Our Switch to Cloth Diapers

This weekend we switched over from using disposable diapers to cloth. I wouldn’t typically spend time talking about our diapering choices on the blog, but it’s actually a question I get asked quite often as a missionary mom – What do you do for diapers? I know there are people that are considering or preparing to move to the mission field and have small children and don’t know what they’re going to do, or they may be adopting while already living abroad. And, some people reading may just be interested for interests sake, or considering cloth vs. disposables. Just wanting to share our journey in the hope that it’s informative or helpful to someone.

Why did we decide to do disposables over cloth with Olivia? I mean, for all intents and purposes it would seem that it would have made more sense money wise to go with cloth. And yes, that was true in part, but we had other factors to consider. (I think here is a good time to mention that the rest of this post is based on our experiences and reasons, and not meant to be judgmental to anyone else and their choices in any direction. Just sharing here people, just sharing. Okay, let’s move on :) )

Why didn’t we do cloth with Olivia?
When we were getting ready to welcome a baby into our family I did consider cloth. However, there were things that I knew would make it hard to do.

  1. We didn’t have a washing machine. Each week Yonese would come on Mondays and spend the entire day washing our clothes and other household laundry by hand. I’m sure everyone will agree that it wasn’t practical to hand wash about a 60 diapers per week, especially on weeks where Yonese was doing other things like cooking for training classes and the laundry got put on hold. Diapers don’t hold for anyone!
  2. We didn’t have hot water. Let’s face it – diapers need to get sterilized in some way. The idea of not being able to heat treat them in the wash cycle is gross.

So, we didn’t cloth diaper Olivia. At the time I was able to cruise Ebay and get good deals on diapers where I could get two large cases with free shipping for about $0.13/diaper. We  stocked up before she arrived and then I would stock up when people were coming in since we hardly travelled that first year. It worked at the time. I did the same thing with wipes.

When Olivia was about 4 months old we finally got our first washing machine, so that eliminated one issue – but we didn’t have hot water. Still the same problem. In 2009 we moved up to our new apartment and a solar hot water tank was installed. By then Olivia was already 18 months old, and was actually fully potty trained within a year from that. We didn’t know when we’d be having another baby, so switching to cloth at that point didn’t make much sense.

When Alex came along I asked Chris if we should consider cloth diapering and he quickly dismissed it. We did talk about the money factor, but with my very limited knowledge of cloth diapers and just peeking at things online it seemed like cloth diapers could be really expensive too. We just decided that we would do the same that we did with Olivia and go with disposables because they seemed  easier.

And, it was fine. But there are drawbacks.

  • We have to burn our garbage, and let me tell you – wet diapers don’t burn. All those little gel crystals that they put in them to absorb fluid really work. Except they don’t dry out very fast, and because of it they don’t burn. And we have stray dogs that like to get into the work yard where our burn chimney is. Every morning we go out to staff prayer and see diapers spread around the burn area, then someone has to go shovel them back into the burn pit. It’s gross.
  • It’s getting more expensive. Those deals I used to find on Ebay don’t exist any more. Recently I had switched over to buying store brand diapers from places like Walmart and Target. Those diapers were fine and worked well, but they’re still in the range of $30-35 US/case (for the big boxes)

I think the biggest drawback now, is the cost. When we flew back here in August we checked 6 bags – our 3 free ones, and 3 we had to pay for. We found out at the check-in counter that the second bag fees had gone up to $40/bag. We knew we had almost an entire bag full of diapers and wipes that would last us about 2 months. Paying $40 for a bag of stuff you’re going to essentially throw away sucks.

When we got back to Haiti we had a good talk about cloth diapers again and that maybe we should rethink our previous decision. I started doing some research.

I will be honest – the cloth diapering world IS overwhelming. There are so many options now, and it IS possible to spend a lot of money on them depending on which way you go. I knew that if we were going to do this it had to be cost effective. Alex is already 14 months old, so realistically we would be using whatever system I chose for about another year and a half, and we aren’t planning on having any more kids. I couldn’t justify spending $400-500 on a diaper system. Yes, I know that over the next 18-24 months we would spend way more on that in disposables, but we just don’t have that kind of cash to shell out on the onset.

All In Ones, Pocket Diapers, Prefolds, liners, doublers, hemp, indian cotton… AHHH!

I felt totally overwhelmed when I would think about cloth diapers. My sister-in-law has used cloth with my nephew since he was born and I we have little chats here and there when I see her, but it still felt overwhelming. I think when I hear/talk to most people that use cloth they use a variety of diapers and systems together, and I realized that’s what was confusing me. I knew that Chris would get frustrated with too many options, and I had to think about teaching Yonese how to use whatever we chose, so SIMPLICITY was my second goal, next to finding a system that was economical.

