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How Do Cloth Diapers Work, Anyway?
If you don’t have any friends who use cloth diapers, you may never have had the chance to really learn how to do it yourself. Some statistics say that still, 95% of mothers still use disposables rather than cloth. You may be ignorant as to how to actually do it, and that ignorance may be stopping you from looking into it more.
You’re aware that it is better than disposables for the environment. You know it can save you money. You know there are lots of options out there to make it work for you. But, do you know that it’s not as complicated as you think? After all, disposable diapers were introduced in the 40s and were a luxury at that time. Only in the ‘80s did the price go down, and the resulting landfills begin to get filled up. They were a less labor-intensive option, and they meant you didn’t have to deal with poop as much.
The tide is turning, though: interest has increased in learning about the advantages of cloth diapers as opposed to disposables. The following guide will explain how cloth diapers work.
The first term you need to become familiar with is the prefold.
Prefolds are simply basic cloths that you can use to stuff inside the diaper cover. They come in a variety of fabrics, and are as inexpensive as $1. When you are finished with cloth diapering, they will still be able to be used in the future as potential cleaning cloths or even pet bedding.
Flats, in comparison to prefolds, can be folded to your choice of absorbency (for example, thicker in the front for boys) whereas prefolds are thickest in the middle. These take some extra time to fold. (Speaking of cloth diapering for boys, fun fact: German scientists discovered that the skin temperature of baby boys genitals was higher with disposable diapers, linking a potentially lower sperm count as adult males. One more reason to consider cloth diapering!)
Contour diapers are similar to prefolds except they are tapered in the leg area.
The cloth diaper cover is made of plastic and is intended to contain the damp mess of the prefolds. They usually close with either Velcro or snaps instead of the disposable’s sticky tabs. One of these will run about $8-$12. Interesting fact: these are often made from plastic bottles, and can be recycled when you are done with them! Alternatively, you can use wool or fleece covers. These absorbent, natural, and breathable covers are great for nighttime.
If you want to ensure the prefolds stay in place, you can use stretchy one-piece fasteners called Snappis. Fun fact: this was created by a dad! Gone are the days of safety pins.
At nighttime, you can either double up on prefolds, or use soakers. These are intended for leaks and are simply cloth inserts to last through the night.
Fitted are different than prefolds in that they are molded to the shape of your baby. They are still used with a diaper cover. They have elastic at the legs and therefore can be better at containing messes. This can mean getting your cover dirty less often. It’s a matter of personal preference which one you end up using. These have a large price range, from $11 to $35.
That’s one reason cloth diaper experts recommend getting a variety of options when you’re just starting out to see which style works best for you.
How to change a diaper using prefolds and a diaper cover:
When it is time for a change, you can remove the soiled prefold and replace with a clean one. You can re-use the cover, wiping it off if necessary.
This is the most basic way to cloth diaper, and often the least expensive. But did you know there are options? There is the hybrid diaper, which is named so because it is an easier version of cloth diapering, closer to disposables. You can still use the waterproof outer cover, but then you purchase disposable inserts (100 may only cost $5.) You throw out the disposable inserts and continue to wash the cloth cover, which generates less waste. It is possible to buy biodegradable cloth diaper disposable inserts.
Another option is the All-in-ones. With this kind of cloth diaper, you wash the whole thing every time, the absorbent layer and the outer layer. It requires a bit more laundry but can conveniently be pulled off and tossed into the laundry all in one piece. Because they are convenient, they’re often used when the baby has a caretaker of some kind. The only downside is the expense–one of these can run $15 to $25–and they tend to be bulkier and therefore dry slower than other cloth diaper counterparts.
All-in-twos are like hybrids except the insert is not disposable, and the insert sits next to the baby’s skin.
Pocket diapers are a kind of diaper that has a pocket inside to stuff a reusable insert. This is convenient because you can choose how and how much to stuff the diaper.
One size diapers actually fit your child the entire time you diaper them by adjusting the size through Velcro closures. This is a great way to save money. These are diapers that fit a child from 8 to 35 pounds. The adjustment usually comes at the top along the waistline, and then down the front through a series of snaps. Some of the diapers also allow for adjustment in the leg gussets to help fit your baby better.
The following are suggested cloth diaper accessories:
The cloth diaper pail is for storing your diapers apart from the rest of your laundry before washing.
Diaper pail liners are reusable and similar to trash can liners. If you own two, you can wash one with your diaper laundry while the other one is being used.
A waterproof wet bag is for when you’re on the go and you need a place to put used/wet items.
