Why I don’t hate cloth diapers

The guy waiting for me has his one-year-old daughter in one arm. In the other hand, he’s carrying a single disposable diaper and a svelte pack of wipes. My baby is fussing on the ballpark restroom’s changing table as I wrestle a giant diaper bag, wet wipes, dry wipes, a clean diaper, a wet bag and soggy diaper I can’t throw away because it cost $20.

I get Champ’s clothes back on, strap him back into the BabyBjörn, cram all my supplies back into the diaper bag and shoot the cool dad anapologetic look. Being the most flustered dad in a men’s room full of drunk Brewers fans was a low point in my cloth-diapering career.

Two months later, this is how we spend a good chunk of Mother’s Day weekend:

Over time, ammonia compounds and hard-water residues can build up in the diapers, giving them a nasty smell and decreasing absorbency. Boiling them gets rid of that junk, and that’s what Mom wanted for her Special Day.

Cloth wasn’t my idea. I resisted, but my wife beat me to the baby registry. People started buying us FuzziBunz One Size diapers. I wanted to throw them away and get some Pampers. But I’ve come around. I don’t hate cloth diapers.

Convenience issues: First of all, the vast majority of diaper changes happen at home. Champ gets a clean diaper before we go to lunch, to the store or on a hike. We’re usually home before I need to change him again, which mitigates the on-the-go convenience of disposables.

When we do change on the road, it’s easy to contain the smell. I once changed a poopy diaper in the forward lavatory of a 737 at cruising altitude. The whole mess went in a wet bag, which I stuffed in the diaper bag under the seat in front of me. Never smelled it again. Today’s equipment is high-tech.

Water worries: I also worried cloth diapers would be a huge waste of water. We have a high-efficiency washing machine, but every load of diapers takes three cycles to get clean. And here in Phoenix, there’s not a lot of water to go around.

Many cloth-diaper advocates cite the Landbank Consultancy’s analysis of a 1991 Proctor & Gamble study, which concluded disposables use 2.3 times as much water as reusable diapers. I’ll trust my water bill instead. Since we brought home a cloth-diapered baby, there has been no significant increase. In fact, this month was about $7 less than the same time last year.

Let’s get smug: I did the math. Even if we had paid for all our cloth diapers (some were gifts), we would have spent more on disposables after Champ’s fourth month of life. Right now, we pay next to nothing for diapers, and that helps offset my lack of a paycheck.

Even better, I’ve never had to make a panicked run to Walmart because we ran out of disposables. In your face, spring-training guy.

Best of all, Champ seems to prefer cloth. Once we put him in the FuzziBunz, he cried going back to Pampers. He’s had some mild cases of monkey butt, but no full-blown diaper rash. And these diapers have held in some insane amounts of poop.

Washing and reassembling the diapers takes a couple hours of work a week. It can be a little tedious, but it helped me discover a hidden talent:

That’s right. My wife says I’m good at stuffing inserts back into the clean diapers. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about self-esteem, it’s never to question the things your wife says you’re good at. Liek whan sh say I rite good in blog. my

So, happy belated Earth Day. And Mother’s Day. I don’t look down on anybody who uses disposables. Dealing with daycare and less time at home would make diaper maintenance much harder. Heck, I still use disposable wet wipes.

I just want anyone brave enough to consider cloth to know that it doesn’t suck. With a little extra effort, you can make a big difference for your baby, the planet and your bank account.

You’ve signed up to spend years cleaning excrement off the nether regions of another human being. You may as well feel good about it.

14 thoughts on “Why I don’t hate cloth diapers”

  1. We have an ‘he’ washer and are starting cloth diapers on our 6 week old (after a hiatus when they were irritating her umbilical stump). I was wonder how you launder your diapers, e.g. what your 3 cycles are? We’ve been having issues with poopy stains with 2 cycles (full cold cycle, then hot cycle with Rockin’ Green for Hard water plus extra rinse). Line drying helps, but wondering if a different wash tactic could help. Thanks!

