The days of safety pins are gone, and cloth diapering is now easier than ever; however, with the wide variety of materials, packages and systems for cloth diapering, it can be overwhelming to find an option that is right for you. Here's a rundown of what cloth diapering consists of – to help you feel better equipped to make your own choice – and also a few companies we really love! Of course, think about what's best for your lifestyle and budget, among other things, as you approach this decision.
First… why cloth diaper?
Environmental impact: Diapers and wipes go directly into landfills, and sit for hundreds of years. If you consider the number of diapers a child goes through before transiting to the potty, thats hundreds of thousands of pounds of plastics and waste. Cloth diapering keeps waste from landfills, but is also healthier and cheaper than conventional diapering. Around 20 billion disposable diapers land in the landfill each year, the third largest consumer waste item, and 3% of all solid waste. Biodegradable diapers are a better alternative, but only slightly so, as they don’t get to actually decompose properly in a landfill.
Health Concerns: Disposable diapers are usually bleached, often dyed, and have materials such as sodium polyacrylate (the gel like absorbing crystals in the diaper pad), dioxin, phthalates and dozens of other hormonally disruptive and carcinogenic materials, many of which haven’t been in wide use long enough for a full understanding to have been developed of their impacts.
Price: Cloth Diapers are expensive upfront, but the overall cost is considerably cheaper than that of disposable diapers when you think about the 2+ years your baby will likely be diapered. Disposable diapers might cost an estimate of $1,500-2,000 per child, while cloth diapering (if laundering at home) might cost as little as a few hundred dollars during a child’s diapering years.
Anatomy of a Cloth Diaper
Prefold - a piece of fabric with extra absorbency in the middle – many people already have these as they are commonly bought as spit up cloths! They are held in place using safety pins, or the newer more common stretch hooks (you may be familiar with the Snappi brand of hooks, which stretch to each side, and down the middle). You may also see the term “flat” this simply refers to the more old fashioned insert which was a plain piece of fabric, without the extra layers in the middle. There are dozens of ways to fold the cloth around baby! Play around until you find what you prefer; this may also change as baby grows!
Covers - waterproof cover that snaps over the cloth diaper. They have snaps on them to adjust sizing (leg hole, waist, and length), which allows baby to grow with the cover.
There are also other types of cloth diapers (hybrids, pockets etc) which are modifications of the original cloth diaper, but have all the parts attached as one, or include room for excess padding. Try and get your hands on a few different types, or watch some videos of them in action, in order to decide what's most convenient for you!
What about when I’m out and about?
Wet/Dry bag - you can buy these online, or just use any sort of waterproof zip bag; when you’re out and about, you’ll put soiled cloth in the waterproof bag, so as to carry home for cleaning. This is the main difference that you’ll notice in cloth diapering – not disposing of the diaper while on the go. With a secure wet bag, this won’t be a hassle, and you may find that you feel better not constantly leaving diapers behind as you go about your day.
The benefit with cloth diapering is that, unlike disposable diapers, cloth diapers can be sized perfectly for your baby. Accommodating your baby’s stride and waist helps prevent blowouts and leaks. Unlike disposable diapers, which will have to be sized up every few months, cloth diapers are much more size forgiving, and you may only need to get a new size of covers/inserts a few times as baby grows
At home - Each family will have to sort out what routine is best for them, but generally you collect dirty diapers/covers/wipes (having put solids in toilet first!) just as you would normal laundry; some people wash every day (or maybe every other day), but you will get a feel for the volume and frequency of cleaning that is right for you.
When it’s time to wash, use a pre-wash cycle on cold, then a normal hot cycle; it’s always best to use a gentle detergent to keep your diapers lasting as long as possible (and for baby’s skin)! Finally, tumble or hand dry, according to instructions.
For stains or deep soiling, many people swear by a baking soda and vinegar rinse! You can also sprinkle baking soda into your diaper bag/pail to pretreat and keep odors away
There are also services that can do the work for you - diaperkind is an NYC-based laundering service that will pick up soiled diapers and wash and return them to you. They are a one-stop shop for all things cloth diapering as well, with all of the products and FAQ’s you could ask for! Check them out here.
Fabric squares/washcloths - simply use water or a very mild, natural baby soap (diluted), wipe and then dry baby. (water wipes are a good option for disposables, but again we recommend reusable wipes!) This would be added to the wet bag while out, and washed just as the cloth diapers are washed. This type of wipe is more absorbent, and much gentler on baby. You can keep a batch in a container pre-wet, or simply keep a spray bottle and stack of fabric at your changing station!
There are also recyclable/more natural wipes, and flushables; we just recommend avoiding the commercial wipes which go straight to the landfill and have many ingredients too harsh for baby’s skin! Again, using a mix of these is better than using all disposable wipes. Maybe for you its best to cloth wipe at home, but use disposables on the go – every diaper and wipe kept from the garbage makes an impact!
Air baby out if you have the time and space - a dry clean bum prevents diaper rash, yeast infections and irritation. Diaper rash is caused by excess moisture, so change baby often and keep everything as dry as possible. You really only need to wipe after poop, with pee, just dry baby off.
Too many options?
Most, if not all cloth diaper companies sell bundles which consist of the inserts and some covers, or whatever arrangement of diaper they offer, which is a great set for starting. It eases the stress of making sense of the overwhelming variety of choices; another great idea is to buy a few different brands (on eBay or at a baby sell/swap forum, for example) and test them out. But do not get intimidated by the many options; it only means that there's an option that will best fit you, and ultimately, cloth diapers are more similar than they are different.
You also do not have to swear off disposables completely! You can do a combination of cloth and disposable diapers. Just make a plan from the start, and if and when you need to adjust your routine, do so. Obviously, you aren’t locked into your choice, and it's always hard to know what will be best before baby comes.
Interested in further reading? Here are some additional resources to check out: