It’s been a week, my friends. A week of “We’re sick of hourly poop updates on Facebook.” A week of extra laundry. A week of, “Why are you doing this, again?” A week of frustration! A week of joy! A week of washing my hands more thoroughly. It’s been a week of putting my two year old in reusable cloth diapers!
Before I write about my experience, I first have to explain my motivations. Some folks cloth diaper to benefit their child. (Who knows what kind of chemicals are used to produce disposables, right?) Others choose cloth for environmental concerns. (Reduce, reuse, recycle.) In my heart of hearts, I was motivated by one concern and one concern alone: I want an iPhone. I want an extended data plan. And when faced with the budget options of eating less Chipotle or handing my toddler’s poo… I choose poo every time.
Now, for those of you considering this choice because you want a more natural lifestyle for your baby, or because you’re trying to be more green. There is a plethora of information on the internet just for you! I highly recommend googling cloth diapers or green diapering, doing your research and choosing the option that best fits your diapering needs.
But for those of us just doing our best to save a buck, PLEASE DON’T GOOGLE CLOTH DIAPERING!!! What a nightmare!!! The cloth diapering community is a bizarre place, full of strange vocabulary, strong agendas, and outlandish stories FAR too scary to be true. (Apparently, disposable diapers cause cancer… but so do cloth if you don’t buy the right kind. Thank you internet for being a fail-proof source of reliable fear.) Plus, every source of cloth diapering information I could find was, you guessed it, sponsored almost exclusively by cloth diaper retailers. Talk about bias!
After a week elbow deep in my son’s poo… here’s what I’ve learned:
Cloth Diapering Doesn’t Have to Be So Expensive
I did a good amount of research on cloth diapering before my first son was born. What I found then (almost three years ago) was that almost any sort of modernized cloth diaper system would cost us, at minimum, $10 a diaper. (The Cadilac of diapers costs more like $20!) With most of the cloth diaper websites telling me to start with around 30-40 of these, I said forget it! If I had $300-$400 upfront to risk on something most mothers have abandoned, then I wouldn’t be looking into cloth diapers in the first place!
Of course, I know I’ll get yelled at if I don’t mention the option of purchasing used. Yes, used diapers can run you from $4-$12 each depending on the brand and style. It may sound crazy, but websites like diaperswappers.com prove the thriving demand for stranger’s used poop holders.
Pause for rant: Yes, I know the diapers clean up– so well, in fact, that intend to let my two boys share with each other. BUT PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE have some self respect and don’t buy used diapers. I don’t know if any of my cloth diapering friends have done this, but the whole idea of it is gross! Would you buy yourself used underwear? No?! But it’s probably not even been pooped in! I know it’s cheap, but some things just aren’t worth it! BUY NEW DIAPERS, for heaven’s sake. End rant.
Instead, at the recommendation of a former disposable user, I purchased one dozen Sunbaby diapers from Sunbabydiapers.com. Note: 4SmartyPants is not endorsed by Sunbaby… Mac just really thinks they’re an unusually good deal. At $60 for 1 dozen with free shipping, I actually ordered them almost on impulse. The fact was, I knew the day was coming when our second child would turn our $30 a month diaper bill into $60, and surely with a dozen cloth diapers, just using them during the day, I could at least come out even within two months! Even if I hated it, two months is a reasonable amount of time to commit to the old college try. Right? And being one size fits all, means my two months could begin on my toddler, before I even have to bring baby #2 home!
Also, with pocket diapers, you can stuff them with ANYTHING! Mine came with absorbent inserts, but as I began to understand that you generally want to double up for a heavy wetting toddler, I used microfiber cloths from Walmart! At 8 cloths for $5 (in the automotive department), you’ll come out way ahead of the “inserts”, “doublers”, “flats”, and “prefolds” you find online! I was very pleased with their performance.
Cloth Diapering DOES Have to Be Gross
Anybody telling you different is trying to sell you cloth diapers. It’s graphic. My toddler rarely offers me those tidy droppings that simply fall off into the toilet. After changing a soiled diaper, I send him on his way to play while I’ll figure out the best way to handle the crap I’m left with!