      1. Hey Stephanie,

        Our cycles are: 1) Rinse-drain-spin only, cold/cold with no detergent; 2) Normal wash, hot/cold with a scoop of Rockin’ Green; 3) Normal wash, hot/cold with no detergent.

        Every so often, a formerly poopy diaper will have a little bit of a stain after washing. Most of them wash clean, and I attribute this to the fact that Champ still eats mostly breast milk.

        Do you spray off your poopy diapers right after a change? Also, have you tried Rockin’ Green’s soaking recommendations?

        We switched to the Rockin’ Green Soft Rock soap after installing a water softener. The thing came with the house, but it took six months of cloth diapers to convince us we should finally fire it up. I read a lot of message boards that said hard water contributes to a lot of build-up. So far, I don’t think has made a big enough difference to justify buying and installing a new water softener if you don’t already have one.

        As for boiling, we’ve only done it once. After about seven months, the diapers had a persistent stink even when clean. If you’ve got stinky diapers or a lot of leaks, it may be time to boil.

        Thanks for reading (and sorry about the delay),
        Tim

  2. Hey! Just discovered your blog. I am definitly going to have to get my husband to read this post. I’m trying to convince him that cloth is better for us in terms of saving money. We don’t have a baby yet, but are trying to get pregnant after a miscarriage. Can I ask you how many cloth diapers you go through in a day? Also, how often to you do laundry? I know of some who do their wash every other day and even some who have enough diapers to do just one wash day a week. Overall, how many diapers would you reccomend investing in? Thanks!!

    1. Hey Lisa!

      We have a total of about 30 cloth diapers, all FuzziBunz One Size or One Size Elite. We wash diapers about every three days. I’d say 10 diapers will get you through one day, with one or two diapers to spare. With a little luck, you might get a few diapers as gifts and not have to buy so many yourselves.

      My one complaint about the FuzziBunz is we can’t get them to work well overnight. No double-stuffing configuration seems to keep Champ from soaking through if he goes all night without a change. I’m not sure what FuzziBunz recommends. I’ve heard Bum Genius diapers work well overnight, and some people swear by hemp inserts. Right now we’re trying Huggies overnight disposables, but I’m not wild about that as a long-term solution.

      I’m sorry to hear about your miscarriage and wish you and your husband the best of luck growing your family.

      -Tim

  3. Update:
    Well, I am pregnant again, ten weeks to be exact! I’ve bought a few BumGenius one size already. I figure I’ll buy a couple of them every month until my baby shower, then I’ll see what we get and if I need to, buy the rest until I have atleast 30 of them. I am also going to buy some pre-folds and covers in case the BG’s don’t fit as a newborn. I have heard they can run a bit large for NB’s. Hubby is totally on board now for cloth diapering. Do you guys have a diaper sprayer? If so what brand do you reccomend? Your kid is uber cute!

  4. Oh yeah, one last thing. How do I get hubby on board with baby wearing? I just bought this Jeep baby carrier on ebay for an amazing deal ($11) with the intent of him and I wearing the baby when needed and he still doesn’t like the idea… he is a huge Jeep fan and we own two of them, so I thought if I bought the Jeep carrier it might nudge him towards being more open to it. Your thoughts? Oh and I need a good manly diaper bag suggestion too. 🙂

    1. Hey Lisa,

      I just noticed I hadn’t responded to this comment. For me, baby wearing just made a lot of things easier. I could work around the house, go to the store or go on a hike, and Champ was happy to chill out in his BabyBjorn Air. It’s way easier than holding a baby for an extended period of time.

