The Mother Load: Everything You Need To Know About Cloth Diapering

by Amanda Hearn · 10 comments

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Welcome to the world of Cloth Diapers! 

Congratulations on considering soft, cuddly cloth diapers for your sweet little baby, they are beneficial in so many ways. There are always so many questions being asked about cloth diapers and this post is meant to help provide a useful block of general information that has most of the information your looking for.

.~*The Mother Load of Cloth Diaper Info*~.

Let’s start with the most basic… why use cloth?

  • It can take an average of 300 plus years for one disposable diaper to decompose and around 95% of ALL disposables end up in landfills
  • Disposables create more than 50 times the amount of solid waste that cloth do, twice as much water just in the manufacturing process, and use up to 20 times more raw materials (like crude oil) also in the manufacturing process.
  • Families spend an average of close to $2000 on disposables per child (if potty trained by the time they are 3). If you use cloth you can spend $200-$1000 for an entire diaper stash (depending on what type of diapers you buy). You can spend a lot less if you decide to make your own. This is all for just one child, so think of all the money you will save if you take good enough care of your cloth diapers to use them for subsequent children too. Just think, on average, you will go through 4,000 diaper changes in the first year alone with just one baby. (The people over at Diaper Decisions have some great charts up that show how much money it will cost depending on what kind of diapers you buy. Diaper Pin also has a great tool, a cloth diaper cost calculator, to let you keep up with just how much you’re spending… or intend to spend.)
  • Its harder to potty train toddlers with disposables because they aren’t able to feel wetness as well…. which means its harder for you to feel if they are wet too. And trust me, that first week or so after your baby is born you will most likely be told to keep track of how many wet and dirty diapers your baby has. If they are in a disposable its going to be really hard (I’d say near impossible) to tell for sure if they peed or not. (talking from experience here).
  • The frequency of diaper rash jumped up 70% when disposable diapers were introduced to the market. This is related to the chemicals in disposables and their absorbing power causing babies and toddlers to sit in a dirty diaper for longer periods.

Some chemicals found in Disposables:

  • Dioxin~ a known carcinogenic that is found in bleached wood fibers (like those in disposable diapers) and is linked to birth defects and genetic & metabolic damage. It is listed as one of the most dangerous and toxic of all the cancer-linked chemicals by the EPA and is banned in most other countries besides the U.S.
  • Sodium Polyacrylate is a super absorbent polymer that becomes a gel when wet that can cause skin irritations and allergic reactions as bad as fever, vomiting, and even staph infection. (Have you ever changed your babies diaper and seen little balls of gel? This is the culprit.)
  • Tributyl-tin~ a pollutant that has been known to cause hormonal problems in both humans and animals in lab testing.

Now, I bet the next question is what kind of diapers are right for you. Everyone on the will tell you the same thing… look into a trial pack. That way you will be able to find just what suits you and your baby. Remember, just because you like a diaper doesn’t mean that your baby will like it or that it will even work for your baby, so its always best to give the diapers a real trial before deciding what to build your stash out of. Please keep in mind ladies that most one size diapers will not fit your newborn right away. So if you were thinking it would be a good idea to build a stash of nothing but BumGenius 3.0 one size diapers, we’re here to tell you that they won’t fit for at least the first couple months unless you were blessed with a chunky monkey of a newborn :) But here is a great list of all the Cloth Diaper Trial Packages available out there to help you choose and our own personal EFFing list of CDs to give you a general idea of what you’re looking at:

Bring On The Diapers!

Flats: The original diaper. A (usually 27″x27″) piece of fabric (muslin, bird’s eye cotton, flannel), requires a cover and pins or a snappi
Prefolds: These diapers are flat, with multiple layers sewn down the middle, requires a cover and pins or a snappi
Contour/Pre-Fitted: Looks like a disposable diaper, but requires a cover and pins or a snappi

Fitteds: Looks like a disposable diaper w/ aplix or snap closure, can be sized or one size adjustable rise, requires a cover

Cover: The best are made of PUL (polyurithayne laminate), and can be sized or one sized w/ an adjustable rise. Closes with snaps or aplix.
All In Ones (AIOs) : Has a waterproof barrier w/ absorbant interior fibers. Comes sized or one size. Looks like a dispoable and closes w/ aplix or snaps.
All in Twos (AI2s) : A waterproof outer w/ replacable absorbant inserts that lay in or snap in. Looks like a disposable and closes w/ aplix or snaps.
Pockets: Basically a cover w/ a liner (suadecloth or fleece) that you stuff w/ absorbant fibers. Looks like a disposable, and can be sized or one sized. Closes w/ aplix or snaps.

