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everything i know about cloth diapering

cloth diapering. whew! when i first started learning about it i was incredibly overwhelmed. i had no idea there were so many options, methods and opinions out there! all i knew is that i wanted to use cloth, but i had no idea where to start. so, i first started reading about them in the eco-nomical baby guide (which i highly recommend). i then reached out to everyone (i mean everyone!) i knew who was currently or had cloth diapered and asked for their opinions and advice. following that, i did a ton (and i mean a ton) of research online.

this is by no means an ‘all inclusive’ guide to cloth diapering, but i will share everything with you that i’ve learned so far, and also what i decided to do myself. i will also say that i think any one of these methods can totally work, you just have to decide what you want to go with. or as many moms have, go with a little bit of everything. cloth diapering moms, please feel free to add your advice in the comments section!

why cloth diaper? oh boy. where do i start? in a nutshell, it’s cheaper, healthier and much more eco-friendly.

in more than a nutshell:

cost: each baby goes through about 6,000 diapers during the first two years of life. thus, the average child costs about $1,600 to diaper for two years in disposable diapers (that’s about $66 a month). the cost of cloth diapering can vary considerably, from as low as $300 for a basic set-up to $800 for a more elaborate set-up. despite this large price range, it’s usually possible to buy a generous mix of everything you need for $300-500, most of which will probably last for two (or more) children. that means the cost of cloth diapering is about one tenth the cost of disposables.

health: disposable diapers contain traces of dioxin (an extremely toxic by-product of the paper-bleaching process) which is a carcinogenic chemical listed by the EPA as the most toxic of all cancer-linked chemicals. it’s also banned in most countries, but not in the united states (lucky us). they also contain tributyl-tin or TBT (a toxic pollutant known to cause hormonal problems in humans and animals) and sodium polyacrylate (a type of super absorbent polymer or SAP, which becomes a gel-like substance when wet). there’s also a concern that scrotal temperature is increased in boys wearing disposable diapers, which will blunt or completely abolish the testicular cooling mechanism important for normal spermatogenesis.

environment: it’s estimated that 27.4 billion disposable diapers are consumed every year in the united states (whoa). though the instructions on a disposable diaper packages say that all fecal matter should be deposited in the toilet before discarding, less than one half of one percent of all waste from single-use diapers goes into the sewage system. over 92% of all single-use diapers end up in a landfill. no one knows for sure how long it takes for a disposable diaper to decompose, but it is estimated to be about 250-500 years, which is long after your children, grandchildren and great, great, great grandchildren will be gone.

disposable diapers are responsible for sixty times more solid waste and use twenty times more raw materials, like crude oil and wood pulp. they also use 2.3 times more water to make than cloth diapering. over 300 pounds of wood, 50 pounds of petroleum feedstocks and 20 pounds of chlorine are used to produce disposable diapers for one baby EACH YEAR. basically, we’re spending over $300 million dollars just to discard disposable diapers each year, whereas cotton diapers are reused up to 200 times before being turned into rags and being used (still) around the home.

check out this article for more sources and info.

types of cloth diapers

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

types of cloth diapers.

my biggest learning curve came when i started learning about all the different types of cloth diapers. here’s what i learned.

flat diapers: flat diapers are what are grandmother’s used. they are made from one large square of thin cotton that can be folded in a myraid of ways. you then secure them using pins or snappis. they are not waterproof so the use of a diaper cover is necessary. they are inexpensive and dry quickly, but are rather complicated and require the use of a lot of folding techniques.

prefold diapers: prefold diapers are made from several layers of cotton (or hemp) that are already sewn together with a thicker section in the middle, which saves you some folding time. you can then secure them using pins or snappis. they are not waterproof so the use of a diaper cover is necessary. they are inexpensive and dry quickly, but are rather complicated and require the use of a lot of folding techniques.

