Wondering what to do when it’s time to get baby out of diapers? First, you should know that it’s never too early to start helping your baby learn about his elimination and how to communicate his needs with you. Practicing Elimination Communication is the norm in many cultures and has been a life-saver for many parents who have been primed to potty train with traditional methods. Give your baby as much diaper-free time as possible to facilitate the communication. You can learn more about that at Diaper Free Baby and Go Diaper Free. Ahhhh…. what a relief! **(Also know that you can buy special EC potty supplies, underwear and pants online that usually make the process easier than the cloth styles described below).**
Please note: We were part-time cloth users. The 24/7 cloth diapering phase has come and gone, but we plan to practice Elimination Communication and use cloth full-time with our next baby. As MaiTai suffered from frequent diaper rash in traditional commercial disposables in his first year, we abandoned use of disposables made from sketchy synthetic materials and turned to cloth. We loved our cloth diapers because we truly believe it’s the healthiest option, can be convenient, a money-saver, and a planet-saver… but as we’re kinda lazy about laundry, the eco-disposable treatment worked well for us a majority of the time (cloth disposables exist, too!). We’ll see what happens next time 🙂
Diaper Track Record
EVOLUTION OF THE DIAPER
DID YOU KNOW THIS, ER… SHIT?
You’re Supposed to Dump the Doodie Before Disposing!
Wait, say what?? Yep, the instructions listed on all disposable diaper packaging instruct that you must shake off/dump any feces in the diaper into the toilet, then wrap the diaper into itself before shoving it into the trash. Don’t believe me? Check out the photo evidence or get your hands on any pack of disposables and see for yourself). It’s amazing that virtually zero disposable diaper users actually know or do this; in fact, less than one-half of one percent of the waste from disposable diapers ends up in the sewer system where it belongs! (Okay, guilty over here…I’m sorry, Mother Earth!).
“Shake soil into toilet. Wrap diaper inside its back sheet before discarding.”
“If nappy is soiled, empty contents into the toilet…” — “Excess soiling should be removed and flushed down the toilet…” — and below, “Dispose of any stool attached to the diaper into the toilet.”
Might as well just use cloth then, right? Unless you’re a rule-breaker at heart (can’t honestly say I’ve shaken off many disposables either). Click here to see the actual recommended steps for disposing of a disposable diaper.
So, where do all these disposed nappies go? Well, did you know that 16 billion dirty disposable diapers find their final resting place in landfills in the U.S. every year? Every year! Mon Doo — er, Mon Dieu! That’s, uh… quite a bunch. In fact, about 50% of the waste from single-use diapering households is, you guessed it–diaper trash!
“Disposable diapers make up 1-3% of all solid waste that goes into landfills in the United States… Dioxins may leach out of diapers and enter ground and surface water, concentrating at levels that would pose a threat to human health. Also, dioxins are released into the environment when wood pulp is bleached with chlorine.
Disposable diapers do not degrade when in landfills…
Disposable diapers are often thrown into the trash, and eventually into a landfill, still containing feces. Throwing human feces into a landfill is illegal but many parents do not know that they should be dumping the feces into the toilet before throwing the diaper away. Human waste has added to the amount of dangerous bacteria that already exists in landfills and increases the threat of the bacteria leaching into groundwater.” – Steven G. Gilbert (citing Prasad et al., 2002; Sutton et. al., 1991); updated by Nick Thorp 2010
- Health issues associated with traditional disposables include diaper dye skin irritation, dioxin exposure, respiratory effects from diapers’ chemical emissions, and allergic contact dermatitis.
- Disposables contain traces of dioxin, a toxic byproduct of the paper-bleaching process, listed by the Environmental Protection Agency as the most threatening of all chemicals linked to cancer. Do you really want to be wrapping that around your baby’s most sensitive bits?
- Disposables also contain a known hormone-disrupting pollutant called Tributyl-tin (TBT).
- Most infamously, you’ll also find a super-absorbent polymer (SAP) called sodium polyacrylate in baby’s disposables. If the name of this chemical rings any bells, you probably remember it by the similar SAP that was used until the early 1980s in super-absorbency tampons. SAP was discontinued for use in tampons when it was found to be directly connected with increased risk of toxic shock syndrome (kind of a big deal).
