The Cloth Diapering Manifesto

Since my first daughter was born we’ve been a cloth diapering family. While we were initially interested in cloth diapers for environmental reasons, the more we learned about disposables the more scared we were of them. With the knowledge we acquired we could not use disposables in good conscience. Here are a few reasons for you to consider:

1. Cloth diapers are healthier for babies. 1) As is the norm for cloth diapered babies, we’ve never had to deal with diaper rash. 2) A 1999 study linked disposable diapers to asthma and eye/nose/throat irritations. 3) The plastic lining in disposable diapers has been linked to both testicular cancer and male infertility in several studies. 4) The chemicals used in disposable diapers – including chlorine bleach, petrolatum, perfumes, stearyl alcohol, cellulose tissue, sodium polyacralate — are not subject to government testing or approval. No one really knows the long term effects of keeping these chemicals so close to baby’s skin 24 hours a day for three years. The polyacrylate gel in diapers is a relatively new additive but it is known that this chemical steals moisture from baby’s skin and studies strongly suggest that this chemical may cause asthma. Still not convinced? Sodium polyacrylate is the SAME substance that was removed from tampons because of its link to toxic shock syndrome. Yikes.

2. Cloth diapers are better for the environment. I am not saying that cloth diapers have a zero impact on the earth, but their impact is lighter than using thousands of disposables per child. Let’s face it, human beings create waste — it is our job to minimize the impact our waste makes on our planet. The manufacture and use of disposables uses 2.3 times more water than cloth. Disposable diapers are the third largest consumer item in landfills, representing about 4% of solid waste sitting in our earth. No one really knows how long it takes for a disposable diaper to decompose, but estimates range from 250-500 years all they way up to forever (meaning they may NEVER decompose). According to the EPA, cloth diapers total 2.7 million tons of garbage sitting in landfills. If the diapers aren’t cloth — they’re garbage.

3. Cloth diapers will save you THOUSANDS of dollars. I spent about $500 upfront purchasing the diapers and support items. On average, parents will spend $3000 for disposable diapers during the 2 1/2 – 3 1/2 years babies are wearing diapers. BONUS: If I take good care of the diapers, I can reuse them for future kids, so the cost per use will continue to decrease.

4. Cloth diapered babies are potty trained much sooner. Because babies in cloth diapers feel wet when they pee, they usually understand the concept behind potty training at an earlier age. Disposable diapers are so absorbent that kids don’t even realize they have a dirty diaper.

We use a few different kinds of cloth diapers — chinese pre-folds (these are the “classic” cloth diaper many people think of), SwaddleBees, Bum Genius and Terra Baby. Cloth Diapers like Bum Genius and Terra Baby are called “pocket diapers”, which means that an absorbent insert is stuffed into the shell before use. This insert is removed prior to washing. They are easy to clean, very absorbent, and beyond simple to use.  In fact, a lot of people call them “husband friendly” because using them is really no different from using disposables. Husbands, babysitters, grandparents can all use these without thinking twice.  BONUS: they have snaps that make them adjustable, so they will “grow” with your baby. The 25 you buy up front can be used until your baby is potty trained!

Here’s my routine:

1. If it is a pee diaper, I take it off the baby, remove the insert, and put both pieces into a pail that is lined with a waterproof bag.

2. If it is a poop diaper, I take it off the baby and dump the poop into the toilet (something you should do even with disposable diapers because landfills are not equipped to handle human waste). You can buy a little spray nozzle that attaches to the toilet to help remove all the poop. I then drop the shell and the insert into the diaper pail that has a pail liner.

3. Every three days I wash all the diapers (and the pail liner) in hot water. I use just one tablespoon of Charlie’s Laundry Powder. It is really important that you use this soap because is doesn’t cause build-up on the diapers. Build-up will negatively affect the absorbency of the diapers so please do not ignore this. It might seem like you need more soap or you need to wash them more than once, but the diapers WILL be clean and they won’t smell!

4. I hang dry the shells and put the inserts into the dryer. Once everything is dried, I sit on the floor and pleasantly chat with the little one while I stuff the inserts into the shells.

Smell really isn’t a problem for two reasons: 1) all the solid poop is dropped into the toilet, taking the stink with it and 2) you are washing the diapers every three days or so. If you notice that the diapers aren’t as fresh as you’d like, add a cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle next time you wash them.

