Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cloth Diapers 101

I have been meaning to write about this for quite some time. For everyone who has ever wondered about using cloth diapers, this post is for you! Please feel free to ask any questions and I will try to answer them.
I have written about cloth diapers before, but never on my blog. I do consider myself to be somewhat knowledgeable about cloth diapers since I have been using them for more than 6 years and I've been selling them for more than 4 years. That's right, I have a small retail store that I never talk about. I also started a cloth diaper store that I sold when I was pregnant with the girls. I used to sew my own diapers back when I had too much time on my hands!

I started using cloth diapers back when Matthew was about 4 months old. I have actually never even bought a pack of disposable diapers. I used up the ones that were given to me by family and friends and then went right to cloth. My first cloth diapers were these 12-year old fitted diapers and rubber covers that my aunt handed down to me. They did the trick, but they sure weren't pretty. It didn't take long before I started to seek out the cute diapers that are so popular these days!

There are so many types of cloth diapers that it's overwhelming to pick which styles to try when you are new to using cloth. I started with the hand-me-down fitted diapers and covers. Then I ventured into the land of all-in-ones and pocket diapers. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, let me elaborate...

Prefolds (aka flats) are the kind of diapers that your grandmother used. They're the basic, rectangles made of absorbent cotton. Prefolds are versatile because you can use them as an insert inside a pocket diaper, fold them in thirds and lay them in a cover, or fold them any number of ways and secure them around your baby with either pins (so old-fashioned!) or snappis . They usually come in either a natural color or a bleached white style. There are some that are sold in the store (like Gerber brand) that are not very absorbent and there are diaper service quality (DSQ) prefolds that are super absorbent. They come in different sizes and thicknesses and you can even find them dyed or embellished as well. I made the ones in the photos above using professional dyes and super cute fabric!

Snappis are bendable little hooks that secure the ends of diapers as an alternative to using pins. It's tough to explain but if you click on the link there are pictures and directions for use.

Covers come in all different styles and are just what they sound like-waterproof covers that go over the absorbent diaper. They can have snaps or velcro closure and can be made of wool, fleece, or PUL (polyurethane laminate.) Covers and prefolds are the cheapest way to cloth diaper. They can also be reused a few times before needing to be washed. I made the covers in the picture above. Some of them are plain PUL and some are PUL on the inside with a cute, woven fabric on the outside. They are trimmed in elastic and have velcro closures. You can also see that there is a fold-over laundry tab so that you can stick the velcro to itself when you wash them. This helps prevent "diaper snakes" which is when I pull out a long "snake" of 6 diapers stuck together.

Fitted diapers are simply an absorbent diaper that has no waterproof layer. They usually have snap closures and are used under a waterproof cover, some cute wool pants or something similar. I absolutely love fitted diapers for newborns since they are more cost effective than all-in-ones but still contain that runny newborn poop. We have used many different brands (and I have made my own) and I really love both Kissaluvs and Heiny Huggers. I used the Kissaluvs colored diapers (lavender, of course!) on the girls when they were little after winning a video contest. I also love the Heiny Huggers that come unbleached and then I can dye them any color I want. As a matter of fact, Joshua was the model for one of the Heiny Huggers ads when they first came out a few years ago. And that stack of fitted diapers in the picture above is a sample of what you can do with a bit of dye.

Pocket diapers are a huge favorite of mine. Actually, it's pretty much all we use right now. They are easy to use and dry more quickly than all-in-ones. Pocket diapers have a waterproof outer layer (usually PUL) and a dry layer next to baby (usually fleece) with a slit in between the two fabrics. You insert the absorbent layer inside that pocket. You can use microfiber inserts that sometimes come with the diapers, hemp inserts, or regular old prefolds. I almost always use prefolds. Pocket diapers are great because you can control the absorbency (we add an extra insert at night) and they dry fast because you pull the absorbent layer out and dry it separately.
I used to be a loyal Fuzzi Bunz fan but their quality went down the drain. Now I'm a Thirsties or Happy Heinys girl. That top photo is a Thirsties pocket AIO (a cross between a pocket and an all-in-one) and the bottom photo is a shot of the girls in their Happy Heinys.

All-in-one diapers are usually referred to as AIOs. These are the most husband-friendly diapers. Everything is already in place and you just put it on the baby. It's like the cloth version of a disposable diaper! Their is a waterproof outer layer, a dry inner layer, and an absorbent layer sewn in between. The downside is that they are the most expensive diapers and they take the longest to dry. However, they are EASY! I've tried dozens and dozens of different brands and sewn my own. In the pictures above you can see Matthew in a homemade diaper and the girls in their Bumkins AIOs.

One Size Diapers are relatively new to the cloth diapering scene. These are just diapers that have rows of snaps that can adjust to fit a growing baby. They are great if you are trying to cut costs by using the same diapers until your child potty trains. In reality, the more often you wash the diapers, the shorter their life, so it's probably a wash either way. I have used the same diapers through many kids (I still have some of Matthew's old diapers!) so the one-size is great but they probably won't live to see the next baby (or babies?) so keep that in mind. Also, many children stay in medium size diapers for a year or two and only wear the smaller or larger sizes for a few months.