A diaper sprayer is a must if you want to get solid waste off the diaper and into the toilet. You attach it to your toilet. Otherwise, you may need a soak bucket to remove poop.
Flushable liners are one way to avoid having to get solids on the diaper, and instead, are disposed of in the toilet. You do want it to go into the toilet, though. Otherwise, untreated human feces in landfills can endanger our water supply.
Cloth diaper-safe detergent will help your diapers last longer. It will need to avoid containing fabric softeners or oils.
It probably doesn’t surprise you that in addition to cloth diapers there are also cloth wipes. The cost is .90 to $2 per wipe, but you’ll end up saving a lot of money, and they work well, too! And although you can go the store-bought flannel route, it’s certainly possible to use old clothes or terry cloth towels cut into squares. Depending on how crafty you are, you could make a cloth diaper dispenser. In order to moisten the wipes you can buy a solution, or make your own cloth wipe solution using water, baby shampoo, olive oil, and lavender essential oil. Then store it in a spray bottle.
Why do people use cloth diapers?
With this information, it’s harder to see why everyone doesn’t cloth diaper. First of all, it’s not as hard as it seems once some of the mystery is removed. Second of all, there are options, from hybrid to all-in-ones to one-size diapers, that allow for that easy disposable or convenient element. Third, there is a big initial investment up front, but over time it’s possible to save a lot of money. (If you think about it, using disposable diapers is literally just throwing money away.) Fourth, it is better for the environment. Consider that the average baby uses 8000 disposables. Although chemical detergents also damage the environment, there are ways to save on this, too. One option is drying the diapers out in the sun rather than using a dryer, for example.
The best part about cloth diapers?
But skipping all of that practical information, there’s one thing that often gets ignored and it is just about the most fun thing about cloth diapering. The designs, styles, and colors! They are all just so dang cute.
Moving on past the definitions and reasons why to cloth diaper, let me explain some other small details that you’re probably wondering about.
How often do you change cloth diapers?
Disposables can hold more pee. It’s true, you will be changing cloth diapers more often. But consider the diaper rash. That is much rarer with the cloth diapered baby. You can’t use diaper rash creams with cloth diapers, but you won’t need them. You will need to change them at least every two hours, but naturally, every time you know your baby is wet, it’s best to change the diaper to avoid any skin conditions.
How do you change a cloth diaper?
Shake the diaper insert (and cover, if required) into the diaper pail, when there is only urine. If there was bowel movement, shake what you can into the toilet, or rinse it in there. If you are just breastfeeding, it’s possible to put it directly into the wash without needing a rinse or shake.
How much do cloth diapers leak?
Cloth diapers can actually leak less than disposables because of the advances in design.
Which diapers work best for preemies?
You’ll have enough on your plate: an all-in-one will make life easier. Try the Lil Joey All-in-One.
Which cloth diapers work best for newborns?
Keeping in mind that newborn diapers fit babies up to 14-16 pounds. This means the one-size diapers referenced earlier won’t work for newborns, as they start at 10 pounds (too large for most newborns.) All-in-twos are not the best option for newborns either. The runny poop means that the cover gets dirty too often. An economical option would be the dual size option. This size will fit an infant from six pounds to twenty pounds. When it comes to diaper covers for newborns, look for ones that come with double gussets around the legs to protect from blowouts. Prefolds and fitteds work great with this age. Check out the brand called Workhorses.
Which cloth diapers work best for heavy wetters?
Cloth diapers made of hemp, bamboo, and cotton are extremely absorbent. You’ll need to ensure a good fit around the waist and legs too. The Grovia O.N.E. comes recommended.
Which cloth diapers work best for sensitive skin?
Ensure the detergent you’re using is suitable, and then look for natural fabrics like organic cotton, like Smart Bottoms 3.1.
Which cloth diapers work best for chunky babies?
To make sure the fit is not too tight, (leaving those uncomfortable-looking red marks) look into Blueberry coveralls, one of the larger one-size covers available. You can use them with prefolds, fitted, or flats.
Which cloth diaper covers work best for overnights?
Wool covers work best because they can absorb up to 30% of their weight and still allow circulation. You can even use them over disposables. One popular brand is the Disana wool overpants.
What if I’m too busy?
I would say then do it part-time. There are many cloth diapering mamas who use disposables at night or on long trips, for example. Every cloth diaper used is one less disposable in the landfill.
This guide hopefully helped to fill any gaps in your knowledge of how cloth diapers work. The next step is to get out there and try a cloth diapering system for yourself!