Cloth diapering 101

There are as many ways to deal with your child's excrement as there are stars in the sky. Talking to ‘pros’ about cloth diapers helps you narrow your choices! Here are some tips for newbies to help get you started with cloth diapers.

Cloth diapers, drying on a clothesline. Photo: pierrotsomepeople (via Flickr)
Cloth diapers, drying on a clothesline. Photo: pierrotsomepeople (via Flickr)

This is a guest post by Clara Cristofaro and Kerry Sauriol, two local moms who have successfully navigated the sometimes confusing world of cloth diapering!

Kerry’s hold on sanity is her computer and the world of mommy bloggers. She can ignore the chaos created by three kids, three cats, a dog and patient husband and find the peace it takes to come up with her latest post at her personal site Crunchy Carpets. Apart from obsessive Tweeting and Facebooking, she can also be found haranguing people to post on her other site Wet Coast Women.

Clara is a writer, mother and compulsive wisecracker currently enjoying an extended leave of absence from her boring office job. A recent transplant to New Westminster, Clara is an only child, a dog person and prefers her coffee, beer, and chocolate to be as dark as possible. She is also quite tall. She documents her life for the Internet at her personal blog, the cheeseblog and tweets the details as torturedpotato.

Talking Cloth with Kerry (mom of 3) and Clara (mom of 2)

We are two Metro Vancouver moms who banged our heads together and let all the information about cloth diapers fall out – into this post. We both believe that whatever works for you and your family is the only absolute best way to do things.

Clara: I started using cloth diapers when my first son was born in 2006. We used a diaper service for the first three months and then I bought our own supply from various local and online stores. My second son was born 18 months ago, when my first was almost 2, so we had two kids in cloth diapers for about a year.

Kerry: I am a cloth diaper newbie. I never even thought about them until this third child was on her way. My sudden interest in them was due mainly to the cost of disposables and the whole icky landfill thing. I started talking to cloth diaper users and surfing the net for more information. I even checked out a workshop done by Vancouver Company New and Green. It was very helpful, but I still found the whole thing a bit daunting. I still do. I think we are now spoiled for choice. The biggest issue I find in cloth diapering is the initial cost. Getting started can put a dent in your wallet. There are options though..used, renting out starter kits, and the millions of ‘types’ of cloth diapers.

Talking to ‘pros’ about cloth diapers helps you narrow your choices!

Clara: I believe there are as many ways to deal with your child’s excrement as there are stars in the sky. I am a part timer: we use cloth at home during the day and disposables overnight and when we go out for more than two hours or on vacation. (What? Oh you caught me. Of course we won’t be taking a vacation until well after these kids are out of diapers.)

If I was starting with cloth diapers right now, this is what I would use, based on what I’ve learned over the past three years:

Disposables until the baby is 10 lbs

My reasons:

  • newborns have runny, watery poop and lots of it. There were no cloth diapers I could find for a 8 – 10 lb baby that didn’t somehow gape or leak, necessitating frequent costume changes and you just don’t want to change a newborn any more than you have to because they scream like nobody’s business.
  • I also found that the diapers and covers combination rubbed against the baby’s umbilical stump and irritated it. The stump is supposed to stay clean and dry and having a moist cloth against it didn’t seem conducive to healing (to be fair, the disposables did this too but they were easier to manipulate so that they were just below the stump)

Kerry: I agree with this even though with my giant baby (9 lb 7 oz) I didn’t really have to ‘wait’ till she was over ten lbs, and found the fitted diapers that I had to work quite well.

And the insane amount of changes means you would need a crazy amount of small cloth diapers to get through this part anyway.

Fitted diapers with covers from 12 weeks – 6 months:

My reasons:

This is the easiest and fastest way to get a diaper on a baby. The fitted diapers are elasticized or fitted around the thighs and this helps prevent leaks.
No folding involved, which becomes important when the baby starts rolling and then crawling away from you. You need to move fast and diaper faster.
I found this to be the bulkiest form of cloth diapering and when the baby is this young, I don’t feel so bad that its butt is so big and padded. When babies get more mobile, from 6 months and up, I like the diapers to be more slim cut so that they can experiment with movement.

Pocket diapers from 6 months until switching to training pants or underpants

My reasons:

They are slim and trim and allow the baby as much freedom of movement as a disposable
They are as fast to apply on a squirming, screaming toddler as a disposable
They wash and dry beautifully because they separate into two parts – in fact they can air dry in an hour, which saves dryer energy.

