By Talia Terry
I’ve told you now about your options with cloth diapers and why you should consider it. Assuming you’ve decided to give it a try, let’s talk about what you will need, what you might want, and what to avoid. Then we’ll talk about wash routines.
What You Need to Get Started
First off, decide on a brand. There are several companies that let you “rent” a variety of diapers for a limited time to give multiple styles and brands a try if you have looked at a variety of websites and reviews but can’t make up your mind. One such company is Diaper Daisy. For under $20, you can really give cloth diapering a shot for two weeks. If you have decided on a brand, I’d recommend only ordering a one day supply at most to begin with to make sure you’re happy with your decision. You can also buy used diapers at Diaper Swappers and purchase several styles. If you don’t have the following, life might get a little messy:
A diaper pail liner
Yes, that’s right. A liner. It’s sort of like a reusable garbage bag only better. The liner is made out of the PUL that the diaper covers are made from and usually have elastic at the top. They generally fit a 13 gallon kitchen trash can. I went and purchased a can with a spring loaded flip-up lid specifically for my diapers, similar to what you see here. The button to open the lid is quite handy and the lid keeps any odors out of the room (smell is not usually a problem until the end of the second day and even then it’s not bad). I simply grab my liner and give it a little shake to empty the diapers in the wash then drop the liner in, too. They all wash together. Because I line dry my diapers and the elastic on the liner seems to take longer to dry than I’d like, I actually went and purchased a second liner so that I can have one in the pail while the other one dries. If I was able to wash diapers at night this wouldn’t be necessary. Most people aren’t going to need a second liner.
I have a friend who uses an old pillowcase but there are two problems with this. First, the pillowcase gets wet so her hands get dirty when she puts the diapers in the wash. Yuck! Second, the pillowcase only holds one days’ worth of diapers, which isn’t enough for most people. Plus, since it wicks moisture to the side of the pail, the pail (if plastic) eventually starts to smell, too. The PUL pail liner eliminates all these problems.
A wet bag
This is nothing more than a zippered bag that lets you keep your wet diapers in while on the go. Many of the cloth diapering companies sell their own versions. I confess that I’ve taken to using a clear zippered plastic bag that a set of twin size sheets came in. Because the bag is clear, I get other moms that remark on the contents, sparking conversations about cloth diapers that otherwise might not happen. I’m a cloth diaper advocate, so any chance I have to talk about them—I will!! If you’re particularly frugal, you could use a plastic grocery bag and just throw it out when you’re done with your outing, but that’s not as beneficial to the environment as using a reusable bag.
No, you can’t wash diapers with any ol’ soap you want. Bummer, right? Only a little. Once you find a detergent you like then everything works out. There are a lot of different detergents that are cloth diaper friendly and each diaper manufacturer has a list of approved detergents. You’ll need to check with the manufacturer you decide on to pick a detergent. Some names I’ve run across that people like are Charlie’s Soap, Rockin Green, and Dropps. Avoid any detergents with optical brighteners or fabric softeners built in. These leave residues on the diapers and can void many manufacturer warranties. Also, avoid all “free and clear” type detergents. The natural soaps they use also have oils in them that build up on the diapers rapidly. This build-up will cause leaking and ammonia-like smells, which nobody wants!
Some Optional Items for Your Consideration
The rest of the things you’ll need are optional but may come in handy depending on your situation. Many parents decide to get a diaper sprayer. This is a little sprayer like you’d find at a sink, but it attaches to the plumbing of a toilet and allows you to spray off any seriously yucky mess that a simple shake won’t take care of. In the “olden days” mothers would swish these diapers in the toilet bowl to loosen the mess. The sprayer makes this unnecessary. I have been through toddler-hood and infancy with cloth diapers and have not needed one. When there was a diaper that was particularly gooey, I have just done an extra pre-rinse to my normal wash routine.
