Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Getting Started With Cloth

A lot of parents are interested in using cloth to diaper their babies, but aren't exactly sure how to get started. If there's one thing that the world of cloth diapering isn't lacking, it's choice. Even just a tiny peek into cloth diaperland can be intimidating. There are so many different types of diapers and the culture-specific lingo can be a little dizzying. When I first started researching cloth diapers, I didn't know a pul from an ao1 and it seemed like many of the sites were offering information based on the assumption of pre-existing knowledge.

The fact is, whether you are looking to cloth diaper full-time from birth, part-time in combination with disposables, or switch from disposables, your basic set-up and equipment is the same.

What you need- The basics

A diaper pail - you need somewhere to toss your diapers until laundry day. Most stores that sell cloth diapers also sell diaper pails with special locking lids. It's not truly necessary to buy a special pail, a simple garbage can with locking lid from Walmart will do the trick.

2 Large Wetbags - A wetbag is a cloth sack with a waterproof, anti-odour lining and zipper or drawstring closure. You line the diaper pail with one and, on laundry day, turn it inside out and wash it with your diapers. I always recommend that people get two, so you've got one in the wash and one in the pail at all times. If you're cloth diapering part-time, one bag will probably be fine. They range from $18 - $35, depending on how fancy you go. I use a GroVia Pail Liner, which retails for $18.

Small Wetbag- This one is for travel. Whenever you leave the house, you need somewhere to keep your dirty diapers. You could always use a plastic bag in a pinch- but these small zippered bags keep the odour contained very well. They also have a lot of secondary uses- you can use them to store your wet swimwear or gym clothes once the diaper days are behind you. I use a Bummis small wetbag which retails for $12.99 as well as a PlanetWise medium wetbag which has a handy extra pouch for dirty clothes and retails for $25.99. Again, if you are only using cloth diapers at home and disposables when you go out, you can safely skip this item.

Diaper Liners - These are disposable liners that help extend the life of your diapers and make clean-up a breeze. They contain most of the poopy mess and protect your diapers from any creams or ointments you use on dear baby's bottom. There are quite a few brands to choose from. Bummis Biosoft Liners are a favourite of many- a roll of 100 liners costs $6. I personally found the Biosoft to be too flimsy and so I use AppleCheeks biodegradable/flushable liners, which retail for $8 for a roll of 100 liners. There's also the option of using washable liners- Kushies makes good-quality cotton liners- a pack of 10 liners will cost you $12.

Some Extras:

Diaper Detergent - Cloth diapers are a lot of things- but cheap ain't one of them. When you're spending hundreds of dollars on diapers, you want to protect your investment. While it is perfectly acceptable to use a small amount of regular detergent on your diapers, you may find that the chemicals deteriorate the fabric more rapidly and, over time, can cause a build-up that reduces the absorbency of your diapers. To extend the life of your diapers, I recommend that you invest in a detergent which is specially formulated for cloth diapers. The two most widely available brands are Rockin' Green and Claudia's Choices. Both brands are ultra concentrated detergent powders that get the diapers clean without the use of phosphates, bleach, dyes, sodium chloride, sodium sulphate or optical brighteners. Claudia's Choices is also fragrance-free and is hypoallergenic. A 3.5 kg pail will run you $30. CC has a pail recycling program (return the pail, get $2 off your next pail) that many retailers honour. Rockin' Green comes in many cool fragrances and is therefore more expensive- a 45 load bag will run you $20. If you have chosen to use wool diapers, that's a whole other culture that I unfortunately know very little of. I do, however, know that there is specific detergent available for wool diapers. Eucalan Wool Wash can be found at your local diaper retailer for $11 per 500ml bottle.

Dryer Balls - Ideally, cloth diapers should be hung to dry. However, in the real world, a cloth mama may sometimes find herself strapped for time and so her diapers will inevitably take a turn in the dryer. Fabric softeners (whether liquid, dryer sheets or stick-on dryer bars) are totally forbidden. Fabric softeners leave a filmy build-up that clog the pores of cloth fibers rendering your diapers completely useless. If you put your diapers in the dryer, a good alternative for taming static is tossing a few dryer balls in for the cycle. I use Nellie's PVC-free Dryer Balls, which retail for $24.99 for a pack of two.

Boosters/Doublers - If your baby is a heavy wetter, you may be interested in increasing the absorbency of your diapers by adding what is called a "booster" or "doubler". These are thick liners, usually made of hemp, bamboo or cotton and you just lay them across the diaper for added absorbency. I find them to be particularly useful for naps and overnight. Just about every cloth diaper brand out there makes a booster/doubler. I use GroVia Organic Cotton Boosters. A 2pk retails for $10.

I feel like I'm forgetting something...
Something important...

Oh yes, the diapers!

Of course, you will need to choose a brand and style of cloth diaper. Here is VERY brief run-through of the styles.

Sized vs One-size: Sized diapers offer the benefit of a perfect fit as they are designed for specific weights. Sized diapers are remarkably trim and have the best fit under clothes. If you go this route, you will need to purchase 20-25 newborn sizes, 15-20 infant sizes and 10-15 toddler sizes, which can get pretty pricey. With one-size diapers- the rise and waist are adjustable to grow with your baby. The benefit is that you only need to buy one bunch of diapers to last your baby from birth to potty-training (usually 8lbs-35lbs). As many cloth mamas will tell you, those estimates vary greatly and, as a general rule, one-size diapers are far too big for babies until they are about 10lbs. BumGenius, which is the brand that I use, offers BOTH sized and one-size diapers. Go to their website, http://www.cottonbabies.com/ for a comparison.

