I've had enough friends ask me about cloth diapers that I thought it'd be fun to write a little post about it! Cloth diapering sounds simple at first, until you look into it. And then, if you're like me, you freak the heck out because there are so many acronyms, and so many options, and so many brands. So I've tried to break it down into categories that make sense in my mind. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask me in real life! I love talking about diapers.
Okay first, some disclaimers:
1. I'm one year into this adventure, and still learning. I'm sure my techniques and preferences will continue to change over time. I can say that cloth diapering a 14 month old feels manageable and, dare I say, fun right now! But if you see any egregious errors here, please let me know. I'm still learning, too!
2. Cloth diapering is in no way a moral imperative. People can get mighty opinionated about the million and one different ways their neighbor chooses to parent differently than them, but I'm learning to let it all roll off my back (and I'm trying to not let my excitement or personal preference come across sounding like "shoulds" or "have-tos"). For us, cloth diapering started as a way to save money. After finding out that our preferences leaned toward more expensive, quicker-to-change diapers, I'd say we broke even the first year when you compare the cost of disposables to the cost of cloth. But I'm looking forward to the savings this second year and beyond! Also? No. poop. blowouts when you use cloth. I'm not even kidding. The only out-the-legs, up-the-back blowouts we've had have been in disposables!
So everything cloth that you put on your baby's bum is going to consist of two parts: an absorbent part on the inside, and a water-resistant cover on the outside. Some diapers employ these two parts separately so you can mix and match and reuse and your leisure. Others come with everything sewn together and ready to go (see Types of Diapers below for more details).
The absorbent part of the diaper can consist of natural fibers (cotton, bamboo, hemp) or synthetic fibers (microfiber). People tend to develop pretty strong opinions here. Microfiber tends to be less expensive, but more bulky. My personal preference tends to lean toward natural fibers. They clean easier in my front-loading washer with hard water, and they're more trim yet more absorbent. Also, note that microfiber shouldn't be placed directly against baby's skin. It can cause irritation and dry their skin out quickly.
Most diaper covers consist of PUL (polyurethane laminate) or TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane). Wool covers are gaining popularity as well, and people who use them love them. I haven't ventured into that world yet!
Types of Diapers
When I initially looked into cloth diapers, I think all of these options and acronyms scared me the most. What I wish I'd known then was that I had a LOCAL DIAPER STORE that provides TRIAL PACKAGES. Nothing compared to being able to see and handle different styles of diapers, and when I did finally splurge on it, the trial package was invaluable for an indecisive person like myself. Ross and I agreed pretty quickly which diapers in the trial package were our favorites, and I was more than happy to return the ones we were less than in love with. Just remember, there's no right or wrong answer here. You can absolutely mix and match, and you'll likely find that you prefer one type of diaper for play, one type for naps, one type for nighttime, etc. There's no wrong answer; just personal preference.
1. Prefolds- These are the white, rectangular, old-school cloth diapers, and definitely the cheapest option out there. They are worn with a cover over them. You can change as many prefolds as you need to throughout the day and just alternate between two covers, letting the covers take turns drying out between diaper changes. You can Google all sorts of traditional or fancy folds, fasten these diapers (or not) with a Snappi or old fashioned diaper pins, and put a cover over it all. I did prefolds for a month or two, and didn't mind them at first. They're a little bulkier than other options, especially on a tiny baby. But once Noah wasn't a tiny baby, he rolled around too much during diaper changes for me to want to mess with these. Plenty of people actually just fold prefolds into thirds, lay them in a liner, and snap the cover over it, but that always got messy for me in the event of a poppy diaper.
2. Pockets- Just what it sounds like. The waterproof liner is sewn together with fabric on the inside in such a way that creates a pocket in which you place the absorbent materials, or inserts. Different brands have different iterations of inserts, but they all basically work the same way: stuff the material in the pocket, put it on the kid, and you're good to go. Many people are obsessed with pocket diapers because they like the variability: you can put extra layers in for naps, at night, etc. The pocket material is often very soft and has a stay-dry element against baby's skin. However, we've personally had issues with leakage with pockets... Noah will somehow pee on the one corner of fabric that isn't stuffed with the pad, the liquid eventually soaks through the water-resistant lining, and we end up with wet clothes. Again, I know plenty of people who swear by pockets, so don't let me sway you away! I will admit that they're easier to clean poop off of, but not to the extent that it makes me want to stuff pockets all day long.
