This doc is pretty long and contains a lot of research and realizations we’ve had about using cloth diapers now that we’re ten months in. Overall, I think cloth diapers are pretty easy to use and I’m really happy with our decision to go this route. If you just want to see what we actually use, skip to the "Cloth Diaper Tools: What we Got" section.
People use cloth diapers for a variety of reasons. The two main motivations tend to be cost savings and environmental impact. We were almost entirely motivated by environmental impact, thus you will notice our cloth diapering strategy definitely isn’t the cheapest. In fact, if you bought really basic diapers, I suspect you could spend on par or maybe even less than we did. However, if we have a second kid, we can reuse all our cloth diapers, so it might be cheaper overall. That being said, cloth diapering certainly can be cheaper (especially if you get cloth diapers used), but honestly as soon as you pay for one month of daycare, the cost of diapers pales by comparison. Anyways, this is to say that our diapering strategy is good if you want something (1) environmentally friendly (2) effective at containing poop (3) easy to use without a lot of experimentation during what is a pretty stressful time.
During my initial research, I did wonder if cloth diapers were the most environmentally friendly option given that you have to wash them and there are “compostable” options out there. From what I can find, the energy/water cost of washing diapers is minimal compared to actually manufacturing and shipping diapers although you’re kind of comparing apples to oranges. Pretty much any time I found an article saying disposable diapers were more environmentally friendly it seemed to be written by someone trying to justify why they used disposable diapers or by “big diaper”. Also, so-called compostable options like Dyper aren’t all that great because unless you’re actually paying to ship them back for composting, they still contain a lot of the materials that don’t break down in landfills. The bottom line is that even if you aren’t convinced about the energy/water costs of disposables vs cloth, disposable diapers definitely take hundreds of years to break down in landfills so that thought alone was horrifying enough for us to go cloth.
Observations on Disposable Diapers
We used disposable diapers a couple times in Elodie’s life. The first time was right after she got home from the hospital before her umbilical cord had fallen out. I’m not totally convinced we absolutely needed disposable diapers, but it was a lot easier to keep them clear of the umbilical cord because newborn diapers have a special fold for this. Anyways, it takes about a week for the umbilical cord to fall out, so it might be worth using disposable diapers here.
The other time we used them was when we traveled to a place where we couldn’t easily do laundry. Elodie was about 3 months old on this trip and I definitely felt good about using cloth diapers after our disposable experience. First, disposable diapers have a weird chemical smell (which is because they’re made of a lot of random chemicals). I’m sure it’s not dangerous, but I certainly prefer outfitting Elodie in some nice organic cotton rather than random chemical diapers. The other problem we ran into on this trip was blow-outs. We had zero blowouts with cloth diapers and at first I just thought these other babies I heard blowing out just had crazy bowels, but it turns out that the two layer cloth diapers were just doing an amazing job holding everything in. The first disposable diaper that Elodie wore resulted in us having to wash her clothes and stroller, which was not great. I’d much prefer to wash some cloth diapers than having to unexpectedly clean poop off myself or worse a carseat or something that is super hard to wash.
Cloth Diaper Selection: Why we used Esembly
Based on pretty extensive research, we ended up using Esembly diapers. They’re not one of the biggest names in cloth diapers, but I was swayed by the fact that they claimed to be blow-out proof (Reddit agreed with this and I can confirm) and Esembly was originally a company that laundered diapers so they offered a detailed laundry solution. One of the things that I found difficult when I was doing diaper research was that there weren’t a lot of manufacturer instructions for laundering. There are TONS of reddit threads and blogs, but it was hard to get a consistent story. I’m not sure my fear was necessary, but I was concerned about not being able to properly clean diapers so I was okay with trading more money for a system that had specific laundry instructions (including washing powder). I have to say that in our washer using Esembly’s washing powder, our diapers get really clean. They smell clean and don’t even have poop stains.
The other advantage of Esembly diapers is that they have cotton inner liners. A lot of diapers are fleece lined. The pros of fleece lined diapers is they dry a lot faster (Esembly diapers take two full dryer cycles or a dryer cycle + air drying to dry). However, the downside of fleece is that petrolatum based diaper creams can damage the material while they can be more easily washed out of cotton. You might think to yourself, whatever, I’ll just use one of these natural diaper creams made of beeswax instead. That might totally work for you, but if you have a baby like ours who pooped six times a day, diaper rash is sort of inevitable and you really need something like Desitin to achieve relief. Another thing we used is bamboo liners for our diapers. These help to catch some poop, which makes clean-up easier, but they also prevent a lot of diaper cream from getting into the diaper itself.