Here are the tools:

Terra Baby One Size Pocket Diapers (about 25 will last you three days): http://terrababy.com/collections/all

Diaper Pail Liner: http://terrababy.com/products/sky-blue-diaper-pail-liner

Toilet Sprayer: http://astore.amazon.com/homemamother-20/detail/B000ZKHVMU

Diaper Pail (or just get a Rubbermaid garbage can with a lid at Target like I did!): http://astore.amazon.com/homemamother-20/detail/B000134XZO

Charlie’s Soap: http://astore.amazon.com/homemamother-20/detail/B0018B15FE

Wet Bag (this will hold used diapers when you are out of the house): http://terrababy.com/products/carnation-pink-wet-bag

I hope all of the above doesn’t overwhelm or discourage you. I remember feeling confused when I first started to educate myself on this, but pretty soon I had a routine and it is NO BIG DEAL now. Honestly, the only extra work is a couple extra loads of laundry every week. I’m here for you if you ever have any questions — get started now and I’ll be asking you for tips and advice!

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Written by Maureen

More posts by: Maureen

40 Comments for this entry

  1. Kami says:

    AWESOME post!!! We've been using the bumgenius 3.0's on our 7 month old since he was big enough for them to fit. We love them!

  2. Amber says:

    We LOVE cloth diapering over here too!

  3. andiscandis says:

    Two things:

    #1- I'm pregnant with my second baby and I'm looking to add some diapers to my stash (currently all Fuzzi Bunz smalls and mediums). Are the Bum Genius adjustables REALLY good for tiny newborns? I just feel like they'd be too bulky. Just wondering before I buy.

    #2- I briefly switched to disposables two months ago. We were traveling constantly (camping) and had no facilities for washing diapers plus I was struggling with morning sickness and thought I would save myself some hassle with disposables. Know what? They were HARDER than cloth. I couldn't tell when my daughter was wet and she had constant diaper rash. Plus, I kept running out of the things and had to keep going to the store to buy more! Too much work.

  4. Courtney says:

    Great post!

    We used bumgenius 2.0 because the 3.0 weren't out yet. We loved them! I have to admit they didn't fit perfectly for the first 3 weeks, but they have grown with Charlie ever since. Whenever we've used disposable (broken washer, traveling, etc) Charlie gets a rash.

    I wish more people would realize what a practical and responsible option cloth diapering is!

  5. Katinagj says:

    Awesome post, thanks for this info. Me and my husband decided a long time ago when we have kids we will be doing cloth diapers. I didn't know any of this info on them though. Definitely good to know and just one more reason I'm going to be using cloth!!!

  6. TheGirl says:

    fantastic information! It can definitely be overwhelming. We planned on cloth diapering from the beginning and people kept telling me I couldn't do it so it took me 5 months to switch. I'm so happy I switched!

    http://www.thegirlisamom.com

  7. Suzy and Dan says:

    My sister Mimi just came to visit me and my partner in Australia where we live and brought us all the bumgenius 3.0 supplies and I am so excited to have my little one and start using them! I am concerned that they won't fit for awhile when she is really small…. what do you use for the first month or so? Thank you for all of your great advice! You make it all seem easy and natural and it gives me confidence too!

  8. HomemadeMother says:

    Hi Suzy! Evelyn was also a little too small for the BumGenius for the first 6 weeks, so we used Nature Baby Care brand diapers (we still use those when we go out of town for long trips). They don't have any chlorine bleach. I have been really happy with the overall quality of these diapers. I hope you can find them in Australia.

    If you ever have any questions about cloth diapering don't hesitate to shoot me an email at maureen672@gmail.com

    Best of luck with your labor and delivery – and the 18 years that follow!!

  9. Margo says:

    Great post about cloth diapers!

  10. Carrie says:

    Thanks for the link – I'm doing research about switching from disposables to cloth – I have a 27-month-old boy (so the easier potty-training advantage would be helpful there), and a 3-month-old girl – cloth diapering has been very overwhelming to me in the past, but now I'm at a point where I think I could handle it as a part of my routine.

