Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What I Wish Someone Told Me About Cloth Diapers Before My First was Born

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I had a lot of choices to make. Who knew there were so many decisions to make? I certainly hadn't given much thought about much of it pre-pregnancy. Bottle or Breast? Natural or Medicated? Disposable or Cloth? I came up with decisions on a lot of things fairly easily, but when it came to diaper choice I only thought for a little bit and most of the advice I had on cloth was a bit outdated to say the least. Cloth diapers are not the diapers of our grandparents, not even close. They are easy to use, and they don't have to break the bank. Hopefully with this post, I can shed some of the mysteries and myths about cloth diapering, and bring more people into the world of fluff!

Are Cloth Diapers Expensive?
According to Consumer Reports, with disposable diapers you could be spending about $2500 for diapers from birth until potty training for each child. Obviously, this is going to depend a little on what kind of shopper you are, the frequency of your changes, and of course when your child finally potty trains. You all know I'm a frugal shopper, so I'll be really generous and say disposable was half what they are saying, so let's use a cost $1750. I know it was probably more though. I've already purchased an entire stash and then some for the next baby and I've spent around $400 (rounded up), but it can be more or less depending on which brands and what extras you purchase. I also shopped a lot of sales and purchased some used diapers, but less than $500 is a realistic figure for many families to reach through strategic buying. So the savings from disposable to cloth is about:
70% less for cloth!

What's in a Stash?
Typically, the average stash is 24 diapers. This should get you through 48 hours of diaper changes for a newborn with enough diapers to wear while washing. Older babies/toddlers need less diapers, younger need more. There are also a few different kinds of diapers, below are some of the major kinds. You can mix and match your stash however you want.

Prefolds + Cover
Prefold and Cover
This is very similar to the system our parents and grandparents may have used. It's a cloth with seams that you fold and either place in the diaper or attach around baby with diaper pins or a snappi. You then put a cover on top to keep from getting wetness on clothes, floors, and furniture. Generally the prefolds are fitted, so you will need to buy a new set each size (which depending on the brand could be 1-4 sizes), but they are the cheapest to begin with ranging around $2-$6 a prefold. The covers are one size (OS) generally, so the covers will last the whole time, and you only need about 6-8 covers as you don't need to change them with every diaper change. These are usually around $5-$15. Average cost for entire time of diapering $250. For a more economical option, Cotton Babies offers a one size prefold called Econobum. A set of 24 of these will cost about $100, if you buy their kits.

Insert and Pocket
How Pocket Works Photo: Cotton Babies

 A pocket is exactly how it sounds. There is a pocket in the back where you put an insert. It's very customizable as you can put two inserts, doublers, hemp, etc. inside to fit your child's wetting needs. These come in fitted sizes and OS. The snaps on the front of the diaper are how you adjust size. Diapers are usually available in hook and loop (velcro) and snaps. It's a matter of personal preference when it comes to that. Prices for pockets can range from $10-$25 depending on brand, fabric content (organic or not), etc. Average cost for a stash of pockets: $400

All-In-Ones (AIOs)
Photo: Cotton Babies
It's exactly how it sounds. Everything is one piece. Again these come in fitted or OS (picture above is a BumGenius Newborn AIO). These are some of the most expensive cloth diapers, but they are the ones that can be the easiest for anyone to use, as they work just like a disposable. Prices range from $12-$30+. Average cost for stash of AIO's: $480

These are just some of the most common diapers listed above. There are also All-in-two's (kind of a cross between a pocket and an AIO), fitteds (a lot of the one's above can come in fitteds, but then there are ones that are their own kind of diaper where it's a fitted cloth diaper that you then put a cover over), hybrids (you can use cloth or disposable inserts in them), and contours (similar to fitteds).

