Cloth Diapers 101: Everything You Never Knew You Wanted To Know

Okay, look. I know what you’re thinking. I really do. Cloth diapers sounded crazy to me the first time I heard about people using them (in these modern times, not just in the olden days – those poor fools had no choice).  I specifically remember coming across some post on pinterest about a mother choosing to cloth diaper her baby and I clicked on it just because it sounded so crazy.

But by the end of the post it sounded . . . maybe not so crazy. Maybe even like a viable option.

This was years before I had Sander, so the idea had a lot of time to simmer. And I had a lot of time to persuade Terry over to the idea too. But now, a year and a half into cloth diapering, I can tell you with perfect honestly that we both love our cloth diapers. That’s not to say it’s for everyone – we all have different lives and different needs – but who knows? Maybe it’s for you.

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How they work

There are lot of different options out there for cloth diapers and for the sake of making this blog post not five zillion words long (not to mention super boring) I’ll just tell you about the kind we use. They’re called pocket diapers and I think they’re genius.

There are basically two parts to the diaper – the cover and the insert. The cover, at first glance, looks pretty similar to what a disposable diaper would look like if it were just made out of cloth. The outside of it is made of cute, colorful water-resistant fabric, and the inner lining is made of super soft cloth that I imagine feels very cozy against those cute little baby butt cheeks. These two layers create a pocket (hence the name pocket diaper), and that’s where the insert goes. The microfiber insert is what absorbs all the *ahem* liquid grossness that usually goes into diapers.

Our pocket diapers are one-size adjustable, which means they’re supposed to fit our baby from birth to potty-training (although, to be honest, no cloth diaper really fits a newborn; also no one actually wants to cloth diaper a newborn – anyone who says otherwise is selling something; wait a month or two to start cloth diapering, you’ll have plenty on your plate for those first few weeks without adding this into the mix). You can either get snaps or velcro – we’ve got snaps on ours and we’re big fans. Every few months, when Sander’s grown a bit, I adjust the snaps that control how long the diaper is front to back. Then there are snaps that close the diaper around the baby – like the little tabs on disposable diapers. Again, I switch which snap I’m using there every few months or so.

Once you’ve got the diaper all put together  with the insert inside (which takes, like, four seconds) it’s just a simple matter of putting the diaper on the baby, just like you would with a disposable – except instead of little sticky tabs, you’re using snaps (or velcro if you so desire). Voila! You’re a cloth diapering pro now!! (Go ahead and add that to your mom-resume. You’ll look eco-friendly and hip, and will be sure to get that raise you’ve been gunning for. ? ?)

Of course, getting the diaper on the baby isn’t really what freaks people out about cloth diapers. It’s the part that comes after. So here’s the skinny on the poop (yep we’re going there):

It’s seriously not that bad.

You don’t touch poop. Let me repeat that. You don’t ever have to touch poop to cloth diaper. Again, anyone who says otherwise is selling something (probably a disposable diaper – ha!).

There are as many ways to clean a poopy cloth diaper as there are people using them, but there are a few general methods. Most of them involve spraying the diaper cleanish before putting in the dirty-diaper laundry. You can do that in the toilet using a diaper sprayer (which is just a little water squirter that hooks to your toilet) or you can do it in a bucket in the shower. We’ve done both. We also use something called a SprayPal, which to me sort of looks like a plastic clipboard for the diaper, except it’s got three sides that snap together to form a kind of cone. Like so:

Cloth diapers 101 | How to use cloth diapers | Benefits of cloth diapers

This keeps the diaper in one spot against a hard surface so it’s easier to spray down, and keeps the gross water from splashing all over me or my shower.

Our routine goes something like this: I take the dirty diaper off my baby and put a fresh one on him. Then he plays for three minutes or so while I clean the diaper: I put the used wipes in a covered trashcan that sits next to the toilet and is there just for that purpose. Then, I dump whatever will fall off the diaper straight into the toilet. Sometimes that’s most of the poop, a lot of the time that’s just some of it. Kind of depends on the baby’s age and what he’s been eating (funny how that works). Then I slip the insert out and drape it over the side of the SprayPal and clip the diaper cover (which is where all the poop is) into the Spray Pal.

