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Cloth Diapering Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

My dive into cloth diapering was quite sudden. It wasn’t something I had researched before Gaia was born, but rather something I simply came across while she was a newborn. I had been moved up north and since Gaia was a winter baby and I’m just a Florida girl, we did not like venturing out into the snow. Making a run for diapers was just silly. I admit it took a few articles to get me going, but once I realized how easy it all was I was sold. I began Gaia’s stash at a month old and it was under $100. I had to buy and sell and try some things out, but I had FuzziBunz and Baby Soft Wraps at the end of our diaper days.

My second baby was going to be sporting a cloth bum as well, so I began to stash for him during my pregnancy. I was quite bummed to find out that I could no longer get “brand name” diapers for cheap. I wound up starting our stash with mostly Sunbaby diapers (plus accessories) for under $150. I thought I knew everything about how to cloth, but man did things change. It took me a bit to get back into the swing of things, but we managed to get the ball rolling when Anders was 3 months old.

Now there are some things I’ve learned along the way. Some of these are bouts of bypassed common sense, and some of these are personal experience trial-and-error. However, if you’re looking to make the dive to cloth diapers for your child(ren), here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way.

1. Do not feel like you need a million detergents.

When Gaia was in cloth I was told no Dreft ever, Free & Clear detergents were okay, but home made detergents were best. I had my share of issues regarding stink and stains, but I was under the impression it was all normal and part of the cloth diaper life. So I grated bars of Ivory soap for a while and did my fair share of Dawn strips. I eventually ditched the home made detergent and Dreft altogether and washed everything in my Publix Free & Clear.

With Anders I scored a great deal on Rockin’ Green and was super pumped to finally be able to afford the fancy “cloth diaper safe detergents.” I struggled for months with stink and rashes. I nearly threw in the towel when I was directed to a source of information reminding me that soap and detergent were different. Detergent is used to clean your fleece, cotton, bamboo [etc.] clothing efficiently; why is it different for cloth diapers using the same fabrics and materials?

It’s not. The cold, hard truth is that this is a giant marketing scam by companies appealing to the new ecofriendly trends. Most of these so-called “detergents” are actually just laundry boosters. What you need to properly get out feces and urine is a legitimate detergent. Detergent is a double sided molecule that has a water-loving end and a soil-loving end where the soils attach. Then the water-loving end attaches to water pulling the soils away from the fabric. You just can’t duplicant the science behind a detergent molecule at home.

cloth diaper safe detergents

Popular detergents effective at cleaning diapers: Tide, Gain, Foca, Arm & Hammer, and Seventh Gen.

2. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I know I’m being contradictory here, but if your wash routine is cleaning your diapers and you have no issues then do your thing. We learn to kind of deal with life as it comes and to our comfort level. I bought Gain Apple Mango Tango because I heard it was fabulous. However, I decided I didn’t like it on my diapers so I use Ology (Walgreens exclusive) or Dizolve (Canadian). I would still like to be buried in Apple Mango Tango when I die, but when it comes to doing diaper laundry I just feel safer not having all those perfumes in my cloth diapers.

3. Bleach is not going to ruin your diapers.

This is like the biggest myth in the cloth diaper world. Is bleach “bad for the environment?” It’s very harsh, yes. But it breaks down fairly quickly because it is a freakishly unstable molecule. Bleach is considered one of the safest ways to sanitize by many. When dealing with feces and urine, sometimes using such a harsh chemical is a good idea to get rid of hidden nasties or bacterial build up.

bleach cloth diapers

I find it necessary to do a bleach strip about once every other month or so. My diapers don’t necessarily start to smell, but I notice the stains starting to take over. When I find myself digging for a suitable diaper for the babysitter, that’s when I preform this maintenance on my entire stash. You can use your tub or your washing machine. I use 1/2 – 2/3 cup of bleach in my top loader with cold water. I agitate the water a bit, then add my clean diapers. I let them soak at least 30 minutes, but have left them for 5 hours before. I then turn my machine to run a full cycle, then run another cycle with my detergent of choice.

bleached diapers

Voila! So fresh, clean, and like new!

Note: You should not have to use bleach very often. If you’re finding that you need to use it a lot, you need to look into your wash routine. Investigate your water and see if you need to switch detergents.

