My husband and I switched to cloth diapers just over a year ago, and we're still going strong. Our three-almost-four-year-old used them for a few months until he potty trained over the summer, and our two-year-old daughter just recently transitioned out of them, and now our eight-month-old Amelia is the cloth diaper baby of the house.
Our collection of diapers has grown substantially since this time last year. We purchased more Flip covers and inserts, we received a Bummis set when Amelia was born, purchased a few more Econobum inserts and covers, and my friend Lucy generously gave us ten of her old Bum Genius all-in-ones. I'm not exactly sure how many we have total (it's hard to count when they're in constant rotation between the hamper, the wash, and wearing), but we have enough to last us a few days between washes (although I usually wash them more often so they don't smell things up).
I remember when we first started the main concerns I had were how to clean them, having enough between washes, and how it all worked when we went out and about. Here's my thoughts on each concern now:
My primary method of cleaning the diapers is to run them on a regular cycle with cold water and no detergent (to rinse out any residue and prevent stains--you should be sure to rinse stinky diapers out as much as possible before washing), then add detergent (specifically for diapers) and do a heavy cycle on hot, and if there are still suds in the wash, an extra rinse cycle.
The most important thing with washing is to get out all the soap residue. If you don't, it can lead to build up and your diapers won't absorb as well, possibly leading to leaks or rashes. And when you buy brand-new cloth diapers you typically have to wash them a bazillion times to break down the natural water-resistant oils in the cotton. A good way to test whether your diapers are ready to absorb is pouring a few drops of water on them after they've dried. If the water repels (beads up) then you need to wash them again (not necessarily with soap); if it soaks in then they're ready for business.
My favorite method for drying is hanging them outside. Sunlight naturally kills any bacteria (although washing them in hot water should be sufficient) and helps bleach out stains, too. Plus, you get a natural spring clean scent hanging them in fresh air, and I find they dry much faster, even with an HE washer and dryer.
Number of Diapers
The number of diapers you need to last between washes depends on a few things: how many little ones you have in diapers (and how often they go), what kind of diapers you use (pocket or all-in-ones vs. prefolds with covers), and how often you're able to do the wash.
Depending on how many babies/toddlers you currently have in diapers, and their age (usually a determining factor in how often they need to be changed) you're going to need a fair number of diapers. Kelly's Closet (one of my favorite online cloth diaper retailers) recommends 20-24 diapers for newborns up to four months, 16-20 diapers for infants ages four to ten months, and 12-16 diapers from ten months to potty trained.
The type of diaper also factors in to how often you'll wash. When we originally started cloth diapering, we didn't have a ton of money to invest in it so we liked the idea of prefolds with covers because you could wipe/air out the cover and insert a new prefold instead of having to use a whole new diaper. With pockets or all-in-ones (which are definitely convenient, especially for caregivers), you can only use them once before they need to be washed. There are definitely more options as far as colors and patterns go with pockets and all-in-ones, but saving money was more important to us at the time.
Using Cloth on the Go
There's not really much of a difference between cloth and disposables when you're out running errands. The main thing is that you need to carry some sort of wet bag along with you to hold any used diapers (especially soiled ones). I use a small Planet Wise wet bag that I just fold up and carry in my diaper bag, and then toss in with the diapers when it needs to be washed (warning--do not put your wet bag in the dryer--it will ruin the inner lining and won't remain waterproof).
Why You Should Switch to Cloth Too
1. They Save You Money
The most tangible benefit to using cloth diapers is how much money you'll save in the long run. We used to spend about $90 a month ordering two different sizes in diapers. Looking back at our order history, and not including the cost of wipes or store-bought disposables (and late-night diaper purchases were definitely made at the local grocery store), we spent a total of $1625 from 2008-2010 (about $800 a year)--that's a big chunk of change.
Tallying up how much money we've spent on cloth diapering--including our handy diaper sprayer, two wet bags, covers, inserts, fleece liners, detergent, a few sets of disposable liners, and cloth training pants, we've spent just $625 in the last 15 months. That's just about $42 a month--and that number will decrease the longer we use them!
Granted we did have to pay more up front to start cloth diapering (we started at about $300), but that investment more than paid for itself in just a matter of months!
2. They Save the Environment!
Aside from the amount of water and chemicals used just to make diapers, and despite the fact that disposables contain carcinogens that are not only exposed to our babies during use, but also into the earth and ground water when they're disposed of, it just makes plain sense that the less you throw away of anything, the better off our world is.
I know how appealing the convenience of disposable diapers are, and investing in cloth diapers may not be an option for everyone. The point is that using cloth diapers is another way that we can invest both in the health of our children and of our world. I'm also a firm believer in not letting big-box companies dictate the products we need to buy--we work hard for our money, and we stretch it as far as we can.
If you do still use disposable diapers, I encourage you to purchase a more eco-friendly brand, like Nature Baby Care or Seventh Generation.
My favorite resources for cloth diapers online are Kelly's Closet (they have a rewards system and often have free products with your purchases) and Diapers.com has an awesome 2-day free shipping policy (with a minimum purchase).
Do you use cloth diapers? What were your apprehensions about making the switch? If you don't use them, what are your biggest questions about using them?
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