I also recommend:

  • Flushable diaper liners for 6 months and up or whenever you start solid foods and start getting solid waste as your reward. These liners are like 10-ply toilet paper. If dirty, they can be dropped in the toilet and flushed away. If they are only wet, you can launder them with your diapers and re-use them until they start to fall apart. (My personal record for re-use is 3.)
  • A way to store the dirty diapers until laundry time. I use these drawstring, nylon bags (bummis) and one of these – they pull closed to keep the smell in and they go right in the washing machine with the diapers. I like the bag method over the diaper pail because then I’m not fishing around in a pail with my hands, pulling out soiled diapers to put in the washer. I just up-end the bag, toss it in too, shut the door. Granted, this would be easier with a top loading washer but it’s not impossible with our front-loader.

Diapering routines

Clara’s routine:

The dirty diapers go in the drawstring bag hanging from our stair railing or in the bag-lined pail at the top of the stairs, near the washing machine. I empty the bags into our washer and run the diapers through with hot water and a tablespoon of detergent (any kind you like but the less the better as the soap can leave a film on the diapers and then they won’t absorb as well) as well as ¼ cup of white vinegar for the rinse. On the rare occasion that the diapers still smell when the wash is done, I run them through another cold cycle with more vinegar. Then, into the dryer or on to our drying rack.

I would have thought that leaving a bag full of wet & soiled diapers for a day or two would have created an almighty stench but actually it does not. I have heard of putting a few drops of tea tree oil in the diaper pail to neutralize odour. That sounds lovely and I’m sure it would work. But I found that unless I was standing right over the diaper pail, inhaling, it wasn’t a problem. Not nearly as stinky as one dirty disposable in a garbage can. Seriously.

Kerry’s Routine: The cleaning of these things so far (with a 10 week old) has been easy. I tend to just toss the fitted diapers and cloth liners and covers right into my top loading washer. I have a button on my machine to fill the tub with water (cold) with as much water as I need and I soak them in there until I get around to actually washing the whole load. I don’t have a big supply of diapers at the moment so this is every other day right now. Disposing of the poop is easy too…specially if you use the biodegradable liners.

As the poop and so on gets worse, I know I will have to follow more stringent washing procedures.

Overnight:

Clara: I have heard of people padding their kids up with extra cloth diapers overnight. My kids are heavy wetters and I never managed a combination for overnight that didn’t result in night waking (to be avoided at Any Cost) so we use a disposable overnight.

Kerry: I swing between disposable and cloth at night. Depends how sleepy I am. All those snaps get complicated in the dark.

Out and about

Clara: When I had only one child I had a diaper bag stocked with cloth diapers. I was very well organized. It is possible to do it if you carry a small wet bag to put the dirties in. When the second child was born I had to make some decisions about how to streamline my routine and ensure that I was not running around like a headless chicken. One of those decisions was to keep the diaper bag / accoutrements / stuff that prevents me from getting out of the house before noon as simple as possible. For me, that means disposables.

Kerry: I have a bag for the dirty diapers and usually one or two cloth and a wad of disposables stuffed in my too-small diaper bag.

Hidden Advantages of Using Cloth

  • Kids feel when they are wet, which helps when it’s toilet training time
  • You can make your own diapers if you’re handy – there are tonnes of patterns and resources online for this. My friend even designed her own pocket diaper for her kids. This saves a loooooot of money – assuming you have the time.
  • You can re-use laundered wipes. When a disposable wipe gets washed it gets really soft. I use mine to wipe my children’s noses. I tell them they are special tissues.
  • If you opt, as we did, to buy 50 prefold diapers (like these) you can use them in perpetuity to clean floors, wash windows or soak up spilled coffee. After they’ve been washed 100 times they are the most absorbant paper towel you will ever meet: and bonus! they’re not paper! In fact, I recommend everyone go out and buy 10 prefold diapers (they are about $2.50 a piece) just to have around the house in case your cat throws up or your children get into a yogurt fight.

Kerry: I too have found the prefolds to be great dusters and window washers…just a bit em…awkward for their actual use!

The greatest hurdle for me has been FINDING the diapers. Finding them easily and cheaply and in person. The vast selection of online stuff is great, unless you are like me and need to see and touch the things to figure out if you want to buy them.

Clara: Totally true. I did the majority of my research when my first child was not even sitting up yet. I had the luxury of time and a paid maternity leave to fund my cloth diaper purchases. If I were just starting out with cloth diapers now, with 2 kids, I would definitely be frustrated by the lack of local, affordable options.

Kerry: As I mentioned before, my biggest issue is the initial cost of setting yourself up with the cloth diapers. I think this expenditure is detrimental and discouraging to many, especially those on a tighter budget. Each diaper can range in price from $12 to $20 each. Times that by 30 and yowza. Add liners and covers and then add the thought of special bags, detergents, etc etc and I think many would-be cloth diaper users run for the simple allure of the disposable.

I have seen used diapers being sold on Craigslist. If you don’t have a friend who can donate or sell them to you, I highly recommend this as the way to start. Also, just buy one or two of the different types out there to start. You have to figure out what works for you and your baby and the less spent and potentially wasted, the better.

