Everything to know about cloth diapers. Being a first time mom I received a lot of questionable looks when I shared I was going to cloth diaper, a few even gasped, why? I really received a lot of strange looks when I was 8.5 months pregnant with my large belly waddling to the store’s return desk lugging back boxes of disposable diapers from my baby shower. The store clerk confusingly asked, aren’t you going to need these?
Well 2.5 years later, we are still cloth diapering (though she is almost potty trained). When I was pregnant I spent much time researching online, and felt very confused by all the cloth diaper options. This is what I have learned after 2.5 years of cloth diapering: the why, cost, health benefits, the how to do it on a budget, how to wash dirty diapers, and more. First, lets go over the why would anyone use cloth diapers. So, here are the reasons that I chose to cloth diaper, in no particular order:
Why would anyone use cloth diapers?
- Save money
- Better for then environment
- Disposable diapers are toxic
- Less diaper rash
- Potty train quicker
1. Cloth diapering is cheaper:
A baby uses an estimated 2700 diapers in a year . The average child is in diapers 2.5 years or more, and will likely wear a nighttime diaper longer. Currently the cost of pampers is $24 per 88 diapers. This is an estimated $736 per year on disposable diapers, or close to $2000 on diapers for one child.
These numbers have been true for us. My daughter goes through an average of 6 diapers during the day and 1 night time diaper. (365 x 7= 2555 per year).
Cloth diapering cost $450. Most of the cloth diapers I have purchased could be used on a second child, with only a few needing replacing. Cloth diapering does add a bit more to your laundry bill. I don’t use a diaper service. I wash the diapers at home, and it adds an extra 2-3 loads of wash per week. We will round up and figure 3 extra medium loads of laundry to my routine.
I make my own detergent, which is so inexpensive it costs me a few cents per load. I am not sure the cost of laundry, random online stats suggest 29 cents to run the washer, 50 cents to run the dryer, my detergent is 8 cents. So approximately 87 cents per load or $2.61 per week, $135 year.
However, I also use cloth wipes that are washed along with the diapers. The extra laundry expense is offset by not buying disposable wipes.
Disposable $2000 vs Cloth $790 (diaper initial cost $450 + $340 2.5 years laundry)
2. Cloth diapers are Better for the environment:
16 billion diapers end up in the landfill every year, accounting for 2% of U.S. yearly waste . According to Real Diaper, it takes up to 500 years for a single diaper to decompose in the landfill.
There is some debate that cloth diapers may be just as hard on the environment, because of the laundry burden and most laundry detergent is toxic. However, if you use a non-toxic detergent it seems this would be less detrimental than a plastic chemical packed diaper lingering for 500 years.
Also, the information I combed through didn’t take into account manufacturing. I am not sure which would be less burdensome to the environment plastic disposables vs fabric reusable diapers. I would venture to think fabric diapers would be less burdensome, especially if you purchased organic.
3. Disposable diapers contain toxic chemicals
This could be its own very long blog post on all the toxic ingredients in a disposable diaper, similar to my recent article on tampons.
Unfortunately the cocktail of chemicals found in disposable diapers has been linked to cancer and harming our organs. Studies also found these toxic ingredients cause rash and respiratory problems.
Studies done on disposable diapers:
A study in 1999 found rats exposed to disposable diapers suffered respiratory problems. Some of the ingredients causing the respiratory issues were groups of benzenes. The study concluded, “the results demonstrate that some types of disposable diapers emit mixtures of chemicals that are toxic to the respiratory tract. Disposable diapers should be considered as one of the factors that might cause or exacerbate asthmatic conditions.” Additional studies found the rubber, glue, and dyes found in disposable diapers caused skin rashes .
A PubMed article on disposable diapers states, “Most of the parents are not aware of the adverse effects of this product being in contact with baby’s reproductive organs 24 hours a day for more than two years and the long-term effects it causes to the surroundings. Disposable diapers have been implicated by diapering proponents like leak proof polymers, super absorbent polymers and some scented chemicals which are the key factors for everything from chronic diaper rash, respiratory problems like asthma, male infertility even to testicular cancer. This article gives the detailed review of the health and other related problems in using the disposable baby diapers like cancer, liver damage, skin diseases, male infertility, birth abnormalities, respiratory problems, land fills, environmental pollution, toxic chemicals used etc” .
