>I went into cloth diapering thinking I would have to grin and bear it. After reading statistics about just how many disposable diapers enter the landfills every day (4 million per day in Canada alone!) and how many hundreds of years it can take a single diaper to decompose, I knew I couldn’t in good conscious use disposables regularly. That being said, I really did think I would be entering a horridly terrible phase with cloth diapers. All those origami style folds left me feeling boggled, and I cringed just thinking of the laundry and stain-fighting I’d have to take on. However, after plunging into cloth diapering wholeheartedly, I’ve learned so many critical points along the way that I wish I’d known from the start–it would have saved me so many worries!
So, without further ado, here are the Top 10 Things I Wish I’d Known Earlier–hopefully some of these will put some of your fears to rest if you haven’t started CDing fully yet.
10. You don’t have to use pins or fancy folds
The cloth diapers of today are not our grandmothers’ cloth diapers–nowadays, modern cloth diapers utilize snaps, aplix (i.e. velcro), and other clever fastening methods to assist those of us (most of us!) who are averse to the pins n’ folding method. Diapers are literally as easy to fasten as using a disposable–just lay baby’s bum on top, pull the taps to the front, and snap or stick shut! That’s it!
That being said, there is still nothing stopping modern mamas from using the flats, prefolds, and pins of the tried-and-true tradition if they so desire!
9. You don’t have to use a wet pail method
Back in the day, all our mothers used a pail of water (usually with a dash of bleach) to store dirty diapers ’til laundry day. I don’t know about you, but the thought of this brought on some of my worst CDing nightmares back when I was pregnant, before our Little One had even been born. I imagined my tiny self attempting to lug a pail full of water (and bleach! and poop!) down the stairs to my laundry room. I envisioned, over and over, dumping that entire pail out on our carpet, flooding the floor with poopy water and bleaching our rug in the process. Add to that that I had no clue how I would ever dump the contents of this filthy bucket smoothly into a modern front-loading washing machine, and I was a basket case just thinking about it.
So, imagine how thrilled I was to discover that the majority of modern mamas use a “dry pail” system in which no water has to be added. Simply place dirty diapers (or rinsed diapers, if you prefer) into a pail or wet bag (which allows no seepage) until laundry day. Then tumble the diapers, damp or dry at best, into the washing machine. Add your wet bag or pail liner straight in with this load if you have one. The pail is light, relatively odor-free, and leaves me with no more fears about spills (or little ones drowning–which, sadly, has also happened!)
8. Let the sun fight your stains for you
When I was new to CDing, I was using a cobbled-together stash of old cotton prefolds and hand-me-down covers. The EBF (exclusively breastfed) poop that our newborn produced was very staining, and I found myself fretting over how yellowed and stained our diapers were getting. Initially, I used all sorts of stain-fighting sprays and bleaches, nervous about what this would do not only to the fabric but, more importantly, to my baby’s skin. I would bleach and then rinse, rinse, rinse, and rinse again (or at least that’s what it felt like). I’m sure all the bleach and water I was using was totally negating any green impact my cloth diapering use had. That is when I skeptically turned to what seemed like a last resort–I would attempt to “sun” my diapers. All over the internet, cloth diaper users reported that the sun’s rays on their own would bleach stains out of their freshly-laundered diapers. I didn’t believe it. Still, I had nothing to lose. When my diapers came out, damp and stained from the washer, I hung some of the worst ones on a window ledge inside my kitchen window (I couldn’t put them outside with the freezing winter weather that we had at the time), and was absolutely astonished to find that the stains were completely gone. Honestly, I squinted and turned the inserts around and around in my hands and could see no trace of the yellowing at all. I now sun all my stained dipes successfully, at no cost, and at no expense to the environment. It is the most natural, effortless fix ever! I’ve even started sunning other stained items from my house, such as old rags and my own t-shirts!
7. You can cloth diaper away form home
At first, the thought of cloth diapering away from home baffled me. Where would you put that stinky little load when you were at your friend’s house? I pictured curling up a poopy diaper by my friend’s front door only to find their dog’s nose in it later on. Once again, however, there is a very simple way to cloth diaper from a friend’s house, or when out and about–just change your baby as per usual, and bring the diaper home with you in either a Ziploc or grocery bag or else in a wet bag you’ve purchased or made. A wet bag is just a cute little zippered bag (they come in various sizes) that is lined on the inside with a waterproof, laminated fabric so that nothing inside will leak. These wet bags also do a pretty good job at containing odors until you get home to the laundry pail. Simply place your soiled items inside the bag, zip it shut, bring it home, and launder the bag with your diaper laundry. It is very handy to have one or two of these terrific bags–the best thing is, they leave zero waste because they are reusable.