I don’t feel guilty for the using the disposables with my cloth diapers. I am still sending less of them to the landfill, and one of these days, when I figure it all out, will actually spend LESS money too.

Online Resources

Where to buy

Local “in-person” Stores

  • Kids Kloset in Sapperton (420 E. Columbia Street, New Westminster) carries a selection of cloth diapers, including my faves, the Bum Genius 3.0 and the Kushies diaper liners.
  • Unlimited Discount Diapers in Point Grey (4330 W. 10th Ave) has a vast selection of fitted diapers and covers, prefolds in bleached and unbleached cotton.
  • Room 4 Two (1409 Commercial Drive) has a great supply of the Kushies liners
  • TJ’s Kids World (various locations in the Lower Mainland) has a variety of Kushies cloth diapers and covers for reasonable prices.

Online Stores:

  • New And Green (Vancouver) http://www.newandgreen.com/index.php
  • Jamtots (Victoria) http://www.jamtots.com
  • Weecare Diaper Company (Langley) http://weecarediapercompany.com

Glossary

Flat Diaper – This is the “old style” large rectangle of cloth that the last generation of cloth diaperers used. A flat diaper must be folded so that it is thicker in the middle, then into a kite or triangle shape and pinned or fastened around the baby. Add a PUL or wool cover and you are ready for action.

Prefold – Prefold diapers , pre-folded and stitched in multiple layers of cotton or hemp so they are more absorbant. This saves you one step over the flat diaper; you only need fold a prefold into a diaper shape and pin or fasten around the baby. I bought a supply of these to use with my first son because they are economical ($25 a dozen) and we used small ones when my second son was a newborn. After a certain age, trying to fold, pin and cover becomes prohibitively exhausting.

Fitted – A fitted diaper goes one step further than a prefold and is sewn in diaper “shape.” Fitted diapers often fasten around the baby’s waist with velcro like these Kushies or sometimes require fastening with diaper pins or a fastener like a snappi (see below). A fitted diaper is just cloth so you still need a waterproof cover.

Cost: you’re paying for two pieces, the diaper and the cover. Fitted diapers range in price from $10 – $20 each. I am still using some Kushies fitted diapers that I bought three years ago, a five-pack for $40. Covers are about the same price, $12 apiece, but you only need 2 – 4 of them, since you can use the same cover until it gets dirty.

Pocket diaper – A pocket diaper is two parts: the pocket, which is made of a waterproof material and which fastens using velcro or snaps, and the stuffer, which is a long pad that goes into the pocket and absorbs the pee. Pocket diapers are expensive. The ones I like are called and I paid $21 each. But if a pocket diaper is made well it can last at least two years. (I say at least because that is how long I’ve had mine.) Some pocket diapers are sized (ie: S,M,L) but others, like the Bum Genius 3.0, are adjustable so that they fit kids from 7 – 35 lbs.

Snappi Fastener Someone invented this as an alternative to diaper pins and it is pretty sweet. I stole this definition from the website because I couldn’t define it any better without saying “doohickey” a lot.
“An EASY to use fastener that offers a PRACTICAL and RELIABLE way to fasten a cloth diaper, replacing the diaper pin. It comes in a variety of colors and is made from a stretchable non-toxic material, which is T-shaped with grips on each end. These grips hook into the diaper fabric to ensure a snug-fitting diaper with enough natural movement for the baby.”

Cover – A cover goes over your favourite cloth diaper to prevent your child’s clothes from getting soaked with pee. They can be made with PUL (polyurethane laminate), wool or fleece. They fasten with snaps or Aplix/VELCRO® or if wool, just pull up like underpants. these covers and these covers were my favourites because they were breathable and not too stiff. I also loved my wool cover, which was miraculous (waterproof! Breathable!) and expensive ($30!) and got eaten by moths. If you can knit, there are patterns for wool covers out there.

Clara Cristofaro

Clara Cristofaro is a really valued member of the Tenth to the Fraser community. Interested in joining our pool of writers? Please see these submission guidelines.

11 comments

  1. Great post guys! Kale is 15 months old and has been in Bare Bums (made by two SAHMs in Merritt under the website http://www.clothdiaperseh.com) since he was 3 months old. I started with disposables the first week or two, then switched to the newborn size of diaper using the pattern at http://www.verybaby.com. Except that he outgrew those in a HEARTBEAT. So we switched back to disposables until he could fit into the medium sized Bare Bums. I did a product review a while back, and it is one of the posts that generates the most hits: http://www.arbolog.com/?p=234

    And we use a disposable at night too…. its a laziness thing.

  2. Thanks for the article. My wife and I started on cloth diapers just after our second child was born. We used them on our daughter from one month on and they’ve been great.

    Our son, 13 months older, had a lot of trouble with them. No matter how often we changed him or what creams we used, he got terrible rashes and blisters. After four months of trying, we put him back on disposables, and he cleared up right away.

