Using Cloth Instead of Disposables: What I Wish I had Known

It’s been over a year now since we started on our cloth nappy/diaper journey with Joseph.  Overall, I’ve been really pleased with how things have gone and I’m sure that we made the right decision for us in that regard.

However.

There are a few things that I wish I could tell my new-momma self regarding the use of cloth vs. disposables.  A few “handy tips”, if you will.  Since time travel has not been perfected, or even invented yet, I’m going to have to stick with writing a blog post to let all of you, my lovely readers, know what I wish I had known before.

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#1 – You don’t need as many cloth nappies as you might think.

I read and re-read various posts about using cloth vs. disposables and they were full of number comparisons and suggestions.  One of the things that I took away from these posts was that the bigger your stash, the less often you’ll need to do laundry.  I thought, “Hmm… I don’t like doing laundry, so I’ll just buy more and do laundry less often.  Brilliant!”

Except for one thing: our laundry facilities and supplies are limited.  We don’t use our dryer except for emergencies and it takes about 24 hours for nappies to line dry, which means nappies hanging all over the place.  Not a big deal with a newborn, but a big deal with a toddler who loves to grab things and “help” by taking stuff off of the line.

I also have only 1 dirty nappy container and when it’s full, I have to do laundry, end of story.

Our container can hold 2 dozen soiled nappies, so guess what?  I really only needed about 30 nappies to get me through.  I’m embarrassed to post how many I actually bought – chalk it up to being an over-eager new mom – but I’m going to: 42 nappies.  Way too many.  I ended up selling a dozen of them on TradeMe and I was glad to get my money back, but I wish I could tell my pregnant, shopping-crazy, sale-obsessed self to cool it and just get 30 nappies: 24 is all that the container can hold, and that leaves 6 “spares” while the rest are washing and line-drying.  I wash nappies twice a week, always on the same days (unless there’s an emergency) and I’ve never run out of clean nappies.

#2 – You don’t need disposable nappy liners.

I loved using flushable nappy liners when Joe was a newborn.  I could just tip the nappy over the toilet and flush everything away.  No dunking the nappies in the toilet bowl to try to remove sticky poo which is oh-so-common in a fluid (breastmilk) only diet.

But you know what?  Those flushable liners ate into the total amount we saved by using cloth.  I tallied everything up a few weeks ago and was surprised at how much money we’d wasted spent on biodegradable flushable liners.

I’ve since switched to fleece liners.

I bought 20 ready-made liners but to be honest, you could just buy some very fine microfleece and cut your own strips.  I put one on top of each nappy (so that the liner is between Joe’s bum and the nappy cover).  I haven’t had too many issues getting poo off of them, especially now that Joe’s on solid foods.

#3 – You don’t need disposable wipes.

At one point I thought to myself, “Why on Earth am I buying disposable wipes?  I’m already washing cloth nappies.  Surely washing cloth wipes wouldn’t be that much more work.”  And they’re a cinch to use.  I saw all kinds of posts and accessories advertised for wipes: warmers, special wipe-fluid dispensing bottles.  You know what I use?  Squares of fine terrycloth that have been sprayed with water.  That’s it.  I’ve got a stack of 30 wipes and a spray bottle.  I spritz-spritz-spritz and that’s it.

You can add some baby shampoo or essential oils (I’ve added tea tree oil when Joe’s had rash issues).  You can also add plain old baby oil.  I’ve done all of those and found that water works just fine.  When it comes to transporting wipes with me, I have a hard-case container and I just put a few wet cloth wipes in there.  I can generally use 1 wipe per nappy change, but sometimes require more.  Wipes usually dry much faster than cloth nappies and, to be honest, you’re just going to get them wet anyway so it’s not as big of a rush to have them washed and dried.  If I run out before they’re entirely dry, I just take one off the drying rack and use that.  No big deal.

#4 – You will be very happy with the OSFM (one-size-fits-most) nappies that you bought.

This is true.  I have BumGenius OSFM snap nappies and we’ve been really happy with them.  The only issue was that they didn’t fit Joe very well at all when he was first born, even on their smallest setting (and Joe was 9lbs 4oz at birth).  We used disposables for the first 2 weeks and it was really another 2 weeks after that before the BumGenius nappies worked for him (I had purchased mainly BumGenius nappies but also had a dozen FuzziBunz, and these fit him much better as a newborn).

I wasn’t so thrilled with the OSFM FuzziBunz nappies once Joe was past the newborn stage.  Sure, they fit him better when he was itty-bitty, but once he got older we had some real issues with sizing them correctly, leakage, poo wicking onto the covers and onto clothing, and they were a pain in the rear to re-size.  Lots of elastics and buttons.  The BumGenius brand were so simple – just a few snaps.  I’m very glad that we purchased a mix but in hindsight, it was definitely risky to buy so many BumGenius nappies when I could have ended up hating them.  For new mums, I’d recommend looking at a couple different brands and, if possible, borrowing one from a friend who uses cloth.  I let one of my friends use a BG and an FB for a bit and she loved the BG but agreed with me about the FB brand.

#5 – When you take a big, long, cross-global, multi-state trip, don’t try to use cloth nappies.

I know that there are some hardcore mommas out there who do solely cloth but our trip to the States?  Complete waste of luggage space.  I was having such a time figuring out Joe’s sleep schedule and trying to get him over his jet-lag, we were traveling from Indiana to Michigan to another part of Indiana to Wisconsin and back to Indiana and then flying to Georgia and then back to Indiana.  There was Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The fact is that disposables ended up being our nappy of choice for most of that trip.  Add in the fact that I felt a bit guilty about using the washing machine to wash only a dozen nappies (I’d only brought enough to do them part-time) and then trying to find a space to line dry them… it just wasn’t worth it.