Some people think it’s gross to store a dirty diaper in a bag and carry it around with you for the day (or tuck it into your purse at your friend’s house, etc). I can tell you that as a friend, just the opposite is actually true; there was nothing grosser than when parents would change their kids’ disposable diapers at my house (particularly before I had kids of my own) and leave a stinky, poopy diaper in my regular bathroom or kitchen garbage can without telling me. I realize they were trying to be discreet (or were just doing what they normally do at home), but usually it would leave me walking into a room of my house the next day going, “EW! What is that SMELL!?” only to find a festering dirty diaper underneath my carrot peelings or tossed tissues. I would then have to be the one to deal with that mess. Honestly, I think it is more of a courtesy when, at someone else’s house, you are discreetly able to take your baby’s dirty cloth diaper home with you and deal with it on your own.
6. Cloth diapers are cute enough to wear on their own
Disposable diapers are things that need to be covered and disguised. They are flimsy, and you can see pee and poop through them when they are dirtied. Because of that, we have to clad our babies with more clothes and faux-panties under dresses, even when the weather is warm. I love that with cloth diapers, they are cute enough to themselves be an article of clothing to be worn solo under a baby girl’s sundress (who wouldn’t love a cute little pink or flowered bottom peeking out when a skirt lifts up?) or by themselves as shorts on a hot day for a baby boy or girl. They are an investment piece like a cute article of clothing is, and they are totally worth it!
5. Cloth diapers are significantly less stinky
From time to time (like on a long road trip), I’ve used disposable diapers just to get me through a pinch. When I do switch over, I’m always astonished to discover just how badly they stink when even slightly wet! With young infants especially, when a baby pees in a cloth diaper, it has no odor at all. Newborn urine is very mild and lacks the color and ammonia stink that comes later on. However, from day one, any urine, waste, or wetness in a disposable diaper will result in a chemical reaction that sets off an amazing odor that can be smelled off your baby from a distance. This stink then attempts to balance itself out with a strong added fragrance (i.e. “baby powder” scent) that just adds another strange component to the stink. I don’t like always being able to smell my baby at all times, even when she is clean. When a baby is clean, I’d rather she have no smell than constantly be layered in an artificial fragrance to let me think she’s “fresh”.
4. No toilet dunking is required
I had attempted to prepare myself for this one. I told myself that my parents had boldly, bare-handedly swished all of our dirty diapers in the toilet, and they were still alive, so why couldn’t I do it, too? However, I just couldn’t mentally get past it–yes, maybe I’m a wimp. To my credit, it wasn’t the diapers and the baby waste that bothered me so much, it was the toilet itself. I definitely don’t clean my toilet every day (does anybody?), so the idea of reaching my hand into it when some other adult may have just used it left me feeling horrified. Also, having just gotten over a good 5 months of morning sickness with my pregnancy, any position where I was leaning over a toilet made my stomach lurch in an all-too-familiar way. Initially, when our newborn dipes were having staining issues, I bought a big pair of rubber gloves and did attempt to do some swishing in the toilet. When I couldn’t hand the toilet anymore, I switched to a bucket which I then emptied into the toilet. It was quite a process!! I then perfected my laundry routine and found that with a dry pail, good laundry technique, and sunning, you don’t have to do ANY rinsing for EBF poo. And later on, when baby starts eating solids (and producing more solid poops), you still don’t have to dunk and swish if you’re a wimp like me.
For that phase, there are a few other great choices available–you’ll still want to get the solids into the toilet one way or another (if you don’t, quite a lot of poop will build up in your washing machine, which for obvious reasons isn’t desirable; plus, your diaper pail will stink more in between washes). First, you can install a small diaper sprayer where your toilet connects to the wall (think of those sink sprayers that get residue off your plates before loading them in the dishwasher). For as little as $30, you can make one yourself if you’re handy, or you can buy a kit online for around $50 and up. Just hook it to the wall, spray the solids off your diaper and into the toilet, and put the diaper back in your pail. Your second choice for removing solids is to purchase a pack of flushable liners (I’ve been buying 100 sheets for around $6). These toilet-paper-thin sheets lay inside your diaper and pick straight up with they are filled with solids. Just deposit that little bundle into the toilet, flush it away, and place your diaper into your dry pail as usual. The last method (which we’ve all found ourselves doing in a pinch anyways), is the simple shake, scrape, or flick. Take your dirtied diaper over the toilet and use something to get the solids off. First, give it a good shake. Then, for whatever doesn’t come off, simply use toilet paper (or a tool, like a dollar store spatula you might keep in a toilet brush holder) to get the rest of the solids into the bowl to flush away. Then deposit your diaper into the pail as per usual.
