Yup, we're cloth diapering. And luckily for us, that no longer involves the giant safety pins our parents had to struggle with. It's hard enough diapering a squirmy baby without worrying about those! Cloth diapers have come a long way - and my parents were pretty darn impressed with the improvements.
I did a lot of research when we decided to cloth diaper, and we ended up with prefolds for Will from the age of newborn to about 3 and a half months, and then switched to an insert diaper that will probably fit until he's potty trained.
There are three types of cloth diapers on today's market: prefolds with covers, inserts with covers, and one piece diapers.
Prefolds: Prefolds are so named because they're a large piece of fabric folded and sewn so that it's "prefolded". However that's a little counterintuitive, because it still needs to be folded into thirds before each use and placed inside a waterproof diaper cover that then snaps or velcros onto your baby. One benefit to prefolds is that you don't always have to change and wash the cover - particularly with a newborn who just slightly wets the prefold, you can replace the prefold and reuse the cover three or four times before it needs to be washed. For us that meant we got away with seven covers and thirty six prefolds even when we were changing Will almost hourly in those first months. Because of that prefolds also cost less - you can spend about half what you would to get set up with another type of system. (But no matter what cloth diaper you choose you'll still save money over disposibles!) I chose prefolds initially because I liked the idea of fewer covers, and I thought the whole system would get cleaner because the prefold unfolds before it goes into the wash. What I didn't like about prefolds was how much of a pain it was to fold a prefold into thirds and carefully line it up in the diaper cover with every single diaper change. This wasn't a big deal at home, but when I had an infant on a changing table and I was fumbling around in the diaper bag and trying to fold it on his chest while keeping him from peeing everywhere... well I wished I could have had the pre-assembled convenience of all-in-one diapers or inserts. Which is ultimately why I switched for the next size up. Also, the prefolds I used had covers which velcro, and I didn't like how they caught on each other in the wash if I didn't remember to close the tabs before washing. (And I never remembered to close the tabs before washing.) Not to mention older babies and toddlers purportedly enjoy opening the velcro closures and running around sans diaper. No thanks!
Bummis: For prefolds we used the Bummis whisper soft covers with unbleached prefolds. If I were going to use prefolds again I wouldn't hesitate to choose Bummis. I never had any problems with leaking, they were very easy to velcro in place at the perfect size, and the prefolds were very absorbent. I still use the prefolds all the time between Will and the changing pad so I don't have to change the cover as often.
Inserts: Cloth diapers with inserts come in two pieces, a cover with a soft interior lining with a pocket, and an insert that goes into that pocket for absorbancy. The benefit to having the pocket instead of a one piece unit all sewn together is that they come apart for washing, and you can put in two inserts for naps, car rides, or overnight.
When Will was outgrowing his prefolds system, I decided to try one of the pocket systems because I liked the idea of being able to assemble them out of the dryer, and then change Will much more quickly when I was out of the house. And I must say, it makes a huge difference having those preassembled little units in the diaper bag. I can change Will just as quickly as if I were using a disposible, and that's amazing.
Fuzzibunz: We picked the fuzzi bunz insert system, mostly because it gets amazing reviews from books like Baby Bargains and from online buyers. I have never had trouble with them leaking (ok once when I didn't snap it on right, but I'm going to have to say that was my fault). They are absorbent and the fleece wicks away the moisture from his skin, so that we haven't had any problems with diaper rash. We are using the perfect size in mediums, because they're a little less bulky than the one size that has more room to grow and more snaps, and because it's likely that they'll work until he's potty trained since they fit up to 30 pounds. I love all the bright colors fuzzibunz comes in, and they haven't faded despite the daily washings. Since we change Will very frequently to prevent his diaper rash from coming back, I stocked up and got 24 so that I can keep my diaper bag stocked and only need to do laundry every day and a half. Most people seem to get away with 14-18.
Update: We purchased the perfect one size fuzzibunz diapers when Andrew was born, and we now use them for both Will and Andrew because that size fits both of them! They come with replacable elastics, which is awesome, because after a year and a half of washing the perfect fit mediums were starting to droop in the leg opening which is NOT good. I double stuff them with both the infant and toddler insert for lots of absorbancy, and they've been working great.