I found the website Pinstripes & Polkadots and it was great. In their Diapering Basics section she does a great job of breaking things down simply. As I was reading the fog cleared. I was able to see the different types of diapers and the pictures showing how to use them so I got a better idea about how each system worked. I could see what would get frustrating for Chris, and compare the costs of each type of diaper.

After looking at all that and a few other online sources I decided that exclusively using pre-folds and covers were going to be the way we would go. I know there are fabulous AIO and Pocket Diapers out there – my SIL uses a whole bunch of them and I have to say, my nephew has a pretty cute looking butt :) But, my goal was cost effectiveness and while AIO and Pocket Diapers have great advantages, they can be pricey on the start up. I think if we were just starting out with our kids and doing cloth I would have gone that way, but since that wasn’t us I decided on the covers and pre-folds.

Pre-folds are the flat diapers that have been pre-layered and sewn so they’re easy to fold. The middle third of the flat diaper usually has twice as many, or three times as many layers as the outside thirds.

The covers for pre-folds are usually made from some kind of breathable fabric with a clear plastic/rubber coating on the inside so they’re leak proof.

After reading a bunch of reviews and looking at what we would need to get started, I bought two different kinds of covers/pre-folds.

The first was a starter kit from econobums (don’t you love the name?).

The package comes with 3 one size fits all* white covers with snaps and a dozen unbleached pre-fold diapers. The goal of econobums is to make cloth diapering economical. Generally speaking, most diaper covers cost anywhere between $12-22, depending on what kind you decide to use. A dozen unbleached (or bleached for that matter) pre-fold diapers cost between $25-35 depending on what size you get, and the type you get (Chinese cotton, birdseye cotton, Indian cotton, hemp etc). So, doing the math, to buy the same thing could cost anywhere between $60-100, depending on how you do it. It was a good way to get some basics at a decent price.

*One size fits all diapers with snaps are adjustable so you can size them up or down and use them for a long time as baby grows. Great invention!

Chris and I decided we would get the bare minimum that we thought we could get away with, try things out, and then get more of the same or different things depending on our preferences and how we liked cloth diapering.

So, to get to that point I added 3 Thirsties Duo Wraps with the velcro/Aplix tabs rather than snap closures:

I also ordered another dozen pre-folds. I chose the Osocozy bleached Indian cotton because they got good reviews. I got the premium size.

I also ordered 3 packs of Thirsties Fab Doublers:

I got the doublers for night time and nap time, and times where Alex may be needing a bit more absorption.

Our Initial Thoughts:
So, like I said, we just started using the cloth on the weekend. But, I can tell you that Chris and I both already love it. This is so silly, but when I was prepping the pre-folds (you have to hot wash them or boil them to get the natural oils off so they absorb more) it was really satisfying to see them all hanging on the line in the sun. It felt good to know we wouldn’t be seeing diapers spread all over the yard every morning. And, I was interested to see what cloth diapers would do for Alex’s bum. He’s had diaper rash of some sort for the last 5 months or so, mostly from the heat and the diapers not breathing well.

So, how do we like using pre-folds?

I love it. I got a system all set up in containers on the top of the dresser where all the pre-folds are, well, pre-folded! :) When it’s time to do a change I’ve found it easiest to lay out the pre-fold the side and get it all set, then I open up Alex’s diaper, take out the wet diaper, throw it in the diaper pail and put the new pre-fold in it’s place, then do him up. I’ve used both types and they’re both great on absorbency, and will only get better with every hot water wash (they fluff up more).

I wondered what the difference was between the bleached and the unbleached, and really, it comes down to preference. The unbleached are said to hide stains better because of the color. The bleached take less hot water prep because the bleaching process strips a bunch of the natural oils off. The directions on unbleached diapers tend to recommend washing them 8-10 times in hot water, or boiling them for a minimum of 10 minutes. I boiled mine because it would take me days to get enough hot water to run 8-10 loads, plus the electricity. I washed the bleached ones in hot water once (even though they recommend 3-4 times), and between the wash and cool rinse I threw in my unbleached pre-folds so they all got rinsed and spun together, then line dried.

How do I like the econobums and the Thirsties Duo Wraps?

Love them.

I will admit I like the velcro/Aplix better than snaps. Because Alex sleeps through the night and I rarely (thank God!) have to get up in the middle of the night now to do diaper changes I’m going to keep the econobums for bed time. Also, the econobums are white. Under most circumstances that wouldn’t be an issue, but for us, it’s an issue. Alex doesn’t wear clothes most days, just a diaper. And he’s mobile. That often means being outside. So, you can see where I’m going with this. The all white diaper covers will be white for maybe a nano second.

