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!
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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!
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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 thegreenpepper.com 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. 

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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. 
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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.

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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!
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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. 

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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:
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