I walk to the bathroom, open the diaper pail, and lift the toilet seat. If possible, I remove the soaked inserts from the diaper and drop them in the pail first. (This usually means my fingers have to touch urine.) The hard part is coaxing the sticky messes out of the diaper and into the toilet. Sometimes it just falls out and the hallelujah chorus plays in the background. Other times, I hold the diaper inside out (so that only the affected areas are submerged in the toilet) and flush two or three times. Yet other times, I have to get out the toilet brush to make sure the solids are really out of the thing.
There’s nothing “easy” about it! But why am I okay with it? A big turning point for me was about halfway through the week. My son was actually wearing a disposable, because it was right before bed, but the diaper shifted with him on my lap. The result? A big old splotch of brown on my crisp, grey yoga pants. Here I was, in a rare instance of disposable diapering during the week, and what was I doing? Touching poo.
Later, Stephanie shared a story on Facebook about her 10 million kids. “Only a mom would say, ‘Everybody bring me your blankies so I can smell which ones have pee on them!'” Hilarious, but so true.
And then, there was bath time tonight. I didn’t actually know what that brown thing was floating in his tub water. I figured it out after it was already in my hand.
Touching poop and pee is just a way of life for a parent. We wash up, and life goes on. So yeah. Would I rather endure an iPhoneless lifestyle, or would I rather touch my toddler’s poo? Well, seeing as the poo thing’s bound to happen occasionally anyway, I’ll just take poo and get a data plan! It’s simply a matter of washing my hands more thoroughly after a diaper change with cloth!
Cloth Diaper Laundry Doesn’t Have to Be Overwhelming
I’ve already written here about my FlyLady routine for dealing with laundry. “A load a day keeps the chaos away!” she says! With this habit already in place, adapting to the extra load of diapers has not been a huge lifestyle adjustment for me. I do my normal laundry during the day, then throw in the diapers when I tuck in my son at night. I choose to launder them every night. It’s just cleaner, and the way our apartment handles some of our utilities with flat rates, it doesn’t increase our costs by that much.
My diaper pail is basically just a lidded kitchen trash can. The instructions on my diapers say use a dry pail, so I do. I don’t use any special liners. Just wipe it out with a Clorox wipe or some windex every few days. Since all the poo gets flushed, and I’m laundering nightly, we’ve been pleasantly surprised: There’ve been no odors from the pail whatsoever! (The same has NOT held true for our disposable diaper pail!)
The instructions on my diapers say to do a cold soak before a hot wash. Well, my washing machine doesn’t have a “soak” function, so I just toss them in and run a whole cold cycle on “mini”. That takes about 20 minutes. (And I usually start it right before the kiddo’s bedtime routine, so it times out almost perfectly!) After it’s over, I put in some detergent (adjusted for the small load size), and run it on a hot cycle. Tumble dry low.
On Monday, my boy had some issues with diarrhea. Two diapers that night came out of the dryer with slight discoloration. Even though the cloth diapering community will say NEVER to do this (it’s hard on the fibers), I lightly spritzed them with bleach water. They went back into the pail, and in the next day’s load they looked brand new again! Beyond that single issue, there have been NO stains, NO odors, NO indication on my week old used diapers that I didn’t just take them out of their original packaging! Amazing! Where are the skid marks?! I’ve been nothing but impressed with how easily the cloth diapers have come clean.
And, why even fold them? They dry up nice and quick, and beyond folding the wash cloths I’ve been using for wipes, the diapers just go into a drawer on my changing table. It takes two seconds to stuff one, so sometimes I do that ahead of time, other times I just do it as I’m changing the boy! We think of all the time of sorting, folding and putting away that goes with a typical load of laundry, but with diapers, you just dump ’em in, run ’em through, look ’em over, and toss ’em in a drawer or basket! This has been the most pleasant cloth diapering surprise!
Cloth Diapering General Pros and Cons
I supposed it wouldn’t be an issue if you were starting with a newborn, but with our two year old, my husband and I had a lot of questions about what HIS preference would be. Would he feel wet all the time? Would he get rashes? Would the diaper fit comfortably? Would we see more leeks and blow outs?