Diaper Accessories that you will find useful, if not necessary:

1. The Diaper Pail. This is something that you will probably need, in some form, to put your dirty diapers in until you are ready to wash. Most Cloth Diapering websites now have these available for purchase, but you can use a standard kitchen trash can and it works just as well and costs about half the price as one marketed as a diaper pail. We use a standard white plastic one that has the foot pedal and lid and it works just fine.
2. Pail Liner. These do exactly what they say, they line your diaper pail. Usually fabric on one side and PUL (or other water resistant material) on the other and are usually lined at the top with either elastic or a drawstring. Drop all your dirty diapers in here and when you are ready to wash your diapers just take out the bag, dumb diapers into washer, and toss bag in too. Easy. Now while these are really convenient, if you are truly trying to do the cloth diapering thing as cheaply as possible, you can always make your own or just use a pillow case.You can even use none at all.  I use to use one but found it to be more of an inconvenience.  I find it easier to rinse the pail out and let it air dry while the laundry is going.

3. Wet Bags. These handy bags are great to carry around in your diaper bag or purse for any kind of short outing. They are basically like a mini pail liner except your cute fabric is on the outside and they usually have a zipper closure or a drawstring. They come in a variety of sizes, small enough to fit one diaper (or even smaller for mama cloth) to large enough to hold several diapers. But you can also use these great bags for when your going to the beach or pool and need somewhere to store wet bathing suits, or if your potty learning toddler has an accident. Super functional even when diapering days are long gone.

4. Hanging Wet Bag. Now these bags are bees knees. Have one hanging in every room of your house for just about every use. In your nursery for those late night diaper changes. In your older child’s room (and every other bed room for that matter) for dirty laundry, bathrooms for wet towels, and one for your kitchen for all those dirty dish rags. These are fabulous, every household should have atleast one (or six) in my professional opinion, lol. Just like a regular wet bag except they can hold around 2 days worth of diapers with a zip or drawstring closure at the top and they quite conveniently hang on a door knob. Genius.

5. Snappi Fasteners. Gone are the days of safety pins. By all means, if you want to use pins like our mother’s did, go for it, but you no longer HAVE to. These nifty little diaper fasteners grab onto the diaper with little plastic teeth, not only keeping the diaper together but also creating a snugger fit. For use on prefolds, flats, contours, and some fitteds.

6. Diaper Sprayer. By no means is this necessary but it can come in quite handy. A sprayer that you install onto your toilet plumbing to help assist you in removing that hard to get off poo (aka peanut butter poo)before tossing into your diaper pail.

Now that you have your diapers, check out our cloth diaper category for ALL sorts of great tips.  Also check out our post on safe diaper rash creams, DIY diaper detergent and how to wash your diapers.

At some point you will probably run into ‘diaper issues’.

  • They are repelling. This is usually caused by using a non CD safe detergent, a diaper rash cream or fabric softener.
  • They stink. If they still smell dirty then they probably are, try using a little more detergent.
  • Ammonia. This is usually the cause of detergent buildup. Buildup can happen to the best of us and is usually caused by using too much detergent or plain ole’ hard water.

All of these issues can generally be fixed by stripping your diapers. Set your machine to a Heavy Duty Hot Wash Cycle. You may want to adjust the thermostat of your water heater to get some hotter water in there, or you can just boil water and dump some into your wash cycle. Do NOT add any detergent. Repeat this until there are NO SUDS AT ALL in your water. No film, nothing. Needs to be nice and crystal clear. Rinse and dry.

If you need a stripping that is a little more heavy duty (like for bad Ammonia issues), you may want to use vinegar. Its all basic chemistry, acids and bases neutralize each other.

