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Cloth Diapering In Humid Climates

Sep16

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Advice Smackdown ArchivesDear Amy,

Okay, I know you are in the midst of writing a cloth diaper manifesto, and I am so scared you won’t get my question answered. The deal is that I’m pregnant with our 5th child, super happy and hoping to out-breed all the jerks who ask me if “I know how that happens.” I loves me some big family chaos. I also stumbled upon cloth diapering with our 4th little monkey when my husband was laid off and I went all Home Economist by paring our expenses down to $2000/m including housing and such.

So, needless to say I went on ebay, bought some pocket diapers, and never really thought about doing any research or anything. The diapers were great until we moved into an area that keeps the climate the same temp as Hades. The fleece caused our little preshus to get heat rash in his boy parts and thus after SO MUCH savings, I turned back to the evil Earth-hating disposables because (cue God laughing), I thought he’d be potty trained soon. I also GAVE my perfectly good diapers to my hippie-friend who lives in the arctic. 

Soooo, #5 is coming along nicely with the added bonus of constant vomiting, and I’m thinking I need to figure out this cloth diapers thing fast. First, I hate everything about disposable diapers as does my husband. Second, I never found cloth to be inconvenient because I run the washing machine all the time since we have our own little tribe under our roof. But what is our COOLEST option? Is bamboo cool? Or am I stuck with the indian cotton? Don’t mention wool to me or I will break out in a hot flash, I promise. 

Please answer this question in your manifesto. I would be ever so grateful!!

Love,
Babs

Ah, what the hell. Let’s just go ALL CLOTH DIAPERS ALL THE TIME this week and talk about them here, too. The topic of cloth diapering the hot, humid DC summer was something I was planning to briefly mention in my Cloth Diapering A Newborn Novel-Length Memoir, but probably not in enough detail to satisfy you. So…spin-off time!

What I’ve learned: It wasn’t the fleece on the cloth diapers that caused the heat rash. It was the waterproofed cover. Pocket diapers have an outer shell made from polyurethane laminate (PUL). It’s a popular material for reusable diapers and diaper covers because it’s 100% waterproof but also incredibly thin, allowing for a nice, trim fit without a lot of bulk. It’s awesome stuff! But it’s not breathable. Moisture stays in, fresh air stays out, and the environment inside your diaper can get hot and humid and icky. The fleece layer is there for this very reason — to let air circulate and wick as much of that moisture away from baby’s skin and into the guts of the diaper.

PUL layers aren’t usually a problem for most babies because the diapers are getting changed frequently and little bottoms get aired out…but in a super-humid climate, they can definitely pose a challenge. You’d probably have to commit to a LOT of naked-butt time during the day. And, if problems persist, maybe even opt for a disposable overnight and save the cloth for daytime, when you can make sure baby isn’t stuck in the same wet diaper for very long.

Or you can look at your non-PUL diapering options. And I know: It sounds insane, but the issue here is BREATHABLE vs. NON-BREATHABLE FABRICS. I know you hear “fleece” and (ducks) “wool” and think heavy hot winter clothes, but they just…aren’t, when it comes to diapering. I don’t really know how to explain it, except not that I’ve SEEN it, I BELIEVE it.

Because I thought fleece and wool covers sounded freaking crazy insane-o backwards, when preparing for Ike’s early-June birth. I bought a combination of cotton prefolds, bamboo fitteds and one-size pockets. The prefolds and fitteds required covers, so I bought some PUL ones because they seemed like the “lightest.” This was…dumb. I admit it. That meant, no matter what diaper option Ike was wearing, his butt was always encased in a non-breathable outer layer.

He got heat rash. Of course he did. I figured out that he could wear the fitteds without a cover around the house, and that helped a lot. Bamboo is heavenly…so soft and breathable. I haven’t personally tried any of the “big” brands of fitted diapers — I went with the handmade-by-moms route and loved everything about them. No blowouts, perfect fit, adjustable soakers, cutest fabrics on the planet, etc. And no rash! Well, until I slapped one of those PUL covers on him overnight, or when we ventured outside in during the horrible, 100+ degree heat wave we had in June. It was like a dang SAUNA up in his pants.

Finally, a friend told me I really, really needed to try fleece or wool covers. Just…try them. It sounds wrong! I know! This is exactly what you ordered me NOT to talk about! Wait! Come back!

I couldn’t even believe I was ordering them, and you should have SEEN my husband’s face when the package of lambswool soakers arrived. He thought I had truly gone around the bend, as I explained my intentions of putting a damn SWEATER on my baby’s BOTTOM in AUGUST.