Pros: The plush fleece pocket (the part that actually goes against baby’s skin) is incredibly, luxuriously soft! I started this week using disposables at bed time, but the past few nights I’ve put the kiddo in cloth. This started when he just kept saying “No! No!” and pushing away the disposable I was trying to put on him, but didn’t fight me when I offered the cloth. I usually don’t negotiate with terrorists, but after he’d had a nice warm bath with snuggly PJs awaiting him before “nap time” with his soft clean blankie… A crinkly paper/plastic diaper didn’t even make sense to ME! He slept in cloth, and didn’t even leak! The fleece also does an amazing job of keeping the moisture away from baby’s skin. I inspected it thoroughly after the first soaked diaper, (which, now that I think of it, I could have just poured water on a diaper instead of inspecting the real thing… Oh well!) and was convinced! I’ve even started looking into some reusable nursing pads for myself out of the same material.
Cons: You really DO have to check the diapers more often and change them more often. (3-4 hours) Disposable diapers are made of all kinds of high tech stuff. There just isn’t now, and probably never will be, a cloth material as absorbent as disposables. Like I said, I think microfiber does a pretty dern good job, and remember my post from last week. Never buy the Gerber prefolds. You’re just asking for trouble.
Cons: It’s also almost impossible to tell if they’re wet without actually checking! With a disposable, I see a droopy full diaper a mile away. With cloth, I really have to inspect thoroughly to identify even the most saturated diaper! Hopefully this is a skill that improves over time. I’d be lying if I told you we haven’t had some overflows this week! (Things have improved as I experiment with putting more stuffing in the front of the diaper, and altering the fit of the dipe around the tummy. I feel like it’s kind of an art form and practice will make perfect.)
Pros: If I did have some trouble with wet diapers this week, those diarrhea days impressed me with how few dirty “blow outs” we had. The way the diaper’s many snaps assure a custom fit around the legs, we had far fewer problems with soiled diapers seeping around the edges than we usually have with disposables. I’m really looking forward to this advantage for our newborn and his exclusively breast fed poo.
Pros: When the zombie apocalypse comes (as Jaymee’s husband has assured us it will) I’ll be one of the few moms prepared to handle it… Or at least I won’t have to run out and get my brains eaten because we’re out of diapers. There’s just a great feeling of pioneering and independence that comes with realizing I probably only used five disposable diapers total this week! Seriously, if you’re scatterbrained like me, you’ve had to do the last minute “we’re almost out of diapers” run. I look forward to having fewer of these instances in the upcoming winter! I also had “reverse sticker shock” when I did my Walmart shopping this week! “Why was my bill so low?! Oh yeah… I didn’t have to buy a case of diapers and wipes!”
Pros: Cloth diapers are cute! I don’t know what else to say. I just think they’re adorable. I love the different colors and patterns and the fact that I don’t have to look at Elmo or some other annoying licensed character every time I change a diaper. Some of the fancier brands of cloth even come with coordinating “Baby Legs”. Adorable!
But, it all comes down to this: After a week of cloth… Will I continue to put them on my babies???
Would I recommend it to everyone? No. Understand, I’m a stay at home mom, with a fairly small apartment to tend to, and a fairly simple, predictable lifestyle. Cloth diapering really doesn’t make much difference to me in the grand scheme. And, in fact, it’s the kind of minor inconvenience that I feel is fair trade for someone privileged with my kind of life. For a working mom, or a mom with several billion children, I’m just not sure if I’d say it’s worth the extra effort.
If you think it might be a good fit for your family, I recommend testing the waters. Look on ebay for some inexpensive pocket diapers and try it part time along with disposables. If you take nothing else away from my experience, realize that cloth diapering does not have to be an all or nothing venture. And after a week hands on, I’m pretty convinced that it SHOULDN’T be done exclusively. I don’t expect my husband to use cloth. It really IS gross to deal with that poo, and when you’re not used to it, stuffing a diaper and attaching all those snaps could be really confusing to grandma or grandpa.
I hope this has given you a realistic perspective. It is a nice way to save some cash, particularly if you have more than one bottom to cover. But don’t think it has to be so dang complicated, controversial, or confusing! You’re a mom with a reasonably level head! You’ve totally got this! No sweat!