8 Things I Learned From Using Cloth Diapers

Here’s what it’s really like dealing with non-disposables.

August 19, 2016
serious baby
Kichigin/shutterstock

Here’s a staggering statistic: More than 16 billion diapers are dumped in U.S. landfills each year. 16 billion! Before I had kids, I’d always been environmentally minded (of course I recycled my cracker boxes and used reusable bags for grocery store runs). You know, the superficial stuff. But I didn’t do anything jaw-dropping or brag-worthy until I became a mom (first to Jasper and 18 months later Lennox) and covered both my kids’ bottoms in cloth diapers. Sure, I’ll give myself an eco pat on the back for taking on poop in the name of the planet, but even more so, I’m proud of myself for bypassing the easy path of disposables. I came, I saw, and I conquered cloth diapers. Here’s what I learned along the way.

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1. It’s Way Easier Than You Think

I knew I wanted to give cloth diapers a go, like a real college try, but the more I Googled my misgivings—Did they leak? Would I be running the washing machine nonstop? Was it more trouble then it was worth?—the more my brain swelled with uncertainty. Anyone who’s been pregnant knows this weight-of-the-world feeling that comes with every baby-related decision; like as your tummy grows, so does the pressure of making a mistake. It’s exhausting. And this worry of the unknown almost made me throw in the cloth diaper before I even got started. I think my biggest fear was taking on more than I could manage, making my life as a new mom any harder.

But let me set your mind at ease: Cloth diapers aren’t a prison sentence. On the contrary, they turned out to be much easier than I anticipated and worth it on so many levels. Sure, there’s a learning curve, but you figure it out as you go. So get out of the rabbit hole of uncertainty and just go for it. Even if you try it out and decide it’s not for you, just remember that you gave it your best shot.

Related: Cloth Or Disposable Diapers: The Disturbing Reality

2. Cloth Diapers Have Come A Long Way Since Your Mother’s Generation

My mom covered my bum with cloth diapers, those 100 percent cotton prefolds that fastened together with safety pins. Prefolds still exist, but I can’t imagine using them past the newborn phase. (Thankfully, that safety pin has been replaced by a stretchy plastic contraption you can sling on the diaper with one hand. Genius!) The cloth diapers on the scene now are like sleek smart phones. I’m talking waterproof exteriors made of wonder fabrics, wicking microfiber interiors that soak up wetness, and one-size-fits-all options designed to grow with your bambino. Both my boys slept 10 hours through the night. Their diapers only leaked a handful of times, something that could just as easily have happened with disposables. And even after a zillion washes, the whites were still radiant white. No stains!

Related: One Thing Parents Can Do To Keep Millions Of Pounds Of Waste Out Of The Landfill

3. Here’s What You Need To Buy

If I had to boil it down to my biggest concern, it was picking the wrong cloth diaper. You need 24 diapers for one kiddo, and I didn’t want to invest all that money only to find out that my diaper choice was wrong. So I started researching and reading about all the different types (prefolds, pocket, all-in-one, hybrids, snappi, fitted, contour…) and brands (too many to list). Choice can be overwhelming, especially when you’re pregnant and hormonal, and it seemed like, instead of answers, I was only coming up with more questions. So I quit my computer and picked up my research the old-fashioned way: I asked a friend of a friend who used cloth if she had any pointers, and she directed me to bumGenius pocket diapers. “They’re the best!” she said. I ordered a dozen online that day and they were amazing, but I also loved FuzziBunz and Bummis and Happy Heiny.

My advice is this: Get one-size pocket diapers with microfiber inserts (translation: adjustable diapers with a pocket to slide in soaker pads). A lot of brands offer the above, and I’d say get a few of each. The one thing I’d absolutely skip is cotton or hemp anything (that includes liners and inserts). Sure, they’re probably more ecofriendly, but they just don’t have the absorbency of microfiber, meaning baby is going to get wet faster and you’ll have to change and wash diapers more frequently. Read: They’re a pain in the butt, literally.

4. Cloth Diapers Are The Perfect Baby Shower Gift

Not everyone who goes to a baby shower has a baby or wants one. These are usually the gals who don’t want to drop dough on some trendy bamboo feeding set or an organic giraffe-shaped chew toy that looks like it should be for a dog. She'll want to give practical gifts; no-brainer presents that don’t require a baby handbook to decipher or cost a fortune just for something that’ll be used once and tossed. Cloth diapers fit the bill. One all-in-one costs roughly $20, and if all your gal pals want to go in together, some companies offer a discount the more you buy. Just do them a solid and send them a direct link to your diaper of choice.

Related: 6 Parenting Tips From Around The World That Only Sound Crazy To Americans

5. Secondhand Diapers Are The Bomb

It may sound gross, but the thing is there’s nothing unsanitary about previously loved cloth diapers. Before you scoff and skip to the next section, hear me out: The secondhand diapers I bought looked brand spanking new. No stains, no discoloration, no problems. And it’s not like germs from the previous owner can transfer to your little bundle. They’re a fraction of the price (secondhand cloth diapers are about half the cost of new) and better for the planet. That’s not to say all used are a good bet: Check that leg elastics still have spring, Velcro still has stick, and the inner microfleece isn’t pilled.

6. Washing Them Is No Biggie

baby in laundry basket
allison young

Other than getting up-close-and-personal with number two, which is par for the course whether you go cloth or not, I didn’t find washing diapers all that bothersome. In fact, I learned to almost like the routine. Here’s how it went: I had a bucket with a snap lid next to the changing table and in it went all the dirty diapers. (Some number twos I’d flush down the toilet. Otherwise, I’d fold up the diaper and toss it in the bucket to deal with later.) When the bucket got full, I’d haul it outside and use my spray hose on full jet mode. Then I’d toss the diapers into the washing machine with some unscented Purex detergent and line dry. (I should note that I live in Arizona, which makes line-drying ideal.) The next day I’d stuff the diapers with inserts and restock baby’s room. Not once did I think it was more work than it was worth. If anything, I thought the opposite.

Related: Pros And Cons Of The Family Bed

7. I Got A Tad Judgy About Moms Using Disposables

I sometimes catch myself at the grocery store side-eyeing the folks at the checkout who don’t bring reusable bags. I’m not proud to admit it, but I was guilty of the same smugness when it came to cloth diapers. It wasn’t so much that I was giving disposable parents the evil eye for their environment evils (heck, I get iced coffee in a plastic cup), it was that I thought my baby’s bum was somehow better off because it was covered in cloth as opposed to a chemical concoction of sodium polyacrylate crystals and chlorine that seemed less clean. But sitting on the judgmental soapbox is a dangerous place, a wrath every mom knows, and when I realized what I was doing, I quit cold turkey.

8. I Saved A Lot Of Money

You always hear that you save so much money going cloth, but I never tallied up the expense until now. I bought 12 new bumGenius diapers for $225 and scored another 12 on Craigslist for $100, plus about two boxes of disposable diapers for travel ($60). That’s a grand total of…drum roll please…$385 over a three-year stretch (and for one of those years I had two kids in cloth). Compare that to an estimated $936 a year on disposables, which adds up to about $3,000 for the same three-year stretch. Sure, there’s the cost of water and electricity that comes with washing cloth, but here’s the thing: You can use those very same cloth diapers on your next kid (I did!) and sell or give away the whole lot when you’re done. That’s what I’d call priceless.

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