I myself have been using flushable liners and have been amazed just how easy they are. In fact, perhaps it’s a little warped, but I feel a deep satisfaction every time I’m able to pick up a dirtied sheet of solids and flush them down the toilet, where poop belongs. Remember that everything that goes down the toilet goes to your local water treatment plant to be properly sterilized and discarded of. Conversely, when we send millions of poop-filled disposable diapers to the landfill every day, all that bacteria-filled solid human waste sits in piles, a breeding ground for bacteria and infection, and can leach out into the earth and water around it. Depositing a tiny parcel of baby poop into the toilet once or twice a day doesn’t seem like such a big deal when it’s doing my part to contribute to the overall quality of health in our community!
3. Cloth really does save you money
There are plenty of statistics out there that give different facts and figures on how the dollars and cents crunch down, but ultimately, they all have the same message to them: if you use cloth diapers, you will save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the diaper stash (you can factor into using it for all your children). Disposable diapers are typically $25-$35 per large package, and some households can easily go through several of those packages each month. My friend who uses disposables casually told me they can expect to spent at least $70/month on their diapers for their one son, and I was shocked! After all, I bought 10 cloth diapers for $70 and could definitely diaper full-time with just those ten diapers if I was really on the ball in terms of laundry (I now have a bigger stash but definitely don’t “need” too many more diapers than this).
If the start-up costs for cloth are hard on you, start with some simpler prefolds and covers, or steer away from some of the bigger brand names in favor of some of the more economical brands (which are actually some of my favorites in terms of ease-of-use and quality!). Also, consider buying used! Many cloth diapers are very gently used and have a lot more life left in them. Accept hand-me-downs from friends and family members, or organize some swapping of sizes (exchange newborn for toddler sizes with a friend if you have children at different ages). If you are handy, try making your own cloth diapers, soakers, or covers with some patterns you’ve found online (or by tracing out the shape of some of your favorite diapers from your stash).
2. There are different kinds of cloth for all situations and people
Cloth diapers are not just the standard white cotton prefolds of yesteryear. Cloth comes in all shapes, sizes, styles, looks, and has infinite combinations of features to be just what you want it to be nowadays. You can get synthetic material blends to improve waterproofing. You can go with all natural materials to help with sensitive skin or be more conscious of your ecological impact. Diapers are made from cotton, hemp, bamboo, polyester, wool, and more. You can use different diapers at nighttime, or for long car rides, or for grandma’s house, or for use under a trim pair of infant jeans. You can add or remove absorbancy by adding or removing a variety of layers. You can change the breathability of your cloth diapers by changing or removing cover layers to help fight a rash. There are newborn dipes, swim dipes, and potty training pants. You can use one-size diapers or sized diapers. Diapers come with snaps or velcro, or with nothing at all so you can use a Snappi fastner or pins, if you prefer. Once you have a stash of your own, you can mix and match to build your own dream diaper (add a microfleece liner overtop of an organic bamboo insert with a hemp doubler) as an old standby, or just for what works best for that day. Go to the store to buy disposables, and you can only pick alternating sizes of the same design and same plastic-coated material. Cloth is versatile, customizable, and reusable in infinite combinations.
1. Cloth becomes addicting
Once you feel the satisfaction of using cloth diapers on your baby, you’ll begin to love the idea of using cloth elsewhere in your life. Swap out disposable, chemical-filled baby wipes for cloth wipes (whether with water or your own customizable wipes solution). Cut back on paper towel usage in your kitchen and use cloths, rags, and real towels instead. Use reusable grocery totes rather than plastic bags when heading home from the store. Return to handkerchiefs in lieu of hoardes of Kleenex. Use reusable snack bags instead of your Ziplocs. Even swap out your synthetic menstrual pads for natural “mama cloth”. There is no end to this process of going green, sticking with natural products, and saving money for your family. If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy this journey more and more every day that you’re on it, and you’ll have cloth diapering to thank for beginning the adventure for you.
What other points would make your “Top Ten” list? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section!