- Scrotal temperature is increased in boys who wear traditional disposables, per published research by Archives of Disease in Childhood: “The physiological testicular cooling mechanism is blunted and often completely abolished during plastic nappy use.” Yikes!
- The contents of disposable diapers end up in landfills seeping into the ground and a portion of the solid waste stream. This is scary because “more than 100 different enteric viruses, including polio and hepatitis… are known to be excreted in human feces and that these viruses can live for months after the stool has passed from the body,” per American Public Health Association.
Cloth vs. Disposable
- Let’s just get this out of the way now. Cloth diapers are SO CUTE. Perfect for a Kodak-moment photo sesh! Disposables are so…perfect for the trash?
- Let’s face it, you have to shop for diapers no matter what. Which do you prefer to spend your shopping energy and money on: an array of fuzzy animal-print baby-booty covers or yet another pack of synthetic materials that bring back cringe-worthy memories of those horrid maxi-pads you wore in junior high (minus the Sesame Street prints)?
- Cloth doesn’t require last-minute trips to the store for diapers. You just use it, store it, and deal with it later.
- Disposables are discarded after each use. (And remember, you’re supposed to remove and dump the feces first! But don’t worry, secret’s safe with me if you “forget” that step).
- You only need a set stash of cloth; it’ll last until baby is out of diapers and can usually be reused for a subsequent child.
- Disposables need to be purchased again and again. Cashiers will know you by name at Walgreens, Target, Walmart…
- Cloth uses more household water due to laundering.
- Disposables contribute to landfill waste due to incompositible nature.
- Not everyone “cares” about Mother Nature and our lovely planet, let’s not kid ourselves. But guess what, depending on your method of washing & drying, cloth diapering can benefit a family’s own home environment too, and I’m pretty sure everyone cares about that.
- Chemicals in single-use diapers, some of which are linked to cancer.
- No chemicals in cloth. No link to any adverse health effects.
Getting started with cloth might seem overwhelming at first, but there’s a reason why many parents who choose cloth end up getting pretty fanatically obsessed about it! Click here for a guide to deciding between different components of cloth diapering.
The most popular crowd:
- Best Bottom
- Blueberry (formerly Swaddlebees)
- Happy Heiny
- A note about “knockoff” brands
Pick some Covers/Shells:
- All-in-Ones/All-in-Twos (AIOs, AI2/AITs)
Decide on Cover Fabrics:
- PUL (polyurethane laminate)
- Suedecloth lining
- Microfleece/microchamois lining
- Waterproof Nylon
Pick some Inserts**:
- Soakers & Boosters for AIOs or AI2/AITs
- …clean shirts, towels, etc!
You may want Liners**:
**Read descriptions and uses for each type of insert and liner here.
You may like different Fasteners:
- Diaper Pins
Accessorize as you wish:
Cloth diapering doesn’t have to be “all or nothing.” No one’s going to judge you if you already know you’re going to “supplement” your cloth supply with–eek–disposables (promise). Now, the amount of cloth you need depends on your situation and baby, really. Everyone is going to recite a different number to you.
Generally, it’s suggested that you get a basic set-up to start with. You can get a mix of types for day/night, home/away, parents/babysitters, etc, or you can just get multiples of what you expect will work best. No need to make it complicated! If you plan to full-time cloth diaper, your set-up should include at least 8-10 covers, 18-24 daytime inserts, 2-4 nighttime inserts. Keep in mind that unless you use one-size-fits-all types, you’ll need to get these amounts for each size.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
Not sure how often you should change a cloth diaper? Even though it won’t swell up like a disposable, there are a few signs and tricks that will help you figure out when to make the changeroo. Click here for a quick lesson.
Now, first step to changing is: take care of your babe’s tush. Cloth wipes are best and you can just toss them in the diaper pail with the rest of the cloth. For number two’s, you can use a bottom cleaner like bumGenius Bottom Cleaner before wiping. You can also use disposable wipes if you prefer, but make sure they’re a chemical-free brand (like Seventh Generation) otherwise you risk chemical contaminants in your cloth.
Now, get out your cloth diaper. To make things easier, some people have their diapers pre-stuffed and pre-lined so they can just grab ‘n go.