All in one: Cloth diapers that are all in one systems, are, well, all in one. There's no prefold or insert, the cover comes with an absorbent lining sewn in. This is great because you just throw the whole thing in the washer and dryer and then onto your baby, but I couldn't quite get over the worry that they wouldn't get as clean as diapers that come apart in order to be washed. Plus, you can't just add an extra insert for overnight if you need one. For those reasons we've never tried an all in one system, but I will say I read some rave reviews of them and there are mothers who keep just three or four in their diaper stash for their diaper bag since they're pretty easy if you're diapering on the go. Part of me wishes I'd given them a try, because it does take time to stuff all of the inserts into the diapers every time I do laundry. Those ten minutes a day add up. But if the diapers get cleaner... maybe it's worth it.
Washing: We wash our own diapers, first a full cold cycle pre-wash and then a cycle on our washer's sanitize setting with an extra rinse. We use Charlie's Soap, half the recommended amount, because it's one of the detergents recommended by the diaper manufacturer. One of the problems some people run into with cloth diapers is that detergent residue can build up in the diapers and affect absorbancy, keep the diapers from getting clean, and causing them to smell. So it's important to use less than the recommended amount of detergent, and lots of water. The water quantity can become an issue with high efficiency machines, which is why a cold prewash is recommended, along with a second rinse to make sure there's no detergent buildup. I've heard of some people throwing in a wet towel to trick their washer into using more water because it makes the initial load weight heavier. I hope they designate a special towel for that job.
Stripping your diapers: In addition to washing, it's recommended that you "strip" your diapers of detergent on a regular basis. I find once a month works fine, but when I forgot to do it for three months I knew because my diapers started to smell ammonia-y even when clean - stripping them worked magic and now I'm much more careful. Stripping basically means washing them in hot water for several cycles with no detergent to make sure that there's no detergent build up on the diapers. If you don't do it frequently or are doing it to solve rather than prevent a residue problem, then you might want to add oxy-clean to the first one or two cycles and then do some extra hot water cycles after that. The oxy-clean can be tough on your diapers, so I don't do it regularly, but it really does help get them sparkly clean and detergent free so it's worth throwing some in once a month. (It didn't fade the diaper covers, but it did bleach the tags so that the washing instructions are gone! ) Some websites suggest putting a few drops of dish soap in your washer for the first cycle of stripping - but I have never tried it because I value the warranty on my washing machine, and it just seems like a bad idea. For me, oxy-clean and some extra hot cycles work perfectly. It's also great if you can line dry them in the sun once in a while, because sun is a natural stain remover and disinfectant.
Benefits to cloth diapering:
Environment: One of the main reasons we decided to cloth diaper was the environmental factor. Even allowing for the extra water and electricity or gas you use to wash and dry them, they are better for the environment. Reusable cloth diapers drastically reduce the amount of trash our household would otherwise produce, and it reduces the chemicals and materials needed to manufacture additional diapers, plus the oil and gas to ship them to stores or homes. Especially since we have a high efficiency washer and dryer, the benefit seemed pretty clear to us.
Cost: Even buying fuzzibunz, which has been jokingly referred to as the "mercedes" of the cloth diapering world, we still saved money over disposibles. There was a high up front cost, and ours was more than it needed to be since I have a large diaper stash, but now we've got diapers that should last several more years into potty training. Add to that that we only buy diaper wipes for when we're on the go, and use reusable washcloths when we're home, and we've saved a bundle. The Baby Bargains book agreed that the cheapest way to diaper your baby is cloth diapers that you wash at home.
Smell: Disposable diapers stink, because they sit around with all their waste until you take the trash out. Even if that's daily, it smells, and then it smells in the garage or the basement or wherever you've brought it until trash day. When we traveled to Montreal, we used disposable diapers because we didn't have access to a washer dryer, and I was amazed at how quickly that sicky sweet horrible smell started to build in any room that diapers had been in. With cloth diapers, you shake any solids into the toilet, and diapers are washed every or every other day, so the smell doesn't build up nearly as badly. Some people solve their disposable diaper smell problem with diapering disposal systems that actually shrink wrap each individual diaper, which brings me right back to that whole environmental issue. I can't imagine how I would feel if every time Will used the bathroom, a shrink wrapped package that would take centuries to biodegrade was produced for a landfill. Eek.
Frequency of changing: I have no guilt changing Will if he has a damp but not soaked diaper, because it doesn't add to my cost to have one or two extra diapers in a wash load, and it doesn't create additional trash. That means I can change him with greater frequency, which I consider a benefit.