Here’s a short list of common ingredients in disposable diapers
Dioxins: A by-product found in chlorine bleaching processing and fabric processing. It’s classified as highly toxic with the EPA. It causes skin reactions and impairs function of the: liver, immune system, nervous system, endocrine system, and reproductive system. Dioxins are also considered one of the most cancer-causing family of chemicals.
Sodium Polyacrylate: an ingredient giving diapers their super absorbent powers. It causes respiratory problems and skin irritation. This ingredient was removed from tampons, because of its link to toxic shock syndrome, but is still used in disposable diapers .
Tributyl-tin (TBT): Another chemical found in disposable diapers. It is very toxic to our aquatic life, and causes hormone problems in humans. According to a Livestrong article, TBT promotes growth of fat cells, causing obesity. It is also a biocide, meaning it kills organisms. This is not good news for your baby’s bottom, because the healthy bacteria on your baby’s bum helps protect them from diaper rash.
Additional Chemicals: dyes, fragrances, plastics, petrolatum, and adhesives, all posing health hazards.
4. Potty train faster in cloth diapers
Disposable diapers have become so effectively absorbent children often are not aware they are wet. With cloth diapers children are very aware when they are wet. They notice they are uncomfortable and want to do something about it. I have only ever cloth diapered, and every child learns at their own pace, so I can’t say for certainty this true.
My daughter started to use her potty around 18 months of age, now a year later she is reliably using the potty during the day. She is only wearing a diaper to bed, and when we are running errands in town. I don’t know if she would have taken longer to potty train herself, if she were in disposables. I do know she is aware when she is wet, and I think that helped us potty train.
5. Less diaper rash with cloth diapers
Diaper rash is said to be less severe and less frequent with cloth diapering. This is likely because of the chemicals listed above causing skin reactions, killing healthy bacterial flora protecting the baby’s skin, and lack of airflow. Also, since they are so absorbent their diaper may be changed less frequently than a cloth diaper.
We have a had several mild diaper rashes with cloth diapers, they generally happened after traveling and being in a car seat for an extended length of time. We have only had one ugly diaper rash.
Types of Cloth Diapers and How to Use Them
If you are a newbie at cloth diapers, all the cloth diaper choices can be confusing. At least it was for me. My mom cloth diapered us, but she did not have the options that are available now. I have not tried them all, however I have made observations in their construction and on a budget I am happy with the diapering system we used. So here’s a quick breakdown of your options.
AIO (All in one):
As the name suggests, it’s a complete single step process. One diaper has it all, you need nothing else. There is no messing with a flat or prefold, pins or snappis, and then a cover.
Pros its quick, however it is not the most budget friendly option. But, all cloth diapers are cheaper than disposables in the long run. I have never used the AIOs, because I was looking for the most economical option. I also wanted organic diapers on a budget.
This a two step system. The diaper cover has a pocket, that requires a washable pad to be inserted into the pocket.
Pocket diaper vs All In One (AIO): A pocket diaper is a 2 step process and AOI is a single step. Pocket diapers are cheaper than AIO, but cost more than covers. I don’t like stuffing the pocket. If you are on a budget, I choose covers with a prefold.
Pocket diapers are my least favorite diapers, here’s why:
- 2 step system: so no faster than a cover, but costs more.
- Poop: If a baby poops in a pocket diaper, you have to fish the insert out of a poopy diaper. The less I have to play in poop the better. In the middle of night if I change the diaper, I will forget to remove the insert. It then ends up in the laundry with the insert still inside the pocket. The insert balls up inside the diaper and is not adequately cleaned, and must be rewashed.
- More leaks: At least with the brand I have, I have more leaks, because I can’t get a tight custom fight like I can with a prefold.
- Bulky: The inserts are generally very wide, so they are bulky and my daughter can’t move as well in one.
These are simply an outer cover that go over a prefold or flat. It is most the affordable cloth diaper system. Now there are many fabric options and closure choices with diaper covers. The most common covers are made of PUL or TPU, which is polyester with the inside laminated with plastic.
I don’t like plastic, but it is effective in containing the pee from leaking through to their clothes. If you are against all plastic then check these out at The Natural Baby Company.
I try to avoid plastic, but the TPU/PUL covers are very affordable and convenient. After you choose the fabric, then you must decide on the closure, either velcro (aplix) or snaps. I have both, but I would not buy velcro again.
