A few wool diaper covers, as well as a prefold and some snappi fasteners.
We’ve been cloth diapering for over a year now, so I thought I’d share about our experience for those who are also interested in ditching disposables. Coming from a family that used cloth diapers, I was surprised to learn how many new parents are warned against cloth by their friends and relatives. Why all the cloth diaper hate, folks? That said, I know how overwhelming it is to learn yet another new skill while also trying to care for a newborn in those first weeks. My hope is to shine some light on the mystery of cloth diapering for those who are intimidated or just plain confused by it.
Let’s start with a few facts:
1. I had never changed a diaper of any kind before having William. (In other words, no experience required!)
2. Cloth diapering can be simple or complicated, cheap or costly. More on this below.
3. It’s okay to start slow. Set a goal of using at least one cloth diaper per day and then increase from there as you become more comfortable with it.
Cloth Diapering Can Be Simple
It can be as simple as buying a couple dozen diapers, putting them on your baby, and washing them as you would very, very dirty laundry. That’s it.
Of course, you probably have more questions. So I will elaborate.
I learned most of what I know from Fluff Love University. There is so much info on their website that you’ll likely feel your brain exploding with details the first time you read through it. In today’s consumer culture, there are a hundred different cloth diapers, a thousand different laundry detergents, and who knows how many washer models. Remind yourself that your great grandmother probably just pinned dish towels on her babies’ butts and you can too, if that suits you.
Most of the products I reference are available on Amazon, though I made a point to link to small businesses instead. If you’re a fan of Prime, no worries! I’m personally a fan of buying from my neighbors via Craigslist or FB Marketplace. You do you. 😉
Our Cloth Diapering Experience
If you’re the type of person who would rather learn from a friend than ask the entire internet how to do something, you’re in luck! Here is our diapering routine, after much trail and error. You will still have to adjust it if you live in an area with soft water or don’t have a washing machine (yes, people still use cloth without one!) but hopefully this gives you a good foundation to get started.
Type of Diapers
In a perfect world, I would only use natural fiber diapers (cotton and hemp) with wool covers. Obviously, my world isn’t perfect. I know microfiber and plastic-lined diapers will contribute to pollution because they are made with synthetic materials that don’t naturally break down and end up both in wastewater and landfills. However, these diapers are typically easier to use*, especially by those who want something as close to a disposable as possible. I figure it is still better to use an imperfect cloth diaper when I’m feeling lazy than a disposable.
*One exception to this rule is cotton or hemp fitteds, such as Green Mountain Diapers Workhorses. These are both environmentally friendly (especially the snap-free variety) though can be used by an amateur. We had about a dozen of these in size medium until William grew out of them.
My Current Stash
6 Truly Charis stretchy hemp flats – Truly Charis is a wonderful little family-owned company that sells beautiful wool diaper covers and several types of hemp diapers. Their stuff is expensive, but handmade in the U.S. and worth it in my opinion. Check out their buy/sell/trade FB group to score some deals. These hemp flats were a game-changer for us because they are so much more absorbent than cotton. We use them mostly at night with an added insert and wool cover.
8 bamboo inserts – I’m partial to hemp over bamboo (it is less likely to be mixed with synthetic fibers from what I hear), though I found these used and they work well when a diaper needs extra absorbency. These hemp inserts would be a good new option.
8 BumGenius pocket diapers with inserts – I have more of these on the way, thanks to a great deal I found on the Cloth Diaper Swap FB group. I’ve tried several other pocket and AIO (all-in-one) styles and BumGenius was the only brand that didn’t leak. When it comes to “easy” diapers, I prefer pocket style because they dry much faster than thick AIOs.
10 prefolds – These are the most multi-purpose diapers that I come back to again and again. You can use them as burp cloths, tucked under a newborn when they need some diaper-free time, or as inserts in your pocket diapers. They are cheap and though you have to learn a few folding techniques, you don’t have to worry about elastics or snaps that will wear out over time. The same goes for flat diapers, which are basically large dish cloths that you can fold to fit any sized baby. I use the “airplane fold” with my flats, which leaves extra layers in the front for boys.
2 PUL snap-on covers – We have both a Thirsties and a Flip cover. I use these a lot when my wool covers need to be washed and lanolized. PUL covers can be used a few times before washing unless they get poop on them.
