Cloth Diapers

13 Aug

Warning: This post is long, and exclusively about Cloth Diapers. There’s no mention of food at all except when I call prefolds “granola”. If none of this interests you, it won’t hurt my feelings if you skip this one.

Occasionally I get asked about cloth diapers. I know people see me out and about during changes, or even see them on my kid and think “Wonder how that works? Ugh, bet it’s a pain. Seems gross. What does she do with the poop?” Rest assured everyone, the poop is dealt with accordingly. People almost never ask me the fun questions out loud. I sincerely wish they would, I’m always up for a poo talk. But no, when I get asked about cloth, it’s most often from new or expecting moms who are considering cloth and want to know “what are your favorite brands, and why?” I first became aware of modern cloth diapering when my boy was 7 months. I was going through my mommy message board phase and saw a topic labeled “Cloth Diapering”. Like most people who went through infancy in the late 70’s/early 80’s, I myself was cloth diapered. These flat pieces, safety pins, and plastic pants are usually what spring to mind when society thinks of cloth diapers. I thought, “Those are still being used?” Out of curiosity, I started researching online. The first image I got looked something like this:

Turns out good old cloth diapers are being used, only somebody’s put them on steroids.

I spent the next 2 weeks soaking up everything related to cloth diapers. It can be majorly overwhelming at the research stage. I didn’t feel like I had a good grasp on exactly what does what until I had done a couple evenings’ worth of reading. Maybe I’m slow, but this was an entire sub-culture of baby stuff that I had no idea even existed. I eventually learned the difference between Pockets, All-in-Ones, Prefolds, Flats, One-Size, Hybrids, Fitteds, and which ones do and do not need a separate cover.  If you simply can’t live another minute without knowing what those differences are, rest assured, I will tell you.

Pockets – A waterproof cover is sewn to a moisture-wicking fabric, creating a “pocket” where you can stuff an absorbent piece of material (usually called an insert). At wash time, the insert is pulled out and they’re washed separately. We have a lot of pockets and I love them, but stuffing those inserts back in after washing tends to make me stabby. In fact, I see bumGenius has now developed a diaper dubbed the “Freetime”, which does not need to be stuffed. So named, I assume, for all the free time you’ll have when you no longer have to stuff inserts day and night. I imagine women flocking carefree with their children in a meadow. “Can we stay longer Mom?” “Sure honey, we have nowhere to be! The diapers are stuffed!”

Wilson at 7 months in a bumGenius 3.0 Pocket

AIO (All-in-Ones) – The green diaper in the picture above is an AIO. It’s just like it sounds. No stuffing (yay!). Easy to use, especially for a care giver who’s not used to CDing. Super absorbent. These rock stars can go all night with no leaks. The down side? Twice the dry time. These suckers take 2 dry cycles to get all the way dry, or a whole day of drying outside. They’re also pretty much the most expensive diapers on the market.  We have three bumGenius AIOs and I usually save them for church on Sundays, when someone else will be changing my little one’s diaper.

One-Size – Diapers with adjustment snaps all the way across and down the front, so you can adjust as your kid grows. We’ve used one-size diapers all the way from 3 months to potty training. In my opinion, OS is the only way to go. Course, even at their smallest setting, they won’t fit perfectly until around 3 months, unless you happen to have a baby on the bigger side. I don’t birth big babies (score!), so three months was the golden cloth wearing age.

A word about Newborn cloth diapers: Honestly, don’t blow a bunch of money on newborn cloth diapers. From my experience they don’t ever fit right, and even if they do, newborns grow out of stuff in about a minute. Get one or two for a picture shoot if you want, but cut yourself some slack and use disposables for the first month. Plus I don’t know for sure, but think the stuff that comes out of a newborn those first few weeks would just burn a hole right through microfiber.