But What Else Do You Need?
Well besides detergent and a washer and a bucket (really it can be a bucket it doesn't have to be fancy) to store the dirty diapers in, you don't need anything else. There are some things you can purchase that will make life easier though. Some things you might like are:
Photo: Cotton Babies
  • Diaper Sprayer- allows you to spray the poop off the diaper into the toilet.
  • Pail Liners and Wet Bags- Pail Liners make it easy to keep the pail clean and you can just dump the whole thing, pail liner included, into the washer. Wet Bags make traveling with cloth easier, just pop the dirty diaper in the bag and bring home.
  • Flushable Diaper Liners- These can be used when you have to use heavy duty rash creams, when baby is sick, or all the time.
  • Cloth Wipes- You can use regular wipes, but then you need to remember to throw those away when you stick the diaper in the pail. Cloth wipes can be as simple as baby wash cloths with some warm water to ones already made that you put special solutions on. It's really a personal choice.
What's in My Stash and What Did it Cost?
  • (6) BumGenius 4.0- Bought on B5G1 Sale on DiaperJunction for $86.90 total.
  • (10) BumGenius 3.0 (Older model of BumGenius)- Bought used from a friend for $50 total.
  • (4) Econobum Trial Packs (3 Prefolds, 1 Cover)- Bought on DiaperJunction Black Friday for $9.75/each, $39 total.
  • (4) 3-packs Econobum Prefolds- $6/each, $24 total.
  • (6)Hemp Doublers (3 Small, 3 Large)- $3/each, $18 total
  • (2)Diaper Sprayers (1 for each bathroom)- Bought on DiaperJunction Black Friday for $34.95/each, $69.90 total.
  • (6) Wonder Wrap Covers- Bought from a friend used for $40 total.
  • (2)Small Fuzzibuns- Bought from a friend used for $10.
  • (2)Small Wetbags- Free purchasing various products.
  • (2)Kissaluvs Diaper Pail Liners- $9.90 after using reward money from DiaperJunction
  • (1)Diaper Rite Pocket- Free with purchasing various products on DiaperJunction
  • (1)5 Pack Snappis- $10.95 on Amazon
  • (1)Safety First Easy Saver Diaper Pail- $12 at BabiesRUs (I liked the way this one worked, and it was cheaper then the trash cans I was looking at).
  • (10)BumGenius Refresher Kits- $1 each, $10 total (used to replace hook and loop on BumGenius 3.0)
Total for All: $380.65
Total Cost of Just Diapers (17 OS Pocket, 2 Sized Pockets, 24 Prefolds, 10 Covers) : $249.90

What About Caring For Them?
This can be really scary and a huge turn-off for a lot of people. Try searching it on the internet and you'll find a different washing/care routine for every person who uses them. The first thing you need for care is either a large wetbag or a diaper pail (which again can just be a bucket). For all poop other than exclusively breastfed poop (which is water soluble, and therefore can just go in the pail), you'll want to dump off the solid poop in the toilet and you can be rid of the rest by scraping with some toilet paper, using the dip and swish method, or a diaper sprayer. Then place in the pail. For wet prefolds and covers, just place the prefold in the pail and wipe the cover dry to reuse. If it's really wet or has poo on it, place it in the pail. (If any of your diapers are hook and loop, be sure to fasten the laundry tabs to keep your hook and loop working, and your other diapers looking nice). For pockets, pull out the insert and place both in the pail. For AIO's, just put it in the pail. You'll want to wash about every 48 hours to avoid any bacteria growth and to reduce stink (and reduce the amount of diapers you have to buy!). The basic washing strategy is simple enough: cold rinse, hot wash, extra rinse, dry. Where it's up for debate is what detergent to use (special diaper detergent or not?), what things to add to wash (vinegar, borax, Calgon, bleach, etc. or nothing?), should the first wash just be a cold rinse or a full blown soak, and do you line dry or use a dryer. What I've learned after a lot of research is the reason for these discrepancies is every person has a different combo of washers, diapers, water temperatures, water hardness, and baby's skin. It's a bit of trial and error, but once you have it you are set.
My Diaper Pail and Liner
My specific wash routine is this:
  • Cold Wash, No Detergent- I either do a quick wash or a soak depending on smell of diapers/if it's been longer than 48 hours. I add a gallon of water, since I have a front loader and front loaders tend not to add enough water for diapers (remember diapers are meant to absorb water!) I do a low spin on this one.
  • Hot Wash on Heavy- I add one gallon of hot water to the beginning again because of the front loader. Heavy wash on my washer is a little longer wash with more water and it does an extra rinse and extra spin.
  • Detergent- Rockin' Green Soft Rock. I have really soft water because we have well water with a water softener. I'm currently using Rockin' Green because I won an awesome giveaway for it. Prior to that I was using regular old detergent. If you buy new diapers, read your warranties, otherwise just use what works. Obviously, if you have a baby with sensitive skin, you'll need to take that in to consideration. If you have an HE washer, you'll need to take that into consideration. Here is a good list of detergents and their effectiveness. This is one of those things that really will just depend on all your circumstances. The amount used also depends on your circumstances, but one thing to remember is most commercial detergent tells you to use way more then you really need.
  • Dry- I line dry. Line drying can bleach out stains and sanitize. Because of the front loader and the extra spin and the fact that I live in sunny South Florida, they easily dry outside in less than an hour. If I wash at night, I put inserts and prefolds in the dryer, but anything with water- proofing (so covers, pail liner, the actual pocket diaper) I hang in the bathroom.
If you encounter problems (like ammonia smells), it's usually best to contact the diaper manufacturer, a diaper retailer, or a diaper detergent company. Most of them are awesome and will help you troubleshoot with your specific situations (water type, washer, diaper type, detergent, etc.), and then you don't risk ruining your diapers or voiding a warranty.

