Cloth 101: Getting Started

So you’ve decided to diaper you baby’s bum in cloth and have no clue where to begin. This “crash course” to understanding the world of cloth diapers is for you!

Lessons include:
1) Cloth Diapering Lingo
2) What to Expect
3) The Essentials for Getting Started
4) Purchasing Tips
5) Resources

LESSON 1: CLOTH DIAPERING LINGO
Here’s the most commonly used lingo and pics for help.

AIO Diaper: All-in-One diapers–the outer shell is connected to the absorbent middle with a built-in liner. The closures are adjustable and these diapers require no prep or “stuffing” when you pull them out of the dryer or off the line– everything is one piece making it convenient to use, but this style diaper does take longer to dry and are more expensive than their pocket cousins. Popular AIO diapers: bumGenius Freetime, Thirsties Duo AIO, GroVia AIO. thirsties duo aio bumgenius freetimeBG freetimes Grovia-AIO-600x644
CD: abbreviation for “cloth diaper.”

Diaper Cover: Usually made of some sort of plastic, vinyl or waterproof polyester material. Diaper covers can come in one-size (fits most) or sized options. Brand examples: Flip, Econobum, Wolbybug, Thirsties, Best Bottom. Momma lays an insert or pre-fold inside the cover, then wrap & snap around baby! (Some brands use Hook & Loop or Aplix fixtures.)

wolbybug diagram

Liner: A nonabsorbent sheet made of disposable or reusable material placed directly under your baby’s bottom. Main purpose is to keep baby’s bum dry and comfortable during long periods of time—like naps and night time. Especially useful when using diaper covers with pre-folds. Pocket diapers don’t require liners, since the outside of the pocket functions as the “liner” between baby’s bum and the inserts. fleece liner wolbybug Hook & Loop (H&L)A generic version of Velcro. Sometimes called Aplix.

Insert: An insert is a rectangular-shaped cloth that is inserted into pocket diapers or used in diaper covers. An insert can be made of a variety of materials, including microfiber, cotton, hemp, and bamboo. Some inserts are made with built-in liners on one side (like the Flip Stay Dry insert, pictured below) for convenient use in diaper covers.

flip with stay dry insert

packet diaperPocket Diaper: These diapers have a pocket opening between the outer shell layer and the inner layer that touches baby’s skin. This inner layer acts as a liner. These come in adjustable one-sized (fits most) or sized options (small, medium, large…). Inside the pocket opening you can stuff absorbent materials, like inserts and prefolds. Brand examples: Bumgenius 4.0, Fuzzibunz, Blueberry.

prefoldsPre-fold: What your grandma calls a “diaper” and may have used for your mom. These are rectangular pieces of cloth that have a thicker middle section. Pre-folds are an inexpensive staple of most stashes and require a diaper cover or some sort of pin/fastening system. Prefolds can be used in diaper covers (with or without liners) and stuffed in pocket diapers. Unlike your grandmother, though, modern CD mommies have a variety of options in brands, sizes, and even material (cotton, bamboo).

Stash: One’s collection of cloth diapers

Stripping: The process of removing built-up residue (such as detergent fillers and bum creams) from cloth diapers. CD mommies also strip to remove stains.

drawstring wetbagWet bag: A reusable bag with a drawstring or zippered top used for storing dirty diapers between washings. Wetbags vary in size–small ones for the diaper bag, large ones for the bedroom or bathroom. Big ones are often called “pail liners,” and can be used alone or to line a pail or trashcan.

LESSON 2: WHAT TO EXPECT
Sticker shock – You will feel like passing out when you spend an initial investment of $250-$600 in the first year building your stash and purchasing supplies-especially for a first baby. Much of this initial expense will be one-time only, and will last through all your kiddos (if you build a large stash, many of your diapers will last through several babies!).
Bonus to consider: Used–even well-loved diapers–especially of certain brands can be sold for 1/3-1/2 retail value when you’re done with them. You’ll never get that kind of ROI from used disposables…ever.

The learning curve – Just like learning anything new or implementing a new lifestyle habit (exercise, anyone?) expect to take a few weeks to figure everything out-a laundry routine, getting those diapers on correctly, teaching hubby, even figuring out what brands and kinds of CDs you love and despise. You will have days when you feel like throwing in the towel. Don’t quit. Take a deep breath and tell yourself all the reasons you made this decision. You’ll soon be a CD expert, and the work involved will become such a normal part of your life (like breathing) that you don’t think about it. You just do it. 

Laundry – Expect to wash a load of diapers every 2-3 days.

