Cloth diapers are not the same thing today as what you used to think of with your grandmother cloth diapering. Those types of cloth diapers still exist and are usually referred to as “traditional cloth diapers.” You might think of those as a towel-like object with a pair of rubber pants over top.
Today, cloth diapers have evolved into “modern cloth diapers” or “reusable diapers.” Modern takes on cloth diapers include systems that are a single diaper piece and that are applied to a baby just like a disposable diaper. They have special stay dry fabrics that keep baby from feeling the wetness, just as current disposable diapers do. Absorbent fabrics have come a long way, too. There are synthetic fabrics like microfiber that absorb the fluids quite quick. There are also heavy absorbing fabrics like cotton, bamboo, and hemp.
More and more moms are choosing to use cloth diapers today. Some moms cloth diaper from day 1. Some moms diaper after the baby has grown past the first 6 weeks of the newborn stage and have fatter legs that work better with OS (one size) cloth diapers. Some moms cloth diaper at home only. Some moms cloth diaper with their day care. Some moms cloth diaper only when potty training. There is no one way to do it. Find what fits right with your family and go for it!
Cloth diapers can also be used on adults, pets, and there is even cloth menstural products available for women – often referred to as “mama cloth”
There are two main systems for cloth diapers: traditional cloth diapers (2 piece systems) and modern cloth diapers (1 piece systems).
Traditional cloth diapers (including flats, prefolds, and fitted cloth diapers) consist of two separate parts that are applied to the baby in 2 steps. The first piece is the absorbent diaper. Flat diapers are folded into a diaper shape, fitted to the baby and fastened in place. Prefold diapers are already folded into a shape and are put on the baby and fastened in place. Fitted diapers are sewn into a shape that resembles a disposable diaper. They are applied to the baby and typically have snaps or aplix (Velcro) to fasten the diaper installed into the diaper.
The second piece is the waterproof cover. These are typically made from PUL (polyurethane laminate), a modern fabric that is made from a layer of polyester fabric and a plastic lamination on the back to prevent fluids from leaking through. They have a system to fasten the diaper in place like snaps or aplix (Velcro) and elastic in the legs to prevent leaking as the baby moves. There are also covers made from wool that slip over the diaper like underwear.
Modern cloth diapers (including pockets, AIO – All In Ones, AI2 – All in Twos, Hybrids) consist of one part that is applied to the baby in 1 step. Some diapers, like the pocket diapers, are “assembled” before applying to the baby by stuffing an absorbent insert into the outer shell. Once they are assembled they are placed on the baby in one move, just like a disposable diaper.
Let’s face it, this is pretty much the only thing you want to know, right? The scariest (sounding) part to cloth diapers is always dealing with all that poop! We have made advancements in cloth diaper poop removal from the old days just like we have in the construction of the diapers.
First, for babies that are exclusively breastfed, you do not need to remove the poop from the diaper at all. That’s right, just toss that diaper right into the wash. Exclusively breastfed poop is water soluble and simply dissolves in the water of your washing machine. It does not stay in your washing machine, and does not dirty any future loads of laundry.
If the baby consumes formula, the liquid poop can be thrown in the washing machine just like breastfeed poop. You want to remove any poop that is more formed though and you can use the techniques described below.
Once the baby starts consuming solid food, you need to start removing the poop before washing. Personally, I recommend finding the perfect banana to apple ratio that produces peanut buttery textured poop that plops right off the diaper and into the toilet. The stay dry fabrics used in cloth diapers actually repel the poop and helps it fall right into the toilet. If it doesn’t neatly fall into the toilet there are a few options out there to help.
The Old-Fashioned Toilet Dunk: back in the day they used to simply open the diaper up, place it in the toilet water, shake it around a bit and flush the toilet. The water running down the drain would help some. This method is the dirtiest and least pleasant method. In fact, one of the biggest complaints about cloth diapering was having to do this. Have no fear, there are better ways!
The Poop Spatula: some people have great luck with simply using a kitchen spatula to sort of pry the poop off the diaper. This works great for the solid formed poops that are just barely clinging on. If there is some poop reside left, it is perfectly ok to throw that in the wash.
The Diaper Sprayer: a nozzle that is installed on your toilet that is essentially a kitchen sink sprayer. Here is a link to an Amazon search in which you can see there are lots of options out there. All you do is hold the diaper over the toilet and spray the poop off. You never need to even touch the poop. There are accessories out there that make it even easier like the Spray Pal that keeps all the water directed into the toilet and the Diaper Dawg that keeps your hands completely free of any icky mess.
Brand new cloth diapers need to be washed before use and sometimes they need special considerations.
Sew Bear Bottoms Diapers
Sew Bear Bottoms diapers and diaper covers only need to be washed once using a regular setting with laundry detergent (and water softener if needed) and dried on medium/high heat. The drying will seal any holes made during the sewing process. For AIOs (All-In-Ones) and diaper inserts, 1 wash is sufficient to use it, though the absorbency will increase over the first 5-6 washings and not be fully absorbent until that time.
General Cloth Diapers
Diaper covers, pockets, and diapers/inserts made with synthetic fibers like microfiber only need an initial wash and dry to fully prep. Use the same routine as you would normally.
Inserts and diapers that contain natural materials like cotton, bamboo, and hemp need 5-6 washes to fully remove the natural oils before they have reached fully absorbency. If you are prepping brand new diapers for your child who has yet to be born or doesn’t need them yet, I personally recommend to add them in to your clothing loads for a few weeks until they have 5-6 washes down.
You may hear a lot about the proper way to wash cloth diapers. There are quite a few resources out there that have a militant approach to washing, and quite frankly, that attitude is just unnecessary. Most people will do well to follow this simple routine:
Before Washing your Cloth Diapers
Remove solid poop (best to do this as they come, no one wants to spend time on wash day rinsing 5 poopy diapers that have dried on). Remove inserts from pocket diapers (again, do this as you throw them into the pail instead of doing them all after they have sat for a day or two).
Step 1: Quick Wash Cycle
Find the best setting on your washing machine that will give you a quick wash and single rinse. Use about half the amount of detergent you normally use for a wash and don’t forget water softener if you need it. This will remove the majority of the pee and poop from the diapers.
Step 2: Heavy Wash Cycle
Your washing machine should have a “heavy” or “soiled” setting that you should use for the main wash. Use about twice the amount of detergent you would use for a regular wash and add water softener if you need it. This should result in perfectly clean diapers.
Step 3: Dry
You are fine to use a medium or high heat dry setting on your dryer. Most diapers should hold up just fine for the diapering period of one child. If you want to really protect your diapers and preserve the lifetime of the elastics then you may choose to hang dry.
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