3 wool covers – In William’s current size, I have a Truly Charis soaker, a Disana soaker, and Bumby pants. I have also tried upcycled wool covers, though they are typically thinner and might leak if you have a heavy wetter. A good wool cover can be used again and again for weeks before washing—wool is amazing! Just make sure you shop used if you don’t want to spend a fortune.
36 cloth wipes – I love cloth wipes so much that I don’t even bother with disposables for travel anymore. Cloth works so much better. Some people make a solution with a bit of soothing oil and soap, though I just use water.
Note: I also had a newborn-sized diaper stash for the first few months, a combination of smaller prefolds and AIOs mostly, which I had borrowed from friends and family. I highly recommend going with easy-to-learn styles like pockets/AIOs during this stage because you will be overwhelmed and sleep deprived. If you have enough patience and time to watch a few YouTube videos, by all means, save your money and just use flats.
Bambino Mio diaper pail w/ mesh liners – Honestly, you can use anything for a diaper pail. Brands will try to convince you to pay $80 for theirs, which is essentially a glorified trash can. I really like that ours has a handle on it and fits under our changing table, though I don’t like that it is plastic (for environmental reasons) and only holds 60% of our diapers. I’m not aware of any plastic-free pails on the market, though I’m sure you could find a metal trash bin or just buy used. If your bin doesn’t have a handle, the Planet Wise large pail liners work great with many trash cans and make it easy to transfer diapers to the wash.
3 Wet Bags – The smaller one lives in our diaper bag and the two medium-sized ones are used for overflow from our too-small diaper pail. I’ve tried several brands and Planet Wise is by far the best quality. If you are a crafty person, you could upcycle a few thrift store sweaters into wet bags by simply cutting two rectangles and sewing them together. Attach a piece of yarn to fasten the opening, treat with lanolin to waterproof, and make sure you’re using real wool, not acrylic.
4 snappis – There are other types of fasteners and pins, but I’ve never tried them.
Random hippy balm – William has never had diaper rash, though I put some all-purpose balm on him whenever I notice redness. It is just a blend of olive oil, beeswax, and a few other soothing ingredients. Most popular diaper creams are not good for cloth diapers, FYI, but you can buy disposable liners for your cloth to protect it.
Our Laundry Routine
I wash our diapers about every 4 days. Any longer, and things start to smell and stains set in deep. Since William eats solids now, I try to rinse poopy diapers with our toilet sprayer as soon as I can rather than waiting until laundry day. If your baby only eats breastmilk, there’s no need to rinse poop off before washing.
On laundry day, I check for any last diapers to rinse while I toss them all into the washer. I do a very short wash cycle on hot with one line of detergent, then a long cycle—also on hot—with a full cap of detergent.
Per Fluff Love’s recommendations, I started using unscented Tide powder and noticed an improvement over my usual plant-based detergent. Recently, I’ve been wanting to return to plant-based, so I bought Seventh Generation’s Ultra Power Plus formula to try out. I’ll let you all know how it goes. One of these days, I hope to find a detergent that is plant-based, effective, AND has plastic-free packaging. A girl can dream… ;P
I add about 1/4 cup of Borax in both laundry cycles because we have hard water. Calgon is another water softener that many people seem to like. Without a softener, hard water might make your diapers less absorbent or even smelly over time.
For my wool covers, I have a special wool wash and then use 100% lanolin to waterproof them every 3-4 weeks. I do this by hand, though some covers can be washed on gentle cycle. I could write a whole post on wool care, so if you’re curious, let me know. YouTube has many helpful videos as well.
Line drying diapers in Washington worked great last summer, and I was able to get some intense poop stains out thanks to sun-bleaching. We use a collapsible metal dry rack from IKEA. If stains and smells linger, you might consider a bleach soak.
I would love to line dry again this year, though the Phoenix heat has a “starching” effect on my cotton and hemp diapers, which makes them feel stiff and rough. If anyone knows how to get around this, let me know!
Last, if you haven’t already, please check out my post on saving money on diapers—especially the tip about elimination communication (EC). I feel like cloth diapering and EC go hand-in-hand, because early potty training means less laundry and a smaller diaper collection. On another money-saving note, I would estimate that I’ve spent only $150 on cloth diapers by shopping used and I should be able to make at least $75 when I sell my stash.
I deliberately left plenty of advice out of this post, in the spirit of keeping things simple. I would love to hear your questions and any hesitations you have toward cloth diapering. Just ask and I will happily answer. 😀
As always, thanks for reading.
William playing outside in a Disana wool diaper cover.