But is it Really Still Cheaper with All the Care?
YES! The calculations for this will vary a lot by area and your care choices. Since I have well water, I am not currently paying a water bill, but I do pay for salt and electricity. I also use a HE washer, dry pail, and line dry. I'll compare this year's December electric bill (using cloth diapers) to last years (not using cloth diapers). Last December the bill was $84.26, this December $86.35. Our salt use has been about the same. Even with adding in extra detergent use it's not a big difference because of the HE washer when I do buy detergent it lasts a long time. This bag I won will probably last 100 loads for us, and considering a 48 hour wash routine that's probably going to last me a long time, but even so I could buy the same size for $14. But considering the cost difference between cloth and disposable I discussed in the beginning, I really doubt we'd somehow meet the $1250 difference even over 3 years. But if you think about it, when considering the cost of disposable we don't consider things like gas to go buy them at the store (or shipping to order them online) and trash service to dispose of them. We don't even consider trash bags or diaper pail bags.

Are They Really "Green" Though?
That really depends. I think discussing the "green-ness" of anything is a slippery slope, and would take a lot of scientific study. One thing is certain, it definitely is good for there not to be diapers in landfills, as they don't biodegrade and they leak all sorts of things into our soil and water. There are also a lot of iffy things in the production of disposables. But the true eco-footprint of cloth is hard to tell because it depends on how the materials (like cotton) are produced, where it comes from, where your electricity comes from, what you use for detergent, where the electricity comes from at the manufacturer's plant, etc. I find this debate to be true of all "green" things though.

Are They Really Easy to Use?
YES! This was my biggest fear. I'm currently using them on my almost 3 year old. If you know anything about toddlers, you know that they are super wiggly and their poo is not always the easiest to deal with, but I've had no trouble with getting them off and getting them clean. I've even used them for trips away from the house for most of the day. The washing really doesn't take away from my day, I usually just throw them in before breakfast, start the second wash after breakfast, and then go about doing other things and then hang them out. I like to stuff the pockets so they are ready to use, but even if I don't it doesn't take any longer to get them in now. The poop removal was a change, but you should be doing it with disposables as well (see HERE, click on helpful hints and read under "Waste Removal").

Where Do You Buy Them?
As you can probably tell, I have some favorites. You may be lucky and be able to buy them locally, but there isn't a store around here that sells cloth (with the exception of some mommy-made diapers). That being said, I buy online. My favorite manufacturer/retailer (as you can tell from my diapers) is Cotton Babies, this is the manufacturer for BumGenius, Econobum, and Flips. They have great quality diapers. Shopping with them has been a great experience. My other favorite retailer is DiaperJunction. They sell all Cotton Babies products as well as many others. In my opinion, you can't go wrong with either company.