Hybrid Diapers – Another longtime favorite. We use GroVia (used to be called GroBaby back when I bought mine). These consist of two parts. The waterproof cover (the “shell”), and the absorbent piece (the “soaker pad”). The shell and the soaker have snap components that match up and allow them to attach together. At changing time, provided your child hasn’t gifted you with a blow-out that has covered the shell in poo, you can just unsnap the wet soaker and snap a clean one into the same shell. Bam! Less diaper laundry. These are usually the first diapers I reach for. These are handy for people who don’t know if they want to go all out and do full time cloth. You can purchase disposable absorbent pads (this company calls them “BioSoakers”) that can be thrown away when they’re dirty. They are biodegradable, compostable, and plastic-free. I’ve used this method on vacation before, and it works well. Just a word to the wise, lay the BioSoaker in the shell and don’t use the peel off sticky parts on the back. They’ll leave a tacky film on your shell that won’t ever come off. Ever.

A GroBaby (GroVia) Shell and Soaker Pad. Notice how ratty and slightly stained it looks? That’s two kids’ worth of excrement, people!


Fitted Diapers – I actually don’t have any fitteds, but they are insanely popular. They do require the use use of a cover which would have to be purchased separately. I guess that’s why I never got any. They’re not nearly as cheap as prefolds and you still have to use a cover. But like I said, lots of people love ’em, so they must be worth it.

Prefolds/Flats – Old skool crunchy cloth diapering, just like Mom used to make! Ultra granola & budget friendly! These are great for when you forgot to do diaper laundry and they’re all you have until you can do a wash real quick. You can get a dozen prefolds or flats for about $20, and a cover for about $10 or less if you hit a sale. This makes them the most economical cloth diapers you can find, but they can also  be the trickiest. Prefolds are so named because they are folded to maximize absorbency in the middle, and sewn that way. Flats are just flat, and you have to fold them around the baby in a precise way. I only have prefolds. Sometimes I use a snappi (I don’t need to be poking any holes in my baby with safety pins), and sometimes I’ll just fold the prefold in thirds and lay it in the cover. Again, these don’t win the awesome award but they’re cheap and they work.

Juliette in a prefold and Thirsties cover, 3 months


Cloth Wipes – Some people are reluctant to use cloth wipes at first. I was too. I thought they would push me over the edge in terms of just too much hassle. So I continued to use disposable wipes with my cloth diapers. It took me about a month to realize they were actually making things harder. Instead of throwing everything into the pail after a change, I would have to take the disposable wipe to the bathroom trash, creating an extra step in the process. Then I tried just throwing them into the pail with everything else, washing them with the diapers, and throwing them away right after that. Makes no sense when I look back on it now, but this is how we learn, right? Trial and error. And more error. I finally relented and switched to cloth wipes. I use these beauties from an online store called Small Wonders Wipes . They are sherpa on one side and velour on the other, and I love them. There’s no mess they can’t handle! Use the sherpa side for cleaning the mess and the velour buffs to a shine! For the solution, I make my own. 2 and a half cups of water, 1/4 cup of baby wash, 1/4 cup of coconut oil (is there anything coconut oil can’t do?!) I used to use EVOO, but it was leaving a film on the wipes. I store the solution in those peri bottles they give you at the hospital. When I’m ready to use a wipe,  I squirt the solution onto the wipe and go at it. I tried carrying the solution and wipes around with me for out of the house changes, but it’s kind of a beating to deal with all of that. I was always running out of solution in my bag and forgetting to replace it before I left again. Then one time a peri bottle leaked inside my bag and I was like “I’m so done with this”. Now I just carry disposable wipes and throw them away after I use them.

My Cloth Wipes


Snaps versus Hook & Loop (Velcro) – Ah, the ever present conundrum. Which do I choose? Well, they both have their positives and their negatives. H&L is easier to fasten around a squirmy baby, but after awhile that Velcro will start to pill on the loop side and all kinds of odds and ends will get stuck in the hook side, making the whole thing less effective. Also, an older baby will delight in the ability to strip off his own diaper and smear poo on your walls. Bonus  for the cool ripping sound! I’m a snaps girl. Often I dream of converting my entire diaper stash to snaps. Yes, it can be challenging to get them snapped correctly around a wiggly baby, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy peasy. I’ve yet to have a baby rip off a snaps diaper by his or herself. Another plus I’m finding now that I have a girl – I can use a snaps diaper under a dress for which I have no bloomers. I couldn’t do that with a H&L, she would tear it off instantly. So there you go. It all comes down to personal preference (butsnapsarebetter).

