Cloth diapering was once a thing of the past – something our grandmothers did because they had no other choice, not understanding why anyone in their right mind would choose to do it once the “amazing” invention of disposable diapers came onto the scene. In the late twentieth/early twenty-first centuries, cloth diapers were reinvented, amidst new concerns about the environment, and the questionable materials used to manufacture disposable diapers. Today, cloth diapering is catching on like wildfire – I would say that of all the mamas I know personally – over half of them use cloth diapers, perhaps even three-quarters. I’ve been cloth diapering since my oldest was born (I confess – I did use disposables when he was born, but a few months in I finally gathered the courage to actually use the cloth diapers I’d bought months before giving birth, and the rest, as they say, is history! I love it, really! If we have another baby, I will probably only use disposables for a week or less).
Since I have written out my cloth diapering advice many times before, and continue to be asked to share my thoughts, I figured I may as well turn it into a blog post to which I can refer people. Here is a basic introduction to the world of cloth diapering…
Main Types of Cloth Diapers
All-in-One’s (AIO’s) – These are usually the most expensive type of diaper. They require no stuffing or folding, and are shaped the same as a disposable. The outside waterproof layer and the inside absorbent layers are all sewn together. Some say these are the most “dad/grandma/babysitter” friendly, but I would say that a pocket diaper (if pre-stuffed) is equally as easy. A potentially major downside to AIO’s is that they often take a very long time to hang dry (like 24 hours or more). This means you need to have more in your stash, which of course increases your overall cost.
Pocket – These are shaped similarly to an photo © 2007 Michelle Hofstrand | more info (via: Wylio)AIO, but have a small opening at the back into which you stuff an insert, which is the absorbent part of the diaper. The material against baby’s skin is generally a soft wicking fibre, like microfleece, which feels dry even after it gets wet. The benefit to this is that the baby’s doesn’t feel the wetness as much, which is especially nice for nap and nighttime. It’s also nice to be able to adjust the amount of absorbency (extra inserts at night, doublers, prefolds, etc). The outside layer is waterproof, so like an AIO, no cover required. Popular brands include Fuzzibunz, Bungenius, Applecheeks, AMP, and Happy Heiny’s.
Fitted – Fitted diapers are very similar to a disposable in shape. The only difference (other than that they’re cloth) is that they require a waterproof cover. This is nice because you can choose from a variety of different materials. If natural or organic fibres are important to you, then you can choose wool – a naturally absorbent materials with antibacterial properties. If frugality is your main motivator, then bummis covers are a perfect option. Fitted diapers include some sort of fastener, like snaps or velcro. There are also contoured diapers, which are basically fitteds, but without the fasteners (you’d use pins or a snappi).
Prefolds – The second most inexpensive option are prefolds. These are basically flat diapers, folded several times and sewn together. The middle section is slightly thicker, which you would use in the middle where the most absorption is needed. There are many different ways to fold them – some people fold them and place them into a cover, and put that onto the baby. I like folding them onto baby and using a snappi, then adding the cover over top. One disadvantage to using prefolds is that they are extra bulky. This is the case when using them to stuff pocket diapers too. It can be frustrating to have such a big booty to fit into some of baby’s pants.
Flats – The most frugal option of all (as seen in the photo above), these are basically flat rectangular pieces of material (a blend is best for absorbency, like cotton-hemp), which are then folded and fastened onto baby. You would need to use some sort of waterproof cover over top as well. I don’t actually know anyone in real life that uses these, but I would imagine they wouldn’t be all that difficult, especially if you’ve used prefolds before. Flats (as well as prefolds) are easily repurposed into cleaning rags, etc. once baby is done with them.
Hybrids – These are a relative newcomer on the cloth diapering scene. The two main brands in this category are Flip and Grovia. They are technically AI2’s (All-in-two’s), as there is an outer shell and an inner snap-in liner that make up the complete system. There is also an option for disposable liners, instead of washable ones. One of my best friends uses both of these brands, and loves them. I’ve never tried them, but am unconvinced that I’d like them any better than pocket diapers.
3 Compelling Reasons to Use Cloth Diapers
- Frugality. Using cloth diapers will save you a lot of money. Yes, it’s possible to not save as much if you choose a more expensive diapering system, but you may save a boatload, especially if you use your diapers for more than one child, and you are using a more frugal option, like prefolds. Really though, even if you choose a system like pocket diapers, and want about 15 in your supply (allowing you to wash every other day or less as baby gets older and is changed less often), the total would still be much less than $400. When you add in all the extras, like a diaper pail, washable wet bags for soiled diapers, even a diaper sprayer if desired… your total will still come in well under the estimated $2500 it takes to get one child from birth to potty training in disposables. Use your cloth on another kid, and your savings automatically double.
