Going Green, week three
Welcome back! This week I’m going to dig deeper into cloth diapers. Hopefully this will be helpful for those of you considering cloth diapers (or maybe for convincing those who weren’t previously interested :-)), but are unsure of where to start. There is so much information in the cloth diapering world. When I first got started, it took me a long time to wade through it all and figure out what was what exactly. Since then, there’s still been some trial and error in figuring out what exactly I love and what I don’t. Everyone has their own favorites, and their favorites might not become yours. I’ll mostly share information about why to cloth diaper, how, the options and care…including my opinions and what I do. Enjoy!
In today’s society, not only are disposable diapers readily available, it’s typically assumed you’re going to be using them. Unless you’re dirt poor, everyone assumes you’ll take advantage of such a great- and relatively inexpensive- convenience item. So if you decide not to, people will ask why….they might even ask if you truly can’t afford disposables. So- having a good idea of why you’re doing cloth is definitely a positive thing.
Firstly, it’s healthiest for your baby. It’s more comfortable and it’s better for their health. I personally never liked sitting in plastic-y pads….before switching to cloth, it was the thing I disliked most about my menstrual cycles- even more than the bad cramping I experienced. But, comfort aside, disposable diapers are made up of a highly toxic chemical, dioxin, as well as others. They also contain sodium polyacrylate, which is why they’re so absorbent. This was used in tampons previously, till it was linked to toxic shock syndrome. Do you really want all those nasty chemicals on your baby’s bum? The issues just get worse the wetter the diaper gets and the more the sodium polyacrylate expands. Which is to say, if one of the reasons you choose disposable over cloth is to change less often, you really should consider changing at least as often as cloth moms do. If you’ve ever waited so long to change that you found tiny gel pieces on your baby’s bu, that was sodium polyacrylate- and who know what else. As a mom who tries to live a healthy lifestyle and eat healthy, whole foods, I was horrified when reading some of the chemical specifics just a few months ago, that I had ever put a disposable on my baby’s bum. I can’t believe I put all those nasty and dangerous chemicals right up against their skin- and where they’re getting wet; thus releasing more chemicals. Yuck! Needless to say, barring a family crisis, we won’t be buying disposables again.
Secondly, if you’d like a nice personal benefit for the ride, you’ll save yourself tons of money. Even the most cheap-skate person, who can roll in the best diaper deals, will probably spend over $1000 on disposable diapers for one child. How much you spend on cloth depends on whether you make them yourself or buy them, and where you purchase them from, as well as how many you like to have, and could range from $100-$500. If you spend the upper end, your savings may only be $500. But at the end of the spending, you should have diapers that are still in excellent condition. If you intend to have more children, your cloth diapers should last through several, suddenly increasing your savings by multiple thousands. If not, you can sell the diapers on Diaper Swappers or a similar site, or to a friend, and get something back on what you invested. I don’t think anyone’s going to go dumpster-diving and pay you for their finds.
Thirdly, consider the environment. Some cloth diaper users are really passionate about this, many cloth diaper for one or both of the above reasons. But when you consider how many diapers get thrown out per child, we should all be a little bit concerned about this. You don’t have to be a “radical green” or make it your life’s job to “save the planet”. But cloth diapers are a simple way to eliminate tons of waste. Diapers don’t readily compose. Current estimates suggest each diaper could take up to 500 years to decompose, and with the number of diapers the United States goes through per year, that’s too many. I recently read that over 300 pounds of wood, 50 pounds of petroleum and 20 pounds of chlorine are used to produce the disposable diapers one baby needs for one year. And that is just in production. That’s not the diaper itself- just the waste that goes into making it.
And lastly, they’re cute. They really just are…I love cloth-diapered babies! Also, they’re extremely easy to use, taking up a matter of minutes per week- something we can all spare. These aren’t the old days of pins that poke babies and are a hassle to use, and rubber pants. See the “care” section below for more details on what cloth-diapering entails.
Different Options for Using:
I’m a full-time cloth diaper user, and knowing what I know now (especially on the health end), I could never go back to being anything else. That means that for nighttime, going out, road trips, etc., cloth is what we use. But, that’s just our decision. It doesn’t get me the heroic mom reward or anything. (That, by the way, definitely goes to a friend who full-time cloth diapered all 9 of her children, even camping, the old fashioned pins and rubber pants way!) I just feel like I need to utilize what I know to the best of my ability…and that means no yucky chemicals being smeared into my babies’ bums!
