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Cloth Diaper Service vs. Buying Your Own

By Amalah


My husband and I are newlyweds and where I want a baby NOW NOW NOW, He prefers to wait at least a year to start trying. In the mean time I have been prepping by reading your blog! I noticed that you have a lot of great information about cloth diapers but there is one thing I am missing…Is there something wrong with the diaper service? My mom actually used the cloth diaper service for both me and my sister and this worked well because it is cheaper and you don’t have to wash the diapers yourself. Currently my husband and I live in a condo and something seems wrong with using the community washers to wash diapers and I really don’t want to get that up and personal with the poo. So are diaper services wrong???…If I use one, I guess I need those covers too huh???… If I missed where you already wrote about this, please point me in the right direction.

Getting Ready!!!

Oh my GOD, you PEOPLE. With the PLANNING. You make me look bad, you really do.

I seriously just woke up one morning (AFTER my SECOND baby was here, and had been here for a couple months), turned to my husband and said, “You know, I think I’d like to switch to cloth diapers.” Less than a month later we were fully stocked (with whatever other bloggers told me they used) and muddling our way through the soak and wash cycles.

I’m not saying we were right to be so impulsive and y’all are overthinking things, but…well, I guess I’m grateful I never spent months driving myself crazy with the cloth diaper planning.

That said, there is NOTHING wrong with a diaper service! It’s a great choice for many families. It’s easy, convenient and super environmentally friendly. Services tend to use less water and power overall than us wash-at-home households, and they all use environmentally-safe detergents that are free of phosphates and other crappy-for-the-world’s-water-supply chemicals. Yay for the planet!

Who should consider a diaper service vs. investing in their own cloth diapers? Obviously, people without their own laundry facilities — I’m sure there are many families that cloth diaper despite using a laundromat or community machines, but I admit I would probably not last long as one of them. Families planning on having just one child, as well, might find that the upfront costs of diapers that will only be used for one baby aren’t as attractive compared to families who are counting on using them again. Personally, while we’re on the fence about adding another baby to our family, I am pretty soundly sure I would use a diaper service for the first several weeks/months (until the baby really FIT into our one-sized diapers — I don’t care what anyone says, they are not cut out for the scrawny deboned-chicken bodies of teeny tiny newborns). Diaper services are also great for families on the fence about cloth diapering — a try-it-before-you-buy-it option — and the monthly fees can be prepaid by friends and family looking for the ultimate practical gift for parents-to-be.

Of course, there are both pros and cons to every decision, and this is no different. The cons of a diaper service are that many only offer simple prefold diapers, which still require an investment in diaper covers. (Some will give you a few free covers with your contract, or sell plain ones very inexpensively.) (Pro: Diaper cover options are endless and SO DARN FREAKING CUTE.) If you plan to have your baby in daycare, the diaper service diapers will probably not be an option, as the vast majority of daycares will NOT use prefolds, but demand all-in-ones or pockets. I’ve HEARD of some diaper services offering the fancier diaper systems, though my cursory research into what’s available in my area (hint: NOT MUCH) didn’t turn up anything like that. I’m sure it depends on your city/area though — D.C. doesn’t seem to have a huge demand for diaper services, so there’s all of ONE to chose from.

I’ve also heard, anecdotally, that the diaper service diapers can just plain suck, because they are as basic as cloth diapers get. There is nothing wrong with old-school prefolds — like you said, they are exactly what 99% of our mothers likely used — but there’s also no denying that cloth diapers have come a LOOOONG way since then. I’m not so very intimidated now, but I admit when I was getting started I was hooked on the idea of getting diapers that were as much like a disposable as possible.

But on the flip side, if you use the prefolds and like the prefolds, they are a very inexpensive option to buy for yourself, if you find that doing, say, one load of diapers a week in your condo’s facilities is totally doable. As your baby gets older and his or her toileting habits more predictable, your diaper costs could be next to nothing, with maybe the cheapest service option taking care of most diapers while you supplement on your condo building’s water bill. That’s a huge WIN, right there.

Also: Cloth Diapering 101, Part 2 & Part 3

If there is a question you would like answered by Amalah on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected]

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


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 Ama...

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 [email protected].

