Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Adventures in Cloth Diapering, Pt 3 -- How We Use It

Last Updated: 9/28/2012

In this post, I plan to discuss what cloth diapering looks like on a daily basis for us, and the ins and outs of our system to date. For the other posts in the series, go here: Part 1Part 2, and Part 4

~ Getting Started ~

I was planning on using disposables for about a week before switching to cloth -- this would get us past the meconium stage (I'd heard meconium stains terribly) and supposedly give us time to get settled. Well, some early difficulties and adjustments led me to postpone starting cloth, since the last thing I needed at the time was more complication in my life! So Little Man was about one month old before we started. On the day I started, I tried one cloth diaper just to see how it went. A few changes later I tried another cloth diaper. I continued like this for a day or two, until I realized that the diapers would have to be washed in 2-3 days anyway, so I might as well go the rest of the way! Really, it was a very easy transition.

~ Changing ~

At every change, I put the dirty diaper in a wet bag that hangs in my laundry closet (I change Little Man on the washing machine, which I cover with a folded towel). The used diaper cover is hand washed or wiped, and hung from our wire laundry shelf with a clothespin. I use a dry cover for the new diaper, and interchange covers with every diaper change. If there's a messy diaper, chances are the cover has gotten messy, too -- so both the cover and diaper are sprayed with the diaper sprayer (in our nearby master bathroom), and then deposited in the wet bag.

I started out soaking messy diapers in the toilet (although that step is not considered necessary for exclusively breast-fed babies), but 'round about a year after starting cloth diapering, my Diaper Duck died. So I purchased a diaper sprayer that attaches to the toilet. With an average of one messy diaper every few days in the early months, the sprayer wouldn't have been a huge advantage. But now that I have to deal with messies much more frequently, the diaper sprayer is quite a blessing.

For the new diaper, I grab one or two flat diapers from the shelf (one if I know I'll be changing Little Man soon; two for naps, overnight, or outings). My flats are folded into quarters when they come out of the dryer, so all I need to do is tri-fold them and put them in the cover, or do the origami fold and "Snappi" them before putting the cover on. You can find instructions for the origami fold (and several others) here.

Here's a flat diaper folded into the origami fold. This takes about four seconds
once you get the hang of it!

~ Washing ~


The biggest "disadvantage" to cloth diapering is, of course, that dirty diapers must be washed! Let me say right off that I don't think I'd have to courage to cloth diaper if I didn't have my washer inside the house. Because cloth diapering involves a lot of laundry, such an inconvenience would soon become overwhelming to me! Also, I would not suggest cloth diapering for people who just hate laundry. I personally enjoy laundry, so it works for me. And really, this kind of "laundry" is not very demanding. The washing machine does all the real work, and it's not as if you have to iron your diapers (unless you really, really want to).


I currently use ECOS Free and Clear, and I'm very satisfied with it. I occasionally add a scoop of Biokleen Oxygen Bleach.

What detergent you use is a big deal -- most store detergents are unsuitable for cloth diapers, causing build-up and making them much less effective (besides being bad for baby's skin). Here's a Cloth Diapering Detergent Chart from Diaper Jungle that is extremely helpful! And as a note, most baby detergents are horrible for diapers, even though it might seem they'd be mild enough to use. Just because a detergent says "free and clear" doesn't guarantee that it's safe for your diapers (especially if your diaper came with a warranty -- always check the manufacturer's washing instructions).


After dumping the contents of my wet bag into the washer (including the bag itself), I run a short cold cycle with no detergent. I then add detergent to the washer (mine's a top loader, but I use the HE amount of detergent -- too much detergent is not a good thing), and wash the diapers on "hot" for my longest cycle, with an extra rinse.

~ Stripping ~

Stripping your diapers puts them through a tougher-than-usual wash cycle that should remove soap/detergent build up. You can also do this if you think your diapers are repelling moisture, rather than absorbing it (hello, leaks), which is most common with fleece or other synthetic fabrics.

