A Guide to Cloth Diapering: one way, flats

Watching my dear friend cloth diaper her first son gave me the courage and knowhow to try it out myself.  We were pregnant at the same time (she with her twins, I with my munchkin) so her preparations of pulling out the tiny clothes and preparing the nappies were advanced of mine.  This naturally facilitated my own questions and preparations. This post is meant to be a guiding hand to those of you who may not have a best friend nearby to answer all of your questions about cloth diapering.

Firstly I'll mention that originally I was not fully set on using the same cloth nappies that my friend had.  I spent hours on blogs, youtube, tutorials, and product reviews trying to figure out the lingo of cloth diapering and figure out what, how, how much, and why.  I had almost totally decided for a different kind of nappy, but finally decided that the "classic" diapering method was the easiest/cheapest/best way. The official lingo for this in the cloth diapering world is "flats." So imagine a baby with a big white diaper and clothes pins.  That's what I'm talking about, except substitute the clothes pins for a cute pink Snappi to hold the diaper together, and cover up that nappy with a forest-patterned velcro nappy cover.  21st century cloth diapering, here we go.

First, some key terms and items we'll be examining  (some interchangeable)
  • nappies = diapers = (in my case) flats
  • nappy covers = cover pants
  • Snappi = a silicon T with teeth to hold the nappy together
  • nappy liners, paper/celulose and viscose
  • nappy pail
  • tea tree essential oil - antiseptic, antiviral, antimicrobial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial
  • lavender essential oil -  anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antiseptic, antibacterial and antimicrobial
  • vinegar (for washing)
Recently a friend told me that after seeing me do nappy changes with my daughter, she realized that cloth nappies don't seem as unrealistic and inconvenient as she'd expected.  So below is an explanation of how we've cloth diapered.

Stocking up: Key materials (and my recommendation of how many)
Nappies (about 40 pieces or as many as will last you based on your washing schedule)
One of my first questions going in was "how much of everything do I need?"  And I didn't really figure it out right away.  I definitely repeated nappy orders as I went along.  When I say nappies, I mean large woven cotton squares.  These are then folded into an appropriate shape and "pinned" onto the baby using a nifty thing called a Snappi, which holds the cloth part of the nappy in place.  For water-proof-ness I then add on a PUL nappy cover on top.

Finally, I bought 31 nappies, was given 20 (made in 1976) still in their original packaging, received around 10 or so secondhand, and then an additional 20 secondhand.  So altogether around 80 individual pieces.  These were acquired gradually, because when the baby is little, there is a smaller volume of urine, so for the first few months, I used just one square to fold the nappy.  Later I started putting two square nappies on top of each other and folding them together into one ůber nappy to hold more urine. So that means if I ever had all the nappies folded and ready at one time, I'd have about 40 folded nappies.

To know how many you need, think about how many nappies per day (for us 8-10 in the early months at one year, more like 6-7), how often you'll be washing, and the time in between washing and having the nappies folded and ready again. 

Diaper covers (4-7 per size)
I also received about 6 diaper covers secondhand, mostly in the smaller size (my child was born at 9+ pounds, so we progressed rapidly to the larger size), and in addition was given 2 new and bought 2 with growing snaps.  Diaper covers are varied.  There can be Velcro flaps or snaps.  They can be single size or have snaps that allow you to make it bigger and bigger.  They come in patterns, in fleece, in wool, in PUL, and there are plenty of other varieties of which I'm not even aware of.  I am happy with my Thirsties growing nappy covers.  They are PUL, which means the textile has been treated to be water resistant.  They have snaps that can shorten or lengthen the nappy cover to extend the number of months of use. I like their fun colours and patterns that make nappy changes more pleasant.  In the current size, I have 7 covers.  I used more when she was smaller, particularly because there were more incidents with poo getting on the covers, so I needed more spares.  For curiosity's sake, I'll state that my covers attach around the baby's waist with the assistance of Velro. which for the past couple of months my daughter has been occasionally un-velcro-ing. I do have one cover that uses snaps, and it was advertised as not pinching the baby's skin, but I don't see it as really necessary and it takes more time while changing the nappy (and we've got a runner, so we can't have that).  For a while I used the snap cover as the "night-time cover" since it is quieter when taken off for a while-sleeping diaper change.

Diaper liners (one pack lasts me about 3 months)
These are important because they allow you to easily throw out the poo in your toilet rather than your washing machine.  This thin layer is added to the folded nappy and also acts as a wetness shield to your baby's bum as the moisture is quickly wicked away from it and into the cloth nappy.  If there's no poo, this can go into the nappy pail and be washed and reused.  If there is poo, this catches most of it and it can be flushed away. The first 6 months I used paper-like liners (material: celulose) and then I began using sturdier ones (viscose).

Wipes - textile (15-20 pieces), Snappis (5) and Wet bags (2)
Textile wipes

As is described below in the nappy changing section, I try not to use disposable wipes too often.  My sister bought me 30 of these cotton squares and they've been perfect.  Along with them I use a wipe solution that I make from boiled water, a couple of squirts of calendula baby wash, another couple of calendula oil, and a few drops of lavender or tea tree oil (antibacterial).

This red Snappi holds it all together.
I ordered Snappis to hold together the folded nappies.  The main structure is silicon, and on each tip there is a ridged plastic "claw."  The elasticity allows you to stretch out the arms of the Snappi and the claws grip the textile of the nappy to keep the nappy on the babe.

While on the go, it's handy to have "wet bags"--water-resistant bags--to keep soiled nappies in until we can put them in our nappy bin at home. We have 2.