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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  • Stefanie

    September 13, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    We used the one and only DC diaper service when my daughter was first born.  Amy is right about the covers–you do have to supply and wash your own.  While stuffing the prefolds is not difficult in the least, it frustrated me because if I was washing the covers, why was I paying someone else to wash the insides?  I also found that the newborn poop stained the covers very badly.  Couple that with newborn mom brain and me running around gathering dirty diapers every week when they arrived to collect because I NEVER remembered to put them out the night before, and it did not last long around here.  The best part about the diaper service diapers?  My husband and I laughing so hysterically the first time we saw our LO in the huge-looking diaper that I thought I was going to pop my stitches.  

  • tasterspoon

    September 13, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    I’ve been talking a good game about cloth diapering when mine gets here and every single mom I’ve mentioned it to *swears* by getting a service for at least the first several weeks regardless of what you do later. A side benefit they liked is that some services will sell OTHER necessities, like butt cream or Tylenol or formula, and drop them off at the same time as your diapers, so you don’t even have to leave the house. I was thinking of flying solo, though, in part because holding on to stinky diapers for a week sounds gross to me.

    AND, speaking of planning ahead, I was just reading What to Expect the First Year this morning, and the author kind of pooh-poohs DIYing cloth diapers, she says because the services are far more sanitary based on the temps their washers can get to. I don’t know if her info is dated, but it’s a first time I heard that one and my brand new Samsung with Sanitary setting and mystical +SilverCare+ rinse is nonplussed.

  • Kari

    September 13, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    hee hee. Guilty as charged when it comes to overplanning. But what ELSE should we be DOING other than planning? Oh my goodness, are there other things I should be planning instead? That I am not planning because I am too busy researching cloth diapers? Because if I have time to think about actually having a baby, I might start freaking out.

  • JCF

    September 13, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    We used a service when our first baby was born for the exact reason you mentioned–we lived in a condo with coin op washers and didn’t know if it would be cool or too complicated to wash our own.

    Our service had an 8 week minimum to start with, so we signed up and paid for that. There was technically nothing WRONG with it, but at the end of the 8 weeks we canceled and started washing our own for the following reasons:
    1. It was expensive. As expensive as it is to wash in coin op washers, the service was WAY more expensive. Also, probably more expensive than disposables.
    2. Like Amy mentioned, you have to supply and wash your own covers. We were also using cloth wipes (because it is honestly easier with CD. You don’t have to throw away poopy wipes separately–just drop them in the pail). But then we were doing a wash load for covers and wipes, so why not just wash diapers along with them?
    3. We got a diaper sprayer so that we would not be putting diapers with poop in the community washers.
    4. With a newborn, we were going through SO MANY diapers that we were running out of our 70 diapers per week from the service, and were left with a choice between a. throwing some diapers from the service into the wash mid-week (so easy!), buying disposables (so not the point), or upping our allotment from the service and paying even more money. We found it easier to get a 3 day supply of our own diapers and throw them in the wash whenever we got low.
    5. I didn’t like having dirty diapers sitting around for a week. It isn’t that offensive with newborn diapers (but also not lovely, either), but now having had older baby/toddler diapers around, I can assure you that letting those sit for a week would be DISGUSTING (and take up like 2 full diaper pails, since the diapers are bigger).
    6. My new-mom brain couldn’t ever remember the day of the week, hence I forgot to set the diapers on the porch several times and had to DRIVE them to the CD service. Not worth it.

  • Camille

    September 13, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    We used pre-folds with my daughter once her belly button stump fell off, and used (and still use) fuzzibunz once she outgrew the prefolds. I actually loved the prefolds…used with a snappi (instead of pins) and they’re as secure as the fuzzibunz. My husband wasn’t as coordinated though, and since he stays home with her his comfort level on the diapering was paramount. We wash our own, and its nots a big deal at all. Newborn poop is too liquid-y to be an issue in the washing machine, and we rinse off any solids/semi-slids into the toilet with a diaper sprayer now that she’s older. We’ve saved a fortune, and would have come out even farther ahead had we done the pre-folds all along.

  • Brooke

    September 13, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    We got a service (minimum 8 week to start) as a gift when we daughter was born. We HATED it. It was the only service in the area. The only good thing about it was that they supplied premie diapers for the first two weeks once we established that she was tiny.

