baby proof: traveling with cloth diapers.

May 9, 2017

cloth diapering when away from home | reading my tea leavesWhile planning for our April trip to Seattle, James and I chatted as usual about the ways that we could pack lightly, but there was one thing we did this time around that ended up making our bags just a little heavier. Instead of relying on disposable diapers for Silas while we were on the road, as we’d always done when we went away with Faye, we decided to embrace the art of cloth diaper laundering on the road.

On the whole we found it was far easier than expected and like cloth diapering in general, way more pleasant than using disposables. On past trips with Faye, I’ll admit that we’ve suffered some disposable diaper mishaps (leaks! rashes! wrong sizes! eek!) and it was pretty nice to get through a whole trip without a single exploded diaper or red bum.

Here’s what we learned:

+ Pack: Bring enough diapers for two full days. For us right now, that meant twelve diapers. A few more would have given us a little cushion and wouldn’t have been impossible to pack, space-wise, so I might pack a few extras on our next trip. In the span of a week, we washed diapers three times; once every two days or so. We also packed a small container of detergent (Charlie’s Soap)—just as much as we needed for our time away. When Silas was born we bought a second larger wet bag. If you can, I’d definitely recommend taking two wet bags along while traveling with cloth diapers. This way you can keep one bag with you while you’re out and about during the day, and leave a larger stockpile back in the place where you’re staying. (Dirty cloth diapers aren’t supposed to be kept in plastic bags, tempting as that might be.) No need to tote ten dirty diapers with you to dinner.

+ Wash: We followed our diaper service’s advice for washing at home, which is essentially one quick, cool wash, with little water and little detergent, and one longer, hotter wash, with a full scoop of detergent. The diapers cleaned up just as beautifully as predicted.

+ Strategize: We definitely had to consider a few things when planning our trip. For starters, we wanted to make sure that the places where we stayed had a washer and dryer so that we wouldn’t spend the whole of our trip holed up in local laundromats or handing over a bag of diapers to a hotel staff. Once we booked Airbnb stays in places with laundry, we had to strategize our outings somewhat to make sure we’d be home (or awake) for long enough to run a load of diapers, but we mostly did loads at night when energy costs are lowest and babies are sleepiest. 

Fellow cloth diaper travelers out there?
More on cloth diapering right this way.

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  • Reply elisa May 9, 2017 at 11:04 am

    dear erin,

    the peak of cloth-diapering for me was when I combined it with elimination more nr.twos in my washing machine!
    and only 1-2 used diapers a day, sometimes none.(my son is 5 months now.)
    I recommend it – good for you, your baby, the environment and your wallet!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 9, 2017 at 11:06 am

      Wonderful! Haven’t found a way to make that work with our family’s other needs, but so glad it worked for you!

  • Reply Karen Goad May 9, 2017 at 11:18 am

    I think it is so cool that you are using cloth diapers. There was just a news story last night that got me spouting off to my husband about cloth diapers vs disposable – the story was the woes of people who can’t afford disposables and need help to purchase them and I’m thinking buy 2 or 3 dozen cloth diapers and wash them!!! I do not understand why people do not think they can use cloth diapers. I did for both of mine – granted when I used them back in the early 70’s the disposables were first coming on the market – they were expensive and I rarely used them. The news was going on and on about how much it cost and it comes down to can they afford to buy the diapers or gas for the car! really – I can’t believe people really and truly do not even think of cloth diapers

    • Reply Stephanie May 9, 2017 at 11:38 am

      I’ve cloth diapered, but the cost to launder them at a laundromat actually makes them more expensive than the cheapest disposables for city folks without their own washer/dryer. Something to consider cost-wise.

      • Reply Stephanie May 9, 2017 at 11:42 am

        Also, the financial outlay for cloth diapers and covers is cost-prohibitive for some (as is buying disposables in bulk), which means those who would benefit most from these cost-saving measures aren’t able to take advantage of them.

        • Reply Monique May 9, 2017 at 12:50 pm

          The costs can be considerable when buying new but here in Ottawa, Canada, we have an awesome second-hand market through Facebook of all places. There are also initiatives in my city to help provide CDs free of charge to those parents who need them, run by volunteers.

          The laundry piece is another one to be tackled. Our City also gives a discount to residents who CD and are subsequently putting out less trash. A nice little piece of activism come to fruition!

