Why should I use Cloth Diapers?
The 3 main benefits of cloth diapering include cost savings, environmental benefit and most importantly, the health benefits to your baby.
There are various literatures that have done the math and for a cloth diapering career of about 2years and depending on how many cloth diapers you choose to buy, the savings per baby rack up to an average of between US$1500-US$2000, and only go up if you reuse those diapers on subsequent children. Disposable diapers create 2.5tonnes of waste in our landfills per child and take up to 500 years to decompose, compared to 6 months for cloth diapers made of mostly natural fibres. Furthermore, human waste disposed of via your toilets and washing machine is treated properly in sewage but when it's thrown into landfills with your disposable diapers it sits there untreated for centuries and risks leaking into and contaminating the soil and water system. But let's get down to the point we care most about - the health of our children.
Before disposable diapers, in 1959 an article was published in the Journal of Paediatrics, which determined only 7.1% babies in a one-time clinical study had diaper rash (Tanino, 1959). In a study of diaper rash in the 1980's, 63% of 1,050 babies had diaper rash at least once in an 8-week period (Gaunder and Plummer, 1987). The chemicals used in disposable diapers to coagulate liquid, change colour to indicate wetness, treat smell, etc all contribute to irritation of the baby's skin. These chemicals include Sodium Polyacrylate, a type of super absorbent polymer (SAP), which becomes a gel-like substance when wet, trace amounts of Dioxin, a cancer-causing carcinogenic substance used in the bleaching process of disposables and Tributyl-tin, a toxic pollutant known to cause hormonal problems in humans and animals, to name a few. Additionally, disposable diapers tend to be changed less frequently because it can hold more liquid, thanks to the chemicals, and over time that can cause irritation to the skin as well. For the mommy's, think about wearing a heavily soiled pad for 4hours!
Ok, there's a fourth reason too - they're incredibly cute!
How many cloth diapers do I need?
This is more an art than a science as it depends on how often and heavily your child soils his or her diaper, age and how frequently you plan on doing the laundry. Generally speaking, you will need to change your baby's diaper every 2-3hours and maybe less at night if you double with an extra insert of booster to increase absorbency. Below is what we would typically recommend to get started and you can adjust from there.
Wash Daily Wash Every 2 Days Wash Every 3 Days
0-6 months 10-12 20-24 24-30
6-12 months 8-10 16-20 24-30
12-24 months 6-8 12-16 18-24
During potty training 2-4 4-8 6-12
What other accessories do I need?
In addition to the cloth diapers themselves, you will need few backup inserts, flats or boosters to increase absorbency when needed, or to save yourself some laundering if you're using the All-In-Two system where the insert can be removed and washed separately to the cover. The extra benefit of flats or prefolds is that they can also be used as burp cloths, light cover for naps, receiving blankets, etc and since they're often made of natural cotton fibbers, bamboo or hemp, they'll be extra soft too and environmentally friendly too!
To help deal with poopy messes, you can use a flushable biodegradable diaper liner to lift the poop out of your cloth diaper for disposal directly into the toilet. Since you can't predict when your baby will poop, you may want to use a liner with every change, however, if they are not soiled, you can wash and reuse them.
You will also need a diaper pail with a lid that shuts or a large wet bag that draws or zips shut to hold your soiled diapers. Generally if you do laundry frequently enough, smell is not a problem, but as an added measure you can give your cloth diapers a rinse before throwing into your pail or sac. Wet bags can be thrown into your washer with your diapers for washing, so no need to stick your hands into the yuckiness to pull your diapers out. When out and about you'll also want to bring a small wet bag that will fit a couple of soiled diapers, and come in real handy for swim diapers or soiled clothing too.
Cloth reusable wipes can also be used as an environmentally-friendly alternative to disposable cotton wipes to clean your baby's bum
Laundering Best Practices
Cloth diapers - including flats, prefolds and inserts, made with natural fibers (i.e. cotton, bamboo, hemp, etc) naturally have oils on them that can have a repelling effect that make their absorbency less than optimal. Whether your new cloth diaper is completely natural or contains synthetic materials, it is a good idea to put them through the wash at least once before use. As you wash the diaper a few times, the material actually increasingly absorbent and will help prevent leaks. Organic, unbleached natural fibers (especially organic cotton) will require a few extra washes due to their higher oil content. Try to wash your cloth diapers made of natural fibbers separately to synthetic materials as the oils can wash onto those materials and build up to acquire a repelling effect as well.
Boiling your cloth diapers is an option, but I think it's safe to say that few of us have pots large enough to hold a few cloth diapers lying around in out kitchens! If you do choose to boil them, please note that diaper covers and anything else that is made with PUL, elastics or snaps should not be boiled. Since your diaper cover is not really doing the heavy duty absorbing, it's not really necessary to prep them, though you can still throw them in for a wash to clean off any dirt or chemicals that may have attached during manufacturing or delivery. Detergent is optional and a little will go a long way.
Cloth diaper laundry should ideally be done as frequently as every 1-3 days to keep things hygienic, prevent smells as well as staining.
Firstly, disposing of your baby's poop. As gross as this might sound, if your baby is exclusively breastfed (EBF) the stool is completely water soluble so you can throw the whole thing in the wash without rinsing. If you're not comfortable with the idea of this, you can always give your diaper a rinse before putting it into your pail or wet bag or throwing it in the wash. Once your baby starts on solids or formula, the poop will be slightly more solid and can be shaken directly into the toilet or rinsed off where it will be properly treated in the sceptic system before the diaper can be stored or washed. If you are using flushable or biodegradable liners, it should catch the poop such that both liner and stool can be lifted out of the diaper and disposed of into the toilet.
If possible, try keeping the load of laundry to contain dirty diapers only as you will want to avoid cross-contamination of bacteria and dirt from other clothing.
For detergent, you will want to choose one that is free of enzymes, dyes, synthetic fragrances, brighteners, softeners or bleach as they can cause irritation to your baby's skin or build up that will affect the absorbency and/or shape of the diaper. Many brands nowadays that advertise suitability for babies are natural and can be used with cloth diapers, but do read the fine print.
Your diaper shouldn't smell after washing, but if they do start to smell like ammonia and seem to be less absorbent after a few months, it may be time to strip them. Simply put them through a hot wash with about a tablespoon of an enzyme, fragrance and dye-free dish detergent (after all, they are made to fight through oils and grime!) or white vinegar and they should be good as new. Run it through a hot wash afterwards without detergent to rinse it thoroughly. Bleach and baking soda are best avoided as they can damage the PUL and elastics, but again, read the manufacturer's guidelines if in doubt.
Another tip - if you are lucky enough to get any direct sunlight in your home, drying your diapers under direct sunlight is the best way to prevent and get rid of stains!
Cloth diapers can be tumble dried or air dried on a rack, as you prefer.