How I Became a Cloth Diaper Convert – and How You Can Be One Too
By Kristen Thompson. February 2, 2014
Whenever a pregnant friend asks me the inevitable “What type of diapers should I buy?”, my answer without reservation is always: CLOTH.
For many of them, this isn’t what they want to hear. They want to know what’s better, Pampers or Huggies, Costco or the Honest Company.
But truthfully, if you’ve got access to your own washing machine, and a couple hundred dollars to buy all the diapers your child will ever need up front, cloths are totally the way to go.
- Over the long run, you’ll save thousands of dollars. This isn’t hyperbole. The average family will spend the same amount of money to diaper a child for six months as a cloth diaper family will spend to diaper a child for their entire childhood. If you are frugal, this is a no-brainer.
- You’ll be keeping as many as 5,000 diapers (maybe more) out of the landfill, depending on how early your child is potty trained.
- Cloths are no more difficult to put on and take off than disposable diapers.
- They’re easy to clean in the washing machine. It sounds like a pain in the ass, but as someone who’s been doing it for four years – it’s really no sweat.
Got your interest? Here’s how I discovered cloth diapers:
We decided to try cloth diapering after receiving a handful of hand-me-downs from my sister-in-law. It made for an easy experiment because I didn’t have to research or buy any diapers before being sure it was something I wanted to continue.
When Isla was born, she was tiny and squirmy and prone to many onesie changes, and frankly we didn’t know what in god’s name were doing. So we shelved the plan to cloth diaper until we felt we had the basics under control. After about a month, I decided I was ready to give our hand-me-down cloth diapers a trial run, and was immediately surprised how easy it was, and how less frequently our green bin (you can compost disposables in Toronto) was filling up.
So I ordered a starter kit from SunBaby.com: 24 cloth diapers and inserts. Within a few weeks, a package full of adorable cloth diapers found its way on to my doorstep. And from then on I was converted.
People are dubious about cloth diapering, and I don’t blame them. The varieties of cloth diapers and materials is truly overwhelming. It seems gross, too, doesn’t it? I mean, you have to WASH them. Which means you have to TOUCH them. And don’t they smell? Well, first let me arm you with some background on cloth diapers…
• DIAPER STYLES •
I found the variety of styles to be the most confusing part of the process when I decided to start cloth diapering. There seemed to be an endless array of diaper options, and I had no idea where to begin.
Once you know a little more about cloth diapers you’ll realize that, while there are a huge variety of brands (Happy Heinys, Apple Cheeks, Kawaii, Bum Genius, Bummis, Grovia, MotherEase and Sun Baby to name a few), there’s really only a handful of actual styles. And as soon as you understand how each one works, it’s not hard to pick one that will be best for you. Here are the five main styles:
1. ALL-IN-ONE DIAPERS
All-in-one diapers look and act just like a disposable diaper, the only difference is that you don’t throw them out! Think of a disposable diaper made out of fabric – soft and fleecy on the inside, with a water proof shell on the outside.
- Because the all-in-one is just like a disposable diaper in design and shape, it’s by far the easiest of all the cloth diaper styles to use. There are no pockets to stuff, no inserts to fold, no water-proof shells to add after the fact. What you see is what you get.
- With ease comes cost. This is the most expensive style of diaper to buy.
- Some people say this is also the hardest diaper to get clean.
- Drying can be time consuming.
2. FITTED DIAPERS
This type of diaper has two components: an absorbent fabric diaper (as you see in the picture above), along with a waterproof cover that you put over top of the fabric diaper.
- No inserts to stuff inside them.
- Many users tout this style as the least leaky cloth diaper option.
- Can be pricey.
- Require a cover, so there are two steps in diapering baby (and an extra expense). For some moms, the fact that you are essentially putting on two diapers every time you change your baby adds up to more hassle than it’s worth.
- Takes a long time to dry.
- I found that they left my baby VERY wet, because the entire diaper absorbed the wetness. It was my least favourite style to use.
3. FLAT or PRE-FOLD DIAPERS
This is also a two-piece system like the fitted diaper I just talked about, except instead of the cloth part being diaper-shaped and contoured to fit your baby’s body, it’s simply a big rectangle of fabric held together with a fastener.
- By far the most economical style of cloth diaper.
- Some say this is the easiest diaper style to clean.
- Like with fitted diapers, these require a cover, so again there’s an extra step in diapering baby (and an extra expense).
- You have to fold the diapers prior to putting them on baby. Hence the term “pre-fold.” For parents who are already a bit put out by the effort of washing diapers, plus the hassle of having a two-step diapering system, having to pre-fold these diapers may be the kiss of death.