When I haven’t had a diaper sprayer, here’s what we’ve done: we put the whole thing (SprayPal, diaper cover, and insert) into a shallow bucket (maybe 7 inches high or so?). Personally I like to use dishwashing gloves for this part so I can reach down and agitate the diaper a little to get stuff off faster if I need to, but Terry does the whole thing without the gloves and still doesn’t have to touch poop. Once the gloves are on, I just grab the shower hose, turn it to the setting that just sprays out a straight jet, and spray that sucker down. When the bucket is close to full I stop and dump the contents of the bucket into the toilet. Usually I have to go back for another round to get the last remnants off and once I’ve got most of it off I put the insert in the SprayPal and give that a quick spray too. That bucket gets emptied into the toilet too, and then I take the diaper cover and insert and put both of them into a wet-bag, which is a specially-made bag for wet stuff. ☺️

Once we got a diaper sprayer, things got even easier. Just stick the SprayPal (with the diaper cover and insert) into the bowl of the toilet, and spray it down. Easy-peasy. When it’s done the SprayPal lives in a bucket so it doesn’t drip on the floor.

For diapers that just have pee, it’s even easier. Basically the same routine, it just takes way less time because they only need to be rinsed off for a few seconds.

That’s it. That’s the worst of it. Usually takes me less than three minutes to do all that. When the bag is full, or every other day – whichever comes first, I throw the diapers and the wet bag into the washer. A rinse, a hot wash, and another rinse, and you’re done! Hang those up to dry and you’re good to go! That doesn’t sound that bad does it???

I know what you’re thinking – um, yeah, kinda sounds like a drag, I just take three seconds and throw my disposable diaper in the trash. I get that. There are things that are easier about disposable diapers, and that’s one of them. But there are things that are easier about cloth diapers too, and those were the reasons that swayed me.

Cloth diapers 101 | How to use cloth diapers | Benefits of cloth diapers

Why we love ’em

You don’t have to deal with blowouts. Ever. Hands down, this would win me over to cloth diapers every time. We have not had to deal with a single blowout in cloth diapers since we started using them (about 14 months ago now). We have had to deal with blowouts many times when Sander’s been in a disposable diaper. We kept him in disposable diapers the first six weeks or so of his life (which, again, I highly recommend), and we switch to disposables anytime we travel. Every blowout he’s ever had has been in a disposable. The cloth ones are just made better. They fit better, and they hold stuff in better.

Let’s face it, as parents, we’re gonna deal with poop. With cloth diapers, you’re just choosing to regulate when you deal with the poop – you deal with it at diaper changes, and what happens in the diaper stays in the diaper, if ya know what I mean. With the disposable diapers, you may not have to deal much with poop at every diaper change, but there are gonna come those times when you’re dealing with poop you didn’t expect, and it’s gonna be everywhere. Up his back, in his hair, in your hair, on the couch, on his clothes, rubbed into the carpet. Ick. No. Don’t tell me cloth diapers are more of a drag than dealing with that, cuz you just won’t convince me.

They are cheaper. This was the biggest reason we decided to do cloth diapers. If you buy a good brand of diapers, they’re supposed to last for several kids. You can get everything you need for cloth diapering (with nice brands) for about $500. (You could do cheaper too if you needed – maybe $300 or so?) You know the average cost of diapering a single child if you’re using disposables? About $2000, give or take. That’s 4 times more for disposables. Call me crazy, but I’d rather keep that $1500 and take a safari or something. ??? You may have extra water costs, but even with that factored in you’re still saving a ton of money.

Especially if you live in China, where people don’t typically use diapers and so imported diapers cost a premium. ? (Although let it be noted that we would have chosen cloth regardless of where we were living.)