Here's how I do it (based largely on Thirsties's instructions:

1. I run my usual cold short cycle with all of my diapers and covers (Little Man wears disposable for a day while I do this), followed by my regular hot long cycle with my usual detergent and an extra rinse.

2. When my regular wash cycles are done, I remove my PUL covers and hang them up to dry -- they don't smell bad, and I don't want to wear them out with a heavy duty wash routine. Another advantage to having separate diapers and covers...

3. I go turn my water heater up from its usual energy-saving setting to a very hot setting. BE CAREFUL during the day when you use your faucets, especially if you have kids -- I've often wondered why my hands are burning as I wash dishes, only to remember that I turned up the water heater!

4. I start my hot load (using the largest load setting on my washer and the longest cycle, with an extra rinse) and add 1-2 TBSP of original Dawn dish detergent to the water. If you use the concentrated version, you'll end up with lots of suds! The original version comes in a 70's looking bottle, and is about $1.30 at my local Walmart. Those with front-loading HE washers, I would not suggest using Dawn, as I can't guarantee it won't cause problems.  Time to add all of the cloth diapers!

5. After my first really hot cycle is done, I run another hot cycle with no detergent and some vinegar in a Downy fabric softener ball (a great tool, even for those of us who never use chemical fabric softener -- just fill it part-way with vinegar!). By the way, I feel comfortable using vinegar because I made all of my cloth diapers very inexpensively, and I really don't care if the vinegar is a bit harsh on them. I can just make more when they wear out!

6. Okay, one more really hot cycle with no detergent! You probably don't need this many cycles, but it's not really extra work and I want to make sure that Dawn is totally rinsed out.

7. Time to turn the water heater back down -- but your faucets will be running hotter for several hours, so still be careful.

8. As a last step, I throw the diapers into the dryer on high heat (or you can line dry -- sunning diapers is a great way to get rid of odor and stains). And that's it! It's really not hard, and it works super well for me.

Note: I had to strip frequently with my previous diapering method(s), but now that I'm using flats -- which don't usually have build-up problems -- I haven't had to strip. 

~ Drying ~

Theoretically, I like to line dry as much as possible. This cuts down on energy costs, is better for the diapers, and helps me get some sunshine! However, all my good intentions were thwarted this summer due to several months (literally) of afternoon thunderstorms.

If I'm using the dryer, the diaper covers are hung from my wire laundry shelf with clothespins to air dry. Heat is very, very bad for PUL, and they dry extremely quickly (even indoors).

The cloth diapers and wipes are put into the dryer on high heat. After they're dry (which doesn't take long for flat diapers!), I fold my flat diapers into quarters and put them on my laundry shelf.

My homemade fitteds drying on the line (before
they were retired)

~ Out and About ~

Cloth diapering while out and about took a bit of courage the first several times! Fortunately, most of our outings are short enough that I don't need to change Little Man until we get home. A heavy wetter, though, might not be able to do that!

We have a small waterproof zippered wet bag, which we use for the dirty diapers. It's also handy for anything wet, though (like the time I spilled a whole cup of water last week...). Though quite honestly, I almost prefer a gallon plastic ziploc bag -- yes, I know that's very un-earth-friendly of me, but I can go through a box of twenty-something for only $2, and I rarely need one, anyway. Plus, being able to toss it after it's used is really kind of nice. So if you're uncertain about buying or making a wet bag and you don't have a lot of away-from-home diaper changes, just use a Ziploc bag! It's extremely compact, too.

I've heard of many people using cloth at home and disposable diapers when out, and this seems like a good option if you want to avoid some extra hassle (for me the hardest part is remembering to empty the wet bag when we get home!). I also use disposables when we leave Little Man with friends or family while Pablo and I go out. My family is perfectly willing to do cloth, but it just seems easier for everyone (me included) to use a few disposables.

Oh, and if you're cloth diapering when out and about -- bring several changes of clothes, especially for a young infant! We learned that the hard way. *wink* While leaks are almost non-existent now, the first few months were quite a different story (and those newborn blowouts are inevitable whether you're using prefolds or Huggies).

