Cloth Diapers: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

I used cloth diapers for my firstborn, 6 years ago.  I remember happily purchasing my first 18 BumGenius pocket diapers, and setting off on my cloth diapering adventure.  I got them for two main practical reasons: to save money and waste since we were living on a lance corporal salary and had to take our own trash to the dump.  They worked great!  Once I got them stuffed, which took about 30 minutes per week, they went on just like disposables, and my husband even liked using them.  I got some diaper liners to catch most of the poo, rinsed a little if necessary, and washed like all our other clothes.

Everything was wonderful for a year and a half, but then the leaks started…  I was pregnant with our second little one and we were getting ready to move to a new duty station- I did not have the time or energy to deal with finicky diapers.  So, I switched to disposables and worked on potty training.  I packed up the cloth diapers and promised myself I would start cloth diapering again once we were settled in to our new place.  Six months later I was at my wits’ end dealing with a surprisingly fussy baby with a strange rash, and cloth diapers were the last thing I wanted to deal with, so I continued to use disposables.  We later learned that our second born had allergies to milk and eggs, which had caused the rash and fussiness, so I spent my time revamping our diet to cut milk and eggs out of most of our meals and learning new recipes for snacks and desserts.

Over a year later, I was still trying to settle in, dealing with food allergies in our little one, and pregnant with our third.  I started doing some research on how to fix leaky cloth diapers and figured I would just clean up the diapers in time for the new baby and start fresh.  Well, in case no one has told you, having three kids age 3 and under is actually not the best time to try to troubleshoot difficult diapers… add to that our third’s more serious food allergies to milk, eggs, soy, and peanuts- and the extreme elimination diet he and I had to undertake in order to determine those allergies and clear up his full body rash and failure to gain weight- well, thank the Lord for disposables once again!

Now, after a time of healing for our family, freedom from most of the food allergies, and a move to the country and my dream home, we have yet another little blessing to diaper, and I’m finally tackling those cloth diapers again.  The reasons are basically the same- my husband finished his contract with the Marine Corps the month before our baby was born, and was unemployed for a few months, so disposable diapers were the last thing I wanted to spend our savings on.  We don’t have trash pickup out here in the country, so I’m also more conscious about all those bags disposable diapers fill up so quickly.

I did some research on how to bring new life to old, leaky diapers, and found that the most common way is to strip the diapers of any detergent residue that might be stopping the absorbency of the fabric.  There are several ways to “strip” diapers, but the way I tried was to wash them in hot water with the washer set on the highest volume setting (“super” on mine) for 5 or 6 washings, then hang them in the sun to dry and naturally bleach and sanitize.  Now, in my original honeymoon with these diapers I had mistreated them rather badly.  I used a high efficiency washer, which is not best for washing diapers in the first place, because diapers need a good amount of extra water to truly get clean and to rinse out all the detergent.  Then diapers often smelled a little off after washing, so I started adding vinegar to every load to help deodorize.  Well, apparently vinegar also negatively affects the absorbency of the diapers.  I didn’t do much research about what detergent to use, but at least I did use a gentle, natural detergent instead of something with added scents and such.  The worst thing I did was that I dried my diaper covers in the dryer.  This damages the special water proof fabric on the outside of the cover.

I think stripping the diapers did help the microfiber inserts to regain most of their absorbency, but when I tried to stuff the inserts into the covers and use them like I used to, the liquids just ran right off the inner fabric of the covers and out through the leg holes.  I was so bummed.  I set them aside for a couple weeks and used some disposable diapers that had been given to me by a friend.  When I was almost out of those disposables I had an idea- Why couldn’t I use my pocket diapers just like old fashioned diapers, with the insert against the baby’s bottom and the cover wrapped around on the outside?  I tried it and it worked beautifully!  So now I simply lay the insert on top of the cover, wrap the cover with the insert inside around baby’s bottom, fasten, and move on with life!  The diapers very rarely leak and have been good at containing even somewhat explosive baby poo so far.  Sometimes I rinse the poo off, but at this point it’s still runny breastmilk poo, so it doesn’t seem to make much difference, and I often just toss the whole thing in my diaper bucket.  I use a simple 5 gallon bucket to hold my dirty diapers, and when it starts to get full I know it’s time to wash diapers.

I now have a good method for washing the diapers.  I start by running a super wash cycle with warm water and about 1/2 cup of washing soda with just the diapers.  This takes care of poo residue and pee smell.  Then I add some diaper safe detergent (I use Nellie’s laundry soap or my homemade laundry detergent and they both get the job done) and regular clothes and run another wash cycle on cold.  This way I get diapers and clothes clean without wasting water or energy.  I hang up the covers and dry the inserts in the dryer.  Yes, my inserts have poo stains, and no, I don’t mind.  I’ve never been very good at removing stains from clothes or diapers, and I figure that there is no point spending time and energy on getting stains out of something that is just covering a baby’s bottom.  I did buy two Best Bottoms diaper covers that my friend recommended, and I love that I can just wipe them out and reuse them with new inserts several times between washings- they are high quality covers and I think they will last a long time.  They are made to have specially made inserts snap in to them, but I just use the inserts I have with them.

These are just my little shortcuts to make cloth diapers that I thought were at the end of their usefulness be useful once more.  I hope they help and encourage those who may be struggling with making cloth diapers work with a growing family.  I only spend a few more seconds each diaper change than I would using disposables, and a few minutes tossing the diapers in the washer every other day, and it saves me the time, money, and trouble of buying diapers at the store or ordering them online.  It also saves my husband more than a few trash runs to the dump.

I guess you could say, I’ve had the good diapers, the bad diapers, and now I have the ugly diapers.  But hey, at least I have diapers that work for me! =)

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