fitted diapers: fitted diapers resemble disposable diapers. they have a contoured shape and have gathered edges around the legs and generally close using snaps or velcro. they are not waterproof so the use of a diaper cover is necessary.  they are more expensive than pre-folds, but are much easier to use.

pocket diapers: pocket diapers are fitted diapers with a pocket on the inside for inserting either a prefold or thick pad. they are more expensive, but easy to put on. they do require stuffing however which can get a little messy. most brands you’ll find contain a waterproof layer called ‘PUL’, so they do not need a diaper cover.

all-in-one diapers: also known as AIO’s, all-in-ones are fitted diapers that have an outer waterproof layer. they are made from several layers of cotton or hemp and go on just like disposables. they are ideal for out of home use, but may not be practical for daily use since frequent washing and drying reduces the effectiveness of the waterproof outer layer. they are very convenient but the downside is that they cost more and the entire diaper must be washed every time it’s gotten wet or messy.

types of diaper covers wool covers: from rebourne and babee greens | pul covers: 1| 2 | 3

types of diaper covers:

after reading all of the different kinds of diapers, you’ll notice that several of them also require a diaper cover. and of course, there are several different types to choose from! if you decide to use flat diapers, prefold diapers or fitted diapers, you’ll need to couple the diaper with a diaper cover. you basically have 2 options:

1. waterproof pul diaper cover: most diaper covers come with a PUL lining is a type of waterproof plastic fabric. it can either be on the outside of the diaper cover or hidden within the layers of material. it’s convenient and very effective, but somewhat controversial. it’s of course made of plastic and not something you’d necessary want to eat off of (i.e. so do you want it next to your babies most sensitive parts?). if you’re concerned, do a little research on the use of PUL plastics in diapers and decide for yourself what you think is best.

2. wool diaper cover: wool diaper covers are by far the most eco-friendly and natural. wool is a natural, breathable, sustainable fiber that is also naturally flame resistant. it helps babies stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter (just like it does for sheep). it’s breathable, moisture-resistant, and anti-bacterial. wool can absorb a ton of moisture (30% of its weight) and still not feel wet to the touch. urine is neutralized by the natural oil in the wool, so it doesn’t retain any odors. while wool does require separate hand washing, they don’t need to washed after each wear: simply hang to dry and use again.

other options:

organic: most of the above options come in both an organic and non-organic version. do some research and decide what’s best for you (though i feel like organic is always the way to go!).

one size or multi sizes: fitted diapers, pocket diapers, all-in-one diapers and both types of diaper covers generally come in two options: either a ‘one size fits all‘ option or a ‘small, medium, large‘ option. the one size fits all options are usually made by sporting several snapping options to grow with your baby. you can also of course go with small, medium and large diapers, but you’ll have to buy more of each one which ups your costs considerably.

how many do you need?

diapers: you’ll need somewhere between 18-36 diapers, depending on how frequently you want to do laundry. keep in mind that newborns generally go through about 12 diapers a day. a great starting point would be 24.

diaper covers: somewhere between 6-12 diaper covers should suffice. less if you use wool (since they won’t need to be washed as frequently) and more if you use a PUL type cover.

cloth diaper accessories

other cloth diapering accessories:

along with diapers and covers, here are a few other accessories you may find essential.

doublers: doublers are used to add absorbancy to your diapers and are a great solution for naptime and overnights.

diaper pale: grab a bucket, pail or garbage can to keep by your changing station. line it with a wet bag (see below) and place your dirty diapers here. when it’s time to do laundry, take the whole bag out and wash everything together.

wet bags: you’ll generally need two wet bags: 1 large one for your in-nursery diaper pale and a smaller one to take with you. these are waterproof bags that you’ll use to hold the dirty diapers in until you get home to wash them.

wipes: cloth wipes go hand in hand with cloth diapers. again, grab 18-36 or make them yourself from old t-shirts or flannel.

snappis: snappis are used to fasten a prefold or flat diaper onto a newborn (you won’t need these if you’re using diapers that have a snap or velcro closure system built in).