    The bad things: The prefolds were no where near as soft as the prefolds we owned. Snappis didn’t work with the service diapers because the diapers weren’t fluffy enough for the Snappi to catch. The diapers were treated with something so they didn’t smell during the week between pickups. This gave my daughter a terrible rash. The solution from the service? To wash the diapers ourselves with no soap. This completely missed the point of having the service.

    Our service actually provided covers, although they weren’t very nice ones. But we did have to wash the wipes ourselves.

  • annemarie

    September 13, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    We used our own prefolds and covers from our babykins’ second week of life (she’s 13 months) and it’s been no problem at all. We live in an apartment, too. It’s never been an issue to me to rinse the poop off in the toilet/sink. The staining is minor – oxyclean and vinegar take care of most of it. Also, random fact to throw out there, top-loading washers do a better job of rinsing diapers because they use more water, so commercial-sized apartment washers work pretty darn well. We also line-dry the prefolds in our apartment, and if I stick the fan on the drying rack they’re dry by morning.

  • Laurski

    September 14, 2010 at 10:07 am

    New mom to a 2 1/2 week old here; we live in a co-op with a shared laundry room and have been using prefolds and covers since baby was 3 days old. It’s a little bit of a pain to have to drag the laundry to the basement every 2-3 days, but other than that, it couldn’t be easier.

    We decided to go with the cotton prefolds b/c with any of the fancier polyester diapers there’s the whole issue of detergent residue in the washers. Since I can’t force other residents to use my free & clear detergent, I had to go with a fabric that would be less detergent-sensitive and wouldn’t need stripping.

    Also, I don’t worry about breastfed poop in the washer, since it’s water-soluble and I am just too tired to be a good neighbor on that front right now…

  • Christine

    September 14, 2010 at 11:59 am

    I’m curious what the experienced cloth diaper users say about Tasterspoon’s comment about the higher water temps the services use and how the author of the book was making a big deal about this (when I look her up, the author is just a writer and her co-authors are a “medical writer” and a nurse.  The nurse I would listen to more, but the other 2 are writers without a medical background).  

    As a pediatrician about to have my first baby, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense to me that the diapers would need to be sanititzed/have every germ in existence wiped away.  Sure, you definitely don’t want them dirty and stained if you can help it.  But as long as they’re clean, I don’t see why they would have any more bacteria or fungus on them than normal baby clothes even.  As well, it’s not like the diaper is going on to a sterile area.  The baby is well…. going to poop on it.  It doesn’t need to be sterile…. does it?

  • Nora

    September 14, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    I love the Seattle Baby Diaper Service. We have been using the service since baby’s cord fell off and as a working mom I love having the magical diaper fairy take away our dirty diapers and leave clean new diapers once a week. It is the husband’s job to remember to put them out, as he is also the one to remember to put the weekly regular garbage and recycling out.
    The one time we forgot early on, the diaper fairy was nice enough to knock and ask for them since he saw our light was on at 5:30am anyway. He made a point to say he’s wouldn’t have if it was obvious we were asleep. We haven’t forgotten since.
    We use the Snappi’s instead of pins and have about 6 covers (Thirsties!) that we do have to wash ourselves about once a week. We just throw them in with baby’s other laundry.
    We start daycare next week, baby will be one year old, and they are fine with the diaper service diapers, and they actually prefer cloth as it doesn’t weigh down their garbage. We just have to provide a pail and take home the bag each week.
    We spend about $80 a month which is reasonable compared to disposables, and for our time not having to do the extra laundry for our own. I don’t think our front-loader would do a good job with them.
    There is a little extra effort required with the folding, snappi-ing, and covering, but we have never had diaper rash. When there have been blowouts we know it’s time to get a larger size which we just call in and they are delivered!

  • Ms. K

    September 14, 2010 at 12:50 pm


    According to Grist, diaper services are less enviro-friendly than washing your own – the greenhouse gases emitted by the trucks that pick up and drop off the diapers more than balance out the electricity of the washers. (Washing and then line drying the diapers is most-environmentally friendly of all…but sometimes hard in a humid climate.)


    I have never had any trouble with bacteria left in the diapers that we washed at home. I mean, aren’t there traces of E. Coli in everybody’s washers anyway, because we all get fecal bacteria on our underwear? 