But I did. And lo, it was miraculous. I really don’t know how to explain it, except to once again stress the importance of breathability. You obviously need something waterproof on a diaper (again, unless you’re just chilling at home and don’t mind checking the diaper occasionally for dampness on the outside), and if you need waterproof AND breathable AND antibacterial, wool is it.  Hey, it seems to work pretty well on the sheep, right?

Fleece also breathes, though I’d say it’s more water-resistant than waterproof: Ike wears his fleece covers during the day, but I don’t like them as much at night because some dampness does start coming through to his clothes after awhile. Nothing terrible or anything, but wool works better.

Swear to God: On a really hot, humid day (or morning, after Ike has slept through the night), and I change a diaper with a PUL layer, be it a cotton prefold or bamboo fitted or FuzziBunz or bunGenius pocket, Ike’s skin is slightly damp. A warning sign that I need to let him go commando for awhile or apply some diaper-safe rash ointment. (I like Grandma El’s.) When I change a diaper inside a fleece or wool cover…he’s dry.

And in the beginning, because I just couldn’t believe this crazy talk about these covers NOT BEING INSANELY HOT AND UNCOMFORTABLE, I used to regularly poke my fingers inside the diapers to gauge the temperature of Ike’s skin. And he was FINE. His waist and butt felt no warmer than the rest of his body. No lie. SCIENCE.

Ezra wore the pocket diapers with a PUL layer exclusively and never had a problem, even in the summer. Though I was always pretty good about giving him bare-butt air-out time. I chalk Ike’s sensitivity to him being a newborn and this past summer being exceptionally hot and humid. In a climate like yours, year-round, I’d use anything with a PUL layer very, very sparingly, only when you really need them. You probably know that the rest of your family stays more comfortable in breathable, natural fabrics…or in moisture-wicking synthetic fibers when they’re playing sports or exercising and the sweat really flows. In the diapering world, wool and fleece are the equivalent. Wool is natural and breathable, fleece wicks the wet off the skin. For the absorbent guts of the diaper, go with cotton or hemp or bamboo for further natural breathability.

Our plan was never to use prefolds/fitteds/covers long-term because by next summer he’ll definitely be big enough to fit into our entire hand-me-down stash. But…nobody tell Jason, but, uh…I might change that plan. I’m a total convert. Join me! It’s only KIND OF like a cult, a little bit.

PS. There is also a waterproofed cotton cover that I have never tried, but have seen mentioned during “need a breathable cover option but am scared of wool” discussions: a Niji cotton cover. I don’t know much about it, like how exactly it’s been waterproofed and still retains the breathability of cotton, but it’s an option if I’ve failed to convince you that wool and fleece aren’t actually as backwards-crazy-talk as they seem at first.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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16 Responses to “Cloth Diapering In Humid Climates”

  1. Leigh Sep 17 at 11:27 am Reply Reply

    Thanks for the wonderful explanation of the joy of summer wool. My little miss (#2) got terrible heat rash as well in PUL covers and wool fixed the problem. I have always explained it using the wool hiking sock example.
    I love Babykicks fitteds on my kids with wool. If you want fitteds the stay dry next to the skin look at Thirsties Duos or Happy Heinys Hempies.
    Baby Behinds makes a wool cover with velco that is machine washable and is a perfect starter (gateway) wool.

  2. Amy J Sep 17 at 11:58 am Reply Reply

    Love  my wool.  And its cuteness :)

  3. Amy J Sep 17 at 11:58 am Reply Reply

    Love  my wool.  And its cuteness :)

  4. KimC Sep 17 at 12:48 pm Reply Reply

    I am interested in wool, but can a mama use, say, flats under the things? I have this utter fascination with flats and pins and such- I don’t get to use them as much as I want because the darn baby got all squiggly on me and now I have to chase her down for diaper changes, but I want to try the wool covers.

  5. Jennifer Sep 17 at 5:43 pm Reply Reply

    I had my preemie in PUL and prefolds this whole nasty summer in North Carolina, and we have had no problems with rashes.  I think it is definitely a YMMV thing…  KimC, you can definitely use flats under woolies!  I do have one soaker (made by a friend–I’m a knitter but I haven’t made any soakers yet), and I use a prefold with a Snappi under it.  (Normally we just trifold in our covers, so it’s fun to use the Snappi once in a while.)

  6. karen. Sep 19 at 12:41 am Reply Reply

    I apologize for the question, but if a baby is doing fine in PUL (no rashes, etc), does that “eliminate” (see, you can’t be mad at me for the question because isn’t that an awesome pun??) the practical reason for switching to wool? I want to embrace wool so badly, but my kiddo does fine with PUL two years running so it’s hard to justify the extra cost.

