The Saturday Question: How often do you wash cloth diapers?

Some of you wash every other day while others let the loads build up for over a week before tossing them in the wash.  What would you recommend as a washing schedule for those just getting started?  How frequently do you have to launder them so that smell isn’t an issue?  We all have different tricks for keeping those diapers clean while cutting down our workload.  What are yours?

Anatomy of a Disposable Diaper

Ever wonder what a disposable diaper is made out of?

The “breathable” outer layer is typically made of polyethylene, a thermoplastic.  Inside that you’ll find a blend of cellulose pulp (in most brands, wood pulp is bleached with chlorine) and absorbent polymers.  You may also find Velcro or adhesive tabs, chemical “wetness indicators” that change colors to show when the diaper is wet, and scents or lotions.

Check out this website for more detail on how a disposable diaper is made.

Most diaper companies do not use recycled materials to make their diapers, so the wood pulp is derived from freshly-harvested trees.  The polymers that keep disposables dry on the outside and absorbent on the inside are petroleum products, but in the future manufacturers could try making these layers out of recycled milk jugs.  (I am not a chemical engineer, so someone correct me if this idea isn’t feasible.)  Even Seventh Generation, who makes a chlorine-free disposable diaper, does not use any recycled materials for the poly-wraps on their diapers and training pants.  Their website says they plan to “upgrade this to 50% recycled content” in 2008.  We’re not sure if they accomplished this goal or not!

These superabsorbent polymers come out of a disposable diaper in a science experiment.

Now, it’s great that Seventh Generation avoids using chlorine bleach, but they are no more biodegradable than other disposables.  Their diapers are made from the following ingredients, according to their website: chlorine-free wood pulp fluff, sodium polyacrylate (also known as SAP or absorbent gel), polyolefin nonwoven fabric, adhesives, polyolefin film, synthetic rubber elastic strands.  For a biodegradable disposable, look into gDiapers.  Their diapers are biodegradable and compostable, although they still use absorbent gel and tree-farmed wood pulp.

While it’s no secret that we love our cloth diapers here on the Green Baby Guide, we realize that disposables are here to stay.  Our hope is that manufacturers–especially eco-conscious ones like Seventh Generation–keep working on creating disposable diapers using more recycled content and fewer non-biodegradable materials.

Beat the Cloth Diaper Bulk (Or Learn to Accept It)

One complaint we hear about cloth diapers is that they’re too bulky.  Babies sporting disposables boast a trim and lean figure, while cloth-wearing tots have what we may affectionately refer to as a “basketball butt.”  How can you avoid this dreaded condition?   Here are some ideas:

Embrace it.  If you have a skinny baby (as I did), you’re in luck, because you’ll find clothes will fit much better with the cloth diapers than without.  In fact, once my daughter potty trained, she couldn’t fit in most of her pants anymore!   Also, don’t babies look adorable sporting hu-u-ge diapers like this one?   You can’t get that look with a boring old fitted disposable diaper!

Switch to pocket diapers.  Prefolds with covers will be bulkier than pocket diapers, which usually have just a thin terry insert.

Buy bigger clothes.  One of my friends confessed that she almost gave up on cloth diapering because none of her daughter’s pants could fit over the Bulge of the Cloth.  Then she had a flash of insight: She could buy bigger clothes.  Problem solved!

How have you overcome the challenges of bulky cloth diapers . . . or learned to accept them?

Repairing Diaper Covers

Want to repair your tired diaper covers for just a few bucks and an hour of your time?  I learned how recently from my good friend Valerie Perrot.  As she began to cloth diaper her second child, she noticed the covers she had used with her first weren’t fastening correctly.  Upon closer inspection, Valerie found that the soft part of the Velcro closures wasn’t as deep as it should be.   Considering that she had purchased the covers used, she wasn’t surprised that they were worn–but she wasn’t about to go out and buy a whole new set for her second child.

After getting advice from a seamstress, Valerie decided to take matters into her own skilled hands.  She found an outdoor gear website called that offered soft Velcro and heavy duty sewing needles for just under ten dollars. The Green Pepper has loads of patterns for making your own backpacks, fleece jackets and other notions, as well as fabric and materials. Honestly, the website is a bit difficult to negotiate, but they are very helpful if you call or email. 