    My hubby had a question – what do you do when your child is out – like in the church nursery? Could I just say, "put it in the wet bag" even if it's dirty & then take care of it at home so it wouldn't be any more work for the nursery workers?

  11. HomemadeMother says:

    Yes, you can leave a dirty diaper in the wet bag until you are back home and able to clean it. I do this all the time and never have a problem with it.

  12. The Steffens says:

    LOVE this post! Going to show it to my husband immediately.

  13. HomemadeMother says:

    If your husband needs a tutorial just let me know! I'm always happy to share my love of cloth diapering with anyone willing to listen :)

  14. Jayme says:

    Thank you for this! We are getting ready to switch our 2 month old from disposable to cloth and are starting with the BumGenius 4.0. The care instructions say to wash the diaper in a cold cycle and a hot cycle and to rinse twice. Is this necessary?

    • Maureen says:

      I have used the same set of Bum Genius diapers for almost 3 1/2 years (we started with my daughter and the same diapers are now being used for my son), and I’ve always just washed them once on the hottest & heaviest cycle available on our washer. They come out clean and non-stinky. If I notice a lingering odor, I just add vinegar to the wash next time. While I wouldn’t necessarily advocate going against manufacturer’s suggestions, we haven’t necessarily followed them and its worked out fine for us.

      And, BRAVO to you for making the switch to cloth! Your daughter’s bum thanks you…and so does the planet!

  15. zenilda thompson says:

    does Charlie’s soap powder get poop stains out? I’m sick of spending money on diapers so with our second baby I’d like to get more serious with cloth diapers. I don’t have a system so I end up using disposables when I run out of inserts…. think I need more inserts.

    • Maureen says:

      Yes, Charlie’s powder gets all stains out. I’m using the diapers I used on my daughter on my son now, and they are still stain free after nearly 4 years of constant use.

      I have pretty much one insert per shell – you cannot reuse pocket diaper shells over and over – they must be washed along with the insert.

  16. Rebecca Galles says:

    Do you have to use Charlie’s soap or can you use the laundry detergent recipe that you came up with?

    • Maureen says:

      I am very loyal to Charlie’s Soap. When I learned all about cloth diapering I was warned very strongly about the build-up conventional detergents can leave on cloth diapers. Charlie’s was very highly recommended to me, and its served me very well during the past four years of cloth diapering!

  17. zenilda thompson says:

    Ok Maureen. I bought the bumgenius and Charlie’s Soap! :) wish me luck! I bookmarked your site so that I can have your instructions ready if I need them! Thank you so much for your advice!!

  18. Rebecca says:

    Just got my new Sun Baby diapers today and the Charlie’s Soap came a couple days ago! So happy to have more diapers and the correct soap…can’t wait to start using them!

  19. Amy says:

    I am planning on using cloth diapers on baby #2. I had planned on it with baby #1 but never followed through. The more I read the more I realize how easy cloth will be. I’m just having a hard time figuring which diapers to use. I like the idea of pocket and all in ones. Baby #2 will be going to a home daycare. I want easy and convienance but also ones that work well. Any suggestions will appreciated. I’m book marking this site for sure, article was extremely helpful! Thanks!

    • Maureen says:

      Hi Amy,
      Cloth diapers are a very personal choice. I tried prefolds and several different brands of pocket diapers before realizing that pocket diapers are my preferred style.

      I like them so much that I recently started my own cloth diaper business, http://terrababy.com/. These the the diapers I now use on my little one. I designed them to be affordable and very easy to use. Please check them out :)

      Good luck with Baby #2. Get some sleep while you can – haha!

      Maureen

  20. Andrea says:

    Hi! I’m pregnant with my first baby and I talked to my husband about cloth diapers and how convenient they are for many reasons ( my sister uses Fuzzy buns), right now we are living in Brasil and I’m trying to research everything about it, the one thing that seems like a problem is the soap, I know it’s important to use the right soap but I know I’m not gonna find Charlie’s Soap here :) do you think that Coconut soap will be find? that’s what I have been using, it supposed to be for delicate skin and baby clothing.
    Thanks!

    • Maureen says:

      Hi Andrea,
      I am not sure about coconut soap. Whatever soap you use cannot leave any residue behind or else you might have problems with absorbancy and smell.

      Thanks!