Overall pros/cons of Esembly diapers:
- Really are blow-out proof
- Cloth inners give you diaper cream options
- Snaps make it easy to put the diapers on (no pins or anything)
- Laundering system is effective and reduced our laundry stress
- Two sizes (7lbs-17lbs and 18lbs-35lbs) means that the diapers fit newborn babies
- Fun patterns!
- More expensive option
- Inners take a long time to dry
- Two sizes means you need to buy two sets of diapers
Cloth Diaper Tools: What we Got
As a newborn, we did diaper laundry every other day. Now that Elodie doesn’t go through diapers as quickly, we wash them every three days.
- 24 size 1 inners (7lbs - 17lbs)
- 12 size 1 shells (note that before Elodie went to daycare, we actually just had 6 shells and that was fine, but we like having extras to send to daycare, so having 12 has been nice)
- 24 size 2 inners (18lbs - 35 lbs)
- 12 size 2 shells
- 4 overnight pads (these were helpful once Elodie started sleeping through the night)
Dirty Diaper Storage:
- 2 dekor diaper pails (especially with the size 2 diapers, we’ve needed two of these to contain all the diapers between laundry cycles)
- 4 reusable dekor diaper pail bags (these fit in the diaper pail and you can just throw them in the laundry with your diapers)
Extra Diaper Stuff:
- As mentioned, we use these disposable bamboo liners. They make poop cleanups easier and prevent diaper cream from getting into the diapers. These aren’t totally necessary, but they are kind of nice especially when you start getting into more solid poop situations
- Desitin daily defense has been our favorite diaper cream
- We like the seventh generation baby wipes - they’re a bit more expensive, but they seem to retain moisture better, so I actually think we end up using fewer of them
- Baby washcloths are really useful for drying off your baby’s diaper zone after you wipe and before you put on diaper cream. This is important if you’re in a diaper rash situation because putting on diaper cream on wet skin just makes the problem worse.
- For storing clean diapers when we go on walks/visit friends, we use these reusable wet/dry bags
- If we’re out, we put our dirty diapers (wipes, poop, and all) in doggie waste bags and just deal with it all at home
- We bought one of the Esembly dry bags and we actually just use it as a regular diaper bag. We do stick our little doggie bags of dirty diapers in the outside pocket when we’re out.
- For trips where we have access to laundry (visiting family, etc.) we use cloth diapers. We use these large waterproof zippered bags (one for clean diapers, one for dirty diapers). They seem to contain the smell pretty well, although I wouldn’t leave them lying on a wooden floor because I don’t 100% trust the PUL material since we do run these through the wash
We opted not to use the reusable wipes. I think in retrospect, we probably could have used them (and might try them in the future). We do have one of the mini dekor diaper pails that we use for wipes and the diaper liners. Even if Elodie is home all week, we pretty much only need to take it out once a week, which is a testament to how little waste our diapering produces!
Many daycares will not use cloth diapers. However, ours was willing to use them. We try to make things as easy as possible by prepping the following for them each day.
- We have a medium size plastic container with a lid that we keep everything in. We send it in with a dry/wet bag of fresh diapers and daycare sends it back with the dirty diapers. We wipe it down with disinfectant spray every night. (This is actually a requirement from the DC health board)
- To make it easy to figure out which snap setting to use, we put snap blockers in the inner and shells to indicate where the diapers should be snapped. Unfortunately, these can’t really be run through the wash (we tried once and lost a couple snaps) so we have to remove/replace them every time. We also fold the liners hot-dog style and put them into the snapped diapers
After daycare, we do have to go through and remove the snaps, throw out any liners daycare didn’t discard, and rinse off any really pooped diapers in the toilet before putting it all in the diaper pail. We also wipe down the plastic container.
Overall, we really haven’t had any problems with the cloth diapers at daycare. We do send a couple extra in at the beginning of the week and generally daycare will send us home with everything at the end of the week so we can keep track of it all.