Monday, February 25, 2013

Cloth Diapers for BEGINNERS

Please note that this post was originally written in 2013; while most information is still accurate the prices listed in the last paragraph may no longer be accurate.

Where to start: First off, start by learning the cloth diaper terminology. Some of the phrases used for cloth diapering can seem confusing if you don't know what they mean. This website provides a whole list of terms and is a good place to start learning what different terms means. Next, if you know someone who cloth diapers talk to them and ask them questions or advice. Trust your peers when they either recommend or don't recommend something, and make sure you know WHY they do or don't recommend it. As with everything baby related, what works for one may not work for another, but moms always have a good reason why they do or don't like something. *Just keep in mind that if you decide to ask your parents or grandparents about cloth diapering, their idea of cloth diapering will be different from many of the options available to today's parents.

Step 1: Pick the type(s) of diaper you want to use. Now here is where it can become overwhelming. Not only are there several brands, but there are also different types of cloth diapers.
  • Flats: Flats are what you think of when you think of cloth diapering in the 50s. It's a square/rectangular piece of cloth (most commonly cotton) that you fold and wrap around the baby's bottom. You need to use pins or snappis along with rubber pants or a waterproof cover with these. They are the cheapest option available.
  • Prefolds: Like flats, these are what you think of when you think of cloth diapering in the 50s. Like a flat, they are a square/rectangular piece of cloth most commonly made from cotton, but they are pre-folded and sewn into sections. You fold these in various ways according to the size and shape of your baby. You'll also need pins or snappis and rubber pants or a waterproof cover with prefolds. These are also one of the cheapest options available. 
  • Fitteds: Fitteds are a step up from flats and prefolds because they are a piece of cloth that requires no folding; they have either snaps or velcro to fasten the diaper with and they have elastic in the legs to help with fit. They are not quite as convenient as pockets or AIOs (listed below) though because they still require a waterproof diaper cover, but they made for a great night time diaper and are still amongst some of the cheaper options available.
  • Pockets: A pocket diaper is a diaper that has an outer shell made of either polyurethane liner (PUL) or thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), which is the part of the diaper that is waterproof. Then there's typically a micro fleece liner sewn onto the inside (which actually goes right up to your baby's skin) with a hole left at one end to create a pocket. Between the PUL or TPU and the micro fleece liner is where you stuff the inserts, which is what absorbs moisture. With each brand the pocket is going to vary a bit. Some brands have the pocket opening in the front, and some in the back. The micro fleece is not really waterproof but it is water resistant, so it deters moisture (aka urine) away from the body and towards the insert. Most pocket diapers are considered one-size, which means that you can use them the entire time your child is being diapered. This is not the most affordable option, but it is very popular because of the comfort and convenience.
  • All-In-Ones (AIOs): Like pocket diapers, AIOs are most commonly one-size and have an outer shell made of PUL or TPU, but instead of having a micro fleece liner sewn into them with an opening to stuff an insert into, the inserts are sewn directly into the shell so there's no "stuffing" involved. There are different variations of AIOs depending on brands, but this is most common. These are by far the easiest option for parents (and they most closely resemble disposables in terms of how you use them), but they are among some of the most expensive options on the market for cloth diapering.
  • Other Types: Other types of diapers to look into are All-in-Twos, Hybrids, and Contours. I have not looked into these very hard myself, so I don't know very much about them.
  • Fastening the diaper- Hook and Loop vs. Snaps: Hook and Loops means velcro, which is very similar to the way a disposable diaper is secured. Then there's snaps, our BumGenius diapers have 10 snaps across the front to allow you to secure the diaper as loose or as tight as you want. Our BumGenius diapers also have a 3X3 "Snap Down" system which is how you adjust the one-size diaper to fit your baby according to your baby's age/weight. For a 10 pound (approximately two month old) baby you want your diaper to be on the smallest snap. Then as your baby grows you move down a snap, until eventually you don't snap the diaper down at all. My son is seven months old, and at his six month check up he was 18 pounds, so we don't snap down the diapers at all.

Step 2: Pick a few brands and research them, read consumer reviews, search the term "cloth diapers" on Pinterest and see what the different links say about cloth diapers. From there, pick a few brands that you want to learn more about. My best advice is to see if there is a store or boutique local to your area where you can see the diapers in person. Getting to see the different types and brands in person will really help you narrow which type(s) of cloth diapers you want to use.

