The choices in cloth diapering are overwhelming, and I felt like in order to get started I had to choose a system, spend hundreds of dollars and go all the way. I wanted an easy system, that didn’t involve a lot of preparation for every diaper, but which allowed for the most flexibility and the longest time between having to run laundry.
First off, the frequency of laundry will depend on the number of diapers you change in a day. Cloth may be less absorbent than disposables, so if you’re changing 7 diapers a day with ‘sposies, you may be doing more like 9 a day with cloth. If you plan for 9 diapers a day, and want to run the laundry only every 4th day, you’ll need at least 27 diapers (3 solid days’ worth). I would recommend having a couple extra, because the baby has to be in something while the wash is going!
And, sadly, there’s really no such thing as once a week washing. The ammonia in urine can break down the fibers in your dipes, so the pail needs to be emptied every few days, anyhow. As if cost wasn’t reason enough to wash diapers more frequently.
I wasn’t sure that I wanted to spend the money to buy 30 diapers. And did I want to buy one-size diapers, or sized? Was I willing to do all the extra laundry? Was doing the extra laundry really environmentally friendly? Did I want do to cloth full-time? I didn’t know if I was ready to go all the way.
I wanted to check out first base, and see if I liked it there before going on. I wanted it to be easy – but cloth diapering does require more work than disposables. The question really is when do I want to do the work? Would I rather spend time turning the dryer back on because my diapers are still damp? Am I patient enough (and will I have enough diapers) to deal with indoor line drying since there’s no sun for 3/4 of the year? And will the diapers be dried to a crisp if they aren’t machine dried? Am I willing to spend my evenings folding flats or stuffing pockets or putting layers in a cover?
I went to my favorite local kids’ shop, Bootyland and bought some used pieces, just to try. Since I was experimenting, I not only bought used, but bought the items that would make start-up the cheapest. Thankfully Bootyland’s staff is super helpful and their used items are controlled for high quality.
I got about 12 prefolds and 5 covers, all for under $50. I figured I could start there, and if I loved it I could get more. If I didn’t love it, it was only $50, and I might be able to re-sell some of it.
One of my covers is really a soaker – the white one with green piping - which I didn’t really understand when I bought it. A soaker doesn’t completely contain the moisture, but created a dense barrier between the diaper and the clothes. You will feel some dampness around the bum, which means it’s time to change – but the clothes aren’t really wet. The 5th cover I got is pictured on my babe later in this post…
There were certainly fancier/more expensive options for everything that I bought, but since saving money is a major part of the draw to cloth diapering (for me, at least), I decided to buy used and inexpensive items. Two of these were smalls, so we’re already out of those. The other three are mediums, and we’re still in them with waist space to spare.
There are of course many options in even the most simple cloth diapering plan. Fitted, flat or prefold? PUL, fleece or wool? Gusseted or not? Snaps, pins, snappis or velcro?
It’s too much to think about, so I bought some prefold diapers, some PUL covers with velcro and gusseted legs (for keeping the poo in) and cut up an old fleece shirt to use as liners. Here are my tools: The actual diaper in this system is the square piece of cloth, folded to create more layers in the center and sewed. The cover I am using is a fabric bonded with a waterproof barrier (PUL – polyurethane laminate) inside. The fleece strip will pull moisture away from baby’s bum and into the diaper, so her tush stays dry.
Next, I lay the diaper in the cover. Here again there are a thousand methods – you could pin or use a snappi to hold the prefold around baby and make it more like a fitted. There are dozens of folds and twists for using the prefold diaper in the cover. I just fold the diaper in thirds, lay it in, and spread the back out a bit to create a “poo pocket”.
When putting the diaper on baby, it’s important to run your fingers along the waist, back and legs to make sure that all parts of the diaper are tucked inside the cover, and that the cover creates a good seal around the legs and back, where leaks are likely to occur.
That’s it! Lazy, lazy cloth.
