You can read my previous post Cloth Diapering in the 21st Century for more background information on the types of diapers out there.
This post is basically my experience cloth diapering and the How-to's.
When I first thought about cloth diapering, I had so many questions. Hopefully I can answer them for you.
What kinds of cloth diapers do we use?
I love my prefolds. I bought the Chinese large prefolds to start with. I love the absorbency and how easy they are to wash. I do suggest 2-3 sizes if you are staring with a newborn. I will be using the Green Mountain Diaper Indian prefolds called Cloth-eez with my 2nd baby. (UPDATE: I LOVE THE CLOTH-EEZ so much better!) I like the idea of the smaller sized prefolds to keep them from being too bulky. If you look on the Green Mountain Diaper website, you will find so much information that I still go back and review.
What kinds of cloth diaper covers do we use?
I love the Bummis Super Brite and Thirsties diaper covers. You can find some pictures and explanation of these covers in my post Cloth Diapering in the 21st Century. I find that the key is to find a cover that has leak proof leg guards and the PUL material inside so you can wipe them clean and use them again.
What is my experience with pocket diapers?
I originally started with only Bum Genius 4.0 pocket diapers to see if I could handle cloth diapering. These were too difficult to wash. They often needed to be washed 4 times because the smell never came out all the way. There is nothing worse than putting on a semi-fresh smelling diaper onto your baby. YUCK! These diapers were also crazy in price...like $25+ a piece. I did keep like 6 of them for an easy solution though. These are just as easy as a disposable diaper to put on, velcro and go. I also hated how bulky these were on my skinny-minny daughter. I know some Moms live for these diapers, so this is just my experience.
Do we save tons of money?
Many people set out to save loads of money. You definitely save money over disposables, there's no doubt. The latest statistic from this site states that most people spend from $2300-1800 in disposables over a 3.5 year time span on 1 child. You will definitely save money if you just look at the cost of the diapers; however, there are some other factors that play into how much you save though: (1) what kinds of cloth diapers you buy (2) how many cloth diapers you buy (3) how many washer and dryer loads you do (4) how much you spend on your detergent (5) how many children you use them on (6) diaper pail and liners (7) any disposables you buy for trips or night time use.
Obviously the more you spend on your cloth diapers, the less money you will save in the long run. If you go the Bum Genius 4.0 pocket diaper route and buy 30 at $25, you are looking at a huge chunk of money. If you go the prefold route and buy second-hands, you may only spend $200 on a whole set with covers. To save in these areas, I have stalked eBay for great covers and prefolds that have been barely used. (Another great way to save money is to sell them to others when you are finished with them!) Obviously if you use all of those diapers on 5 children, you will definitely save tons of money over the long-haul!!! There is another BIG factor though, you have to consider the washing of these diapers.
First there is a cost to run the washer and dryer. I will discuss this in depth later, but I figure this is about $10-20 on our electric bill a month. Then, there is a cost for the special detergent you need to use. I will discuss this in detail later too. For us, we make our own homemade laundry detergent which costs us pennies per load. We CAN NOT use this detergent for our cloth diapers. Typical laundry detergents contain brightners, fragrances, dyes, enzymes, fabric softener, and other types of additives that are left behind on the fabric. These chemicals and the soap in our homemade laundry detergent can cause rashes and repell the wetness causing your diapers to leak. We have to buy a clean and clear detergent which costs anywhere from $.17-$.30 a load. This adds up fast when you wash your diapers 2-3 times every other day. This is about $.40-60 every other day, making it $6-9 a month. I also add in things like Oxy Clean, peroxide, vinegar and Borax at times, adding to that total cost...so a total detergent cost of about $10-15 a month. So you are looking at another $30-35 a month on detergent. I do emphasize that you DO NOT want to use additives on your covers as it can wear them down. In fact, sometimes I take the covers out after the first cold wash. (A friend has informed me that she has used a cloth diaper homemade laundry detergent. I am still researching it. I will update this if I find that it works.)
Another cost is buying a diaper pail and liners. This is normally a trash can with a good lid and the liners are like $20 each. We have two we switch out. We also have a wet bag that goes in the diaper bag to hold the wet cloth diaper when we are out. They run like $10-15. Not a big cost, but a factor...although I guess many disposable using Moms use a diaper genie or some kind of pail too.
The last cost is that you will probably still use disposables at times. We use them at night when baby is sleeping through the night and going potty a lot. We also use them when we make trips to Ohio or are out for the whole day. I know many of my friends just take wet bags with them and use their cloth diapers. Sometimes it is just not convienent...like a whole day at the zoo...who wants to carry 6 wet diapers around!! If I am out for a short while, though I do carry my wet bag. Another time we use disposable is when the baby is sick with a lot of runny bowel movements. It is just nicer to not mess with 15 nasty diapers. For me, I also use NB diapers for a few weeks when baby is born to get my grip on things. Mommy healing and adjusting is more important than trying to throw another step in the mix.