Valerie stitched the soft looped part of the Velcro on right across the old, and within an hour had completely repaired all of her diaper covers.  She didn’t need to replace the hook side of the Velcro at all!  Not only will the covers work better on baby number two, but the high quality Velcro she used will allow them to be passed onto other babies for years to come. 

You might be able to score diaper covers in consignment shops or garage sales that are marked down because of faulty Velcro.  With just a little bit of work, they can be repaired and provide an easy and inexpensive solution for diapering baby. 

Thanks for joining us for a whole new year of Thrifty Green Thursdays!  If you’d like to be one of our contributors this week, click here to learn how to jump right in.   We hope you can share some frugal, eco-friendly tips with our readers in 2009!

Ode to the Humble Prefold (Or, Why Prefolds Could Beat Pocket Diapers in a Diaper Duel)

Don’t get me wrong–I think pocket diapers (like these pictured from BumGenius) are adorable.  They come in a variety of prints and colors, look cute flapping in the breeze on the clothesline, and go on just like disposables.  That last reason is why I see many parents recommending pocket diapers to new parents or cloth diaper novices.  Joy went on and on about pocket diapers here and herePocket diapers are advertised as “daddy and daycare approved;” meaning, I suppose, that once they are stuffed with an absorbent liner, they go on just as easily as a disposable.

Before my daughter was born, I stocked up on three dozen prefold diapers (like these pictured) and about six Velcro covers (like these basic Prorap covers Audrey is wearing).  I chose this system because they were the more economical choice.  Prefolds run about $1.25 each, whereas a Fuzzibunz costs about $17 new and $7 used. 

Now I’ve had the chance to try a variety of pocket diapers in addition to the prefolds and have come to an unconventional discovery:  I prefer prefolds to pocket diapers.  Here’s why:

1. It takes me less time to fold the prefold in thirds, place it on the cover, and put it on the baby than it does to individually stuff every pocket diaper. Sure, pocket diapers are “daddy approved,” but this seems to go along with the sexist assumption that the mom does the diaper-stuffing beforehand.

2. I spend less time doing diaper laundry with prefolds. I can wash a full load of prefolds every four days because three dozen can fit in the washer at a time. The pocket diapers, which look trimmer on the baby, actually take up more space in the washing machine. About fifteen to twenty pocket diapers make a full load.

3. Because I do less diaper laundry, using prefolds is better for the environment than pocket diapers. With my high-efficiency washer, I use 12.4 gallons of water a load. If I wash every four days, I’m using  just over 1,000 gallons a year on diaper laundry. Washing pocket diapers every other day would use 2,000 gallons–and multiply those figures by four if you have a top-loading machine.

4. Dirty diapers are easier to handle with prefolds. Cleaning out dirty pocket diapers is a mess if you don’t use diaper liners. Cleaning out prefolds is actually fun! (Okay, just joking about that one.) Seriously, though, I found that when a dirty diaper necessitated the dreaded toilet-dunk, it was easier to do with a large piece of cloth rather than a pocket diaper, which has little gussets and seams.

5. Prefolds are adaptable. Because my daughter is so small, I used just one set of prefolds–the size with the green stitching–until she potty trained. I just had to buy new covers. If I don’t have another child, I can use the diapers as rags or even resell them. (To be fair, pocket diapers have an excellent resale value as well.)

Again, the point of this post is not to diss pocket diapers, but to give the underrated prefold a chance to share the cloth diaper glory.  I keep hearing how pocket diapers are so easy to use, so cute, and so wonderful in every way, and I wanted my poor little prefolds to know that I loved them, too.  In many ways, I loved them more.  So thank you, prefold!

Prefold cloth diapers definitely work for me.  For more tips, head on over to Rocks in My Dryer.  Want to weigh in on the great pocket vs. prefold debate?  Post a comment!

Three More Reasons I Love Pocket Diapers

#1  They have a high resale value.   Many people find it odd to consider the resale value of their diapers, but pocket diapers often sell for more than half of their retail value AFTER baby has used them.  They cost more up front, but it’s important to factor in how much they’ll earn you at a consignment shop. 

