A few weeks ago, my fellow bloggers and I debated the pros and cons of cloth diapering. I fell on the "pro" side because cloth diapering has worked with my two sons. I wanted to follow up on the points I made in that post with some helpful hints for parents who are interested in trying cloth diapering for the first time.
Cloth diapering has become more popular over the last several years, but as a result, it can be very confusing if you’re just starting out. When I first started shopping for diapers, I was overwhelmed with the amount of products, opinions, and information out there. I made several great discoveries, and a few mistakes, that I’d like to share with you.
First, if you’re really new to this, you might get lost in the strange terminology. What is a pre-fold? What is an All-in-One (AIO)? Here’s a very good link to a list of cloth diapering terms to keep open while you read.
1. Focus on the essentials
When you look at a cloth diaper website for the first time, you’ll be amazed not only with how many varieties of diapers you can buy, but also the accessories that go with them, not to mention all of the “how-to” websites out there. Do you really need to make your own covers out of your old wool sweaters? Sure, you can, but that’s not for me. Do you need special diaper wash, special diaper-pail fresheners, and organic bamboo washable wipes? Not unless you really like spending money (I don’t.) Here are the non-diaper things you need to get started:
· Cloth Diaper Pail. You will need either an actual “cloth diaper pail,” or a 13-gallon trash can with a wide mouth and a lid that is either a touch-open or a step-open. You don’t want to have to take the entire lid off to get the diapers in, nor do you want a “swing” lid that does not seal completely. What you do NOT need is a diaper pail that is made for disposables. It will be too hard to get the diapers in and out and too small to hold a whole load of cloth diapers. Here’s an example of a trash can that would make a great diaper pail (and so much cheaper than the diaper genies out there!).
· Diaper Sprayer. This is an absolute must for cloth-diapering. The sprayer attaches to your toilet and emits a powerful stream of water to spray the “solid matter” off and right into your toilet. (This is also great for getting spit-ups off of clothing!) Flush the toilet, and voila, the poop is where it should be and not sitting in a trash can. Tip: bring a dry pre-fold with you to the bathroom. Once the dirty diaper is clean, it will be very wet, but you can wrap it in the pre-fold to take back to your diaper pail and throw the whole bundle in. No drips, no further messes.
· Diaper Pail Liner. Diaper pail liners are much better than plastic trash bags for storing and moving your diapers from the pail to the washer and back. They’re breathable, sturdy, and washable. I’ve had mine for 5 years, and it’s never torn, even on the seams. Buy 2 if you can so that you have one in your pail while the other one is in the wash with the diapers. I wash and dry mine with the diapers every time, and then use it to bring the diapers back upstairs to the kids’ room.
2. Determine your budget before you shop.
If you’re using cloth to save money, then you need to make sure you don’t overspend in the first place. All in one diapers are the most convenient, but they’re not cheap. Plus, in my experience, they leak more. Pre-folds plus covers are much cheaper, but they are bulkier and better for home use than on-the-road use. The best thing to do is to start out with a small variety of items to see what works for you and what works with your budget. Many cloth diaper sites have “starter packages,” some bigger than others. Here’s what I would recommend to start full-time diapering. You can always add more later:
· 24 pre-folds (Why so many? New babies go through diapers quickly, and pre-folds are cheap. Even if you decide to use All-in-Ones instead, you can use these for changing pads, burp cloths, cleaning rags, or transporting dirty diapers from the bathroom to the diaper pail.)
· 4-6 diaper covers. Try a few different types. There are adjustable ones that you can alter to larger sizes as your baby grows, but not all of these will work with pre-folds. You can also prefer snap covers or Velcro; Velcro is more common, but I’ve found that the snaps last longer. My favorite covers are Bummies Super Snaps, which run about $14 each, and the sizes are very forgiving. A “large” fit my older son right up until he finished potty training, and they fit my 2-year old now.
· 2 All-in-Ones. These are the easiest to use, but also the most expensive, so just try a few at first. They are great for using in a stroller or car-seat use, since they are much more “trim” than a cover-plus-prefold.
· 24-36 reusable wipes (Tip: you can buy these, or you can cut up old t-shirts or flannel receiving blankets into 8x8 squares. You don’t need to hem them. Easy and free!)
Another way to save money is to buy second-hand diapers. The only All-in-One I bought in the early days was second-hand, and it’s lasted another 5 years and 2 children. Diaper stores often sell second-hand diapers, and they’re very easy to find online, too.