I like the econobums. They’re light, stretchy and soft. So, a win for the budget conscious.

As an aside, generally you can swap pre-folds into different covers. Last night I put one of the bleached pre-folds into the econobum cover. Because I got the premium size pre-folds they’re longer and there was too much bulk when it was folded over, so we’ll stick with using the econobum pre-folds in the econobum covers. The Thirsties can still take any pre-fold because they have more room.

We love the Thirsties Duo Wraps too. The main reason that I chose the Thirsties Duo Wraps over other covers was the size. Alex is already about 30 lbs at 14 months. I needed to know that whatever type of covers we bought would last us until we were done with diapers. The Duo Wraps come in two main sizes – 1 and 2. The 1 fits up to about 18 lbs, and the 2 from 18-40 lbs. Most covers say they fit up to about 30 lbs, so they automatically weren’t an option. The Duo Wraps are great! They’re a soft fabric that’s coated on the inside, and yet they have some stretch to them (this was probably the biggest surprise – water proof and stretch!). They have a double leg gusset, so no leaks there, and most of all – they fit great. I actually have one row of snaps closed and they’re still roomy so I know they’ll fit all the way until we’re done with diapers. The colors are great too, and I think are much bolder in real life than they are on the websites I’ve seen.

Chris and I have both commented on how much we like the cloth and that we both had these crazy ideas that it would be really messy and frustrating and leaky and complicated.

It’s not any of those things.

How did I do with quantities?
This was a big question mark floating out there for me. I don’t want to wash diapers every day because we don’t have a dryer. Line drying means we get about one load a day that will dry all the way because humidity doesn’t make for fast drying. I wasn’t sure how many days the two dozen pre-folds would get us through. Ideally I want to do diaper laundry every 3 days. That means having enough diapers to get through the wash day too when everything is on the line.

I knew that I would probably end up getting another dozen pre-folds just so we had enough. A cool little blessing? Yesterday when I mentioned on facebook that we had switched over to cloth a friend, who just so happens to be visiting next month and would have been the one trucking in whatever else I got, sent me a message telling me that someone had donated a couple dozen new pre-fold diapers to her for her to bring to Haiti if she knew of someone that could use them, and did I want them? Nice, huh? :)

As far as the covers go, this morning I ordered 6 more Duo Wraps. Typically people recommend 6-8 covers because you don’t change them with every diaper change, and in most cases can just wipe them between changes. If it’s a poop, then the goes in the pail with everything else. With Alex not wearing clothes most days our covers got dirty fast and we went through 3 yesterday alone. I don’t want to have to rinse them out every day and would rather just have enough to throw them in the wash on diaper laundry day, so having more will work better for us, and like I said, we’ll keep the econobums for night time.

As for the doublers, last night I just used one in the diaper and we had no leaks. I have enough that if we start getting night time leaks we’ll double the doubler! Alex isn’t a big wetter, even at night, so I didn’t go overboard buying doublers until we had a chance to test things out. If we find we need more absorption at night and we’re burning through doublers I’ll order some more. The Thirsties are really soft and I feel good about them being next to Alex’s butt for 11 hours. We’ll also be cutting out the bedtime bottle in the next couple of weeks, so I’m guessing that’ll help with night time wetting if there’s an issue.

This seems simple. Is there more?

It is simple! I seriously thought it was so much more complicated, and I think it can be depending on what system you use, if you’re mixing types of diapers and inserts and stuff like that. Because I decided to do one type exclusively our system is simple.

There are a few more things that I knew would be essential in the success/fail department, so I took measures ahead of time and made sure we started out on the right foot.

Wipes

We still have a some wipes, but not a crazy supply that leaves me feeling guilty about not wiping Alex’s butt with them. When you have kids there’s always a use for them. I’ll probably stick a pack in each vehicle so we always have something to clean up sticky hands (or greasy ones after fixing a tire or something like that).

What didn’t make sense with cloth diapers was using disposable wipes. For me it wasn’t so much the disposable part as it was an efficiency thing.

When you change a diaper it’s so much easier to just throw the wipes right in the diaper, roll it all up and toss it in the diaper pail. If we used disposable wipes with cloth diapers it would mean wiping, throwing the disposable wipe(s) in a garbage can, and the diaper in a diaper pail. It would mean having a separate garbage can and diaper pail, and space in our house is at a premium.

So I got a few dozen Bumkins cloth wipes.

