Cloth Diapers: What Works for Our Family

Our first child was already out of diapers when I wrote about why we use cloth diapers and all the details of our cloth diapering equipment and procedures.  Some of the specific products we’d used were no longer being made even when I wrote the articles, and others have changed or become unavailable since then.

Now that we’ve been cloth diapering our second child for almost five months, I’m going to explain what equipment we are using and loving this time–and a few things that haven’t worked out so well.  This is not a sponsored post.  I did not receive any free products in exchange for writing this.  All opinions are my own.

Our basic diaper system for Lydia is the same as what we used for Nicholas: We use fitted diapers with snaps, waterproof diaper covers, doublers as needed, cloth wipes that are flannel on one side and terrycloth on the other, small wetbags for transporting used diapers, large wetbags for lining a stainless steel trash can with foot pedal that stores the diapers until wash day, and environmentally friendly laundry detergent. 

Newborn Diapers

Although “one size fits all” fitted diapers are available, most newborn babies are so tiny that those diapers are absurdly bulky on them and likely to leak at the legs.  We were glad that we’d bought infant-size diapers for Nicholas and switched to the one-size when he was several months old–but of the 3 brands of infant-size diapers we’d had, two are no longer made, and the other is kind of expensive.  I asked for recommendations on a discussion board and learned about Cloth-Eez Workhorse fitted diapers.  These were great for Lydia’s first four months!Cloth-Eez Workhorse fitted newborn diapersThey cost less than $6 each–even if you choose the organic ones–as compared to $10 or $12 for most brands.  I was going to buy the organic, unbleached kind, but they happened to be out of stock when I was ordering, so I bought the ones made of conventionally grown cotton whitened with chlorine-free bleach (no dioxin).  I bought 3 dozen and washed them every 3 days.

Workhorse diapers come in 5 sizes.  This newborn size did indeed fit Lydia up to the promised “11 or 12 pounds” and even a little beyond; we completely stopped using them a week after her 4-month checkup, when she weighed 14 pounds.  She was 7 pounds 1 ounce at birth.

These diapers have 2 snaps on each side, which can be overlapped by 1 snap (as shown in the photo) for a tiny baby.  The double snaps help to keep the diaper in place so it doesn’t sag down in the front or back and doesn’t come off if one snap pops open.  These diapers do not snap down in front to fit around the umbilical cord stump, as some newborn diapers do…but Lydia did wear them before the stump came off; I just folded the diaper out of the way as best I could, and I was handling her carefully to avoid pushing on the stump anyway.

Workhorse diapers have a soaker flap: Some of the layers of absorbent fabric are in a flap that’s sewn to the body of the diaper near the back and lies flat inside the diaper.  Because the absorbent layers are in two sections during washing and drying, they get cleaner and dry faster.  I put these diapers on the drying rack with the bar in between the flap and the body of the diaper.

The leg elastic is nice and snug, without being too tight.  We had only occasional leaks of poop into the diaper cover, but even when Lydia was really too big for these diapers they were not leaving red marks on her thighs.

Workhorse fabric is 100% cotton and is quite stiff after line-drying, but tumbling the diapers in the dryer makes them soft.  Sometimes I had to dry them in the dryer to satisfy my fastidious daughter’s demand for clean diapers, but even when I had time to let them dry completely on the rack, I then gave them a 20-minute “fluff” cycle (tumbling in the dryer with no heat) to soften them.

These diapers deserve their name!  All 36 of them are definitely in good enough condition to pass on to another baby.

One-Size Diapers

The comfortable, durable, reasonably-priced, one-size-fits-all diapers we’d had for Nicholas are not only still available but now come in colors!  Lydia is now using 3 dozen Mother-Ease one-size diapers, a dozen each of unbleached cotton, purple, and green.  Of course, it doesn’t really matter what color a diaper is, but having some variety makes diaper-changing a more interesting and happier time for me.

Mother-Ease one-size diapers

These are all the available colors, other than unbleached and white.

The colored ones are white on the inside, so there’s no worry about the dye touching baby’s delicate parts.  The colors did not run or fade at all when I first washed them.

These diapers do not have elastic.  Instead, the entire diaper is stretchy!  The terry cloth has a stretchy base layer which is synthetic, but the layer that touches baby’s skin and the outside layer are soft terry like a plush towel.  They are soft enough after line-drying, but tumbling in the dryer makes them really luxuriously soft.  The edges are covered with cotton rib-knit that feels quite comfy.

These diapers have many snaps for excellent adjustability.  At this point my 15-pound baby is wearing them with the front folded down and the side tabs snapped onto all 4 snaps–but she’s no longer so skinny that we have to overlap the side tabs.  As she grows, we can snap the side tabs onto just the end snaps of that row (there’s enough fabric next to the snaps to protect her skin from unused snaps) and then leave the front up and use the row of 6 snaps.

diapers snapped to different sizes

Mother-Ease one-size diapers can be snapped differently to fit different sizes of baby.