      Maureen

  21. Raisa Lefe' says:

    Hi Maureen:

    We are expecting number 3 and I am so glad I’ve found your site with such useful information-Thank You!

    I am wondering: What is the difference between the Bum Genius 4.0 and the Elemental? Am I correct in saying the Elemental doesn’t need an insert? I am really confused by the description/info given on their site. Thanks in advance for your advice!

    Here’s the diaper I’m referring to:
    http://www.cottonbabies.com/product_info.php?cPath=98&products_id=4401

    • Maureen says:

      Hi Raisa,
      Thanks for your message! Congrats on baby #3! That is wonderful :)

      I only have experience with Bum Genius 3.0 (the kind with velcro – don’t think they make it anymore). I recently launched my own brand of cloth diapers, http://www.terrababy.com. My goal with Terra Baby is to make cloth diapering affordable and easy for all families. Hope you’ll check it out!

      Maureen

  22. Claire says:

    Disposable diapers do not cost $1,000/year. I spent $1200 in the three years that my son was in diapers, and if I had had the couponing skills back then that I have now, I could have spent a fraction of that. My son potty trained in two days at age 3, including nighttime potty training. I could have trained him at a younger age, but I did it at age 3 because it was convenient for me. I respect people’s choice to cloth diaper, but there should be a way of promoting it without spreading misleading information and being derogatory toward people who use disposables (and we have valid reasons for doing so).

    • Maureen says:

      The disposable diapers I was considering (Nature Baby Care) cost $.23 – $.40 per diaper. At 8 diapers a day, that comes to about $1,000/year. Thanks!

  23. Joy says:

    I used Charlie’s Laundry Soap for a while, it got the diapers clean enough, but my daughter had a bad rash ongoing. I called customer service at Cotton Babies and when I told her I was using Charlie’s, she told me she gets a lot of calls about that, rashes with Charlie’s. I stripped the diapers and switched soap and the rash went away immediately. I’ve used both Country Save powder and Planet liquid with excellent results.

    • Maureen says:

      I’ve found that so much is dependant upon water type (hard/soft) and washer type (front/top loader). When we had a front loader, the Charlie’s did not work unless I added a few cups of water to the machine. Now that we have a top loader, the Charlie’s works wonderfully. I’m so happy to hear you found a soap that works for you and your situation!! Cloth diapering does involve a bit of trial & error before you find a routine that works for your family.

  24. Claire says:

    I forgot to mention: my son (who has very sensitive skin) had one diaper rash in his life. It was when he got his first two teeth. He got diarrhea from teething, and this caused a yeast rash. It cleared up with some over-the-counter lotrimin.

  25. Claire says:

    Hi Maureen, yes there are definitely costly disposable diapers on the market. I just wanted to show that there are alternatives. I appreciate your printing my comments. As I said, I have a lot of respect for people who cloth diaper. If I were ever blessed with another child, I would consider it, probably a hybrid method (with a disposable insert). I appreciate your recommendations for the laundry soap, as I have always been concerned about the diapers disintegrating, so it’s good to know that there is a tried and true detergent that is safe. I have to say that at this point, my biggest obstacle in cloth diapering would be that I get so confused every time I read comparisons among all the different options. But anyway, the chances are slim that I will ever have another baby, so all this is just speculation. Again, thank you for printing my comments.

    • Maureen says:

      Of course I would share your comments. I am not offended by people who have a different opinion than I do – differences are what make life interesting!

      And, I do agree that the cloth diaper info on the internet is totally, totally overwhelming. The truth is, cloth diapering really isn’t all that difficult, but some parents like to make it seem like it is some sort of exclusive club. Part of the reason I started Terra Baby, my line of adorable and affordable cloth diapers, was because I wanted to simplify the whole process. I just want everyone to at least consider cloth before jumping right into disposables.

      Hope you have a wonderful day!

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  27. Katie says:

    Thanks for this post. I have 2 questions. I have been using Tide Free and Clear for my GroVia diapers for approx. 3 years. I am not sure if there is build up or not (sometimes they leak, sometimes they don’t). If I switched to Charlie’s, do you think it would eliminate the build up at this point? I’m trying to figure out if this is a necessary switch. My 2nd question is: What kind of cloth diaper do you suggest for night time? Thanks!

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