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, talk to people you know who use cloth diapers. 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. Because I don't actually know anyone in person who uses cloth diapers, I decided to contact Laura about her experience with them. In her blog post she mentioned a few brands that she uses and loves, with pros and cons of each diaper.
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 convienant 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. If you can, read consumer reviews. Even try to find other blogs about cloth diapering... Just keep in mind that some people (but not all) get paid for blogging and get incentives for saying they use a certain product/brand and like them. I searched cloth diapers on Pinterest and found a few different links to blogs. From there, I picked a few brands that I wanted to learn more about. The brands that I ended up looking into were BumGenius, Thirsties, and Charlie Banana. By researching these brands, I found a local store here in town that sells cloth diapers and decided to go check them out in person. From there, I ruled out Charlie Banana for the simple fact that the store did not carry that brand... I wanted to go with a diaper that I had experience playing with. I also ended up ruling out Thirsties too, just because I ended up looking at the BumGenuis brand first and fell with them so I gave little attention to Thirsties. My smartest move? Maybe, maybe not... I guess I'll never know since I decided to pick one brand and buy ALL of my diapers in that single brand. Some moms choose to buy a few different brands and experiment with them so they can find the one they truly love. Another thing to note, since each brand is going to vary a bit, and since each baby is different, some brands are going to work better for specific situations while another brand will work better for other specific situations (such as night time vs. play time, etc). But this ultimately just comes down to personal choice. Like I said, I bought all of my diapers in one brand (BumGenius) with the mindset that I was going to make that one diaper work for all occasions.
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. We have one kid in diapers, and I didn't want to do laundry every day. Ultimately we ended up buying 24 diapers mostly because I didn't want to do diaper laundry every day. We're also planning on having more kids in the future though and we will cloth diaper them. (The bigger the stash, the more you rotate diapers, the more you rotate diapers the less wear and tear occurs. This basically means the more diapers we have for my son, the better the chance of them still being in good enough shape to use with our next child.)
- 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.
- 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.
- Laundry Detergent: We originally started by using a cloth diaper safe detergent because that is what is recommended by most major cloth diaper manufacturers but I quickly learned that cloth diaper safe detergent is not necessary. Many people have success with the "safe" detergents, but I realized that there was something in that detergent that my son was sensitive to. We now use powdered Tide Free & Gentle detergent and don't have any issues with this. The thing to keep in mind with detergent is to check with your brand to see what will void the warranty on your diapers (if there is a warranty). BumGenius states that if you use anything other a "safe" detergent it will void your warranty, but for me I'd rather use a detergent that my son doesn't have a reaction to that honestly works just as well, if not better than a "regular" detergent.
- 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.
- 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 bottom of the diaper (touching the baby's skin; you don't put it inside the 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.
- 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. As mentioned above, our local diaper store offered a free diaper sprayer with the purchase of 24+ diapers.
- Start by rinsing your diapers in cold water. This gets all the rest of the poop residue off and into the sewer. Do not use detergent in this step.
- Next, wash diapers on HOT (turn your water heater up if need be) with recommended amount of detergent. Our local store recommended two to three tablespoons per load (and make sure you're actually measuring, no guessing!).
- Follow the hot wash with at least two COLD rinses and NO detergent. You want to make sure that there is no smell of detergent left because detergent smell means there is still detergent in the diapers, and detergent means build up. Follow with a third cold rinse if need be. In all the washing steps, you want to be sure you're using enough water to fully cover every diaper, but not too much that the diapers won't agitate against each other.
- 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.
Ok, wow, I told you it would be long winded! Hopefully I kept it simple and easy to understand though. Like I said earlier, 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 a little more. We bought 24 BumGenius pocket diapers at $16.99 a piece (they are originally $17.99, but BumGenius offers a $1.00 off discount when you buy 12 or more diapers) PLUS the free diaper sprayer (which is valued at $50.00) that was offered by the store with the purchase of 24+ diapers. Then we also bought one diaper pail liner (it's a Planet Wise pail liner, $16.99), one wet bag (also Planet Wise, $16.99), one bag of Rockin Green Detergent ($16.99), two packs of hemp inserts ($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 $522.70, PLUS our local store has this cool thing they do which is kind of like a punch card system. What they do is they give a card with six boxes on it, each time you make a purchase they write the total of the purchase in a box. Once you reach six filled up boxes, they add up the total of each box and then give you 10 percent of that total back in in-store credit. Because I knew this before I started purchasing everything we would need, I purchased things separately to get my in-store credit immediately. The reason I did this was because I knew I would want two pail liners, two wet bags, and extra detergent, and I wanted it all instantly. I was really trying to make the most of my money. I used my in-store credit to get the second wet bag, second diaper pail liner, and the extra bag of detergent. So, for $522.70 I got 24 pocket diapers, a diaper sprayer, two diaper pail liners, two wet bags, two bags of detergent, four hemp inserts, two silk liners, and a roll of biodegradable disposable liners... And the cool thing is, that's approximately the same amount of money we would spend on disposable diapers in eight months, leaving somewhere between 3-9 months of diapering that will be practically free, plus the future use of cloth diapers with future kids.
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.