However, if the idea of full-time cloth diapering is overwhelming to you, consider implementing it on a part time level in some way. There’s lots of ways to implement it so it works for you! You could, for instance, be mostly full-time, but take disposables on vacation and use them for a few days after the birth of a baby. Or you could use disposables at night, and cloth otherwise. Or, if you want to just start out on a really easy level, try using cloth at home and disposables any time you’re out.
I have previously used cloth diapers for road trips. Our family spent 2 weeks in Virginia for Ben’s schooling in December/January, and I used disposables the whole time. After that long of using them, I was slightly concerned about how easy it would (or wouldn’t!) be to swing back into using cloth when we got home, but as it turned out, we loved going right back to it, and I was so grateful to have her in her nice, soft, chemical-free cloth. Now I know more about the chemicals and effects and all, so our next Virginia trip, this summer, we’ll be taking the cloth stash along. We will also (hopefully) have a couple family trips, so we’ll be trying out cloth on the road then. I took cloth to a weekend retreat I was in charge of a month or so ago, and we didn’t have a lick of problems. It felt good to know my baby was still being diapered in the best, instead of that I’d given into my own laziness.
It sounds like a big deal to make the total switch- but as we’ll discuss in the care section, below, it really isn’t. Once you try them out, you’ll find it’s only a matter of extra minutes per week- and with all the benefits of cloth, that’s totally worth it. I’ve found that the best way to totally eliminate disposables is to not have any available- if they’re not there, neither is the temptation….you just do what you do. If you don’t have options, it really doesn’t feel like a problem to just do cloth. I do have some strays around that were previously an occasional temptation- but not knowing what I know now.
*True story of a time I used disposable and wished I used cloth: When Vivi was 6 weeks old, Ben and I, along with my mom, teenage sister, and baby sister, went to CHEO- a homeschool convention in Ohio. Since we were going to be gone for the whole day, I decided to do disposable diapers, since I had a gift package. I thought it’d be better to not have as much bulk to carry around, and, though I usually change often no matter what she’s wearing, it’d be nice to have something she wasn’t going to leak out of because I waited an extra 15 minutes till the seminar I was in was over, to change her. Well- we didn’t have any pee leaks- but she pooped 4 times, and every single time leaked all the way up her back, creating a huge mess that wasn’t so very easy to deal with under the circumstance. Baby poop never, ever leaked up the back of cloth diapers. A couple times when she was tiny, it leaked out the legs, but that’s a much less messy deal. And, I had occasional pee leaks. But gosh, those would’ve been a whole ton easier to clean up than the poop leaks. Next time: cloth all the way- if for no other reason than my convenience!*
What Kind Do I Need?
There isn’t a right or wrong answer here- which is part of what can make it so confusing. For different reasons, everyone will have different favorites. I like some of the different ones for different times of the day/activites. There are 3 main types of diapers, with plenty of hybrids.
A quick note on terminology and diaper make-up for the novice:
-Soakers/inserts are the layers of fabric (typically in between the fabric touching your baby and the waterproof outer layer) that soak up your baby’s pee. These are made out of a wide range of fabrics, most that you would buy are made out of some type of polyester microfiber. I make mine with hemp fabrics. The key thing is that it’s a fabric that absorbs.
-PUL is a waterproof fabric commonly used as the outer layer (or the cover in the case of a 2-part diaper) of your diaper.
-Most all diapers close with either Velcro or snaps.
-We’ll get into the different types of diapers and what they are below, but there are three main ones we’ll discuss: all-in-one (AIO), Fitteds and Pockets.
Size: There are two options here: you can buy/make all the fixed sizes (newborn, small, medium, large), or you can do one-size that adjust to be useable for all or most sizes.
One nice aspect to doing sized diapers is that you don’t have extra bulk on a little munchkin. For this reason, I chose to go with sized diapers. I like having them be as trim as possible, and doing sizes allows this. I also think that when I have two in diapers, it’ll be easier to have different sizes for each, so I can easily tell whose is whose and not have to readjust a one-size to fit one kid or another. The obvious down side is having to have more diapers and needing a place to store the ones you aren’t using.
