The Ultimate Cloth Diaper Guide: Part 2 — Myths about cloth diapers

(This is the second part of a four part series. Yesterday, I wrote about why we chose to use cloth diapers. Today, we’re talking about common myths and misconceptions about cloth diapering. Watch for the next two posts in this series about choosing the right type of diaper for your circumstances, and making sure you have all the essential cloth diaper supplies.)

Hey, how can you tell if a mom cloth diapers? … Don’t worry, she’ll tell you. Ba dum tssh!

It’s true, we cloth diapering parents talk entirely too much about our diapers. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve accidentally rambled on about sprayers, prefold folding styles, or the latest diaper on my wishlist (I mean, look at them, they have capes!). For that, I apologize.

In our defense, the world of cloth diapering has changed drastically since we were little. Everything we might have thought about cloth diapers in the past has been radically overturned, and we’ve seen the light. We just want to share it. After using cloth diapers for over two years, I can’t stand using disposables anymore. When I do have to use them, I dread every diaper change, I don’t like the feel of the diaper when I’m holding Merry, and frankly, disposable diapers have a weird smell.

So when the people around us are constantly saying “I could never do that,” because of any number of misconceptions they have from an earlier era of cloth diapers, we need to talk. We need to explain that, actually, the diapers you’re imagining are a thing of the past. Although you can still get inexpensive, large, flat diapers that are folded and held together by pins, there are dozens of other choices. Today’s cloth diapers are, in many ways, like disposables, and, in many other ways, much better.

The dirty stuff and how to clean it

Cloth diapers are hard to wash. How many extra loads of laundry do you have to do?

The days of scrubbing each individual diaper and hand-washing in a basin are over (thank God). Most cloth diapers can be washed in a regular machine, just like your other laundry.

I keep my dirty diapers in a large wet bag, and then when I’m ready to wash them, I dump them in the machine, add the detergent, and turn it on. Then I transfer them to the dryer or hang dry, depending on the weather and what type of diaper I’m washing.

It’s as simple as that. I don’t really consider diaper laundry “laundry,” because of how easy it is. There’s no folding or sorting, just dump in the wash, then dump in the dryer or dump on the drying rack. (If I’m dumping on the drying rack, I usually get Pippin to do it, so it’s even less work.)

I try to do diaper laundry every other day, but to be honest, it usually ends up being every three or four days (i.e. when I run out of diapers).

Fluff Love and Cloth Diaper Science is a great resource for all things cloth diaper related. They have a section of their website dedicated to washing routines.

Stains, stains everywhere!

Someone asked me yesterday about stained diapers and I replied that I don’t have any stained diapers. Then I realized, hey, I actually do get stained diapers, but I hang them in the sun immediately out of the washing machine, and the stain disappears. It takes so little effort that I actually forgot they were stained in the first place. For best results, hang stained diapers to dry in direct sun, but you can also hang them indoors near a window, and the stain still disappears if the diaper is already dry when it’s hung (it might fade more slowly though).

Cloth diapers are unsanitary. How can you wash them in the same washing machine as your regular clothes?

It might sound strange to wash dirty diapers in the same machine as everything else, but think of it this way: What do you do if you have a diaper blowout? What about when a potty training toddler has an accident? Do you throw all those clothes out?

When you wash things in the washing machine, in the end, the things are clean and the machine is clean. The machine’s job is to clean.

Cloth diapers are so messy. I can just throw the disposable away. Do you actually touch the poop with your hands?

From the Pampers website (image from realdiaperevents.org)
From the Pampers website (image from realdiaperevents.org)
From a box of Kirkland brand diapers (image from realdiaperevents.org)
From a box of Kirkland brand diapers (image from realdiaperevents.org)

First of all, poop belongs in the toilet. Let’s make that clear. Even with disposable diapers, we’re actually supposed to remove the poop before throwing the diaper away.

That said, there are two types of poop: exclusively breastfed poop, and solids poop.

Exclusively breastfed poop is water-soluble and doesn’t need any treatment at all. Just throw it in with the other diapers. You don’t even need to rinse, unless you really want to. When poo is involved, I run a pre-wash with a small amount of detergent that gets rid of the really dirty stuff, and then run a regular wash with a normal amount of detergent that gets them really clean. The breastfed poop comes out in the pre-wash and the diaper is good as new.

Solids poop, however, needs to be cleaned off before the diaper goes in the wash. Thankfully, solids poop is normally, well, solid — so it’s usually possible to just shake the diaper over the toilet and have it fall out. If not, a diaper sprayer is handy invention (and it doubles as a bidet!) — just hold the diaper over the toilet and spray off the poop, then put the diaper in with the rest of the diaper laundry and wash normally.

Cloth diapers leak.

When cloth diapers leak, it’s most often a sign of a bad fit — either the snaps are on the wrong settings, or the diaper is a poor fit for baby’s body (e.g. “one-size” diapers typically don’t fit newborns). If not a fit issue, then it could be:

  • in the case of natural fibre diapers, the diapers weren’t fully prepped when they were brand new;
  • in the case of microfibre inserts, there could be compression leaks (this typically happens when a microfibre insert is close to full, and can be prevented by adding a natural fibre insert, or a more absorbent microfibre insert);
  • the diaper inserts might be repelling, which is caused by using the wrong type of detergent or fabric softener, using dryer sheets, or by using non-cloth-safe creams; or
  • you might simply need to add more absorbency by using an extra insert or more absorbent fabric.