If you have a child who has fairly regular bum-reactions to foods, you may want to purchase a cloth diaper friendly diaper rash creams/salves. There are several varieties available. The only time I’ve wished for a diaper rash cream was after my first daughter had too much fruit and had diarrhea for a day. I still had disposable diapers at that time and used one of my regular creams and a sposie for that night.
When dear daughter number 2 had a yeast infection, I simply placed a washcloth between the cream on her bum and the cloth diaper. She is now trying new solids so we get the occasional red rash. Because I haven’t invested in a cloth-diaper-friendly cream yet, I’ve taken an old piece of flannel and place that between the cream on her behind and the fleece of the diaper. This is working great! However, you can also use biodegradable flushable liners as well.
With my first cloth diapered child, I still used disposable wipes. I’m not sure why, but somehow using washcloths seemed like too much trouble. Boy was I wrong! With my second, I found myself always hunting for the “dang garbage can,” as I began to refer to it, to place the wipes in. I got to where I was just throwing the wipes in the diaper pail with the diapers and letting them go through the wash then throwing them out. That’s how I ended up converting to using washcloths instead of regular wipes.
If you decide to use washcloths, I’m going to recommend that you buy or make ones without a sewn-over edge. Simple is better. Some people prefer flannel for their wipes; others use micro fleece. I purchased a set of generic brand baby washcloths in fun colors and they work great.
For getting the wipes wet there are a variety of choices (surprise!!). My friend just grabs one and gets it wet in the bathroom sink on her way to the changing table (two or three if she knows the diaper is stinky). Other moms use a spray bottle. I have filled up my peribottles. Yes, that squirt bottle you have to use after you’ve had the baby. For whatever reason I never threw my first two out (I got two from the first hospital—not sure why!) and then I got another one in June when Clara was born. I fill them and add about a half a teaspoon of baby wash to each to keep her smelling fresh. For a diaper change, I simply squirt the amount I want onto my folded wipe and away I go. When I’m on the run, I just grab a bottle to throw into the wet bag with the diapers and washcloths. Easy Peasy!
The Wash Routine
Perhaps it’s an indicator of something, but I’ve saved the only difficult thing about cloth diapering for last: the wash routine. Some parents take a long time to find a routine that works for them. If you have a front loader, your task may be a bit more challenging. Here is a link to some directions I found helpful for getting me started.
I’ve mentioned before that my friend uses cloth, too. She borrowed about 8 of my diapers for two years and returned them, but included 4 new inserts to replace ones she thought were beyond use. She has really hard water and a poor wash routine. They had so much build-up on them they were stiff and light brown. I’ve fixed all of them using a total of 2 tablespoons of Rockin Green and a stock pot and a process called stripping (Note: There’s more than one way to strip a diaper). I took 4 inserts at a time with 1 tablespoon of the Rockin Green (this is actually a LOT of detergent for cloth diapers!) filled it about ¾ full and put the lid on. As they began to boil, the bubbles lifted the lid off. That’s when I carefully lifted the inserts out and replaced the water. The remaining washes had no added detergent. I continued replacing the water each time it boiled over until there were basically no bubbles to be found. Each set took about 4 hours. As they heated up and boiled, I pushed them down with a spoon to force the extra air out (the inserts sort of blew up like a balloon). All those inserts are just as serviceable as the new ones. They’re not as fluffy, but they hold just as much and that’s the important thing.
If your cloth diapers begin to stink, there are two things you need to do—try a different detergent or change up the wash routine. Most of the stinkies are caused by a build up in the diapers. This could be a detergent build up or ammonia salts, which are deposited into the diaper via urine. The salts can be stubborn to get out if you have hard water. The key to solving the stink factor is a lot of hot hot hot water, just as I mentioned before.
The moral of that story is: Find a routine that works! For most diapers, stripping is considered maintenance and should be done as needed to prevent leaks. However, if you have a great wash routine, you won’t need to strip your diapers at all.