Any Other Benefits?
The one main benefit is the ability to use them with future children. If you take good care of your diapers, they will last. What does this mean for you? It means your savings over disposable grows with each child. Remember how I used the amount $1750 for one child and $500 for a stash of cloth? Well for two children that's $2500 for disposable, but still $500 for cloth (saving 80%). If you have 3 kids the cost for disposable is $4250, but the cost of cloth is still the $500 (saving 88%). Obviously, if your children are spaced close or you have multiples, this changes things, but you will more than likely save with each kid. Another benefit of taking good care of your cloth is that there is a huge market for used diapers. Many manufacturers and retailers have buyback programs. There are also websites devoted to selling used diapers (think craigslist for diapers), and speaking of craigslist you can sell them there and consignment shops/sales usually accept them too.

What Have I Learned?
Cloth diapers really aren't scary at all. I wish someone had told me that before my daughter was born because I would have done it from the beginning. I'm thankful to have the opportunity to use them now with her, and from the beginning with our new little one due in March. It also doesn't have to be an all or nothing deal. Even doing it only on weekends or in the day or at night will save you money. For some people in their personal situations, it's just not feasible for it to be all day thing, and that's perfectly fine. It's also ok to buy a few and try them for a few diaper changes to see how you like it. Now that I know what I know, I'm going to keep sharing it because I don't want anyone to say, "I wish someone had told me how easy and inexpensive cloth diapers really are!"

Disclaimer: Cloth diapers may become addicting. ;-) Also, I received no compensation to write this post and all writing and opinions are my own; however, I do intend to enter this post into this contest where I could win 12 BumGenius 4.0's and one commenter would also win 12 BumGenius 4.0's (so comment and it could be you!).


  1. I use econobums on my 20 month old and my almost 3 week old and love them!! We use a pail and liner and diaper liners with the toddler to make clean up easier. Things I want to try are diaper sprayers and some pockets for out and about! Oh and snappis rock :)

  2. We did without the diaper sprayer at first, and it's way doable, but with the deal they had on black friday I jumped on that opportunity. Since the new baby will be in our room at first, I figured two would be wise since I'd have to bring diapers from one child to the complete other side of the house with diaper changes. Totally worth the money though, makes the poo changes much quicker. I like the pockets, especially out and about.

  3. I've been curious about the diaper sprayer, and it seems to be a "you can do without it, but I like having it"

    I'm like you with no local retailer selling them, so it's online for me, too!  (and, I just learned that cotton babies has free shipping..awesome).

  4. Yes, love that Cotton Babies has free shipping! They currently have some BumGenius 4.0's on clearance. I believe it's colors/patterns they are discontinuing.

    It definitely makes the poop changing a bit faster with the sprayer, and maybe a bit less messy. It also has some great uses like spraying out a toddler potty, spraying a poopy toddler butt, feminine/postpartum care, and cleaning the toilet, lol. But if someone is really on a tight budget, it is by no means a necessity.

  5. We bought almost everything brand new (the second size pre-folds were from a sale, but they'd never been used!), and we've yet to his $600 for two kids. The only things we've had to buy for the second baby are an extra wet bag (purely for convenience) and some more snappis because our old ones were kind of beat up.

    Something else cloth diaper-ers need: a cloth diaper friendly diaper rash solution. Desitin will DESTROY cloth diapers. Grovia makes a "Magic stick" for about $14. James is almost 1, and we've still got half the stick left. It smells so good! That said, cloth diapered babies get far less diaper rash that those in sposies, but it's nice to have on hand for the occasional red patch (like when you've been in the car longer than planned and didn't get to change the diaper when you wanted).

