N, 18 months, modeling our new cloth diapers.

Several months back, I officially made the switch to cloth diapers.  I feel like I am probably the last person on earth to figure out the ins and outs of this topic, but since I have had several friends and strangers ask me questions about cloth diapers recently, I figured it might make a good post topic.  While I have not gone through the entire infant stage yet, I have learned a great deal about cloth diapering these last few months. 

First, I can tell you a bit about our diapers and the system we have found to make things easier around here.   We use Fuzzi-Bunz cloth diapers.  I must preference this by saying that I did absolutely no research on diapers, and have no idea how these compare to other brands.  The sole reason I have these is because my neighbor’s children had outgrown them, she was encouraging me to use cloth, and offered to sell me hers at a great price.  I bought them.  That being said, I have been very happy with our diapers. 

While my limited research since has shown that other brands are very similiar in characteristics, here is a brief overview of ours.  The diaper itself is actually pretty hi-tech!  It consists of a “shell” with the outer side being a fabric lined on the inside with a waterproof coating, and the inner side being wool to wick the moisture away from baby. 

diaper shell on left, liner on right

The back of the diaper has an opening to slip the absorbent liner in and out easily.  I could be wrong, but I think I read somewhere that the liner is something like wool with a cotton interior.  It is fairly absorbent in any case.

Unlike the old cloth diaper pins, this diaper has snaps all over the front to allow you to adjust the diaper as baby grows.  I can honestly say it is very adjustable!  My 24 pound toddler wears the same size as my 34 pound toddler (though the bigger one won’t fit too much longer). 

I have had no problem with leaks around the legs.  The only issue I have had with leaks is with my older toddler.  He has a bit of a drinking fetish, and pees like crazy.  As a result, despite our limiting his fluid intake, he soaks the diaper overnight, and it would leak out around the top.  In this case, I finally found that if I took a second absorbent liner, folded it in half, and stuffed into the front of the diaper, while leaving the first liner as normal, then the extra layers prevented leaks.  It does create a bit of a bulky diaper, but that doesn’t seem to bother him, and it saves me a lot of laundry! 

With three exceptions, cloth diapering is really not much different than using disposable diapers.  Those three exceptions include dealing with the dirty wipes, dealing with the soiled diapers, and dealing with the ammonia smell between changing and laundering. 

I quickly realized how habitual it was to wipe baby, drop the dirty wipe into the disposable diaper, roll it up, and toss in the garbage.  Quick, simple, and mess free.  At this point, I am still using a standard diaper pail, for lack of other ideas.  I keep it beside the changing table, and just toss the wipes in there now, rather than the diaper.  It works, but I would like to find a better option that doesn’t use all that plastic. 

As far as the dirties, I know a number of people who simply dump the diaper into the toilet, perhaps even swirl the diaper in the toilet water (giving it sort of a pre-rinse), and then toss it into the laundry diaper pail.  Before we potty-trained, I did not have a great deal of success with this dumping and swirling technique.  I am bit particular about having the diaper, ummm….shall we say “chunk-free?”  So with our next baby, I have every intention of having a designated “diaper spatula” stored near the toilet to actually scrape the waste off.  I think it will make life much easier. 

The ammonia is much easier to deal with.  The severity of the smell will actually depend a lot on your child’s urea production and the time it sits before laundering.  Some of the diaper manufacturers actually sell a specially lined laundry bag to lock in odors while the diapers sit.  We have chosen not to invest in this, rather we use a good old-fashioned bucket, and bottle of vinegar-water. 

When we take the diapers off the baby, we remove the liner, lightly spray both sides of the liner and the wool side of the diaper shell with the vinegar water, then just drop it in the bucket to sit until laundering.  Mine generally don’t sit more than 24 hours though, as I do at least one load of laundry almost every day.  I just toss the diapers and liners in whatever load I am washing at the time. 

So there you have it.  Cloth diapering 101.  Here are some other tips based on my very limited experience:

  • Cloth diapers will not swell up like disposables, so you must remember to change them frequently.  If you go too long between changes, you will risk yeast or bacterial infections taking hold of baby.  Trust me, we learned this the hard way.
  • Some of the fancier cloth diapers with wool pads and waterproof linings cannot be bleached.  You also have to be careful to use a mild detergent (homemade detergents are also fine).  You may be able to sterilize them by boiling them in hot water and/or vinegar for 20-30 minutes. 
  • Vinegar is excellent for neutralizing the ammonia odor while the diaper is waiting to be washed, or when sterilizing.  If your child has a pretty high level of urea/ammonia, and you spray the diaper with you may hear or even see a bubbly fizzing occur (picture hydrogen peroxide on a dirty wound).  Don’t be concerned.  This is simply a chemical reaction between an acid (vinegar) and a base (ammonia), as it neutralizes into a salt water.  Quite fascinating, actually!  Great homeshool science experiment!
  • Do not soak your diapers with the vinegar, unless you are going to wash it soon after.  Vinegar is an acid, and it could potentially break down the waterproof lining of the diaper and/or the diaper itself.   A very light spray is all it takes, and that ensures the chemical reaction will occur to turn it from acid into salt water, which is relatively harmless.  I even run it through a laundry cycle after the occasional boiling in vinegar water just to make sure all the acid is out. 
  • Cloth diapers that can’t be bleached do have stains.  It is a fact of life, and you just learn to deal with it.  If the diaper is clean and smells fresh, it’s safe to use.  If you have concerns, boil it once in a while.
  • Cloth diapers can be a bit of a nusance on outings.  You have two choices, both of which we have tried.  First, you can take ziploc bags to seal the used diapers in until you get home and can clean them.  Second, you can use disposable diapers during outings.  Both options have pros and cons, and you have to decide what’s right for you.  We learned to utilize both options, depending on how long the outing was.  If I only had the potential of 1-2 diaper changes, I generally preferred the cloth diapers and ziploc bags.  If the outing was longer, I used disposables so I wouldn’t have to carry dirty diapers around all day. 

So, if you have been considering taking to the plunge into cloth diapering, I recommend you go for it.  It will be different, but it is very doable.  It is better for baby, better for the pocketbook, and better for the environment!