Saturday, January 26, 2008

If I Can Cloth Diaper, Anyone Can

Why I Might Have Been Cloth Diaper Challenged

I am a notoriously challenged in the area of home organization and cleanliness. I can be very organized about almost anything else from school work to the way I organize myself at work, but when it comes to putting laundry away and keeping my house free of clutter I suffer from a near complete lack of talent. We manage well enough, and I am obsessed with keeping the kitchen clean. The kitchen is the only room of the house that I consistently scrub and clean. My husband has more talent in this area, but he also works full time. So we have a housekeeper who comes once a month and cleans in ways I never even imagined. We could probably use her every two weeks, but it is expensive enough that I do my best without her.

Since Molly arrived, her laundry gets priority. I am better about putting her stuff away since it is a lot smaller in size. My husband and I both have allergies of many kinds and as a kid, I often broke out in hives for unknown reasons. So when we combined our genetic material to create another human, we fully expected her to be an allergic type and thought cloth diapers might be better for her skin. After she was born we stuck to disposable diapers because she was pretty small. Plus, baby chaos descended on the house, so we decided not to add any other new chores. But at three months, Molly seemed to be getting an allergy to the disposables. It wasn't diaper rash and it would get worse if she was doing activities that increased the way the diaper rubbed her skin. So we decided to give cloth a try.

The Nuts and Bolts of Cloth Diapers Today

Cloth diapers today are much better than what our parents used. There are cloth diapers that are pretty much like disposables that you wash (All-In-Ones), waterproof diapers that you stuff with absorbent pads (Pockets), and the more traditional fitteds or prefolds that need a separate waterproof cover over them. You'd think there wouldn't be that many choices but if you go to any online cloth diaper store and your head will swim because there are so many different makers of diapers. The advice I got was to try several different kinds and see what works for your baby. In the same way that your favorite jeans look terrible on someone with a different build, so it goes with your baby and his or her cloth diapers.

Given that I was born without a housekeeping gene, I decided to only try the cloth diapers that seemed easiest to use which meant All-In-Ones and Pockets. I bought 5 different kinds, one All-in-One, and four Pockets.

All of the cloth diapers I have share the same basic parts:
  1. Outer layer of fabric that is waterproof. Unlike the plastic pants our parents used, this fabric is very soft and not stiff or crinkly. This layer is not that different from diaper to diaper. It does come in colors and prints and can even be embroidered.
  2. Middle layer of fabrics that soak up liquids. In an All-in-One diaper this layer is sown in and you never really see it. In a Pocket diaper this is called the insert. With a pocket you have the ability to add inserts to increase the absorbency of the diaper. Regardless of whether it is a Pocket or an All-In-One diaper, the soaker layers can be made of hemp, microterry, or some combination.
  3. Inner layer of Fabric next to the baby's skin that pulls moisture away from baby so skin stays dry. This can be made from microfleece, suedecloth, or velour.
Before I got my diapers, I really didn't realize that the materials used in the inner and middle layers can really make a difference. How well the diaper works in terms of absorbing pee and not leaking is most related to the inserts in the middle layer. Of course if you diapers fit poorly or your waterproof layer is not working well you could have a leak, but the middle layer is about sequestering the pee and the outer layer is about containment. The inner layer seems to matter most in terms of preventing rashes and keeping baby comfortable. The first time I used one of my diapers I was amazed to find that this layer was DRY. The insert was soaked, I mean I could have wrung it out it was so wet. After one day of using my new diapers, Molly's skin looked better.

The Truth About Laundering the Cloth Diapers

The laundry part is not that bad. I have a waterproof diaper pail that I put dirty diapers in. I have been rinsing poopy diapers with cold water right when I take them off of her to keep stains from setting. If Molly were eating solids, I would have to knock them out into the toilet or use a liner in the diaper that can be lifted out and flushed along with the poo. I could see where this step would be nasty, but most parents are somewhat accustomed to handing their baby's poop. If it is a pocket diaper, I take the insert out and put everything in the diaper pail. Then I take everything down to the washer and run a soaking cycle with cold water and a little baking soda. Then I do a hot wash with a detergent that will not leave a residue on the diapers. Then I do one extra cold rinse cycle and put everything in the dryer. Once it is warmer outside, I will probably line dry. So far, I have not dreaded washing the diapers.