  6. Happy Birthday Lauren!  I hope you win your contest!

    I also have to say, I used Bum Genius 4.0s, Thirsties fitteds with the Duo Wraps as covers, and the occasional PF on laundry day when we were doing foster care.  It was so much simpler to have a whole set of diapers that would fit any child that would get dropped off in the middle of the night than to have to go out at 2am to pick up a box of disposables and hope they fit.  Once we have our own forever baby, we plan to exclusively use cloth.  There's also a great cloth potty-training pull-up... Antsy-Pants... they even make some larger sizes for late trainers or bed wetters.  Here's the link:

  7. Ahh yes, diaper rashes. We've been fortunate enough that at this point we haven't had to go there, when she gets a bit of a rash a bath and some "air" time usually does wonders. I've heard of several brands of cloth diaper friendly diaper cream/sticks, and I've heard they all smell yummy, lol. I've also heard a flushable or resuable liner on the inside can be a good choice especially if you need prescription creams, which again thankfully we've never had to experience either.

    I've heard, but have no personal experience with it, that you can sometimes get the Desitin out with a few stripping methods, but it can take several times to do the trick. I've heard boiling sometimes works too, but that's one that a lot of warranties might be voided if you use.  

    Then again, I've never been a fan of using most diaper creams anyway just because they smell and feel weird, but we've been blessed in that she hardly ever gets any rashes of worth, and those were usually when she pooped in the middle of the night without waking up. :-/

  8. I never thought how useful they would be in a foster family situation, but that's definitely a plus to them. Even with babies, it's nice to not have to waste a bunch of disposable diapers (which I hope most people would donate them...) because they had a growth spurt and don't fit the previous size.

    We're looking at cloth potty trainers right now, I haven't decided on anything as previous to this week potty training was just not happening, but this week she's been more apt to say she is wet and ask for a diaper change and ask to go to the potty (and actually go!), so we might look at seriously buying some, but I think she mostly wants big girl "un-nies" (undies). Considering all the animal messes I've cleaned off the floor, it may just work to do the undies and get a few trainers for when we go out. I've been curious about the Flip trainers from Cotton Babies since they work a little like a all-in-two, but I haven't met anyone who has used them yet, since they are new.

    I a fluff addiction though, and am always looking at different and new products. I'm always wanting to buy some. ;-)

  9. Awesome post in sharing all your research! I plan to cloth diaper, as I was cloth diapered due to very sensitive skin, and do not even want to attempt with any of my babies for fear of them having an awful allergic reaction. Being a sciencr teacher, I also know what sending stuff to landfills can look like and lead to. I believe that cloth diapering is the best way to go, plus, who doesnt like a stylish diaper.
    People laugh when I tell them my children will be breastfed and cloth diapered and the cheapest baby on the block. Why buy and throw away when you can produce and reuse?!

  10. Yeah, that sensitive skin thing is a pain in the rear, and does tend to run in families. OMG, the patterns and colors are so cute. I have to keep myself from buying them to match every outfit, lol!

    I'm all about reusing things, and producing my own. But then again, a lot of people look at me like I'm crazy too.

  11. Wow you have done a lot of research! Cloth diapers have come a long way since I used them with my son 15 years ago! I think it's great that you are going to use cloth. It is definitely a more affordable option!

  12. I have to say, these aren't the same cloth diapers I used years ago.  Easy to use with no pins and diaper covers that keep your child dry.  Seeing y'all in action with them and the diaper sprayer making clean-up easier, they are a great option for sure!

  13. So much different! I think that's why people still aren't using them because the old kind is what they picture, I know that's what I thought at least.

    And seriously the diaper sprayer was genius, whoever came up with it deserves a medal. Not that it was terribly hard to clean them without, but still one less step.

  14. I didn't know you used them!

    I wish I had known they were so affordable the first go round. It seemed like with the washing and all that it would cost so much more, but I can't find any proof that our budget is worse using them then it was not, I think it's actually been less money spent since I'm not buying diapers.

  15. Thanks for this post. It is full of great information. I will be sharing this with my BF so he will see that it really will save us money.

  16. You are welcome! Hopefully it helps in your quest to get him on board! It's so hard to give exact figures on savings that matches for everyone because there are so many variables, but I think most of the time it's cheaper.