Some of the one-size diapers have really great designs where they aren’t creating a lot of extra bulk. Others have more issues. I personally would particularly avoid an all-in-one one size diaper, because for your smaller babies, you’re basically just folding up the extra part of the diaper (including the soaker) and having it stick out in front. That makes it awfully bulky, which I just don’t like. Pocket diapers, where you use different size soaker inserts, and either pull the diaper tighter with elastic (my favorite design thus far) or snap it up with snaps on the front, are a good diaper option for one-sizes. Another issue is that most one-sizes don’t adjust quite small enough for a baby under 10ish pounds, and depending on how big your baby gets prior to potty training, they may not be quite big enough at the end. An obvious benefit is that you’ll need fewer diapers, because the same set will last for most of your baby’s needs. This means not only that it can be a cheaper route to go (these will be a little more expensive, though), but also that it’s less unused diapers to find storage space for. Some of those benefits are negated slightly if you have multiple children in diapers at the same time. On the other hand, some find it convenient for their toddler and baby to be able to share the same diapers.
Because we’re just starting our family, and Lord willing, would love to have many children, I think the cost/number of diapers doing sized will eventually balance out and equal with one-sizes. This is because even cloth diapers eventually wear out and need replaced. One-sizes, that are used for 2-3 years straight, will wear out faster than a diaper that’s used, say, 6-18 months. However, if you don’t plan on having more children, or if you only want to cloth diaper part-time, one-sizes might be a great option for you, so you don’t have to invest in a whole wardrobe of cloth diapers to only use part of the time, or with one child. On the other hand, you might just find yourself hooked faster than you anticipate!
Regardless of what you do, if you plan to be a full-time cloth diaperer, you may find it helpful to have some sized newborns and/or smalls to use before your baby’s big enough to use one-size.
Styles- All-in-one (AIO): An AIO diaper is just that….all in one piece. Essentially, it’s just like a disposable diaper, except cuter and softer. You put it on the same way, and either snap or Velcro it closed. After it’s dirty, you toss the whole thing in the laundry, wash, dry and use again. The soaker layers are sewn into the diaper, in between the inner layer touching baby and the PUL.
The biggest benefit is how easy it is to use. There’s hardly any learning curve, and there’s no extra time putting on extra pieces or “assembling” diapers after washing.
The biggest drawback is that because the soaker is sewn inside, these take forever to dry. Most likely, you’d need two full dry cycles, whereas other diapers should only need one. Another drawback is the inability to control how many soakers are in there. Some kids are massive super-soakers (including mine!) and need more layers, even if you change them hourly. Some companies (and patterns) solve this issue by leaving an opening just like pocket diapers for you to stuff extra inserts in as needed.
I have a couple AIO diapers, and enjoy using them. Since I only have a couple, I just lay them over a chair to dry after the first dry cycle, and use them as my last diapers, 2-3 days later, which is about when they’re finally dry enough. It should be noted that the natural fabrics, like hemp, do take longer to dry, and if my soakers were polyester, they’d dry faster. They’d probably also dry faster out on a line than hanging over a chair. I personally would never want my whole stash to be AIOs, because of the dry-time issues. I push how long I can go between washings to far to be able to futz around with 2 dry times or the number of hours they’d take on the line. Plus, I don’t want to use the extra electricity.
Pocket Diapers: A pocket diaper is very similar to an AIO. When you put it on the baby, it’s all one piece and fastens the same way. The only difference is there’s an opening (usually at the back of the diaper), and you stuff your soakers into that instead of them already being sewn in.
The biggest positive to pocket diapers is how fast they dry, while still being convenient and easy to put on. Another plus is being able to adjust the amount of soakers to fit the needs of your child. Like the AIO, not only are they easy to use, but being a one-piece deal (as opposed to fitteds), they eliminate a lot of the bulk people associate with cloth diapers. The biggest- and only that I can think of- drawback to pocket diapers, is the time it takes to stuff them. It really isn’t all that long, but minutes are minutes in the world of a busy mom. Depending on how they’re made, some diapers are easier to stuff than others. Fuzzi Bunz, for example, are a wider diaper, which I really like, and which makes it much easier to have the room to stuff, thus making the job a fast and painless one. It also take a second to remove the soaker after the diaper’s wet/dirty, but that’s hardly worth mentioning.
