No pins! No bulky, stinky mess! No complicated folding! We swear – you are going to LOVE the new cloth diapers. Cloth diapers have revolutionized in the past few years. And so have many parents, who have decided they want a softer, healthier, more economical choice for their babies.
These Questions and Answers will walk you through all you need to know. And if you need more info, we are here to help.
There are three main reasons to use cloth diapers on your baby. These arguments, paired with the ease of modern cloth diaper styles (see Choosing a Cloth Diaper, below), make cloth a simple and smart choice. Much of the information below comes from The Real Diaper Association.
Your baby's health. Disposable diapers contain traces of Dioxin, a cancer-causing chemical. Dioxins build up in fatty tissue over time and have been found to have an effect on reproduction, sexual development and the immune system. Disposable diapers also contain Tributyl-tin (TBT) - a toxic pollutant known to cause hormonal problems in humans and animals. Disposable diapers contain sodium polyacrylate, chemical crystals that can absorb up to 800 times their weight in liquid by turning into a gel that keeps babies dry. It is similar to the material in tampons that has been linked to toxic-shock syndrome in women.
The environment. An estimated 27.4 billion disposable diapers are consumed every year in the U.S. Over 92 percent of these end up in a landfill. No one knows how long it takes for a disposable diaper to decompose, but it is estimated to be about 250-500 years. An average child using disposable diapers will go through about 8,000 by age 2 ½. There's been much debate in recent years about the environmental benefit of avoiding this waste in our landfills when contrasted with the extra water a family will use to wash cloth diapers. Many have come out strongly on the side of cloth diapers for these reasons: The water used to clean cloth diapers is about the same amount of water used to flush a toilet - water that your child will use after potty training anyway. Water used to wash cloth diapers is recycled, flowing through our sewage-treatment systems and then rechargers our aquafers or goes flows back into our water systems. Compare that to billions of soiled, carcinogenic diapers sitting in our landfills for generations. In addition, one must consider the environmental cost of mass-producing paper diapers, including the raw materials and transportation, vs. the cost of producing cloth diapers, which are often made by work-at-home parents, local small-scale manufacturers and from environmentally sustainable materials like hemp, organic cotton and wool.
Cost. According to an April 2007 Consumer Reports story, parents can expect to spend up to $2,000 to diaper one child in disposables. The cost of cloth diapering can vary from as low as $300 for a basic set-up of prefolds and covers to $1000 or more for organic cotton fitted diapers and wool covers. With new one-size pocket and all-in-one styles and more economical prefolds and covers, it's possible to create a varied and convenient system for about $500 that can last through two or more children. Compare that to the $4,000 or more it would take to keep two in disposables for 2-3 years each – 1/8 of the cost!
Finally, one additional reason to put cloth on your baby – it's just so cute. Who wants to look at that sweet soft skin wrapped up in a paper diaper, when you could put soft, simple cloth and bright candy colors on there instead?
Design and materials: This is one of the most popular, modern, and adaptable styles. It has 2 components. The trim diapers are sewn from an outer layer of PUL, which is waterproof, and an inner layer of either fleece or microsuede, both of which wick away moisture in order to keep your baby's skin dry. They have an opening, usually in the back, which is stuffed with some kind of an insert - made from microfiber, hemp, or cotton - to soak up the moisture. Stuff them ahead for a one-step process at change time.
Use: You use a new diaper and insert at every change, and after you take the diaper off you simply shake or pull out the insert before dropping both pieces into your diaper pail. They can be washed and dried easily.
Options: Pockets close with either Velcro or snaps, and can come in sizes (small, medium, large) or one-size versions that can fit most babies from birth or a few weeks old until potty training. They come in a huge range of colors, prints and patterns.
Pros and cons: You can customize the insert depending on how much absorbancy you need, making it highly adaptable to any child. Pockets fit trimly, avoiding "bubble butt." New one-sizes make it possible to use one set of diapers for 2-3 years! They are fast-drying. These diapers can be on the higher end of the price scale.