    RE: newborn poo
    We chose to just use disposies the first week of our kid’s life and then we went with Indian pre-folds and covers (Thirsties and Snappis.) Easy as pie. Pre-folds are easier to fold yourself to fit them onto your kid, no matter how skinny.

    I once would have pooh-poohed the people who claim prefolds are hard to work with but now that I have seen how hard it is for one of our daycare providers to put them on our kid properly…well, I guess some people just have trouble, though I don’t really get it. So try and borrow a couple different kinds of diapers from friends and see which ones you like best.

  • Ms. K

    September 14, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    Um, and just to clarify the above comment RE: bacteria –

    The diapers SEEM clean. Clean enough that we sometimes use them for purposes other than diapering. Mopping up spilled milk. Blotting paint. Hand towels…um anyway yeah. And no bacterial infections to speak of in 20 months and counting…

  • Melissa

    September 14, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    Cloth diapers are not allowed in DC daycares per city regulations (at least that’s what I was told by several daycares — never verified it myself, though). So if you’re considering CD and will also need daycare, that’s something you might want to look into before you get too far along in planning.

  • Christine

    September 14, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    Ms. K- See, that’s is EXACTLY what I mean.  The e.Coli is in the washer.  Actually, it’s everywhere around us, as are huge numbers of other species of bacteria.  It’s not like I’m going to go and sterilize the baby’s bottom with each new diaper!  As long as I can get them clean (I have a new top loading Maytag with many spiffy features a’la Tasterspoon’s machine), I think I’m going to be happy.  

    Here in Ann Arbor there isn’t a diaper service that I’ve been able to locate, so I’ve decided to go the pocket style all in ones, starting with a mix of Fuzzibunz and Bum Genius like Amy recommends in her Cloth Diaper series.  

    My mom used prefolds with a diaper service when we were growing up and seemed to like having the service, but she says the diapers themselves were a bit hard to keep leak proof unless you knew what you were doing.  Interestingly, our service required you to buy a week’s supply of diapers and when you were done you kept them.  Those diapers were still being used as rags all around our house when I graduated from high school!

  • Brooke

    September 14, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Christine- there is a diaper service in Ann Arbor (we used it), but they were so terrible I can’t really recommend them. They were based in Kalamazoo, so they shipped the diapers a long way each week.

    Prefolds are a lot easier to use now than when we were kids because the covers have come so far.

    I wouldn’t worry about poopy diapers in the washer. Where are you going to wash poopy clothes?

  • crabby apple seed

    September 14, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    We used a service for the first few months after our daughter was born, at which point I bought my own stash and started washing my own. Mostly, it annoyed me that I was spending all that money on a service when washing dipes is just not that hard- esp. when they’re newborns and their poop is just curdled milk and bile.

    And again! Prefolds! are awesome! seriously. Our daughter is kind of a heavy wetter, so pockets/AIOs last her about an hour and a half before she needs to be changed. Prefolds are easy to wash/care for, EASY to put on (fold it in thirds and toss it in a cover, it’s REALLY not hard, I swear! snappis are a waste of time), and much more absorbent. Oh, and CHEAP! Doesn’t solve the daycare dilemma, but seriously, there is so much prefold-angst out there and I totally don’t get it.

  • My Boss Is Teething

    September 14, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    I have a 6.5 month old son, and I’m considering switching to cloth diapers, but I had been wondering about using a diaper service, too! Most people I know who use cloth diapers wash their own, and the thought of washing poopy diapers everyday really grosses me out.
    Thanks for the post! I’m a mommy blogger, too (, so I always like to see what other moms have to say.

  • christina

    September 14, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    The only thing I have against cloth diapers is the current shake-down I’m getting from pregnant friends and sister who plan on using them. Um, “asking” us to each pay for a month of your deluxe service isn’t high on my to-do list (on top of the baby shower and other related gifts). Especially since two friends have “quit” the service after a few months already (non-refundable). Guess the correlation of cloth diapers to self-centerdness and ill manners is probably a leap in my head, and I should submit it for an etiquette column in the future!

  • Susie

    September 15, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    Whoa, there are 3 of us in Ann arbor here?? Crazy.

    @Christine – ditto to what Brooke said… there is a service, but it was really expsensive and didn’t seem helpful.

