Cloth Diaper How-To

by Sara Rands


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I'm using cloth diapers on my 5-month-old baby. It seems that cloth diapering is becoming a lost art. I couldn't even find diaper pails for cloth diapers in the stores! The diapers sold in discount stores are generally of poor quality--maybe to convince more people to use disposables?

Why am I using cloth? Well, I started so I could save some money. Since then, I've found plenty of other reasons to use them. They are very soft on my baby's skin. I'm uncomfortable with the chemicals found in disposables (the polyacrylates that turn the urine into that weird gel). I don't want my baby's poop to be hanging around in the landfill hundreds of years from now. Plus, they just look so darn cute! And I find homemakerly satisfaction in hanging up clean diapers on the clothesline.

So...here's some basic cloth diapering questions and answers.

How do cloth diapers work?

In a diapering system, you need an absorbant diaper and a waterproof cover.

What is the cheapest quality cloth diapering method?

I use Diaper Service Quality (DSQ) prefolds, fastened with pins, covered with nylon pants. DSQ prefolds are about $25 per dozen mail order, pins are $1.50 for 2 pair; nylon pants are about $2-$4 each. These diapers and covers are supposed to last through two babies.

The diapers in the discount stores are less expensive, ($10-$12 per dozen), but also less absorbant. (Gerber DSQs, found in some stores, are the exception--they are absorbant and long-lasting, though not quite as soft and thick as mail order DSQs.) As the baby gets older, you'll need to double diaper, so you'll need to buy more diapers. You would wind up spending just as much money. Vinyl diaper pants don't breathe well and they crack with age eventually. Nylon diaper pants are nearly indestructible. Dritz brand diaper pins, available mail order and in some fabric stores, work the best.

What other kinds of cloth diapering methods are out there?

Some people are looking for more convenience or want to avoid using pins. For these people there are fitted diapers which attach with velcro or snaps. There are also diaper covers made that attach with velcro or snaps. With an immobile baby, you can lay a prefold in velcro or snap cover and put it on the baby without using pins. There are also all-in-ones, which are a diaper and cover in one, like disposables.

These options are generally more expensive. Sometimes they are more convenient, but sometimes they cause new problems. For example, velcro sticks to itself in the dryer, can wick the urine outside of the cover, and some babies can figure out how to work the velcro. Pinning isn't that hard, in my opinion! But some of these are nice to have on hand for babysitters.

How many diapers and covers will I need?

You can get by with 2 dozen diapers, but 3 dozen is better. With 3 dozen I wash every 3 days. You'll need about 6 covers in each size. (You only need to change the cover when it gets poopy.)

What other equipment will I need?

You'll need a diaper pail for cloth diapers--the stores don't seem to sell these anymore, so look at yard sales, or use any bucket or trashcan with lid. You need a diaper bag big enough for cloth diapers (or just throw your supplies into a backpack with a changing pad). Some nylon ditty bags are nice to have in your diaper bag to put the wet ones in when traveling--you can wash the bag as well! When the baby gets bigger and eats solid foods, many people use disposable liners to catch the poop.

You'll also need washrags for wipes. You can buy these mail order, or just get a few dozen cheap washcloths from a discount store. Wash them with your diapers.

Do I have to dunk and soak?

You can if you want. But some people let the washing machine do the work. They dump the solids into the toilet and put the poopy diapers through an extra cycle or two in the washing machine to get them clean.

How do I wash them?

Everyone has their favorite method. I wash the poopy diapers in cold with detergent. Then I add the wet diapers and wash on hot with detergent. I then give the diapers an extra rinse with a half-cup of vinegar, which neutralizes the ammonia in the diapers. Then I hang them on the line. Not only does this save energy, it also gets any stains out of the diapers. But it makes the diapers a little stiff, so I run them in the dryer a few minutes to soften them up. Do not use bleach or fabric softener on your diapers! Bleach prematurely wears the fabric, and fabric softener makes them less absorbant.

Where can I get more information?

Theresa Rodriguez Farrisi's book, Diaper Changes, tells everything you would ever want to know.


Sara Rands is a new stay-at-home mom and loving it!

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