Why We Cloth Diaper

Why We Cloth Diaper
An inside and outside view of two of our pocket diapers, plus four reusable cloth wipes.

As my toddler begins expressing an interest in using the toilet (Admittedly, this is mostly an interest in wearing underwear; unless it’s in the middle of the night, than he wants to get up and use the toilet), I find myself reflecting on our diapering experiences.

I stumbled on this rather lengthy email that I sent a pregnant friend when my oldest, now 6 years old, was a toddler. I decided to share it here, in case any of you are contemplating using cloth diapers with your little ones.


Dear Alison,

You ask what we do for diapering our little guy? We’ve used cloth diapers since the day he was born. Interestingly, even the hospital where he was born gave us cloth diapers to use for him during our brief stay.

We started out using pre-fold diapers. These are by far the least expensive type of diapers to use with your child. These are the most similar to the cloth diapers your mother or grandmother may have used, with a couple of notable exceptions. First, we never used pins with our pre-folds. We simply folded them, placed them in a waterproof cover (not rubber pants) and used the Velcro on the cover to hold the diaper and cover in place. We used these when our little guy was young. He was on the small side, and we found the newborn size pre-folds and covers we had worked well for him. Plus they were what we had.

To clean the diapers was simple: we kept a pail with a lid lined with a large cloth wet bag, and we would toss our used diapers in there. When a baby is exclusively breastfed, you don’t even need to rinse the diapers prior to washing them (poop from breastmilk is water soluble). We put the diapers and covers in the pail, and once a day we would wash them using a good cloth diaper detergent (some laundry soaps work better than others as far as leaving a residue on the diapers; lots of residue can make the diapers less absorbent) and then dried them. Where we were living at the time we didn’t have space for a clothesline. If you line dry your diapers the sun will bleach out any stains. If you don’t have a clothesline, you can do what we did and simply run your diapers and covers through the dryer (covers on low heat only!) We tossed the whole load in on low heat and dried the diapers and covers together. It’s simple and easy. Really, it’s not any more work than any other load of laundry. You just have to remember to wash them so that you don’t run out of diapers. We had approximately a 1.5 day supply of diapers and covers, and it served us well.

We used cloth wipes along with our cloth diapers and simply tossed them into the wash with the diapers. They clean better than disposable wipes, and don’t have anything you didn’t add to your cleaning solution on them (we simply used water). You can buy these or make your own. We have some homemade and some that bought and given to us as gifts. They’re easy enough to make; simply cut your desired fabric to the size you want, then hem the edges or use a serger around the border to avoid fraying.

Several months later I discovered pocket diapers. In our particular case, these were FuzziBunz perfect size diapers. For us, it was love at first use. Their fabric pocket is made of a material that wicks moisture away from the little one’s bum, so the diapers kept him drier. You simply put the insert – basically a very absorbent cloth diaper shaped like a long oval pad – into the pocket and then put the diaper on to your child – the diaper has a waterproof outer layer, so no additional cover is required. Using these diapers I discovered that I like diapers with snaps much more than diapers with Velcro (our pre-fold covers used Velcro). Velcro sticks together and snarls up everything in the laundry. Yes, this even happens when you hook it together before loading it into the washing machine, at least it did for us.

The pocket diapers required the tiniest bit more work before washing, but not much. You simply have to make sure that the insert is removed from the pocket before putting it in the washing machine. If you don’t, they’ll take a very long time to dry. That is one reason why I didn’t care for the few all-in-one diapers we had: they took a very long time to dry. They also seemed bulkier on my little guy, but that may have been the particular brand we had rather than the style of diaper itself. We also washed our pocket diapers with cloth-diaper friendly detergent (by this point we had switched all of our laundry to that detergent for simplicity’s sake) and ran them through the dryer on low heat.

We haven’t had any big troubles with leaking. In fact, the only time we’ve ever had any leaks were when we needed to move up a size in diapers, which happens as your baby grows, or when we needed to strip our diapers. We found that we needed to strip them once a year or so to keep them at their absorbent best. You can either strip them at home or take them to a place that services cloth diapers and they’ll usually strip them for you for a small fee. In any case, it’s not much trouble.