Ok. Now we know what everything is. Here’s a quick word about poo, since I know you’re thinking about it. If you have a mostly solid poo, flop the poo into the toilet, toss the diaper in the pail, and thank your baby for her kind consideration. Exclusively breast fed babies, sick babies, and babies who may have had too much prune juice that morning will not be so kind. When a mess strikes, you will NEED a diaper sprayer. These handy gadgets resemble the sprayer that you probably have at your kitchen sink. It attaches to your water line and hangs at the side of your toilet. Spray the poo off the diaper downward into the toilet and say goodbye. If you have an older baby, it’s required that you have the child stand nearby and actually say “bye poo” and wave. Seriously, I’ve heard it aids in earlier potty training because they connect the poo with the toilet. At the very least it’s adorable, so just do it.

Cloth Diapers and Day Care – Many people think this can’t be done, but it can. If your eyes haven’t shriveled up from boredom while reading this, check out another post I wrote as a guest blogger for the Kelly’s Closet blog: Cloth Diaper Academy

Ok, almost done. Washing and drying. Another question I hear a lot is “do you wash them yourself or do you use a service?”. I’ve always washed my diapers myself, and I think most other cloth diapering moms do too. To me it kind of defeats the purpose financially, if you’re going to pay someone to do your washing. Unless you’re renting your diapers from the service, and washing them is a part of the whole agreement. That’s a whole different thing and I have no experience with that. Each brand of diaper will come with its own washing and drying instructions, but I don’t think anybody does their diapers separately according to brand. I sure don’t. Here’s what I do. I take the pail into the laundry room and plop it on top of the cat’s litter box, which makes it the perfect height. This is the only positive contribution our cat gives to the family. I set the washer on rinse and start throwing everything in, removing inserts from the pocket diapers and unsnapping soaker pads from shells. Once everything is in, I throw in the pail liner too. After the rinse is done, do a hot wash, with the hottest water your washer is capable of. Here’s where you add your detergent. The good news is cloth diapers don’t need a lot of detergent, so it will last you forever. I use Rockin’ Green Cloth Diaper Detergent, but there are tons on the market. So after you do your hot wash, do one more rinse at the end, and you’re ready to dry.  Generally you don’t want to dry your covers in the dryer, because it makes them wear out much faster. The heat will weaken the elastic, big time. I have a bunch of covers that my mom has had to redo the elastic for me because I got lazy and threw them into the dryer one too many times. So I will throw all the inserts and wipes and prefolds into the dryer, and lay the covers outside. If I’m feeling ambitious, or if I have a lot of diapers with stains, I’ll hang everything outside. The sun is the only safe and effective way to bleach cloth.

Drying and bleaching!

Now it bears mentioning that my zeal for cloth diapering has taken some dents and scratches over the years. After 4 years of the stuffing, wiping, spraying, cleaning, drying process, some of the shine has flaked off. There have been days when we’re late and I just want to change the baby quickly before we leave, we run into the room, and the wipes solution bottles are empty. Or there’s only prefolds with ill-fitting grey covers left. And sometimes I just want to THROW THE POOP AWAY.  Gah! But mostly, if I stay on top of the whole thing, it’s so worth it.  I have no idea how much money we’ve saved over the years, or how many diapers we’ve prevented from sitting in a landfill, but it’s got to be a lot. I know I’ll miss the whole thing once its over and I’ll be glad I stuck it out.

No joke, Juliette just had a huge blowout. Right here on my lap. Maybe I’ll take a picture of myself using the diaper sprayer on a messy poo. Would that be helpful? No?

UPDATE: I now make my own homemade cloth diaper detergent out of equal parts oxy clean, washing soda, and baking soda. It’s working well!


One Response to “Cloth Diapers”

  1. robinwilson1957 August 13, 2012 at 6:50 pm #

    Awesome Stef!! I would send this to anyone overwhelmed by the prospect of cloth diapering! There are so many options, but you really laid it all out in simple terms. Even though it was way less glamorous back in the late 70’s, early 80’s I still think about how satisfying the experience was. I used to LOVE hanging all the diapers in a row outside on our little clothesline and then taking them down a few hours later all warm and bright white again. I sure wish I could do it again today with all the fun stuff out now!

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