Starting out with cloth diapers can seem incredibly overwhelming. You have to decide what type you will use, how and where you will store them when clean and dirty, how you will clean them, how you will take them out and about with you. And the combinations of those things are seemingly limitless. I will not say that the way we do it is the best way but it works really well for us.
When I decided to go to cloth diapers I wanted to make sure to choose a system that wouldn’t require a large amount of money up front, and that would be easy to use in our daily lives. I am certainly one for finding the least complicated way to do things. No need to make it harder than it needs to be.
I decided that covers and prefolds would be the best choice for our needs. The option to use covers more than once before washing – as long as no poo got on them – was very appealing. As was the fact that it wouldn’t take long for them to dry, an extra reason not to buy too many. When we started we purchased six covers: two Thirsties, two Econobum, and two Flip covers*. The reason I got these brands were simply because of cost. They were all on sale when I purchased them so when I got them I was able to get several brands to see which fit my girl the best. We also purchased Cloth-eez® prefolds from Green Mountain Diapers*. (*I do not receive anything for linking to these pages. I am just trying to assist those looking for the diaper brands I use myself.)
The thing I think is the most intimidating is how to clean those diapers. So many decisions to make, and quite frankly, you could make any decision you think is best for your family on all those questions. Here are some answers to these questions, at least.
Do I need to rinse them before I wash them? If you baby is exclusively breastfed or drinks only breast milk there is no need to pre-rinse anything. Even the poopy diapers. Breastfed poop is completely water soluble so just throw it in the wash (or handwash) and it will cause no issues. (I did not use formula so cannot tell you if you need to pre-rinse poopy formula diapers.) Once your baby is eating solids you will need to rinse off those poops. You can either get a diaper sprayer, make-shift one, use a brush, scoop, or somehow get that poop off before putting it into your container until wash day.
Should I soak them in my bucket or container? Entirely up to you. I do not because I don’t feel it is necessary. Perhaps if you have a baby who is a heavy wetter, but even then you can just change your wash cycles.
Do I need a special laundry soap? Absolutely not. If you buy your diapers from certain companies, they will recommend that you use a special kind of soap so that you will still be protected under their warranties. BumGenius is one such company. However, you can use whatever soap you have on hand. Keep in mind that if your baby has sensitive skin you will want to choose an appropriate laundry soap for that. You can also make one of your own. We use a homemade powder laundry soap that works great on everything from Roly Poly’s diapers to our clothes and sheets and towels.
How do I wash them? This is something that will also vary greatly from home to home. It will depend on the machine you have, the soap you are using, the types of cloth diapers you have, and how complicated you want to make it. I do have a few quick and easy tips, though, to help you muddle through. (1.) If you have a front load machine, put in a wet bath towel with your diapers. This will help your machine know to use enough water. You need the extra water to clean everything out of the diapers and to get good agitation in the wash. (2.) Add in an extra rinse. Some of the laundry soap will try to stick around in the elastics so this extra rinse will get all of that out and keep it away from sensitive baby skin. (3.) This is advice I have read countless times from countless people who use cloth diapers – you want your wash to look like a stew, not a soup. You want enough water and soap to clean your diapers but too much will mean that there isn’t enough agitation and the soap won’t penetrate the materials.
Do I dry them? Again, this will vary. Anything that has a waterproof layer or is made from waterproof material should more often than not be air dried. Anything that is just made from a cloth material can be dried. So for me, my covers do not get dried. I lay them out on top of my washer to dry. The prefolds, inserts, and washcloths go through the dryer on high heat and a long cycle because they hold up well.
I promise that as you get started and figure out how everything will work best at your house it will become so easy and so routine that you don’t even need to think about it. Look around, ask questions (of me and others). There’s lots of information available if you want to start using cloth diapers.