I pre-washed them when I prepped my pre-folds, dried them etc.

There are lots of ways to use cloth wipes. Some people prefer to have a spray bottle or squirt bottle to wet the wipe before use, and others want them all ready to go. Again, because I wanted things to be simple not only for me but also for Chris and Yonese I decided to go with the ready to go method.

Whatever method is chosen, some sort of wipe “solution” is needed or clean up is difficult and can rub your wee one the wrong way. Yes, pun intended.

I did some looking online and found a bunch of websites. You can use really basic things or get more fancy with essential oils and things like that. I obviously can’t run out and buy much of that, so I went with a basic recipe with what I already had on hand.

In a 4 cup measuring cup combine:

3 c water
3 tbsp baby oil
2 tbsp of your favorite baby wash

I took our old wipes container, rinsed it out and put half of the folded cloth wipes in the bottom, then slowly started pouring the mixture over the wipes. You want to make sure you give them a few seconds to absorb the liquid. Put the second half of wipes on top and slowly add the rest of the liquid. It should be enough to nicely wet the wipes down without having them so wet that you have to wring them out. Ours are the perfect wetness and I’ve found myself using them more often because I know there isn’t any alcohol or anything like that in them. They’ve stayed nice and moist too in the container. We just pop the lid open, take out what we need, tuck the dirty wipes in the dirty diaper and done.

Diaper Pail:

Just like everything with cloth diapering, there are a lot of different methods for storing wet diapers until laundry day. I, again, decided to go simple and cost effective.

One of the local grocery stores had garbage cans with a flip top lid on the top. Perfect! I picked one up and we used it as our old diaper pail for the last week.

I ordered two nylon laundry bags to use as pail liners. Now, when it’s laundry day I just have to take the liner out, empty the contents into the washing machine, and throw the bag in too to get washed with everything else, and put the clean bag in it’s place. The ones I ordered have a drawstring on them which is great for tightening the top of the bag around the lip of the can. These are big and will easily hold several days of diaper laundry. Some of the other pail liners I looked at were more expensive and smaller, so this was an economical choice.

To help fight odor I just sprinkled about a tablespoon of baking soda in the bottom of the can. It can be easily rinsed out and changed when needed.

Wet Bag:
If you use cloth diapers away from the house you’ll need a wet bag. A wet bag is a bag that you put your soiled diapers in that won’t leak. You keep it in your diaper bag until you get home, then throw everything in the diaper pail for washing.

I haven’t purchased a wet bag yet because the econobum set came with one. We actually haven’t been taking Alex out a whole lot recently just because it’s been easier to leave him home with someone for the errands that we’ve been doing. I will probably get another one in case the one we have is in the wash.

Swim Diapers:
If you use cloth you’ll want swim diapers. Most cloth diapers and diaper covers say not to use chlorine bleach on them, so using them to swim in a pool is a bad idea. There are lots of places to get swim diapers. This is something I need to get in the next couple of weeks so Little Mister won’t have to go au naturel under his trunks.

Where to Get Stuff:

If you’ve followed the links on any of the stuff I’ve mentioned you’ve probably noticed that they all go to Amazon. There are some really great websites out there that have all the same products I mentioned. Some are bigger companies and some are smaller businesses. My biggest recommendation? Shop around and buy where you feel comfortable. As I said before, Canadians are unfortunately at a disservice because the options for online shopping are fewer, mostly because of shipping and customs issues. In our situation we either have people coming in from the US that can bring stuff to us, or we’re arriving in the US so can have stuff sent to where we’re staying. This gives us way more access to the variety of online shopping options.

The reason I chose Amazon is actually a lot of reasons combined.

First, whenever I compare prices to other sites, Amazon always comes in less expensive. Budget was one of my major concerns. I like the idea of shopping smaller businesses or more locally, but in our particular situation every dollar counts, and a few dollars here and a few dollars there add up to a lot of dollars. If I can save those dollars, I will. Amazon was less expensive on every single item I ordered.

Next, last year when I was going to order disposables I found out about Amazon Mom. When you sign up with Amazon Mom every purchase over $25 qualifies you for a month of Amazon Prime. The perk of Amazon Prime? Free two day shipping on most items. Generally speaking Amazon offers free standard shipping on any order over $25. It’s a nice perk though.

Another nice perk of Amazon Mom? They have promotions that they’ll email you about from time to time that will help save more money. Just this morning I got a code that would give me a one time 20% off my entire purchase. It just so happened I had that order for more diaper covers sitting in my cart, and I had decided to get 5 instead of 6 because I didn’t want to spend the money for the 6th one. You know what? 20% off 6 covers worked out to be the cost of a single cover, so I was able to get 6 for the price of 5. Win!