Potty training: There are rumors that cloth diapered babies potty train faster because there's still enough moisture against their skin for them to realize they've used the bathroom, unlike disposable diapers. We'll see!
Cuteness: The fuzzibunz especially come in all these amazing fun bright colors, and it's so cute when Will is out of the bath and playing in his diaper before we get him into pajamas, or just in a diaper on a blanket in the shade on a summer afternoon. It's a small thing, but it makes me smile.
Drawbacks to cloth diapering:
Laundry: You've got to wash them, and that means an extra load of laundry every other day. Add the extra laundry that comes with having a baby in the house and some days I feel like all I do is laundry.
Bulk: Cloth diapers are bulkier than disposables, which means your baby may need slightly larger sized pants, and your diaper bag will hold fewer diapers than someone using disposables. Since you need to carry home any dirty cloth diapers, you need space for those too.
Solids: Now that Will is eating solid food, he has solid waste, which means we have to shake it into the toilet. Sometimes it's easier to shake than others. This is not fun, but I think it still might be more fun than the horrible smell I dealt with when we used disposable diapers in Montreal. There are two ways to help manage this problem: liners, and diaper sprayers. Liners are very thin, flushable, biodegradable sheets that go into your diaper so you can easily remove any solids into the toilet. They're inexpensive and bummis makes them in multiple sizes. The problem we found with them is that they clung to Will's skin when wet, causing a return of the dreaded diaper rash. The other solution is a diaper sprayer, which attaches to your toilet's water line and allows you to spray solids off into the toilet. We got one of these and it has been amazing. I can thorougly rinse soiled diapers into the toilet before they go in the washer. I've also noticed a reduction in stains since we started using it. You find the one we purchased on Amazon.
Tips for Cloth Diapering:
Wet Bags: Bummis (and other brands) makes some amazing wet bags in multiple sizes that you can throw your dirty diapers in. When I'm ready to do the laundry, I just turn the bag inside out into the washing machine and throw it in on top of the diapers. They've held up great, and the small sizes are perfect for my diaper bag. Later on they'd work for wet bathing suits and towels at the beach. Except that might be gross. So I might order different ones for that purpose.
Wash cloths for wipes: When Will had a stubborn diaper rash during his first few months, one of the suggestions was to use a wet cloth instead of diaper wipes which can contain alcohol and other irritants. So we bought some very thin baby wash cloths, and I started wetting them in the sink at home or with a small spray bottle on the go. They go straight into the wet bag with the dirty diapers, and I don't even fold them when they're clean I just stuff them into the drawer or diaper bag. Now I buy wipes for when I'm changing Will on the go and don't have quick access to water, but otherwise I use the washcloths. I liked the system so much that I bought a different color to use to wipe Will's face and hands after he eats and clean up milk spills etc. around the house. No need to buy paper towels in bulk just because our life is a little messy :) We got spasilk soft terry washcloths which are $5.99 for 10 on Amazon and they're great.
Prefolds: I love having prefolds in every diaper changing station. I throw them under Will when I change him to keep the diaper changing cover clean longer, put one under Will if I'm changing him in the car or stroller and don't have a changing pad, etc.
Fuzzibunz fleece changing pad: I love the fuzzibunz fleece changing pad because it's foldable and machine washable. It doesn't really have any padding, which is a drawback if you're using it on a hard surface particularly with an infant, but it's amazing because I can keep it in its own small wetbag and then the dirty side that touches whatever public changing table I've used doesn't then touch everything else in the diaper bag (this always freaked me out). And I can wash it regularly.
Oxyclean: Really helps with stripping diapers, see topic above.
Simple Human Trashcans: In both my diaper changing stations at home, I have a large simple human trashcan that I line with a reusable wet bag, and that's how I store my dirty diapers until laundry time. One press of the foot and it opens so I can toss in the dirty diaper, and then it automatically closes to seal in the odors when I'm done.
Whew. That's a lot on cloth diapering. Overall, I would do it again and plan to cloth diaper baby number two as well! That being said, I understand why a lot of people don't. At the end of the day, it is some extra work. But it's still worth it to me to put my dirty diapers in the laundry and not the landfill, and man, those disposibles smell!
Will hangs out on the beach in a lime green fuzzibunz