3. Fitteds- These are diapers made out of prefold material, but cut and sewn in a way that provides elastic around the legs and waist. They provide more "square footage" of absorbent material than any other style, and require a cover of some sort. They're often soft and deliciously fluffy on the bum. Fairly bulky, but that's because they're purely absorbent material and great for nighttime.
4. All-in-Twos (AI2)/Hybrids- A two-part system consisting of a water-resistant outer shell and a detachable insert. The inserts usually snap in (ex: GroVia shells and soakers), or can be tucked in (ex: BumGenius Flip system)
5. All-in-ones (AIOs)- These diapers are the most user-friendly since the absorbent material is sown to the cover. You don't have to fold or stuff anything-- just put it on and go!
It seems like more and more diapers offer a "one-size fits most" option, with rise snaps allowing the diaper to grow with most kiddos between 12-35 lbs.
Sized diapers usually come in newborn, 1, 2, and 3 based on weight.
2. Snaps versus hook-and-loop
Hook-and-loop is just the generic name
for Velcro-type tabs. Some diaper brands offer a choice between snap or
hook-and-loop closures, and again, this comes down to personal
preference. Velcro is more user-friendly, faster to change, and feels
more familiar to disposable diaper users. But you do have to remember to
fold the tabs down over themselves when you take the dirty diaper off, lest you snag something in the
wash. And not all hook-and-loop diapers are created equal. Some brands
are much more durable than others. Many people feel that snaps are just
stronger, and last longer. But again, personal preference. Both can
be replaced fairly easily by someone who knows what they're doing, if
the closure malfunctions but the diaper still has a lot of life left.
Usually you need more than a few layers of cloth to really soak up urine after the newborn days, so many fitted or all-in-one diapers come with doublers or soakers. These are essentially just extra layers of fabric, and they can be sewn, stuffed, snapped, or laid into the diaper, depending on the brand. For a long time, all the variability in these weird flaps and snaps really threw me off. Just keep in mind, they all essentially do the same thing, and it comes down to personal preference in the end.
Totally optional for the poop that isn't "ploppable." We used disposable liners for a while, but then switched to stay-dry fleece liners. The poop tends to rinse off of the liners easier than it does from the natural fibers we've used, so it's nice to have some on hand. Some babies also really really hate wet diapers, and the fleece liner can help keep them feeling dry. I believe there are also silk stay-dry liners out there? We haven't really used them, though.
Diaper sprayer: I resisted this for a LONG time, but the Spraypal holder and the Aquaus sprayer became my friends when we started dealing with legitimate toddler poo after Noah turned 1.
Diaper pail: We use a Simple Human trash can with a footpedal and a lid that closes securely. I've never once been knocked over by the fumes like you get with a Diaper Genie, and Noah's bedroom NEVER smells like dirty diapers, unless he has an active one on his bottom after nap time.
Diaper pail liners: I have zero complaints about our Planet Wise pail liners. When it's laundry time, I pull the whole thing out of the pail, and turn the bag + its contents inside out into the washing machine. I doubt there's anything magical about this brand in particular, though.
Wet Bags: still haven't found one I'm totally in love with. I'd love to hear what you use! This is where you put wet/dirty cloth diapers when you change them while out and about, at daycare, etc. I've also heard they make great pool bags for wet swim clothes when kids get older. I have my eye on a fancy Logan & Lenora bag for the next kid. So far, it seems like you get what you pay for with wet bags and I've used and discarded 3 of them now.
Wool Balls: 2-3 of these in the dryer helps move everything around and promote air flow a little better. If the load of diapers was especially stinky, I will occasionally add a drop of essential oil to the wool balls to freshen things up, although the diapers shouldn't really smell anything but clean out of the washer.
Cloth Wipes: I never could go there, but plenty of people do!
Diaper Ointment: General rule of thumb is that if the rash persists beyond 1-2 diaper changes, it's worth consulting your pediatrician. If the rash clears up in disposables, but comes back in cloth, it's worth revisiting your wash routine, as well. There may be leftover detergent irritating baby's skin, or your diapers may not be getting clean enough. When it comes to general irritation from a wet diaper that stayed on too long, or from a food that was irritating to Noah's GI tract and bum, I love Grandma El's diaper ointment. It really works!