The most work is when you first get all the new diapers because you do have to wash them before you use them. Some kinds of inserts have to be washed and dried several times to reach their full absorbency. Hemp inserts need to be washed separately from other inserts when you first get them or the oils from the hemp will get on the other inserts and make them less absorbent. I have stuck with microterry inserts to avoid the whole hemp issue and I only washed them once before using. It really is not that big of a deal. If I can say that, some of the more organized types out there would be able to get a fantastic system going.

Cloth Diaper Leaks

There are definitely diapers that I like better than others, but there has been no leaking at all. Molly has had some pretty impressively sized poops that were contained completely. I have left a diaper on her for several hours without pee leaks. That is something I cannot say about disposables since we have had times where Molly leaked out of disposables at least once a day. I will post reviews of each of the types of diapers I have used with respect to fit, ease of use, and how well they hold up. I think you have to understand that all diapers can leak whether you use disposable or not, but cloth diapers are just as good as disposables, if not better.

Economics of Cloth Diapering

One thing that is tough is getting your head around the idea that cloth is less expensive. There are many websites out there that have analyzed cost of cloth versus disposables that show cloth diapering to be less expensive. If you notice most of these folks are selling cloth diapers. I am still on the fence about this. We spend about 56 dollars a month on disposables. To get 8 cloth diapers and all the accessories I needed (diaper pail, special detergent, inserts) I spent about $200. For me to get enough diapers for full time cloth diapering, I will need about 8 more for about $150. Cloth diapers come in sizes or there are some one size diapers. I have some one size diapers which will fit Molly until she is potty trained, but if I prefer diapers sized for her, I will have to buy more diapers as she grows. I could save money by buying used diapers, which I will consider. But given how much I would spend up front to full time cloth diaper if I did not buy one size diapers, I calculate cloth diapers would cost me about $50 a month since she will only fit in smalls for about 6 more months. At that time I will have to buy more mediums which will probably fit her until she is potty trained. If you have a bigger child, you might have to buy mediums. In this sense, buying one size diapers is more cost effective since they should last until you are done with diapers and cost about the same amount of money up front. If I bought one size diapers, assuming I will diaper for a total of 30 months (making Molly 2 1/2 at the age of potty training, the cost would be $10 a month. That would be a huge savings. The main downside to one size diapers is that there is less selection and they are bulkier in my opinion.

Doing some combination of one size fits all diapers and sized diapers would also save money over only disposables. That said, using prefold diapers and covers is fairly inexpensive, though you will spend more time putting the diaper on the child. I have not tried this option since it is generally considered to have a steeper learning curve.

Another way to save money is to buy used diapers from Remember that everyone has to try several diapers before they find their best fit so they end up selling diapers they have used minimally at reduced prices. You also have the option of selling your diapers if your child grows out of them on Diaperswappers to cut down on your costs.

Energy Usage and Cloth Diapers

I am probably using more water than I did, but since energy is used to produce diapers I am going to assume that the use of energy difference between disposables and cloth is a wash. With cloth you definitely produce less waste, which is clear when you stop filling up a large kitchen trash bag every other day.

It probably is less expensive to use cloth if you put some thought into what you spend initially. That said, spending $200 up front to get started can make you feel like cloth diapering is not less expensive. You will meet cloth diaperers that buy designer cloth diapers at $30 a diaper. Yes, I'm serious. If you want to cloth diaper for reasons of economy do not buy any of those diapers.

Buyer Beware

There are many wonderful people out there selling cloth diapers online. They will answer all your questions and tell you about their experiences with diapers. If you would like some suggestions about which online retailer to use, post your comment here and I will respond. Another way to learn about diaper retailers is to read reviews of retailers on also has reviews of most of the cloth diapers on the market and is a fantastic resource for understanding which diapers are worth trying and which diapers do not have solid reputations.

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