Considering cloth diapers? What no one tells you about cloth diapering

We love to support healthy choices for our families. Almost all of our hats for children are made from organic cotton. And cloth diapering seems to fit right into the mix for many looking for healthier choices.

I am loving it, but I’ll tell ya, cloth diapering has a learning curve. I wish I’d known a few things before I jumped into it. (And to think I had spent most of my pregnancy researching it!)

As a pay-it-forward, I’m writing this to share what I wish I had known about cloth diapering before I started.

What no one tells you about cloth diapering

Those fancy pocket diapers sure are cute. But they’re a pain in the butt.

Most pocket diapers are made with polyester fleece. If you’re foregoing disposable diapers to get away from chemicals, why would you want polyester on your baby’s tender bottom?

Then, oh joy, after a few weeks the polyester will start to repel moisture and possibly retain an awful smell. This can be due to anything from detergent buildup to diaper rash creams or minerals in hard water. Then you have to spend a day stripping them, which may or may not involve scrubbing and tons of excessively hot water. To be repeated every few weeks. Not fun.

Even when the pocket diapers are working just fine, you have to stuff them every time you finish laundry to get them ready to be used. I probably spend a half hour every day doing this. Oh, and you have to get the inserts out of the diaper before you put it in the laundry, too. The directions all say to “shake it out”, but the insert doesn’t shake out for me. I’ve got to reach in and grab a wet corner to yank it out.

Solution 1: Look for pocket diapers made with natural fabrics like bamboo or cotton. Swaddlebees’ Eco Nappi is a great choice. It’s made with bamboo and I haven’t had any problems with these, unlike the ones with microfiber or terry cloth.

Solution 2: Get some cute covers and lay inserts inside them instead. You can often put the cover right back on the baby, just switching out the insert, if the mess didn’t get on the leg bands, for example. At first I thought using a diaper and a cover was a step too many, but now I’m learning to love my Weehuggers and Thirsties covers. They’re cheaper and more versatile than pocket diapers but just as cute.

Prefolds look like a sack on your baby’s bottom. But they really work great.

I usually change my baby’s diaper just before feeding him and then again after. For that short duration, I use a prefold and a snappi. They’re not pretty, but they can be bought in organic cotton and may last through a range of sizes.

You can get away with using only prefolds and covers from birth til potty training, saving huge amounts of diapering cash. Still, it’s not very exciting, so you’ll need some restraint when you see promotions for those alluring pocket diapers. (I’m fairly certain we’re not saving any money whatsoever with the way I’ve embraced every diaper I’ve seen on a daily deal site.)

Your baby will look like a sumo wrestler in pants

Because cloth diapers are so much bulkier than disposables, onesies will not fit properly, and when your baby is wearing pants he’ll look like a miniature sumo wrester.

Some organic cotton cloth diapers are softer than a baby blanket

I have some one-size fitted organic cotton cloth diapers from Babee Greens that feel so luxurious they might be cashmere. I just love putting them on my son now that he’s big enough. I have a wool cover, too, that feels so luxurious. It makes disposables feel like tape and plastic.

Your baby’s bottom will be wet, wet, wet. Unless you change the cloth diapers at every pee.

If you’re used to disposables, you will be shocked to see the sopping wet material next to your baby’s skin. What’s odd, though, is that it doesn’t seem to irritate the skin (at least on mine). Perhaps because the cloth is natural and breathable?

My son grunts a lot, even when he’s sleeping, when he’s peeing or his diaper is wet. We change him without his barely even waking up. I think happy cloth diapering requires a different mindset, getting away from “how long can I keep the same diaper on my baby” to becoming more aware of when he or she is wet.

You can use polyester fleece to create a stay-dry setup, but, again, it’s polyester.

But that wetness helps retain your baby’s body awareness.

The good thing about the baby feeling his or her wetness is that they will probably toilet train faster. Since they retain awareness of when they’re going to the bathroom, it makes it easier for you to recognize and get them to the toilet, too. (Especially helpful if you start super early with elimination communication.)