      As for a diaper bag, we got a custom-color large Timbuk2 messenger bag. Shortly after we bought it, Timbuk2 launched something called the Stork, which comes with a changing pad and baby-bottle amenities but looks rugged and manly on the outside.

      http://www.timbuk2.com/tb2/products/stork-diaper-messenger-bag

  5. Hi Tim. So glad I stumbled up on your blog. It’s so great to know someone’s else’ beginning-of-cloth-diapering story is the same as ours 🙂 I just wanted to ask you how long you boiled the diapers for to get the stink out? We have hard water and have no intention of purchasing and setting up any soft water, so I plan on boiling every few months once my 4mo starts getting a bit bigger and into solid foods. I have heard the snaps can melt in the boiling water too, did you notice any of that, or just frequently stir? I have boiled bamboo inserts to avoid all of the continuous washes to prep them and it seemed to go well….just coated my pot with the oils…eh! Anyway…

    I was going to mention that, being a person who has now tried almost every type of cloth diaper available on the market for my very heavy wetting 4mo, I highly recommend picking your favorite pocket diaper and stuffing with one charcoal bamboo and one bamboo insert. Hemp inserts are definitely nice, but they don’t absorb as quickly. If you pour water on it to test it (I have done this with all my different types of inserts) it sits on the surface for a moment and then absorbs. If you pour water onto bamboo is soaks it right up…and doesn’t have any compression leaks like microfiber and hemp will have…so you may check your baby while he’s laying down and he doesn’t have any leaks, then you pick him up and sit him on your arm and would’ya know? Him sitting down caused a compression leak. So, it’s a proven fact that bamboo would be your best option…particularly charcoal bamboo. My daughter can go 11+ hours with one CB and one bamboo as mentioned before. Good luck! No reason to have to change in the middle of the night, especially when you have to wake your sleeping baby to do so.

    1. Thanks, Jori! We boiled the diapers 3 at a time for 10 minutes. We found the process goes much faster if you bring a second pot of water to a boil while your diapers are boiling – that way you’re ready to go for the next batch. With hard water (and even with soft), you may want to try using some Calgon in your washer. FuzziBunz recommends it, and it seems to get the diapers whiter.

      We did have some problems with snaps after our first boil. It only affected a couple of diapers. I think frequent stirring would prevent that.

      Is there a brand of charcoal bamboo inserts you recommend?

  6. I found this while searching for washing machines with a boil cycle, and I only want to wash regular clothes. Hard to imagine the type you have to wash. It’s crazy to me that you can’t find good washers in the US with a boil cycle. They’re common in Europe (wash at 205 F, so not technically boiling but close). I’ve been trying to find one but the only ones I’ve come across are imports like Asko that seem to have a bad record of after-purchase support in the US. It seems like Miele which is a pretty famous German brand doesn’t even sell ones in the US anymore with a boil cycle. You can get clothes really clean without bleach. And the machines in Europe are so much smaller looking. In the US we have these big, junky, Cadillac type washers that don’t really do much and have weird gimmicky features no one needs.

    1. Hey Marcus,

      I think a lot of top-end washers in the U.S. offer something called a “sanitize” cycle, which sounds a lot like the boil cycle you’re describing. Sadly I bought my washer long before I ever considered cloth diapers, or else this would have been a must-have feature. Because washing diapers in near-boiling water on a regular basis is probably the best way to eliminate build-up and odor.

      -Tim

  7. Hi! I know this is an old post, but I just wanted to point out for anyone who may be reading…boiling diapers is not recommended. It can damage not just the snaps, but the waterproof lining as well. A good wash routine prevents any smell or buildup in cloth diapers. Rockin green is also not a recommended detergent. Check out fluffloveuniversity.Com and the Fluff Love Facebook group for more info!

    1. Thanks, Kate. My family has outgrown diapers now (thank goodness), but Fluff Love looks like a great resource. We used Rockin’ Green because it was recommend on the manufacturer’s website (Fuzzibunz), but I agree it didn’t do much to get the diapers clean. In fact, we stopped using cloth with our daughter because she had eczema. A better detergent may have helped.

      We also ruined at least one diaper during boiling. And boiling diapers is way more of a pain than washing.

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