They’re better for the environment. I won’t lie, this was . . .  not super high on my list of reasons why I wanted to cloth diaper. But! This is nothing to sneer at. We spent a few weeks at Terry’s sister’s house last summer and had a big trash can in our room for the disposable diapers we were using on vacation, and holy cow we filled that thing up fast. I remember looking at it and imagining it sitting in a landfill for the next few decades (or however long – I’m sure someone more knowledgable than myself knows how long they’d sit there – it’s probably a long time).

Way less smell. Both when it’s in the diaper on the baby and when the diaper’s done doin’ its thang. I swear you can smell a baby wearing a poopy disposable diaper for a mile around, but the cloth really keeps that stink in pretty well. And I’ve seen all the contraptions they have for containing the stink for disposable diapers once they’re disposed, and I’ve heard many a complaint about how putrid it is to change the diaper genie when it’s full. I won’t say there’s no smell involved in cleaning cloth diapers – obviously that would be a lie – but in general it’s not really an issue. We take out the trash that has the used wipes every few days – that’s probably where the worst of the smell comes from, and our $10 Ikea covered garbage can does a great job of keeping the stink contained. Or we’ve even used just a cheap plastic covered tupperware. Works like charm. The rinsed diapers that are chillin’ in the wet-bag that sits on the floor of the bathroom don’t really have any smell, as far as I can tell (as long as the bag is zipped shut).

They’re sooooo cute. Obviously this isn’t a huge reason to cloth diaper, but seriously people. Babies in cloth diapers look SO adorable. They’re such a fun pop of color when the baby’s just running around in nothing but a diaper. *sigh* It just never gets old, you know?

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You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers

Anyone convinced yet? Sort of thinking about it maybe? Want to know more? Here are some of the questions I’ve had most.

What about nighttime? 

Yep, we use em at night too. For nighttime, we add in an extra insert – this one made from hemp instead of microfiber. These are thinner than the normal microfiber inserts, but super absorbent. So, closest to the baby’s skin is the diaper cover inner lining, then the normal microfiber insert, then the hemp insert, then the diaper cover outer lining. Works great. The only leaks we’ve ever had have come from when the diaper’s not positioned quite right on him and waistband is snapped so the inner lining is showing a bit by his belly. The urine kind of soaks up to that top part of the lining and can make the edge of his pajama shirt a bit damp. So long as we make sure that’s not happening, we’re good!

What about when you’re out and about?

Yep, then too. We’ve got a couple mini wet bags. We keep one of them in the diaper bag at all times. If we change him while we’re out, the used diaper just goes straight into that bag (I may shake a giant thing of poop into the toilet if I can find a convenient place for it, but usually it just goes right into the wet-bag however it comes off of him). As soon as I get home I rinse the diaper like normal and toss it and the mini wet bag in the laundry with the rest of it.

If I’m going to be gone all day and don’t have a car, I might possibly switch him to a disposable for the day. I’ve really only ever done that on days when I traveled down to Hong Kong and was on public transportation for 7 hours. ? If I’d had a car, I would have kept him in the cloth ones, no biggie. But if I’m carrying a baby on my front and a diaper bag on my back for the whole day it’s easier to take the smaller disposable diapers that will leave my pack as the day goes on.

Cloth diapers 101 | How to use cloth diapers | Benefits of cloth diapers

What about traveling? 

Um, absolutely not. That’s just craziness. There’s no need for that (don’t tell the rest of the cloth diapering world I said that – they’re pretty convinced it’s doable). I mean, I guess you could if you super wanted to and you knew what kind of laundry facilities you’d have at your destination, but in general it takes a bit of time to figure out a system that works with your bathroom and your laundry setup – figuring out a temporary solution at a temporary destination just seems silly to me. Plus, ain’t nobody got suitcase room for that. That space is reserved for souvenirs!! And food to bring back with you!