4. Fabric softeners are a no-no.

Fabric softeners and dryer sheets are actually really unnecessary for a laundry routine in general. They don’t actually do anything except turn your pile of clean clothes into a deceptive, smelly pile of potential health risks. (I’m overreacting just a little.) Basically, fabric softeners have chemicals in them that create a layer of slime on your clothes, leaving behind the feeling of softness. These same chemicals (called quats) have been known to cause asthma in healthy people.

If you like to keep clothes feeling soft out of the dryer, try switching to dryer balls. Dryer balls, like Woolzies, bounce around in the dryer creating space between fabrics ultimately resulting in volume and fluff. Dryer balls also cut drying times down because the hot air can flow freely through the various layers. (Woolzies are made from natural wool and bigger than competing dryer balls. You can read my original review here.


5. A lot of diaper rash cremes are safe for cloth diapers.

When it comes to diaper rashes most people will tell you to switch to disposables. However, with a little label reading you can easily manage your baby’s rash in cloth diapers. The biggest thing to avoid is petroleum-based cremes. Beeswax also has reports of causing issues even in non-petroleum cremes. What most parents do is use a liner during rashes (you can cut up old tee shirts, receiving blankets, etc. in a pinch). Simply apply the ointment to your baby’s bum and place  a liner between the skin and the diaper.

Here are the safest cremes for cloth diapers: Angel Baby Bottom Balm, Aveeno Baby Organic Harvest Diaper Rash Cream, Baby Bottom Better, BabyGanics Healing Groovy Non Petroleum Protective Ointment, Bum Bum Balm, Burt’s Bee’s Multipurpose Ointment, California Baby Calendula Cream, California Baby Diaper Rash Cream, CJ’s BUTTer, Coconut Oil, Grovia Magic Stick, Motherlove Diaper Rash and Thrush, Mountain Baby Butt Balm, Nature’s Baby Organic Diaper Cream, Northern Essence Better Butter, and Thirsties Booty Love.

Should staining occur (more common for synthetic fibers) it is acceptable to use blue Dawn. Simply squirt some on the diaper creme stain and scrub in the sink. You can rinse and repeat until you either win or give up. The blue Dawn should only be used to fight diaper rash creme stains in regard to cloth diapering. It is not a good stripping agent. Do not use Dawn in your washing machine as it will void your warranty.

That may all seem like a lot to take in, but cloth diapering is totally worth it. You can be humble or go big, but either way feels good when you look at the simple facts of why cloth diapering might be a better solution. I hope these tips have helped you decide on the ease of making the choice for your family.

Here are some of my favorite cloth diapering related articles:

 Linking up with: The Cloth Diaper Link Party at Making It Home.

Disclaimers: I received one box of Woolzies dryer balls in exchange for this post. All opinions and stories are my own. I shall not tell lies!


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  1. I found cloth diapering kind of overwhelming at the beginning as well. I am so glad I went ahead though. After clothdiapering two babies I can only imagine how much money I have saved on disposable diapers and wipes. I love wool dryer balls too.

    • We still use disposable wipes. We just couldn’t find a cloth wipe system that my fiance liked. He loves cloth diapers, but he just hates baby poops and is convinced the disposable wipes do a better job with less hassle. Cloth diapering is definitely a money saver though!

  2. Ok you ALMOST have convinced me to use bleach. Almost. The laundry debate is totally ruthless. I’m scared to even bring up the discussion with my cloth diapering friends. I totally agree with “If it’s ain’t broke don’t fix it”! Find what works for you and then just stick with it. I made the mistake of changing detergents and the stuff I have now just doesn’t do the trick. Why do we make things so complicated??

    • Bleach can be scary. After publishing this post I had a brilliant idea of trying a DIY recipe for bleach in my laundry and see what happens. The thing is, although bleach is quite intense and definitely needs to be used sparingly in moderation, there’s just no denying its sanitation power. I definitely want my baby’s diapers to be clean and void of bacteria. If it means throwing 1/2 cup of bleach in every few months, I can live with that.

  3. I wish someone had told me more about cloth diapers before I had kids! I would have done things so much differently. Thanks for this great recap!

  4. Instead of using bleach, why not vinegar ?vinegar also sanitizes and neutralize odors . Just a thought ;however,have not tried it. I use a little bit of tide free and clear first wash run, and then wash about 3 more time, because I have soft water.My diapers look new, no stains or odors.

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