As a note, there are brands of cloth diapers that claim to work from birth through potty training simply by adjusting them to the right size. I didn’t use that type, so I can’t say how true those claims hold. I do know that a lot of people seem to like them, but I’m guessing that a small newborn would be swimming in them.

In addition to using them at home, we used cloth diapers on the go. I kept a stash in our diaper bag, and used a small zippered wetbag to hold the used diapers until we got home. At home, the diapers and the bag would all be put (separately, of course) into our big wetbag so they could be run through our next wash cycle. It was no different than changing a disposable on the go, with the exception that I would bring my used diaper home with me instead of throwing it away. We even brought our cloth diapers with us on road trips (though not on plane flights – they took up too much luggage space). I found my little guy’s bum was MUCH happier when we continued to use cloth diapers instead of having him spend a few days or a week or two in disposables. Interestingly, the only time he’s had a diaper rash is when we put him in disposables while travelling. The chemicals in the diapers were too much for his delicate skin.

Before your child starts eating solid food (to be read: anything other than breastmilk), you’ll want to invest in a diaper sprayer. This is basically a hose with a trigger shower head that connects to the clean-water supply for your toilet and will allow you to rinse off solid waste into your toilet (which you then just flush down) before you toss your cloth diapers into your diaper pail. This makes things SO much easier than trying to rinse your diapers without a sprayer. Just trust me on this one and buy one. It’s definitely worth the cost (which I think was around $40? So not too much).

We chose to use cloth diapers for several reasons. First, I didn’t like the idea of the environmental karma of all of those disposable diapers. You change a baby’s diaper at least every two hours throughout the day and night, often more (especially when they’re very young). That’s a lot of disposable diapers. The idea of using cloth diapers and simply reusing them fit in with a lot of the other cloth things we reuse (cloth napkins, cloth towels and rags, cloth shopping bags, handkerchiefs, no-waste menstrual supplies, and so on).

In addition, disposable diapers contain lots of plastics and all sorts of weird chemicals. Nothing that absorbs one hundred times its weight in urine, or however much that gel in the middle of the diapers absorbs, is natural. I don’t know exactly what’s in the center of disposable diapers, but I’m pretty sure that I don’t want it to be on my child’s bottom 24 hours a day for the first few years of his life. With the hormone disrupting nature of many plastics and other chemicals, this seems an especially bad thing to put near a child’s developing reproductive organs.

Further, disposable diapers are expensive, especially if you’re going to use the environmentally friendly ones (which also have less chemicals in them, so if you’re going to use disposables, I’d encourage you to go this route). The cost over time adds up. A lot. Cloth diapers are a big up front expense, but then it’s simply the cost of washing them. There’s no further purchasing cost. And, if you’re not squeamish about such things, you can do what we did and buy your cloth diapers used. This cuts the cost considerably, and reduces the environmental impact even more as the diapers are being reused for a second child. Even buying brand new, top-of-the-line cloth diapers will save you money over disposables over the span of your diapering, especially if you use them for more than one child. And if your diapers are still in good shape when you’re done with them, you can donate them or sell them to someone else (which could help you to recover some of your initial investment).

We found cloth diapering to be easy. The one downside was it takes up more space in your diaper bag than disposables, but I think the positives are worth the little bit of extra bulk.

Also, if such things sway you (I’m honestly far from a fashionista, so this wasn’t a big factor for me – I took whatever we found used and didn’t think much about it), the prints on cloth diapers can be really cute. The cloth covers are definitely cuter than a plain disposable, and because they’re not mass produced to the same extent as disposables, your child’s diapers will probably look different than any other diaper users you’re likely to encounter.

I know this is a long answer to your simple question, but I hope that you find it helpful. Please let me know if you have any other questions or if there’s anything I can clarify for you. I think it’s great that you’re considering the cloth diapering option.

And, no matter what you decide, you’re going to have so much fun with your little one.




(NOTE: There were no links in the original email.  I added the link when I copied it into this post).

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