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A Cloth Diapering Primer

Answers to All of Your Cloth-Diapering Questions

Angela Wendling knows cloth diapers inside and out. Her company, ChunkaBuns, is an E-commerce baby and toddler apparel company that designs children’s clothing, including pants for kids who wear cloth diapers.

Since her business is all about fitting the fluffier profile of a cloth-diapered baby, she shares some advice on cloth vs. disposable diapers, and lets you in on a little secret: Cloth diapering’s easier and less expensive than it was in the past. She breaks it all down by price and eco-friendliness, and why cloth diapering’s gone mainstream. (Hint: Cloth diapers are good for baby’s skin, leak less, and come in look-at-me prints and colors.)

Why should moms consider cloth diapering? What’s in it for them, and how does it help their baby?
For mom? Let’s just say long-term cost savings is one of the biggest perks. You can save thousands of dollars by using cloth diapers. If you buy disposable diapers, you will end up spending between $2,000 -$3,000 per child. Depending on your budget, you can buy a set of cloth diapers that lasts for multiple children starting at $100 on up, depending on what style of cloth diaper you choose to use. And generally, babies who cloth diaper tend to potty train/learn at a younger age.

Benefits for baby? Cloth diapers are much less irritating to baby’s tender skin, especially if your baby has sensitive skin. It’s not uncommon for babies to have reactions to the chemicals in the disposable diapers. Disposable diapers are not as soft as cloth either, so when a little baby turns into a running toddler, they can sometimes can get what’s called “chub rub” or a heat rash from the diapers.

Why are cloth diapers considered to be eco-friendly?
The two main reasons cloth diapers are considered eco-friendly is because of the amount of natural resources that go into making them, but also because of the amount of garbage and waste that ends up in landfills when compared to disposable diapers. And the ecological benefits are compounded when you use the same set of cloth diapers for multiple children.

How does using a cloth diaper work — is it harder than using a disposable?
Nope, not hard at all. In fact, at times it’s easier than using disposables. Depending on what type of cloth diaper you choose, you may run into different levels of prep work, but overall they are pretty easy. The main types are All-In-Ones (AIOs), Prefolds, Pocket Diapers, and Fitted Diapers. The difficulty level of changing any baby has much more to do with the baby than the diaper.

If cloth diapers are, well, cloth, do they leak more than a disposable diaper?
No, they leak less. First, cloth tends to absorb the liquids faster than disposables, so there is less of a chance for it to leak out. Also, lots of work goes into the design of cloth diapers to make sure they are as leak resistant as possible. All-in-one cloth diapers and cloth diaper covers have a thin layer of a special waterproof fabric that is sewn into the inside layers of the diapers. This prevents liquid from leaking while keeping the diaper breathable. The fit of cloth diapers is also much easier to customize for your baby, which also leads to fewer leaks and the dreaded poopy blow-outs.

What’s the difference between cloth and disposable diaper material?
The cloth diapers are usually made from natural fibers, such as cotton or hemp. Some cloth diapers are made from microfiber materials that can sometimes be synthetic. One of the great things about cloth diapers is that the brand will tell you about the fiber makeup of the diapers so mamas know what they’re getting. Disposables are made from a type of cellulose, often made from trees, but are processed materials.

How do you clean a cloth diaper? Isn’t that kind of ... gross?
Well, all diapers are gross in their own way. How you clean a diaper depends on the type of diaper used (flats, pockets, AIOs, etc) and also if they are exclusively breastfed vs. formula fed, or if they have started any solids. If baby is exclusively breast fed, even if bottles are used, mom can very simply just wash the diapers because their poop is water soluble. If you formula feed or if you have started any solids, you drop the bulk of the poo into the toilet and add to your soiled laundry stash. When it comes to washing them, there are some things you’ll need to know. You do want to wash them separate from other clothing. They won’t ruin other clothing, but you want to use settings on your washer and use soaps that are best for your diapers to ensure their optimal performance.

How many cloth diapers would I need on hand?
A few factors should be considered when deciding this. Consider how often you can wash them and how many you can afford. I know people who started out with 10 and washed them every day, and I know people who have more than one hundred (they’re collectors). A middle-of-the-road number is between 24 and 36, and moms will be washing every three days. I have two children in diapers, and I have 48 diapers. It’s been more than enough for our needs.

What’s the price breakdown as compared to buying disposable diapers?
Upfront costs tend to be higher for cloth, and the savings aren’t always immediately obvious. A set of cloth diapers can be anywhere from $100 to $800, depending on the brand and style. But a single pack of newborn diapers is around $10. For many people, it’s easier to find smaller amounts of money every week than it is to save to buy their first set of cloth diapers.

Another thing to remember about cloth diapers is that you can often re-sell them when you are done with them to recoup some of your money, or you can donate them to any number of cloth diaper charities for a significant tax deduction.

Why do so many parents pick disposable diapers?
Many parents pick disposables because it’s what they know, and it’s what they see as normal. It’s what they’ve seen friends and family do, and it’s what they’ve seen on TV, on commercials, and in movies. New and expecting parents will often get diaper samples in the mail. Cloth really isn’t “seen” as much as disposables. Another factor is that many daycares and childcare providers aren’t cloth-diaper friendly, either by their choice or because the state they are in have regulations in place that make it more difficult for them to use cloth.

Any resources or links that would help moms?
Your local cloth diaper retailer are staffed with knowledgeable cloth diaper gurus. Many birth educators, doulas, and midwives also offer classes on cloth diapers, and many of them are free. Many cloth diaper brands have Facebook groups, and there are many experienced mamas there.