How to Cloth Diaper
I am going to cut to the chase and say that your success with cloth diapering completely depends on your motivation. Nobody cloth diapers for fun; usually people have a motivating factor as to why they are cloth diapering, whether that be to save money, reduce waste, prepare in case of supply chain issues, convenience, or any other specific reason they choose to cloth diaper. I have cloth diapered both of my children and let me tell you, I do not do it for fun, hun.
What IS fun, however, is cloth diaper booties... so stinking cute!
Table of Contents:
Does cloth diapering really save you money?
The resources you need to consider when looking at the cost of cloth diaper laundering are electricity and water. The best way to weigh whether or not cloth diapering saves you money is to compare your utility bills from months you did not cloth diaper, vs. the months you did cloth diaper, then take the average and compare. Stefanie from the Monarch Mommy has compared her utility bills from the months she had babies in cloth diapers to months when her children were fully potty trained, and her results showed an increase of only about $2 per month (about $24 per year!) in utilities to launder her cloth diapers. Read her full article here to learn about the factors that contribute to this cost (older kids potty training and flushing the toilet, amount of times you launder them, multiple kids in cloth diapers: she has all of the scenarios with price comparisons spanning multiple months. $2 was her average when comparing all of the increases and decreases in cost). Of course this amount may fluctuate depending on how many children you are cloth diapering, how much laundry you do, or the cost of utilities where you live, but in general it is safe to say that cloth diapering is cheaper than buying diapers in the store in the long run.
Here's the caveat: You need to consider the upfront cost of buying all of the cloth diaper supplies you will need. I recommend you have at least 15-20 cloth diapers. A five pack of Alva Baby pocket diapers, which are currently on sale on Amazon for $29.99 (Originally $53.99), would run you about $89.97-$119.96. Factor in the yearly cost of laundering them (we will use the $24 figure Stefanie found above) and that brings you to $113-$143.96 for the year. In fewer words, cloth diapering saves you quite a bit of money. And that is just the first year! After the first year (a little under one year, actually), your cloth diapers will have paid for themselves, and each subsequent year you cloth diaper you only pay $2 per month for utilities!
From my mom opinion, I am going to assume you will use 7 diapers per day (I am averaging, younger babies use more, older children may use less). That means you will do cloth diaper laundry 2-3 times per week or have to buy 210 disposable diapers per month.
Here's the breakdown:
xFrequency of purchase:
Total for year 1:
That's $186.05 savings!
Now, let's look at year 2:
xFrequency of purchase:
Total for year 2:
That is a savings of $336 for year two, and a grand savings of $522 over two years!
When to start cloth diapering.
I recommend starting around 3 months. This allows enough time for their umbilical stump to fall off. Moreover, it gives babies some time to grow a little bigger so they are not drowning in the cloth diaper. They do make newborn size cloth diapers, but I believe they are a waste of money since they are only useful for a very short amount of time. Even then, I would not feel comfortable putting a cloth diaper over an umbilical stump in case urine seeps through.
What is a cloth diaper and what types of cloth diapers are there?
A cloth diaper is a reusable diaper. I am going to simplify this and say there are basically three types of cloth diaper:
All-in-ones (AIO) - these diapers have the insert already built into a waterproof shell. When it comes time to clean, there is no need to remove an insert since it is built in. They also make AIOs with snap-in or velcro-in inserts that you can just remove the insert and replace it with a clean one.
Pocket diapers - these have an outer waterproof shell and a pocket where you would slide in a prefold absorbent pad or insert. These are the ones I personally use, and will be referring to for the purpose of this article.
Fitted diapers - these are cloth diapers in the shape of a regular diaper that you cover with a waterproof cover. If your child is a heavy soaker, or if you are having an issue with leaking, this one is for you.
Cloth diapers I recommend.