The other reason I like Amazon is that their returns are easy if it’s an item that was sold or shipped by Amazon. Also, if you do what I did this morning and forgot to add the discount code before you hit the order button you can cancel your order easily if it hasn’t shipped yet.

True Costs:
What are the true costs of cloth diapering vs. disposables?

Well, I can’t tell you about every situation, I can only tell you about our situation. Over the weekend I crunched some numbers.

Disposable diaper use for TWO months:

Diapers:              $70 (approx. for large store brand cases)
Wipes:                $16 (about 2-3 80 count pks/month)
Luggage fees:    $40
Total:                 $126

Cloth diaper costs:

Econobum kit:                           $49
9 Thirsties Duo Wrap covers:  $104
12 pre-fold diapers:                   $33
Thirsties doublers:                    $24
Diaper pail liners:                      $14
Cloth wipes:                              $17
Total:                                        $241

Remembering that every time we have diapers brought in either we or someone else that we reimburse pays luggage fees, ALL of our cloth diapering stuff will have been paid for in 4 months of use.

Isn’t that crazy.

4 months.

4 months of not having to throw our money in the burn pile. Seems like a good investment to me!

You’ll notice that I didn’t include the diaper pail in this and that was for two reasons. First, we already had a diaper pail in there, it was just smaller than I wanted. Second, because I opted for a garbage can, when we’re done the whole diaper stage the garbage can will be put to use somewhere else at the mission, so it’s actually a furniture expense.

Let me know what you think!

~Leslie

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5 thoughts on “Our Switch to Cloth Diapers

  1. Hi Leslie, great post. I cloth diapered my daughter from birth to potty training and just have three tips to share!
    1. The aplix tabs may eventually start to roll and have trouble staying ‘stuck.’ They are easy to switch out if you or someone you know can sew. You can easily sew a new tab on. And also when it comes to aplix, your curious toddler may discover he can open them!!!! This is not something you want to discover at nap time, lol. If he tries to open it, place a small pair of panties or boys undies OVER the diaper and most likely you’ll find he’ll lose interest. :)
    2. Is that you don’t really need a wipes solution…. I used plain water on mine in a wipes box and never had an issue (and no diaper rash).
    3. Stripping your diapers — if you use a laundry soap that contains brighteners or conditioners, you’ll eventually find your diapers will STINK and start leaking. Just boil them again and it should be fixed. Drying them in the sun is the best for them to prevent stink and stains anyhow so you are all set there!
    Happy diapering!

    • Thanks Stacy! I agree about the aplix and have a sewing machine and a roll of velcro already so I’m set in that way. The issue of opening them during nap time was another reason I wanted to use the econobums with the snaps for sleeping. Seems Little Mister figured out what velcro was the other morning and it ended up messy :(

      Your suggestions are great!

  2. Hi Leslie! My husband and I are praying for an opportunity to go out into the mission field soon (in the Lord’s timing), we may have an opportunity fairly soon and cloth diapering has been on my mind. I’m all prepped and prepared with my first baby on the way and I can’t wait to put him in the cloth diapers I bought for him,. I just was really wondering how many missionaries cloth diaper. I’m not sure if we would even have a washing machine, but well I could go back to washing the oldschool way. Anywho I just wanted to thank you for your encouragement. It’s wonderful to see a cloth diapering missionary mama out there, May the Lord bless as yall bring Him glory in Haiti.

    • Hi Ruth!

      Thanks for your comment. I really don’t know how many do CD vs. disposables. From what I’ve seen here in Haiti (my only point of reference) more use disposables than not. I think it’s a laundry and hot water issue. Most people here don’t have washing machines, so they hire someone to hand wash their clothes. CDing would mean having someone come in every other day just for that. Also, most people don’t have access to hot water, unless they have a solar heater like we do. Even with that though, depending on the time of year we have to time when we wash the diapers so we get the hottest water during the day. I’m feeling a bit frustrated right now because we keep battling rash issues with Alex and I’m wondering if it’s because we’re not killing everything in the diapers, even though we hot wash, use a vinegar rinse and sun dry. Lot’s of challenges! :) I hope God gives you guys some direction and lets you know what your next steps are soon. Thanks for reading!

      • We recently got word of an opportunity that could possibly open up for us in Peru. We are beyond excited! I just wanted to share that with you, nothing is set in stone and it would probably be within the next year. The Lord is really opening doors. Thank you for your prayers. Praying for you all as you serve Him in Haiti.

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