At least ½ of my medium and large diapers are pocket diapers, and I really love them. I love the ability to change absorbency, as well as how fast they dry. They fit Vivi well without a lot of extra bulk. My sizing is similar to the Fuzzi Bunz, so being wider, they’re fairly effortless to stuff. Vivi and I enjoy spending 5 or so minutes folding diapers together every other morning, and stuffing my pockets is a part of that routine.
A hybrid between pockets and AIO- quick dry flaps: This design can be a bit harder to find in the realm of pre-made diapers, although they are out there. And if you make them yourself, it’s really easy! It’s the perfect cross between AIOs and pockets, eliminating all the problems with both. My mom adores these diapers. Basically, it’s the diaper without any soaker inside (like a pocket with the soakers taken out)- except, it has a flap (or two flaps) sewn on top of the diaper, made of several layers of soaker fabric. The very top layer is made out of something comfortable for the baby’s bum. They dry fast because the soakers flap around, but the soakers are right there and attached, so they don’t require any effort. To adjust the soaker numbers, you can add a lay-in soaker underneath the flap if necessary. The only downside I’ve heard some people mention is that they prefer a completely smooth surface on the inside of their diaper, which you don’t achieve when you have a piece of fabric laying in there. This is not a comfort problem at all; for the woman who mentioned it, it was solely an appearance preference. Also, if you’re particular about how clean you get your dirty diapers before washing, it can be more of a hassle to have to wash the flap and the diaper in the toilet, when the poo’s still fairly runny. I’m not all that picky, so I haven’t had issues. Also, you need to be careful about the fabric your soakers are made out of if you go this route. Microfiber, for example, is so absorbent that if it’s left touching a baby’s skin, it will actually dry it out in its attempt to “do its job” and soak up any moisture. This is obviously a problem! So, either make sure there’s no way the under layers of the soaker can touch the baby’s skin (even if things slide a little), or choose fabrics that don’t cause this issue.
I have quite a few of these in the medium/large sizes, as well, and enjoy them greatly, for all the reasons mentioned above. My newborns and smalls are exclusively made this way (except nighttime diapers, which we’re getting to), and I wouldn’t go any other route with diapers that small. The smaller and narrower the diaper, the harder it is to stick your hand in to stuff it, so quick-dry diapers are definitely the way to go in my opinion! I love this for the smaller diapers, and it was effortless to stick an extra soaker under the sewn in one.
Fitteds: Fitteds are a two-part system. Typically, there’s some type of inner diaper that isn’t waterproof, and then you fasten a waterproof cover over it. There are many different designs for the inner diaper- some fold in various ways, some look just like an AIO or pocket diaper without the waterproof outside, some just wrap around and don’t use any fastener. You can also use the good old fashioned diapers in here. The cover is usually 1 layer of PUL, sometimes with another layer underneath it, with fold over elastic all around the edges. It fastens with snaps or Velcro.
Because of the two-part system, fitteds are often a bit bulkier than other options. They also take a bit of extra time to put on and take off. With all the newer frills, like snaps, they aren’t difficult or complicated like the old two-part systems. On the benefit side, you don’t need as many covers as you do inner diapers, because unless poo leaked onto the cover, or they had a massive pee that got on the edges of the elastic (which would probably only happen at night or if you don’t change your baby much) you can reuse it through several diaper changes. This makes fitteds a very economical option. Because of how the cover fits around the diaper, these are much more leak-proof than other diaper options, which is a great feature.
I have a handful of fitteds in every size, which I use for nighttime. There is no way I could put enough soakers in Vivi’s pocket diapers to hold in how much she often pees. But with fitteds, I almost never have a leak! Not even when she was younger and would sleep 13-14 hours and nurse hourly! I sometimes use them during the day, too, especially during seasons when she’s peeing a lot more. I definitely want to have some extras on hand for road trips, too, when it isn’t feasible to change her as often. I don’t think I’d want my whole stash to be fitteds, because I like the trimness and convenience of pockets- and because, whether leaking’s an issue or not, keeping Vivi dry and changing her as she wets is important to me…so, except at night and in special circumstances, I don’t need the leak-proof ability. However, I definitely wouldn’t be without at least a handful for nights, traveling, etc. I can’t imagine doing without these!