I do think that we’ll take about 15 nappies when we go to the UK.  We’ll have 1 home base which has a washer and dryer + “airing cupboard” (with a drying rack).  We’ll also be there longer than when we were in the US.  We will be making some trips, and I’ll use disposables for those as we won’t have access to laundry facilities but when we’re in Oxford, I’ll stick with cloth.

#6 – Pay attention to the rash ointment that you use.

I had read somewhere that if you used liners, then it was fine to use regular rash ointment rather than using ointment that was cloth-safe.

Wrong.

I ended up having to strip and strip and strip our nappies to get all of the “goo” off the covers.  And some of them were definitely not the same afterward.

So of course, my reaction to this was to go overboard and to buy 3 different sticks of cloth-safe rash ointment.  I bought a GroVia stick and 2 CJ’s BUTTer sticks.  Those sticks last a long time.  I ended up giving 1 of them away and had to throw out the GroVia stick (I didn’t think that it worked that well).

You know what I’ve finally settled on using?

Yep – coconut oil.  I was a bit unsure about this at first.  It’s solid, but almost as soon as you start to rub it on skin it begins to turn into a liquid.  I didn’t know how much of a barrier this would provide but it’s worked great.  Coconut oil has antifungal properties, especially when it comes to yeast/thrush, it adds a protective layer, and it’s easy to use.  It’s not quite as easy as the ointment-sticks, but I just wipe the excess from my fingers onto the next cloth wipe in the stack.

#7 – You’re going to get criticism no matter what you use.

I’ve had people criticize me for using cloth.  For using the occasional disposable.  For not using the “right kind” of disposable.  For not using the right kind of cloth nappy.  For using flushable liners and disposable wipes.  For not using traditionally-medicated, zinc-based rash ointments.

You’re going to get criticism no matter what.  Some people will think that the simple action of you pulling out a cloth nappy to change your child’s diaper in the store’s public restroom means that you’re looking down your nose on anyone who uses a disposable.  And they’ll tell you so.  Someone will hear you remark that you use flushable liners and think that you’re not being eco-friendly enough.  Someone else will see you using cloth nappies with disposable wipes and tell you that you really out to switch to cloth wipes.

Whatever.

People are entitled to their own opinions.  To be honest, I haven’t done all of the research comparing disposables to cloth.  It may seem intuitive that using cloth is eco-friendly, but there are a lot of things to consider.  Properly used (flushing solid waste from the nappy), disposables – especially biodegradable, eco-friendly disposables – may not be as bad as we think.  When you consider water usage, energy usage for washers and dryers, what exactly is involved in making cloth nappies…  I’m just not to the point where I can say, 100%, that cloth nappies are always more environmentally friendly.  I think that they are, but I’m not sure.  And I’m also not someone else.  I don’t live another woman’s life in another house in another city, state, or country.  I don’t have someone else’s child.  I live my life in my house with my husband and my child, and we do what makes the most sense for us based on the research I’ve done and our life-balance.

#8 – When washing nappies, do a cold rinse, a hot wash, and a hot rinse.

So many people have written so many posts on the best way to wash nappies.  I tried several different methods with varying results.  The best way for us was to do a cold rinse (which is actually 2 rinses + spin cycle on our washing machine), a hot wash, and then a hot rinse.  The cold rinse removes any excess solids that might still be clinging to the nappy.  The hot wash cleans the nappies (you only need about 1/4 – 1/3 of the amount of soap you’d use with a regular wash).  The hot rinse removes any excess soap that might be lingering.

If you have to strip the nappies to remove rash ointment, the best way to do it is to rub a grease-cutting dish soap into the covers, let it sit there for a few minutes, rinse out the nappies in the sink, and then rinse them with a hot rinse in the washer until there are no more suds.  If you’re doing a regular stripping (some people find that they need to do this 3 or 4 times a year for various reasons – hard water, the type of detergent, not the best washing machine) then use 1/2 C of baking soda during a hot wash.  Follow this with 1/4 C of vinegar in the separate rinse cycle, but use vinegar s-p-a-r-i-n-g-l-y.  I’ve only used it twice in the 14 months we’ve been using cloth.  Why?  Because vinegar is acidic and can actually damage the waterproof covers.  Had I not used non-cloth-approved rash ointment, then I likely would have never used it.  Don’t use it unless it’s imperative (many people with hard water find that they get good results with vinegar).

#9 – Your husband will never, ever be as excited about cloth nappies as you are, but that’s OK.

This last one’s really a bit of a joke.  I was totally gung-ho over using cloth, did loads of research, and would report all of my findings (and I do mean all of my findings) back to Chris.  He finally said, “Enough!” and told me to just do whatever I wanted.  So I bought the cloth nappies and then realized that he’d never actually said that he was totally on board with using cloth.  Would he be OK with it?  What if I’d just spent all that money and he didn’t want to use them?!  A panicked call to his office followed this train of thought, which resulted in him assuring me that he was fine with whatever I wanted to do, but please, no more talk about cloth nappies!

And he has been fine with them.  He’s been totally on board with using them, cleaning them, hanging them to dry, and even occasionally folding and stuffing them.  I do 90% of the nappy changes and their washing, but he’s always ready to pitch in and lend a hand.  Bless him.

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Yup – I think that about covers it.  Those are the things that I wish I’d known before using cloth.  I’m glad that I know them now and can use this experience with future kiddos, and hopefully you can use it, too!

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2 comments

  1. Becca says:

    I’m glad you posted this today… Hendrik has had a persistent rash that is finally responding to Nystatin, so here in a few days I might switch back to the cloth diapers. Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned!

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