We’ve used cloth diapers with Jonas since pretty much the very beginning (we used disposables while Jonas and I were in the hospital) and we’ve learned a lot since then. We did’t know anyone who used them when we first started, so it was pretty much trial and error and a bit of Internet research. Because most of the blogs we read that mention cloth don’t go much further than writing about why they chose cloth, we thought it would be useful to write about some things that we’ve had to learn the hard way.
The main thing that goes in the hard way category? Hands down the cleaning process.
We are talking about cleaning cloth diapers, so you might not want to read this on your lunch break. You’ve been warned.
Washing Frequency | The thing that’s changed the most about our cleaning process over time is how often the diapers are cleaned. When Jonas was a newborn, he was going through waaay more diapers in a day than the 12 diaper average (he HATED to be wet). We had to wash the diapers not only everyday, but the same time everyday so that we wouldn’t run out of diapers. As time went on, we slowly purchased more diapering supplies. We’d just buy whichever part of the three piece system–covers, inserts, and washcloths–we had the least of as we could afford them. Jonas got down to a reasonable amount of diapers per day as he got older, so we were able to do a load every day and a half or so and then, later, every other day. As he gets bigger and things get stinkier, we might have to go back to once a day.
Very frequent washings have actually worked in our favor. Because we wash Jonas’s clothes and bedding right along with his diapers, we haven’t had to buy him hardly anything. He wears the same clothes over and over and has two sets of sheets. Because he grows out of things fast, he’ll be unable to wear something far before it’s worn down from frequent washing, so washing a shirt a couple of times a week is no problem.
Dirty Diaper Storage | At first we stored Jonas’s laundry in the “hamper” above, made from a thrifted Star Wars pillowcase and an embroidery hoop. It was usually wrapped around the door handle, resting on the floor so the weight of the laundry wouldn’t pull the pillowcase out of the hoop. We actually swapped out that pillowcase with a Wall-E one every other day and washed the pillowcases with each laundry load. Pillowcases are great for kids’ laundry–they hold about a single load.
The pillowcase thing only worked for the first few months, until the liquid volume got a little higher. We weren’t thinking of the capillary action of liquid. The liquid spread through the inserts and left the pillowcase wet. Ew.
We switched to a regular plastic hamper, placed conveniently to the side of the changing table. This worked well in until a few months ago. Breastfed babies don’t have very stinky stools, so it wasn’t a problem that the dirty diapers were in the open (especially because we wash them so often). When solids came into Jonas’s diet, we just stored the #2 diapers in the bathroom in a small trash can and kept the clothes and #1 diapers in the above hamper. Recently the #1 diapers began to smell as well (as toddlers get bigger, the ammonia smell will get stronger), so all the dirty diaper laundry is now being stored in a rarely used bathroom right next to Jonas’s room.
Poo Pre-Clean | Things were much easier when Jonas was breastfed. The #2 diapers were liquidy and can be washed right along with the rest of the diapers in the machine without any pre-cleaning. But now that things are solid, dirty diapers have to be emptied into the toilet first.
What we didn’t count on: not all #2 is fling-into-the-toiletable (gross, we know, but a need to know fact if you’re considering cloth). There are nifty rinser things that you can hook up to your toilet that work kind of like a kitchen sink sprayer, but they are a bit pricey. Luckily our toilet in the kids’ bathroom is right next to the shower. We bought a cheap removable shower head with a long extension, so we can rinse the gross bits out into the toilet before the diaper goes into the laundry bin.
In case you’re wondering, a non-pre-washed diaper has accidentally gotten into our washing machine. I was picking raisin and squash skins out of footie pajamas for an hour. Super gross. Not recommended. Also not the end of the world.
Washing | We wash the diapers, along with all of the rest of Jonas’s laundry, in hot water with a cold rinse. We choose the heavy duty cycle and double rinse for good measure. We use the recommended amount of cheap Target brand baby laundry detergent. Many cloth diaper manufactures recommend that you use half the recommended amount, but we want them super clean. That’s where the double rinse comes in. I’ve found that diaper inserts that hang to dry get crunchy and stiff if you don’t half the detergent amount, even with the second rinse, so do half the detergent amount if you’re a hang to dry sort of a person. Also: the more times inserts are washed, the more absorbent they get.
One thing that is super important: if you use velcro tab diapers, make sure that the tabs are folded down, otherwise the velcro will stick to everything and will wear down faster.
Drying | We usually hang the covers to extend the life of the velcro, but dry everything else in the drier. Don’t use fabric softener sheets.
We do dry inserts in the sun on occasion, but it’s rare (too time consuming). The sun bleaching does help with stains though–two sun bleaches equal one chemical bleach, as a rule.
Folding and Putting Away | When I talked about the laundry is immediately folded/ hung up after it comes out of the drier rule, I neglected to mention that Jonas’s laundry doesn’t count. There’s almost always a basket of clean Jonas laundry in his room on the rocking chair ottoman next to the changing table. This is because it’s hard to convince myself to fold all those inserts when they’re going to be used in a day. I generally fold and put away his laundry the day after I dry it (after it’s thinned out a bit and there’s mostly clothes and linens in there).
That’s our diaper cleaning process! It might seem like a lot of work, but we think it’s totally worth it. After over a year, we’re still huge cloth diaper advocates. We’d be happy to answer any questions about it!