Thursday, June 17, 2010

A diatribe on diapers

Well, without revealing too much more than anyone wants to reveal, a few somebodys have been asking me about cloth diapering lately. While I'm no guru, I thought perhaps a post would be the easiest way to get all the info out there. So here we go:

Cloth Diapering in the Bastone Kudej household - A Case Study

::Introduction - a diapering tutorial
Before you get all numb from all the options and lingo in this world of babies and their bowel movements, let's cover the basics. In no particular order:
  • Pre-folds - these are the old school rectangular heavy cotton cloth diapers of our mothers' and grandmothers' generations (now seen in the rag bin, quite handily). You can get Chinese Prefolds or Indian Prefolds (unbleached, in 2 or 3 sizes - infant to toddler) for about $2 each. They are often listed as 4-6-4 or 4-8-4 with the middle number being the number of layers in the center section of diaper (most absorbant part). Contrary to what I overheard one uneducated salesgirl tell a customer at a national baby store, these are NOT prefolded. You must fold them on the baby before you put it on them. Then you use a waterproof cover.
  • Snappis - these are an elasticized grabber thingy that people use to close up or "pin" a prefold, instead of those old baby pins. No worries about pricking the kid. About $3 each, I think. Would only need about 2 or 3 depending on the covers you use.
  • Contours - these are usually cotton (like prefolds) but are cut out in a classic diaper shape that you don't need to fold them all up to fit around baby. Still require a Snappi and/or cover. Around $ each. They come sized (XS, S, M, L usually).
  • Fitteds - these are really cool, frankly. Like contours, usually made of cotton or hemp, but have velcro or snaps to hold it in place. They are super convenient and I fell in love with Kissaluvs size 0 (newborn) for when we first came home from the hospital. They are sized (not one size fits all) and about $12 each and require a waterproof cover. Resale value (on eBay) for used fitteds is about $10 each.
  • Covers - these are most often made of PUL - a waterproof laminate fabric. They are no longer rubber pull up pants, but are trim velcro or snap jobs. Other options are fleece or wool. Prices for PUL are generally in the $11 - $15 range. Wool tends to be more expensive, but you wash it less frequently.
  • Pocket diapers - these are what we went with. Essentially, this is the cover and diaper in one (well, 2) unit(s). You change the absorbancy of the diaper by the size of the insert you slip into the back. The inside is typically some brushed fleece or cotton. The insert is often microfiber or hemp or cotton. You have 2 options: one-size and "perfect" size. One size is supposed to fit from birth to potty training. It has snaps or some other way to adjust size. Perfect size means you need to buy small, medium and large to get from birth to potty training. Costs are $13 - $27 per diaper with most in the $17 range. Resale value for used diapers (on eBay) is about $10 each if they're in good shape.
  • All-in-one diapers - These are like pocket diapers except the insert is sewn in. More convenient and some people have an aversion to touching the insert after it's soiled. But generally more expensive and take longer to launder. They are touted as being just like disposable for ease and "great for babysitters and dads!" because we all know that apparently dads just don't get diapers. Tell that to Darling.
  • Hybrid diapers - These are gDiapers, Flip, and there are probably others. You have a washable cover that you put a disposable or biodegradable (flushable - but that's debatable) or even cloth insert in. I know very little about these. We looked into them for traveling when laundry wasn't accessible, but decided for short trips that we could use disposables.

::What we do
We're a BumGenius family. Or, more to the point, Oliver is a BumGenius bum. The reason is simplicity and cost. You'll need about 2 dozen diapers in the kid's current size and we thought that the one-size diaper was a better value than buying 2 dozen small, 2 dozen medium, 2 dozen large. We have about 3 dozen one-size. Mostly BumGenius, but also some Fuzzibunz, Haute Pockets, and Blueberry. We have 2 all-in-one diapers. We started off with some prefolds, fitteds, and covers. There are lots of options out there and we got lucky that BumGenius fit well. Generally, I think people find that the perfect size fit better, but the one-size worked for Oliver. Then again, he isn't particularly skinny or fat or short or anything requiring a special fit.
We probably laid down about $500 at the outset and $200 over the course of the next 2 years for accessories etc. I think if you use really cheap disposables, you're looking at $600 - $700/year per kid. That's the great thing about our diapers. They're good for more kids and then we could potentially sell them.

