Warning: this post contains gritty truth about how to successful cloth diaper. It is not for the nervous, prospective parent or the feint of heart.
There are many reasons to consider cloth diapering. How to actually cloth diaper is actually quite easy but there is a lot of false information floating around the makes it seem like a mystical process for learned and initiated. Here is our experienced over 1000’s of diapers. I have included all information we could remember but this isn't hard.
one of the brood rocking a dog-in-space Grovia, may need those socks to be laundered after digging up sweet potatoes
Starting cloth diapering: Counterintuitive advice
Here is how new parents drop out of cloth diapers. They get some cloth diapers during a baby shower, and they buy some more. They pick out cute colors and read about it online. And then they have their first baby, and their world is turned upside down. In those first few months, they don’t have time to eat, they don’t have time to work, and they don’t time to sleep. And they sure don’t have time to launder diapers every day. But these new parents try anyway. They find the baby frequently leaks with the cloth diapers and they don’t fit right. So they quit in 2 weeks and the cloth diapers sit on a shelf until they try to give them to someone like me.
Solution: use disposable diapers for the first 3 months post-partum
Cloth diapers are less effective for newborns because of their size, particularly lack of mass on the baby’s thighs. I tell my friends, just use disposable diapers for the first few months. Use that time to test drive the cloth diapers and decide on a plan.
Selecting cloth diapers
Use the first few months to decide with style and brand of diapers you want.
The number of options in the cloth diaper have exploded in the last decade, and new parents are likely to be suffering from the paradox of choice.
Some broad options include:
Traditional diapers: a muslin cloth that is pinned around the baby.
Pros: Easy to launder, inexpensive, and widely available
Cons: Require frequent changing, and, sadly, in the West we have lost this skill, so they are “Grandparent proof”
All-in-one system: A diaper shell with inserts that slide in a pocket or clip in.
Pros Low learning curve, less frequent changing
Cons Higher cost, not widely available in many parts of the world
Hybrid system: An exterior shell with removable pads that allow you to often use one shell for multiple changing
Pro Low learning curve, less frequent changing, lower cost since buying fewer shells, more breathable in summer
Cons Still more expensive per unit than traditional diapers
I would recommend buying a couple of each option and just trying them in the 2-3 month range. We use hybrids for the day and all-in-one systems at night. After trying many brands, we use the GroVia hybrids for daytime use and the O.N.E. model for naps. At 3 months (or when a child starts size 2 disposable), we transition to full-time cloth diapers (except for overnight).
O.N.E. system on the left, Hybrid on the right
Washing cloth diapers
Don’t necessarily listen to the manufacturer’s advice about laundering
We did and it led to prolonged illness of our first born. Many manufacturers call for using special gentle detergents and avoiding deep cleansers like borax. We made our own gentle detergent for the first year to comply with this recommendation. Our son developed a bad diaper rash that would not heal. To make a long story short, we—naive new parents—trusted a medical provider’s advice we shouldn’t have and our son experienced a drug allergy which led to the early stages of Stevens-John Syndrome (I didn’t include a link because it is too horrifying). Quick thinking by a pediatric intensivist turned it around in a matter of hours but he was left with hives all over his body for months. This is an extreme example, but consider the risk benefit profile of gentle vs. deep cleaning.
Less diaper rash, less chance of recurrent stomach flu infection, and cheaper
Supposedly more wear to the diapers meaning you may have to replace them sooner. We have been continuously laundering our GroVia for 3 years with the following regimen and have replaced ZERO diapers so I am skeptical of this claim.
Throw in 10-15 diapers in the laundry. I knock off the poop but don’t go crazy trying to get it off.
Use half of the recommended amount of standard Tide (or as we use, the Aldi knock-off brand)
Shake like 1/4 to 1/2 cup Borax in
Fill up the washer with water (on the highest load amount you can) and stop the cycle. Let is soak anywhere from 30 minutes to overnight (we never find overnight necessary since we started using conventional detergent).
Run it and select the rinse twice option
We use a top-loading agitator washer. I can’t speak for the efficacy of the HE front-loading washer but we find the agitator very effective. We also run on well water so it costs a negligible amount to increase the washing volume.
Last, once a month, wash all the pads with 1/4 cup bleach
- Summer: hang shells and pads on line. I find the heat and the sun very effective at whitening and freshening them.
- Winter: hang shells on drying rack near heat source, flip pads inside outside and dry on low
Lastly, we experienced a very prolonged power outage last year. Cloth diapers are very suitable for this type of situation but you need to make sure you have a:
- Water source
- Line to dry diapers
- Spare detergent, Borax, and bleach tucked in a closet
We have a rain barrel containment system for water uses like this but you could just keep some old milk jugs filled up with tap water. Then you can wash them by hand in a sink or tub.