diaper sprayer: affix a special sprayer to the toilet and use it to spray off the diapers before putting them in your pail.

what i chose:

with so many options, it really was hard to choose which system i wanted to go with. however, i felt that if i was going to go to the effort to cloth diaper, i wanted to do it in the greenest way possible. after much research, this is what we decided to get:

- the above accessories
- 24 organic cotton one-size fitted diapers from babee greens
- 6 handmade wool one size wool diaper covers from rebourne and babee greens
- 24 organic cotton wipes
- 12 organic cotton doublers

whew! i think that’s all i know. do you feel better or are you totally confused? mommas, feel free to chime in! xox, bonnie

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23 comments

comments

  • Though I’m way past diapering concerns, (I’m grandmothering now)new diapering methods had my head swimming until I read your post. You cleared it up completely, and I know that new moms everywhere will appreciate this post!

  • We are planning to cloth diaper when our little one comes in January. I love reading all the different methods. Your comparison of types is great…. it’s so easy to get them confused when they aren’t all lined up side by side.

  • Such a great post!
    I have a 4 month old and I too was TOTALLY overwhelmed trying to get a system in place before the little one arrived. It’s just so hard to know what will work for you before you actually give something a try.
    So I also wrote a couple posts about it once I got the hang of it (http://www.thebalancedlifeonline.com/motherhood-mondays/living-lighter-a-simple-cloth-diapering-system/)

    I wish I would have had access to your post earlier! You did a great job of laying out the different types.

    I would note that making cloth wipes is actually easier than using disposable wipes because you just throw them in the same bin and wash them all together.

    And 2 other perks of cloth besides the obvious: no blowouts and less diaper rash! It’s the best :)
    Great post!

  • What’s the pail you have shown there? It’s so much cuter than most diaper pails!

  • hey amy! oops, sorry i forgot to mention that, it came from ikea! just added links to all the accessories..

  • great points, robin! also, love your posts! thanks for sharing. :)

  • Christy | October 8, 2013

    Any thoughts on G-diapers? Hoping to try them this time around, but not sure how they stack up. Thanks!

  • such a great guide, bonnie! going to pin this one and hold on to it for later when i have kiddos of my own.

  • I just use charlie banana (one size), I put an insert inside the diaper (its a pocket style) and one that goes between the diaper and the baby’s bottom. most of the time i just have to change the outer insert and then the one inside the pocket stays in the whole time. i only own 8 (i use disposables at night), but i do laundry about every day or every other day anyway. my babe is 7 months and its working for me wonderfully! in fact, most of the time a disposable might leak whereas the cloth wont leak at all. i find them to be very affordable- i only spent about $90 on them all and i only buy disposables once every month and a half (still cant get daddy to use cloth when hes watching the baby). definitely worth it and incredibly easy!

  • great post. However there are 2 elements that are very often overlooked. I will not argue about the cost of disposable diapers in money and on the environment. But to be more accurate, when calculating the costs on the environment and on the bank account of cloth diapers, one should not forget the water and the detergent (whatever is is) used for washing and the electricity used for doing so. All of this adds a little to the bill.

  • Becky | October 9, 2013

    I have been researching this myself since I have a little one on the way. I’ve found that JilliansDrawers.com has tons of helpful information. One thing I like that you didn’t mention is that you can use “flushable liners” so that you don’t have to rinse poop from the diapers.

  • christy, i tried g diapers before charlie banana and i did not like them at all. i have a friend who uses them and swears the people who dont like them are “using them wrong”, but i took her advice and always had leaks. they are cute and affordable but the design is strange- the waterproof pouch isnt as big as the whole diaper, which is why i think it leaks. plus you have to buy them as the baby grows. i will say that the reusable hemp inserts are amazing and i still use those with my charlie bananas (which i love). my advice would be to buy just one to try it, thats where i went wrong!

