Cloth diapering isn’t for everyone… but it’s not as hard or inconvenient as some people think!
So many people feel overwhelmed by it, so this is intended to simplify the process for you. Ultimately, you have to do what’s going to work for your family. But cloth diapering has many benefits, including:
- Overall cost & convenience (you don’t have to make midnight runs to the drug store when you realize you’re out of diapers!)
- Less waste
- Lower toxin exposure
- Some kids toilet train easier because they don’t feel as dry as disposables
That being said, it does take a bit of a commitment to get started. Once you’re in the routine though, it’s so much easier to keep going. So I wanted to share my cloth diapering tips and tricks with you to hopefully make it seem more doable!
Now, for every tip here, you will find 100 contradictory ones on the internet. Cloth diapering is like finding a natural deodorant – what works for one person, may or may not work for you and there will inevitably be some trial and error. My first recommendation is to pick a couple sources and put blinders on until you need more support. The more you look for information, opinions, and “the perfect solution”, the less likely it is you’ll make a decision and take action.
Cloth diapering – like anything you’re learning as a new or expectant parent – has a learning curve. You can course-correct along the way if something doesn’t work the way you want it to.
The key is to just get started.
OK, with that being said, here are the basics and what I found helpful when cloth diapering my kids and some additional resources if you’re looking for more.
Types of Cloth Diapers
Long gone are the days of rubber diaper covers and safety pins. Cloth diapers have become much more advanced – and practical. There really is a solution for every budget, lifestyle, and family.
If you can, I highly recommend visiting a local cloth diapering shop. These are often amazingly supportive community hubs and have staff that can help you narrow down your options.
Here are the basic options and things to think about with each.
These are typically the lowest cost option. They’re a piece of fabric (typically cotton), sewn with 3 sections to be able to fold the sides over the thick absorptive middle section. Then a waterproof diaper cover is worn on top.
Here’s an example of prefolds (the brand we used, Bummis, is no longer in business unfortunately).
These are 2-part diapers consisting of a disposable-diaper like waterproof shell with a soft lining on the inside. There’s an opening between the shell and the inner lining (the “pocket” to insert an absorbent layer. You can use a prefold or pocket diaper inserts. You can use different materials and levels of absorbancy depending on your child’s needs.
These are pretty much cloth versions of disposable diapers. They don’t require folding or stuffing and can make for relatively quick diaper changes. They require waterproof covers.
These are the diapers I used for both my children. We had a handful of the smallest size (Sandy’s), about 25 one-size diapers, and started with 5 covers (eventually we got more). The covers can typically be wiped out with a wipe or rinsed in the bathroom sink and left to try and then reused before washing fully – that’s why you don’t need the same number of diapers as covers.
These are the most expensive and convenient, but also less consistent in terms of performance in my experience. Unlike the other options, you don’t have control over the absorptive materials and layers so they will either work or they won’t. That being said, they are super handy to have around for quick changes when out and about though. We had a handful of Omaiki all-in-ones for that reason.
Li’l Helpers are also widely recommended (I haven’t used them).
How to Wash Cloth Diapers
Alright, this is where what I did goes against a lot of what the internet tells you to do so I’ll share bits of both. Again, you’ll figure out a process that works for you.
If at first you don’t succeed, I encourage you to try something else – in baby steps (pun intended). So here are some suggestions and things to troubleshoot if what you’re doing isn’t working for you.
How to Store Dirty Diapers Before Laundry Day
There’s a wet and dry option here – Google will have no shortage of strategies for each.
We opted for the dry option because it seemed simpler. We had 3 extra large wet bags, the active one just sat next to the change table.
With wet diapers, it was as simple as unzipping the wet bag, and putting the dirty diaper in. We’d then use a wipe to wipe down the inside of the waterproof cover and set aside to dry and use again.
For poopy diapers, once baby was changed and off the table, we’d take the dirty diaper to the toilet and shake the poop out, sometimes I’d use a piece of toilet paper to get sticky stuff off. You can also get sprayers that attach to the toilet for rinsing (we didn’t). Then the diaper would go into the wet bag.
We had enough diapers to do laundry every 2 – 3 days. You wouldn’t want stinky diapers sitting around longer than that anyways.
