Originally, I planned to write about my experience with cloth diapers as a part of my “Simplifying Parenting” series; however, I realized that cloth diapers are not exactly simple. That’s not to say you shouldn’t choose them. Even after seven years of using cloth diapers non-stop for my four kids, I have nothing but good things to say about them. They are zero waste, wallet friendly, helpful for potty-training, more efficient, gentler on baby’s bum, and absolutely adorable.
But I’m definitely no expert, as you will see. I’m just a mom who wanted to save [at the outset] thousands of dollars and [by the end] the planet – one reusable diaper at a time. So rather than try to give you all the answers, explain the cloth diaper lingo, discuss the laundering process in detail, give my opinions on the preferred inserts, diaper rash cream, and cover brands – I’m just going to tell you my story: how I came to cloth diapers, how I made it work for my family, and what I learned along the way.
But first, let’s get the biggest obstacle out of the way.
First, the truth about parenting and poop
I know a lot of people who considered using cloth diapers but, in the end, decided against it because “it’s gross.” So, I just want to say this now: If you think that disposable diapers will save you from having to deal with poop, I have some bad news. Parenting involves poop. And lots of it. For at least five years of your kid’s life, you’ll be dealing with poop. From the day you bring a baby home, you will be tracking poop, examining the color of poop, maybe even weighing poop. As the baby gets older, you’ll be cleaning poop out of car seats, high chairs, strollers, cribs, and – yes – even off of your hands and clothes. Your baby will have explosive poops that shoot up their backs or down their legs and get everywhere. Then when your baby starts eating real food, you’ll have to wipe poopy butts daily until potty training – and these poops smell awful. Like, so awful you can’t believe your sweet angel produced them. And even if you potty train early like I did [all my kids potty trained at or before 2-years-old], you’ll still have to wipe butts until your kid is old enough to wipe it himself. And there will be accidents. There will be poop in underwear, in beds, and in car seats that has to be cleaned.
Fun fact: I never once had a blowout in a cloth diaper – but the moment I put a disposable diaper on one of my kids, shit would shoot up their back. Cloth diapers = fewer blowouts.
Of course, if you’re a working parent, you may encounter less poop, but there will still be a lot of poop. So, just brace yourself.
If all this talk of poop is making you reconsider having kids, then good. Because there are worse things than poop – like vomit. Last month, my daughter threw up three times on the drive home from vacation. THREE TIMES.
Give me a poopy diaper over vomit any day.
Ok, so now that we’re all on the same page about poop, let’s move on to a few other obstacles…
Other obstacles to cloth diapers
Big expense at the outset. I spent about $250 initially for my cloth diapers, which is less than what most sources told me I would have to spend, but even that was more than necessary. If you don’t have funds available to buy everything you need, just buy what you can and add as you are able.
Important Reminder: Cloth diapers are NOT all-or-nothing.
No way to wash them. I have read that some laundromats won’t allow cloth diapers, which is why people without washing machines often choose not to cloth diaper. Of course, it’s hardly fair that those who would benefit most from the cost savings of cloth diapers are limited in this way. As the world continues to encourage more sustainable living, we will need to pressure businesses to make a way for these services. However, there are laundering services for diapers. This depends on where you live, but it is worth looking into for anyone who can’t [or doesn’t want to] wash the diapers themselves.
Childcare won’t use them. This is becoming less and less of a problem as cloth diapers become more common, but the only way things change is by encouraging them to change. If your childcare facility is refusing to use cloth diapers, it’s probably because no one has tried to change this policy. In the end, if a childcare facility won’t support your choice of diaper, you should find a childcare option that does. No reason to pay soaring childcare prices and for thousands of disposable diapers. You could also consider diapering in cloth when you are with your child and using disposable for childcare [and other unwilling sitters/situations].
Important Reminder: Cloth diapers are NOT all-or-nothing.
Now, let’s talk about why to choose cloth diapers…besides that they are so cute.
Why Cloth Diapers [and why your motivation matters]
Cloth diapers are popular because they save money. Lots of money. For example, I have spent no more than $350 [not including the laundry detergent and diaper creams] on my cloth diapers [inserts and covers] and diapering supplies [like diaper sprayer, diaper pail, diaper pail liners and wet bags] to diapers all four of my babies. So, if the average family spends $587 per year per child on diapers [totaling $4,696 for four kids potty-trained at 2-years-old], I saved $4,346 by using cloth diapers.
BUT, I did occasionally buy disposable diapers for certain occasions [which I’ll explain later]. Still, my savings is definitely in the thousands. And looking back on it, it has not been a huge inconvenience – even when I was working up to 32 hours a week.
I have loved using cloth diapers – but not because of the money.
When my second born was one year old, and I was pregnant with my third, I began to take the environmental crisis seriously for the first time in my life. That’s when I really fell in love with cloth diapers.
I’ve known many people to chose cloth diapers because of the money, only to quit later when the going gets rough [and it does get rough at times]. Because, in the end, most people with the means won’t find the savings a strong enough motivation.
However, when my motivation revolves around the “greater good” of lower waste and protecting the planet then it’s much more likely that I will make it work – and not even complain about it.