Based on my experience, to start cloth diapering, I'd recommend the following:
  • 40+ flat nappies
  • 4-5 nappy covers per size (Thirsties brand)
  • two boxes of celulose nappy liners (for the first 6 months), two boxes of viscose nappy liners (for the next 6 months)
  • 15-20 cotton squares to serve as wipes
  • a nappy bin (or any bin) with a lid
  • a squirt bottle (to contain the wipe solution)
  • lavender essential oil
  • tea tree essential oil and/or eucalyptus essential oil (to drip into the nappy bin to keep smell and germs at bay)
Ironing and Folding
As you may have already picked up, I used some different techniques for the first months and later months.  The same goes for nappy folds.  I used the "origami fold" until it wasn't quite big enough for her anymore, then I switched to the kite fold. I used the "kite fold" as the base layer and then just folded another nappy into a long rectangle to lay inside as a booster. A quick google or youtube search will show you how to do each fold.

A finished "origami" fold diaper with 2 flats layered together.
If you squint, you can see the liner on top.

Diaper changes and hygiene
The instructions included for the diaper covers recommend wiping off the nappy cover with a damp cloth in between changes. I change the diaper cover with each diaper change (unless
I'm out and about), leave the old one to air dry, and put it into the wash if it has poo poo on it, or just after multiple uses.

I don't use any sort of diaper cream, but rather use talcum powder with lavender and we've been diaper-rash free.  I try not to use disposable wipes, but instead use some simple cotton squares (the size of wipes, or slightly smaller) and wet them with my homemade wipe solution.  The solutions are fairly simple and usually contain boiled and slightly cooled water, some soap (baby wash), some oil (baby oil), and some essential oil (lavender or tea tree).  I don't measure when I make it, but rather into a small squirt bottle put a big squeeze of baby wash and baby oil and around 3 drops of essential oil along with the water.  Some people prefer to take a wipes box and douse the wipes in the solution.  I've done this on occasion, but you have to be careful of mildew.  I prefer to use the spray bottle and squares, as you can easily control the level of wetness of the wipe. Moreover, I think it distributes the oil and soap more evenly this way.

So after cleaning the bottom, applying lavender talcum powder, and the nappy+cover,  and then take care of the soiled nappy.  The liner, if soiled, can be flushed down the toilet.  This keeps waste in the sewers and out of your washing machine.  The rest of the nappy can go in your nappy pail.  After a couple of nappes are inside, I usually add some drops of eucalyptus or tea tree oil for its uber-anti-septic and anti-so many icky things powers. It also helps with the smell.

Hygiene (essential oils)
Washing & Ironing
The stock of nappies necessary is contingent on how often you'll be doing the washing. Though I have more than enough nappies to last me two days, I have to wash every two days because a) my dirty nappy storage is quite limited b) I find that after 48 hours the smell (though contained in the pail) is enough for me to want to wash them c) our washing machine can't hold much beyond two days' worth of nappies, and d) it provides a cushion for air drying time as well as for folding the nappies for the next round.

We don't use any special detergent for our nappies; we use the same baby sensitive detergent that we use for all our clothes (though I've recently bought everything necessary to do homemade detergent).  The cover pants, being plastic-coated, have a maximum washing temperature of 60 degrees C (140 F), so if I am washing nappies and covers together, this is my max temp.  However, if I'm washing only nappies, since they're cotton, they can take higher heat and I wash them at 80 degrees C.  Usually I choose a cycle that has a pre-wash and extra rinse.  I don't use fabric softener (fabric softeners on nappies and towels is a no-no since fabric softeners function by binding fibers and thus inhibiting their absorbancy), but rather add vinegar (I don't even use white vinegar, but just the cheap stuff). Vinegar kills bacteria, reduces odor, and it removes detergent residue.

We don't have a dryer, so we air dry.  The first 10 months I ironed her nappies before folding, as another anti-germ step through the high heat.  I found that I enjoyed the ironing (they're just squares so it's easy enough to do) and liked to listen to podcasts while doing it, but it did add some time to the process.  I think it made the nappies softer on my darling's bum, but after 10 months, she herself was pretty rough and tumble, so I thought she could bear up under non-ironed nappies.

Does your flat/house stink? No.  Aside from the waft of nappy smell when I'm putting another dirty nappy into the pail or when I'm putting the nappies into the washer, there is not a constant smell in the flat.
Is it gross? It's no grosser than any other kind of diapering. 
Isn't it extra work? In a way, yes, because you have to wash and fold the nappies.  However, you skip some of the chores of disposable nappies - frequent purchasing of wipes and nappies, trips to the dumpster to throw out nappies, etc.
Isn't it uncomfortable for the baby? No. Despite our pediatrician's recommendation, we did not remove the nappy to give her practice time on her tummy or while she was learning to crawl, etc.  She has so far reached all developmental phases with no hindrance from her nappy.  Moreover, since the baby does feel the wetness a bit more than with a paper nappy, this is said to help the baby transition to potty training.
But it's so bulky! Yes and no.  Less bulky than I imagined.  I still am able to put regular leggings and trousers over it, but definitely looser waistbands and big booty spaces are preferred.  I think our baby benefits from the extra cushion the nappy provides when she falls down.
Is it really helping the environment if you have to wash them so often? This is a valid question, but I feel that we're being eco-friendly through a) not buying plastic nappies which consume plenty of energy by being produced, packaged, shipped etc. b) not filling landfills with said nappies, and c) not adding to local waste volume by disposal of nappies.  Yes, we use water in washing the nappies, but we don't use a dryer, so we're saving energy there.  As a friend keenly reminded, the idea of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, is a step-by-step process.  First, I reduce what disposable products I use.  Then I reuse the nappies that I've bought, and I don't even have to use step 3.

I hope that that's enough to inspire some brave souls to give cloth diapering a try.  If you're still uncertain, there are even services that deliver fresh cloth nappies, and then launder the soiled ones for you.  You just might surprise yourself by finding how doable it is!


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