- Health. For me personally, this is my number one motivator for using cloth diapers. TBT’s, Dioxins, Perfumes & Dyes, Bleach, Sodium Polyacrylate, and many more harsh chemicals and poisons are used to manufacture disposable diapers. Several of these have been directly linked to increased childhood asthma, as well as infertility. And that’s just what has been proven thus far. There are countless other potential negative health effects that are suspected, but yet to be conclusively proven. Oh, and don’t be fooled into thinking that the popular Seventh Generation brand of disposable diapers are all they appear to be – they are actually dyed that light brownish colour to make them appear more “natural”, and their claims about being chlorine-free may be true – but none of the other disposable diaper manufacturers use chlorine in their diapers either. They also contain polyacrylate gels for absorbency, and other questionable materials. They are perfume and fragrance free, I believe, which is great, but hardly worth the hefty extra cost (to me).
- Environment. As a steward of God’s creation, I believe in minimizing waste and doing my part to treat the earth and our bodies with respect. This includes avoiding unnecessary waste, and (all other things being equal) using disposable diapers full-time seems to me to fall into that category. I use disposables every now and then (during times of sickness or travel usually, or in the early newborn days), but cloth diapering is definitely our main system (oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, we often use disposables at night to cross one thing off the “why-oh-why-is-she-such-a-horrible-sleeper” list. Once she starts sleeping better, it’ll be back to cloth at night too). Not to mention putting all of those chemicals into a landfill, which then seep into the earth, the water supply, etc. Gross! Oh, and did you know that disposable diaper users are supposed to dump the poop in the toilet? Human waste is not allowed in landfills, yet I have yet to meet a disposable diaper user that dutifully follows this rule. With cloth, human waste goes into the toilet where it belongs.
My Personal Cloth Diapering System
We initially chose to go with organic unbleached cotton prefolds with Bummis Super Whisper Wraps and Super Brites as our main daytime diapers, with six of the perfect-size Fuzzibunz (six in size small, and six in size medium, which fit Isaac until he recently potty-trained) for naps and nighttime (for their absorbency and moisture-wicking properties). I was pleased with this system, and it worked well. Somewhere along the way we bought a couple Bamboozles to try out, but they are not my favourites. Their big selling features are that they are natural fibres (which I love), and that they are super absorbent (true). However they do not wick moisture away at all – they feel soaking wet even with just a little bit of moisture, which I would think would be much more uncomfortable for my baby’s bum, and thus not worth the high price tag, in my opinion. Now we have baby #2, Aliza, and she is most often decked out in a Fuzzibunz (or one of the other random brands of pocket diapers I bought second-hand from a friend). We snagged three more Fuzzibunz on sale to add to our stash last Christmas, and with Isaac’s recent potty-trained status, we pretty much just use our pocket diapers exclusively for Aliza. I’m happy with what we have. I wouldn’t mind trying out one of the hybrid systems (minus the flushable part), because they seem to be fairly popular. I have no reason to dislike my Fuzzibunz though – I’m very happy with them!
Last Words: Hints and Tips
- Always hang dry them (get a drying rack). They can go in the dryer, but they will wear out much faster. You’ll regret this when baby#2 comes along, or even by the time baby#1 is a toddler. This goes more for the non-prefold/flat diapers, which are much sturdier.
- A diaper sprayer is a much-loved accessory for many cloth diapering families. We have one, but it’s not exactly what I thought it was. When you hold the diaper above the toilet and spray, there are usually poopy water drops spraying all over the place, which really icks me out. After a while I learned that it was easier and more sanitary to just dunk the diaper in the toilet, swish it a bit, and maybe use the sprayer if necessary, while in the toilet, so the spray doesn’t go everywhere. Worth it… but beware of your “spraying technique”!
- Get two wet bags – one to be in your diaper pail (a large step-lid white plastic garbage can – cloth diapers don’t fit in the diaper genies or diaper champs), and one to be in the wash. We only bought one, then bought a cheap one from Canadian Tire in the camping section – not a good idea as it is much thinner and wets through. We have the extra-large purple bummis tote, and it’s awesome – still looks the same after 2.5 years of constant use. We also bought a small diaper-bag-size wet bag as well, which is invaluable for being out of the house. These bags can just go right into the washing machine, and dry super quickly.
- Make sure to use a cloth-diaper-approved laundry detergent. Check with your manufacturer online to see what they recommend. We use Nature Clean, and have been fine with it, but my diapers have recently seemed to be needing stripped a lot. It’s a long story, but I am thinking of trying a new detergent to see it it does the trick.
- For cloth diaper troubles, just try googling your specific problem – there’s a ton of helpful info out there. There are even entire forums dedicated to cloth diapering. If you run into problems, please don’t give up! Ask for help – there’s almost always a fix. Email me if you want!
- Choosing a diapering system that is right for your baby can be a trial and error process. You could consider trying out a few different kinds and then ordering more of your favourites, or you could just do lots of research and order one or two kinds, and hope for the best. That’s what we did, and it worked out fine.
- Don’t allow yourself to be overcome with guilt if you end up using disposables more than you’d like. Being a mama is nothing if not unpredictable, so give yourself some grace and do your best!
- A last word – prepare to become addicted to the cuteness of your little one’s bum adorned with a cute colour/print in a soft cloth diaper that you know is frugal/healthy/green. Who knew diapers could be so satisfying?
Do you use cloth diapers? What kind of system works for you? Any other tips or “things-you-wish-you’d-known” before you started?
I'm Beth. I created Red & Honey because I'm obsessed with the wild art of wellness.