4. POCKET DIAPERS
These diapers are water-proof on the outside and fabric on the inside, and have a fabric opening or pocket into which you stuff a cloth liner or insert. Once the absorbent liners are inserted into the pocket, you use the diaper much like an all-in-one, putting it on baby in one step. These are the diapers I use.
- Usually quite economical.
- Easy to put on and take off because it’s a one-step process.
- These diapers have inserts that need to be stuffed in the pocket part of the diaper, and removed before going in the wash. This can be inconvenient when you have a pile of diapers you’ve just taken out of the wash and now need to stuff. I stuff the diapers while watching TV, and don’t really find it that much of a hassle, myself.
5. HYBRID DIAPERS or ALL-IN-TWO DIAPERS
These diapers are similar to pockets in that they have a water proof cover, but typically don’t have cloth inside. This allows you to put either disposable liners or cloth liners inside them, the latter of which you snap into place. Once the snap-in liner is in place, you use the diaper like an all-in-one, and it’s a one-step diapering process.
- Quick and easy to use, and very versatile. Unlike with pocket diapers where the insert is stuffed into an opening, this insert can be removed once soiled, a new one put in its place, and the waterproof cover re-used again.
- The disposable inserts are a great option for travelling, with many brands offering liners that are compostable and flushable.
I used these while travelling in Hawaii and loved the fact that I didn’t have to pack cloth liners in my luggage, minimizing bulk.
- Can be pricey, and with active babies (especially walkers) the liners can often shift and cause some leaking.
- Like with pocket diapers, the insert must be snapped into place, and removed and replaced once soiled.
That’s it. Those are the five main styles of cloth diapers. Now that we’ve got that sorted, let’s move on to…
• MORE ABOUT YOUR STYLE OPTIONS •
After experimenting a bit with the different styles available out there, I ended up going with pocket diapers, and opted for the one-size-fits-all option (so I didn’t have to re-invest in new diapers as my daughter got older). They were the best balance between convenience and price. I chose the Sun Baby brand because they have lots of cute fabrics to choose from, ship quickly, and are very inexpensive.
This is how one-size-fits-all diapers work:
Cloth diapers can have velcro fasteners (picture on the left below), or snap fasteners (picture on the right below). Velcro diapers – which I prefer – are faster to use, but are more expensive, and easier for toddlers to pull off. The snaps, while offering a wide variety of sizing and tightening options, take a lot longer to do up than velcros, especially with a squirmy baby.
- Pocket diaper inserts are made from a variety of fabrics like micro fiber, bamboo, cotton, hemp, or a mixture of these materials. Generally, all will work pretty well.
- Individual diapers can run you anywhere from $7 each to $20 each, but many companies sell diaper kits at better prices.
- The amount you need is subjective. We get by quite comfortably with 30 diapers. Some people prefer to have a lot more. With 30 we end up doing laundry twice a week.
• OTHER HANDY PRODUCTS •
To avoid the grossness factor of poop, you can buy diaper liner rolls – like a toilet paper roll with perforated sheets – that you lay inside the diaper like a liner. It makes disposing of poop easy because the liner, along with the poop, can go right in the toilet. I also use liners when I have to put diaper cream on baby, since traditional creams aren’t good to use on cloth diapers.
You can also buy disposable diaper inserts instead of fabric inserts (which I mentioned when talking about hybrid diapers). These are handy for people who don’t want to carry as much bulk around with them on outings.
The disposable inserts are similar in size to disposable diapers, and are made out of renewable materials (many of them are bamboo). Most of them are compostable, and some can even be flushed. Because they don’t contain any plastic and dye, and little in the way of gel, the ones that do end up in the landfill break down much better than traditional disposable diapers. The most common two brands are gDiaper and Flip. I use disposable liners while travelling.
If you plan on using cloth diapers while out and about, you’ll want a wet bag (or two) to put your baby’s soiled diapers. This is how you avoid having wet, stinky cloth diapers loose in your purse or diaper bag. I love this colourful chevron bag sold on Amazon.ca.
Cloth diaper pail or bag
At home, you’ll want either a diaper pail or diaper bag in baby’s room to keep the soiled diapers until it’s time to do laundry.
If you go for pail, you’ll want a large one – cloth diapers are bulky and take up lots of room – along with a waterproof nylon or laminated cloth diaper bag to line the pail with (I recommend investing in two). I use these bags inside this diaper pail.
Once it’s time to do laundry, just pull the bag out of the pail and dump the whole contents – along with the bag itself – in the wash. This is the system I use.
You can also invest in hanging diaper wet bags, which are often designed to hang from a doorknob or hook. It’s the same concept, but minus the pail.
Important: make sure to remove any solid poop from diapers before putting them into the bag! I just sluff mine into the toilet using a wad of toilet paper. But you can also buy special hoses that you attach to your toilet, which let you spray poop right in. Click here to read more about these crazy contraptions.
