]
  2. I'd still consider myself a student of CD. I'm not a know-it-all expert, nor do I want to pose as one, because there are still things I'm figuring out myself and as I post this, I know others will have suggestions or lessons learned they might want to share. But as I have learned, when you start something new, you usually learn a LOT all at once, and you can kind of become a semi-expert in no time. Or at least learn the lingo, concepts, practices, etc., pretty quickly--enough to get by.
  3. Cloth diapering is just cute. (Note lil' 5 month old Mia in her apple green Fuzzibunz below!) Plain and simple. People may think CD is gross ("ewww, what do you do with all that poo??!") but, you do the same thing with the poo that you'd do with disposables--or at least, what you're supposed to do: toss it!
    From The Ciampa Channel

So, as succinctly as only I know how ;) here's my spiel on the world of cloth diapers:

There are a lot of reasons to cloth diaper. You can google "why cloth diapers" and you'll find loads of results. I think Diaper Safari summed it nicely. If you're looking for a cost-effective, eco-friendly, healthy & safe alternative to disposables, cloth is the way to go. It's cost-effective because in the long run, you spend less to purchase a good set of cloth diapers, wash and maintain them, than you do by purchasing packages of disposables regularly. It's eco-friendly because it cuts down on the waste sent to landfills, which can take hundreds of years to decompose, and the energy spent washing the diapers still has less of an impact on your carbon footprint than disposables. It's healthy & safe because cloth diapers do not contain the same chemicals in many popular disposable diaper brands. Doesn't it seem like there's a new health scare everyday about dangerous environmental toxins? Using cloth diapers is one way you can rest assured you are reducing your little one's chemical exposure. (That was a big reason for us. I may not be able to protect Mia from every dangerous or synthetic chemical but I can do one small part!)

Now that you know some of the reasons many cloth diaper, how do you do it?

Well first of all, it's helpful to know there are a few different ways to cloth diaper. Aside from the fact that some parents CD full-time or just part-time (e.g., perhaps a child is in childcare and the center only uses disposable, but the parents use CD at night), there are also a few different kinds of cloth diapers:
  • prefolds & covers - a 2 piece diaper system
  • pocket diapers - a 2 piece diaper system
  • all-in-ones (AIOs) - a 1 piece diaper system (as the name implies!)

Prefolds & Covers are the most inexpensive route.

Prefolds are most likely what your mom or grandmother used for CD.
You just add a little cover to your baby's bum, and you're done! The cover prevents leaks.

Pocket diapers are some of the most popular cloth diaper systems, and the kind I'm most familiar with. We use brands like Fuzzibunz, BumGenius, and some Smartipants, and I have friends who use Happy Heinys as well.

Pocket diapers have an outer waterproof cover with a pocket where you insert an absorbent fluffy material, the "insert," that soaks up all the leaks. Some brands make various sizes to fit your baby as he/she grows, and some have one-size diapers with adjustable snaps so you can, as the name suggests, adjust the size of the diaper to your growing baby.

I have got to hand it to BumGenius; they are currently our favorite pocket diaper and the only one we use overnight!

All-in-Ones are the easiest to use as there is only one piece and no pocket, prefold, or cover to mess with. They can be a bit more expensive route and sometimes take longer to dry, but there's no searching for the missing insert or wondering which piece goes with what.

How many cloth diapers do I need?
How many diapers you need is somewhat of a personal choice and can depend on the kind (prefolds, pockets or AIOs). Some mommas want the minimum amount possible to save on money, which will require more washing. This would probably be in the range of 12-18 diapers, where you wash every 1 to 1.5 days. If you can afford it, I'd recommend anywhere from 20-30, so that you can wash every 2-3 days. Taking longer than 3 days to wash can result in stinky smelly buildup, which no one wants to deal with!

How do I cloth diaper when I'm out for the day?
Just pack as many cloth diapers as you think you'll need, and make sure you get a travel wet bag. I received a free wetbag when I made a purchase at an online diaper store, and I love it! I just put the soiled diapers in the wet bag, and when I get home and am ready to wash all my diapers, I unzip the bag, toss it in the wash with all the other diapers, and voila! they're good to go. I don't have to worry about any smells or leaks into my diaper bag.