What about reusable wipes? Do you have to use them? I like using them, but they’re not for everyone. Even if you just use them for wet (not dirty) diapers, you’ll save a little money buying wipes. Plus, they are much gentler on your baby’s skin. My toddler’s skin will break out into a rash with even the most sensitive, fragrance free wipes. But if I stick to both cloth diapers and cloth wipes, he does not get diaper rash at all.
Baby Butt Spray
1 spray bottle
1 T baby wash
1 T baby oil (or a natural oil, like almond or olive oil)
Fill the bottle with water until it is mostly full. Add the baby wash and oil, replace the lid, and lightly shake to combine. To use, spray the wipe first with the following mixture, and then wash them with your diapers. (You can spray the baby first, but your baby might not like it.)
3. Try before you buy and/or get advice from experts
One of the mistakes I made starting out was to buy everything online instead of checking out a local diaper store first. As a result, I got 48 of the biggest pre-folds I could buy, thinking they would last the longest. (Note: no one needs 48 pre-folds. 24 is plenty.) I practiced folding and tried out the diapers and covers on an old Care Bear. They fit Friendship Bear very well, so I thought I was set.
However, once I brought the baby home, I discovered that he was not, in fact, built like a Care Bear. His long skinny legs and narrow hips were far too small for my giant diapers. Instead of running out and buying a whole new set , I ended up using disposables for the first couple of months until he had grown into the diapers I had already bought.
If I had gotten the diapers in person, that would not have happened. First, I could have talked to a knowledgeable sales clerk about what size and how many pre-folds to buy. Secondly, I could have practiced on a baby-sized doll instead of poor Friendship Bear. If you have a local diaper store in your community, check it out. Just make sure you follow step 2 and have a clear idea of what you can spend before you go in; cloth diapers are very cute, but they can be very expensive if you’re not careful.
If you don’t have a local store, look around for a friend to show you the ropes. If you don’t know anyone who uses cloth, look online to see if you can find a local group of moms with cloth diapering experience, or even a class at a local store. Health food stores, maternity stores, and even hospitals often have special-interest groups that moms can join. You can also join online cloth diapering communities on parenting websites. They will give you lots of advice on what you need.
4. Washing and drying
The big concern many people have with cloth diapers is how to make sure they are clean and sanitary. No, you don’t need to resort to a diaper service just for sanitary purposes. Nor do you need to wash or dry the same batch multiple times. I like to wash my diapers every other day, but some people have a large enough stash to make it once or twice a week. In that case, you may want to run a pre-wash cycle, with a small amount of detergent or Borax, before running the full wash cycle.
Borax is a great deodorizer, and it’s cheap, easy to find, and environmentally friendly. I’ve tried other methods, too, but none worked as well as simple Borax. Also, you can use “baby wash” on your diapers, but you don’t have to. It is good, however, to use a detergent that is mild and fragrance-free, since the diapers are on your baby’s most sensitive skin. My first child wasn’t picky about detergents, but I soon found that my second one would get irritated if I used scented detergents. So for him, I did a little research and figured out how to make my own mild detergent, and I now use it for all of my laundry. It already has Borax, so it deodorizes beautifully. The supplies for 32 loads (the average size of a small bottle of liquid detergent) cost me about $1.
1 cup Borax
1 cup Washing Soda (NOT Baking Soda)
1 bar of Ivory soap (Fels-Naptha works great, too, but it’s not as gentle on your skin as Ivory.)
Grate the soap with a cheese grater and combine all ingredients in a sealable container. Use 1 T for a small to medium load or 2 T for a full load of laundry. Add the detergent to the water and let dissolve before adding laundry. Not recommended for cold water cycles (the soap won’t fully melt on cold.) Makes enough for 32 full loads.
If you get pre-folds, you’ll want to wash and dry them a few times before using. This fluffs them up and makes them more absorbent right away. Some covers advise you to “line-dry only,” but I’ve never had a problem putting mine in the dryer.
Washing gets your diapers clean and deodorized, but it’s the drying cycle that sanitizes them. You can either do this by drying them in your machine on the hottest setting, or by line-drying on a sunny day. Sunshine is a natural disinfectant, and line-dried diapers smell wonderful. I loved doing that when we lived in Texas and had a very sunny backyard, but I would still throw them in the dyer for a few minutes on the “fluff” cycle to soften them afterward.
Those are my tips, but I’d love to hear advice from other cloth diaper parents out there. Or, if you have questions about cloth diapering, you can post them here, too.
You can contact Elizabeth by emailing her at email@example.com.
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