Design and Materials: These are much like pocket diapers, with an outer layer of waterproof PUL and an inner layer in a stay-dry material (fleece or microsuede, as with pockets) or a natural fiber (cotton, bamboo or hemp, different than pockets). However, instead of a separate insert, these have built-in soakers (a thicker part in the center to absorb moisture), essentially making them a one-piece diaper. AI2s are also a one-piece diaper, with the absrbency built right in on top, but these allow the absorbent part of the diaper to be removed from the waterproof outer (they often snap in) giving parents an added bonus: The outer portion, if not soiled, is usable for more than one change. Doublers can be added on top for extra absorbency at night.
Use: Just grab it and put it on! They can be washed and dried easily.
Options: AIOs close with either Velcro or snaps, and can come in sizes or one-size versions that can fit most babies from birth or a few weeks old until potty training. They come in a range of colors, prints and patterns.
Pros and cons: These are so easy that even grandparents and babysitters love them. AIOs allow you to customize absorbency, and most are fairly trim-fitting. They are some of the priciest diapers, especially in natural fibers like organic cotton and hemp, and some can take longer to dry in your drier because the insert is sewn in.
Design and materials: Fitted diapers are a two-step system. The diapers themselves are made from cotton, organic cotton, sherpa, hemp, velour, bamboo, synthetics and other fibers. Some are lined with fleece inside to wick moisture away and keep baby dry, and thin fleece or stay-dry liners can also be added to those that don't have this built-in. Fitted diapers attach with Velcro or snaps, but are NOT waterproof alone. They require a cover or wrap, the second step. Covers are made from PUL, fleece, wool, or a cotton-PUL combination - all of which have waterproof properties. PUL and wool are also mildew-resistant, fleece and wool are breathable, and wool is naturally antibacterial!
Use: A new diaper is used at every change, but covers can be re-used for several changes if they are not soiled. Doublers can be added inside the diaper to customize absorbancy. Most diapers and covers can be washed and dried easily; some wool products require special care.
Options: Fitted diapers have a wide range of options, and parents who want to have only natural or organic fibers against their baby's skin have much to choose from. Style-seekers can find colored options, and purists will find tons of unbleached and simple fabrics.
Pros and cons: These can be economical, especially since covers can be reused. Some fabrics, like wool, can save on laundry costs because its anti-bacterial properties require much less frequent washing. The range of fabrics and styles is huge. Organic is an option. The system can make bums look a bit puffier, though. Not all fitted diapers have fleece or suede inside to keep moisture off skin. Fitted diapers can take longer to dry. And some covers, like wool, require a bit of special care. Fitteds are extremely absorbent.
Design and materials: The traditional, old-school cloth diaper. A two-step system. Usually made from cotton, gauze, flannel or hemp, these are the large squares or rectangles of cloth that can be folded into a diaper shape. They are then topped with a waterproof cover made from PUL, fleece, wool, or a cotton-PUL blend. They can be fastened with pins, a Snappi (much easier!) or simply held in place by a snug cover.
Use: A new diaper is used at every change, but covers can be re-used for several changes if they are not soiled. Most diapers and covers can be washed and dried easily; some wool products require special care.
Options: This is the basic way to diaper. Parents can find variations in fabric softness, fluffiness and thickness (Chinese vs. Indian prefolds), and some fabrics are organic or hemp, bleached or unbleached, but options are limited beyond that.
Pros and cons: This is an economic choice. A stack of prefolds will hold up for years (dust your house and wash your car when the babies are grown!), and covers can be reused between changes. They dry quickly and take up little space. But they do take more time to fold and fasten on the baby, and they can leak if you don't get a good fit and hold less as baby grows. They aren't very flashy or stylish, and are the least like disposables in terms of ease and convenience. And of course, there will be puffy bums. While many covers now come one-size or adjustable, cutting down on the number of sets you'll have to buy as baby grows, the prefolds themselves are sized, meaning you will need to buy a new set every time baby goes up a size.
Design and materials: Hybrids offer parents the best of both worlds: The convenience of a disposable diaper with some of the environmental, health and cost benefits of a reusable diaper. Typically a hybrid consists of an outer cover or shell component that is washable and waterproof. A cloth inner is available to use with this outer component (often the cloth insert will snap into the outer). In addition, there is a disposable insert that is also compatible with the waterproof, reusable outer. The disposable is sometimes biodegradeable (such as GroVia) or flushable, allowing parents to dispose of the heavily soiled part of the diaper while reusing the protective outer part.