The crotch of the diaper is kind of wide for a small baby.  Make sure to stuff all that fabric inside the diaper cover to avoid leaks!

Diaper Covers

We tried a bunch of different waterproof covers on baby Nicholas, and we were thrilled to find that the ones that worked best were the least expensive!  Dappi nylon diaper pants come in packs of 2 for $6-$7–half the price of most other diaper covers.  (The link goes to Bumms R Us, where I’ve been buying them for this baby.)Dappi nylon pantsThese simple covers pull on over the diaper, like underpants or like the rubber pants I can just barely remember wearing as a toddler.  They are made of nylon fabric, similar to an umbrella, not rubber or vinyl or any such heavy plasticky smelly substance.  The fabric is very thin, adding no additional bulk to the diaper, and is slippery so that clothes easily move over it.  Leg and waist openings are trimmed with spandex that is gentle to baby’s skin (no red marks until baby is seriously outgrowing the cover) yet does an excellent job of containing messes.

Dappi covers come in 5 sizes.  Even with one-size diapers, you need to change sizes of covers as baby grows because the baby, as well as the diaper, needs to fit inside the cover, and it’s not adjustable.  Lydia was using both newborn and small size covers for a while because the newborn ones gave a nice close fit over the newborn size Workhorse diapers but did not completely cover the Mother-Ease diapers.  Because these covers only come in white and all the sizes look very similar, when I get a new size I make a mark inside the waistband with a different color of permanent marker than I used on the previous size; this makes it easy to sort out the old size as they come through the wash.

We had 4 of each size cover for Nicholas, and when one got soiled we’d wash it in the bathtub and hang it on the towel rack.  Now that we’re changing diapers downstairs where the only sink is in the kitchen, Lydia has 6 covers in each size, and soiled ones go into the diaper pail to be machine-washed and hung on the clothesline.  They dry very quickly, but because they might wait up to 3 days to be washed, it’s good to have extras.

Dappi pants also can be worn over underpants when a toddler is toilet-training but you want to protect clothing, furniture, or car seat from stains.  (Dappi pants will contain a little “oops” but not a full bladder release into underpants, because they don’t absorb very much.)  Also, if you need to use disposable diapers for a while when traveling or to clear up a rash, use Dappi pants as well to prevent the “blowouts” to which those inferior fake diapers are so prone!

Are plain white covers boring?  Yes, kind of, but it’s nice not to have to worry about colorful covers showing through or clashing with baby’s clothes.  Our baby usually wears clothes, except in really hot weather, so we can’t see the cover anyway.  The thin white fabric of Dappi pants is somewhat translucent, though, so when Lydia is wearing one of her green or purple diapers, the cover has a pastel appearance.

Diaper Doublers

Doublers are extra layers to place inside the diaper for extra absorbency, to prevent leaks and keep the baby more comfortable.  So far we are using a doubler in Lydia’s diaper only at night, to try to keep her dry enough that she won’t demand a diaper change before dawn!  I remember that at some point as Nicholas got older, we began using a doubler in every diaper and a big doubler that folded in thirds for nighttime.

The doublers we have now are Oso Cozy brand.  (I’m not linking because the manufacturer does not have a separate page for this product, and the site where I bought them isn’t stocking them anymore.)  Basically, they’re just several layers of cotton fabric similar to the Workhorse diapers, stitched together in a 4″x14″ rectangle.  Basic.  Effective.

Mother-Ease sells snap-in doublers that attach to their one-size diapers.  These are more expensive than doublers without snaps, but staying in place when you open the diaper would be a nice feature.

We do not use any type of “stay-dry” fabric on doublers or diapers.  I don’t trust the safety of synthetic fibers for my children’s delicate organs, and in my own experience wearing synthetics in that area is uncomfortable.  Also, feeling wet when you have wet your diaper is an important motivation to stop wetting your diaper and learn to use the toilet!

Cloth Wipes

We use cloth wipes that we moisten with plain water, stored in a bottle with pop-up spout.  Nicholas has some great wipes, terry on one side for scrubbing, print flannel on the other side for soft wiping and cuteness, which he still uses for nosebleeds. We thought it was totally reasonable that he didn’t want to share them with his sister!  Unfortunately, that brand is no longer made, and all the flannel+terry wipes I could find for sale were boring plain white, very expensive, or persistently out-of-stock.  I really wanted the assorted prints just for my own amusement.  Of course, it would be easy to make our own wipes–they’re just squares, and we do have a sewing machine with serger–but Daniel and I were so busy, and I was so tired while pregnant….