LESSON 3: THE ESSENTIALS FOR GETTING STARTED

  • CD-friendly detergent – OK, I’ve discovered this is a huge matter of debate, up there with vaccines and circumcision. One of the biggest CD advisory sites I know of lists over 200 detergents and whether they recommend them or not, and the two detergents that have worked the BEST for me (along with other CD-friendly detergents) are NOT recommended…in fact they even discourage CD mommas from using them because of “dangerous” ingredients or lack of surfactants (suds-makers). Then they say that regular Tide is the best, even though Tide contains fillers, additives, dyes, and fragrances (and, I’m actually allergic to it…) So…in my future laundry posts I’ll tell you what I’ve used, but for now I’ll stick with these guidelines when choosing a detergent: NO added bleach, fabric softeners, added artificial/chemical fragrance, dyes, or optical brighteners. And don’t ever. ever. EVER use dryer sheets when drying diapers in the dryer.
  • Dirty Diaper Storage System – Diaper pails or trashcans (with or without liners), large wetbags, or a combination of both. You will also need at least 2 small wetbags for the diaper bag.
  • CD-friendly Rash Cream (I use plain coconut oil)
  • Diaper Sprayer – If you are EBF your baby, this is not totally necessary at first since breastmilk poop is water-soluble (though it might stain, depending on your diet) and will rinse out easily in the wash. Some moms CD without ever getting one. I love mine, however, and have found other uses for it other than spraying out poopy diapers.
  • Cloth Diapers – can’t forget those
  • Cloth Wipes & Wipes Solution (optional) – If you’re feeling overwhelmed, start out using disposable wipes and add these later on if you want. They really are convenient and easy to make (cut up some receiving blankets). And for wipes solution—water with a tiny squirt of your baby’s body wash works just fine. I liked having a couple packs of disposables around for when my daughter has poo that gets in all the cracks, though.

LESSON 4: PURCHASING TIPS
This is the hard part. There are dozens of CD brands, styles, and systems to choose from. Here’s the key: at first don’t buy all of the same brand, style, or system. You’ll find certain diapers work better at night and others during the day for your baby’s shape, and your “favorite” diaper may change every couple months. In upcoming posts I’ll give recommendations based on my personal experience along with the primary goal of saving $. Talk to other CD mommies about what they’ve discovered. There is no right or wrong—there’s what works best for your family and living situation, and your BUDGET.

Popular online CD diaper stores:

MORE BUYING TIPS

  1. Subscribe to newsletters/sales notices. As you create accounts with different CD websites, always subscribe to their newsletter. The best way to save $ is to build your stash during sales. Watch for mega sales around New Years, Easter, Earth Day, Mothers Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas.
  2. Cotton Babies sales. A couple times a year, Cotton Babies (the makers of bumGenius, Flip, and Econobum diaper systems) requires all their distributors to run certain sales. Usually it’s buy 5 or 6 get 1 free, or two Flip covers for $20.
  3. BuyBuy Baby Coupons. Sign up for Buy Buy Baby coupons. Use the $5 off any item $15 or more and the 20% coupon to get bumGenius 4.0 diapers and bumGenius Freetime diapers. Some stores also carry Flip covers. This is the cheapest way to stock up on these great diapers!
  4. Buy cheap small wet bags. For the budget-minded, don’t spend money on the fancy-looking (though adorably printed) wet bags. Diaper Rite and Grovia make small wet bags for under $7 that do the job just fine. Diaper Junction carries both. Grovia bags are also available through Amazon.
  5. Consider EcoSprout detergent. This is my favorite detergent and works well in SC Upstate water. I only need 2 tbs for a large load of diapers, so the 96-oz bag lasts me forever–easily 6 months washing diapers 2-3 times a week. If you decide to give it a shot, it’s available on Amazon. Moms with very hard water may have a harder time with this detergent.
  6. Consider ditching the fabric softeners–including dryer sheets. These products work by coating your laundry with a cocktail of potentially dangerous chemicals that in turn seep through the pores of skin and enter the bloodstream–on a daily basis. The artificial fragrances might make your clothes smell “clean,” but often times they are masking lingering odors. Plus, even if you remember to skip these products when laundering your precious diaper stash, the residues in your machines left behind from other loads can eventually coat your diapers, causing them to repel liquids which means you’ll have to strip often or deal with leaky diapers. Try wool dryer balls–a non-toxic, eco-friendly solution that
    • gently separates laundry in the dryer, cutting drying time anywhere from 25-50%, depending on load size and material
    • allows you to use a lower the heat setting
    • quickly softens and de-wrinkles line-dried laundry
    • saves money by lowering energy bills, and the balls can last 2+ years.
  7. Buy used diapers with caution. Join local yard sale/CD Facebook groups, where CD moms often post used diapers to sell or trade. I have had successes and fails with eBay purchases. Craigslist is an option.
  8. Stuff to consider before buying China diapers. China factories make cheap diapers branded under several names: Alva, SunBaby, and Kawaii, are just a few. No one will judge you for ordering China diapers, just be aware of the downsides:
    • Slow shipping (unless sold through reputable USA distributors)
    • Zero or limited warranty/replacement guarantee (unless sold through reputable USA distributors)
    • Higher probability of manufacturing defects (such as defective snaps, bad stitching)
    • Very low resale value, or none at all
    • Sometimes made of cheap materials or by manufacturing shortcuts. This = shorter diaper life (cheap elastic that wears easily, single stitching instead of double, laminate that separates in the wash, etc). In my limited experience with China diapers, quality is hit or miss.
    • Sometimes there is no way to verify that slave labor or child labor were NOT used in the manufacturing process. Some moms are unable to purchase these diapers as a matter of conscience, so do some digging before clicking “place order.”
    • Some China manufacturers knowingly steal the intellectual property and designs of big brand diapers (example: Alva made a knockoff print of the bumGenius Lovelace pattern–but has been removed from the market). Change Diapers wrote a brief, but great post about this.

LESSON 5: RESOURCES

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