29 January 2013

Cloth Diapering: Getting Started & Daily Care

Cloth diapering is a confusing world, so I thought I'd share what I've learned over the last six months in hopes of helping others who are considering cloth diapering. My goal is not to proselytize (though I admit that I'm bound to fail at this from time to time); rather, I want to share an accurate look at the realities of diapering and make note of some pros and cons along the way.

Did you miss the first post in the series? Check out cloth diapering basics. Now, let's talk about it means to cloth diaper - both getting set up and keeping it going.

First, what do you need to get started? 

The supplies are pretty simple:
  • Diaper pail. Anything with a lid will work, and having a pedal or hands free way to open the lid is ideal. We use a standard rubbish bin. 
  • Diaper pail liners. Obviously, you'll want a size that corresponds with the size of your pail. We have two, and that seems to be enough. 
  • Trash bin (optional). You'll need a separate place to dispose of wipes if you're not doing cloth wipes as well. Make sure it has a lid.
  • Wet/Dry bag. This will keep your dirty diapers from contaminating the rest of the diaper bag when you're out and about.
  • Washing machine. 
  • Cloth diaper safe detergent. I found this chart and explanation helpful. 
  • Cloth diaper safe stain remover. 
  • Diapers. 

How do you know what diapers to buy to get started? Well, there are a few schools of thought on this. Many say to buy one or two of a bunch of types of diapers in order to find out what you like; many others suggest committing to one system and not looking back because you'll never know the difference once you've adjusted to your system. We initially did the latter (mostly), and I'd recommend the former with a few caveats. First of all, different diapers are ideal for different builds of baby. If you can stand to wait, I'd suggest waiting until baby's born. After seeing the baby's build, buy one or two of several types and combinations of diapers. Try a pocket diaper with snaps and in all-in-one with hook and loop. Try hemp inserts and bamboo prefolds. Mix it up to experience as many different features as possible. It will only take a couple of weeks to see what systems, closures, fabrics, and brands you prefer. Then, you can stock up on your preferred diapers and go on being a happy cloth diapering family. You'll still be able to use the "trial" diapers you started with, and you might even find that you like using something different from time to time.

How many do you need? To a point, it depends on how often you want to do laundry. A newborn will go through up to a dozen diapers in a day, though that number is nearly cut in half by the time the baby is into solids. To allow a bit of slack for wash and dry time, I'd say that 15 is probably a safe minimum number of diaper if you want to be in purely cloth and doing laundry often (daily with a newborn). Getting a few more than that will give you more flexibility and make it less likely that you need to use disposables when the diapers are all dirty and/or in the wash. Having a ton of diapers doesn't necessarily mean that you'll be doing significantly less laundry, however. I've found that letting dirty diapers sit for more than about two days before washing leads to odor; washing diapers every other day seems to work for me.

Our stash: 10 all-in-ones, 1 pocket, 10 snap-in-one outers, roughly 15 snap-in-one insert sets, and 1 swim diaper with prefold.

Once you're set, how do you care for cloth diapers?

First of all, I recommend "seasoning" your diapers before using them. Being able to do this in advance is one advantage to buying diapers before the baby's on the scene. Some diapers come with specific recommendations. Generally, I wash and dry diapers three times before the first use. For seasoning, I just use a short, cold cycle to use the least amount of water and energy possible.

Everyday care for diapers depends a little upon the baby's age. A caveat: I can't speak to care for cloth diapers for babies who are formula fed, though I doubt it's very different.

For breastfed babies, all waste is water soluble. I put soiled diapers into the lined diaper pail then straight into the washer. I found that spraying some stain remover (such as Biokleen Bac Out) on diapers before the wash helped to keep them smelling and looking their best. To avoid setting stains, I ran either a prewash or a short wash in cold water with just a tiny bit of powder. After that, I set the washer to its longest cycle on either hot (most of the time) or warm with half the amount of powder I'd normally use for a wash of the given size.

For the most part, care gets easier when the baby is on solids. Wet diapers go straight to the lined diaper pail. Soiled diapers get the poo flushed in the toilet and then the diaper put in the pail. (You didn't think there was going to be a series about diapering without talking about poo, did you?) I rarely need stain remover and generally skip the cold wash unless there is a stain that concerns me. Instead, I go straight to the long, hot cycle with half the normal detergent. During times of softer poo, diaper liners (very, very thin sheets that sit between the diaper and the baby's bottom) are useful as you can generally flush the poo and the liner and leave minimal soil on the diaper.

Our favorites

Cloth diapers can be dried in a machine or on a line. Machine drying is harder on the diapers and the environment but much faster. This is what I do at home. (Tip: put a clean, dry towel in the drier with your diapers, and the dry time will decrease significantly.) Line drying takes a bit more effort and patience (and decent weather), but it yields spotless diapers with no impact on the environment. I really loved hanging diapers in New Zealand, and I'm already keeping my fingers crossed for a cloth line being installed in our backyard. (Yep, the New Zealand sun removed six months worth of stains, but that's a story for another day.)

It's really that simple - a few extra steps when diapering, a few extra supplies, and a little extra laundry. You have to decide for you and your family whether this is worth the benefits of cloth diapering - namely those darn cute soft bums!

Questions about getting set up for cloth diapering or caring for cloth diapers? Leave them in the comments. Come back soon to hear about the cloth diapering adventures of two different families.

Some additional cloth diapering resources:
Diaper Pin
Simple Mom
Kelly's Closet
Diaper Junction
Nicki's Diapers
Jillian's Drawers

The rest of the cloth diapering series:
   The Basics
   Kendra, Greg, & Kenley's Experience
   Our Experience & Product Reviews
   Traveling with Cloth Diapers

1 comment:

Megan said...

Amanda! I'm pregnant :) and loving your tips on cloth diapering. So glad I stopped by to be nosy!! Madeleine is lovely and looks like a happy girl! I will definitely use your advice- hopefully I can find some of those bitti d'lish diapers locally..we have a store that allows you to try different types, and then they sell the returned ones as "gently used", so we'll be swinging by there in the coming months. Take care!!