baby proof: cloth diapers

July 10, 2014

cloth diapers Since maternity leave is comprised mostly of changing diapers—over and over and over again—and since I’ve finally reached the point where I can manage to juggle baby and keyboard for brief 30-minute stints (kind of), I thought I would write my own post about cloth diapers (don’t worry, Cait will still be chiming in from time to time).

Lots of you guys have written hoping to know more about our diapering rigmarole, so I decided to break the post into sections according to the FAQs. Hope this helps (let me know if I’ve left anything out!):

1. Do you wash all of those yourself?

Since we don’t have a washer and a dryer in our building, taking on the task of shuttling dirty baby diapers to the laundromat was more than we were willing to take on. We use a diaper service which picks up dirty diapers and delivers a bag full of fresh clean ones once a week. Read more about how that works here.
cloth diapers 2. What system do you use?

We use the most basic system out there. Our diaper service provides us with prefold organic cotton diapers (basically a thick cotton rectangle that we fold around the babe’s bottom). We hold the cloth diaper in place with nifty little fasteners that do the same work as diaper pins, just more easily. Over the cloth diaper, we stick a waterproof cover to keep everyone dry. (Because we’re gluttons for punishment, we chose the white covers. Thank goodness baby poop washes out easily.) In a classic little sister move, we chose to use the same covers that Cait and her husband settled on after trying out lots of different ones. When we’re out and about, we carry a waterproof wet bag that we can use to stash dirties without getting anything stinky.

Prefolds. (These ones are similar to the ones that the service provides.)
Diaper Fasteners. (We eventually switched to Snappi Fasteners.)
Diaper Covers. (Our original covers are no longer for sale, but these Bummi Covers are great.)
Wet Bag. (The bag we found is no longer for sale, but Etsy is chock full of wet bag options.) 
cloth diapers 3. How much does that all cost?

Like buying thoughtfully raised food or responsibly made clothes, choosing to use a cloth diaper service is definitely a more expensive option than using conventional disposables. If we had a washer and dryer, we would no doubt opt to wash our own because the cost savings is huge and means that cloth diapering is less expensive than using even the cheapest disposables. Without that option, we’ve decided that the extra cost is worth taking on to limit the number of diapers we’d otherwise be adding the landfill. Bonus: cloth diapered kids typically potty train at 1.5 to 2 years, which helps balance out the overall cost. For the curious, a little breakdown of the cost and environmental impact of different diapers, here.

4. Isn’t that a lot of work?

Like most things that are gentler on the planet, cloth diapering definitely requires an extra step or two. But you get used to those steps pretty darn quickly.
cloth diapers

5. The diapers get washed once a week? Doesn’t that stink?

We’ve been using the diaper pail sold through our diaper service and so far, so good. On these very warm days the moment of removing the lid can unmask a smell that’s just a touch ripe, but when it’s closed we don’t smell anything at all. Plus, it’s nothing that a sprinkle of baking soda can’t fix.

other things:
dresser drawer pulls.
a hamper with a lid.
more baby proof posts.

PS. The links in this post were updated after the birth of Erin’s second child (January 2017).

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  • Reply Anna July 10, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    My son has been in cloth diapers for all of his 13 months (except a bit of travel) and I love them! We decided to buy diaper covers and prefolds and even with coin op laundry in our building's basement we are saving a lot compared to disposables or diaper service. Just wanted to chime in and encourage anyone who is thinking about it to give it a try.

  • Reply Alyssa July 10, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    We cloth diapered, too. I really loved using Mother Ease organic cotton one-size diapers because the same set fit for his whole diapering life (minus a month or two with newborn sized pre-folds) and they snapped, so no need for clips or pins. They were much easier for non-cloth babysitters, grandparents, etc. to understand, too, because they have a diaper shape.

    If you don't have access to a diapering service you just have to prepare to spend a few hours each week monitoring your diaper loads. Stick with the soap they recommend to avoid detergent build-up (not the best time to use homemade detergent in my experience). It's a commitment, but a good one for baby and for the environment.

  • Reply LifeBegins@Thirty July 10, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    We also use cloth diapers – slightly different versions but cloth nonetheless. My experience so far is that they haven't helped my son potty train any earlier (he is now almost 25 months) however that wasn't my goal so I'm not really fussed. Plus potty training sounds awful 😉 PS babies look SO cute in cloth diapers.

    • Reply Erin July 10, 2014 at 1:50 pm

      ha! agreed on both counts.

  • Reply July 10, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    so glad you posted this! it seems all i've been hearing lately is "i bought cloth and it was too hard/used them once/selling them on ebay" etc… different strokes for different folks, of course.

