This is the next post in a series about getting started with using cloth diapers. If you missed the first post, you can circle back here.
Cloth diapering a baby has changed since the days of our mothers and grandmothers. Gone are the diaper pins and stinky pails full of diapers soaking in the laundry room all week. Cloth diapering can be done quite economically or you can turn it into something of a hobby and amass a collection of beautiful prints. If you’re considering using cloth diapers or switching to them, it can seem pretty overwhelming as far as where to start and the day to day maintenance. (The products I’ve linked below are affiliate links, which means if you decide to make a purchase from this page, a small portion will come back to me to help fund our laundry budget, and at no additional cost to you!)
The Baby Has Pooped, Now What?
That seems like a super basic question, but it’s actually something you’ll need to consider. Let’s first talk dirty diaper storage. Depending on how many diapers you have, you’ll wash them every 2-4 days and until that time, you’ll need some place to keep them. There are two schools of thought on the type of storage you’ll want to use and, as with everything else dealing with babies, it is probably going to come down to trial and error.
You can go with a tightly sealed can with a lid to keep any flies or little fingers OUT and any smells IN. Alternatively, you can use more of a laundry basket style with holes to promote air flow and prevent mold. Diapers in this type of pail will dry out faster and tend to smell less once they’re dry. Which ever option you choose will probably come down to what works best in your family.
There’s also the subtle questions of where to keep the diaper pail. Many of you will set up a gorgeous changing table that matches the baby’s dresser and crib, decorated with the trendiest colors and patterns and topped with a minky covered memory foam changing table pad scented with lavender and unicorn farts. Approximately 3 hours into being home with baby, you will discover the changing table is a complete farce and it is faster, easier and more convenient to just change the baby where ever he is when you discover a dirty diaper. All that is to say, keeping the diaper pail next to the changing table in the baby’s room makes a lot of sense. Unless you tend to change you baby just where ever is most practical at the time. Trust me, when they start to roll over, a changing table becomes more and more pointless.
So… Will I Have to Touch Poop?
Yep. And I have news for you folks (and this really should not come as a huge shock) but you will deal with poop regardless of if you throw it in the trash or throw it in the washer. I hate to break it to you but, babies looovvveeee to poop. They also like to poop when least expected. They enjoy making the poop come from and spread to places you didn’t know existed. If you are a parent, you will touch poop, it doesn’t matter what your diapers are made of.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s dive a little deeper (is it OK to talk about deep diving and poop at the same time?). I have good news and I have bad news; the good news is poop that is comprised entirely of breastmilk is 100% water soluble. This means that if your baby isn’t eating any solid or pureed foods (or formula!) you can take your dirty diapers and just toss them in the wash as is. You don’t even have to touch them again if you don’t want, you can just dump the pail right into the washer and call it a day
Remember how I mentioned the bad news? And all the if’s in that last part? Well if your baby is taking any formula at all or has moved on to eating solids, even if it’s in addition to breastmilk, then you’re going to need to revisit those dirty diapers before they go in the wash or your machine is going to be very sad. And possibly very broken.
Before You Wash
The way I see it, you have a couple of options here as far as your timeline and as far as your method. You can rinse your diapers right after you take it off the baby or you can wait until just before they go in the wash on wash day. This really comes down to personal preference and your diaper pail setup. Personally, I just wait until wash day. We tend to change diapers in the living room most often and I don’t want to go upstairs to the bathroom to rinse the diaper and then bring it downstairs where we keep our diaper pail. As baby gets older, poops will become more solid and what the cloth diapering community refers to as “ploppable”. This just means you can dump most of what is in the diaper straight into the toilet.
If your baby isn’t eating many solids or is still breastfeeding quite a bit (alert: breastfed baby poops tend to be soft and mushy, even when they are eating solids full time) and you can’t “plop” as much, you will have to figure out how you want to rinse your diapers. Many people use a special attachment on their toilet, kind of like a bidet, and spray it there. This seems pretty easy but when you factor in the amount of water pressure needed, the angle at which you’ll need to aim while holding it above the commode… well, you can see how this might get a little splashy. That’s why some genius invented the Spray Pal.
Let’s Get to Cleaning!
Diaper laundry is a science. I’m not kidding, and there are entire other websites and facebook groups and experts devoted to understanding this science and helping you figure out how to properly clean your diapers. Nobody wants a stinky baby, and nobody wants a baby exposed to yucky stuff from their diapers. And, just like any science, there are a ton of variables to consider when you plan your wash routine.
- Water Hardness – This is a big one when it comes to getting diapers truly clean. If you have hard water, you can develop a mineral buildup that ultimately prevents your cloth from absorbing. Which kinda defeats the purpose. Adding a laundry booster like borax or calgon can correct this issue.
- Detergent – And I use the word “detergent” very specifically, because it’s something different than soap. PSA: You cannot use homemade laundry “detergent” on cloth diapers. I mean you can, but it’s not effective, and you’ll be putting dirty diapers back on your baby- that’s because the homemade stuff is just soap, not detergent, and it does not clean the bacteria left behind in a dirty diaper. This is unfortunately one of those areas where it does not help you to be crunchy. There are a lot of green or environmentally friendly detergents that will work instead. Also, you may be surprised to know, but the cloth diaper manufacturer recommended detergents aren’t necessarily the best option either. After about 7 1/2 years of washing diapers, I’ve come to find that the best detergent for us is plain old Tide powder unscented, no boosters. Fancy that.
- Washing Machine Style – A front loader and a top loader will both work equally well on washing diapers, but your strategy will vary depending on which style you have.
- How Often You Wash – If you’ve left your diapers for five days versus two, you’re going to have a different approach to how much detergent and what boosters if any you’ll use.
This seems overwhelming right? Once you’ve figured out your routine, I can promise you it’s not. The foremost expert on diaper washing is an amazing site called Fluff Love University and their super awesome and chock-full-of-experts Facebook group, Fluff Love & CD Science. Both of these sources contain way more expertise and info than I could ever hope to provide you here in this roundup. If you are ever planning to wash cloth diapers, I would strongly encourage you to visit there right away. When I first started cloth diapering, we didn’t have this resource and years later, I now realize how many washing mistakes I’ve made. The Facebook group admins helped me nail down a routine and I haven’t had an issue in years.
Whoah, Whoah, Whoah: Stripping?!?!
That’s right, I said issue. You should not ever have to strip cloth diapers. This is another scary thing new CDers get freaked out by: you have to strip your diapers once a month or the baby will die. You need all kinds of scary chemicals to strip diapers. Babies aren’t meant to poop on cloth, so this whole process is just risky. Detergents and poop cause buildup which causes your diapers to stink, which causes them to lose absorption, which causes leaks and sad babies.
None Of This Is True! If you have a good wash routine (see above) there is no reason to strip. The only exception is if baby is sick from something like a yeast rash or you’ve bought some pre-loved diapers and aren’t sure what the previous wash routine was or the health of the baby. Also, if you do ever need to strip your diapers, just know that while it’s an almost all-day process, it isn’t scary and is pretty straightforward (it’s mostly soaking). If you think you might need to strip or you really aren’t sure what to do, definitely check out Fluff Love.
So that’s it, no big deal, right? It definitely seems like a lot, and is not for the faint of heart. There’s more information here than you need if you’re only in the researching phase, but I always figure the more information the better right? I hope I haven’t scared you off! You’re probably thinking, “Why should I even bother,” right about now and I promise we will get to that next time! There are oh so many reasons to bother!