Cloth Diapers FAQ

Mom. You are soooo embarrassing.

Every now and then, people ask me what we do about our cloth diapers–what is our system? Doesn’t it take a lot of money to start? Isn’t the poop gross? Well, the short version is that we are both cheap and lazy. One thing I have learned about cloth diapers is that everyone has their own way of doing it. There’s no right or wrong way–just find what works for your family. There’s no judgement here. If disposable diapers are the thing keeping you out of the loony bin, that is okay. But today I’m going to share what works for my family.

Why we love cloth diapers:

  • We are so cheap. Like, ridiculously cheap. We have a problem. The thought of dropping $20 every week or so for years was not appealing.
  • They are sooooooo cute. Look at that little fluffy butt!
  • The baby can feel when she’s wet, and she lets us know. This kind of awareness helps in EC or potty training.
  • When they aren’t good for diapering any more, diapers make the best rags for cleaning. The folks I stayed with in Michigan still use their kids’ cloth diapers this way–and their youngest is in college!

What we don’t like about cloth diapers:

  • They take up SO MUCH more space than disposables. I made myself a great big diaper bag just so I would have space for enough diapers to spend a whole day away from home.
  • I have to explain them to babysitters all the time. It makes them nervous.
  • Most infant clothing is designed for babies wearing trim disposables. I often buy pants a size up for Petra because her diaper adds some serious bulk.

What kind of diapers do you use?

We use a prefold + cover system. There are about twelve million and five different systems, from prefolds all the way up to the fancy pocket diapers that cost $30/a diaper. We tried pocket diapers–I made several before Silas was born, and we received a few of the fancy ones as gifts. I haven’t even gotten them out for Petra yet. I’m keeping them around until she is done with diapers because babies’ needs change, and you never know–when she’s bigger, we might find that our prefold + cover system isn’t working any more. In fact, I can guarantee that if I sold or gave away our pocket diaper stash, she’d immediately start having problems (because this is how babies work).

My favorite diapers are some bamboo prefolds from Dandelion Diapers that apparently they don’t sell anymore (here are some similar ones). They are sooooooo soft and lovely. We also have lots of cotton prefolds. For Silas, we used Gerber prefolds, but then I discovered higher-quality ones and they are so much better. Definitely worth the price ($2 per diaper, as opposed to $1 per diaper). I got a big stack of cotton ones from someone on CraigsList–I don’t know what brand they are, but they are nice and thick, and I didn’t pay anything for them.

We pair these with the Thirsties Duo Wrap (you can see it on Petra in these pictures). I haven’t tried any other kinds of wraps, since these ones worked well for Silas from the beginning. I like the Duo because it comes in two sizes, but each size has effectively three sizes because you can change the rise height, using the snaps on the front. I love that the people at Thirsties basically admitted that there is no such thing as a “one-size” diaper. In their product material, they basically said, “Look, you need at least two diapers to get through that whole time.” When my babies were newborns, they had no butts and these scrawny little legs. I couldn’t get the diapers tight enough–not even close. For those first eight weeks or so, I used Thirsties XSmall Wraps, which are designed for a newborn.

We had Velcro ones for Silas, and then bought some second-hand snap ones for Petra. The Velcro lasted about the right amount of time for one baby, but I keep throwing them out as we work our way through baby #2’s diaper years. The snap ones are a bit trickier to put on a wiggly baby, and the fit is less exact, but they stay on better, which I like.

What do you do that other cloth diaper people think is weird?

Ok, so I didn’t know until Petra was born–yes, that would be after two years of using cloth diapers–that there are multiple sizes of prefolds. I guess I missed that? It turns out that you can totally use size 1 or 2 prefolds for your baby’s whole time and not buy all the sizes as you go. When they were small, I used a Snappi (so much better than safety pins! Buy it now! They come in multiple sizes too, it turns out) to secure the diaper in place. As they got bigger and clearly outgrew the Snappi and the prefold no longer quite went around their waists, I switched to simply laying the prefold inside of the cover and letting the cover hold it all together. When they were little and had skinny legs, this was a recipe for disaster, but once the thighs chubbed up, it all worked perfectly.

Where do you keep the diapers between the messing and the cleaning?