I believe the easiest cloth diaper is either going to be the all in one diaper or the pocket diapers. I lean more toward the pocket diapers because I feel you can get a better clean when laundering them, and I like the versatility they offer as you can replace the inserts with flour sack towels for better absorbency (more info below). My favorite cloth diapers are the ones from Alva Baby and Mama Koala. I recommend getting a few of each, and trying them out on your kid. For example, the Mama Koala diapers fit better on my firstborn while the Alva Baby diapers fit better on my second born. Bodies are different when they are young babies so you may have a better fit with one diaper because of the snap placement than you do with another diaper. When the kids got older (4+ months) and stockier, both brands of diaper fit the same. Both brands have tons of design options to choose from as well!
How long do cloth diapers last?
The internet will tell you that cloth diapers will last 10-20 months, but I am here to tell you, from experience, that that is false. If you take care of your diapers, they will last YEARS. Which leads me to my next point...
How to care for cloth diapers.
There are two ways you need to care for your cloth diapers: washing them after your child soils him or herself and doing an occasional full strip of the diapers. Let's break it down:
After your child soils him or herself, you will need to remove the insert from your cloth diaper and place the insert and pocket into a waterproof laundry bag for laundering. This is done by simply pulling the insert out of the pocket of the diaper. If you nurse your child, you will not have to plop out or rinse your diaper out, as their poo will be water soluable and dissolve during washing. If your child receives formula or supplemental food, you will notice their poo is either able to "roll out" (you'll know what I mean) or plop out into the toilet before putting them in the laundry bag. (See below to learn how to launder cloth diapers.)
Every year you will need to do a full strip of your cloth diapers to remove laundry soap/ hard water/ "other" buildup that accumulates on the cloth diapers, as they will become less absorbent overtime. You know you need to strip your diapers when they begin to smell barn yard-y, or have a strong ammonia smell after you wash them. (It is normal for them to smell like ammonia before washing. You'll know you need to strip them if they smell like ammonia even after laundering.)
a. To do a full strip you will place your inserts and pockets into your bathtub or extra large bucket and add 3 tablespoons each of Calgon water softener, washing soda (NOT baking soda) and powder laundry detergent, such as Tide. Fill the tub with hot water and agitate it often. Leave the diapers for 6-8 hours, drain the water, and squeeze out any water you can before transporting them to your laundry machine for a hot water rinse and spin x2. Then, dry them in your dryer on low.
Cloth diapering is more than saving money...
Like I said above, you need to locate the reason why you want to cloth diaper before starting, and for some that may be to save money. For me, that is definitely a motivating factor. What also contributes is insurance that if shit hits the fan, my baby will have diapers. I do not have to rely on the supermarket to have diapers for me, or worry about running out in the middle of the week. I live in the country where the supermarket is a drive away, so it is convenient for me to have cloth diapers available to me whenever I need them.
How many cloth diapers do you need?
15-20 at least. 25 is best. When you get down to your last five or if it has been 2-3 days since you did cloth diaper laundering, whichever comes first, it is time to wash them. Having too many cloth diapers may prolong when you wash your diapers, which is not good. Having just the right amount to go through every 3 days encourages you to wash them regularly.
Other supplies I recommend: (not all of these are completely necessary, however they will make cloth diapering easier.)
I recommend you buy the same amount of flour sack towels as you have diapers to use as insert to the cloth diapers since they are more absorbent than the microfiber inserts that come with the pocket diapers. Walmart has the best price for flour sack towels.
Here is how to fold the flour sack towels to use as an insert to your cloth diapers:
For a boy, you will need to create more bulk in the front of the diaper:
For a girl, you will need to create more bulk in the middle of the diaper:
These disposable liners are not necessary but definitely helpful. One roll will last you quite a long while, as you do not need to use them every time you change your baby's diaper. If you know when your child usually poops, you can place one in in anticipation for that poop. I like these liners a lot!
A laundry bag with a waterproof liner, like this one, is necessary. I suggest buying two so you have something to put in your diaper pail while your dirty one is in the wash. While we are on the topic of bags, you will need a smaller version like these wet dry bags for when you need to change a diaper when you're out of the house.
Speaking of diaper pails, you will want one with a lid. I like the woven ones with a lid because they are breathable. Letting some airflow in is helpful so that the dirty diapers do not get infused with their own stink, which is very hard to get out. Baby pee tends to smell like ammonia after a while, and having air flow helps reduce this strong smell. It will not make your room stink at all, trust me. One with a swinging lid is also good, and you can buy them for a reasonable price at Walmart. I used one like this for my first child, and it did not make the room smell despite having a swinging lid. You can also keep the bin in your laundry room.
