A Year With Cloth Diapers

ruserThree Thrifty Guys would like to welcome new contributing writer, Ruser to the team. He will share his life experiences, money matters and joys of raising his son. Learn more about him.

There was very little discussion before my wife and I decided to cloth diaper our son. She wanted to use them and I didn’t feel strongly about it either way. I think I was so concerned about other aspects of fatherhood that diapers drew very little of my attention.

We have used cloth diapers for a year now, and it turned out to be an involved experience, one that I was not adequately prepared for (a running theme throughout my first year of fatherhood). I don’t regret our decision to use cloth diapers; just the opposite really. But I do wish that I had known a few things about cloth diapers before jumping in. Things like:

You need a lot of diapers…

My wife and I use Flip diapers which have polyester outer covers and a removable cloth insert. The covers come in a variety of colors and designs and snap close in the front. They are one size fits all, so our son will use the same fashionable diapers in year two and beyond as he did during his first year.

We have eight diaper covers and 24 cloth inserts. If we bought these on Amazon today, it would cost $240. Now that my son is over one (and needs diaper changes less frequently), we run out of diapers anywhere between 6 and 8 days; when he was much younger, we ran out of diapers every 3 to 5 days. I knew babies needed to be changed often, but I figured 24 diapers would regularly last at least a week. This turned out to be one of my dumber assumptions about babies, of which there were many.

…and it helps to have disposables for backup

We actually didn’t start using cloth diapers until our son was two months old. Prior to that, he had plenty of dirty diapers and needed to be changed anywhere from eight to 12 times a day. At that rate, we would have needed to wash the diapers every 10-14 hours!

Since we don’t have a washer or dryer in our apartment, we don’t wash the diapers as often as we need to. We keep a box of disposables on hand for when we run out of cloth diapers and also use disposables at night since our son sleeps better in them (disposables tend to do better for longer periods of time between changes). We get a box of 200 disposables from Sam’s Club for about $35. This lasts us about three months.

Cleaning diapers requires effort

Regular detergent can affect cloth diapers’ absorbency. There are detergents specifically for cloth diapers, but my wife made some out of equal parts Borax, Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda, and OxiClean Baby. One batch cost about $15, and it has lasted more than a year.

There are special wet bags to hold diapers prior to washing: they don’t soak through and lock in the smell. We have a large one for everyday use and a small one for travel. Considering their importance (i.e., they keep our home from smelling like we have a cat but no litter box), they were relatively cheap: $18 for the large one and $10 for the smaller one.

Even before putting the diapers in the wet bag, we sometimes have to clean them first. This wasn’t necessary when our son was on a 100% milk diet, but once he started eating solids, his dirty diapers had a thicker, more solid consistency. For reasons which I’ll leave up to your imagination to discover, you don’t want to put diapers like that in a washer machine.

We shake dirty diapers off in the toilet and rinse it with a couple of flushes. Admittedly, this took some time for my gag reflex to get used to. When my wife first asked me to clean a dirty diaper in the toilet, I thought she was joking. She swears she told me I would have to do this before we made the decision to cloth diaper, but I don’t remember having that conversation (and that seems to be the type of conversation I most likely would have remembered).

It was a good decision

Despite this miscommunication, I’m glad we’re using cloth diapers. Even though we regularly still use disposable diapers, we’re saving a lot of money in the long run: the above items cost about $425; according to What to Expect, disposable diapers can cost approximately $600 in the first year. The savings will increase in the following years since we likely won’t need to buy more cloth diapers.

If you’re thinking about using cloth diapers, I definitely recommend them: they can save you money, are better for the environment and are healthier for your baby’s bottom. Just keep in mind they require some extra effort – and occasionally a gag reflex less sensitive than mine.

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  1. Hi, Emily! I was a bit wary of using cloth diapers at first — it seemed like it would be a lot of work. And like I said: it does take some extra effort compared to disposables. But it’s been worth it! It will save us a lot of money over the first few years, and even more money if we have another child. Plus, it’s nice not seeing a garbage can full of diapers.

