Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Cloth Diapers

This post has absolutely nothing to do with the move (in fact, the packing/traveling/new place has caused us to go for the longest stretch ever in disposable diapers) but I've been meaning to post my thoughts about cloth diapers on the blog for a while now.  I was about to say that this topic doesn't have a whole lot to do with my blog theme of making a home, but then again - let's be honest about the amount of diaper changing that goes into raising the little people at home!  I initially wrote most of this information in an email over a year ago, and have since been asked about our cloth diaper routine by friends or friends-of-friends several more times, so I keep updating the email.  Another friend just asked recently, which gave me the kick-in-the-pants to finally organize this well enough to be a blog post instead of a really wordy and overwhelming email :)

Choosing cloth

Living in Ithaca (which we affectionately refer to as a very "crunchy granola" kind of town), cloth diapers were extremely popular.  Almost all of my friends (and we weren't even the "crunchy" crowd) used cloth diapers at least some of the time.  For Justin and I, cloth diapers seemed like a natural (ha) choice because we're green enough to balk at the thought of hundreds of pounds of diapers going into the landfills over the course of our young family's lifetime and cheap enough to balk at the hundreds of dollars required to keep the babies' bums covered in disposable diapers.  Sure, there's an upfront cost and some carrying costs (mostly in time to wash them, although some for detergent and water), but that seemed (and proved to be) worth it for us.  I also (probably weirdly) think that disposable diapers (the clean kind!) have a really funky smell and I was happy to avoid that.

Bonus: cloth diapers are way cuter than disposable ones, and if you make sure to have an orange one (and some black construction paper) in your stash, you can delight grandparents with this Halloween photo-op.
Building your stash

From everyone we've talked to, deciding WHICH cloth diapers to use is far more labor-intensive and difficult than choosing WHETHER or not to use cloth diapers.

As you've probably seen, there are tons of variations of diapers on the market.  Some parents choose to have a stash of a variety of types (or try out a variety before committing).  There was a great store in Ithaca (Jillian's Drawers) that has a trial system, which you can also do by mail.  Personally, I wanted to have the deciding (and the acquiring) finished before Anna arrived, but I think the trial system has gotten great reviews.  I think it's also somewhat popular to have a "stash" filled with various types/styles/etc, but my personal preference is to have consistency and simplicity, so I decided to research just one type of diapers and completely commit.

We use Bum Genius diapers, which I initially learned about from a home improvement blog I follow (Young House Love) (cloth diaper post here).  The bloggers are very good at doing a lot of research in advance, so I trusted them to do some of the leg work for me in term of initially selecting a brand.  The additional research I did confirmed that Bum Genius is one of the consistently highest rated diapers out there.  Granted, they're also one of the most expensive, but I have learned (through reviews, our friends' experiences, and our own experiences) that you get what you pay for.  It was better in our opinion to spend the money upfront to have high quality diapers that really work, and that will last through several children's diaper days.

The diapers we decided on are the Bum Genius 4.0.  These ones come with 2 inserts (a thick and a thin).  We like this for two reasons: 1) the inserts can be dried in the dryer and the outer shells on the drying rack (meaning that the snaps don't get beat up in the dryer, and they last longer), and 2) we can vary the amount of absorbency (we put in 2 pads overnight).  We have the snap version, which I also highly recommend over the velcro.  We have 14 diapers.  Once Anna got a lot bigger and was sleeping a lot longer, we purchased some hemp inserts to use overnight (the two regular Bum Genius inserts were no longer absorbent enough for a full night's worth).  

We started out with the Bum Genius Newborn diapers because the "all-in-ones" don't fit consistently until the baby is 12ish pounds. I haven't decided yet if I'm glad we had those ones or not.  They leaked for us a lot, but I think that's because Anna is a pretty heavy wetter (she needed the heavy pad in the larger diaper as soon as they fit her).  We had a bunch of newborn/size 1 disposables that we'd received as gifts, so we used them a lot.  With Julia, I'll probably be more inclined to use the newborn reusables because I'm familiar with the wash routine and whatnot, but I'm on the fence as to whether or not I'd recommend them, though.

As for the all-in-ones, I don't have a single complaint.  They've been fantastic.  They're super easy to put on, they've held up really well, and compared to the times she's worn a disposable, they're much better at containing the mess.  I think she's had a major blow-out just about every time she's in a disposable [this was written a while ago, when disposables were very rare!], but has had I think only 2 blow-outs in the Bum Genius in the 4 months that she's worn the all-in-ones.  (Update, I'm still very happy with the all-in-ones, and they still look almost new after 20+ months of constant use).


