5 Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me About Cloth Diapers

published May 16, 2018
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(Image credit: Anna Spaller)

When we had our first child, I decided we’d cloth diaper. I was wary of the components of regular diapers being wrapped so closely and so often around my baby’s newly minted body. I also hated the idea of sending piles of plastic waste to the landfill. And maybe most of all, I liked the idea of not having the monthly expense of diapers. At the time I didn’t know anyone else personally who cloth diapered; all my knowledge was gleaned from crunchy mommy blogs and I was the “crazy,” brave maverick among my friends.

We decided on adjustable cloth diapers, meaning that we’d only ever need to buy one set that would grow with our baby. Here’s what I learned from experience:

1. You have to be so careful laundering them

Because of the wicking nature of the fabric that cloth diapers are made from and to preserve their absorbency, it’s imperative to never use the wrong kind of detergent or laundry additives. You can’t wash them with any other laundry items (although this isn’t exactly tempting, given the nature of this type of load) and you may have to run them through more than one cycle. Each brand of cloth diapers has its own different instructions, but following them is not optional if you want your diapers to function properly. (You can imagine the messy consequences when they don’t.)

2. They may not last through more than one child without repairs

When we got our set of cloth diapers (they were a gift from a relative), we thought those were the only diapers we’d ever need. But when baby number two came along and we needed to re-adjust some of the diapers to newborn size, we discovered that some of the elastic had stretched out. Without repairing the elastic, the leg holes were too loose to keep messes in. So I spent many evenings replacing elastic, a surprisingly complex task that made me grateful (again) to know how to sew.

3. They are not (that) stinky

One of the first things people would comment when I’d tell them that I was going to cloth diaper was how smelly it would all be. But when when we were actually tossing “used” diapers in the diaper pail, the smell honestly wasn’t that bad. Granted it got worse when the babies began eating solid food, but at that point we were able to rinse off much of the solid waste into the toilet with a sprayer. In any case, the smell was more contained than anyone would expect and the frequency with which they were washed also kept things from getting too bad.

4. It was a labor of love, and much more enjoyable than I thought it would be

I expected to feel like I’d made a good choice and was doing the right thing for us by cloth diapering. But I was surprised by how much I actually enjoyed all the steps involved (besides getting the dirty diapers into the washer, but that took about a minute and a severe hand-washing, max, to get over). I liked the meaningful mindlessness of hanging the wet diaper parts to dry on the rack, stuffing them, folding them, and stacking them into tiny towers of a labor of love, ready for keeping my baby safely dry and comfortable.

5. Cloth diapering isn’t all or nothing

As much as I enjoyed both the thought of cloth diapering and surprisingly the cloth diapering itself, there were times when it just wasn’t feasible for us—like when we were traveling or even during a long day out of the house. When we first went out and about, I would bring my wet bag for a soiled diaper and a fresh cloth diaper, but I quickly realized this was too much added stress. When traveling, we either had no access to a washer and dryer or we, of course, wouldn’t dream of using our friends’ for such a task. Not only so, but when baby number two came along, it became a bit much for our family to cloth diaper two children at once. The washing and drying cycles had to keep up with the demands of two diapered children, and I had a lot less time than when I only had one. We gradually incorporated disposable diapers into our routine and cloth diapered as we could manage.

Have you cloth diapered? Would you consider it?