Using Cloth Diapers during Potty Training

If you’re lucky, your child will make a seamless transition from full-time diapers to full-time underwear.  That said, it’s pretty common for most kids to phase the diapers out gradually: at first they cut down during the day, then they’re “day trained,” and then–sometimes years later (according to my sources)–they stop needing diapers for naps and overnights.

We are in one of these transitional phases now.  While my daughter does not need a diaper while she’s awake, she still wears one while she sleeps.   I’ve been using cloth diapers since she was born and never want to buy another pack of disposables again, so I’m continuing with cloth diapers even now that I have much less diaper laundry to do.  This leaves me with a diaper conundrum:

If I wash my diapers just as frequently as before–that is to say, every three or four days–I’ll be wasting a lot of water and energy on partial loads.


If I wait until I have a full load of diapers, I’ll be letting wet diapers fester in the diaper pail for almost three weeks.

So what is a water conservationist who does not want to smell a three-week-old diaper pail to do?  My solution was simple, though it may gross some clean freaks out a bit: I wash a small load of diapers every week.   I feel comfortable washing them this infrequently because they are always just wet diapers–no dirty diapers now that she’s day trained.  Because I have so few diapers even after a week, I hang them to dry.  I could never do this before Audrey became day trained because I couldn’t wait for several days for her diapers to dry on the rack during Oregon’s drizzly months.   Now I have so many spare diapers that I can afford to wait.

One day I will no longer need to wash any diapers, but until then, I’ll stick with my once-a-week method.  This compromise should please both my inner tree hugger and inner clean freak.


  1. audrey’s hair looks so blond! maybe it’s the picture. couldn’t you let the diapers fester in some sort of sterilizing solution, like a bucket of diluted oxi-clean or something? still, 3 weeks is a long time…

    anyway. happy christmas!! I went for the “nothing” option when shopping for audrey this year. i hope she appreciates my environmentally friendly gesture.

    love from your cousin

  2. Ah, yes, we have this same situation. We were washing about every 1.5 weeks, which makes for a stinky diaper pail! But it was mostly fine. We actually sadly switched to disposables for nap/nighttime recently because we were just too overwhelmed with chores (my wife is just through her first trimester and it was a doosy). We’re not sure if we’re going to go back to cloth at some point for night — we’re a little worried that sticking with disposables will make it harder for her to train for nights/naps.

    And our daughter shows no signs at 2.5 of being anywhere near ready to be done at night — she wakes up with quite a full diaper in the morning (and I have no desire to get up in the middle of the night to take her to the bathroom!)

  3. Lindsay–I wash them every WEEK, not every three weeks! I prefer not to soak my diapers in anything; to me a murky solution is grosser than just letting wet diapers sit for a week. Remember they are merely wet diapers.

    AV-C–We, too, do not want to get up in the middle of the night to take our daughter to the bathroom. For me it’s worth it to do diaper laundry for a bit longer so long as I get to sleep!

  4. It may gross out some, but I frequently fill in a small diaper load with towels, sheets, kitchen rags, dish towels, etc. My diapers come out the cleanest of any laundry I do, so I don’t worry about it.

  5. I echo Rebecca. A week is fine. Also, remember, since you aren’t needing to wash dirty diapers, only wet ones – urine is naturally sterile and antiseptic. Toward the end of the week just sprinkle a little baking soda or tea tree oil into the can if there is a smell.

    Aditionally, if you consider having everyone in the family switch to cloth wipes for urination, you can fill a whole load together. This cuts down on toilet paper usage a lot. And why should only babies bottoms be greener when all the family bottoms can be. A good bunch of info is from the cloth wipe challenge that was hosted on the Crunchy Chicken blog here:

  6. I am a part-time cloth user and have only a small stash of diapers (about 10) so I never have a full wash load of diapers. I wash them with my sheets, cleaning rags, and clothes that can go into a hot water wash. I feel that if the dipe is clean enough to go on my baby’s bottom, whatever is washed with them should be clean enough to sleep in/clean with/or whatever.

  7. You might try hand washing in the sink. Far less water will be wasted and no stinky diaper pail, just make sure you rinse well!

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