So...we definitely save money, just probably not the thousands on 1 child that I thought we would. I can't wait to use them on my second child coming soon so I can see more return for our investment. Saving money is my main purpose, but another reason is the help for the environment. So many diapers go and sit in the landfills! If I can save even half the diapers I would have thrown in the trash by using cloth, it is worth it in my mind.
What do we do when we change a diaper?
If it is just wet, throw it into the diaper pail and put on a new one. If there is boom-boom, dunk it into the toilet and put it into the diaper pail. Some choose to buy a diaper sprayer for the toilet to help. Some people also choose to just dump a hard stool into the toilet and not dunk. Of course when you dunk this means pulling out some rubber gloves. If your baby is breastfeeding, their stool is water soluable, so it can actually go right into the washer, I hear. I'm not that brave with the hard stool. If it is soft or running like with a newborn...definitely it goes right in the washer. It may save you dunking though.
What do we use for a diaper pail?
My MIL use to use a wet pail. She would fill up a 5 gallon bucket with water and some detergent and soak her diapers. I use this sometimes but only with prefolds. You can not soak covers or pocket diapers with PUL. Typically I use a dry pail, especially with younger babes. I just take a trash can with a nice closed lid. With my first, I used a diaper pail liner by Wahmies to line the pail. When it is diaper washing day, I take the whole liner out with the diapers in it and throw them into the washer....liner and all. Sometimes the liner will cause condensation and end up making me clean the pail. Often times this is when I just do a wet pail for the next batch (remembering to keep the covers in a separate bucket or wet bag) to clean it out in the same step. With my newborn I am using a 5 gallon bucket with a lid from a hardware store and LOVING IT!
How do we wash our diapers and covers?
First of all, I buy covers with PUL inside so I can wipe them clean and use them again if nothing got on the leg part. I hand wash these often. When they get really dirty or boom-boom on them, I put them in the wash with my prefolds. I always hang them to dry to prevent drying out the PUL and damaging them. Sometimes I pull them out after the first cold cycle and hang them to dry.
Now for the washing part. First, you need a free and clear detergent (more below). Now, just dump your prefolds, covers and pail liners into the washer. Put it on a spin cycle to get rid of any remaining pee. Next, put on a rinse cycle to again wash anything away. Now, put it on the right size load on COLD. I use my normal cycle. The cold cycle helps to remove any stains. I put detergent in this load. If I am not washing covers or liners, I will sometimes add 1/2 cup vinegar to the load to help get out any stains. I will put it on an extra rinse to really make sure these are really washed out. Next, I do a HOT load. I sometimes add Oxy Clean FREE or 1/2 cup of Borax to the load and my special detergent, again only if there are no covers or liners in the mix. I add another rinse cycle and then an extra spin cycle to dry them out as much as possible.
-spin cycle to remove any excess pee-pee
-COLD cycle with detergent (sometimes I soak them by stopping it after it fills up with water)
-extra rinse cycle
-HOT cycle with detergent
-extra rinse cycle
-sometimes an extra spin cycle to dry them better
If you are having trouble with an ammonia smell on your diapers, here is a great site for help. Just remember that your covers can not go in a load with vinegar or other products besides your detergent.
Drying is pretty easy. If you have pocket diapers or covers, always hang them up. Prefolds can be hung or dried in the dryer. Hanging them outside can help with staining too. It's amazing what the sun will do with stains :)
NOTE: If you buy prefolds, you have to wash and dry them a couple times before the first use.
What about the boom-boom in the washer?
This was a concern of mine...sounds gross. I clean out my washer every week with 1 cup of vinegar to an XL load setting in HOT water. This probably isn't necessary, but I feel better when I do it. In fact, I do this about every 3 months if I am not cloth diapering too. It helps with any build up that may occur. You do need to make sure no large pieces of stool are put into your washer. Make sure to dump or dunk those diapers into the toilet before you put them in the pail. I hear that if you are breastfeeding that the stool is water soluable, so less likely there will be build up.
What kind of laundry detergent do we use?
Here is a great site for finding a good detergent. It has ratings for each. I suggest only getting a **** detergent. One detergent I use that is not on the list is Trader Joe's. My college roommate uses Charlies Soap and loves it. I plan on trying a new detergent this next time. I will update this with the kind I try. I have used just Borax. It is not sufficient on it's own. Sometimes I use it as a boost though. I have also used Melaeuca before I saw it's rating...terrible. If you don't use a free and clear kind, your diapers will leak from the soap and additives in it.
Another friend of mine suggested a DIY cloth diapering detergent. I have not tried it yet, but here is the site. The true test of a laundry detergent is to use it for at least a few weeks. It may take a while beore there is any build-up on them. Honestly I am a little skeptical of such a simple recipe, but willing to try it because I trust the friend who uses it. When I try it, I will update this with my personal experience using it.
I hope this helps many of you get started. Feel free to ask me any questions in a comment below. These are all my opinions and I imagine many cloth diapering Moms may even have different ideas. I know some Moms completely disagree about the saving money opinion I have, but these are the results I have found with our family. If you have different opinions, feel free to share those too!