• THE SKINNY ON THE COST •
Cloth diapers are a decent expense upfront. We spent $126 before tax and shipping for a set of 24 diapers and 24 inserts with Sun Baby (the rest of our diapers were hand-me-downs). That’s on the low-end of the scale. Some people spend closer to $300 or $400 for their entire stash. One good way to save money on the up-front cost is to buy them used. You can also re-coup the cost of buying cloth diapers by re-selling them later.
Here’s a more comprehensive breakdown:
- The average child is diapered for 30 months. At about 8 diapers a day and roughly 26 cents a diaper, you’ll likely spend nearly $1,800 to diaper one child with disposables, and put 7,354 diapers in the landfill.
- By hang-drying a portion of your cloth diaper loads, one load of laundry may average about $0.75, including the cost of cloth-safe detergent. That’s $324.75 for 30 months of washing. Which means your total cost to cloth diaper one child for his or her infancy is around $625: Let’s say $300 for the cloth diapers and $324.75 in laundry costs. Take into account the fact that you can use those same diapers on subsequent children, and the cost savings only climb.
- Then there’s the environmental impact: Disposable diapers contain dyes, plastics and gel. And they can take as much as 500 years to break down in the environment, possibly much longer in a landfill.
Washing cloth diapers is a bit more involved than doing regular laundry, but it’s not nearly as daunting as I thought it would be. We wash diapers twice a week. (And if you don’t want to do the washing, there are lots of diaper washing services out there that do all the dirty work for you. Some of them even rent diapers, so you don’t actually have to buy any.)
To wash the diapers, I put them on a cold rinse cycle, then wash them on a regular-length hot cycle with soap, then add a second rinse at the end just to make sure all the soap is out. I put the whole lot in the dryer in the winter, but in nice weather I line dry. Most diaper brands will recommend only putting liners in the dryer, and hang-drying the shells because the heat from the dryer can have an effect on the water-proof fabric. We’re just lazy.
Use only cloth diaper-safe detergents like Tide Original Powder, Rockin Green (this is the one I use), Eco’s free & clear, Planet, All Free & Clear, Charlie’s, Soap Nuts, Crunchy Clean, and Country Save. Other detergents as well as dryer sheets can cause build-up on your diaper and make them lose their absorbency.
You may need to strip your diapers every few months. This means putting your clean diapers through several rinse cycles to get any oil or soap build-up out of them. Build-up makes your diapers stinky and can them your diapers to lose absorbency. To protect against build-up, make sure you wash your diapers with cloth diaper-friendly detergent and avoid using creams on baby’s bum. If you need to use diaper rash cream, put a disposable liner in your diaper, or put baby in a disposable diaper.
• FINAL BITS OF ADVICE•
Before you commit or invest in one brand, go to a diaper store and buy a couple of different diapers (in Toronto, I shop at Universal Diapers on the Danforth). All babies are different, all parents are different. What works for one family won’t necessarily work for another. Try out different diapers and see what works for your baby. Or better yet, sign up for a diaper trial program!
If you cloth diaper, you aren’t cheating by also using disposables. We use disposables on our daughter at night because she is a heavy wetter and we find disposables really are more absorbent for long spells without changings. We also use disposables if we are going somewhere that we don’t want to haul around cloth diapers and a wet bag. Like a Jay’s game or the beach.
Because both our kids are heavy-wetters, we stuff our pocket diapers with two inserts, rather than one. Otherwise they would leak right through them.
I’ve never had a poop blow-out in cloth diapers. I’ve had many in disposables.
I have more pee leaks in cloth diapers than I do in disposables. As wonderful as cloth diapers are, I’ve never found them to be as absorbent as disposables. Because of this, I’m a diligent diaper changer, and always travel with a second set of baby pants.
Despite tons of poops, none of my cloths have stained, and they smell fresh and lovely after being washed with Rockin’ Green laundry powder.
• MY TAKEAWAY •
- Once you get the hang of it, they are no more difficult to put on or take off than disposables.
- They will save you a ton of money.
- They are more earth-friendly than disposables.
- They are cute.
- There is a learning curve, and you have to do a bit of research to find a system that work for you.
- You have to man-handle the mess.
- There’s an undeniable hassle to washing them, re-stuffing them and putting them away.
- Washing does use energy and water.
- When going out, you need to take bulky diapers with you and a small wet bag to bring home the dirty diapers. This is where I tend to reach for a disposable!
Cloth diapers definitely aren’t for everyone. But for us, the pros by far outweigh the cons, and we’re thrilled to have stuck it out and made this part of our life!
Have you ever thought about cloth diapering? What sorts of things are holding you back?
Or are you a cloth diapering pro? What do you love about it, and what are your tips and tricks?
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