  17. We don't have a diaper sprayer but our handheld showerhead reaches to the toilet so I use that and it works pretty good.  Thanks for listing your wash routine, I seem to be getting some stink happening so I might try to wash your way and see if that helps.

  18. That's a good alternative to a diaper sprayer. At least for one of our bathrooms, we might have been able to do that if we bought a new showerhead, but the other wouldn't have worked since the toilet is a complete seperate room.

    The stink is annoying. My wash routine may work for you, or it may not. There's so many variables that it's really hard to say. Do the diapers need to be stripped? Perhaps rocking a soak might work as well? I know Rockin' Green makes a soap called "Funk Rock" that supposedly helps with smells. I also tend to rinse all our pee diapers too before putting them in the pail because our toddler has some pretty pungent pee smells. When I was having a problem with ammonia stink it actually turned out to be from too much soap. When I first switched to Rockin Green, I used the amount they recommended for HE washers which is 1 TBSP. Well I didn't pay a lot of attention to those washes, one day I watched it on the final rinse and there was so much bubbles. It took several washes/rinses to get all the soap out. Turns out my water is super soft, and so about a tsp works for ours. The gurus at Rockin' Green are really helpful in answering general washing questions.

  19. Great Post, very informative!

  20. Wow. What a thorough, informative post! This is a great post for someone who really wants to learn the ins and outs of the costs and benefits of cloth!

  21. Thank you! I just wanted to put down all the answers to all the questions I had in an easy way. When I was researching and researching, sometimes my head was spinning, so I wanted to be easy to understand, but cover a lot of common questions. Thanks for stopping by!

  22. I'm only 20 years old, and can't say I have any diapering stories or experiences. Heck I'm not even married yet (crossing fingers it won't be much longer now). But I've been wishing more and more that I would have started a "hope chest" a few years ago. I've been slowly transitioning into more natural products, and I really want to start my own family with those habits. I came across cloth diapering sometime last year, and I've been intrigued ever since. I connect diapers with Walmart, crowded and noisy stores, huge shopping carts, and a thinner wallet. And maybe it sounds silly, but I have different associations with cloth diapers. They seem more personal, gentler, and I dream of my own little family just starting out. It's like the difference between a home-cooked meal and settling in with a Disney movie vs greasy fast-food on a sticky table and corralling screaming kids into the car. Cloth just sounds more like home and the better choice, rather than taking mothering advice from big name brands trying to sell me something to put in my garbage can. I plan to have homegrown children that are not raised by manufacturing companies. (Note - I'm not strictly against mass-produced items or supercenters, I just think moderation is best). Besides that, I believe in work over waste. And if I gain a new hobby/addiction (which I probably will), all the better!
    So I figure I may as well start that "hope chest" now, and you can bet it will have cloth diapers in it! I can't wait!! Thanks for the article, the inspiration, and for helping add to the goals of a future mother!

  23. It's great you are thinking ahead! I wish I had. I mean I knew I wanted kids and all that, and have always leaned more to eco-friendly, smaller ideas, but just never got there with the cloth until now. There is a different feeling to cloth. I also love that most of the cloth diaper companies out there are small businesses, usually started by moms. Everyone of them I've dealt with has been more then willing to help solve any cloth diapering problems regardless of whether you are using their product or not. I find that amazing.

    I'm so glad I could provide some inspiration for you!

  24. i have made it almost one year cloth diapering and i have only spent $250! I have not used a diaper sprayer and think "if i've made it this far, i can make it to the end!).  i have saved so much money and cloth diapers are truly better in every aspect!

  25. Awesome! A diaper sprayer is by no means necessary, that's for sure.  Can I ask what's in your stash?

    I love cloth diapers, they really have been so much better then the disposable!

  26. This is AWESOME. Great job, Lauren! I'll have to show this to my husband, as I'm all for cloth diapering and, quite frankly, I want him on board. ;)

  27. Love all the information and the way you shared your opinion! GREAT post!

  28. Hopefully he'll be on board with it! I think for most people it is one of those things that looks scary, but once you start doing it, it just becomes normal.