    It worked out well though, as our daughter had outgrown her diapers and fit perfectly onto his old diapers.

    One issue I would raise for renters is the cost of laundry. if you use coin or card machines. It can be significant, so be sure to account for it web you look at the costs.

    Great intro to cloth diapers, I hope it answers everyone’s questions. Thanks again!

  3. Mark, I thought about that after writing this..not only the cost..but I was wondering how ANYONE without their own laundry manages.

    I keep thinking back to the 'dark ages' of the 70's in the UK with us trucking big stuff to the laundromat and at least the apartments over their had back yards with lines to hang laundry.

  4. Cloth diapers are also sold at Boomers and Echoes in North Vancouver, and at Hip Baby on West 4th in Vancouver.

    We had a few all in one diapers in newborn/small size from when my daughter was teensy and someone who was scared of cloth diapers was changing her. We used Monkey Doodlez and loved them. Otherwise my cloth diapering routine has been exactly the same as Clara’s.

    One addition for parents of daycare kids. For our first daycare (North Shore Neighbourhood House) we were sending 4 cloth diapers a day and a tote bag, and kept a small pile of disposables at daycare in case Megan went through a lot of diapers. They were very cloth-friendly.

    Our new daycare still doesn’t understand cloth so we are breaking them in slowly by sending Megan in a cloth diaper every morning and dropping off a tote bag to bring it home in, but during the day they use disposables. Grrr.

  5. Yeah we did disposables when boy1 was in daycare that year. Hidden costs of daycare, right?

    I’m not sure I’d’ve been so gung ho about cloth if we had stayed in our downtown apartment with two washers 3 floors down. I don’t think my neighbours would have liked it either. I wonder what the plus/minuses (economic minuses I mean; obviously it would stink) are of starting a diaper service because for urbanites crammed into tiny apts you might find a large clientele. When we used the diaper service in 2006 it was the *only one* in the lower mainland. I don’t know if that is still true.

  6. Thanks for all the tips, ladies! I’m bookmarking this page for future reference. Our first baby is due in January, and we’re planning to try him in Bum Genius’s “one size” cloth diapers. They seem like the simplest option, and if they are telling the truth about the diapers fitting babies from 7 – 35 lbs, we should only have to buy one big set, instead of buying a new supply periodically as he grows. Wish me luck! I’m sort of scared, but committed to at least give it my best shot 😀

  7. We have used cloth diapers since my now 14mo baby girl was about 10lbs. Our routine is nearly identical to Clara's. We use fuzzi bunz (bought nearly new on craigslist from parents that gave up after a few weeks) and we have loved them. We also have a few bum genius but I did have concerns with these: the velcro tabs are very sharp on the sides and have a tendency to rub our lo on the tummy if they are not placed just right, they are much bulkier and more work to put together with the one size (you have to unsnap and snap the liner back when washing) and the velcro definitely loses its 'stick' with time. One trick that has worked for us to keep smell down and stretch laundry day is to shake out the liner pads and give them a quick rinse and wring out in the sink before they go into the pail liner.

  8. We just bought some (used) pocket diapers which are super. We have a diaper service for the diapers, but we use the wraps with them and then use the inserts when we run out of the service diapers. They are so soft and cuddly, it makes me wish I’d had them with my older daughter. It would have swayed me to wash the diapers and wraps at home.

  9. I did try the FB too, but Kale has skinny little legs and I found we have some leaks so they weren’t for him. The Bum Genius were decent… but I can’t stand velcro and have the same complaint as Amber. A friend of mine swears by AMP diapers (http://www.ampdiapers.com/). New and Green offers sample packs and I highly recommend those – because every baby is way different and then you aren’t committed to two dozen diapers that don’t fit well because I’m pretty sure that a lot of new parents give up because their cloth diapers don’t fit well and so they have lots of messes.

    @Mark – I’ve heard of some kids who just can’t stand the cloth without getting all rashy. The little girl I babysit is one of them. I’m so glad we have a choice nowadays!

    Re: electric bills: I have in-suite laundry at our place and because I love data analysis, I actually monitored this, and when we started using cloth diapers, our electric bill went up $5 per month. I use hot water to wash the diapers (cold for everything else) and I use Buffalo Recycled Laundry Soap for them.

  10. I have been using a diaper service (www.diapersnaturally.ca) with my two girls and it has been great. I get 60 for $15 diapers a week and it works out to about .25 a diaper, which is cheaper than most disposable diapers.

    It is super easy to use, just shake off any solids into the toilet and then put the diaper in the pail. They pick up and drop off more diapers every week. I use the Bummis Super Whisper wraps and rarely have a leak.

    I do use disposables at night and sometimes when we go out. Overall, I find cloth a bit more work, but it is definitely worth it!

    Thanks for the post!

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