#2  They’re easier for traveling.  We always use our prefolds for weekend trips or even all-day excursions. They’re easier to put on and take off when we’re doing those creative diaper changes in a public restroom, your car trunk, or on your great aunt’s living room floor.

 #3  They’re easier to line dry.  Prefolds air dry into stiff, shingle-like sheets that aren’t easy to fold and use with baby.  But pocket diapers air dry extremely quickly and always have a soft fleecy layer close to baby’s skin.  They may require more washing, but they’re much easier to dry in any season just by hanging them on a rack in your home. 

 Stay tuned for Rebecca’s rebuttal to these pocket diaper posts when she professes her love for prefolds!

The Thrill of Cloth

Here’s something disposable diaper-using parents may not understand: I truly enjoyed cloth diapering my daughter.  I didn’t just put up with it because I wanted to save money.  Nor was I slaving over those diapers as a sacrifice for Mother Earth.  Before my daughter was born, I pored over websites on the Internet, reading all about prefolds and diaper covers and laundering techniques.  Once I got my diapers, I admired their softness and cuteness; I couldn’t wait to try them out.  I even took pleasure in laundry days–ah, the anticipation of waiting for a nice, fresh batch of diapers to emerge from the dryer!

Yes, I took a picture of myself holding a cloth diaper

Scouring consignment shops for my preferred brand of diaper covers became my new focus in life.  Discovering a new cloth diapering tip (Sunlight removes stains!  You can wash diapers in cold water!) would send me into a frenzy of delight.  I know what some of you are thinking: this lady has no life.   I am exaggerating only slightly when I say that cloth diapering gives me a sense of accomplishment one must feel upon ascending Mt. Everest, winning an Olympic gold medal, or discovering a cure for diaper rash.

Starting the Green Baby Guide added a whole new layer to the thrill of cloth diapering: now I could impart my cloth diapering insights to others.  Some might have no interest in the practice whatsoever.  This is hard for me to understand, but I hear it’s true.  After all, only ten percent of the population uses cloth.  Others eschew disposables out of economic necessity or perhaps out of obligation to the planet.  And then there are those like me . . . those who can write three whole paragraphs on What Cloth Diapering Means to Me.  Those who don’t just tolerate cloth diapers, but actively like them.  A lot.

Are Pocket Diapers Better than Prefolds? A Five Point Ode to Pocket Diapers

#1  One set lasts throughout baby’s diapering.  Pocket diapers like bumGenius and Happy Heiny’s have adjustable snaps that make it possible to use the same diaper for any baby from eight to thirty five pounds.  While prefolds are far cheaper overall, you may have to buy different sizes as baby grows whereas with a few dozen pocket diapers, you’re set! 

#2  They’re easier to put on than prefolds—especially at three in the morning when you’re diapering your colicky baby and haven’t had more than three consecutive hours of sleep for days on end.   All you need to do is snap or Velcro them into place and you’re set to go. 

#3  Once they’re stuffed, you’re set.  After you launder pocket diapers, the inserts just need to be gently tucked into the diapers.  That’s it!  Prefolds have to be folded and then arranged a bit in the cover before they’re on.  It may be just a ten second difference but when you have a squirmy toddler like mine, ten seconds counts!

#4  They’re cuter—hands down.   Even skeptics can’t help but gasp with admiration when they see Roscoe in his cow-print Happy Heiny’s.  For friends and family who are a bit critical of cloth, seeing your baby’s tush in adorable cloth diapers may just win them over.

#5  Less bulk.  Pocket diapers fit more like disposables, which means that your child will fit in their clothes more easily.  I would presume that they’re also more comfortable for baby since they allow more movement and are less binding.

The Saturday Question: Did You Cloth Diaper With Twins or Triplets?

If you did, we want to hear from you!  We are often amazed by the ingenuity and commitment of our readers and use your stories to share with other new parents.  Many families are overwhelmed by the idea of cloth diapering one child, let alone two or three.  If you’ve managed to use cloth with multiples, even part of the time, we’d love to hear your stories.     We’d love to know how many diapers you bought, how much laundry you did, and how cloth may have been unexpectedly convenient.  Please comment on this page or email us if you have some experience that might help other parents.

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.