Well, you could buy a fancy diapergenie thing. Or you could do the cheap and lazy thing and buy a tall garbage can with a lid from Target. We did that second one. Every few weeks I take it in the yard and hose it out. Sometimes I spray it with a little vinegar and water or sprinkle some baking soda in there. It doesn’t smell too much. I had a fancy and rather expensive dry bag that fit in it, but the draw string for it came out and got lost and I got lazy and didn’t fix it. So now we use it without a liner, and it is fine. We dump from the garbage can directly into the washer. Boom, done.

What do you use for laundry soap?

I make my own laundry soap (grate 1 bar of Ivory Pure & Natural, add 1 cup of washing soda and 1 cup of Borax, spin it around in the food processor). About three times a year, I buy something a little fancier, like Charlie’s Soap, and use it for a while, just to get things cleaner. I put the diapers and the soap in the machine, turn it on “warm” (someone pointed out to me that the “hot” water in my washer isn’t remotely hot enough to actually sterilize anything, so why use it? I did a blind test, and warm gets them just as clean), fill it, let it soak for half an hour, and then run it. If I’m feeling fancy, I do a second rinse with a cup of vinegar, or add a scoop of OxiClean to the soap. I use more water than one might think is necessary–for a load that would ordinarily be “medium,” I put it on “large.” Then–and this is key–I hang it on the line if the weather is at all reasonable.

Why dry the diapers on the line? Does that really matter?

Emphatically, yes. I didn’t know this before I had kids, but baby poop is often neon orange and stains like crazy. The sun bleaches them out. It’s magic. After I get them off the line, I sometimes airfluff them in the dryer for a few minutes to make them softer. If you do put them in the dryer, do not use dryer sheets.They wreck the absorbency. So, for that matter, do most kinds of diaper rash cream (California Baby and Aveeno are the two that I’m aware of that are okay for cloth).

What is the most important diapering tool in your box?

Diaper sprayer. Go buy one now. Thank me later. Yes, I know, it is $60 and that sounds crazy, but just skip buying two pocket diapers and you’ll be fine. Imagine how little therapy you could get for $60. Is your sanity worth $60? Yes. Yes, it is. There are cheaper versions, but you get what you pay for. We had to return one that was cheaper but leaked. Not cool.

A diaper sprayer is like the vegetable sprayer on your sink, only it hooks up to the cold water intake on your toilet. You use it to hose the poop off of the diapers. Do you know how you are supposed to get the poop off if you don’t have a diaper sprayer? Brace yourselves. You are supposed to shake off what you can, then dunk the diaper in the toilet and hold it there while flushing. Depending on your water pressure, it might take a few tries. I almost threw up just writing that. Groooooss. Buy a diaper sprayer, seriously. You can put it off, by the way–breastfed baby poop is basically liquid and doesn’t need to be rinsed off. We’re just now (at almost 8 months) getting to the point where Petra is eating enough solids to need it.

How many diapers do I need?

Good question. It depends on the age of your baby and how often you want to do laundry. With two dozen prefolds and a baby over three months old, you’ll probably do laundry every 2-3 days. We reuse the covers until they get poop on them. 3-4 covers is about right for us.

Heheheh, you said “poop”!

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  1. May 23, 2013

    Love this post. We are planning on using prefolds for our son when he arrives, and the tip of using the big container for dirty diapers is a great idea – I had considered the idea, but was worried it would smell. Will definitely be buying one now 🙂
    Looking forward to reading more.

  2. Eve
    May 23, 2013

    I don’t know how natural this is–but James and Marie would fill the diaper garbage can about 1/4 of the way with bleach and water to allow the diapers to soak before washing them. I thought it was ingenius.

    • I know some people do that, but I’ve never found it necessary. Maybe if I didn’t have the option of drying them outside, I would do this.

  3. May 23, 2013

    Loved this post. I’m going to try that home made detergent. I would love to see a post on all the home-made cleaners and stuff you use.

    • I’ll have to do a post like that. One thing about the detergent I forgot to mention–only use a tablespoon per load! Detergent you buy at the store has lots of fillers to make you feel like you are getting your money’s worth.

  4. May 23, 2013

    Ok…we are totally smitten….we read and laughed our way through the whole article!

  5. […] that we’re close to the beginning of the end of diapers. Don’t get me wrong–I love cloth diapers, but they are still, let’s be clear, DIAPERS. Which are vessels for […]

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