Snaps may add a second or two, but they are secure. As your baby grows older they will figure out how to rip off the velcro diaper cover, if you have to change the diaper when they are sleeping the Velcro is loud, and occasionally a diaper cover will find its way into our regular wash, and velcro is havoc on clothing.
Pocket diaper vs diaper cover
Pocket diaper and diaper cover are both a two-step system, however diaper covers are the most affordable cloth diapers. A pocket diaper requires an insertable bulky pad, that’s not good for daytime play. A diaper cover, goes around a prefold or flat. These take a little practice, but you will get a nice secure custom fit which means less leaks.
Wool Covers I did try out the pull over wool covers. Wool covers are to be used over prefolds or flats. You may wonder how are wool diaper covers waterproof, well they are surprisingly effective. The lanolin of the wool is effective in preventing leaks. Organic wool diaper covers are not itchy either, it is all the chemicals in conventional wool that causes the itchiness.
They are expensive, but they are organic and I had to try. I purchased 2 to test them out. They are very interesting, because they don’t need to be washed every time they are peed in.
Air drying restores their freshness, because the urine reacts with the lanolin creating a self cleansing effect. Eventually the lanolin wears off, and a gentle hand washing with soap and lanolin restores this super ability.
However, poop of course will need washing. They do best if washed by hand. So they are more labor intensive. The ones I used seemed to warm for summer and were bulky under my daughters pants. I did think they were super cute, though.
Diaper Covers require either a prefold or flat
The difference between a flat and prefold cloth diaper is the layers of fabric. They are both used the same way, it’s a 2 step system. They are folded around your baby, and secured with pins or a snappi (I prefer snappi). A snappi is a stretchy “Y” shaped plastic fastener.
This may seem a little intimidating having to learn how to fold a rectangle piece of fabric into a diaper, but trust me you will figure it out in no time. You will be a pro and will be able to do it in your sleep, and you will. The difference between a prefold and a flat is the layers of fabric.
This is a single layer of fabric that is folded around your baby, then secured with a snappi or pins, then a diaper cover is placed over.
Have multiple layers of fabric sewn together, with the most layers in the center of the diaper. I prefer prefolds, because they have multiple layers in the crotch area where the greatest absorbency is needed. You can buy organic prefolds at an affordable price too.
Our Cloth Diapering Routine
Daytime cloth diapering
During the day we use prefolds with the TPU diaper covers, and a snappi to hold the prefold in place. Pee is easy, we change everything including the cover, because generally the leg seams become wet.
Poop I shake out in the toilet, if it’s a looser bowel movement I wipe it out with toilet paper. I don’t try to clean the diaper meticulously by hand. I just swipe out the bulk of it into the toilet, and then it goes into the wet bag until laundry day.
Nothing fancy is needed for wipes, water is sufficient (more on this in a minute). I keep the diaper bag packed with cloth wipes and a bottle of water, to wet the wipes as needed. Then everything dirty goes into the wet bag.
Nighttime cloth diapering
How to cloth diaper at night. Nighttime is a little trickier, because the fabric needs to be able to hold a lot of fluid to make it through the night without a diaper rash or soaking their pjs and the bed.
At night we use a TPU diaper cover with 2 bamboo inserts laid (not stuffed in a pocket) in the cover. We have had success with doubling the bamboo inserts.
Bamboo is highly absorbent, the organic cotton prefolds we use during the day aren’t up to the task of holding enough pee to make it all the way through the night.
I would also recommend a mattress protector; organic wool is a good option. This is not necessary, but it’s a nice splurge to protect your mattress. It is inevitable you will experience leaks every now and then.
Wool can handle urine and be air dried without needing to be washed every time. The urine reacts with the lanolin and is self-cleaning. As lanolin wears off, it needs an occasional gentle hand wash and reapplication of lanolin by melting it in warm water. I only recommend organic wool, because conventional wool is heavily treated with chemicals, and possibly linked to SIDS.
If diaper rash does happen, diaper free time is highly effective in speeding up healing a diaper rash. Before putting the diaper back on I slather her bottom with my diy diaper rash cream, with only 3 ingredients from my mama pantry, recipe here.
For clean up I use DIY wipes. This saves money too, and offsets the cost of the extra loads of laundry. When my daughter was an infant, I cut up a bunch of old t-shirts and these worked well as wipes. They are super soft and free.