What else am I forgetting?

Wipes? We use cloth. Just toss them in with the diaper and they all get washed together. Easy peasy! Some simple washcloths work well for wiping.

Poop? I dump solid poops in the toilet. Breastfed poop just gets left in the diaper. The babies are just now starting solids so they still have easy poops that are not as offensive to my nose. If Sarah has a particularly nasty poop I will rinse the diaper in the toilet for a second before tossing it in the pail. (Gross but not as bad as it sounds!)

Pail? I use a stainless steel kitchen trashcan with a foot pedal. It has a removable liner so that makes it easy to dump the diapers directly into the washer. I keep my pail dry and have a little pail freshener disc in the bottom. I put a few drops of tea tree oil in there every week to keep things clean and fresh.

Washing? I do a cold rinse with no detergent first. Then I put in a bit of Purex (less than what I would use for a similarly sized load of laundry) and do a hot wash. Then I rinse again on cold. That's it! I wash about every other day but have gone longer.

Drying? I like to hang dry my diapers but that was hard in the Georgia humidity. I ended up drying them indoors. Here in Arizona they dry FAST! If I'm in a rush I'll toss everything in the dryer. It won't hurt, I just like to save electricity. Just don't use fabric softener! I use dryer balls for all of our laundry.

Stink? Nope. They don't stink. If the diapers start to get smelly I strip them. Stripping is just removing any detergent residue from the diapers. I rinse them in the washer until there are no bubbles in the water. Sometimes I use a drop of Dawn dish soap. Sometimes I do a little freshening up with some baking soda and vinegar. Nothing fancy here folks.
(Yes, that is Joshua in the photo above, next to Matthew. He used to have dark, curly hair!)

What else am I forgetting?
Wool! We haven't used any wool in a long time, but there was a time when I loved using wool longies over a fitted diaper. Longies are just long pants. Wool is naturally antibacterial so it's a perfect choice for diapers. You can reuse the same wool cover several times before needing to clean it. Then you wash it using a special wool soap and/or relanolize it. Longies are so cute too! That picture above is from when the girls were about 8 months old and they are sporting their adorable wool longies.

These are some of the matching prefold and cover sets that I made for Nathan and Ryan. They don't fit anymore but I kept them because I am emotionally attached. Crazy, I know.
How about traveling across the country with cloth? Well, I'm glad you asked. Like I said before, I have never bought disposable diapers. I just pretend like I'm Laura Ingalls Wilder or something and figure out a way to do it. (Just don't make me ride cross-country in a covered wagon! I need my van and DVD player!)

On short trips I toss dirty diapers into a small wetbag. A wetbag is just a waterproof bag. I made the one below. I prefer a zippered wetbag to help contain odor. We have several small ones that hold several diapers each. Then we have a MONSTER wetbag that has a drawstring and can easily hold 3 days worth of diapers for twins.

On long trips I don't wash as frequently so the diapers accumulate. On our recent trip I went 4 days without washing so I had a boatload of diapers in my wetbag. I just keep my small wetbags empty so that I can bring a clean one into the hotel each night. Then I use the big one during the day when we're on the road.
I have had to wash diapers while traveling. I prefer to stay in places that have washers and dryers that are easily accessible. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I remember a trip to the beach when Matthew was a baby when I had to wash diapers in a laundromat. I hated that! I ended up washing the rest of those diapers in the hotel bathtub and hanging them out to dry.

When we moved from Maryland to California I drove by myself across the country. I only had Matthew at the time (I was pregnnt with Joshua) but it was still a long drive. By the time we got to CA I had a big bag of dirty dipes. We didn't have a washer and dryer yet because the moving truck had not arrived. Jason actually took the dirty diapers into the barracks laundry room and washed them for me. He can be such a great dad sometimes! Who washes their kid's poopy diapers in the laundry room with a bunch of other Army dudes? My husband, that's who.

In case you were wondering how many diapers it takes to cloth diaper one baby, I can't really remember. It also depends on what type of diapers you use, the age of the baby, and how often you want to wash. To use pockets or AIOs and wash every 2-3 days, I'd recommend 2 or 3 dozen diapers. Expect to wash more often for a newborn. If you use covers and prefolds (or fitteds) you can reuse the same cover a few times before needing to wash it. I'd recommend 2-3 dozen prefolds (or fitteds) and at least 1 dozen covers. You can never have too many cloth wipes.

If you have twins, just double those numbers. And count on washing more often unless you buy an extra pail. We have 2 pails since Joshua is still in cloth trainers at night and all 4 twins were in diapers until very recently. Now I only have 3 in diapers during the day and 5 at night. Oh, how I long for the days of less diapers. But hopefully not too soon. I want another baby or two before those days are over.

Lastly, I imagine that someone will ask how many diapers we have. And I don't know the answer right now. It is an unmentionable amount. Several hundred. I don't even have any recent pictures. But I do have a picture of about half of the girls' diapers from about 2 years ago. Yes, this was taken when I still had dirty diapers in the wash. It's sickening, I know. Prepare yourself...It's addicting. I will not be held responsible for anyone who gets hooked as a result of this post.
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