By Joanna Rodriguez, Contributing Writer
There is definitely a learning curve to cloth diapers. There are tons of different kinds, different ways of washing, and different accessories. I’m hoping these tips will help you avoid some of the hassles I’ve encountered during my 3+ years of cloth diapering!
1. Gerber Prefolds are Really Just Burp Cloths
When I started diapering my son, I thought I’d go simple with prefolds and covers. I put some Gerber prefolds on my baby registry since they are the only kind carried by places like Target. Bad idea. Gerber prefolds are thin, wimpy, and wear out quickly. They make great burp cloths and cleaning cloths, but they’re not really diapers. We often doubled them up to get the necessary absorbency, which was a pain. If you’re doing prefolds, go for the good stuff!
2. Snaps Are More Durable than Velcro
While velcro is nice for quickly getting a diaper on a wiggly baby, the durability of snaps has won me over. Those extra couple seconds of fastening are worth diapers last a lot longer! Velcro requires fastening tabs for laundering, which inevitably gets forgotten sometimes. Then the velcro all sticks to each other in the wash and fills up with fuzz and lint. None of that hassle with snaps!
3. You Really Can Stick to the Basics
Diaper sprayers are kind of nice, but beware of overspray. Personally, I’d rather just dump & swish. Liners are convenient for dumping poop, but wasteful since most diapers are just pee anyway. Fancy wipes may be soft and cute, but cut up t-shirts or extra baby washcloths work just fine. Pail liners make it easier to carry the diapers to the laundry, but I’ve been disappointed at how fast they wear out (nowadays we just keep a small step-on garbage can in each bathroom and empty it into a bigger pail near the laundry every day).
You don’t need everything. If you are on a tight budget, don’t worry about fancy accessories. Just get diapers, covers if you’re using prefolds or fitteds, and a travel wet bag or two.
4. Microfiber and Hard Water Don’t Get Along
Microfiber is appealing because it is very absorbent but not as bulky as natural fibers. Most pocket diapers (see #5) have microfiber inserts. One problem with microfiber is that it is very difficult to get all those tiny fibers completely clean. If they don’t get completely clean, they stink and can also repel moisture, causing leaks.
This is especially a problem if you have hard water. Hard water has a lot of minerals in it, that make it more difficult for detergents to work efficiently. Combine this with microfiber and you will very likely end up with stinky, leaky diapers, no matter how much you try to strip them (see #7).
5. Pockets are More Prone to Leaks
In addition to microfiber inserts being prone to build-up and leaks, the fleece lining of popular pockets like BumGenius and FuzziBunz is also prone to build-up. Whether it’s minerals, detergent residue, or from diaper rash cream, anything that doesn’t rinse off of that fleece properly will cause leaks. You can try stripping (see #7), but after many failed attempts I gave up and said good-bye to most of my pocket diapers. One exception is these Kawaii bamboo pockets. I haven’t had any trouble with leaks or build up or stink with those! (But newborn poop stains them like the dickens.)
Note from Kate: I sew my own pockets with Alova suedecloth on the inside. My babies seem to prefer the feel of this fabric to a fleece-type fabric, and they also don’t leak or get any build up. So, it depends on what is inside the diaper, as well as what you wash with. Even my diapers that are four years old with not-so-great elastic don’t leak.
6. Fitted Diapers are Not Prone to Leaks
My favorite diapers are fitted diapers. They are easier to put on than a prefold (great for grandparents or babysitters), super soft, and require no post-wash assembly. No parts to match! Just grab and go! They require a cover, but I’d rather do a little more work at diaper changing time than having to stuff a bunch of pockets. Some people have found that they make a great nighttime diaper (with an insert in between the diaper and the cover), but it depends how sensitive your little one is to feeling wet in the night. The best part is that they very rarely leak, unless you…uhh… forget to change your baby’s diaper. 🙂
7. Stripping Diapers is Par for the Course
I thought I must be doing something wrong if my diapers got stinky or started leaking. Turns out it happens to pretty much everyone, and having to “strip” every couple months or so is completely normal. Things that can cause build up include detergent residue, residual fabric softener in your dryer, rash creams, and minerals from hard water.
Note from Kate: I almost never strip. Maybe once a year. I do not use microfiber; I stuff with cotton prefolds. And I use soap nuts, which do not build up on the diapers. If I use other detergents, no matter how natural, I have to strip after a month or two like everyone else. So…I don’t. 🙂
8. More Water = More Detergent
I found out after scouring the Eco-Sprout website that the more water you use to wash your diapers, the more detergent you need because it gets watered down. That makes sense to me, but there is a lot of advice out there to use very little detergent and the highest water level. If you have hard water, that method will not clean your diapers thoroughly! I’m currently doing a “medium” load with 3-4 T. of Eco-Sprout. Make sure you use a detergent intended for cloth diapers and follow their advice for how much detergent to use, depending on your water type and the size of the load.
9. Vinegar Can Cause Build-Up
It’s often recommended to put some vinegar in the rinse cycle to help your diapers rinse thoroughly. However, vinegar can react with the minerals in hard water and cause build-up. It might be okay with soft water, but my advice to you is to stay away from vinegar if you have hard water!
10. Beware of Rash Creams, Even “Cloth Safe” Ones!
I found that rubbing anything on my baby’s bum, even “cloth diaper safe” diaper rash creams, caused build-up on my diapers, resulting in leaking and needed to be stripped more often. Now the only thing I use is coconut oil, rubbed in well so that none is being absorbed into the diaper. If your baby gets a bad rash, it might be worth using disposables with rash cream until it clears up, or using fleece liners that you don’t care about to keep it from getting on the diaper. (You can easily cut your own fleece liners from a piece of fleece.) You may want to wash them separately, too, to be extra careful.
11. You’re Not A Bad Mother if You Use Disposables at Night
We tried and tried to find a good nighttime solution for our son. Pockets were leaking like crazy (see #5) and giving him diaper rash because when a diaper is on that long some of the urine turns into ammonia. Fitteds, though they didn’t leak, were not keeping his bottom dry and he was waking more frequently. Finally, we gave up and started using disposables. We usually got “eco-friendly” ones since we didn’t want nasty chemicals against his skin all night long. We figured that good sleep and no more diaper rash was worth the small amount of money and waste caused by using one disposable per day. Ideal? No. Saving us a lot of hassle? Absolutely. (Have a great nighttime solution? Share it below!)
If you cloth diaper, what do you wish you had known before you started?