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Cloth diapers 101: Caring for cloth diapers

by Karen on February 17, 2011

Yesterday I shared some tips on what kind of cloth diapers I recommend and what to buy. Today I’m going to cover the proper care and maintenance of cloth diapers.

You can use diaper rash creams.

Even though you read everywhere that diaper rash creams are a big no-no when it comes to cloth diapering, the truth is that rule mostly refers to fancy micro-fiber all-in-ones and inserts for pocket diapers. Ingredients in diaper rash creams can interfere with absorbency, and that could be catastrophic for a $20 diaper. But the natural fibers in plain cotton prefold diapers are less likely to repel after using mild diaper rash creams.

If they do start to stink after using a diaper rash cream, it’s easy to strip cotton prefolds. Worst case scenario? You throw out a few diapers that cost you $1-$2. But that’s highly unlikely with tough prefolds. That’s a big reason I prefer cotton prefolds. I don’t want to stress about diapers.

Some creams are more likly to cause issues than others. This chart outlines which diaper rash creams are safe for cloth diapers, and which ones are generally okay for cotton diapers. I use Aveeno Diaper Rash Relief when I notice a little redness, and I haven’t had any issues with my prefolds. And if I do? I paid $1.50 each for them. No biggie.

Detergent really does matter.

Make your life easier — switch to a cloth-friendly detergent for all your clothing and forget about it. It’s not necessary to spend a fortune on specialty “cloth diaper” detergents. This chart gives you a ton of options from fancy specialty detergents to basic powder detergents available at Amazon or your local big box store. I like Rockin’ Green*, but I also buy Ecos at Walmart when I can find it. Both of them work great for cloth diapers. If you’re purchasing from Amazon, make sure you search for Amazon coupon codes to save even more money.

This is one rule that I don’t recommend ignoring. Regular detergents really don’t work well for cloth diapers. Most “free and clear” brands are not cloth friendly because they contain brighteners and other additives that can make your diapers stinky. Your diapers should be free of detergent scent and ammonia smell when they come out of the dryer. If you can smell soap, use less detergent. If you can smell pee, use more.

Laundry doesn’t have to be complicated.

Laundering was the biggest source of confusion for me when I was learning about cloth diapers. Once I started washing the diapers, it made much more sense. Here’s the deal on laundering in as simple terms as possible.

Pre-washing diapers – Diaper covers, pocket diapers, and all-in-ones only need to be washed once before using. Cotton prefolds need to be pre-washed several times to fluff them up and remove natural oils that can deter absorbency. When you receive new prefolds, send them through 5-8 wash and dry cycles. Use hot water and a little detergent. That’s it. It’s time-consuming, but really simple.

Where to keep dirty diapers – I recommend using a hanging wet bag like the FuzziBunz hanging wet bag* because it hangs on a doorknob and has a zipper on the bottom so it’s easy to dump the diapers when it’s time to wash. You could also use an old-fashioned diaper pail with water, but the idea of dumping all that diaper water really kind of grosses me out.

Washing diapers – Separate diapers from waterproof covers and wet bags, and wash them separately. Here’s my washing cycle for my prefolds: Cold wash with no detergent to rinse them out, hot wash with detergent, cold wash/rinse to rinse out the detergent. Then I tumble dry on low. For diaper covers I do a hot wash with detergent, a hot wash to make sure all detergent is rinsed, and an extra cold rinse. With diaper covers I’ve noticed that less soap is better, because they’re usually not as soiled as diapers and excess soap can really mess with the waterproofing. I line dry diaper covers and waterproof accessories (like wet bags).

If you’re exclusively breastfeeding, you don’t have to worry about poopy diapers. They can go into the washer without being rinsed first. That’s because breast milk is so easily digested by baby that the remaining waste is completely water soluble. I don’t rinse my diapers, and they very rarely even stain. If your baby is formula fed or eats solids, you’ll need to shake the waste into the toilet before washing. I don’t have any experience with this yet.

You don’t have to learn fancy folding techniques.

I fasten my diapers with a Snappi. This is the method I use for fastening cloth diapers. There are lots of fastening methods, but so far, this method has worked best for containing my two-month-old’s explosive poo.

In case you can’t tell, I have absolutely loved cloth diapers so far. I’ll be sure to update you on how things are going once Judah switches to solids, because I’m told that will be a totally different ball game. That’s all the more reason to breastfeed if you want to use cloth diapers, though. It really makes things so easy.

I’m pretty sure that covers almost everything. If you have any questions or tips of your own, share them in the comments!

I have not been compensated in any way for the recommendations made in this post. However, I do receive a small affiliate fee for purchases made through Amazon links, which are denoted with this symbol *.

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{ 3 comments }

1 Amanda February 17, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Ok. I don’t have a baby, nor am I pregnant. But I do have a question out of curiosity/future thinking. Cloth diapering and day care … Obviously you don’t have this issue, but I was wondering if day cares would use cloth diapers. It seems like it could get complicated. I think cloth diapers are a great idea, but I’m just wondering about this logistical issue for moms who can’t stay home. What do you know about this, if anything? Just thinking ahead…

2 Karen February 17, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Amanda – That is a great question! Cloth diapers can be trickier when you’re dealing with daycare, but it is possible!

First of all, I’d say that with cloth diapering making a big comeback lately, some daycares are willing to work with them. But from what I can tell, it’s rare. You might have some luck finding a daycare that will do cloth since you live in a somewhat progressive community.

If that’s not an option, and you really want to do cloth, I’d consider “hybrid” cloth diapers. G-Diapers and Flips are two options. They have reusable covers, but they offer disposable inserts that can be thrown away. The waste is reduced, but they wouldn’t be as big of a hassle for daycare staff. In the evenings and weekends, you can use the covers with regular reusable prefolds, which would cut down on expense and waste.

I used Flips covers with regular prefolds, so you’d be able to switch out the disposable inserts with regular prefold diapers or reusable inserts when the baby is at home. G-Diapers have a similar system, but I don’t think they work as well with regular prefolds, so you’d have to buy their specialty disposable inserts AND their special reusable inserts. They’re pricey, and I don’t have any experience with them, so I recommend Flips.

If your main concern is environmentalism, hybrid diapers might be your best bet. Most of the inserts are biodegradable and generally better for the planet than regular disposables.

Unfortunately, it’s a more expensive option than using cloth exclusively, and might even be more expensive than disposables since the inserts are specially made. You’ll be able to offset that expense by using cloth in the evenings and on weekends, though, so you might come out ahead or at least break even.

If you absolutely can’t get a daycare to work with you even on hybrid diapers, I still think it would be worth it for you to use cloth in the evenings and on weekends and buy diapers just for daycare. You can use coupons and price compare to get the best deal on disposables, and you’ll go through WAY fewer if you’re using cloth at home. Plus you’ll be reducing the number of diapers you’re throwing away, which is good for the planet.

Even if you can’t use cloth full time, you’ll go through a lot of diapers at night and on weekends, so it’s worth doing when your baby is at home.

3 Haley February 18, 2011 at 11:09 am

I’m glad to hear you’ve got a system down. On a somewhat related note, my mother still uses old cloth diapers from her children as dust rags. They are fantastic at grabbing dust, and they have had more years of use as dust rags (30+) than I’m sure she ever imagined they would.

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