Just to illustrate, I’ll share my location and routine with you. Please don’t let this scare you off—it isn’t that bad! I live in Virginia so water is fairly hard, but not as bad as in Utah, where my friend is. The machine is a top loader (those with front loaders will want to research a different routine because mine probably won’t work for you!). Because Clara is now 6 months old and eating solids, or maybe it’s just the way she is, she poops about 3 times a day. There tends to be some yuckies left on the diaper even after shaking, so here we go:
- Cold/cold cycle with 1 tablespoon of Rockin Green and the minimum amount of water the machine should have for the size of the load. This dissolves the poop and washes it away.
- Pre-soak cycle on HOT with 2 tablespoons of RG and a scoop of Oxyclean (never use bleach!!) on the maximum water level. If I have plenty of time, I’ll leave the lid open or pull the knob to halt the cycle after the wash basin is full and let the diapers soak in the water for a couple of hours. Soaking in hot water dissolves the ammonia salts and keeps me from needing to strip diapers every few weeks.
- Hot/cold cycle with no detergent. During winter, the inserts won’t dry fully overnight so I hang up the diapers on a drying rack and stick everything else (inserts and washcloths) in the dryer on high. It’s generally understood that PUL will crack in a high heat dryer, so if you must dry them in the dryer, use the lowest heat setting possible. However, they will dry in a few hours on a rack. Micro terry inserts are ok on high heat. I’m not sure about the dryer heat on other insert materials like hemp or bamboo.
The routine may sound like a lot, but I’ve found that as long as I turn the buzzer on the machine, or set my watch with a timer, I do just fine. It helps that I have a three day supply so if something goes wrong on the day I’d normally wash diapers, I do have enough to get me through a third day. I just don’t like doing this because three day old diapers stink up the baby’s room when I open the pail to put another diaper in. Pee-u!
Clothing and Daycare
I’d like to share a few tips regarding clothing and cloth diapers. First off, yes, they are bulkier than disposables, so clothes won’t fit the same. I’ve found that for onesies, I need to buy up a size. If her sleeves are a little long, I simply fold them. Pants and skirts are a different story. Do you love jeans on your baby? Well, you may need to kiss those goodbye until s/he’s walking. Jeans don’t stretch very far so by the time you buy them big enough to go around the diaper while your child is in the sitting stage, you’ll have to fold them up to the knees! Overalls are fine, but for whatever reason jeans just haven’t fit my infants while in the sitting/crawling stages. Again, once they’re walking and the jeans have the adjustable waist it’s not such a problem. I have found that Carter’s and Jumping Bean fit over cloth very nicely. Anything with some extra stretch works. In the summer I sometimes forego bottoms on my little ones all together.
Another thing, if you don’t want to buy the onesies up a size, you can get the extenders. They actually fit great with cloth diapers, but can be hard to find for brands other than Gerber. I know Amazon.com sells a set with a variety of snap sizes. After infancy, I found that I just bought t-shirts and bottoms rather than the outfits that snapped between the legs. Onesies that squish the diaper cause them to leak, like squeezing a full sponge. To help with this, I often snap only the middle snap.
Lastly, if you have a child in daycare, they may or may not allow you to use cloth. You’ll need to first read the wording in your contract, then, if there isn’t anything prohibiting you, be sure to bring a sample diaper with you when you decide to bring up the topic. A good show-and-tell can go a long way in helping your provider understand how simple the new diapers are! If you want to view a list of cloth-diaper-friendly daycares, check out Real Diaper Industry Association.
So, are you ready to jump in? Still have questions? Please feel free to comment or to email me personally with your questions. I’m not a professional, but I’ve run across some great cloth diapering blogs and can point you in the right direction, depending on what you want to know.
Talia Terry is a former math teacher and in-home daycare provider, now stay at home mother of 2 beautiful girls, ages 4 and 8 months.
Cloth Diapering: Why It’s Worth It
Cloth Diapering 101: An Introduction to the World of Cloth Diapers
From Disposables to Cloth…Making the Switch!
10 Things I Never Thought I’d Say (Until I Became a Parent)