    I have to say that I’m with Amalah… if we didn’t have our own washer/dryer, I probably wouldn’t have lasted on the cloth diapers. We have a few pocket diapers for naps and long outings, but mostly use prefolds and Thirsties covers (we stopped bothering with the Snappis ages ago). The laundry is really not that hard to manage… but, I also work part-time, and my daughter wears disposables at daycare.

    I learned about cloth diapers as a babysitter in college, one family I sat for used them with a service and loved it. Both parents worked f/t, and the service made cloth diapers manageable for them. So, if there is one near you and it sounds easier, check it out! You can always change course.

  • Jessi

    September 16, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    After cloth diapering for a year and counting, I would like to try a service. There are days when I just want clean diapers without some of the hassle. Ok, it really is pretty easy, but man it’s annoying when they develop a stink issue because I didn’t rinse enough. Or when I get home from work and see a pile of dirty diapers my husband did clean off (with a diaper sprayer, EASY) leaving me to do it. Just minor complaints really, but sometimes I just want a break from laundry.

  • stacy

    September 16, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    We started with cloth diapers the day we came home from the hospital and have had a great time of it!

    We live in an apartment, with shared washers and dryers, and use a combo or pre-folds and BumGenius. Do not freak out about other people’s detergents. It’s really the dryer sheets that leave residue, so just don’t use the dryer.

    Pre-folds were awesome when our little one was tiny. We could get a nice fit with the “bikini” fold and a Snappi. Plus I really loved out Bumkins covers. No leaks ever.

    My little one is a big nightime pee machine, and cloth always leaked for us in the night. So we use a Pampers overnight, and on any extended road trips or such. One pack of disposables lasts me about 5 weeks.

    My SIL, who really laughed at me when I registered for BumGenius OneSize, but bought me 6 anyway because she is a sweetheart 🙂 saw my 18 month-old wearing one last week and could not believe that she was still wearing the same diaper all this time. 😀

    I wash every 3 days. I wash them in one cold rinse, then a hot wash with biogradable detergent containing no whiteners/etc. I hang the covers up and tumble dry the inserts.

    We use flushable liners, so poop goes down the toilet.

    I have never had a problem with smells, and if I even catch them being even slightly whiffy, I stick them on 2 cycles of hot without detergent or just a bit of vinegar. Problem solved.

    For stains I just leave them hanging in direct sunshine for several hours. Poof, gone. Plus sunlight also kills odors. 🙂


  • Christine

    September 16, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    @Brooke and @Susie- Wow, 3 Ann Arbors!  That is crazy.  I really haven’t been able to find that service, but I’m not too worried about it now since I want to do the cuper cute Pocket style AIOs. 😀  

  • […] shopping trip. Like late at night. And if you want to completely take the burden out of your hands, cloth diaper laundry services exist in most big cities. Many times I heard about diaper blowouts happening with disposable […]

  • Shannon

    March 31, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    Excellent explanation.  I appreciate the pros and cons for washing at home and using a service.  I work for a service, Green Diaper Babies, here in Chicago and love helping city moms who don’t have their own washers or don’t want to trek 4 flights of stairs to the wash room every few days with diapers.  But I also know the value of cloth and being able to do it yourself is wonderful!  Most services don’t offer all in one diaper options and I know that I would rather have those than prefolds–which is why I’d like to see my service in Chicago provide full all in one service newborn to potty training….yeah for cloth diapering!

  • Brent

    October 31, 2015 at 11:11 pm

    @Ms K. false on the emissions.. That is  something that is cancelled out from home use and disposables.. Any of the new services that are using commercial equipment will be a min. 80% more efficient than home. The vehicle statement is also false. You have one van doing 50 to 60 deliveries in stead of 50 to 60 cars running around. Simple math. 

    Cloth is better hands down. There are better diapers for sure and any good diaper service now will be using a fitted diaper. If anyone has a chance I would suggest us a diaper service for the first 2 months. Get out of the smaller diapers then make the switch to your own when you will not be buying different sizes of diapers.. That way you will know if cloth is for you and you will be ready to take on the extra washes. It is work for sure and to do it right will take time. In the first 2 months focus on the baby and you getting enough sleep and diet. Just my $0.02.