Okay, so what kind of stuff do you need for cloth diapering? It sounds like a lot…

It’s not that much. It’s a bunch of stuff to start off with so it feels like a lot, but it’s not that extensive. Here’s everything we use for cloth diapering:

  • 24 cloth diapers (seems to be a common recommendation and has fit us just right)
    • Each of these comes with a diaper cover, insert, and newborn insert – which is just a smaller insert for when the baby is really little. You can use it as an extra insert for extra padding if you’d like as well, although we’ve never needed that.
  • 6 nighttime inserts made from hemp
    • These take longer to dry after being laundered than all the rest of it, but 6 seems to be enough to cycle through them with no problem.
  • 3 large wet-bags
    • We wash the cloth diapers every other day, with the bag along with them. You could possibly get away with just two of these – one to be used with the other being cleaned – but sometimes it takes a little bit longer for them to be totally dry (we live in a really humid environment though so that may change for others).
  • 2 mini wet-bags for using on-the-go
  • A diaper sprayerThis hooks up to your toilet in less than five minutes and makes cleaning soooo easy. We love the model we have.
  • A bucket for catching diaper spray
  • A SprayPalto help make cleaning easier. Definitely worth the $25 I spent on it.
  • Detergent safe for cloth diapers (usually that just means free of dyes and perfumes).
  •  Diaper creamthat’s safe for cloth diapers – we use this kind, available at Target. It feels a little different than other creams I’ve used on disposables – a little more slick maybe? – but does the job.
  •  Hangers– to hang dry the cloth diapers.
  • Wipes – we use disposable but a lot of people choose to use cloth wipes – I get the appeal (just toss it in the laundry with everything else and save even more money!) but haven’t tried it at all.

Cloth diapers 101 | How to use cloth diapers | Benefits of cloth diapers

What brands do you use?

I looked at a lot of different brands when I was shopping around. It started to get overwhelming. In the end, I just went with one that had really high ratings from almost everything I read, and we’ve loved them. The brand is called BumGenius. They fit our baby great, have been easy to use, aren’t gross to clean, and still look as nice as they were on the day I bought them. I fully expect to be able to adjust the size to fit him right up until we potty train him.

I did buy four of our diapers in a different brand. I’ll be honest, it was mostly because of the cute prints. ? They’re called Rumparooz and are just a few dollars more than the BumGenius diapers, but sadly I don’t like them as much. They don’t fit as great. Like many of the reviews I read, I’ve found that they don’t rise up on Sander’s belly enough – they seem a little short that direction and a little more puffy on his bum. He doesn’t seem to mind them, but they’re the last diapers I reach for. Bummer. (Haha, geddit? Bum???)

We use these for our nighttime hemp inserts and I have zero complaints about them.

This is the Spray Palwe use – I would seriously recommend getting one of these. They can be used to clean the diaper either in the toilet or the shower.

Do they actually get clean?

Yep! They come out of the wash nice and white and smelling clean! Occasionally you’ll get a bit of discoloration on either the inner lining of the diaper cover or on the insert. I’ve bleached the inserts with great success (just be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions) and I’ve stuck the diaper covers and/or inserts in a spot of sun for a few hours to get it back to white – works like a charm!

Is it comfortable for the baby? 

Well, I’m not a baby so I can’t say for myself, and Sander’s too young to talk still. But my friend switched her kid from disposables to cloth when he was a couple years old and he started referring to the cloth diapers as his “soft diapers.” So if two-year-old William’s word means anything to you, then yes, they’re nice and soft! Also, babies in cloth diapers deal with much much less diaper rash than babies in disposables. Another bonus and a big win for baby!

Cloth diapers 101 | How to use cloth diapers | Benefits of cloth diapers

What do you use to wash them? 

Okay. Stick with me for a minute on this. This sounds a little hippie, I know. Had I been in the US I probably would have just used one of the detergents made for cloth diapers. They’re more expensive, but you don’t use much with each load. (And you do need to be careful what detergent you’re using – some detergents can harm the diapers and they’ll wear out a lot quicker. No bueno.) But, since I was in China when I started this, I didn’t have access to all the cool detergents. It’s possible there’s a dye-free fragrance-free whatever-free detergent somewhere in China, but it’s all written in Chinese so I have no hope of ever finding it. ? But my friend mentioned something called soap nuts and they’ve been an awesome solution for us.