    I'm curious Erin and Anna (commenter above), how do you go about using a communal (in building or laundromat) washer with cloth diapering? Is there a soaking period? or does it require more than one wash?

    a few years from baby myself, but i've always been curious about this from fellow city-dwellers.

    • Reply cindyleed July 10, 2014 at 1:39 pm

      I used cloth and washed my own, though with my own washer/dryer. You typically wash once with cold and then once with hot and an extra rinse. Top loading washers are best with cloth diapers and while you can buy very expensive detergents there are also cheaper ones available. The key is you need to use one without enzymes or whiteners/brighteners. Don't use fabric softener or the sheets in the dryer because it dampers the absorbancy.

    • Reply Erin July 10, 2014 at 1:51 pm

      hey lisa, we don't have laundry in our building so i haven't laundered the diapers myself! but i have heard the same routine that cindy (Above) mentions works really well! our diaper service recommends charlie's soap laundry detergent!

  • Reply moni.zuza July 10, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Cloth diapers are the best! For those worried about the ick factor, I highly recommend Tidy Tots diapers. They have corn starch flushies that take care of the ick factor and greatly reduce your laundering time and effort. Love them!

  • Reply jenny July 10, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    I cloth diapered both of my girls (neither of whom potty trained until they were solidly three, unfortunately, but that might just have been our experience because none of us were overeager to get that show on the road) and I never found it to be much of an inconvenience. Honestly, the diaper stink most people are accustomed to comes from the mingling of baby mess and chemicals in disposable dipes. The poo on its own isn't so much of a problem, especially in infants, it's just when it gets layered onto "baby powder scent" that it becomes super noxious. Of course, I did always wash them myself in my own washer and dryer so nothing sat and soaked for too long.

    • Reply Erin July 10, 2014 at 2:00 pm

      agreed! especially for tiny guys, the smell factor is really limited. as baby gets older, you need to dump the "solids" before washing, so the smell's mitigated that way, too!

    • Reply cindyleed July 11, 2014 at 2:04 pm

      Yes. I never had a stink problem. Also, especially since you are breastfeeding the baby poop is not very stinky and washes out like yogurt. However, when they are eating more solids that's when you dump the solids into the toilet. This is something you're actually supposed to do with disposables too (which keeps the waste from seeping into ground water) but most never do. Also as someone else mentioned, once the baby is having more solids you can use environmentally friendly flush-able liners to make the ick factor not so icky. Or you can easily install a little hand sprayer to your toilet, so you can spray the waste off.

  • Reply missris July 10, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    I'm not a mother but wanted to chime in because my parents did cloth diapering with both me and my little sister (30 and 25 years ago) and I feel like if they were able to do it way back when before all these services and options existed, it's totally feasible for almost anyone nowadays. We both also potty trained very early for age, which is not a guarantee but always a plus.

    • Reply Erin July 10, 2014 at 2:00 pm

      Same here! Definitely doable!

  • Reply Alexa July 10, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    i am not a mama yet, but i really enjoy hearing your suggestions and tucking them away for my future. thank you for sharing!

    unrelated: a couple of summers ago, you inspired me with your no a/c approach and i am wondering how that is working with baby? do you still find it doable? after your post, i went a/c free myself and am still going strong two nyc summers later but i wonder if i could do it with a family down the road…

    • Reply Erin July 10, 2014 at 2:24 pm

      Solidarity, sister! Yes: we're still A/C free and so far, so good. We definitely have a sweaty little baby on some nights, but nothing untenable so far!

    • Reply Anonymous July 10, 2014 at 6:21 pm

      I grew up without AC, and we used window fans at night and cool washcloths if we were whiny. My husband didn't, and he is so much less heat tolerant than me that it is ridiculous. So start them young. : )

  • Reply Anna July 10, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    We use cloth diapers and even with coin-operated laundry in our building, it's really not too bad. We ended up with a variety of diaper styles, from prefolds to pockets, and all of them work well. We're about to move to a new place that has in-suite laundry, so we'll suddenly be saving more money per month and that'll make the cloth diapers even more practical. Right now, we usually run the diapers through on a hot cycle with detergent, then hang dry covers and machine dry liners. I toss in towels and dishcloths and cleaning rags as well–things that will benefit from being washed on hot. Once in a while I strip the diapers by running them through on the hot cycle a second time without detergent. No one on our floor's complained about me using cloth diapers if they've noticed. It does mean I wash diapers every other day, but that's not so bad.

    • Reply Suzanne July 10, 2014 at 4:06 pm

      Anna, sooo good to hear I'm not the only one to use a building's coin-operated laundry to was cloth diapers! At first my husband thought it would be gross and that our neighbors would complain. Four months in, the diapers always come out smelling fresh and we have yet to hear anything from our neighbors. I wash mine the same way you do. What a great idea to throw in dish rags, etc! When a diaper comes out stained, I put it in the afternoon sun in our apartment and in a couple of hours is is both dry and white again.