Overtime they slowly disappeared, now we use her newborn prefolds she has outgrown as wipes. We wet a few cloths in the sink and wipe. When we are traveling I grab a few cloths and a bottle of water, to keep her clean.
Wiping doesn’t need to be complicated, soaps and chemical liquids are unnecessary. During the first few months I made my own wipes and solution. I soon found this completely unnecessary, because I was frequently having to make it. The wipes won’t store long before they begin to mildew.
Later I learned water is plenty effective, and if they have a diaper rash harsh cleaners are discouraged anyhow. If you want everything conveniently located at your diaper changing station, a glass spray bottle filled with water works well to wet the cloths on the spot.
DIY wipes saves money and you don’t have to worry about any nasty chemicals. If there is a brand you like, check it out on EWG website and check its chemical safety score.
How to launder cloth diapers
If you opted to go organic, then you probably want a non-toxic laundry detergent to maintain the integrity of your fabric. I use soap berry, or I make my own laundry detergent. DIY laundry detergent is, simple, effective, cheap, and you know exactly what’s in it.
Washing cloth diapers is simple, and adds very little extra work to our weekly routine. I recommend wet bags in two sizes. They are made of the PUL fabric and have a zipper, which is good for sealing in the odor until laundry day.
The small wet bags are great for your diaper bag when you are away from home. When we return home the dirty diapers and small wet bag are transferred to the large wet bag.
When the large wet bag is full of dirty diapers and cloth wipes, which takes approximately 2-3 days it is time to wash. The wetbag is emptied out and turned inside out, and everything is washed in warm water with my DIY Laundry detergent. I don’t mix this with my other clothes. Sometimes I line dry, but the dryer makes the fabric feel softer and fluffier.
Overtime if your diapers are still a little funky after washing or your cloth diapers are not absorbing as well, soak the clean diapers in ½ water ½ vinegar solution overnight. The vinegar will help remove any funk, and strip away soap residue that reduces the fabrics absorption, then wash again.
If your cloth diapers are leaking and the vinegar soak hasn’t helped then it may be the type of fabric. My diapers came with bonus free microfiber inserts. I never use them, they are a plastic fiber and barely absorb anything. We use organic cotton during the day, and bamboo during the night.
How to wash poop out of cloth diapers
So, you are probably wondering how to deal with poop in cloth diapers. The first year, the poops were small and really weren’t an issue. Now that she’s older and they’re solid, I just take the dirty diaper to toilet and deposit the contents there, and the dirty diaper goes into the wet bag.
A loose bowel movement is a little messier. After cleaning her bum, I take the dirty diaper to the toilet and remove the bulk with toilet paper and again deposit it in the toilet, then the dirty diaper goes to the wet bag.
The worst case is pooping in town, and the large poop has to go into the wet bag. When it dries, then you will probably have to wash this dirty diaper load twice. This hasn’t happened too frequently for us.
Traveling and cloth diapering
I pack my large wet back with all the diapers, DIY detergent, cloth wipes, diaper rash cream, and the 2nd large wet bag. As they become dirty they are transferred to the 2nd large wet bag, on day 3 we have to find a washing machine. I’ve also learned to remember the diaper rash cream. If she develops a diaper rash it is usually from traveling.
How to Cloth Diaper on a Budget
My daughter has been in cloth diapers since about 3 weeks old. She was very tiny 5lbs 10z and they were all too large for the first month. I ordered 2 rumparooz newborn covers, and they worked perfectly.
The one size fits all covers fit best around 10+lbs. I made some unnecessary purchases for experimentation, the list below is the essentials that we use daily. What are your thoughts or experiences with cloth diapering?
Tip: Sign up with Ebates and earn cash back from Amazon and other retailers
- 6 Newborn PUL Covers – optional (6lbs-18lbs) currently $73.50
- 24 Infant Organic Osocozy Cotton Prefolds (0-6 months) currently $84
- 2 packs of Snappis (until potty trained) currently $17.50
- 20 Bamboo Inserts (approx. 6 months until potty trained) currently $55
- 12 Kawaii TPU Covers currently $60
- 36 Organic Osocozy Cotton Prefolds (approx. 8 months-until potty trained) currently $90
- 2 Large Wetbags currently $20
- 2 Small Wetbags currently $10
- Organic Wool Mattress Protector (optional) currently $35
TOTAL COST: $450 (most of it reusable for more than one child)