Expect trouble if you want to use creams on your baby’s bottom

Most common diaper rash creams, petroleum jelly, etc., will leave a layer of slime on your cloth diapers that will ruin them unless you are able to strip the creams from the fabric.

You can work around this with diaper liners, but then you’re adding more to your list of things to prepare every day.

Cloth wipes? Also great, but you have to figure out a solution that works for you.

Some people keep a squirt bottle nearby and wet each wipe. You could use a thermos of warm water. You could wet them at the sink individually before a diaper change. Or you can keep them in a wipes warmer.

If you use a wipes solution with oils, you may want to wash them separately from your pocket diapers.

Washing and drying cloth diapers sucks a lot out of you…

You will have to find a routine that works for your household, probably with special detergents and many extra steps. (Sure, it might take just the touch of a button to run each extra rinse or cycle, but it’s not like you’re hovering waiting to go push that button each time.) So it ends up taking a good chunk of the day before the diapers are fully washed.

When my in-laws were here to help out with the new baby, I hung the diapers out to dry in the sun most days. Since they’ve left, I haven’t done it once. There’s just no time in the day.

All the water you use washing, not to mention stripping, your diapers can cut into what you thought you were saving.

But the poop is easier to deal with than you might think.

If you’re exclusively breastfeeding, the poop comes right out in an extra rinse you can run in your washing machine, so you don’t really have to do anything with it.

You can also spray it off into the toilet with a diaper sprayer, or dunk the chunks in the toilet directly.

If you use a disposable diaper liner, you just lift that part off and toss it to get rid of the poop.

Cloth is more work than I thought, but I won’t go back to disposables…

Despite the extra work of cloth diapering my child, I am enjoying it immensely. My husband won’t even put a disposable diaper on the baby, and he does just fine with cloth diaper changes.

It feels good to know we’re doing things that are healthy for our baby and the earth.

Remembering who I was before I became a SAHM
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Comments (6)

  1. Leslie Guenther

    No one told me that the rules were so many. I love the idea of cloth but wow is it hard. And so many different brands to chose from.

    • Lisa

      Leslie, it’s true, there’s a lot of homework to cloth diapering. It seems that going into it without knowing a few things can cause moms to give up even after investing in a huge pile of cloth diapers. Without proper care and due diligence when choosing diapers, the diapers can leak, stink and even not fit a child properly. That said, it’s an amazingly rewarding way to diaper your child once you get everything lined up. I highly recommend sticking with the simplest solution – natural fibers and easy care sizing. I didn’t even know that some of the diapers I had bought were polyester until I started getting into it more. And those are the ones that have been most troublesome.

  2. sonya

    This piece is well researched and I agree with all the assertions. Unfortunately they are the exact reasons I decided cloth diapers weren’t for me!

    • Lisa

      Sonya, sorry to hear cloth wasn’t for you! And I am the first to admit it’s a lot to get to used to when you’re also dealing with a new baby, right? I don’t want to deter anyone from trying out cloth, though, as it can be wonderfully rewarding once you get your system in place. There are even newborn diaper rentals and trial packages you can use to see if it’s for you, so you can make up your mind after giving it a go, without blowing a whole investment.

  3. Justine sell

    Just started using cloth diapers cloth diapers today my washer broke so I have to hand wash them the pee is fine but dang the poop was terrible the poop would not come off I had to wash it off in the tub it was nasty poop everywhere then I had to bleach the tub.everyone must be lying about cloth diapers.the poop sucks big time.

  4. justine sell

    No it sucks ive been cloth diapering part time for the past 2 weeks 6 prefolds and 2 covers and 1 all in 2 the pee ones are fine however the poop is a nightmare it does not come off by shaking in on the pot.or puting it it the toilet water no it takes 3 washes for my babys poop to come off diaper and then i have to bleach everything going to take up stocks in Clorox.i would say it costs 2x as much if you were for water and electric,bleach,vinegar and detergent oh yea and you might be checking into the psych your money ,time and mind and just by luvs.

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