Use: Parents love hybrids for use while traveling, when baby is at daycare or being cared for by someone else, and for busy days when there's no time for laundry.
Options: Various brands have their own interpretations, with Velcro and/or snap closures; natural fiber and/or stay-dry cloth inners, and stick-in or lay-in disposables.
Pros and cons: While hybrids are certainly convenient, they still create a good deal of trash waste, and they won't save as much in cost as a fully reusable cloth system. A smart use of hybrids is as a compliment to your cloth diapers, for travel, as a help to caregivers, or a way to dip your toe into cloth diapering with a partner who is nervous or hesitant.
I'm just starting out -- how many cloth diapers do I need?
The answer depends on how often you want to wash, what types of diapers you'll be using, and how old your baby is. Most people want to wash about every three days, or twice a week.
The following are general guidelines and should get you through about three days. Some parents love the look of a certain type of diaper and want a whole system of just those. Others like to sample all the different styles and types before settling on their favorites. Still other like to use a wide-ranging mix from birth to potty training. Our Packages offer discounts on lots of different stashes, and our System Sampler lets you try all styles to see what you love best.
We cloth diapered our babies for five years straight! If you would like our help customizing a system based on your budget and needs, or if your brain is exploding, feel free to contact us.
For an infant*, we recommend:
2-3 dozen diapers: Either all pockets /AIOs/AI2s, all prefolds & covers, or a mix. (Most pockets comes with enough inserts and you will not need any extra. Some parents buying pockets/AIOs/AI2s or prefolds like to have 4-6 doublers on hand for naps and nighttime. Doublers generally can be used accross brands, but the brand you like probably has its own).
Just a year or two ago, all cloth diapers – old-school and new-school – came in sizes. Most babies fit into either Small, Medium or Large or the equivalent. Medium generally tends to be the widest-ranging size – many babies wear this size for up to 1 ½ years. Lots of pockets and AIOs also make Extra Small/NB and Extra Large for a more exact fit in the newborn or even premie stage and for bigger toddlers. A few types of diapers have just two sizes, a bit simpler and more economical for parents.
Recently, a new trend is all over the cloth diaper world: One-Size diapers. These pockets, AIOs/AI2s and even some fitteds adjust to fit babies from about 8 to 35 pounds! This means many parents can use the same diapers from birth until potty training. The major benefit is a lower cost because your baby will require fewer diapers. On the downside, many parents find their babies don't truly start fitting well into a One-Size diaper until 8 or 10 pounds. This may require a separate system to fit your baby in the early weeks. One-Size diapers are also bulkier than sized diapers, because of the extra material build in to allow the diaper to stretch out for larger babies. The wear-and-tear on one-size diapers will also be heavier because they're often used for about two years straight or more – something to consider for parents who hope to buy a diapering system to last through more than one child.
Some companies/brands have split the difference and created a two-sized, semi-adjustable diaper, where the diaper adjusts and you buy 2 sets rather than 3-4, or where one component (usually the outer cover/shelil) is One-Size, but the inserts are sized S, M, L for a less bulky and more exact fit. We love Best Bottoms for this option.
In the end, the choice of whether to buy sized or One-Size diapers (or a mix) is a choice based on your budget, you baby's size, the kind of fit you're looking for and how long you plan to use your diapers. Our discounted System Sampler is a great way to try it all.
Along with most cloth diaper manufacturers and retailers, we recommend a dry pail method. It's the safest, the cleanest, and the easiest way to store your dirty diapers until wash time.
You can buy any type of trash container. We recommend a plastic or metal step-open kind with a good seal on the lid. Inside, put a waterproof pail liner. You can add tea tree oil or disks to cut down on the smell, but honestly -- cloth diaper pails really do stink way less than soiled disposable diapers!
Simply fill your pail and when you get low on clean diapers, remove the bag and toss it and the diapers into your washing machine. When infants, especially breastfed ones, poop, their diapers can go right into the wash. As your child approaches toddlerhood and begins to eat solid food, poops will become more solid. At this stage many parents shake the diaper off over the toilet to release any solid waste before dropping it into the diaper can. You can also use a sprayer if you want to rinse off your diaper before tossing it in to your pail.