Our inserts are mostly microfiber. They are fantastic because they are very absorbant without being very bulky. But after about a year of washing in a front loader (great for water and energy efficiency, not as great for cloth diapers, which benefit from the soaking of top loaders) the microfiber inserts were really holding an ammonia odor. Eventually, we bought a bunch of prefolds and are using them as inserts. They are bulkier, but the cotton doesn't smell as funky as the microfiber and we'll be able to use them as household rags later. I think of it as Smartwool vs. Capilene. I know which shirt stinks after a hike and which one doesn't.

We use Charlie's Soap to wash our diapers. If you use all cotton, you just need a good, clean rinsing soap. If you use microfiber, it's critical that you use an "approved" soap. Otherwise, you can be creating a buildup on the material, which can cause the diapers to leak. Also - no rash cream. If you use one, put a prefold or liner in the diaper to keep the cream from the microfleece. It effects absorbancy.
We use a wet bag to hold our dirties when we're out and about. Then when we get home, we take out the insert, rinse any solids off (GET A DIAPER SPRAYER - SO HELPFUL!) and put the insert and the outer in a dry diaper pail lined with a big PUL bag.

We also use cloth wipes. We mix up a little water/soap solution to wet the wipe and keep that in a squirt bottle by the changing pad. We bought some great flannel cloth wipes from BumGenius (discontinued) and some decent terrycloth ones but cuts of flannel sheets or washcloths would work just as well. I don't think a wipe warmer is needed. We throw the wipes in the dry pail with the dirties and they all get washed together.

::What I wish we did
Oh how I love the Blueberry diapers. Man oh man. The interior is soft, the insert is a hemp and microfiber blend (very absorbant, but the hemp doesn't hold odor like the microfiber does). And fun exteriors! But holy hefty price tag. At $27 a pop, we only have 2 (purchased on sale).  And frankly, our collection and system has worked darn well for us.
I did really like the Kissaluvs fitteds and BumGenius bamboo fitteds (discontinued). We used these when Oliver was smaller. I never bought larger sizes or covers. I didn't explore the fitted and cover option that much because it was more money than the one-size. But the times we used them, I liked them. They're pretty much bomb-proof and they fit well while still being fairly trim. If it's just pee, you can wipe the cover out and reuse. I'm not sure how many covers you'd need if you were doing all prefolds or fitteds. Not 2 dozen, but more than a couple. I really like the Thirsties covers. I'm considering getting some more Kissaluvs size 0s and Thirsties covers for Part 2. But really, it's a very short time (1-3 weeks) that the bumGenius seemed too big for the newborn Oliver.

::What you could do
There are so many other options out there! Prefolds and covers are your cheapest and simplest diapering option. The drawback there is the bulkiness. Proponents swear that simple is best and prefolds are definitely that. But I imagine it takes a little getting used to. We used prefolds when Oliver was a newborn and it was fine. But once switching to the pocket diapers, didn't really want to go back.

Fuzzibunz is a huge favorite for many parents. They have both one size and "perfect size" diapers now. In fact, there are many more one size diapers out there than just BumGenius. Different brands will have slightly different fits, colors, inserts, features. But they're all basically the same.

::Where to go for more info
There is so much on cloth diapering out there, it's dizzying. Aside from the links above, try:
Mothering Magazine articles here, and here, and here, and here.

Good luck! Sorry folks, this was a long one!


  1. Hmn. Every time I try to edit this post, the formatting changes like crazy. So forget that. Here are some edits:
    -Contour diapers run about $7 each.
    -bumGenius 3.0 is being discontinued - supposedly something better will be coming out soon.
    -Cotton Babies has a blog that has some useful info and tips:
    -Most diapers come with inserts, but you can buy all manner of inserts separately. You can also make your own cloth diapers if you are truly inspired.
    -I'll be posting this as a "page" with a link from the main blog page when I get some time.