They’re basically little dried berries that grow on a tree that when put in hot water naturally produce soap. Isn’t that the weirdest thing you’ve ever heard?! I was super skeptical at first, but they’re recommended all over the place on cloth diapering websites, and they were available in China so I thought we’d give them a go.

You basically take about 6-8 nuts and put them in a tiny little bag (usually included with the soap nuts). I tie mine shut my using a hair tie. Then you toss the little soap nuts bag into the main part of the washer along with all the diaper covers and inserts. Since the pre-rinse and post-rinse are both cold and the main wash is hot, the nuts are only activated to be soapy during the main hot wash, which is exactly what you want. You don’t even have to fish out the bag before the cold rinse at the end because they’ll just harmlessly go around in your washer. It’s so easy it’s almost laughable.

The best part? The nuts last for several washes so you only have to switch them every few washes. Just throw out the old ones and put new ones in the same bag. I bought a box of soap nuts online when we started cloth diapering and I swear that one box will last me until Sander’s done with diapers, maybe even later. The whole thing cost me $10 if I remember right (although pricing in China may be a bit different – they’re still super cheap wherever you get them).

The nuts themselves have a bit of a weird smell to them – pretty earthy. They came in a ziploc bag so I don’t smell them unless I’m opening the bag. But the diapers come out without any discernible smell at all. They don’t smell dirty, they don’t smell earthy, they just smell like clean nothingness. It’s great.

Theoretically you could use these to wash your normal clothes too. I haven’t tried it but as I type all this I’m wondering why not. . . ?

We’ve also used normal detergent, so long as it’s free of dyes and perfumes – we stick with Tide Free & Gentle if we’re going that way.

Do they leak?

They really, truly don’t! I would seriously recommend a good solid brand though, even if it’s not BumGenius. This is the kind of purchase where you get what you pay for, and since you’ll be using it all the time, quality is an important consideration.

What’s this I’ve heard about stripping cloth diapers?

Stripping cloth diapers is a fancy term for a deep clean of the diapers. This doesn’t need to happen often – only if you notice the diapers are starting to develop a smell even after being washed. In the 14 or so months we’ve been using cloth diapers I’ve needed to do this once. It sounds intimidating but is really easy. Every diaper manufacturer says something different and I’d stick with what they say, but in general it’s pretty simple. You basically run the diapers through a super hot wash several times, usually with some kind of special soap. I used a tablespoon or so of blue Dawn dish soap (yes it must be Dawn, and yes it must be the blue kind – no idea why). That took care of the smell, no problem.

And your husband’s cool with all this?

Yep! He loves them!! For me, it was super important that Terry be on the same page as me with this. Others don’t feel it’s as important to have their spouse on board and are happy to take care of most of the diaper duties on their own. Not in this house. We both clean lots of diapers. We both do the laundry for them. We both love them.

Also, as a side note, you can cloth diaper part time. There’s no rule that says you have to use cloth diapers all day every day. If your spouse hates the idea of cloth diapers but you love them, maybe it’d work for you to do cloth diapers during the day when you’re the one on duty and switch to disposables in the late afternoon, evening and nighttime when you’re both home. You still get lots of the benefits. And you may find that you go through seasons of life that are just crazy and you switch to disposables for a little while. That’s fine too. You do you.

Cloth diapers 101 | How to use cloth diapers | Benefits of cloth diapers

To Sum Up . . .

Cloth diapering is totally doable. It’s not for everyone. But it’d probably suit more people than you would guess. Maybe even you! ? It’s not nearly as scary as it sounds. If you think it sounds like something you may want to try, I’m happy to answer any questions for you!!

What do you think?? Did I convince anyone??? Make you at least consider a different way? Let me know!!

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