Laura to the rescue!  When my friend heard of my silly first-world dilemma, she volunteered to make our baby wipes as her new-baby gift to us.  She knew of a store with a great price on baby washcloths (lightweight, small-loop terry that doesn’t get too stiff) in assorted colors, and she matched those up with some flannel from my worn-out pajamas, Lydia’s grandma’s worn-out nightgown, and her own fabric stash.  Now we have about 50 beautiful, colorful wipes!  They actually get me excited about wiping poop, and I enjoy arranging them on the clothesline, too.

Wetbags

The only diapering supplies from our now-9-year-old Nicholas that we reclaimed for Lydia’s diapering were Bummis wetbags.  These heavy nylon bags with drawstrings are great for stashing damp things, such as used diapers or soggy clothes.  In our 7 years without a child in diapers, we’d been using them for wet swimsuits, muddy shoes, laundry while traveling, and (the big ones) sleeping bags.  We had 3 small bags and 2 big ones.  Bummis now makes a different type of wetbag and apparently doesn’t make these anymore.

Unfortunately, both of our big wetbags rebelled at being brought out of retirement and expected to line a diaper pail again, and both of them burst apart at the bottom seam before I finished my maternity leave.  (Is there any way to fix them?  What could we do with the fabric?  Please comment if you know!)  I replaced them with other brands, which I don’t like as well….

Both of our new pail-lining wetbags are made of polyurethane laminate (PUL) instead of nylon and have elasticized tops instead of drawstrings.  One is Thirsties and one is Wahmies.  The elasticized top is not especially good at staying in place around the diaper pail–it pops off pretty often.  Thirsties’ bag has a strap you can snap around the neck of the bag (after twisting it), but Wahmies’ has no way to keep it closed, so you can’t travel with it or leave it standing around after removing it from the pail.  PUL is a thicker fabric than nylon, so if not carefully arranged it bunches up and prevents the lid of the diaper pail from closing all the way.  After machine-washing, the elasticized top keeps some water in the bag, which tends to dump on me as I take it out of the machine.  The PUL bag takes a full 48 hours to get completely dry on the clothesline, even longer if I forget to turn it inside-out after 24 hours.  Both bags are good at holding in the diaper moisture and odor, but I don’t like them nearly so well as the nylon drawstring type.  (Thirsties also makes one of those, as do several other companies.  They tend to be more expensive, but I guess they’re worth it!)

Detergent and Stain Remover

We have been using plant-based laundry detergent for all our laundry since 1998, and diapers are no exception.  Cotton diapers (unlike some of the synthetics) are compatible with pretty much any laundry detergent, so we’ve just washed them with whatever detergent we are using on our clothes.  Lydia’s diapers so far have been washed with Seventh Generation, Kirkland Signature earth-friendly (it seems Costco has discontinued it), and Ecos detergents.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been experimenting with squirting Biokleen Bac-Out stain & odor remover on dirty diapers before putting them in the pail.  It seems to reduce the bright-yellow stains from breastfed-baby poop by about 80%!

Cloth diapers are working for me!  Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for other less-wasteful approaches to living.

About 'Becca
author of The Earthling's Handbook, about the environment, parenting, cooking, and more!

20 Responses to Cloth Diapers: What Works for Our Family

  1. Thanks for the info. We’re cloth diapering our little one who will arrive any day now. We already have prefolds, covers, wipes, etc. that we’ve been given, but I’ll keep these specifics in mind in case we need to adjust any of the products we are using.

  2. Great detailed post! My mom made cloth diapers for my sister and I when we were kids, and I imagine I’ll do the same (although I’m not keen on cleaning them😉 ). I’m featuring this tonight on Waste Not Want Not Wednesday, so thanks for sharing it!

    • 'Becca says:

      Thanks! Getting the diapers clean is not as awful at it may seem, mostly a matter of dumping them from the bag into the washing machine, and then you come back and they have turned into clean diapers.🙂

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  13. Jan says:

    Thanks for the information. I’ve seriously been considering the workhorse diapers. I was just wondering though, does the whole diaper get soaked (as in around the waist band as well) or is it mainly contained in the middle section?

    • 'Becca says:

      If you change the diaper promptly, only the middle/bottom part will be wet. But there is nothing to stop the fabric from wicking, so if you wait to change and the diaper is significantly wet, it will get damp all the way up to the part you have to grab to unsnap it. That’s not the most pleasant, but remember, your hands are washable!

      • Jan says:

        Thanks for the prompt reply! That’s good to know. I was concerned that the baby might get uncomfortable, but if I can get to it quickly that should be okay. I was thinking of trying their prefolds, and the Kisaluvs newborn nappies as well to see which I liked best. It is so tricky!!

        Thanks again.

        • 'Becca says:

          Kissaluvs makes great diapers! I had their newborn size for my first child. Now Lydia has a few of their larger ones. They have a really high quality, soft, absorbent fabric–takes a while to dry, though.

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