As I had mentioned in my previous post on Choosing Cloth Diapers, if you don’t know much about the use and care of modern day reusable nappies, you might think adding this to the already long list of new duties as a parent is too overwhelming to consider. When I was expecting my first (only) child, I was hesitant, even though I agreed with the growing popular opinion that cloth diapering is indeed a more beneficial option to disposable. My main concerns were rooted in a lack of knowledge about what to get, and what the next two-three years of infant waste removal might entail. If you’re on the fence about what to do for your own little Hamster, you need to read on. Also, reading the previous post will help you get a better idea of what you’re looking at investing in and why you should consider cloth a real, attainable choice.
For the first few months of being the proud new mama to a baby who got about 2 hours to a gallon (okay, more like an ounce) of sweet, breast-fed milky goodness, my husband and I were happy to have been given the use of a cloth diaper service as a very welcome gift. This gave us enough time to adjust to all of the other expectations new parents navigate through, without having to deal with extra laundry while giving cloth a “test run” to see if it really was for us. If you’re interested in cloth and not yet sure if you should invest in your own, I highly recommend adding a diaper service to your gift requests.
Another benefit of being privy to the service of a company handling the cloth diaper clean-up was that I was able to watch and learn as the mamas in my baby group worked out the best and easiest ways to care for their dipes, and to see what I liked about the different kinds and suppliers of reusables they purchased. When our service ran out (Happy Island Diapers, for those of you living on or near Vancouver Island, BC), I felt confident that I was making the right, and easy, choice for our family’s needs.
Changing the Diaper
If your baby is still quite young, changing a cloth diaper is almost exactly the same as changing a disposable. Lay baby down on your change pad/change table/floor/seat of the car/protected couch/other available surface, and open the diaper up. If there is a “surprise” in there, use a couple wipes or wet cloths to clean up that butt, and throw the diaper in your diaper pail. If you have a pocket diaper, you’ll need to pull out the liner first so it will be properly washed once it’s in the machine. If you’re using tuckable diapers, the inside absorbent diaper goes in the pail, and the cover can be used again until it gets poop on it or you feel it needs to be washed (which would then just go right into the diaper pail as well).
So what exactly does a “diaper pail” entail?
The diaper pail is where you’ll keep the diapers that need to be washed. You can buy one like this, or you can make your own from a big bucket.
We simply washed and reused a large bucket from my hubby’s work with a lid that allows the rim of the diaper pail liner to fold around the outer rim of the pail, while still closing up tightly to keep the stink in. A hole has been cut in the lid, and a charcoal filter (we used one from a small compost bucket) was fitted in to allow air flow, while filtering out the smell of diapers.
We never put soiled diapers in the pail without first putting in a diaper pail liner bag. Basically, this is just a big, waterproof bag that keeps the pail clean and can go right into the laundry with the diapers.
Now, once your baby starts eating solid food (and “solid” is a very loose term here – it will probably be more mushy at first), you are going to notice a drastic difference in the looks, smell and texture of their “output”. This is where using cloth diapers takes a bit more dirty work.
Changing a “real poop” cloth diaper demands that you get that junk out of the diaper and into the toilet before tossing your reusable into the diaper pail. Once everything starts to get regular, it should pretty easily just fall out into the john, but sometimes it will need a little nudge. There are a few different ways you can do this: use a dedicated spatula (you won’t want to be using this to fry up your eggs after) to easily scrape the crap out of the dipe into the lou, use a bit of toilet paper to do the same, or invest in a handy-dandy diaper sprayer made just for this purpose, that easily attaches to your toilet without requiring a serious plumbing renovation.
*Note* While we originally thought a diaper genie was a silly sort of thing, especially for a family using cloth diapers, we now wish we had invested in one. If you are using disposable wipes of some sort (you can find my recipe for DIY natural wipes here), you will need a trash bin in the room where you do most of the changing to put the soiled and very smelly wipes. It is highly preferable if this container is air-tight and keeps odors from stinking up the room. Thus, what I believethe diaper genie must be like.
If you have other people in your life that might change a diaper from time to time, and they/you are concerned about them having to change a cloth diaper, don’t be. When I’m out or leave my little one in the care of her grandparents or friends, the diapers just get put into the to-go diaper bag as is, and I take care of taking out inserts and removing anything that needs removing when I get home. I even do the dirty work for my husband, who would have opted for disposables if he had to deal with anything beyond wiping up the mess.
After having my own poop-machine for the past year, feces bothers me much less than it once used to. It’s just poop. Wash your hands, and get over it.