- Lay out the cover face-down. If using a prefold as a cover, lay it out and fold it like like this for a Flat/Trifold style (or experiment with the Bikini Twist, Jelly Roll Fold, or Newspaper Fold — learn about those here).
- Stick in the insert. (Tip: To maximize absorbency for inserts that need to be folded over to fit inside the cover, make sure to fold over where a boy’s front half will be, and fold in the middle for girls). For a diaper with a pocket, you can stuff the insert inside. For a water-resistant shell-type (no pocket), you just lay the liner down flat. Some covers allow for snap-in inserts. If using a prefold or an AIO as a cover… move along to the next step. (Photo below from this excellent instructional post by Our Knight Life).
- Are you going to double-up or use a liner? If so, lay down the liner on top of the first insert, or if using a pocket you can lay it on top of the pocket material.
- Here comes the fun part — getting this on your wriggling octopus-babe. It’s really not rocket science, though the first few times it may seem a bit daunting to get all those snaps at the right size and evening out the insert without bunching. After the quick learning curve, you’ll be able to predict baby’s movements and diaper him up like an old pro!
- Now wrap it up! Pin or attach fasteners, if using any makes sense with your diaper. Snap up/velcro both sides to fit your baby snugly but not too tight.
This is probably the point at whence you’ll tackle the previously-worn diaper.
Pee diapers can simply be tossed into your diaper pail, which will need a washable pail liner — or a basic garbage bag will do, though obviously this is not environmentally-friendly. (Note about diaper pails: Some people like to use wet pails to hold dirty diapers, but this can be a safety hazard in a household with young kiddos. For this reason, I recommend sticking to a dry pail for the dirty stuff).
As for poo diapers, exclusively breastfed babies don’t have solid poops, so you won’t have to worry about dumping anything. Babies who are supplemented, formula-fed, or have started solids will not have such easy-to-clean, liquid-y poops. So, depending on what your baby eats, poo diapers can be shaken off into the toilet if they’re pretty solid or simply rinsed out if not (this is where a diaper sprayer can come in handy, though it’s not necessary), then it gets tossed in the pail.
If you used a flushable liner, flush it down the toilet. If you’re out and about, bring a small wet bag to hold soiled cloth and just keep it in your car until you get home (try not to forget about it in the car on a sweltering summer day, though — speaking from experience!).
Deo-disks or baking soda odor absorbers at the bottom of the pail can help cut down on any odors (f.y.i., ALL diapers stink, not just cloth diapers!). When it’s laundry day, follow the washing steps below.
The Cleaning Process
PREPPING THE CLOTH
New cloth should always be prepped before first-time use. Always refer to the manufacturer’s care label for the best instructions on prepping and cleaning that particular product.
How often should you wash your cloth? Well, that depends on the total number of cloth diapers you have, if you cloth diaper full-time or not, and, honestly, how often you feel like it. Laundry tends to pile up quickly at my house and, because washing stuff is basically my least favorite thing to do ever, I can’t say I spend much time in the laundry room and thus Diaper Cleaning Day happens more sparingly than other cloth users. Generally, people like to add to the dirty diaper bag for two to three days before doing loads. To maximize impact, 12-24 diapers can be washed per load, but it depends on how many inserts and cloth wipes you’ve included and also the size of your washer.
Please note, you can’t just use any old detergent! Some detergents will decrease your cloth’s durability, ruin its integrity, leave residual build-up over time, and also introduce unwanted allergens and chemical deposits. You’re looking for one that’s free of chemicals, fragrances, enzymes, dyes, brighteners stain guards, natural oils, and softeners. Get help picking out a cloth-compatible detergent here.
Again, it’s important to always check the manufacturer’s care label on the product before washing it. You never know when you’ll stumble upon some magical, special-care kind of cloth that simply can’t get along with other cloth.
The Basic Steps of Washing:
- Get extra gunk off the cloth. For soiled cloth, dump any solid matter into the toilet and rinse it off with a sprayer or faucet. If your baby is exclusively breastfed, all you need to do is rinse. If it’s just a urine-saturated cloth, no pre-rinse is necessary. Be sure to always fold down any velcro tabs before washing to prevent wear and tear.