Different Brands: There are so many brands out there, especially when you factor in all the smaller companies run by moms. I don’t personally have any experience with the different brands, because I make my own, so I asked a friend to share her opinion. Holly does frequent reviews, so she’s gotten to test tons of different brands. Probably the best way to find your niche is to just plunge in and try something. DiaperSwappers is a good place to get used diapers at good prices. Etsy is a great place to go if you’re interested in supporting moms.
Here’s what Holly said: “Oh my, as far as diapers, there ARE so many I love. I am partial to Fuzzi Bunz (pockets), because they were my first, and their sizes seem to run big which can be a big help. My favorite big names though are Rumparooz (pockets)...a bit expensive, but worth every penny. Although they have a bit of a low rise which cuts the sizing down in age range. Bum Genius (pockets) are great as well. GoGreenPocketDiapers has really nice pocket diapers for extremely affordable prices...not all the flash, but adorable designs and they work wonderfully. For All-In-Ones, I LOVE the new itti bitti diapers...they are so lush and soft, and work amazingly well, but again, a bit pricey. And my favorite momma shop has to be BittiBumz on Etsy. Her diapers are really cute (fleece AIO's) and work really well. Ack, there are just so many I love, that I could honestly rave about each one in their own way. But those are probably the tops I would recommend first.” Check out her cloth diaper section to see her reviews on more brands!
How Many Do I Need?
This depends on how often you want to do laundry. It’s really nice to be able to pull out three days, but every other day works well, too. Newborns go through 8-12 diapers a day, so you want a minimum of 24. For smalls I found I still needed about that many….maybe more like 20-22. Around mediums, she started peeing less often, so we were only going through about 8 diapers per day. Right now, though, Vivi’s still in mediums and we’re going through at least 10, sometimes more- she’s nursing around the clock and drinking a lot, so she’s peeing often. Larges should be about the same as mediums, and possibly as few as 6 diapers a day. It just depends on your baby, and how often you’re going to change.
How to Care for your Diapers:
Taking care of cloth diapers is so simple! I don’t do anything complicated- I don’t even get my hand in the toilet.
When I’m changing Vivi, instead of tossing her diapers in the garbage, I just toss them in a giant wet bag- a bag that closes with Velcro and is made out of PUL. You can also use a 5-gallon bucket. I don’t put anything in it- just the diapers. Having the bag able to close, or having a bucket with a lid keeps the room from smelling at all. So- that part doesn’t take any longer than disposables. If they’re pocket diapers, I pull out the soakers, but that really doesn’t take any time. I wash my diapers first thing in the morning, usually, after Vivi wakes up, so I can wash all her fitteds, since I have the fewest of those. I dump the contents of the bag in the washer and run a cold rinse. Sometimes, I put vinegar or baking soda in, but more often, I don’t do anything. This takes under 30 seconds. When the rinse cycle’s over, I put in my soap (and sometimes vinegar or baking soda), turn it on a hot/cold wash cycle, and leave. Total time: about 20 seconds, max. When that’s done, I usually put my diapers right in the dryer. If your washer doesn’t do enough rinses, you may find you need to run an extra rinse cycle first, which would take you about 10 seconds. Putting in the dryer and turning it on probably takes 30-45 seconds. You can also line dry, which takes longer, but is a good financial and environmental choice. I would like to get back to doing this more….I just always end up waiting too long to wash diapers and run it really tight on time. :-) When they’re dry, Vivi and I get them out of the dryer, dump them on my bed, and have a folding party. We probably spend around 7 minutes, or sometimes up to 10 minutes…but that includes all the time we spend being goofy, throwing stuff around, and generally having a great time together. They go in a basket on my dresser and are ready for use for the next few days. My wipes, by the way, get washed with my diapers, too- quick and painless. I don’t fold them, just stack them in a pile that gets stuffed in the basket. I keep a small stack wet (in a Tupperware) so I don’t have to wet a wipe every time I change Vivi’s diaper, or have it when we go out and may not have access to water. That’s about 1 ½ minutes I spend on the wash cycle, and under 10 minutes folding, which I do while having a great time with my daughter. The maximum amount of time I would spend on cloth diapers per week, then, is about 30 minutes. And part of the reason it takes me so long to fold diapers is because of all the different kinds and sporadic soakers I have, so I end up sorting diapers/soakers before actually putting them together. If all yours are the same, or at least all the ones you stuff are the same, you wouldn’t have that issue. If all of yours are AIOs, it’d probably take you about 3 minutes to fold a load.