  • For pocket inserts, doublers or prefolds you can fill your washer with HOT water, while it is filling dump a good gallon of regular household white distilled vinegar in there. Add your dipes and let soak overnight or at least for a good 6-8 hrs. At that time, continue on with the wash (no detergent) as normal.
  • If you are having issues with ammonia build up in fitteds or all-in-ones I would stick with the basic maintenance strip (above) and possibly add a cup of vinegar to the wash cycle.

For fleece-lined pocket diapers that are repelling, you’ll want to strip with Dawn (the regular blue stuff). You can either add a squirt of Dawn in your wash cycle or you can do it by hand. I like it by hand because it seems a bit more effective to me. Fill your sink with HOT water and add a squirt of Dawn. Let your pocket shells soak for a bit then using a soft scrub brush, gently scrub the fleece lining. Rinse and wash as normal.

For all you hard water victims there are a few good options out there for you to help with your cloth diaper laundering and hopefully help prevent any unnecessary detergent buildup. There is RLR Laundry Treatment, Calgon Water Softener, and a new detergent out called Rockin’ Green.

Onto the deals.

I’m talking buying used diapers. What a great way to be even more helpful to the environment, reuse and reduce all in one. But where to go? Try this post on buying and selling used cloth diapers, but generally you type in ‘Used Cloth Diapers’ on Google and and a bunch of websites will pop up and a lot will now have sections where you can purchase gently used or seconds diapers. Remember to always check seller feedback and have fun shopping the deals… and beware, your money can go fast here!

The Dark Side : Welcome to Wool!

One thing you must understand… if you join us, you will be converted to wool. I’m talking wool soakers and longies (and anything else related, ie. skirties/shorties/covers/etc). They are a diaper cover to use instead of one that has some sort of water resistant barrier. Cloth diapering parents LOVE them because they are much more breathable than any other water resistant cover (therefore better for babies skin), they are super absorbent (down to a microscopic level) so no leaks, and they are just too darn cute! Plus, if you know how to knit (or are willing to learn) you can make your own! There, now that I’ve sold you on wool too, let me go over basic care of your wool.

Wool: A natural fiber cover (my personal fave). Wool will hold 30% of it’s weight in moisture and is self cleaning. Comes made from upcycled materials, interlock, and knitted and crochet by hand.

knit
upcycled
interlock
crochet
How to Wash and Lanolize your wool:
Check out this great post to learn more about how to care for and lanolize wool diaper covers.
Well, I ‘think’ I’ve covered just about everything, I’m sure there is something I’ve missed. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments below! Thanks and welcome to the wonderful (and addicting) world of cloth diapering!
This post is an adaptation of original content contributed to The Eco-Friendly Family by kiliwicket
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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Zwerver February 8, 2010 at 9:57 pm

I can't believe that this post doesn't have any comments…it's like the most helpful thing I've ever read on CD'ing! Thanks so much for explaining all the jargon in a way I can understand!

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Courtney March 23, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Awesome post! Thanks for this!!!

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P September 2, 2010 at 2:19 am

Very helpful, thanks!

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LoSyraHeathJim September 14, 2011 at 7:33 pm

I agree!!

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Katie November 12, 2011 at 6:16 am

lol, you know I just stumbled back across this recently because I had someone ask me about CD's and I had to bookmark it. I wrote this almost 2 years ago and I'm so happy it has helped so many people learn about CDing! :) My kiddos are no longer in cloth, but I do have this article pinned on pinterest, so hopefully the word will SPREAD! Good Luck all you CDers and Great Job!

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ashley February 15, 2012 at 12:30 pm

This post is so informative! Being new to cloth diapers, it can be VERY overwhelming at times and helps so much to have so much information in one spot! I’m so happy I found this blog :)

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Laurie May 28, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Dear god, THANK YOU! This is a great Cloth Diapering 101 post. Exactly what I needed.

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Marissa July 7, 2013 at 3:44 pm

Great Article! I’ve been looking everywhere on a great method that actually works, for stripping my diapers! I can’t wait to try it!

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Jenny G April 20, 2014 at 10:30 am

Hi! We are moving to a new house with moderately hard water – so I was searching your site to see if you had any information about tips/tricks for diapers with hard water (since up until now we’ve only had soft water). Is detergent buildup usually the only issue with hard water? So we’ll probably need to strip more often?

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