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Cloth Diapering FAQ

Why should I use cloth diapers
What are the different types of diapers?
What about those diapers at the Superstore?
Aren't cloth diapers really gross and dirty and smelly and do I have to touch poop?

Which type of diaper is right for me?
Can I use cloth while traveling?
Do cloth diapers cause diaper rash?
Are they really less expensive?
What about the environmental impact of laundry?
Will my daycare use cloth diapers?
Help! My diapers are leaky/stinky/not performing.
What's so great about Hemp?



Types of Diapers and Options

It can definitely be confusing when you first start looking at all the different options available to you! However, you have basically four options.

1) Prefolds and covers. Prefolded diapers are squares of cotton with a thick absorbent layer in the middle. They must be folded around your baby and fastened, or they can be laid into a cover and held in place by the cover. Prefolds are fairly inexpensive. They require a separate cover, as well as some learned skill.
2) Fitteds and covers. Fitted diapers are like all in ones but without the waterproof layer. They need a separate cover to be waterproof, or can be worn as is around the house. Fitteds are generally inexpensive, but can take a long time to dry.
3) Pockets with inserts. Pockets are as easy as All In Ones once they've been "stuffed" with the absorbent layer. They are easier to wash, faster to dry, and longer lasting than all in ones. Pockets are handy for when you're out and about. They are more expensive than fitteds or prefolds with separate covers, cheaper and more versatile than AIOs.
4) All In Ones. The most like disposables. Many people find these to be the easiest to use, and like to have some on hand for babysitters, grandparents, even father! The drawbacks are that they can be more difficult to clean and they don't last as long.

Covers: Covers come in three materials - PUL, wool, and fleece. They come in two styles. Wrap-style or pull-on. Covers provide a waterproof layer to protect baby's clothes (and yours) from wetness.

Consider purchasing just a few of each type of diaper and trying them out. After a few days or weeks of use, you'll probably develop favorites and find that some diapers sit in the drawer to be used as a last resort. Once you've decided what you like, then you can buy more!

What about those diapers at the Superstore?

The diapers at baby superstores are generally not good for real cloth diapering. The major manufacturers realize that most people buy "cloth diapers" to use as burp cloths, so they've made those "diapers" much less absorbent. I do not know a single person who stuck with cloth diapering when all they used was diapers bought at a superstore.

That said, as long as you stay away from the polyfill-filled "prefolds," the flatfold and thin prefolds sold at the stores are not all bad. They're just not as absorbent as the good quality diapers. We actually use some cheap flat diapers as super trim and not too absorbent diapers inside wrap covers when we need waterproof protection with minimal bulk.


Aren't cloth diapers really gross and dirty and smelly and do I have to touch poop?

This is the most common line of questions I get asked, believe it or not. If you have these concerns, you are not alone! And you can also rest assured that your worst fears about cloth diapering will not be realized.

All diapering has an ick factor. You have to deal with baby's poop whether you use cloth or disposables. For a breastfed baby, it couldn't be easier - messy diapers go straight into the pail. For a formula or solid fed baby (or toddler), any solids can be shaken or scraped into the toilet. This is NOT a big deal, and no poop needs to go on your fingers, or anywhere else. For extra ease, you might consider purchasing disposable liners. This extra step is more than cancelled out by the fact that cloth diapered babies experience far, far fewer instances of diaper blowouts. And those are seriously messy.

As for smelliness, cloth diapers are not any more smelly than disposables. Consider, if you will, that several companies specialize in making little bags that will individually wrap used disposable diapers for the express purpose of keeping the odor contained - and you can still usually smell them! Most cloth diaper families use a diaper pail with a lid that closes tight, thus sealing any odors in. Washing every 3-4 days helps keep odor under control. If you feel that your diapers are particularly stinky, there are several products available on the market specifically to spruce up your diaper pail.


Can I use cloth while traveling?

Absolutely. Do not be put off by advice suggesting that using cloth while out of the house or while traveling is too much hassle. I have found that it's actually quite easy. When running errands, pack your diaper bag with a few diapers and covers, a few cloth wipes, some water or homemade wipe solution in a bottle, and a wet bag for wet or dirty diapers. It's just as easy as using disposables.