How I Washed My Cloth Diapers
I went against the grain here and *gasp* used natural laundry soap. So many groups, blogs, and diaper websites tell you to avoid this, so I fully admit it might not work for everyone, especially if you have hard water. But it worked for us, so here’s what we did (note: we have a front-load washing machine).
- Turn the wet bag inside out to empty the diapers into the washing machine. Toss the wet bag inside out with the diapers (though some say this isn’t recommended as it can take up too much space).
- Add ½ cup white vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser. This helps with residual odour and soap residue removal and I found made the difference between the natural soap working and not. (If you haven’t already stopped using fabric softener and dryer sheets, now is the time. They greatly reduce cloth diaper performance, not to mention their ingredients are less than ideal in general and can stick around in the washing machine).
- Pre-wash with cold or warm water (depending on what your machine lets you set).
- Main wash with hot water and my homemade laundry soap or Eco-Max unscented. Use ¼ to ½ of the normal amount of soap as too much soap build-up can reduce absorbency.
- Extra rinse cycle with cold or warm water.
- High spin cycle to reduce drying time.
The diaper covers and wet bag will last longer if you don’t put them in the dryer because the heat affects the plastic layers – but I’m pretty lazy when it comes to cleaning and laundry so they did go in a fair bit.
We also had a handful of small wet bags to take with us on the go – same process applies.
Cloth Diaper Trouble-Shooting
Here are some of the common issues I had and see with others, with some ideas on how to trouble-shoot them if you’re experiencing them too.
The diapers still smell after washing. This is where vinegar really helped. You may need to switch detergents or add some more borax/washing soda to your homemade laundry soap to help soften the water and allow the soap to work better. You can also try increasing the frequency with which you wash the diapers. Sunshine also helps with this.
The diapers are stained. Yup, poop is messy. And infant poop is a special kind that stains like crazy. Stains don’t mean the diaper isn’t clean, so don’t stress too much. But if you want to remove stains – don’t use bleach or hydrogen peroxide! Hanging them out in direct sunlight is the best option.
The diapers leak. So there are a few things to look at here:
First, do the diapers fit? If there are gaps in the elastic bands at the waist or legs then yes, they are more likely to leak. Not all diapers fit all babies, so this might take a little trial and error.
If you’re using too much soap or it’s not being rinsed off properly, the absorbency of the diapers will decrease over time. Try reducing the amount of soap, increasing rinse time, and adding vinegar as I outlined in my washing process. You may also consider getting a water softener if your water is very hard. You can also “strip” the diapers by running clean diapers through a soak cycle with just vinegar (no soap) and extra rinse.
Finally, sometimes you might just have an extra wet or poopy baby. Look at how often you’re changing diapers, and consider changing the absorptive material. Many brands have options for nighttime or extra wet kiddos that you can look into.
Diaper rash. Diaper rash can be caused by a lot of different factors. Here are some things to look at if your baby gets bad rashes:
- Allow some diaper-free air time to let the skin dry.
- Change more regularly.
- Add a reusable diaper liner that wicks moisture (like fleece).
- Use a barrier cream once skin has dried from the wipes (this was my fave – we still use it to help with winter wind protection for the kid’s cheeks!).
- Switch wipes (these were my favourites) or use just cloth and water (or see the recipe below).
- Check with your doctor to make sure it’s not a yeast overgrowth.
So there you have it. My cloth diapering strategy and experiences. Will this work for you? I can’t promise that. But if you’re just getting started, it’s a decent place to begin without getting overwhelmed.
There are LOADS of cloth diapering resources out there so if my process doesn’t work for you, feel free to check them out (Fluff Love University is a very popular one, you can also search Facebook for cloth diapering groups, or ask in The Green Product Forum for recommendations).
But remember: if they’re leading to information overwhelm and therefore inaction on choosing a cloth diaper strategy, take a step back. The simpler the better.
I hope this helps! And if cloth diapering is part of your path to lower toxins in your home to support your baby’s long-term health… and you want to make sure you’re making the best product choices and forming the right habits… be sure to check out my course, How to Health-Proof Your Home for Baby!