      • Reply Lindsay May 9, 2017 at 7:48 pm

        Thank you for saying this! I am all for cloth diapering–I loved doing it myself, and would (and hope to!) do it again. But I think it’s important to appreciate why people don’t do it, and to recognize that this isn’t a matter of people just being willfully foolish, but rather a matter of people making the best choice they can given their circumstances . If you can’t afford a diaper service (which is unquestionably more expensive than disposables, by a factor of at least two or three) then cloth diapering is a significant time commitment (especially if you don’t have your own washer/dryer), which, if a person is working long hours and/or multiple jobs, might seem like not a great way to spend the small amount of time they have with their child or children. If you have to use daycare, you may not have the option of using cloth (and honestly, my experience is that those daycares that are willing to cloth diaper tend to cater to families that are able and willing to spend a bit more on daycare [like my own]). As with most choices people without a lot of financial security make, it’s an economic issue, one that would be radically impacted by things like a living wage, universal childcare, and so on. Stephanie’s point that the financial savings of cloth diapering and buying in bulk may be inaccessible to lower income families is so true. There is already so much judgement directed at the decisions lower income people make; it seems to me to be far more useful to try and understand WHY people do what they do, and what the root causes for those decision are and how we can address those, than to be frustrated or incredulous that they don’t do things differently.

        • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 9, 2017 at 8:22 pm

          Agreed, of course!

    • Reply Sam May 9, 2017 at 11:53 am

      Many people struggling to afford diapers 1) don’t have access to laundry facilities 2) don’t have the upfront cash to invest in 2-3 dozen cloth diapers and covers 3) have no paid leave so go back to work immediately and many, if not most, child care facilities won’t deal with cloth diapers and 4) work hours that don’t leave room for doing 2 loads of laundry every 3 days in a laundromat. We use cloth diapers ourselves but if parents are struggling financially it’s a bit more complicated than just wash them!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 9, 2017 at 12:24 pm

      Lots of reasons folks choose to diaper the way they do! But we’ve had lots of luck with cloth!

    • Reply Jessica May 9, 2017 at 9:30 pm

      Echoing others’ replies that laundry and the cost of many diapers upfront is often not sustainable or possible for lower-income folks. As one relevant example, here in New York my partner and I buy toilet paper in bulk at Costco — because we have a car, can afford the gas to go there, have space to store the bulk TP, and can afford the higher outlay upfront in order to save per roll of TP. Many of our neighbors who don’t have the same resources pick up one or two rolls of TP at a time at corner stores, where they are certainly more costly per roll but where my neighbors are able to pay less upfront and walk from their apartments. Same principles apply to cloth diapers and other items.

  • Reply Sarah May 9, 2017 at 11:23 am

    I am about to embark on cloth diapering for a second time (with baby #2). I was wondering what covers you are liking? Last time we used lanolized knit wool but curious what else is working for people…

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 9, 2017 at 11:57 am

      We’re really loving Flip diapers covers! Lanolized wool never felt easy enough for long days around the city and out of the house, but the Flip covers stay really dry and almost never leak!

  • Reply Lauren May 9, 2017 at 11:25 am

    Thanks so much for this post. We’re planning our first international trip (and flight) with our daughter and I appreciate the motivation to consider bringing our diapers.
    We’ve only done car travel so far with our baby (now toddler!) but always bring cloth diapers. At first (when I was less sure the diapers would last the while trip) I brought disposables as a backup (I just donated to the local diaper bank when we didn’t use them).

  • Reply Priscilla May 9, 2017 at 11:26 am

    Erin, I’m super impressed that you travel with cloth diapers. Back in our diapering days, my husband (yes, he was an expert diaperer) and I used cloth except when traveling. With hindsight, I think it all would have worked out fine, but we weren’t brave enough to try it. Kudos to you!

  • Reply Kristina May 9, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    I didn’t think of washing the diapers from our service when we traveled. I booked a week with a service in the city we were visiting. It admitedly didn’t go as well as I hoped (diapers were supposed to be there when we arrived and they weren’t, and the company was later than expected picking them up too). We used diaposibles on our flight days. I would totally just travel with our own next time. Thanks for the idea Erin!

  • Reply Lo May 9, 2017 at 12:40 pm

    Awesome tips!
    Here is a post I wrote a few years ago on this very topic with some more tips and some of the same.

