I first tried cloth diapers a long time ago with my now twelve year old son. I was so clueless I bought cloth diapers from Walmart, the cheapest plastic pants I could find, a few snappis and then wondered why it didn’t work. At one point I also bought some nice cloth diapers (still with the terrible plastic pants), but soon found out my son would spend the rest of his life in diapers and abandoned the project entirely. That’s another story and it was so overwhelming that I didn’t revisit the issue for another 8 years, when we had full time nursing for him and moved to a house with second floor laundry.
Cloth diapering isn’t simple, per se. There is a learning curve and some level of commitment – especially to becoming a little more comfortable with pee and poo. But once I pushed through the initial trial and error phase, I feel in love with cloth. I actually reach for cloth over disposables.
Why cloth diapers are amazing
- Baby poo doesn’t leak anywhere NEAR as much as with disposables because the covers are fitted to your baby. This means no ruined clothing due to baby poo.
- If your baby is a little wet you can change them without feeling like you wasted a diaper.
- If you’re running low on diapers you don’t have to run to the store (though you may be doing a frantic load of laundry).
- They’re a lot cuter than disposables. This is more of a factor for me than I thought it would be. I really love that it looks like clothing instead of a menstrual product.
- When you’re done with the diapers you can sell them or use them to clean up spills because they’re super absorbent. Alternatively, you can recycle them.
- If you sew, then you can sew your own and save even more money than if you buy them commercially.
- You can feel warm and fuzzy about your lessened carbon footprint.
As much as I love them, of course there are also some cloth diapering drawbacks.
Cloth diapering drawbacks
- They’re expensive. You can buy them used, but they do have a finite number of uses and used cloth diapers have less life in them than new ones.
- When baby poo turns solid, there’s a little bit more of a yuck factor. Before it turns, no rinsing is really involved, but afterward you definitely do need to rinse. We invested in a diaper sprayer which makes it tolerable to me, but it’s not my favorite thing. You can also buy flushable liners that some people have good success with.
- There’s a little more laundry. I do one load a week, sometimes two.
Our super simple system
If you get 10 cloth diapering moms in a room you will get 50 different ways to cloth diaper a baby and maybe also an elimination communication mom (the ultimate in zero waste!). There are a ton of different blog posts out there that talk about the pros and cons of different systems and why you might want to purchase one thing over another. I just want to share my system because it’s worked really well for us over the past three years and is a relatively inexpensive, not-overwhelming system.
I’ve owned every kind of cloth diaper (all in ones, pockets, etc.) and my favorite, which coincidentally is also the cheapest, is Best Bottom Cloth Diaper Covers with snaps with prefolds.
I like Best Bottom Covers because they have a double layer which makes them almost leak-proof, and they are tight enough that I can just pop the diaper in it, snap it together (velcro wears out – resist the urge!) and it stays on my baby. We’ve even done this for two super active toddlers and they stay in place. No snappis, no fasteners, just the cover and the diaper. I like OsoCozy Prefolds because they’re really well made and last forever, unlike another cheaper brand I tried out that’s already falling apart. You do need to buy prefolds intended for cloth diapering, and not the ones in stores that are really burp cloths.
I fold mine sideways from the way you’re “supposed” to do it because they fit better in the cover.
For wipes you can use cheap washcloths – just wet them in the sink or with a water bottle. If you’re feeling more motivated than me, you can also fill a wipe container with washcloths, water, and a few drops of baby shampoo.
When I initially wrote this, I was using 6 covers and about 24 prefolds for my four month old and I was doing a load of diapers about every three days. The total for that new is about $154, but you can also find them used on Facebook cloth diapering swap groups. Now my baby is older and I have around 35 large prefolds, so I do the laundry about once a week.
For overnights I use Thirsties Hemp Inserts. I’ve tried other inserts (including Best Bottom inserts) and they don’t compare in absorbency or durability. The nice thing about these is that you can layer them for your own baby’s needs. I typically use three a night. I save them for night time because they are more expensive than prefolds and prefolds don’t cut it for absorbency overnight.
In terms of storing dirty diapers until you’re ready to do laundry, you’ll need some wet bags (which are useful forever). I do know people who just use plastic bags, but for our zero waste purposes that’s a little self defeating.
Skip Hop Grab and Go are my absolute favorite travel wet bags ever.
I put the clean items in the mesh pouch and the dirty ones in the middle “wet bag” section. I continue to use them for potty training – dry clothes on the outside, wet clothes on the inside. I’ll even throw cliff bars, socks, baby shoes, etc. in the pocket. When I go to change the baby, I can just grab the wet bag and don’t need the entire diaper bag.
I use Planetwise Diaper Pail Liners both as garbage can liners throughout the house, but then also to collect cloth diapers (they fit in any garbage can you can imagine). They are so waterproof that you can fill one with water and carry it around, which is annoying when you’re taking it out of the washing machine, but great for containing dirty diapers.
My diaper washing routine is to rinse poo diapers with my diaper sprayer (I skip this with younger babies). Then I rinse all the diapers once in the washing machine without detergent, then run them again with both Tide and OxiClean . I air dry the covers and wet bags so they last longer (the dryer shortens their life span), and dry the diapers themselves on high heat (because air drying those would take more time than I have patience for).
If you decide to take the plunge, be sure to join some online cloth diapering groups (like this one) in case you have questions. It takes some getting used to and is about a $200-$250 initial financial investment. I figured that one load of laundry costs about 25 cents (including water and detergent), so twice a week for a year costs around $25. The dryer costs a little more, let’s say 45 cents to run one load twice a week, for a total of $90 a year. So the total cost of your first year of cloth diapering would be about $365, give or take.
One disposable diaper costs about 15 cents so if you use five disposable diapers a day, it would cost around $273 a year. Again, depending on how often you change the baby and what brand you use.
Overall, there are a lot of variables including how much you buy and how often you do laundry. I think that’s why cost/benefit analysis of cloth diapers are so confusing. The first year you almost definitely won’t save anything, but after that you certainly can. When I was crunching numbers 3 years ago, I decided that it might not save me money, but it was definitely better for the environment (we know how to reuse water, for example) and then I ended up preferring it so it’s not even a sacrifice anymore.
Added bonus – between this and composting our garbage truly doesn’t smell, ever. Well, unless our disposable diapering friends come over. 🙂