Family Fridays – the Non-Weirdo’s Guide to Cloth Diapering

Well, it was earth day this week, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about poop. I’m coming out of the closet and taking a stand: I cloth diaper my baby! I thought I’d write up the Cloth Diapering for Non-Weirdos guide to hopefully give a little nudge to any parents who might be on the fence about trying it out.  Why non-weirdos? Well, I’m not really sure, to be honest. There’s a stigma that people who cloth diaper are weird – it’s the strange choice, the not-normal thing to do. My favorite conversation about cloth diapering happened with a man, who when told we were cloth diapering, just stared at me and went, “why?” in a tone of voice implying I’d somehow taken leave of my senses.

This might seem like a fairly rational response (it’s certainly not uncommon), but what makes this interaction particularly hilarious is that this man was, at the time, living in a Winnebago heated by a wood stove (he’d hacked out part of the shell for the chimney to fit), on the other side of a river that had to be either forded or kayaked across (no road/bridge), growing his own crops, raising and slaughtering his own meat, and using an outdoor composting toilet with a door but no walls. It says something about where society is when this kind of man thinks cloth diapering is weird. (His wife informed him that they would be cloth diapering when they had kids.)

So – why DO I cloth diaper my son? I’m not really a crunchy granola hippie type, but I do try to conserve where I can. When those areas also save me money, I get especially excited. So I do it because it saves us money, it’s better for the environment (it takes a lot of water to wash the diapers, but I believe this is better overall than importing from halfway across the world, then putting into landfills, every single time I change a diaper. In our global economy, people forget that India and China are actually quite far away, and that big container ships are really, really bad for the environment), there’s no weird chemicals or artificial scents pressed right up against his man parts, and they’re really, really cute. Also, I’ve found that they leak less. We’re not hardcore about it – when travelling or when he goes to mother’s day out we put him in disposables and don’t worry about it. I think parenting should be a realistic mix of idealistic goals and practicality. Strive for your ideals, but do what works best for your family and move on.

Here’s our current cloth diaper setup. We have 19 BumGenius 4.0 Snap Pocket Diapers, 2 PlanetWise Large Hanging Wetbags, 24 Thirsties Hemp Inserts, and 12 Thirsties Fab Cloth Wipes (if we have another kid, I’m buying a whole bunch of these and throwing out all my other baby washcloths. They’re SO SOFT.)

IMG_1799Why, yes, that is a nerdy math diaper. Squee!

I really love the website Kelly’s Closet (all the links above are to them), and buy most of our cloth diapering supplies from them. They have fabulous customer service, a great rewards program, and a big enough selection to find what you want, but not too big that it’s overwhelming. You could buy all of these supplies there for full price for about $500, and that does not include sales or rewards or volume discounts. I haven’t found that our utilities went up when we started cloth diapering, so that hasn’t been much of a cost for us. We do buy special cloth diaper detergent, and I think we’ve bought maybe 3 bags of that over the last year, for an additional $48. So all told, you could spend $550 for the first year of diapering your child, plus the second year will be free except for laundry and detergent costs. And the diapers will also last through multiple children.

We’d tried Fuzzibunz (yes, everything in the cloth diapering industry has a ridiculous name) previously, and found they just didn’t fit our son very well, so we switched to BumGenius when he was around 4 months, and they’ve worked fantastically (he’s currently 15 months). The BumGenius diapers are a “one-size” which means that theoretically you can use them from birth (though you’d have to have a pretty big newborn) to potty-training. You start with them on the smallest setting and the “newborn” insert (the inserts go in a slot/pocket in the diaper which is why they’re called pocket diapers), then as your baby grows, you change the snaps to a bigger size, and as he starts to pee more, you can change out the newborn for the regular insert, then you end up using both inserts together. We just had to buy the Thirsties inserts because he was starting to saturate and leak out of his diapers, but these inserts (coupled with the BG regular insert) will give us more time before he outgrows the diaper capacity (oh, and we use a regular insert plus two Thirsties inserts for overnight – no more wet baby in the morning!).

So a typical (wet) diaper change is as follows, take off wet diaper, and remove the wet inserts, then toss the whole shebang in the PlanetWise wetbag that’s hanging nearby. Then use either a disposable wipe or a cloth wipe wet with some water, or water/soap mixture (I keep an old handsoap dispenser by the changing table for this purpose) and clean him up. Toss disposable wipe in trash or toss cloth wipe in the wetbag. Snap a new diaper on the baby, either using or not using a disposable liner, and you’re good to go! If there’s only wet diapers in the diaper bag, I typically don’t zip it up, but if there’s a poopy one in there, you WILL want to zip it up. (Side note, these wet bags are awesome. I have a medium sized one I use as a laundry bag when we’re travelling and they do an awesome job of holding in leaks and smells and the usual gross baby stuff.)