  • Great post, thank you! I’m planning to go the cloth diaper route when we have kids and had no idea there was so much to it. I appreciate all the details and love how simply you laid it all out.

  • So these diapers don’t need covers, right??? No info on website. I’ve used BumGenius for 3 years with both of my girls but switching to something else when #3 arrives in the Spring. :)

  • hey lacy! which ones do you mean? the organic cotton diapers (pictured in the first picture) will need a cover. flat diapers, prefold diapers and fitted diapers all need covers. pocket diapers and all-in-one diapers won’t need a cover. does that help?

  • I’m using my cloth diapers on baby #2 and they’re still going strong. I use pockets. Here’s my two tips: whatever you don’t like you can usually trade in for store credit at a cloth diaper store. I took all my newborn covers/prefolds and a few other diapers I wasn’t crazy about and traded them in for five bumgenius Elemental all-in-ones (which are great, btw). My other tip is to get a wipes box (the simple plastic box full of wipes) and use that to keep your cloth wipes in. In the morning, get a big bunch of them and wet them, then wring them out and put them in the wipes box. It feels like a disposable, but there’s no spraying or water involved — and they work better than disposables!

  • hey christy! i haven’t used g-diapers, but i’ve been interested in the grovias (sound pretty similar?). i ordered a grovia cover this week just to try- i’ll let you know what it think!

  • I’ve used the g-diapers with prefolds for number 2. I liked them when he was little as I thought they were less bulky. As he got older the snaps that attach the plastic part of the cover dug into his hip bones and left marks. For newbies to cloth I always suggest starting witha smaller stash and building up as needed. One type might seem awesome online or in the store but not fit your child as well. My kids each fit the diapers a little different. Great review!!

  • Brandie | January 6, 2014

    Great article thank you! I’d love to see a follow up on care because that’s where I’m lost! Wash/dry/detergent/sun vs dryer, diaper cream no diaper cream? Liners? No liners? These are all the issues I’m having!!!

  • hey brandie! i’m no expert but i can tell you what i do! i wash mine using hot water and charlie’s soap, then dry them in the dryer. you could also line dry though and letting them sit in the sun is great for getting rid of stains. i don’t use any diaper cream, but if you do just make sure it’s approved for cloth diapering (some will ruin there absorbency). finally, i don’t use liners yet because he’s so small but will probably start soon. hope this helps!!

  • Erin | March 7, 2014

    I thought that I’d add my $0.02.

    I’m currently in the 3rd month of using Charlie Banana Pocket Diapers. I LOVE THEM! I have 24 diapers and I do laundry every other night (3 month old with 10-12 diapers a day). I do find that I take out the “maxi pad” with every diaper and wash the diaper and the pad in two pieces. Then, I stuff them back together to make it ready for the next use. I do like the one-size-fits-all of the CB diapers. I did also buy XS and they were great…trim for her little butt, but she did grow out of them quickly. Even now, my 3 month old is in the larger of the “small” settings and she only weighs about 13 lbs.

    For laundry, I’ve found that HOT water is not helpful to the PUL. I have a front loader (Whirlpool Duet) and I set it on Heavy Duty, Max Rinse, Pre-soak, and Deep Clean. The cycle takes about 2:35. It only has warm water and cold rinses. When I used hot water, the waterproof PUL side would get tacky. I also use Rockin’ Green detergent (1 tbs per load of 20+ diapers). I dry my diapers on the “casual” setting but I find that the microfiber inserts/maxi pads don’t always dry all the way. So I’ve started using low heat for 45 minutes and everything is dry. I think that it is the sensors because there’s so much diaper compared to insert that is still a little damp.

    Hope this helps others! Now that I’ve used cloth diapers, I understand so much more and this post is spot on and would have been super-helpful to me before I started!

  • Jenny | June 10, 2014

    Hi Bonnie! Now that some time has passed I was wondering how you feel about the cloth diapers you have bought? Are you using anything different or doing something differently now? I would love to read an update to this post. Thanks!

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