 I wash them approximately every other day.  We store the dirty diapers in PlanetWise wet bags which have been remarkably successful at containing both moisture and smell.  We have a few different sizes (one in her room, one in the bathroom, one for the diaper bag).  When it's time to wash (typically when there are 2 clean ones left), I dump the dirty diapers into the washing machine (often followed by the bag if it's messy), run a large load with cold water and no detergent, then a large load with hot water and 1 scoop of Charlies Soap.   Apparently, this detergent actually voids the warranty of the diapers, but I learned that after it was too late (the local store recommends it as the first thing to try with washing diapers).  It's been successful for me so far, and Anna hasn't had any reactions to it (I've read that there's been some kids who get a rash).  So, it may be worth doing some additional research on the detergent selection, although what we're doing has worked for us.  Once a month (around the 3rd, since that's when she was born and it's easy to remember), I add 1/4 cup of bleach to the cold cycle.  I dry the inserts in the dryer and the shells on the drying rack (although in a pinch I've thrown 1 or 2 in the dryer to get them ready quickly).  Just before the move, I was starting to notice that the diapers weren't smelling clean, even after a wash cycle.  I think it was mostly because we had started potty training and she wasn't going through the stash as quickly as before (and I was leaving them dirty longer than I should have).  I purchased this "stripper" and was happy with the results (but be prepared for LOTS and LOTS of rinse cycles!)

Oh!  I almost forgot - we also have the toilet sprayer, which is an ABSOLUTE necessity once baby starts solids.  In fact, we've abandoned cloth diapers while traveling/visiting families since they don't have the sprayers (trying to scrape a dirty diaper with a plastic spoon into the toilet only had to happen once for me to call that done!), although we did successfully travel with cloth diapers until she was 6 months or so.  (If baby is exclusively breast-fed, the dirty diapers are still water soluble and don't really need sprayed before washing).  If you get a sprayer, DO NOT EVER FORGET TO TURN IT OFF.

What about wipes?

We also use cloth wipes (we just wet them with warm water if necessary, or use them dry).  These wipes has been great, although I know plenty of people who use disposable wipes with their reusable diapers.  I just prefer the ease of putting everything together in the wet bag, rather than separating dirty wipes for the trash from the dirty diapers for the laundry.  I have dabbled in research for DIY wipe solutions and thought about keeping a spray bottle of water near the changing table (and I will probably ramp this up before Julia's arrival) because needing to run into the bathroom to wet a wipe does make the whole process a bit annoying.

Also, you can't use rash cream (like Desitin) if it will touch the diapers directly (it can mess up the absorbency or something like that).  She very rarely gets diaper rash, and if she does it often clears up on its own in a few hours.  If we do need to use Desitin, we use the Bum Genius fleece liners as a barrier.  They have to be washed separately from the diapers (and I've found that they never get completely clean) but they do the job at keeping the diapers clean & baby's skin healthy with the ointment!  (Update: I later got very annoyed by the liners and basically just switched to disposable on the rare occasions she needed diaper rash treatment).

Other resources

Jillian's Drawers (the store I mentioned in Ithaca) has a lot of the products, as well as some helpful online resources as you do your diaper research:

Bum Genius FAQs (including the official washing instructions):

Cotton Babies (website that sells a variety of cloth diapers; I bought ours here, and they often have good sales (buy so many and get one free, etc).  They also have package deals (6, 12, etc) where the price is better than purchasing the diapers individually.

We've been happy with these cloth training pants for the potty-training stage (although that process has also been derailed by the whole moving thing!)

I hope all of this makes sense!  Feel free to ask any questions to clarify!  For those of you who already use cloth, talk to me with your wipe wisdom :)  (Or share your favorite cloth diaper advice in the comments!)


  1. Love cloth diapering! It's saved us so much money, especially now that we're hitting the second round with baby number two :-)

  2. Great post from a fellow cloth diaperer!

    I second your suggestion on snaps vs. velcro. We opted for the velcro route on most of our stash (which is GroVia brand) and I really loved them at first since they were so quick to fasten and unfasten on the many, MANY small baby changings. But as Isaac (our first) got older he could figure out how to unfasten them and now that we are using them on Ali (our second) the velcro is starting to weaken (even after picking the stuck lint out with tweezers every so often) and I'm wishing we would have spent the extra $2 per shell to get the snap version.

    I also want to sing the praises of grapefruit seed extract. I finally broke down and tried it after many reoccurring yeast infections and unsuccessful attempts bleaching our stash. (Apparently bleach kills the yeast but not the spores that may set up camp in the diapers and reinfect your little one.) One attempt of 20 drops of GSE (which can be purchased at health food stores) in a hot final rinse cycle (following a cold bleach wash) and we finally got those pesky little suckers.

  3. I too agonized on the "running to the bathroom" to wet a cloth wipe problem until I read about using a wipe warmer. I fill it with my cloth wipes and add water with a couple drops of tea tree oil. It is a perfect solution.