Monday, October 6, 2008

Cloth Diapering 101: Getting Started

So you have written Pampers and Huggies their Dear John letters telling them that you will no longer be needing them. Now you are moving onto a long term relationship with cloth diapers but have no idea where to start or how much to spend. If you are still insist that Luvs is in love with your baby's bum wake up and smell the rash cream while reading this article.

Since I have started using cloth diapers a couple months ago I have had many friend and family ask me about how they can get started. First, you need to decide what kind of cloth diaper you need and which brand you would like. There are four different kinds of cloth diapers. I have listed them here along with their pros and cons:

1. All In Ones (AIOs)- A diaper that has the cover sewn on the fleece layer so it is all in one piece. No diaper cover required.

Pros: The most leak proof. Thinner than other cloth diapers. Fasten with a snap or velcro with the ease of use most like a disposable.

Cons: They take several dryer cycles to dry completely. They tend to hold more odors (especially if they do not dry all the way). I have heard some moms say that they don't feel like these get as clean as other diapers.

2. Fitted Cloth Diapers: Diapers that fasten with velcro or snaps that do require a diaper cover.

Pros: Dry faster than AIOs. Easier to fasten than pre-fold or flat diapers.

Cons: Require a diaper cover.

3. Flat or Pre-fold Diapers: The "old fashioned" diapers your grandma remembers. (DO NOT BUY THE GERBER BRAND! They are worthless!)

Pros: Less expensive. Multiple uses: burp cloth, cleaning, wiping up spills.

Cons: Require a diaper cover. Require pins or a Snappi (diaper faster pictured) to hold in place. Can leak.

4. Pocket Diapers: A diaper that has three main parts: a waterproof outer barrier fabric is sewn to the second component, an inner moisture-wicking fabric that keeps the skin feeling dry. These two fabrics form a pocket for the third component, an absorbent insert, to be placed.

Pros: Wicks moisture away from baby's bottom. Pieces are easier to clean and dry. Best for diaper rash.

Cons: More pieces to keep track of. Need to "assemble" and "disassemble."

So now that you know a little bit about the different types of cloth diapers you will need to decide on which brand you want. There are so many brands to chose from that I cannot mention them all here. However, I will touch on some things to consider when you are chosing a brand:

-Does the diaper come as a one-size fits all or will you have to spend more money to buy each size?

-Does the diaper come with it's own inserts or covers?

-Is the diaper made of organic materials (this usually costs more)?

-Does the diaper come in different colors/designs?

Now that you have purchased your diapers what do you do with them? The first thing you should do is wash them. There are many different methods of washing cloth diapers but I am going to give you the one that I use. Do do not use baby detergent and never use fabric softener. Dreft and other detergents that are advertised on tv are not good for cloth diapers. In fact, commercial detergents aren't good for you or your clothes at all. So what do you wash them in? I have two favorites: Charlie Soap or Maggie's Soap Nuts. Both are great products. They leave no residue on the diapers that can irritate your baby. Fabric softener isn't needed because when fabric has no residue it will be naturally soft, plus fabric softer will make the diapers repel urine instead of absorbing it. Before you wash the diapers be sure any velcro tabs are folded down so they do not snag on other fabrics. Also be sure that all diaper parts are separated (take pocket inserts out) before washing. You can put your cloth diapers in the dryer on warm but they will last longer if hung on a clothes line. Most diapers can be washed warm (check your diaper's washing instructions) but any diaper that is soiled should be soaked for about 15 minutes first in cold to remove poop stains. Soaking in hot water will "cook" the poop proteins onto the diaper. Some people like to do an extra rinse cycle on their diapers. I have not done this and it's never been a problem, but Midge isn't that sensitive. A more sensitive baby or a newborn might benefit from the extra rinse cycle.

While we are talking about washing, let's go ahead and talk about poop. Admit it, you dread having to change a poopy cloth diaper. I was intimidated at first, too. You can read about my first adventure in poopy cloth diapering here. The good news is that there are extra products you can buy to help the process go a little smoother. If your baby is breastfed his or her poop will be soft and you really won't need to do a lot of pre-care. It's okay to put liquidy poop in the wash, but you will want to avoid putting anything solid in it as it will not break down and rinse away. If your baby is formula fed or eats solids the poop will require a little more care. You will shake the solid poop into the toilet carefully and flush away that waste. From there you just place the soiled diaper in a dry diaper pail. You can purchase a flushable liner to place inside of the diapers so the poop will not mash itself into the diaper's fabric. You just lift it out of the diaper and place it right in the toilet. Some pocket diapers come with a liner that releases poop pretty easily. If not you can purchase them separately. They are also great for heavy wetters or doubling up for overnight. Another option for cleaning off the soiled diapers is to use a diaper sprayer. These can hook to your bathroom sink or behind your toilet. These are also great for rinsing down your sink, tub, and toilet. You do not have to have all of these products, but chosing one or two would be good to make cleaning up poop less a little neater.

