Cloth Diaper Tips and Tricks
The benefits of cloth diapering are numerous: reducing your waste and consumables, reducing the risk of rashes, reducing the length of time baby is in diapers, and saving some big bucks on your expenses. Just like with their disposable counterparts, there can be issues (or blow outs!), but with a little dedication and some idea of what to expect, one day you will be hanging that very last load on the line, laughing at all of the money and waste you saved! Here are some cloth diaper tips and tricks to help you learn this honourable skill!
These are the items that any parent who has just started cloth diapering needs to have. While it's always nice to have extra, and you should definitely consider doing so, you will want to start with these items and numbers at the bare minimum.
Buying diapers might seem intimidating at first. You will want at least 24 diapers for 1 child. It is really nice to have 36-48 for 2 or more kids because more frequent changes are a fact of cloth. You will typically do laundry every 2-3 days, and babies can easily go through 12 changes in a day! The "one size fits all" style diaper will get you the most bang for your buck as opposed to different sizes for different weights, but beware that newborns will usually be too small for that type. Early on, opt for diapers specially sized for newborns. There are many types of diapers to chose from depending on your preferred style. They can come in either covers, pockets, all-in-ones or all-in-twos. You will also want at least two inserts or boosters for each diaper. There are numerous cloth diapering companies to choose from throughout North America.
Reusable cloth wipes
Often overlooked, but just as important as far as waste is concerned, go for reusable cloth wipes. You can find them at any baby or department store and you may receive them at your baby shower. You can even make your own out of old T-shirts! Keep a few pre-wetted cloths in a container for easy wipe downs. Some of the scented disposable wipes can be full of harsh chemicals and perfumes that irritate baby's delicate parts. Use plain water and baby soap or try this homemade diaper wipe solution.
Wet bag (or two)
Great to have when you're out of the house (or in!) to stash dirty diapers in until you get home with no smell or mess.
Diaper pail and reusable bags
For the home, you will want either a diaper pail with a reusable pail liner or a hanging wet bag to store all the dirty diapers until laundry day. Good reusable bags can take hundreds of washes and days on the line with your diapers.
Washing Routine and Stripping
Water, washing machine, soap, and schedule can change wash results drastically for cloth diapers, and may take some trial and error. The number one sign your diapers are in need of a wash routine change or stripping is, unsurprisingly, smell. If they don't smell fresh coming out of the washing machine or dryer, if they have a strong ammonia smell when doing a bum change, or if your babe starts getting rashes or ammonia burn, it’s time to change something in your overall routine.
The most common washing routine
Daily or every other day: Run a rinse cycle (some will argue with soap, others will say it is not necessary), then a wash in hot water with laundry detergent (no fabric softeners!). Line dry or dry in dryer on low heat. Certain natural fibres will do better in the dryer, and certain covers will do better on the line.
Stripping diapers when they get stinky
Run one hot wash with soap, followed by an overnight soak with a few drops of eco-friendly dish soap, followed by another wash, and then hang dry if possible. Juice from a lemon is a great extra additive to the overnight soak for killing germs and removing stains. Another common way to strip is one hot wash with soap, followed by another hot wash (with no soap) until the water no longer has soap bubbles (6-10), and then hang dry if possible.
Washing machine and dryer
Front loaders can work fine, but a top loader has some features that make cloth diapering easier, like the ability to soak and the ability to pick and stop cycles easily. Line drying is optimal but a dryer works just fine if you don’t have a line, or time, or for very cold winter days. Hanging should be done outside in the sun. Indoor drying is too slow and can turn diapers stinky really quickly.
Laundry soap options
Read all of the reviews you want, but depending on your water, results can be very different. Trial and error is all you can depend on. Avoiding harsh chemicals and toxic fabric softeners are a must for your diapers to work correctly, so try and choose milder detergents, eco brands, or even homemade laundry soap: the most popular by David Suzuki's Queen of Green can be found here.
A few more tips
Now that you're on your way to becoming a cloth savvy eco-mom or dad, here are a few more tips on things like inserts and absorbency, onesies, and leaving cloth diapers on overnight that you should find helpful.
All babies are designed differently
Some children will need double inserts from the start and some will only need one. Boys may need an extra insert at the top of the diaper, where girls need extra absorbency towards the middle and back. Two children, even of the same sex, can have very different absorbency needs.
Once baby starts sleeping longer stretches and hopefully through the night, inserts can be doubled or tripled as needed. The most common way to keep all that extra fluid off of that soft skin is to use a microfibre insert close to (but not touching) the skin (some brands have this feature built in). Microfibre wicks away the urine into the absorbent layers of the diaper and maintains its dry feel. Most microfibre inserts will have one side of microfibre and one side of cotton/bamboo/fleece. However, for best moisture wicking effects, you want that particular insert to be the closest one to baby. Alternatively, natural fibres such as hemp are super absorbent and can hold enough liquid that overnight will not be a problem. Microfleece liners are another alternative for a stay-dry feel for baby.
We love cute onesies, but the truth is they ride the edge of the diaper and easily wick urine onto clothes (referred to as compression leaks) and blankets, creating more laundry! Making sure your little one’s diaper is fitting properly and the insert is in correctly will help. As a general rule, it is always best to go up a size in one-piece clothing, especially bottoms, to leave space for their cute "fluffy" bum. Diapers with a double gusset around the legs can further prevent leaking.
Before the pail
If exclusively breastfeeding, baby poops are pretty much water soluble and do not require much extra work. Toss them in the pail until laundry day and everything will come out in the wash. Once food or formula is introduced, the quality of the stool will change. Scraping as much mess off of diapers before they go into the pail is important but a little bit here and there should just wash out with the dirty water. The old school way is to give the diaper a rinse in the toilet bowl before it goes into the pail. Disposable inserts can be helpful during periods of soft stool, but they are NOT flushable like they claim to be. These inserts do not break down quickly enough and can wreak havoc on your well or municipal water stations. Better to find biodegradable inserts, and toss them into a composting bin. The other alternative is to get a diaper sprayer, which will help you spray the mess directly into the toilet, without having to come in too-close-contact with the baby poo.
Sometimes cloth diapering requires a learning curve with some troubleshooting and trial and error, but if you are committed to cloth for financial or environmental reasons, you will prevail!
Stay calm and get your cloth diaper on!
*Originally published September 17, 2016