Cloth diapers: better, cheaper, and a bit more work

07 Feb

Diapers and dinosaur modelIf you have a baby in need of diapers, you might be surprised at how easy cloth diapering can be. I have been using cloth diapers on my daughter for five months and have only good things to report. In my experience, cloth diapers have been better than disposable diapers on nearly all levels. I’ll admit that disposable diapers are simpler and more convenient than their reusable counterparts, but they also seem to have more leaks and blow-outs, too, which is far from convenient. Just as important to me: I’m on track to save hundreds of dollars on diapers this year alone because washing diapers is cheaper than buying disposable ones.

There are lots of brands out there and a lot of choices to make. I’ll explain how I chose these diapers and how to use, wash, and maintain them.

What kind of diapers to get: The diapers shown here are the bumGenius “Cloth Diaper 4.0 One-Size” model. This style of diaper comes in two parts: a sturdy shell with elastic and fasteners to hold it on, and a removable microfiber pad that fits inside to absorb any liquid and keep the shell leak-free. Two-part reusable diapers are common these days, but there are also all-in-one diapers that let you skip the step of stuffing the pad into the shell before you use it. I prefer the two-part variety because I can dry the shell and the pad separately. Line-drying the shells makes their elastic and quick-drying capabilities last longer, while the pads will dry quickly in any dryer with no ill consequences. The pocket style also lets me stuff in an extra pad when desired, such as for overnight or traveling.

Diapers on drying rack Diapers and inserts Pile of diapers

Sharp diaper pins are apparently out of fashion, because most modern cloth diapers come with either snaps or hook-and-loop (Velcro) fasteners to secure their fit. I prefer the snaps over the hook-and-loop style because Velcro-style fasteners always grow weaker over time as they become worn and clogged, while I hope and expect that the snaps will remain effective for a long time.

Unless you want to do laundry every single day, you’ll need at least two dozen diapers for one baby, and you’ll probably want at least a handful more so you don’t run out if you start the washing cycle too late. I’ve settled on 28 diapers in total and make sure do laundry before they run out.

Our diapers each came with both a “newborn” pad and a full-size pad. However, newborns and small babies may not fit snugly enough into the diapers for them to work properly (there are reusable newborn-sized diapers out there, but they seem like a foolhardy expense for such a brief period in a baby’s life). We used newborn disposable diapers when our daughter was first born and switched over to the cloth ones before she was a month old. I recommend that strategy as training wheels for other new parents.

I have been pleased with the performance of the bumGenius products and would certainly recommend them, but this is an evolving field, and your needs may be different from mine. I’ve heard good reports on FuzziBunz, which makes a similar pocket-style diaper to the one seen above, and the Flip System seems intriguing as well. Cheaper options are available, such as the old-school vibe of Econobum. You can even buy custom reusable diapers of all kinds of I imagine there are lots of places to buy every model of diapers these days. Once you find a brand you like, shop around! We received our first bumGenius diapers from Amazon, but ordering the rest of our diapers from Cotton Babies in large quantities (such as 12 at a time) saved a significant amount over other stores.

Diaper sprayer Charlie's SoapDiaper pails from IKEA

What else you’ll need: These items are indispensable in our cloth-diaper ecosystem.

  • A sprayer that attaches to your toilet helps pre-clean the diapers before throwing them in the wash. These sprayers attach without any tools and produce a high-pressure spray that will rinse the solid stuff into the toilet.
  • A good drying rack or clothesline for the elastic shells is a big help.
  • Using clean-rinsing soap like Charlie’s Soap is a good idea to minimize soap buildup on the diapers, which would reduce their absorbency. Normal laundry detergents may leave a bit of water-resistant residue that inhibits the water from wicking through the fabric.
  • Multiple diaper pails are helpful to manage the many diapers in use at one time. I use color-coded trash cans, with a black bin for the dirtiest diapers and a white bin for the merely-wet diapers. Most of the baby’s diapers don’t seem to stink too badly as long as we do laundry every two or three days, so the smell is usually fine, but a truly awful diaper sometimes convinces me to do laundry early. Tight-fitting lids can also help contain the smells if necessary.
  • Waterproof “wet bags” are great for transporting a used diaper home from whatever gas station bathroom in which I changed the baby. Alternatively, sometimes we use disposable diapers when leaving the house.
  • Some people go so far as to get reusable baby wipes, too, but I just use disposable ones. I rationalize this by telling myself that they make a tiny amount of garbage compared to the disposable diapers, but it makes logical sense to go all the way. Here are some options.
  • Bigger clothes will be necessary to accommodate some diapers. Sturdy diapers are thicker than the disposable ones, which may make standard sizes a bit too small. Expect a baby to stay one to three months ahead of standard sizes with this type of diaper.

The process: Using the diapers is simple. I stuff a pad in the pocket and put the diaper on the baby like any other diaper. The snaps on the diaper let me customize the length and width when I need to do so.

As for cleaning them, I usually wait until I have at least 20 dirty diapers. Before washing, I use the toilet sprayer to rinse out any solid matter from the soiled diapers. Afterward, the diapers go straight into the washing machine.

Wash the diapers once on a cold setting with no detergent. I don’t separate the pads and the diapers, as they will usually separate themselves while in the washing machine. After the load finishes, wash them a second time with hot water and a scoop of clean-rinsing soap, and add an extra rinse cycle. That’s one rinse by hand and three rinses while in the machine, which results in extremely clean diapers without much work. As an extra level of cleanliness, I add bleach to the wash once a month to prevent any long-term.

After washing, I line dry the shells and dry the pads separately in a dryer on a high heat setting. The pads dry quickly, and a box fan in front of the drying rack will reduce the shell’s drying time.

The verdict: Cloth diapers may not be the right choice for everyone because they do require more planning and day-to-day attention than the disposable variety. Nevertheless, they’re my choice based on their low cost, excellent performance, charming appearance, and smaller environmental footprint. I recommend these diapers from bumGenius.


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