When I first started with cloth, I realized that the extra bulk made the Pie seem a little bow-legged. As she’s gotten bigger, it has improved. I have to use bigger pants and onesies to cover her tush, but that’s not much of an issue.
If the 3-part system sounds like too much work, there is another method for the same pieces – you can pre-set all the diapers and liners and have them ready to go into your covers when you need them.
If that still seems like a lot, you can try pocket diapers. Pockets need to be stuffed with a cloth prefold or insert, and can be done either as soon as the laundry is done or just before putting it on baby. I usually stuff my pockets before putting them away, so that they’re more of a “grab-and-go” option. Stuff the absorbent part into the pocket, and tuck it in the back flap.
There is also the option to use an AIO (all-in-one) diapering system, where there is nothing to do but slap it on the baby, wash it, and throw it back in the pile of clean diapers.
This Kushies AIO has a sewn-in absorbent flap, which is a nice feature because the downside of AIOs is that they take forever to dry. This allows for more “pieces” of the diaper to dry separately. On the backside of this flap there is a pocket, which you can stuff a doubler (a liner, not quite as thick as a prefold) into to add some absorbency. The AIO option is perhaps the closest thing to putting on a disposable diaper – there are no pieces to track down, no need to touch any of the “ick” to get diaper components apart, but they do take forever to dry, and this one does not have a liner that draws moisture away from baby’s skin, so I found myself adding a fleece liner to these. (Additionally, the Kushies dipe has a flat back, so poos get out all the time. Mama did not like.)
I keep all my stuff in a basket next to the changing table, and just grab them as needed. I toss dirties into a little pail that I lined with an old stuff sack (a remnant from my archaeological excavation) which is made with PUL-coated nylon, and toss the diapers and the sack in the laundry. Then I rinse the pail with vinegar and water and put it back next to the changing table.
In my decision to use cloth, I wanted a system that was inexpensive both in initial investment and in overall diapering costs, something that was easy and allowed me to be as lazy as possible, and that reduced waste and environmental impact from disposables. I felt like covers, which can be re-used a few times before washing, eliminated another level of “waste”, in that I could generate more laundry before needing to wash diapers. They are, however, the most work to put together, and the hardest to secure on a wiggling baby because of the multiple layers to manage. AIOs seem to be the least amount of work, but take the most time in laundering. Pockets require some work, but can be put together in advance and dry quicker than AIOs.
Laundering is actually pretty easy. Since I breastfeed, there aren’t any solids in the diaper yet. I just toss the whole dipe in the pail, and toss everything in the wash. The machine has to be about half-full, to allow for proper agitation to get everything clean while minimizing water use. I do one full cycle on cold with no soap, then one full cycle on warm with a little bit of laundry detergent (plant-based soaps don’t work well on diapers- I use a store brand unscented detergent) and then a final rinse & spin in cold water with no detergent. This system gets the mess out of the diapers in the first cycle, then cleans the diapers, then rinses out any detergent leftover. Then they go in the dryer on medium-low.
There is no “best” system – the ideal system is the one that works best for you, for your baby and for your lifestyle. Try a few different kinds (borrow or buy used at first, if possible!) and decide which diaper allows you to be the laziest and which fits babe best. Although there is strong opposition to ‘sposies from the cloth camp, and a lot of confusion from the ‘sposie camp about why anyone would want to use cloth, I think more people than we realize sit somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. I use cloth during the day and ‘sposies at night, and feel good about the fact that I only generate 7 pieces of trash a week. I use more water than I would if I were using disposables, but the amount of water that goes into making the disposables is a bit of an unknown – and I’m sure more than I imagine. Every cloth diaper I use is a disposable not ending up in the landfills.
For a lot of mamas, there is a combination of diapers that work best for their needs – daytime, nighttime, traveling, childcare, poopy days, less poopy days. My lazy diapering system is an ongoing experiment, and I’m sure it is that way for most mamas.