So eventually you will need to leave the house and when you do you will need to be prepared with a "wet bag" in your diaper bag. These are neat because they come in dozens of different colors and designs that make you look ultra-cool to the ladies in the public restrooms. I opted for one with a zipper and it has worked wonderfully. I have also seen the available with a draw string top. You just place your dirty diapers or any other wet clothing items in and dump them into your diaper pail or washer when you get home. They are washable but so far I have not noticed a smell coming from mine. You can opt to carry a small squirt bottle of water and wash cloths with you or use disposable packaged wipes. After your cloth diapering days are over your wet bag can be used for wet bathing suits or potty accidents.

What about diaper rashes? If your child develops irritation using cloth diapers try using less soap in the wash and doing an extra rinse cycle. If that doesn't help add 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle. Vinegar helps strip the diapers of alkaline irritants. If you use a rash cream try one that does not contain fish oil, like A&D or Destitin. Instead try Burts Bees, Angel Baby Bottom Balm, Weleda, or Lemongrass Spa's Baby Bottoms Up Balm. If you do use a cream consider using a liner so that the diaper does not stain. Try giving your baby lots of naked time. Also, only use water to clean your baby's bottom.

Diaper pails can be done in two different manners...a wet pail or a dry pail. A wet pail is filled with water for diapers to soak in until wash day and a dry pail is just that...dry storage. The drawbacks to a wet pail are the odor, the need to change the water daily, potential drowning hazard for children, and some diapers cannot be stored in a wet pail, such as the AIOs. A dry pail is a safer and preferred option. You can purchase a trash can with a lid for cheap from your local Target for about $10 and it does a fine job. A sprinkle of baking soda helps reduce odors. You don't want to go any longer than two days between diaper washings. I generally wash mine with every poopy diaper but I have a toddler who poops once a day so it works out nicely.

One day you may go to smell your fresh clean diapers and realize that they aren't so fresh anymore. If this happens you will need to strip your diapers of oils and detergent residues. Before you start this process check your diapers for washing instructions to make sure you will not damage your diapers First, turn up your water heater and let your water get very hot. If you are going to do this please be so careful to make sure everyone in your home is aware of the change so they do not burn themselves. Be especially careful if you have older siblings who may be forgetful when going to wash their hands or take a shower. You may want to do this when they are in bed. Start with clean diapers. Run them through the very hot wash cycle without detergent. You can add a drop or two of liquid dish soap to help remove oils. Perform an extra rinse cycle where you will add 1/2-1 cup of white vinegar. The vinegar smell will disappear once the diapers are dry. Then you will want to rinse rinse rinse your diapers until all suds are gone (still not using soap). This will remove all of the residue. Be sure to turn your hot water heater back down. If you find that your diapers have stains sunlight is a great stain remover. Just place your stained articles in the sun for natural bleaching. If your diapers are too stiff after air drying put them in the dryer for 15 minutes before hanging out to dry.

So now you are wondering what the costs are. Well let's do a rough estimate:

Diapers: This depends on which diaper you chose and if the diaper is a one size fits all. I highly recommend using BumGenius 3.0 pocket diapers. They are easy to use, come with inserts (which eliminates the need for flushable liners or a sprayer), and they are one size fits all. It also depends on how early or late you are beginning to cloth diaper. A newborn can go through a diaper every hour whereas a toddler will go through one every 3-4 hours. Let's say you want to buy an average of 12 diapers. BumGenius 3.0 pocket diapers run an average of $17. So a little over $200. With tax, shipping, etc will say $250. When you are buying diapers look for deals for buying them in larger quantities.

Detergent: Let's say you use Charlie's Soap. It runs $15 a bag that lasts 80 loads. White vinegar costs you a few bucks.

Diaper Pail: You can easily use a lided trash can or diaper pail that you already own or you can spend $10 at Target for a pail.

Wet Bag: They average anywhere from $14-$24 but let's say $20.

Cloth Wipes: I use regular wash cloths when I am not using disposable wipes. You can purchase special fleece wipes but they are not necessary.

So $250 for diapers+ $15 for Charlie's Soap + $3 for vinegar + $10 for a diaper pail + $20 for a wet bag.

Grand total= $298.

Now of course this is going to vary depending on your needs and extras but to start out that is basically what you need. Compare this to the cost of disposable diapers and you are saving some significant money.

Happy diapering!

Written by Wendy Drewelow

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