For those who are afraid of putting poop in your washing machine, rest assured that solid waste is disposed of in the toilet or trash, not the machine. I spray the poop into the toilet, wring out the water, and throw the diaper in the diaper pail. Like I mentioned above, blowouts happen in disposable diapers, so you're going to either be putting poop-stained diapers in the washer, or poop-stained clothes. Let's not pretend that poop doesn't come with the territory one way or another!
Fluff Love University's website has a ton of washing info for hard water, soft water, washer types, etc. Individual diaper brands will also often work with you to find the best wash routine for their materials.
I was diapers every second or third day. I have a front-loading HE washing machine and very hard water. I have, at different times, tried adding Calgon, Borax, or Lulu's Glamour Wash for Hard Water to my pre-wash or main wash (the most effective was 1.5 Tbs of Lulu's in the pre-wash, and another 1 Tbs in the main wash with 1 line of Tide, but when I ran out of Lulu's I realized I didn't really notice THAT much of a difference). I've tried multiple detergents, liquid and powder, scented and unscented, and here's where I was when we potty-trained at 27 months:
I only use Tide Original powder now, and when I throw the diapers in the wash, I fill the Tide scoop to line 1 with detergent, and set it on top of the washer.
1.) Cold rinse
2.) Warm water Quick Wash with maybe 1/4 of the detergent I pre-measured. I just dump a bit of it into the detergent dispenser of our machine. If it's a really stinky load, I will use a little less than 1/4 cup of Bac Out in the main barrel of wash, as well.
3.) Hot water Heavy cycle with the rest of the Tide powder in the scooper
4.) Cool rinse cycle
5.) Dry for 40 minutes on Low heat with 2 wool dryer balls, and then hang on a drying rack to finish drying. Alternately, you can dry them in sun, as needed, if you have poop stains.
Once every month or two, I throw all the clean diapers into the washer and wash them with just GroVia Mighty Bubbles to get rid of inevitable detergent and hard-water residue.
UPDATE May 2016: As we approach Noah's second birthday, our stash is comprised of 4 nighttime diapers with 4 covers, 4 nap diapers, and 17 daytime diapers (we also have 2 sets of smaller nighttime diapers in storage). Here's what we're using:
Overnight... Sloomb Sustainablebabyish Overnight Bamboo Fitteds with Blueberry Capri or Coverall covers. Noah weighs 32+ pounds and we haven't had an overnight leak with this combo.
Daytime... Smartbottoms AIOs are our go-to daily diapers and they fit Noah perfectly, but we're starting to push the size limit on them. They're still in great condition and they age well. I'll definitely get more if/when we have another kiddo and need to replace things from our current stash.
Daytime... GroVia AI2 covers with stay-dry snap-in inserts. We've had a few of these for a while, and I was always ambivalent about them. But the more we use them, the more I LOVE them. If/when we have another baby, I will be buying a few more of these for sure. They just fit so well.
Daytime... BumGenius Elementals-- where do I begin?! These were the diapers I wanted to love the most. Their design is such that they just seem to wash cleaner than anything else. (Meaning I can't imagine poop particles hiding in places I can't see). But they just don't seem to be made out of high-quality material. The PUL wears out very easily, and the elastics are getting noticeably looser, much sooner than any of our other diapers. Of course, this happens when Noah finally fits into them well. They were so wide and bulky in the beginning, and now that they fit they seem to be wearing out. With the next baby, I'll probably tuck these away and only get them out again after the first 18 months or so.
Naps... I'm in love with the combo of a Blueberry Simplex stuffed with a Funky Fluff hemp boosters. The booster's shape makes it easy to stuff, and it's thin but ABSORBANT. We've actually used this combo as a nighttime diaper in a pinch, and so far it has held everything in!
Swim... Honestly, you can probably use any brand you like. You just need something that fits well, to hold any solid waste in. We used an iPlay diper from Target last year, I've used Grovia covers plenty of times, and I've heard Honest Company has some cute swim diapers, too. We ended up buying an AppleCheeks swim diaper this summer, though, because I love the way they fit even though I don't love that their only dry-land diaper is a pocket diaper.
UPDATE September 2016:
Oh Crap! Potty Training is the best parenting book ever. How are we at the potty training stage already?! It took 4 days for Noah to pee and poop in the toilet consistently at home with a bare bottoms, and about 3-4 weeks for him to truly get the hang of it while wearing clothes (commando) and running errands. He still wears diapers for naps, nighttime, and at Parent's Day Out once a week. Still figuring out how to use cloth in this stage, which means going back and forth between cloth and disposables.