One of the things that scares parents off of cloth diapering is the poop. Yes, poop is gross. Babies in general are pretty gross. Yes, you will end up touching poop no matter how you diaper your child, which is the common response from the cloth diaperers. However, I’ll be honest with you – it is more gross to deal with a poopy cloth diaper than a poopy disposable. But not that much grosser. With a poopy disposable, you just toss it in the trash (which, by the way, you’re not supposed to do, and yes, I know that everyone does it). With a poopy cloth diaper, you generally want to remove as much poop as possible from the diaper before putting it through your washer. (If you have a baby, there will be poop and pee going through your washer anyways, I promise you that.) You can use disposable liners, some of which are flushable, or some people use diaper sprayers or scrapers to put the poop in the toilet. Sometimes I just swipe at it with a disposable wipe to get the bulk off. Then you remove the inserts and dump everything in the laundry bag. Occasionally my son will go through phases where he’s pooping on a schedule, which is awesome, because then we’ll just use a disposable diaper for the poopy time. However, if he’s not on a schedule, we typically use the disposable liners in the morning (higher probability poop times), and just the plain cloth diapers later in the day, dealing with the consequences as necessary. As I said, it’s grosser, but not really that much grosser.

When it comes time for laundry, I unsnap the bag from the door handle, and invert over the washing machine, dumping everything in, including the bag. (You don’t have to touch anything gross at this point). I run a cold wash, no soap, no extra rinse, then soak it overnight. Then the next day I run a hot wash, with cloth diaper detergent (Rockin Green), and an extra rinse cycle. When that’s done, I’ll either hang up the inserts or dry them in the dryer, and I always hang up the shells (the colored part of the diaper). Since we’ve been using the hemp inserts, it takes two dry cycles to get them dry (they hold a LOT of water!), or some combination of hanging and drying. While this is happening, I’m using the second wetbag as our diaper pail. Once everything’s dry, I’ll assemble the diapers – some for day, some for night (with the extra inserts), and carry them up to his room, where they sit in neat, adorably colored stacks. Once a month, I throw in some bleach as per the BumGenius guidelines, and twice now (over a year) I’ve “stripped” the diapers – there was starting to be a build-up of smells, so you wash the diapers with Dawn dishwashing liquid and then do a bunch of rinses and the diapers are as good as new.

IMG_1797A good overall picture of our cloth diapering setup. I hang the nighttime stuffed diapers off the edge of the basket so it’s very clear which ones are which.

If you hate laundry, cloth diapering is not for you. Laundry happens to be about the only chore that I don’t hate – I mean, really, you put nasty, dirty things in a magic box, go away, and when you come back, they’re clean! Awesome! Also, I have a SpeedQueen washer and dryer, which I love more than words can express. The whole process does take a lot of time, it’s true. BUT – not much of that is hands on time. I’m a stay at home mom, so for me to walk downstairs a couple of times to hit buttons on the washer is not a strain. I’d say it takes maybe 3 minutes to set up the initial wash cycle (this gets rid of any solids and washes away a lot of the pee), another 2 minutes to go down and start the soak cycle, go to sleep, wake up the next morning and spend 2 minutes closing the lid so the soak cycle drains, then 3 minutes to go down and set up the hot wash cycle with detergent. Maybe 7 minutes to separate out the shells, inserts, and wipes,  and hang some and put some in the dryer, then another 2-5  minutes to go down and either restart the dryer or hang up the inserts to finish drying. It takes maybe 10-15 to assemble the diapers (mostly depending on how distracted you are while doing it) and bring them back upstairs. So I’d say, generously,  it’s an active 37 minutes every two days. Most of that is me walking up and down the stairs – our main living areas are upstairs and laundry is downstairs.

So that’s our routine. I find it to be totally worth the initial monetary investment and the continuing time investment. An added perk for me at least is that I have a very sensitive nose, and the artificial scents in disposable diapers can give me a massive headache. Plus, cloth diapers are really, really cute*.

IMG_1801*I told you they were cute. In my defense, I do normally put pants on him.

One last bit of advice for those of you thinking of trying cloth diapering is that you can’t really dip your toe in the water with it. You don’t really know if it’s going to work for you unless you have a full day’s worth of diapers and can test out your washing routine. So I recommend using a store that offers (like Kelly’s Closet)  a 30 day trial period, where you can buy all the diapers you need, and try it for a couple of full cycles (there is a bit of a learning curve) to see if it’s going to work for your family. If you hate it, or it feels like too much extra work, send them back in and get your money back. Life is too short to do things you hate.

Have you cloth diapered? Would you ever consider it for your kids?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

2 thoughts on “Family Fridays – the Non-Weirdo’s Guide to Cloth Diapering

  1. Debi Morton says:

    I’m a grandmother of 7 now, but I did about a year of cloth with my last son because his tender little bum couldn’t deal with all the plastic and paper in the disposables. Like you, we were flexible for nurseries and travel and just vigilant with creams. It was a little messier and 34 years ago we were still pinning diapers, but overall it wasn’t that big of a deal. By about a year he had outgrown his sensitivity and with 2 older sons, I went to disposables just for convenience. I must say, though, that I almost resented spending the money after not doing so for a year.

    • lectorsbooks says:

      Aw, poor little guy! My mom had to use cloth on me for the same reason. For my son, we only really deal with diaper rashes when he’s having a food allergy issue (still more often than I’d like) – but I feel your pain! I know what you mean about resenting to spend money. I grumble every time we stock up on disposables for a trip or whatnot.

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