In general, when used correctly, cloth diapers should not leak.

In over two years of using cloth diapers, the only times I’ve had a leak were:

  1. when Pippin was first born and we were still figuring out how the diaper should fit; and
  2. when Pippin was between sizes and we hadn’t yet learned how to tell when to move to the next size settings.

That was a total of about three times, and none of them were blowouts. We have never had a leak with Merry.

In contrast, when we do use disposables, we occasionally have leaks out the leg holes, and when Pippin was young, we did have one diaper blowout. Worst experience ever.

Baby’s comfort

Cloth diapers cause more rashes.

The verdict is out on this one. Some studies show that more rashes occur in cloth diapers. Others show more rashes occurring in disposables. Yet others found that there was no difference.

Pippin has never had a diaper rash, whereas Merry is more prone to them. She’s gotten a rash twice, both times after spending time in disposables, though I’m not sure if that’s a coincidence.

Rashes happen when the skin can’t breathe, which is equally possible with disposable diapers (made of plastic) and waterproof cloth diapers. When Merry has a rash, I keep her either diaper free, or in just a cotton prefold without a cover, as much as possible. This lets the skin breathe and the rash heal.

Rashes also happen due to prolonged wetness, so regardless of whether you use disposables or cloth, you’ll want to change diapers as soon as they’re wet.

I’m too clumsy to use diaper pins. I’d poke myself or the baby!

Image from greenmountaindiapers.com
Prefold with a Snappi (image from greenmountaindiapers.com)

Me, too! Thankfully, most diaper options today don’t need pins. We use mostly prefolds held in place by a handy invention called a Snappi. We also use pocket diapers which have snaps or hook and loop closures. You can cloth diaper from birth to potty training without ever having to use a pin.

Cloth diapers are so bulky and they restrict motion.

Yes, they are bulky. On this, I fully agree. We sometimes have to use one size up for pants. This isn’t a major issue for me, as my kids are both on the smaller end, so we can normally get the diaper to fit under normal sized clothes. As well, some types of diapers are trimmer than others. I find prefolds with a cover to be among the trimmer options. If you’re having issues with clothes not fitting, try shopping at H&M. In the Netherlands, cloth diapering is much more common, so all of H&M’s baby clothes are made with cloth diapers in mind (even in North America). We have a few of their onesies and they’re made with little darts and flounces to perfectly fit over cloth bottoms, and they don’t look bulky at all.

Cloth diapers, if well-fitted, shouldn’t restrict movement at all. The baby should still be able to move their hips and legs, the same as a naked baby would. Likewise, the weight of the diaper wouldn’t be enough to impede motion. Yes, cloth diapers are bulkier and heavier than disposables, but not so much that they really restrict motion. I haven’t seen any studies showing that cloth diapered babies are any slower to crawl or walk than non-cloth diapered babies.

In my own experience, Pippin sat at 5 months, crawled at 7 months, stood without holding anything at 10 months, and was walking at 12-13 months. Merry army crawled at 3 months, sat at 6 months, and tries to climb every single thing in sight at 7 months. (If I could slow her down by adding a second cloth diaper on top of her existing one, I would seriously consider it. I’ve been chasing her around for more than a month now, and it is exhausting.)

Practical usage

Cloth diapers are too difficult to put on.

There are so many different types of diapers to choose from these days, and the vast majority of them are easy to use. In my next post, I’ll go into more detail and show you some diapers that anyone could use.

How do you use cloth diapers when you’re away from home?

It’s not as hard as it sounds. I carry the diapers in my diaper bag, just like I would with disposables, but I also carry a small wet bag. I take off the old diaper, put it in the bag, and put on the new diaper. The wet bag fits inside my diaper bag, or I can clip it on to the strap of the bag.

Cloth diapers are too expensive. $20 CAD per diaper? And water costs money, too!

I calculated the cost of diapers in yesterday’s post, and we found that even at $20 per diaper, cloth still ends up cheaper than disposables. You’ll be pleased to know, however, that you don’t need to spend $20 per diaper. Some of the more common brands are that price, but there are plenty of budget brands out there. You can get Alva pocket diapers for $6.40 each! Or you can use prefolds or flats, which are less expensive. I’ll go into more detail about this in the next post.

In the average American household, cloth diapers account for 5% of total water usage. Washing cloth diapers is like having an extra adult taking regular showers in your house. The savings more than make up for the higher water bill. If you’re concerned, cut back in other areas: take shorter showers, run the dishwasher less often, or try out elimination communication which can help cut back on diaper usage.

It’s too late for me to start cloth diapering.

As long as your baby isn’t nearing potty training age in the next year or so, you will get your money’s worth out of your cloth diapers, especially if you opt for the less expensive options. Even if you’re starting to introduce the potty, cloth diapers help immensely in the learning process, since they allow the toddler to feel wetness. In fact, Pippin basically potty-learned herself, and I attribute that to using cloth diapers in conjunction with elimination communication, but that’s a whole other post series.

The point is, it’s never too late to start cloth diapering.

Have I missed any common myths about cloth diapers? Please leave them in a comment and I’ll try to add them to the post. In the next post, I’ll break down the different types of diapers and help you choose the one that’s right for you.

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