  • Reply Jennifer May 9, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    Erin, what are your thoughts on the Finnish Baby Box? Some of these are starting to pop up as an “all-in-one” solution for first-time parents.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 9, 2017 at 12:55 pm

      Hey Jennifer! From what I know of it, the Finnish Baby box sounds to me like a super safe and democratizing way to get babies to sleep safely! Beyond that, I don’t think I’m totally sure what you mean by “all-in-one” solution!

      • Reply JPB May 9, 2017 at 5:27 pm

        There are online shop selling those boxes now (I’ve seen them for 400-600 euros which is just crazy expensive for what they offer) . Obviously this is totally beside the point of it being part of a system of social security in Finland which tries to promote equality.

        • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 9, 2017 at 5:37 pm

          Oh dear.

      • Reply BJC May 9, 2017 at 11:06 pm

        The Finland baby boxes come with cloth diaper sets, and lots of other stuff like diaper cream, clothes, a bath thermometer, a washcloth, and more. So Jennifer probably refers to this—that they come with the basic things that new parents will need 🙂

  • Reply Marilet May 9, 2017 at 12:56 pm

    Yup- we also recently traveled with a 2 month old using only our cloth diapers. We use hemp flats and they worked a treat on the road, as we didn’t have access to a washer and had to hand wash. They dry quickly and were easy enough to wash by hand every 2nd day. Even with the hand washing, we’d definitely forego the disposables on future trips too!

  • Reply Jessie May 9, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    This is encouraging. Usually when we travel we switch to paper diapers. It’s just one less thing to think about while traveling and trying to spend as much time as possible with our family who we rarely see. But perhaps now that we are better accustomed with cloth diapers we will try it with baby #2 when we travel!

  • Reply Martha May 9, 2017 at 4:56 pm

    Doesn’t sound too bad! We travel with our cloth diapers when visiting our families where we can do laundry but haven’t sought out Airbnbs with laundry access, so for non-family trips thus far we do disposable. I’d be willing to try traveling with cloth though.

  • Reply Liz May 9, 2017 at 7:57 pm

    Such a great post, Erin! I see a lot of comments regarding the upfront cost of cloth diapers being prohibitive for folks who are struggling financially. Luckily, there are two (that I know of) fantastic organizations that will provide families in need with a full set of diapers and accessories. Our service ( donates to them monthly. They are: and
    Please pass along if you know of anyone who might benefit from that info.
    Also, lots of shops (ours included) sell gently used cloth diapers for a fraction of the cost of new. Another way to stock up and save!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 9, 2017 at 8:20 pm

      Thanks so much for chiming in, Liz!

  • Reply Angela May 10, 2017 at 11:37 am

    I’ve traveled to stay with family with cloth diapers and haven’t had any trouble. In fact, to ease packing load, I asked my Mom/Mamaw to purchase a container of Charlie’s to keep at their homes. We use what we need on diapers while we are there and they can finish out the container on their regular laundry. Obviously, this wouldn’t work outside of traveling to see family or traveling for longer periods. Anyway, we’ve had great success with it! I still can’t make myself cloth diaper on campin trips though. Yikes!

  • Reply cindy May 11, 2017 at 10:44 pm

    You are brave! So far we travel with disposables, but I appreciate these tips, especially the one about a second wet bag. The one caveat I have is about Charlie’s soap. I’m glad you’ve had good luck with it, but I’d hate for anyone else to pick it up and have trouble:

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 15, 2017 at 10:42 am

      Hi there! You’re not the first one to point me to that site! So sad to hear that folks have had trouble, but our diaper service has been recommending Charlie’s for eight years without a single incidence of an adverse reaction! We’ve used it for a similar length of time without a problem! Charlie’s use of sodium metasilicate get’s them a low EWG rating, and while it’s not a perfect ingredient, it’s still far preferred to other ingredients included in conventional detergents like All, recommended by the site above! All of this stuff is complicated to parse, especially without a chemistry degree, but we’re still really happy with Charlie’s soap and have confidence in recommending it to folks.

  • Reply Cindy D. May 12, 2017 at 1:47 pm

    We were cloth diaper-ers when our boys were little and we did use a modified version while traveling with “G” diapers. I think they still have them or a version of them maybe with the Gro-via’s I believe. Basically a cloth outer with velcro fastenings, a washable waterproof PUL liner that easily snapped in and out, and a disposable pad that was biodegradable and even flushable. Mostly you just have to bring 2 or 3 covers with 2 or 3 PUL liners and then the little pads. So they pack up light. While not quite as low waste as regular cloth is a was a great compromise.

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