Step 3: Figure out how many diapers you will need. First, keep in mind that babies (especially younger babies) go through approximately 12 diapers in a 24 hour time period. Then, figuring out how many diapers you need comes down to how often you want to do laundry as well as how many kids you have in diapers. For example, if you have one kid in diapers and want to do laundry every other day then you need approximately 24 diapers. I don't personally recommend going more than two days without washing because of stink issues. For a two day wash routine you would need 36 diapers (for one kid).
Step 4: This is the "everything else" step. You need to figure out what else you need to make cloth diapering work.
  1. Diaper pail and Diaper pail Liner: You need to have a specific place to put dirty diapers until you wash them. You want to make sure you pick something that is ventilated to help with the smell of dirty diapers. A large kitchen trash can with swinging lid works great, or even a large hamper. We're using a large hamper that has "air holes" all over the lid. You will also want to consider a diaper pail liner. This is pretty much a laundry bag that is water proof. It helps to keep your pail from getting messy. The diaper pail liner can usually be thrown in and washed with the diapers, but should not be dried in the dryer. If it has elastic around the top it should not be dried in the dryer to prevent the elastic from relaxing and most diaper pail liners have Polyurethane lining (PUL) which will delaminate under high temperatures. We ended up with two pail liners to rotate them. I always have one clean one that can be used while the other is in the wash.
  2. Wet Bag or Wet-Dry Bag: A wet bag, or a wet-dry bag is for your diaper bag. This is like a diaper pail liner, but much smaller. They have either a zip top, or a draw string top. You want to have one of these in your diaper bag for when you're out and about because it keeps wet/dirty diapers contained and keeps them from contaminating everything else in your diaper bag. These can also be thrown in the wash with your diapers. Like the pail liners, I also have two wet bags to rotate them and always have a clean one in the diaper bag.
  3. Laundry Detergent: Cloth diaper safe detergent is not necessary. You can use any mainstream detergent as long as you're using it correctly. Laundry softener and dryer sheets are not recommended for cloth diapers because they leave residue on the diaper which over time builds up and causes the diaper to not absorb urine properly. 
  4. Inserts: There are several different types of inserts available for pockets, such as hemp, bamboo, and even flour sack towels. These types of inserts are more absorbent, which makes it a great thing to use at night when your baby can go up to 12 hours without a diaper change. We bought two packs of two hemp inserts (so four hemp inserts total) to use at night. If I do laundry every other day, four was all I needed.
  5. Disposable Liners: While this kind of defeats the purpose of cloth if used regularly, they are a great option for when you're leaving your baby with a baby sitter or when you're traveling. A disposable liner is a piece of biodegradable tissue that you place in the diaper (touching the baby's skin; you don't put it inside the pocket if you use a diaper with a pocket), then when baby poops you can either throw it away or flush it. This is great because it helps cut down on the mess for someone who is less familiar or uncomfortable with cloth, and it's great for traveling because you don't have to worry about rinsing your poopy diapers off before throwing them in the wet bag. Another plus of disposable liners is that you can use any kind of diaper rash cream with the disposable liner. Typically you don't need a diaper rash cream with cloth because a rash should not occur, but if you do, using a disposable liner allows you to use any brand of cream, where as if you don't use the liner you MUST use a cloth safe diaper rash cream so it does not cause build up in the diapers. Silk liners are also an option for fighting diaper rash if it does occur in cloth. Silk is super soft and super gentle on skin and can help sooth the rash.
  6. Diaper Sprayer: This is like one of those shower heads that has the hose and can be hand held. It connects to your toilet and is used to spray off the poop so you don't have to get your hands dirty.
Step 5: Learning how to care for your cloth diapers. Once you learn this, it becomes a routine and it's not as hard as it seems. Exclusively breastfed babies have water soluable poop which does not necessarily need to be rinsed off the diaper before washing (even though I still recommend rinsing). ALL other types of poop (formula fed babies and babies that have started solids) need to have the diapers rinsed before going into the washer. It is best to follow a simple wash routine, like the one below (*if you have hard water you will need to use some type of water softener in your wash routine):
  1. Start with a cold rinse.
  2. Next, wash diapers on HOT (turn your water heater up if need be) with any mainstream detergent. For a load of 24 diapers you should use a full cap or a full scoop of detergent.
  3. Optional: I like to do one extra rinse even though it's not necessary.
  4. Inserts can be dried in the dryer, but the shells and anything that has elastic and/or PUL in them should be air dried to prevent the elastic from relaxing and the PUL from delaminating.

Although long winded, I hopefully kept it simple and easy to understand. I know that the whole cloth diaper thing can seem really overwhelming, but if you really think it's something you want to do, it's not as hard to wrap your mind around everything and really begin to understand it all. To end this post, I want to break down cost. When we first decided to cloth diaper we bought 24 BumGenius pocket diapers at $16.99 a piece (they were originally $17.99, but BumGenius offered a $1.00 off discount when you buy 12 or more diapers) PLUS we received a free diaper sprayer (which was valued at $50.00) that was offered by our local store with the purchase of 24+ diapers. Then we also bought one diaper pail liner (Planet Wise pail liner, $16.99), one wet bag (Planet Wise, $16.99), two packs of hemp inserts (Thirsties, $7.99 per pack), two silk liners ($2.99 each), and one roll of Bummis Bio Soft disposable liners ($7.99 per roll). After tax we spent a total of $505.71. Then, at the time that we bought our cloth diapers the local store we went to offered a 10% store credit. I used our store credit to buy an extra diaper pail liner and an extra wet bag (both Planet Wise, for a total of $33.98). So here's the thing with the upfront cost of cloth diapering: most people buy a box of disposable diapers every two weeks. If you estimate that the average cost of diapers is $20.00 per box (it can be more or less depending on brand), you're spending a total of $520.00 per year on disposable diapers for the duration of diapering. Considering that most kids potty train some time between the ages of 2 and 3 years old, you're spending anywhere between $1,040.00 and $1,560.00. AND that cost can be multiplied if you have more than one child. The bonus of cloth diapers is that they can be used for more than one child. So, for $505.71 we have diapers for life.

Please feel free to email me with any further questions, I'd be happy to try to break it down even further if something in this post did not make sense.

**Disclaimer: I am not a cloth diaper expert. Anything stated in this post is what I have learned from personal experience. This means that some of the information I provided could possibly be wrong. If you choose to follow my advice, I cannot be held accountable for any mishap that may occur while using cloth diapers or other products in combination with cloth diapers. Do your own research and use at your own discretion.