This is the part of using cloth diapers that makes many uninformed people say "No Way!" In reality, washing diapers is no more difficult than washing other types of laundry. And you don't need any fancy equipment; a regular washer and dryer will work fine. If you don't have a dryer or want to conserve energy, diapers can easily be line-dried.
Truthfully: The grossest part of diaper changing is cleaning your baby's bum of poop; you'll do it exactly the same way whether you use disposables or cloth. The only difference is that you then drop your disposable in the trash, or your cloth diaper in your pail.
Your 2-3 washes per week is really the ONLY difference you will notice.
Wash all your diaper products before using them for the first time.
Hemp and bamboo products will need to be pre-washed on their own, at least 4 times, to strip out the natural oils and allow them to reach optimum absorbency. Hemp will become even more absorbent with every wash, and by 10 washes should reach full absorbency. Use just a small bit of detergent for these pre-washes
Pre-wash all microfiber products on their own as well, at least 5 times to soften and allow them to reach full absorbency.
Wash cotton diapers 4-5 times before first use. Cotton prefolds will fluff up and soften considerably after being pre-washed.
PUL covers and diapers only need to be pre-washed once before use.
Each time you change a diaper, shake solids into the toilet (use a sprayer if you need help). You can also use liners to collect solids if you prefer.
Move your diapers and covers from wherever you store them (we recommend a dry-pail system) and dump them, plus your washable storage bag, into the machine. Most experts recommend a COLD soak cycle or wash first, and then a HOT wash cycle. Some people with fancier washing machines choose to use just one Sanitary cycle of extra-long, extra-hot cleansing, although the cold soak can help prevent stains.
You'll need to use a recommended detergent, and only use a quarter cup at the most, because soap build-up can lead to smells and leaks. See below for more about detergent.
Hang-drying your diapers will extend their life, save money on energy bills and help reduce your footprint on the planet. However, most cloth diapers now can be dried in your dryer on medium or high heat. Make sure to fasten all Velcro to the laundry tabs inside the diaper to prevent diapers and covers from sticking into a long string in your dryer!
Wool products require a bit of special care. They should be lanolized occasionally -- every 1-3 months, or whenever they start showing signs of leaking -- and hand-washed with a wool wash when soiled, or at least every few weeks. To lanolize, follow manufacturers directions on your lanolin product. To wash, simply block your sink and fill with cool water and a touch of wool wash; soak for 10 minutes; empty and fill with clean water, swish around; gently squeeze out and hang to dry. Leaving a bit of wool wash in the fiber will help lanolize as well. Dark-colored wool can bleed, so do not wash colors with whites or neutrals.
You can use most regular clothing detergents to clean your cloth diapers. There are some detergents that tend to work best on cloth diapers and are also more gentle on them, ensuring your investment lasts as long as possible. Basically, you want a detergent without a lot of additives, which don't react well with cloth diapers. We use and love Country Save, available at many natural grocery stores. Also, because you use only about a quarter the amount of detergent on a load of diapers as you would on clothing, a box or bottle goes a long way!
Use fabric softeners or chlorine bleach, including color-safe bleach, on your diapers.
Free-and-clear detergents, which can leave a residue that causes leaking.
"Baby detergents" or other scented detergents, which can leave trace oils in your diapers.
Natural soaps on your diapers, which can also leave behind oils that will affect the microfleece and cause it to repel.
Also remember, while a highly-rated detergent will likely work very well for most cloth diaper brands, some individual manufacturers recommend a particular detergent for their own products. We have noted those recommendations on individual product pages, and you can always find out more from the manufacturers directly.
If you follow the care directions and treat your diapers well, you should not typically have smells or stains. Sometimes, though, they do happen. There are many fairly easy remedies that have to do with tweaking your wash routine. If you try the tips recommended by the specific diaper manufacturer and these guidelines below and still have trouble, contact us and we will be glad to help.
Water: If you have hard water, you can add 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser of your washer during the final rinse.
Smells: If you have odor problems, add 2-3 drops of tea tree oil to your wash. A little bit of Bac-Out Stain & Odor Eliminator can also help. Baking soda in the wash cycle is also great for helping to remove smells. Lime juice is another option.