So what I’m saying, basically, is that why you chose to use cloth diapers is really important for your success. And at the very least, think about the big picture benefits before throwing in the towel.
My Cloth Diapering Experience
So, this is basically how I did it…
Things I bought:
- Cloth diapers – I bought them on Amazon in sets with covers and inserts and a variety of brands
- Diaper pail – I just bought a basic tall trash can with a lid
- Reusable diaper pail liners – I bought two reusable liners from Amazon, which I still use after 7 years [though the elastic is entire shot on both of them at this point]
- Wet bags – These are basically waterproof bags to carry dirty diapers in when out and about – I bought three, but two would have been enough
- Reusable wipes – If I had been smarter, I would have just cut up some old cotton t-shirts for this job, but I wasn’t thinking that way back then.
- Natural diaper rash cream – two brands that I used for my kids: Earth Mama [previously called Earth Mama Angel Baby] and Grandma El’s.
- Diaper sprayer – I read somewhere that I wouldn’t need a sprayer because healthy poop is solid and falls out of the diaper. Folks, let me tell you, that is a total lie. Hard poop is not healthy poop. You will definitely want a diaper sprayer.
The only thing on this list I had to rebuy was the diaper rash cream. Everything else, I’m still using for my last baby [who is already potty training – yay!].
– My babies were 100% breastfed, so all diapers just went straight into the bin and then it was washed [liner and all] every three or four days.
– After six months, poopy diapers had to be sprayed before going in the bin [don’t procrastinate about this task – trust me], but frequency of changes went down so I could wash every five or six days.
– When going out, I brought a change of diaper, a wet bag, and a few cloth wipes.
– I use inserts, but I never actually put them into the pocket of the cover. I just lay one [for infants] or two [for older kids] inserts on top of the cover and wrap up the baby’s bum.
– On long trips [such as week-long vacations], we would buy disposable diapers because of the convenience while traveling. Also, when visiting certain family members who were less than enthusiastic about cloth diapers we would switch to disposable for the trip.
– On a few occasions we switched to reusable diapers for a rash that needed some more powerful diaper cream while I sorted out the wash issue that was causing the rash.
Ok, this is by far the hardest part of cloth diapering and the biggest reason people give up. There is so much [often contradictory] information out there about how to wash cloth diapers. And, in the course of seven years, I’ve done it many different ways.
My advice: keep it simple.
First of all, detergent. I originally bought a special detergent for diapers until I read [and can confirm] that a special detergent is unnecessary. Now I just use the regular family detergent [always free of perfumes and dyes] with no problems.
My wash routine is simple. I do a preliminary wash with little [or no] detergent and cold water, then a heavy duty wash with hot water and a little extra detergent. That’s it.
Note, though, that your washing machine and the hardness of your water make a difference. At my last house, which was on a well with very hard water [and an all-house water softener], I had to add a water softener into the washer with my detergent in order to get the diapers clean. How did I figure that out? With lots and lots of trial and error and reading a gazillion articles online. But if the diapers aren’t washed properly, they will cause diaper rashes. If they don’t smell clean, they aren’t clean and you need to re-examine your wash routine.
In seven years, I only stripped my diapers once [because of the aforementioned hard water incident] and bleached them once [basically because I thought they needed it].
My other piece of advice: Don’t give up.
Hang to dry whenever possible. I always always hang dry my covers to preserve the elastic. I usually dry my inserts in the dryer, but that is only because I have always lived in a wooded environment where hanging outside means lots of bugs and bird poop [kind of defeating the purpose].
I have hung my diapers to dry in many places around my house: the basement bar [my partner loved that], the heating vent on the ceiling of the laundry room, and nowadays, the dining room chairs…
I hang them up before going to bed and they are dry in the morning.
The wash and dry cycles for cloth diapers really aren’t anything to be intimidated by. When it comes to cloth diapers, you’ll want to remember the old saying: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” You may want to hang that up in the laundry room somewhere as a reminder.
[If you really want to get into all the nitty-gritty of washing and drying diapers, then I recommend reading Erin Tova’s post How to Wash Cloth Diapers or Fluff Love University’s guides for washing diapers.]
What You Should Know about Cloth Diapers
When I was pregnant with my first baby, I was SO overwhelmed – by everything, but especially about cloth diapers. What kind do I buy? What is a good price? New or used? What brand? How do I use them? How do I wash them? Etc. There is so much information out there that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
So, let me just say this: cloth diapering is a “learn-as-you-go” sort of endeavor. Everyone has a different experience, prefers different brands, washes in different ways. That’s ok! Don’t sweat it. Take the plunge. Course correct as needed. And that’s it!
Oh, and always remember that the whole point of cloth diapers is to cover your baby’s bum and catch all the excrement so that it doesn’t get everywhere and make a huge mess. So you could wrap your baby’s butt in a towel, or a t-shirt, or a bandana, or anything that gets the job done. So don’t overthink things.
I’ve had really great experiences with cloth diapers, and I hope that every parent who chooses this route does too. So, if you have any questions, feel free to comment below or send me a message. I’d love to empower more people to choose this zero waste option for their kids.
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