  2. Thanks for sharing all of this! I’m actually Bethany’s cousins’ cousin Emily:) I have been doing research on all kinds of baby stuff as I daydream about starting a family, and I LOVE hearing about this sort of thing, especially from a man’s perspective, so I can maybe anticipate how my husband will feel about things. I think I’d be willing to give cloth a try with today’s options. I like the benefits to the environment and less problems with baby rash. Also, the money saved is a huge plus! And they can be way cuter than disposable;)

  3. It’s funny, Davi: I’ve considered selling our cloth diapers online or on craigslist at some point in the future, but never even thought about buying some there :P. I’m definitely not opposed to buying used! My wife and I will have to look into wool.

    That’s interesting, Rikki; we’re worried about detergent build up (which happens on regular clothes, too, but is less of an issue since we don’t depend on them being absorbent :P), but once our batch of detergent runs out, we’ll have to revisit that. We’re hoping to live somewhere with a washer and dryer soon. Once we do, I think we could totally eliminate disposables!

  4. It is a myth that you can’t use regular detergent on diapers. It is clothing, just like anything else. Nothing will hurt the PUL except a direct flame. We use cloth at night…try some different things, then you can eliminate the disposables all together!

  5. I have a ten month old whom I use flip diapers and a disana wool cover for night time use. I was initially concerned with wool, however there are amazing.Wool is naturally antimicrobial and breathable. Also, if you are not against buying on ebay or second hand they can be found for as little as $10.00; sometimes even brand new. Also fleece covers(Etsy or otherwise) are great. I have read about fleece, but hadn’t tried it and our 5 y/o was having night time accidents and wore fleece pajama bottoms to bed. Normally his bed would have been soaked but the fleece really absorbs. Also. the organic bumgenius cotton cloth is very night time absorbent.

  6. I’d been wondering about wool covers. I’m afraid I didn’t do much research on fitteds and covers. I was always afraid that if the wool got poopy it would be a nightmare…
    Oh, I’m Ruser’s wife, btw. :)

  7. Have you tried sustainable babyish organic bamboo fitteds (OBF) with a wool cover for overnight? Wool only needs laundered (easy) about every 2-3 months (if you have more than one cover, less often than that). The OBFs are AWESOME!!! They are expensive, BUT one thing I keep reminding myself is that you can RESALE used cloth diapers ;) So you get some of your money back! You can’d do that with disposables ;)

  8. Thanks, Judy! If you click on the “Flip diapers” link in the article, it will take you to an Amazon listing that shows what they look like. Washing out dirty diapers isn’t all that bad…most of the time. But every now and then — well, no need for the imagery. You probably know ;)

    We’ve been very lucky with the disposables so far, Rachel. I can’t remember the last time we had a leak. However, my son does tend to get diaper rash more often when he wears disposables. We would like to eliminate them totally from our rotation, but for practical reasons, we still depend on them. For a while, we were putting two cloth inserts in an diaper cover overnight which worked fine, but we were running out of inserts too quickly.

    Thank you, Laurie! I have to admit: my wife does most of the diaper changing, though I think its just her instinct to change him when he needs it instead of asking me. I can’t imagine having her change every single diaper, though.

  9. Great post, Ruger! Yeah, it’s funny how much you realize what you don’t know during that first year of parenthood, isn’t it? :-) And by the way, I think you did spectacular at the changing and washing diaper duty; my husband has friends that never changed one diaper (I’m talking nowadays! Not like these guys were married in the 50’s) and they had the disposable ones! There’s no way they would’ve touched a cloth diaper, so I’d say you did a fine job. :-)

  10. Thanks for sharing your experience. Aside from environmental and budgeting reasons, two big things got me hooked: no leaks overnight and no diaper rashes! My LO was soaking through every disposable every night (I even started laying a prefold in her disposables as an extra booster!) and she always had a diaper rash. As soon as we switched to cloth, these problems were eliminated! Diaper rash was gone in 24-48 hours. It did take a few tries to find an overnight solution that worked for my heavy-wetter, but I’m so so happy we went for it!

  11. First of all, welcome aboard to TTG’s! I found your article interesting as I used the cloth diapers for my kids. Actually, I made them. They were a pattern that I’d gotten from my mom and were especially great for boys. They were called contour diapers. They sound similar to the ones you are using. I was wishing you’d have posted a photo of them. Anyway, I had to laugh at the sensitivity of your rinsing them out in the toilet. It does take some getting used to!;0) My kids were allergic to the disposable diapers…think it was the fragrance they had in them at the time so I rarely used them. They are cost efficient and better for the environment. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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