Snaps vs. Aplix (velcro): Most cloth diapers fasten with either snap closures or velcro closures. Nowadays, many brands offer both options. It's up to you what you prefer. Velcro has greater adjustability, however, they tend to lose their "stick" after a couple months in the dryer. I personally prefer snaps because when I used velcro on my dear baby, I found that the edges scratched his delicate skin and irritated his cord. Also, in the dryer, those darn velcro tabs stuck to everything but the dryer tabs that were supposed to keep them tamed.

All-in-one: Just as the name indicates, this diaper has it all going on. Layers of absorbent cloth, with a waterproof (PUL - polyurethane laminate) lining contain even the messiest of baby messes. AO1's are by far the most daddy-friendly style on the market, there's nothing to them- you simply put it on baby just as you would a disposable with no muss, no fuss. The downside of AO1's, typically, is that because everything is sewn into the diaper, they usually take quite a long time to dry and can be overly bulky under newborn clothes. BumGenius All-in-one's range from $20 for their sized diaper to $29 for their organic one-size.

Fitteds: This is the same idea as an AO1, minus the waterproof (PUL) lining and therefore much cheaper. As they are generally made of 100% absorbent materials, you need to use a cover over them. Covers are a lot of fun because they come a seemingly unlimited amount of colour and pattern. Fitteds come in both sized and one-size. I used fitteds for my dear baby when he was a newborn and still too small to fit into his BumGenius. He wore Kissaluv's fitted cotton fleece diapers in size 0 with Bummis Super Whisper Wrap diaper covers, Bummis Super Brite diaper covers and Thirsties Duo Wrap diaper covers. Motherease is a local Canadian company that has perfected the one-size fitted diaper and their products are incredibly economical.

Pockets: Pocket style diapers are very convenient for the cloth mama who doesn't have time to wait all day for her diapers to dry. The diapers consist of a waterproof outer layer with a microfleece lining. At the back of the diaper, a pocket is sewn in the lining and you stuff the pocket with an absorbent insert (generally made out of hemp, bamboo or microfiber). BumGenius and AppleCheeks are examples of pocket style diapers. The upside, as mentioned, is quick drying time as the diapers are washed and dried apart from the inserts. The downside is that you have to pull the dirty, stinky insert out of the wet, poopy diaper before you toss it in the wash. AppleCheeks solved this problem with their "envelope-style" pocket diaper. The pocket is strategically placed in the center of the diaper and the inserts magically pop out during agitation in the washer. For my dear baby, I use BumGenius 4.0 Snap Closure diapers so we are definitely a pocket-style household.

Cover + Insert Hybrid: This is the best way I could think of to describe the Flip Hybrid diaper. Made by the same company as BumGenius, Flip diapers look almost identical to BG's, minus the microfleece lining. Instead of having a lining stitched into the diaper, the fleece is stitched onto one side of the insert, which you lay across the cover instead of stuffing into a pocket. The upside here is that you can re-use the covers multiple times before tossing them in the wash. The Flip diaper system is called "hybrid" because it bridges cloth and disposable. Flip diaper covers are sold bundled with either Microfiber or Organic inserts and packages of disposable inserts are sold separately. This system appeals to people who are travelling or simply on the go because you can use cloth inserts at home and disposable inserts when you are out.

Flats and pre-folds: This is the old school. Your nana's flat cotton diaper that is folded to fit baby and fastened with pins. These days, there's something that has knocked pins right out of the park and it's known as a "Snappi". Operating on the same principle as a tensor bandage closure, Snappi's are t-shaped closures with little "claws" that stretch to fit over cotton flats and keep them together. Pre-folds are essentially the same as flats, only they conveniently fold into thirds and can be easily laid across a cover and used like an insert. Pre-folds also come in different sizes according to your baby's weight, but they are so darn affordable that you won't mind purchasing all different sizes. Bummis brand pre-folds are pretty much dominating the market and they use an excellent quality organic cotton fiber. Kushies also makes flat diapers which you can buy for a song at their factory outlet store in Stoney Creek, Ontario. Keep in mind that pre-folds and flats are made from 100% absorbant fibers and therefore require diaper covers as well.

Once you have your diapers picked out and purchased, you will want to wash them several times before use. Cotton and other natural fibers become softer and more absorbent over time. Depending on the brand that you purchase, you will want to wash your cloth diapers 4-7 times to really boost their absorbency before you put them on dear baby's tush.

And there you have it! I know it's a lot of information, but the bulk of it is really in picking out the diaper style that best suits you and your baby's needs. Once you have that figured out, it's just a matter of acquiring a few accessories to make life easier and that's it!

Next time on Natural Mama...tackling the dreaded microfiber stink...Stay tuned!

Diadima xo


  1. What a plethora of information you've got here to share! Just an added note. We struggled with disposable liners for the sheer reason that they kept on clogging our drains. They advertise that they are the same as flushing toilet paper, but it's simply not true. We didn't notice it at first as it took a while before it became an issue - but then we had almost a years worth of liners that had to be snaked out of our drains like the nastiest towel ever. And we have new drains as well!
    So we bought a cheap pair of dish washing gloves to keep in the bathroom and I just dunk and hand clean the poop off the diapers. Sure, it's a little bit nastier, but it saves issues with the drain, and saves you buying the liners. Besides, if you're cloth diapering in the first place you're probably okay with it being a little nasty :)

  2. If your rinsing your diapers I highly recommend a diaper sprayer. Beats sticking your hands in toilet water.

  3. Jeremy: I have recently started using bummis fleece liners with my prefolds and I really like them. I don't flush my flushable liners simply because my changing table is nowhere near my toilet- and I'm really glad now because I wouldn't want clogged drains! thanks for the tip!

    Denise - I have seen the bumGenius brand diaper sprayer. It is the one that connects to your toilet's water supply to help rinse off your diapers? Again, if my bathroom was nearby my changing table, I would certainly invest in a product like that. Do you have one?