Reusable Cloth Diapers 101
At the beginning, using reusable cloth diapers can be a bit of a puzzle to figure out, but worry not! We’ve cracked the code and its actually pretty easy once you get the ball rolling!
This blog post runs through the most important things you need to know about reusable cloth diapers. We explain why they are a better alternative to plastic, and we introduce new cloth diaper products with step-by-step instructions on how to use them, wash them, and keep them lasting long.
Why Use Reusable Cloth Diapers?
Reusable diapers are an amazing and effective alternative to the dangerous disposable plastic diapers that are unfortunately so widely used. They are not only better for the health of your baby, they are better for the health of our shared planet.
For a healthy baby:
Did you know that the average disposable plastic diaper contains around 50 different toxins with varying associated impacts going from skin irritations all the way to cancer, with toxic shock syndrome, asthma, and impairments to the immune and endocrine systems in between. Concerning, right? We think so too, and that’s one of the key reasons we decided to offer and promote reusable cloth diapers — they are a safer alternative. However, even if cloth diapers in general are healthier than their disposable counterparts, a large majority of them are made of plastic fibers or contain plastic fibers in parts of them. Reusable diapers made from natural plastic-free materials like cotton, hemp, and wool are safer, softer, and healthier for your baby’s bottom, but they are hard to come by! We looked for months to find a supplier offering both the diaper and its cover in non-plastic material.
For a healthy planet:
Reusable cloth diapers are also better for the environment. Disposable diapers use two to three times more water, twenty times more raw materials like crude oil and wood pulp,¹ as well as large amounts of chemicals, including toxic chlorine.² They also generate sixty times more solid waste.³ In 1988, the U riod2mr.S alone consumed around 27.4 billion disposable diapers. It is not only the amount of plastic and human waste that ends up in landfills that is concerning, but also how long they persist in the environment, as it has been estimated that they can take 250-500 years to break down.4
How to Use Reusable Cloth Diapers
Here are instructions on how to use the plastic-free cloth diaper system we offer at our Life Without Plastic online store.
One-size fitted diapers are the foundation of the whole kit and caboodle. Made with organic cotton and hemp, they are super soft and easy to use with adjustable snaps that grow with your little one. They use natural elastic around the legs and waist to create a custom fit and prevent against leakage. This elastic is covered with material so it is soft on the skin. These diapers act as regular plastic ones would except that they can be reused, and have a pouch to add extra liners. It is recommended that diapers be washed a few times before the first use. This will increase absorbency by minimizing the naturally occurring oils in the diapers which prevent absorption. See the stripping directions below in the care instructions.
These diaper covers are made from Oeko Tex 100 certified Merino wool. They contain natural lanolin which creates a waterproof barrier and an extra layer of protection over the fitted cloth diaper. They have three rows of snaps to accommodate your growing baby and easily snap right onto the diaper itself. Diaper covers do not need to be changed every time the diaper is soiled and replaced because they have less contact with the kiddies’ business.
For heavy wetters or overnight use, these plastic-free pads can be placed in the fitted diaper to add extra absorbency. On the left is our pack of six organic cotton and hemp doublers which have a bit more of a contouring shape to go around your baby’s legs. Additionally, we have Merino wool liners which can be seen in the image on the right. The outer layer is water resistant while the inner layer is water absorbent. This allows for the liner to soak up the liquid without leaving a damp feeling.
Prepping Your Changing Station
You can keep your whole baby changing station natural, plastic-free, and healthy with these items too! On the left, you can see the Oeko Tex 100 certified wool changing/puddle pad. It is 16.75″ x 28″ and comes in a natural cream color with super soft texture.
On the right, you can see the reusable softie baby wipes which are chemical-free and made from 100% unbleached organic cotton. Each wipe is 9″ x 9″ and this pack comes with a set of 12 wipes that can washed over and over again. They are soft, durable, and ready for anything you throw at them.
Buying Your Starter Pack
How many should you buy ? This can really vary depending on the age of your baby, how often they soil the diapers, and how often you do laundry. Newborns usually need to be changed 10-12 times a day whereas toddlers may only need 6-8 changes. Our supplier recommends starting with the following items:
- Approximately 30 one-size fitted cloth diapers
- 6 diaper covers
- 10-20 doublers or wool liners
- 24 cloth wipes
Although it is a significant upfront cost, using reusable diapers can actually save money that would have been spent on disposable diapers in the long run because the reusable ones grow with your baby and can be reused over and over for years.