      Erin, thanks for a great post! And best wishes to you as you change many diapers a day!

  • Reply march hare July 10, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    Thank you so much, Erin — this is brilliant!

  • Reply Mika P. July 10, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Thanks for this post! Very informative (: I'm not yet a mom, and don't plan to be for a few years at least, but it's always interesting to read up on different options and get opinions on how useful they are! My parents used cloth diapers on my brother and I, nearly 20 years ago, and I think they liked the method. I'll definitely have to talk to them about it now that I'm older!

  • Reply Sarah York July 10, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    Great post! I use cloth diapers for my 8 month old daughter and we have to take them to the laundromat several blocks away. It can be done! Not super convenient, but we make it work. We use basic pre-folds and just wash in super hot, extra rinse… Also, I second the drying in the sun to remove stains. Works like magic! I like the look of white covers, which is all we have and they have worked out fine. Not too much staining, and just hang in the bright sun if needed. I would encourage every mom to at least give cloth diapering a try! Its not as hard as it seems, and so much better for the environment.

  • Reply Isabella W July 10, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    My four children are grown, and I cloth diapered all of them. Actually, everyone did in the 70's! Back in those days, it was pretty much the large diapers that were folded. Today's cloth diapers are a step up. I remember while living in Germany with our first baby, I would pack up the baby and the soiled diapers onto our wonderful German stroller and walk the two miles to the laundromat from our tiny apt. I know we saved a fortune, and our babies never had rashes.

  • Reply Isabella W July 10, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    PS The baby's dresser is lovely!

  • Reply Anonymous July 16, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    I wish I had been able to commit to cloth diapering, but my life with the newborn being a single mother (physically, emotionally, financially no assistance) and professional working full time I had to pick my 'green' battles so to speak. I needed some level of convienence since I was pumping and up all night alone with a newborn and trying to function @ work. I would like to say that despite the diaper use, I was able to potty train him @ 2.5 yrs. I think potty training is more abt the child and parents motivation, I know children as old as 5+ who were still in pull ups….

  • Reply Sarah Gregg Millman August 23, 2014 at 6:48 pm

    Hi Erin! I'm a new reader and about to be new mom. My partner & I are going to go with a cloth diaper service – but I'm wondering – how do you find doing the rest of your laundry off-site? Since our baby is going to be born in winter, other mom's I've spoken with have been quite outspoken about how difficult trekking to the laundromat in winter is going to be. How many times a week have you needed to do laundry for all of the other things? PS – Thank you so much for all of your baby-related posts- it's been a huge help, and has really given me a surge of confidence to pare things back. <3

  • Reply nancy john October 3, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    Its basically all about trendy accessories and that is what women bother the most which is a good thing because fashion should be the one that is in trends.

    Jewellery fashion Combination

  • Reply Amy November 4, 2014 at 4:03 am

    Any tips for dressing that big diaper bottom? Most
    Clothes look silly and make my little girl look like a bowling pin.

    • Reply Erin November 4, 2014 at 2:55 pm

      Ha! We've mostly embraced the big-bottomed look!

  • Reply sanjay jain November 14, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    This is a great article. I’ve read in many
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  • Reply Sam November 21, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    I have no idea if you check comments on old posts but worth a try – my girl is almost 5 months and we’ve used cloth diapers via a diaper service since she was three weeks old. Now that I’m back at work she’s in disposables during day care, because that’s easiest for her nanny. I’d love to have her in cloth all the rest of the time but she has just started peeing HUGE amounts at night. She goes through all through diaper, PJs and blankets if she’s in cloth and I’m not up for changing everything at 3am. Did you guys deal with this too? Just wondering if there’s a trick we haven’t thought of. Thank you!

    • Reply Erin Boyle November 21, 2016 at 3:08 pm

      Hi Sam; We never had this problem, but we did use “doublers” at night, which was just an extra piece of absorbent cotton we could add to our diaper subscription to catch extra pee and we always used waterproof covers over the diapers. Hope that helps!

  • Reply Rebecca Snyder Woolston November 26, 2016 at 6:09 am

    Hi there! I’m having my first baby in February and your posts have really helped me understand cloth diapering and inspired us to give it a try, so thank you for that! Just a heads up that several of the links in your post are outdated and return an error. I’d love to find the specifics of what you use because I’d like to keep things simple in solid, neutral colors. But I’m finding that to be difficult in this cloth diaper world. Thanks!

    • Reply Erin Boyle November 27, 2016 at 3:54 pm

      Congratulations, Rebecca! Sounds like we’re up for an update to that post! Will get on that ASAP!


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