Stripping: An ammonia smell often occurs when soap builds up in your diapers over time, and this can also contribute to leaking. If this occurs, first try "stripping" your diapers - wash them on several hot cycles in a row without detergent, until the water is free of suds. You can also use a bit of regular dish soap and and bristled brush or toothbrush and hand-scrub your diapers if the soap residue is resistant. Oxyclean (not the baby version) can also be added to your hot wash to strip.
Stains: If you wash them according to instructions, cloth diapers should not stain very easily, But, they can. Realize that washing less frequently can allow stains to set in more. The best way to combat stains is to "sun" your diapers - let them bleach naturally by drying them out in the sun. This can even work in the winter when there's not the best or brightest sun. Cool, huh?
If you are experiencing leaking, examine your fit and absorbency as well as your washing routine. Leaking can occur when:
Your baby has grown and you no longer have enough absorbency in your diaper for all that pee! Try playing around with different types of absorbency - cotton, microfiber, hemp, fleece, wool - and adding an extra layer. Make sure boy parts are pointed down inside their diapers
Your baby has changed shape and your diaper is fitting differently, or you need a new size. Try adjusting the fit.
You are not changing diapers often enough. As a disposable, convenience-based culture, we have been programmed to think babies should be able to stay in their daytime diaper for 4 hours at a time. This is not good for your baby's skin and can lead to leaking. Diapers should be changed every 2 - 2 1/2 hours.
Your diapers have residue, in which case you can try the techniques listed above.
Can I use diaper creams and other baby-care products with my cloth diapers?
Opinions vary widely and this is a personal choice. Many creams can create stains that are very hard to wash out of cloth diapers. The good thing is that babies who wear cloth get far fewer rashes than babies in chemical-filled disposables. If you need a rash salve, use a cloth-safe one.
If you do need to medication or cream, you can use disposable or fleece liners -- or even a cloth wipe laid inside -- to protect your diapers. As with disposable diapers, babies should be changed every 2-3 hours or more frequently to reduce the risk of diaper rash.
What's the fuss about organics, wool and hemp and bamboo?
Choosing a fiber for your diaper, or your clothes, can depend on a lot of different factors: Your budget, your social and environmental priorities, availability, style, etc. We started loving organic fibers after our first daughter was born and we realized that we wanted the option to put the healthiest things against her skin and avoid needless chemicals when we could. Organic cotton is grown without the use of pesticides or fertilizers, eliminating concerns about the impact of those chemicals on humans and the planet. Its production maintains soil fertility, and it has an extremely soft feel. Organic cotton is grown internationally and in the United States and is still much pricier than non-organic cotton. Check out our favorite organic diapers, toys and clothes. You can learn more about the benefits of organic cotton at the Organic Trade Association.
There are so many cool things about wool, where do we start? Though it may seem surprising at first, it can quickly become addictive. It has natural anti-bacterial properties, so it doesn't have to be washed as frequently as other fibers. In fact, a wool cover can go 1-3 weeks or more without being washed if it's not soiled. Wool is extremely breathable -- your babe will stay warm in the chilly months and keep cool in the summer. It absorbs a ton of liquid but stays dry to the touch, so parents with super-soaker babies swear by it to last 12 hours a night without a leak. Wool requires a gentle wash process and occasional lanolizing - an easy process. We swear by wool covers for our daughters!
Hemp is in many ways the ideal cloth diaper fiber. It's super absorbent, more durable than regular cotton, grows well without pesticides and has natural antibacterial, anti-mold properties. And, hemp is a great environmental choice – the plant does not deplete the soil, in fact it returns nutrient to the ground, and it yields a large crop in a compact amount of space. Babykicks prefold and fitted diapers are some of our favorite hemp products. The U.S. government has had an interesting relationship with hemp fiber production, and worldwide availability has fluctuated in recent months and years, making hemp a pricier fabric. For more info on hemp you can visit the North American Industrial Hemp Council or the Hemp Industries Association.
Bamboo -- those ubiquitous, bright green stalks sitting on kitchen windowsills and office desks around the country? Nope. We're talking about bamboo diapers -- super soft, super strong, pesticide-free, anti-bacterial, absorbent. When grown and harvested consciously, bamboo is a renewable resource with a very short growing cycle, making it another great earth-friendly choice. You will not believe how silky soft and absorbent a goodmama fitted diaper or a Bamboozle is until you rub it obsessively across your face -- again and again … Ok, now put it down and diaper your kid!