Cleaning and Care Instructions
For hemp and organic cotton cloth diapers, doublers, and softie wipes:
Soiled diapers, doublers, and softie wipes can be machine washed and either line or machine dried. We recommend washing all hemp and organic cotton diaper items together but separate from your regular laundry.
Step 1. Rinse the soiled diaper into the toilet bowl and place soiled items in a closed bin until you are ready to wash.
Step 2. Toss the rinsed soiled items in the washing machine and wash with hot water using a biodegradable detergent like our Washing Greens All Natural Detergent.
Step 3. Hang items to dry in the sunshine or place in machine dryer on hot for 60-90 minutes. Diapers will shrink with the first three washes.
This process should keep your reusable cloth diapers clean and smelling fresh!
If there is still an odor, you may need to strip your diapers. Try washing them again in hot water without detergent, and rinsing them multiple times until there are no more soap bubbles. You can also occasionally add 0.5-1 cup of vinegar to the last rinse cycle for softness, absorption, mildew protection, and to restore PH by neutralizing the ammonia. Do not use vinegar too often, however, as it can damage the elastic.
Products to avoid: bleach, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, homemade detergent, soap nuts, and generic laundry products containing perfumes, optimal brighteners, or excessive amounts of sodium bicarbonate, sodium hydroxide, and washing soda. These can irritate your baby’s sensitive skin while damaging cloth diapers and making them less absorbent.
Tip: Add a scoop of the Washing Greens All Natural Detergent to the bottom of your diaper bin to neutralize odors and keep your house smelling fresh!
For wool and cashmere covers and pads:
Cleaning your wool covers is simple but requires special monthly lanolin care. You may wash your wool covers in cold water using the Washing Greens All Natural Detergent. Make sure you air or line dry them because a machine dryer will shrink them. Because the wool is water-resistant and self-cleaning, it will not need frequent laundering, but you will be able to tell when it needs a washing when the urine smell sticks around after laying it to dry.
Monthly Lanolin Care
To disinfect, preserve, and make your wool water-resistant, wash your wool covers with our Lanolin Oil once a month. Lanolin is a substance that is naturally secreted from the glands of wool-bearing animals to help protect them against the elements. It is anti-fungal, antimicrobial, and water-resistant!
Here are the instructions on how to use lanolin oil once a month on dry and clean wool.
Step 1. Start by filling a basin with lukewarm water and taking a separate cup of lukewarm water on the side.
Step 2. Add a pea-sized drop of lanolin to the cup of water and stir well until dissolved.
Step 3. Pour the cup contents into the basin and mix well.
Step 4. Place the wool items in the basin and soak them. Let them sit for three hours minimum.
Step 5. Remove the items from the basin, lay them on a clean dry towel, and roll it to remove excess water (avoid wringing them out as this can misshape them).
Step 6. Lay flat to dry.
Looking for a deeper exploration of green prep for your next little one? Check out the book Green Mama: What parents need to know to give their children a healthy start and a greener future.
Manda Aufochs Gillespie, The Green Mama, shares what today’s science and Grandma’s traditional wisdom tells us about prenatal care for mothers-to-be, breastfeeding, detoxifying the nursery, diapering, caring for baby’s skin, feeding family, and healthy play—redefining the “basics” of parenting for today’s world. With an upbeat tone, stories of parents that have “been there,” real-world advice for when money matters more, and practical steps geared toward immediate success, Green Mama engages and guides even the busiest, most sleep-deprived parent.
¹ Armstrong, Liz and Adrienne Scott. Whitewash: Exposing the Health and Environmental Dangers of Women’s Sanitary Products and Disposable Diapers, What You Can Do About It. 1993. Harper Collins.
² Lehrburger, C., J. Mullen and C.V. Jones. 1991. Diapers: Environmental Impacts and Lifecycle Analysis. Philadelphia, PA: Report to The National Association of Diaper Services (NADS).
³ Armstrong, Liz and Adrienne Scott. Whitewash: Exposing the Health and Environmental Dangers of Women’s Sanitary Products and Disposable Diapers, What You Can Do About It. 1993. HarperCollins.
4 Lehrburger, Carl. 1988. Diapers in the Waste Stream: A review of waste management and public policy issues. 1988. Sheffield, MA: self-published.
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