How do I take care of them?
This is the question with which I'm still experimenting. There are many ways mommas take care of their cloth diapers. Some change their baby, toss the stinkies in the toilet (or use a diaper sprayer for the waste that is hard to just toss off), and toss the diaper into a pail with a liner, or a bag specifically for cloth diapers (which is what we currently use). When it's time to wash, you take the bag, invert into your washer so you don't have to touch all the soiled diapers, and then follow these general suggestions:
  • cold rinse
  • hot wash using about 1/2 recommended amount of detergent
  • cold rinse
  • tumble dry low or hang to dry

Hanging or laying your diapers outside is also a free & natural disinfectant and bleacher. The sun's rays often will lift ugly stains from your diapers, thus naturally bleaching them!

What detergents?
You want to avoid baby detergents or free & clear detergents as they can cause buildup on your diapers, which will result in their working less effectively (think: leaks, smells, gross!).
These are the generally recommended detergents:
Allens Naturally; Tide (the regular kind); Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin; Charlie's Soap; Country Save; Planet Ultra; Oxy Prime; Sun Free; Rockin' Green Cloth Diaper Detergent.
Many of my friends just use Tide and find it totally fine.

If you do find your diapers are smelly or have build-up, there are a lot of troubleshooting options as listed on Jack's Magic Beanstalk, but "stripping" your diapers by washing them a few times in the hottest water cycle, or adding a squirt of Dawn dish detergent, or adding a few drops of Tea Tree Oil or Grapeseed Extract can often help. Consult your diaper's manufacturer if you have specific questions; sometimes there are "no-nos" on how to care for your diapers and you do not want to void the warranty if you can help it!

When can I start?
Anytime! We did not start cloth diapering Mia until she was a little over 3 months, as I was still researching it and wanted to make the right investment, but, if you have the diapers that fit your baby, many start soon after birth (within the first month). Even if you did not CD with your first child, you can still save money and CD additional children. I had a friend who started CD her 1.5 year old just at night and uses disposables at daycare. So, "one-size [does] not fit all" in this department--it's totally up to you!

Now...where to buy!!?
So many options for that as well!
You can search locally first, to see if there's a shop or an individual who sells cloth diapers. In Tampa, there is DNADiapers, run by Angela.
Online, there are lots of stores. I and my friends have used and/or like:
or just go straight to the manufacturer's website!

And oh yeah, when we do not use cloth diapers:
You can, and many people are brave enough to, but we have not used cloth diapers when we travel, especially by plane. It's more to pack and keep up with (and wash) while you are away and sometimes we cannot deal with the extra hassle. There are some great disposable diaper brands that have safer ingredients, like Seventh Generation or Earth's Best. Huggies also has a Pure & Natural line, which is often the easiest brand to find at most retailers (compared to Earth's Best or Seventh Generation). We still use the regular brands from time to time as they are great at preventing leaks and you can almost always find them at the store, but if you're looking for something more in line with your cloth diapering mindset, I'd recommend the brands I just listed.

Great, concise information & troubleshooting for common problems :
Jack's Magic Beanstalk

My friend Sarah Moran's article for the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Cloth Diapers!

So, do you use cloth diapers? Why or why not? Do you have questions that I did not answer? Or, what are some tricks you've learned along the way that make it a lot easier? Or how do you use them differently? I'd love to hear your responses so please share!


Megan said...

Oh yeah - some people also make their own cloth diapers, apparently that is even cheaper! I haven't gone that route; I'll leave the expertise to someone else. But still, quite a major savings!

Also - there is no need for a diaper sprayer if your baby is exclusively breastfed. All the waste washes out clean in the washer, because it's water soluble. Pretty neat!

Tonya Robison said...

Very informative. Thanks, Megan!!

Jamie and Trey + One said...

Megan, this is a wonderful post. I just copied and emailed (hope you don't mind) this to a friend who was debating about CD. I love how informative this post was. Thanks again for writing it!

Megan said...

Jamie - I don't mind at all! I wrote it for other people! I'm glad you commented, because now it has led me to your blog, where I got to read your great birth story! I'm so glad yours went well; it's so encouraging and inspiring to read about great births.

Megan said...

I just found this great blog post on that I wanted to share. It has good tips for any beginner and it resonates with moi.