A note on sprayers: I do not recommend a sprayer that hooks up to your sink or toilet because it is a hassle to set up and take down, and also can be quite messy. We had a sprayer when I was cloth diapering our first child and it was pretty messy despite having a splash guard shield. Once you spray the diaper, you then have to roll and squeeze the water out, and wish that you do not drip any poop water on your floors while you transport it to the bin. Just buy the liners and save yourself the hassle.
Reusable wipes are nice because once you wipe down your baby, you can just put them right in with the diaper into the pail. It saves you from having to make an extra trip to the garbage can to throw away wipes. I like these ones because they are nice and thin. They have cheaper options, however I have not tried them so buy at your own risk. If you use reusable wipes, I recommend getting one of these wipe holders, as you can pre dampen your wipes and carry them around as you would regular wipes without having to take a trip to the sink to wet a wipe every time you need to change a diaper.
If you are finding you are having a leaking issue, check the fit of the diaper. It should fit snugly around the crotch and belly band. You may have to stagger the buttons in order to get the perfect fit.
When you place the insert into the cloth diaper, make sure it sits below the belly band. If it sits higher, the insert, when wet, will not be protected by the waterproof shell and cause leakage.
What do you do with a cloth diaper once your child soils it?
If your baby is purely breastfed, you can just pull the insert out of the pocket and place both pieces into the diaper laundry bag, poop and all. Breast fed baby poop is water soluble, and is okay to put in your washing machine because it will basically dissolve.
If your baby receives formula or is on solids, it is best to get one of these to help you remove poop from the diaper and plop it in the toilet or garbage before removing the insert and placing it and the pocket diaper into the laundry bag. Or, as mentioned above, get the liners.
Several people online recommend the "dunk and swish" method of pre cleaning diapers, which involves dunking the soiled diaper into the toilet and swishing it around to rinse it off. I personally have never done this because I do not have the stomach for it and I believe it makes a dirty job even dirtier, but the option is there.
How & when do you wash them?
How to wash cloth diapers: Place cloth diapers into your laundry machine. If you have hard water, add a cap full of Calgon. Put your washer on a rinse and spin cycle on cold. After the cycle finishes, add your detergent (it honestly does not matter what detergent you use; I like Arm & Hammer) and 1 cap full of Calgon, again, if you have hard water, and wash it on a hot and heavy cycle. Once the cycle is finished, tumble dry on low.
When to wash them: I recommend 2-3 times per week. Do not do less than twice per week, as you do not want your diapers sitting in filth for longer than 3 days. Letting your diapers sit while dirty for longer than three days will encourage staining and make it harder to fully clean them.
Cloth diaper No-No's
Never use bleach.
Never skip the pre-rinse.
Never use petroleum based diaper rash creams. CJ's Butter is safe to use with cloth diapers and also happens to be an excellent diaper rash cream.
Never use dryer sheets or fabric softener.
Never go too long without washing.
Don't strip your diapers too much. You should really only have to strip your diapers once a year.
Isn't it gross?
Yes, it is, But not all of the time. You can get disposable gloves if you wish. It is not always gross, but sometimes can be. Cloth diapering has pros and cons, and this, I would say, is the biggest con.
When to replace cloth diapers.
If you notice an extreme amount of pilling on your cloth diapers, or that they are no longer absorbing liquid as they used to, even after you have stripped them, it is time to replace it.
I do wish this post made cloth-diapering more understandable. I know this is a lot of information. When I first started I had no idea what they even were, but I was motivated by my desire to save money where I could, and I am so glad I learned how to cloth diaper. It has helped us save money in our grocery bill, and I also am relieved knowing that my child will have diapers if there is any supply chain issue, unforeseen financial strain that would cause us to cut down our spending, or inclement weather that would prevent me from getting to the store.
Have I changed your mind about cloth diapering? What are your thoughts? If you have any questions I will answer them in the comments below!
See you next Monday!