NOTE: Two tips added at end of post.
In my last two posts I talked about reasons to use cloth diapers: environmental friendliness and saving money. If you're like me, you feel good about being good to the earth, but you really feel good about saving money. But you're also busy and practical--things have to work for your life or sorry, we'll find another way to pay for the better way. I hear ya. Whatever our reasons for trying cloth, if it wasn't working for us, we probably wouldn't still be doing it.
And so I'm here to assure you today that cloth diapering is not rocket science. It is a little more work--a load of laundry every few days--but it is not hard. After all, my fancy-schmancy automatic washing machine does most of the work. My mother had to wash my diapers with a ringer washer. And then there's all the African nannies hand-washing for a whole orphanage without running hot water . . . yeah, my laundry routine's not too bad. The hardest part of cloth diapering for me was figuring out what to buy and what detergent to use. Now it's resisting the urge to buy more of our favorite diapers!
Guilt-free note before we go on: Please don't think that I'm one of those Cloth Diaper Nazis who thinks everyone who doesn't use them is so callous to the health of the world and their child that they probably also burn tires in their backyard trash pit and wipe their baby's bum with battery acid. I don't! I realize I'm blessed to be able to work at home where I can throw wash in at odd hours and that this would be harder for those who work full-time/outside the home or for those who don't have easy access to laundry. In those situations maybe I never would have tried it either. But I do think that many people never even think to even try cloth because of misconceptions--that washing uses the same resources (not true), that it's not really cheaper (definitely not true), and that they don't work well and/or are nasty to take care of (read on, my friend).
In a nutshell, here's my diapering routine:
- Put clean diaper on child.
- Child soils diaper either immediately or at least convenient time possible (ready to leave house, ready to fall asleep, ready to thrash like a bucking bronco when placed on changing table).
- Take off dirty diaper, set aside, clean child with baby washcloths wet with water.
- Put clean diaper on child, release child back into the wild.
- Take diaper and wipes into bathroom, drop poop into toilet if any, throw diaper into trash can lined with waterproof fabric wet bag.
- On the third day wash again, in accordance with instructions.
My diaper pail is a cheapo plastic trash can with flip lid. It's lined with a wet bag I bought online. When it's laundry time, I pull out the bag, take it to the washer, and dump everything out by turning it inside out and putting the bag right in the wash too, so I don't have to touch the dirty diapers. I make do without an extra bag to alternate or a smaller one to travel with, though those would be nice extras. We do also keep a small trash can with lid in the girl's room for any disposable wipes and dipes we use. I find this smells far worse than the cloth pail (although having to keep the bathroom door closed all the time because of the little girl's toilet obsession is not preferable).
I do laundry about every three days, or whenever all my favorite diapers/the best overnight diapers are used up. Buy more, wash less often, but only up to a certain point or they will get kind of ripe, of course.
I basically wash my diapers twice: (1) cold presoak/cold wash; (2) hot wash on "stain cycle" that has an extra cold rinse. We have a high-efficiency front-load machine so I use very little detergent, about 1 tablespoon on the first wash, and maybe a few drops of tea tree oil which is a natural disinfectant. For the second wash I don't even have to open the washer, just go out and put in half as much detergent as the first time and restart the washer (time elapsed: 30 seconds. Told you this isn't hard.).
When I first started I couldn't find a great detergent and had a tendency to use too much, which can cause it to build up on pocket diapers (will explain in next post) if not rinsed out well enough. Most detergents today are too good in the sense that they have all kinds of whiteners and brighteners and enzymes (and--again--petroleum products!) which actually build up on fabrics, so you want to use a cheapo store brand powder one or something more natural. At our health store I found Country Save, which is recommended for cloth diapers and as a bonus, environmentally friendly/biodegradable. At this rate the box will last me years, but if I ever use up my other stuff, I'll probably start using it on everything.
When I did have build up problems from too much bad detergent and diaper rash cream (oops! a fish-oil kind got on my pocket dipes), I "stripped" my diapers with blue Dawn dish detergent in a hot wash. I had to do a few washes and extra rinses but haven't had problems since. Once in a while I just use a little Dawn in my second wash instead of detergent--I've even heard of people just using it all the time. Who knew the power of Dawn? (Note: I'm told it has to be Dawn and it has to be the original blue kind.)
Okay, while I've been giving y'all too much information, the washer has been doing all the work for a couple hours. I put down the bon-bons, turn off Oprah, and go throw everything in the dryer except the covers (because keeping them out of the heat will make them last longer). I select for "damp dry" on medium-low heat and return to Oprah. By the time Dr. Oz is done lecturing me about healthy eating, I have finished my ice cream and the dryer has stopped. I pull out everything that's dry--wet bag, pocket diaper outsides, fleece liners, washcloths I use as wipes. Basically everything that's colored comes out and whites stay in, so it's easy. What's left is things with thicker materal that need a bit more time on high heat--prefolds, fitted diapers, pocket diaper inserts. (This may make more sense after I describe my diapers, next post.)
When everything is dry, I take it in my daughter's room and leave it in a pile on her toybox for a few hours or days. But eventually I get some organizational urge and go put everything away. I may or may not fold my prefolds but I usually stuff the pocket diapers so they are all ready to go, easy-peasy all one piece just like a disposable.
I am looking forward to line drying more often as the sun returns to these parts, because (did I mention?) I'm cheap, plus sunlight is a miraculous cure for any stains or odors that sneak through.
And really . . . at least when it comes to diapers . . . what could be more satisfying than this?
Stay tuned for our next thrilling installment, in which we will attempt to answer that most burning of questions: What the heck is a pocket diaper?
EDIT: I forgot to mention two things:
1. Plain ol' white vinegar in the rinse cycle helps with detergent buildup.
2. If poop removal scares you, you can get biodegradable/flushable rice paper liners to lay inside the diaper. Then you just grab the paper and throw/flush it all away. (But if you use a piece of fleece or a pocket diaper with fleece inside, it really does just fall right off anyway. Anything that doesn't, I'm not touching, scraping, or dunking. That's what washers are for.)