For travel, pack as many diapers as you think you'll need plus a few. For a weekend trip, I usually take a few dozen diapers and 5 covers, plus two nighttime diapers and a wool soaker. This is more than enough, but my "be prepared for everything" personality insists that I overpack just in case! Toss a large wet bag or a small bucket with lid in the car and you're good to go. (Before I started using wet bags, I used an old ice cream bucket. This is a good excuse to buy a gallon of ice cream. "But honey, I need a bucket for our trip to Aunt Jane's house!")

For a longer trip, I plan to visit a laundromat every 3 days. In July 2004, when Wally was 3 months, we went camping (in a tent) in Utah for just over a week. I did laundry 3 times. We left on Thursday and returned the following Sunday - I did laundry on Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday. I could have skipped the Friday laundry, but I wanted to be sure we had enough clean diapers to get home! All I did was pack a duffle bag full of diapers, covers, and wipes; a few plastic bags for wet/dirty diapers on the go; and a 5 gallon bucket. A 3 gallon probably would have sufficed, but I own a 5 gallon bucket and I do not own a 3 gallon one. If I had been using nice wet bags at the time, I would have just used one of those!

In July 2005, when Wally was 15 months old, we went camping in Wisconsin for a week. At this point, we only used diapers for back-up, but were uncertain what to expect on a trip. I packed a few dozen diapers, 5 covers, several pocket diapers for convenience, a dozen wipes, my large wet bag, and a changing pad. We did laundry twice. 

PS, if you're camping, I strongly recommend rinsing out diapers that are just pee diapers, then hanging them to dry before putting them in your wet bag or pail. This will cut down on odors significantly. If you're not afraid of the ick factor, rinsing out the poopy diapers is also not a bad idea.

Need tips on washing diapers at a laundromat?


Do cloth diapers cause diaper rash?

Not at all! Disposable diaper companies would have you believe that rash is caused by feeling wet, but it's actually caused by a combination of factors, including heat and bacteria in the diaper area. Since cloth diapers allow more air circulation, thereby reducing heat, they actually help reduce diaper rash. Another factor that can contribute to diaper rash is sensitive skin. Disposable diapers contain various chemicals and chemical by-products of the manufacturing process, not to mention the gel substance, which can cause many babies to break out in a rash. Cloth diapers, free from these chemicals, can help clear up rash in babies with sensitive skin.

Even Procter & Gamble's studies show that diaper rash increases with the increased use of disposable diapers ("A Review of Procter & Gamble's Environmental Balances for Disposable and Re-usable Nappies" The Landbank Consultancy Limited, 1991).

Regardless of the type of diaper used, newborns should be changed every 2 hours max, and older babies and toddlers should be changed every 2-4 hours. (Generally speaking, disposable diapered babies are changed far less often, partly because it's hard to tell when they're wet, and partly because caregivers often feel that the super absorbent disposables "can hold a lot more" than just one pee.)


What about the environmental impact of laundry?

For a discussion of the cost of laundry, please visit the cost comparison page at WP Diapering!

There is no doubt that laundry causes an environmental impact. There is no zero-impact method of dealing with human waste (even using the toilet involves water and water treatment). But if we're looking at what causes the least amount of environmental impact, it seems clear that cloth diapers win. The Real Diaper Association has an excellent run-down of the various environmental costs of disposable diapering. After looking through that list, two or three loads of laundry per week pales in comparison.


Will my daycare use cloth diapers?

The only way to know for sure is to ask them! If you're using a daycare center, they might try to tell you that state law prohibits cloth diapers in the center, and they might actually believe this, too. However, at least in Iowa, there is NO law against using cloth diapers in a daycare or group care setting. Many customers have found that chatting with their daycare provider in advance and showing them how easy it is to use cloth diapers has helped to change a reluctant care provider's mind.

If you know that you want to use cloth diapers before you start looking for a daycare provider, include this in your interview questions. Then you can narrow your choices to just those who are willing to work with you regarding cloth diapers!

You also increase your chances of having success by choosing a diaper system that makes it easy for the daycare. Prestuffed pockets or all in ones are perfect for this situation.