- Fill your washer without over-stuffing it, and run a rinse/pre-wash cycle without detergent. Real Diaper Association recommends running the load through a warm rinse, however many others recommend running the load through a cold rinse. No suspense here — you’ll just have to find what works best for you.
- Now run a cycle with detergent and hot water. Click here to find out how much detergent you should use. (Important note: Don’t skimp on the amount of water used per load, otherwise you risk residue and bacteria build-up!).
- If you didn’t use the maximum amount of water in the first cycle because the important note slipped your mind, run another rinse cycle or two in warm water. Most machines already end in a rinse cycle, and you can usually set the machine to end in an extra rinse.
Need more help?
- Cleaning FAQ – RDA
- “Laundry Science” – RDA
You can dry your cloth diapers in the sun to save some energy output and money (get tips here). The sun will also naturally bleach out any stains and keep your cloth living a nice, long life. A drying rack is perfect for this method, or you can go old-school and clothesline them with clothespins in your backyard. If you’re more of the indoorsy type, you can dry the diapers in front of a sunny window with decent success. Or, for those of us with limited window space and anthills in the backyard, a dry-job with an automatic dryer machine will serve you just fine. Use the lowest setting that will effectively dry your diapers.
OUTSOURCE THE CLEANING
I know, babies have enough laundry without adding diaper covers and inserts on top of it, right? What a magical world it would be if we could just have a Martha Stewart-type on call for all mothers at the instance of every full diaper. Don’t worry, mama–a diaper service can help pick up the rear!
The Down & Dirty: FAQ
- “Cloth Terms & Abbreviations” – Kelly’s Closet
- “Cloth Diapers at Your Baby Shower” – Cloth Diaper Guru
- “Cloth Diaper Registry Checklist” – Kelly’s Closet
- “…11 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Started” – Joanna Rodriguez
- “Dispelling the Myths: Why Cloth Diapering is Truly Easier Than it Seems” – Keeper of the Home
- “What’s the Easiest Cloth Diaper to Use Compared to Disposables?” – Dirty Diaper Laundry
- “A doctor’s note for cloth diapers” – Cloth Diaper Guru
- “Cloth Diapering at Daycare” – Claire’s Diapers
- “Cloth Diaper Daycare laws for the 50 states” – Cloth Diaper Guru
- “Cloth Diaper-Friendly Daycare Directory” – Real Diaper Industry
- “…Full time Cloth Diapering with Daycare” – Cloth Diaper Revival
- “The Cloth Diapering Family’s Guide to Overcoming Daycare Diapering Dilemmas” – Diapershops eGuide
- “Tips for Using Cloth Diapers in Daycare” – Real Diaper Association
- “When cloth diapering at daycare goes wrong” – Cloth Diaper Guru
- “Cloth Diapers. Coin Laundry.” – OneFitMom
- “Cloth diapers for apartment dwellers” – HoboMama
- “Cloth Diapering Without a Washing Machine” – Alyssa
- “…Washing in a Laundromat” – Cotton Babies, Inc.
- “Cloth Diapering a Baby with Eczema” – Cloth Diaper Guru
Too Broke for Diapers!
- “Cloth Diaper Booklets for Inexpensive Diapering Options” – Free Downloads by Dirty Diaper Laundry
- “How to Cloth Diaper When You Can’t Afford Diapers” – Kelly’s Closet
- “How to Lower Water and Electricity Costs of Cloth Diapering” – Best Cloth Diapers
- “How to Switch to Cloth Diapers” – Real Diaper Association
- “My Favorite Budget-Friendly Cloth Diapers” – Julie
- “Traveling with Cloth” – Kelly’s Closet
- Tip sheet for traveling with cloth diapers.