  7. Baby Bunz & Co. Sep 19 at 12:17 pm Reply Reply

    Hi ~ Thank you for the mention that we carry breathable diaper cover options! Your link was to our older Niji Cotton covers, however our most breathable diaper covers are actually the following…From Nikky: Wool, All Cotton Waterproof, and Breathable Poly covers; From Niji: Wool, 100% Cotton, and Poly Breathable covers. We also offer Aristocrats, a beautifully knitted pull-on ‘soaker’ made of soft untreated natural wool. All can be found in the Diapering section of our website http://www.babybunz.com, under ‘diaper covers’. We believe having at least some breathable covers in the mix is essential to provide more air circulation and prevent diaper rash. If anyone has any questions about cloth diapering or our products please call us at 800-676-4559 and we’d be happy to help! :) ~ Heather

  8. Babs Sep 19 at 7:21 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you, I’m going to try the fitteds and *gasp* woolies based on this. Mostly because I’m highly suggestible and because I get that no-bullshit vibe from your blog. And yes, sheep. They often live in hot/humid climates and don’t die of heatstroke.

    BUT no one tell my husband because he will be all, “If the Internet told you to jump off a bridge, would you?” and I’d be all, “Maybe if I trusted the source..,” So yeah. Our secret until the babe is born.

    • Kate Sep 16 at 5:49 pm Reply Reply

      This made me laugh so hard. My husband would say the same thing! :)

  9. Kim C. ~ Flats or Prefold diapers work well inside trim-fitting Velcro-closing Wool diaper covers like Nikky, and diapering is quick for squirmy babies. Usually there’s no need for pins or Snappis since fastening the front Velcro panel allows you to get a snug fit that holds the diaper in place. Simply fold the diaper in thirds and lay the tri-folded diaper ‘panel’ inside the open Nikky. Close and fasten Velcro and that’s all there is to it. If baby still has lots of runny messes it might be a good idea to use an alternative folding technique along with pins or Snappis for maximum diaper coverage and containment. Here’s a diaper folding diagram you might find helpful: http://www.babybunz.com/info_art_of_diapering.html —Happy Diapering! ~ Heather :)

  10. Annabel Sep 20 at 8:40 am Reply Reply

    Hey, I noticed you said on your other blog that you’ve only washed one wool cover once, does this mean you haven’t got any poop on them yet? What’s the deal if you do? Handwash?

  11. Jesse Sep 20 at 11:20 am Reply Reply

    My question is… if the wool and fleece ‘wick’ moisture away from the baby & the diaper ‘guts’, don’t they get all ammonia-y and stinky and full of pee? Where does the pee go??

    I love the wool covers and think they look adorable, but I can’t quite wrap my brain around the concept of a breathable cover that doesn’t leak AND you don’t have to wash it very often?

  12. Annie Sep 24 at 3:40 pm Reply Reply

    I have a whole mess of Kissaluvs fitteds. Does anyone know if I can use wool/fleece over them?

  13. KimC Sep 28 at 3:46 pm Reply Reply

    Okay, so, based on advice, I bought some wool soakers from a shop on etsy- they look HUGE. Someone tell me that this is normal?

  14. Caitlin Oct 10 at 8:05 pm Reply Reply

    @ Annie: You can use woolies and fleece soakers over fitteds. Just make sure you buy the right size soaker/woolie so that it fits over your fitted.

  15. Heather Oct 14 at 3:36 pm Reply Reply

    Wool covers usually don’t need to be washed as often– especially for newborns and breastfed babies since at this stage the urine isn’t so smelly. That will change when baby begins to eat solids, and then you may have to wash covers about once a week instead of every two weeks. In the meantime if some poop gets on the cover you can tackle that by spot-washing in cold water and a mild detergent –unless it’s a major blow-out and then you’d probably need to wash the cover. Using a fitted cloth diaper under wool covers will help contain messes better so the cover will stay cleaner longer. Wool felt covers like Nikkys can be machine or hand washed, but most knitted soakers like Aristocrats can only be washed by hand. Best to check each cover’s care instructions as it will vary. Eucalan ‘no rinse’ Wool Wash is great for washing wool covers and soakers since it’s mild, natural, and contains lanolin to help maintain and prolong the waterproof quality of wool covers. Sometimes you can find this at knitting stores, or we also carry it on our site at http://www.babybunz.com. If anyone has other questions about diapering with wool covers just give us a call at 800-676-4559 and we can help. ~ Heather :)

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