Washing the Diapers
To keep your diapers in their best condition, you should be washing them every 2-3 days. Not a problem, as with 30 diapers (as suggested in my first post on Choosing Cloth Diapers) that will be about the time you start to notice your clean supply in dwindling and the bucket it reaching it’s brim.
Take the top off your diaper pail and grab the top edge of the diaper pail liner and pull it and it’s contents out of the pail. Don’t worry about touching anything dirty, as this top of the liner should have been folded over the outer rim of the diaper pail before the lid was secured on, keeping this part from getting messy.
If you’ve been removing the diaper inserts (for pocket diapers) before throwing the dipes in the pail, you have nothing left to do pre-laundry, but to pop the whole thing into your washing machine. If you’re using pocket diapers, I highly suggest doing this, as procrastinating and saving this for when you go to do the wash will make for dirty, messy, yucky work that I want to have nothing to do with. Pop the pail liner into your machine, open end first so you can push the diapers out of the bag while simultaneously turning the bag inside out for washing, without touching anything you don’t want to touch.
Close the washer door and select your settings. Cloth diapers should be washed in hot water, on “high” spin cycle, and unless you choose to soak your diapers in a wet diaper pail while they wait to be washed, a prewash will be necessary. For my machine, it’s as simple as pushing the “Heavy Duty” button, then adding a push of the “Prewash” button.
Add your detergent. For cloth diapers, it’s recommended to use a detergent free of enzymes, fragrances, bleach, brighteners, dyes and softeners. Here is a great chart that has quite a few great detergents and the breakdown of how they measure up to use on cloth diapers. Here is another chart, with fewer detergents, but featuring images to make it easier to spot your desired detergent in the shopping aisles. Below the charts are also some great information about why you might not want to use a detergent with the above-mentioned additives. Just before having my little one, I switched to Nature Clean unscented liquid laundry detergent, and have been happily using this on all of our laundry – including the cloth diapers – as it meets my criteria and is available in my grocery store (here on Salt Spring Island there are only two choices for grocers) for a reasonable price. You’ll only need to use a tablespoon or two worth of detergent. I know – is that really enough?? Yes, yes it is. The amount of recommended detergent to use on packaging is usually way more than you actually need. I’ve cut back on laundry and dishwashing soap for my machines, and guess what – everything still comes out super clean. Using just a little will save you money on soap, as well as save your cloth diapers from building up soap residue, which makes them less absorbent.
Dry those diapers. I’m assuming everyone had an easy enough time figuring to turn on your washer after adding the detergent, without me explicitly instructing you to do so. If not, do that. Then when the washer beeps to tell you your load is all clean, take the inserts out of the washer and pop them into the dryer, on a low setting. Apparently drying inserts on a higher setting will mess with the microfiber and make them less absorbent.The actual cover/diaper part is best hung to be air-dried, but when you need a fresh diaper quickly it’s not going to destroy it to throw one in the dryer on low for a couple minutes.If it’s summer and you have an outdoor clothes line, hanging the diapers in the sunshine – fleece side showing – really helps to bleach away any stains.
If you go the cloth diaper route I’d suggest using disposables for the first couple weeks as meconium is quite sticky and staining, so better to get that out before staining your cloth, and it’s nice to have a couple weeks adjusting to all the newness before you have to start washing diapers.
If you notice your diapers aren’t absorbing as well, are a little smelly, or are irritating your baby’s bottom, try using an extra rinse before drying. My washing machine has this option that I can choose when I start the laundry.
If the smell of your diaper pail when you open it in between washes is just too much, sprinkle in some baking soda to help deodorize.
If your diapers are coming out from the wash still a bit smelly, add a little bit of vinegar to your load for washing.
At night time, if you’re lucky enough to get a whole night’s sleep without leaving the bed, you can double (or even triple) up the insert to keep your baby and sheets dry until morning. To be honest, I switched from this to a disposable for night times once the heat of summer started as it got really hot in our house and I was doing everything I could to keep my baby cool. We’re still in the habit of using disposables at night, but I plan on going back to a double insert soon.
If you really dislike dealing with poopy cloth diapers, and your little one is fairly “regular”, you can put a disposable on them for that grunty time period. My babe was in the habit of filling her diaper during breakfast, so I would put a disposable on her first thing when she woke up. Life is about balance, and if anything you’re doing with your little one is causing you an overwhelming amount of stress to keep up with all the many things that need done in a day, switch it up. Don’t feel like a failure for doing what you need to do to be happy.
Good luck with diapering, whatever way you choose to do it, and feel free to throw a comment in the form down below.
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