I always tell people that if we can do it, anybody can do it! So many people think it’s more work, more mess, more trouble, more smell, but it’s not! We’ve been using cloth diapers since January 2001, through triplets and three more singletons, even a special needs child with delayed potty training. I love the smell of cloth diapers, I love how they feel, I love how my babies’ bottoms don’t get as much diaper rash, I love not having to run to the store and spend money for more diapers! Here’s some of what I’ve learned about cloth diapering.
After much searching and thought, the system we settled on for infants is Chinese diaper service quality prefold diapers, diaper pins, Bummis super whisper industrial wrap velcro covers, and rice paper liners. To flesh this out, we also use a 40-quart diaper pail with a deodorizer cup (we used two with the triplets), matching washable water-resistant pail liners, smaller water-resistant bags for away from home, and cloth wipes.
To diaper triplets, we maintained a supply of 48 diapers, 9 covers, and 18-24 wipes (the number of wipes is constantly decreasing because I keep forgetting them places). This allowed us to wash diapers every 1-2 days. For a singleton, I stock 30 diapers, 8-10 covers, and 18 wipes. This allows me to wash every 2-4 days without running out of covers, depending on the baby; some babies need to be changed more often. All of these supplies can be purchased over the course of a pregnancy for less than $100/month. Compare the total price for cloth diapering to the total average price for disposable diapering over two years: more than $1800!!! You can save on that cost a little by buying on sale, clipping coupons, and using off-brand diapers, but you’ll be hard-pressed to cut it quite that much.
There are a lot more options available these days than there were when I started. I was never one of those moms who tries all the diapers, and has a diaper stash as big as my yarn stash. My system worked, and I never felt the need to change. I will say that I tried Indian pre-folds once, and found they did not hold up as well or absorb as much as the Chinese pre-folds. I have never used hemp or bamboo, so cannot vouch for those.
The system we are currently using for training pants is Gro-Via My Choice trainers. At age 5, they are getting a bit tight, and may not last much longer. However, other moms of special needs kids have determined these are the best-performing cloth pull-ups out there, and I can vouch that they can hold their liquid and poop quite well, as good or better than any disposable pull-up. It cost about $400 to get set up with the Gro-Vias, using plus size side panels and stuffing them with my old newborn prefolds. At $30-50 a month for disposable pull-ups, you can see that these will pay for themselves in less than a year, making them a very smart choice for delayed trainers. They are also good for overnight use, and unstuffed they make great training pants.
Washing cloth diapers is very simple. First, I always use one rice paper liner in every infant diaper. Once a baby starts having non-breastfed poop, this is an important boost to washing efficiency. At $5 for a 100- or 200-pack (depending on your source), the ongoing price is negligible. Just peel the liner out of the poopy diaper and flush it down the toilet. You can wash and reuse liners that aren’t poopy up to four or five times. Now you don’t have to worry about all that poop going into your wash! The liners are not an option for trainers, obviously, but the Gro-Via trainers still wash up well. I empty the poop into the toilet and wipe the trainer a couple of times with toilet paper before putting it into the diaper pail.
On wash day, just take the diaper bag out of the pail, empty it into the washer, and throw the bag in after. For regular, top-loading machines, run a presoak cycle with 1/2 cup washing soda (baking soda also works). Run a regular heavy-duty wash cycle with hot water, 1/2 cup soda, and a full scoop of detergent. Use 5 drops of 100% tea tree oil (available at your local health food store) in place of bleach. Run a final extra rinse cycle with cold water and 1/2 cup vinegar (in place of fabric softener). Then throw everything in the dryer, and you’re done!
If you have a modern high-efficiency front-loading washer, keep this in mind: although your new washer is very good at washing clothes, it may not be as good at washing diapers. Your diapers are too absorbent and need a higher water flow to get completely clean. Because of this, I recommend washing only 1/2 to 2/3 as much in a front-loader as you would in a top-loader, up to a maximum of one completely filled 40-quart diaper pail. Also, ask a maintenance man about which wash cycle on your machine will use the most water, as this is the most important factor in getting your diapers clean. (Don’t ask sales or customer support, they don’t know what they’re talking about here!) I also recommend switching to the new High Efficiency detergents available. It’s worth the extra expense, as you might have to wash each load multiple times if you use the cheaper detergent, and you may damage your machine. Continue to use vinegar as fabric softener and tea tree oil as bleach, using the appropriate dispensing compartments. I like to run a “rinse” or prewash cycle first with no spin, to add some washing liquid to the diapers. If you have a sanitizing washer, use that cycle for your main wash.
Warning: Do not use bleach or fabric softener on your cloth diapers! Also do not use liquid laundry detergent (Tide HE is one I have experience with here); they contain fabric softeners even when they aren’t labeled as such! Bleach will damage your diapers, wearing them down much too quickly. You’ll wind up having to replace your diapers before you get through one baby. Don’t worry about stains; they don’t mean the diaper isn’t clean. You can sunbleach your diapers occasionally to help with stains if they really bother you. As for fabric softener, it coats the fibers of your diapers, making them much less absorbent. You’ll wind up with leaks instead of the ultra-high performance you could be getting. The final vinegar rinse will do the same job, as well as balance the pH of your diapers to avoid the smell of urine.
For more information, check out our Cloth Diaper FAQ and our step-by-step illustration of how to change a cloth diaper (it’s easier than you think!).