Cloth diapering

In response to the chemical plant explosion that took out 1/5 of the world’s SAP production and is sending diapering mamas into a hording tizzy…

I swore I wasn’t going to use cloth this time. But when my son hit about 4 months old, every disposable brand we tried either gave him a rash or leaked at every single poop, and I got so fed up with the extra laundry (and poop stains on his cute clothes) that I switched to cloth. I haven’t looked back. The inexpensive cloth pocket diapers I get on co-op (or direct from the manufacturer) are SO much more effective, and with one-size covers, SO much cheaper. These are not my mom’s cloth diapers. They are as far from the pins and pull up pants I used with my sister (in the 80’s) and eldest child (19 years ago) that they’re almost unrecognizable. The laundry is no more unpleasant than the clothes with the poop on them I was dealing with all the time. We have fewer rashes now that our laundry routine is set. And they’re about a million times cuter. This is probably the best time in history to switch to cloth!

There are lots and lots of cloth options out there. All I’m going to talk about is what I’ve used personally. With my sister, I helped my parents out. They were using doubleweave birdseye flats that my mother specifically bought in preference over gauze or single weave birdseye flats for their absorbancy and long usefulness. I was 12 years old and she was still using one or two of my old cloth diapers as rags. My dad still fondly remembers folding the diapers. I don’t. That is, I remember folding them, I don’t remember liking it. We used pins and rubber pants over the top. The rubber would degrade and crack over time. The pins weren’t terrible.

With my first child, I bought some cheap cloth diapers and covers, was given some, and ended up with a mishmash of prefolds, covers and pins. The covers were mostly pull up pants. I will say that pins with pull up pants is the best defense vs. a stripping toddler. But the Gerber prefolds were terrible. I had some contours I’d inherited from my midwife, and some wool snap covers, and those I liked but could in no way dream of affording more of. I settled on nylon pull up pants as our primary covers. They came in different sizes and I always dreaded buying the next set, they were spendy for me, as a single mom. Nevertheless I estimate I spent at most $200 on diapering my daughter from birth until she potty trained near age 2… then cloth failed us. She was a heavy sleeper and not dry at night, and having just 3 heavy, stinky, toddler pee diapers per load seemed ridiculous (plus I was about to move out on my own and shift to coin-op laundry) so I started buying disposable good night pants. I spent more over the next few years on her single disposable per night than I did for the whole rest of her cloth diapering combined. She didn’t train for a very long time, and I finally had to resort to an alarm system to get the job done.

In 2000, I was living in a town house. The laundry was at the end of the building. It was the middle of winter, and I became a foster parent to a newborn. He wore disposables. It was fine. He moved on at 3 1/2 months old and I never had trouble with them.

In 2005, now married and living in a house with laundry in my garage, I had my second daughter. I started out with high quality prefolds and a collection of snap and velcro sized covers, some bought, some inherited from a friend. I never loved cloth diapering and when our life went nuts when my father in law died and my mother in law became our responsibility, I switched to the same cheap disposables we’d used for my foster son and never looked back. I had a special needs baby, a demented mother in law, a shrill dog and a 12 year old, and my thyroid and adrenals were in the process of crashing. I couldn’t keep up with my household laundry let alone the cloth diapers. Shiny was 5 months old when we switched. she started stripping her diapers off and creating disasters with them at about age 2. We did everything under the sun to try to make her stop, including specially constructed garments, duct tape and yes, potty training, but with a child with severe cognitive delay and cerebral palsy, potty training can be… challenging at best. I wanted to wait until she was out of diapers to have another baby, I gave up on waiting when she was around six years old.

When I got pregnant with Miles, I was over cloth. I’d had plenty of experience with both cloth and disposables and had no desire to use pins or velcro, and while I was aware of different pocket systems, most of the ones I’d seen were a minimum of $15 per diaper, which seemed insanely expensive. I could buy a couple weeks worth of disposables for the cost of one diaper! Especially with sized diapers, the cost benefits seemed not entirely worth the trouble. Yeah, they were cute, but the last thing I wanted was to get as obsessed with trying all the kinds of diapers as I was with trying all the kinds of baby carriers. Then he started reacting to some of the disposables. And we had a LOT of leaks. I’m talking every time he pooped, no matter how I did up the diaper, it would blow out the top and the legs. There was a moment the lightbulb came on, and I said to my then 18-year-old daughter, “I might as well be doing diaper laundry with all the damned poop I’m cleaning out of his outfits!” We sort of looked at each other, and I said, “Would you help if I did cloth?”

She said, “Sure.”

So I spent a week researching. And the name “Alva” popped up. And with one-sized pockets costing $5-8 per diaper (I wasn’t going to wait for a co-op to start)… it suddenly looked much more do-able. I could spend less than $130 and get 14 diapers delivered in a couple days. $20 here and $20 there got me another 8 diapers. On a whim, I put Shiny in one… and despite her being 10 pounds over the weight “limit” of 35 pounds, it fit. The first morning I got up to find her sitting naked with a dry diaper in her hand, insert removed, I think I laughed an evil mommy laugh, took her potty, and didn’t buy another disposable diaper for her. I found a co-op and ordered enough for both kids AND my niece, who was 3. By the time the co-op got there, both the older girls had mostly trained. Shiny completely trained about a month after I put her in cloth. WORTH IT. She never shredded another disposable, never covered her bed and toys in pee-scented diaper snow again.

When Miles was exclusively breastfed, it was SO easy. A couple of washes and everything was pristine. The diapers didn’t stain the way his clothes did, and they didn’t leak. Pretty much ever. He might be a little humid around the edges when he woke up, but compared to the spreading yellow dripping poop leaks of disposables? I can live with that. The advent of solids meant the advent of stink, and we’ve adapted.

Our current system is this:
Our Diaper Area
Use-wise, it goes like this. Grab a diaper. Put it on the baby. When you change it, take it off, clean him up if necessary with a cloth wipe, put another diaper on.

If the diaper was poopy, take it to the bathroom. I usually let a couple of them accumulate through the day, then at night I take all of them to the tub and use the handheld showerhead to wash all the poop down the drain and get it all off the diapers. Put all pee or rinsed poop diapers in a wetbag.

When you have a couple days worth accumulated (I tend to go 4-6 days between diaper loads), put them in the washer. For the pocket diapers, put on a pair of glvoes and pull all the inserts out as you’re stuffing everything in the washer (including the wetbag).

Run a rinse cycle. Now add cloth-diaper safe detergent (I like Ecos Free and Clear particularly well for our soft water) and maybe a little oxygen cleaner or Bambino Mio Fresh Nappy Cleanser. Wash on heavy duty, with a prewash and extra rinse. Then run a soak. Then without adding detergent, wash and rinse the diapers one more time. Smell them. If they smell at all, run another cycle. It sounds like  a lot but it’s only pushing buttons really.

Now toss everything in the dryer (covers and all) and dry on low until everything is dry (including the inserts).


My favorite combo is a custom Alva 4.0 diaper (about $5, shipped, on co-op) with a charcoal bamboo insert (about $1.50-$2.00 each, shipped, on co-op). This combination can go all night, is super absorbent, and can theoretically the insert can go next to my baby’s skin though in practice I never put it there.  He’s not a heavy wetter so I only use one insert.


Posted in Cloth Diapers, Potty talk.

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