Actually, speaking of leaks -- I used disposables for about nine days on a trip we took when Little Man was about a year old, since I didn't want the hassle of transporting and washing cloth diapers. I brought Huggies and Publix brand diapers, and both of them leaked like crazy. I was afraid I'd be spoiled by the "ease" of disposables, but honestly I was relieved when we got home and went back to cloth!

I do keep a few disposable diapers in our diaper bag at all times, along with a travel container of disposable wipes. This is especially handy at the doctor's office (where he may be changed several times during an appointment), or if we run out of cloth diapers -- or just forgot to pack some!

~ General Observations ~

Cloth diapering doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. After all, it was the only option until about fifty years ago!

As a note, it is a bit harder to keep track of baby's growth when using cloth diapers -- it's much easier to gauge fullness and color with a disposable. This just means paying a bit more attention, which is not a big deal.

Also, most cloth diapers are considerably bigger than disposables! I have to keep that in mind when purchasing and making baby clothes. Generally I have to buy a size up in pants, and since he wore polo/turtleneck/regular ol' onesies exclusively for the first year, I had to buy his tops a size up, too.

Overall, it's been a great experience so far -- over18 months into it, as of this September 2012 update. It's very satisfying to know that we're saving so much and avoiding so many chemicals. Plus, it allows for much more creativity!

So am I sold on this? Definitely!


  1. I like reading about your experience. I am a new mom as well. I absolutely love our cloth diapers. I didn't have the courage to make as much as you did, but I found a great deal that made it super affordable ($5 each from eBay). I couldn't be happier with diapering. I was afraid to go all the way with cloth wipes, but it actually is working fairly well. I keep disposable wipes on hand though as well. Some days, I just don't feel like using them. At any rate, I was wondering- what solution do you use for the cloth wipes when you do use them? I have been experimenting, but haven't found a solution that I prefer yet (Though I have only tried two). Also, do you use a spray bottle or do you soak the wipes before using? Just curious.

  2. Thank you for posting this Shannon!
    I am not married yet, but I am definitely trying to learn as much as I can now while I have more time!
    I have been wanting to perhaps add some diapers/covers to my hope-chest, and your post was exactly what I needed to get started.
    I would love to hear more about your experiences with the whole art of mothering!
    By the way, your little man is beautiful!
    In Christ,

  3. Such great info. I just recently became aware of young moms using cloth 2011. I also would like to commend you for using a "clothes line". That too is very rare in modern times. It saves money!

    My mom still has the cloth diapers and pins she used for me. It's good to know something of the past is such a treasure for today! Take care.

  4. I should try Cloth Diapering cause it sounds interesting to me.

  5. just some hints from mother of many all cloth dippered and at uni now.
    Rash is normally caused by soap in the nappy or harsh soaps or leaving on to long
    We bought good quality second hand american cotton sheets and tore them into nappy liners just flush dirty ones wash wet ones they keep the nappy clean and cost almost nothing
    We bought a bath tap shower hose and if at home always hosed down little bottoms getting them perfectly clean we NEVER had rash first two I used washers when out rest baby wipes (which were new back then)
    We soaked in napisan washed by hand first two babies (YES LOTS of people did) machine the rest always double rinsed line dried last couple we had a drier for bad weather which stopped house looking like a chinese laundry
    We ALWAYS used disbosables with later children if sickness in house (gastro) we were told this by our doctor as nappies would have to be boiled to kill germs (this only happened twice but good to know anyway).
    Doctor also taught us gastro not airborn so easy to control wipe EVERY surface (door handles light swiches as well as tables benches etc)with good quaility disinfectant Isolate people/person who is sick if treating them wash your hands every time in hot soapy water for 3 minutes (everybody in family wash hands LOTS) no dairy or meat or fish for 3/4 days after gastro stops person sick not allowed in family areas NOT in kitchen (only way to get out of chores)or near food since being taught this gastro is normally a one person affair at most two rather than the nightmare of the whole family! Enjoy the little years they are the best and go so fast we still enjoy all our children but when they are little every day is an adventure and life is so amazing to them such fun!!


I'd love to hear your thoughts! Thank you so much for stopping by!