Occasionally, you may notice your diapers are leaking more than usual- or maybe they have a bad/strong smell as soon as your little one pees. Or, possibly, your diapers still smell out of the washer/dryer. In this case, they might need to be stripped. All this process is, is doing several washes without soap, to rid the diapers of any soap/other build-up. After washing your diapers normally, so they’re clean, run a hot wash cycle with nothing in it. If you have a top-loader, check the diapers during the rinse cycle, when there’s extra water. Make note if it’s sudsy (make sure to notice if it’s really suds or if it’s just bubbles from the moving water). If it is, run another wash cycle when this one’s complete. Continue till the water’s perfectly clean. I have a front loader, so I can’t really see. So, I do about 3 complete wash cycles. If your washer lets you do hot rinses, you can also just run several rinses instead of the wash cycles. I’ve only had to do this once, with one of my sizes, but depending on your soap and water, it may have to happen oftener for you.
A note about laundry detergent: I use Charlie’s Soap, both for cloth diapers and my other laundry. I’ve heard some mixed things about them recently, so I may be looking around when I run out, but I’ve been really happy thus far. A lot of people are also thrilled with Rockin’ Green, made especially for diapers.
What about going out with cloth? Easy-peasy! I stuff a small wet-bag (same concept as above, except it only holds 6-8 diapers, depending on how well I stuff it) in my diaper bag along with my container of wet wipes and a handful of diapers. Her dirty diapers go in the wet bag. It’s also a great place to put wet/dirty clothes! That’s it….it really isn’t any different than disposables. And if she poops, I don’t have to worry about finding a trash can so it doesn’t smell up the van- the wet bag locks the odor in.
For most types of diapers, it doesn’t take any longer to change than a disposable, but what about how often you have to change? Like I’ve already mentioned, it strikes me as cruel to leave a child I know is wet in their wet diaper, whether it’s disposable or cloth. I don’t care if it’s going to leak or not, or if, by leaving it a ½ hour, I could go through less diapers, because there’s room to pee again without it leaking. So, for me it’s not an issue. Plus, if you’re concerned about your child’s health, you’d probably rather they stay 10 minutes longer in a cloth than in a wet, chemical-laden disposable. All that aside, if you feel differently, then yes- you might have to change your cloth baby more often. If your priority is squeezing as much as you can get out of a diaper, you’ll get more out of a disposable. However, I know people that take the “wait as long as I can” mentality with cloth, and still go quite a long time without leaks. Vivi’s a super-soaker, and always has been. So usually waiting for her to pee several times wouldn’t be a good idea, unless I have a lot of extra clothes lying around. Sometimes, her diaper isn’t very wet. Especially when she was younger, there would be times when she was barely wet, and I probably could’ve “gotten more” out of the diaper if I so desired. But that’s not my style. So for me, it doesn’t take any longer….for you, it might mean an extra diaper change or two per day.
Like I mentioned in the fitteds section, I do realize there are times when you can’t change as often. At night, I’m not going to wake Vivi up to change her. On a road trip, it isn’t practical to make Ben stop every hour just so I can change Vivi. These are times when I want something more leak-proof, and will use it just so I can go longer. But if there’s any way I can change Vivi, I will.
Wrapping it Up
If you’re new to the cloth diapering world, I hope you’ve been able to pick up some ideas of where you want to head. If you’ve never considered it, I hope I’ve peaked your interest. Regardless of where you’re at, I hope I’ve given food for thought without offending. I don’t think I realized till this week that cloth diapering has become a passion for me, above just something we do. :-) If you have questions, shoot!