  2. Hey Amy - My two cents:

    1. The "approved" soap and washing temperature are very important for maintaining absorbency.
    2. In the NE and Midwest, where water is plenty, washables are a no brainer. In the southwest, it really bears some consideration. I found that if you have a high efficiency washer and a low flow toilet, cause you're flushing more often, you can more than offset the water you are using for washing and flushing. Here in the CA Bay Area, probably the most eco-friendly option is a service called Earthbaby, they deliver and pick up compostable diapers. I did the calculations, and if you buy 24-30 Bumgenius (and most of our diapers were the 25$ organic cotton diapers), a high efficiency washer, and a low-flow toilet, after two years, you still save money.
    3. We used the all-in-one organic cotton bumgenius diapers during the day and the Bumgenius pocket at night, it worked out very well. The all-in-ones are a little easier to get the poo off of and there is no stuffing after laundry.
    4. I heard Happy Heinys in Bend, OR has a great, high-backed diaper (good for keeping big poopers contained). Judging from their website, they are the bomb.
    5. Cloth diapers become really affordable when you spread them out across multiple children.
    6. We didn't use an "approved" soap, and by the time our son was 18 months old, they were leaking regularly at night. So we use disposables at night and washables during the day. A good compromise for us,as we are definitely using more water for laundry and baths these days. Plus, it frees up a couple of extra diapers, which makes them go longer for our youngest,because our oldest son still uses a diaper during his nap.

    OK, that is all for now. Nice job.

  3. Oh, we tried the G-diaper and found it to be the worst of both worlds. The outside covers need washing and the flushable pad requires a flush each time. So you are flushing and washing, where I am in the southwest, this is no good. I tried composting and found that the pads quickly built up. However, I met a woman whose mom managed a compost pile that allowed them to compost all of their pee inserts. They loved the G-diaper. Also, they are sized, so you have to buy new diapers 2-3 times between 0 and 2 years, and they aren't cheap. Now, they are very cute outers and I think could easily be used with washable hemp/wool/cotton inserts easily. If you can get used g-diaper outers on e-bay or something, I think they would be great with washables.

  4. Thanks Rebecca! By the way, when we started getting the microfiber stink, we thought maybe our detergent was to blame. So we stripped the diapers ("how-to" on Cotton Babies website) and started using bumGenius detergent. Unfortunately, it worked no better really and we're back to Charlie's Soap, which we still use for all of our laundry. Our diapers don't have leaking issues - but ammonia continues to be stronger than I like, even with cotton inserts.

    Charlie's Soap is an approved detergent, but it's not listed on the bumGenius site. You can only buy it through Charlie's Soap directly.

  5. We went with a somewhat different approach, probably due to me staying at home and changing the majority of the diapers.
    At the onset, I had 24 small prefolds and about 3 or 4 Bummis and Imse Vimse covers (small) and 3 or 4 snappies. I invested in 12 BumGenius One sizes and predominantly used these for nighttime (with double insert) and traveling.
    When William grew out of the small prefolds/covers, I purchased either mediums or large prefolds(can't remember) and 2 med. and 2 large covers. This was the extent of our diapers purchased. The small prefolds (even though William outgrew them), we still used them as the 2nd insert in our BumGenius at night. We are just down to using BGs at night with single insert since WT is almost potty trained!!
    Laundering...used Shaklee detergent and used a cold rinse, hot wash/rinse, followed by an additional warm rinse with 1/4 cup vinegar (even though your not supposed to with BGs). Hung out to dry on line all the time, except during the winter months!
    All around, pleased with method, especially reuse of smaller-sized prefolds. Also exclusively used cloth wipes with solution and sometimes just water. Proud to say WT only used disposables in the hospital right after birth! I echo what Amy says about body type...what works for one child, may not be optimal for another...WT is skinny and only had a few leaking issues with our mehods! Hope this helps

  6. It's a year and a half later and new friends have new diapering questions, so I'm posting a comment update:

    With Etta, we used Kissaluvs fitteds size 0 (along with some BG bamboo fitteds) and Thirsties XS and Small covers for the first 3 months. It worked perfectly. She was smaller than Oliver and the BGs seemed to swim on her. We sold them for a great price afterward, so I don't feel bad about the spending.

    I got a Blueberry Coverall (a one-size cover) at the thrift store for 59¢. It was brand new with the tags on it. I LOVE IT. They sell for about $15 new, which is pricey for a cover, but since it's one-size, you don't need to buy S, M, L, etc. Great great cover.

    We bought a bunch (5, I think) of Happy Heinys after receiving 2 free ones. We used those for Oliver before he stopped wearing diapers. He didn't potty train until 2 months before he turned 3, so he was a pretty big toddler with pretty big movements for the last 6 to 8 months. The BGs were too tight and small and looked like Speedos. They didn't leak, exactly, but they were overwhelmed. The Happy Heinys fit a larger kid and worked great for us until he was out of diapers.

    We also have a FuzziBunz One-Size diaper and I really like it. Very thick inserts, more adjustable size range (than the BumGenius), and a large variety of colors. They are priced the same as the BGs, currently about $17/each.

    Hope this is helpful!