- Thorough treatment of vacationing with cloth diapers
- Advice on traveling with cloth diapers submitted by parents
So the Power Went Out…
- “Cloth Diapering When Power Goes Out” – DiaperShops
- “Battling Yeast in Cloth Diapers” – Malina, Bummis blog
- “It’s Yeast! Now What?” – The Cloth Diaper Whisperer
- “Yeast and Cloth Diaper Laundry Experiment” – Real Diaper Association
- “Ammonia – Causes, Treatment, and Prevention” – Dirty Diaper Laundry
- “My Diapers are horribly STINKY! What can I do?” – Kelly’s Closet
- “Dirty Diapers …. Stink!” – DiaperShops
- “Common Reasons for Diaper Leaks” – Cloth Diaper Guru
- “How to size your diapers to prevent leaks” – Cloth Diaper Guru
- “My Diapers are LEAKING! HELP!” – Kelly’s Closet
Newborn Cloth Diapering
- “Do you really need newborn-sized cloth diapers?” – Cloth Diaper Guru
- Newborn cloth diaper category archives – Padded Tush Stats
- “Newborn Cloth Diapering: The Basics” – Dirty Diaper Laundry
Stripping the Cloth
- “A Comprehensive Guide to Stripping Cloth Diapers” – Tara Porter, Padded Tush Stats
- “How to Strip Cloth Diapers” – DiaperShops
- “Time to Strip Your Diapers?…” – Cloth Diaper Addicts
- “Using RLR to strip cloth diapers” – Cloth Diaper Guru
Changing a Squirmy Baby
- Tips for changing a squirmy baby – Real Diaper Association
- Changing diapers with a squirmy baby forum topic – Circle of Moms
- Kelly’s Closet Cloth Diaper Support Group on Facebook
- Local diaper circle directory
- Most local shops have really helpful classes for families that are new to cloth diapering
- Compiled tips from experts on nighttime cloth diapering – RDA
- “Myth vs. Truth: Cloth Diapering at Night” – Dirty Diaper Laundry
- “Nighttime Cloth Diapering” – Claire’s Diapers
- “Overnight Diapers – Cloth Diapering Solutions for a Better Night’s Sleep” – TACD
- “Tips for Cloth Diapering at Night” – Real Diaper Association
Disposables can have their place in a cloth diapering home, too. Cloth diapering doesn’t have to be “all or nothing”! We found eco-disposables to be useful for supplementing or replacing cloth on vacation when we had no access to laundry facilities, or in a pinch when I neglected to empty the diaper bins on wash day…again. I also found eco-disposables made things a lot easier when treating two separate cases of breast thrush.
After months of faithfully using cloth, the housework and laundry and yard work and a summer of vacations and, well, life got in the way of our dutiful cloth diapering. We went from diaper-free baby or cloth-only for months, to eco-disposables during the day and cloth at night, to diaper-free during the day and eco-disposables at night or when elimination communication wasn’t particularly convenient (sorry, MaiTai!). I imagined we’d get back to cloth after unpacking those suitcases still sitting in the hallway from our family vacation three months prior… but then MaiTai neared the age at whence began a countdown of penultimate diaper changes anyway.
So which eco-disposables did we like? After a skin reaction to one popular eco-disposable brand that I won’t name-drop, we stuck with Seventh Generation diapers. They claim to be unbleached, chlorine-free, dioxin-free, latex-free, hypoallergenic, and don’t contain fragrances or petroleum-based lotions. They’re arguably the most widely available “green” diaper. Seventh Generation baby wipes are also hypoallergenic, free of dyes, fragrances, phthalates and parabens. Seventh Generation makes a disposable cloth diaper too, which we think is pretty cool.
Other popular brands include Attitude, Bambo Nature, Earth’s Best, gDiaper inner layers, and Whole Foods 365.
LEARN ABOUT CLOTH DIAPERS
- Best Cloth Diapers web site
- Changing Diapers: The Hip Mom’s Guide to Modern Cloth Diapering book by Kelly Wels
- “Cloth Diapering 101 “– Kelly’s Closet
- Cloth Diaper Addicts web site
- “Cloth Diaper Users’ Guide” – Real Diaper Association
- DiaperShops blog
- “Why We Choose Cloth” testimonials
SHOP FOR CLOTH DIAPERS
Before you get mouse-happy and go on a cloth shopping spree online, just stop for a second! That’s right… stop, don’t shop, and roll into a local store instead. Click here to find out why this is important. If brick-and-mortar visitation isn’t an option for you, check out the online stores below (Nurtured Family has a shop in my hometown of Houston, FYI). This Cloth Diaper Retailers Search makes CD shopping easy!
Disclosure: As the sole owner, writer, and publisher of this web site, I confirm that I do not receive money or sponsorship from any cloth diaper manufacturers or affiliates.