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Should I Use Cloth Diapers or Disposables?

To Cloth Or Not To Cloth

By Amalah

Hi Amy!

I’ve read your blog like a book, thoroughly enjoying the humor and furtively glancing at my office door in case my boss pops in wanting to know what’s so funny?  Thanks for all that you share about your life, it really helps newbie parents!

So I’m 12 weeks pregnant, and very interested in at least trying cloth diapers when our baby is born. The first cloth diapers set I heard about on another blog was the GroVia Hybrids, which made a lot of sense to me.  Then I’ve read about your obsession with FuzziBunz and prefolds. I’m willing to try a sampling of each to get our feet wet and find out if cloth diapering is even for us, but here’s the 2-part dilemma.

1.  My husband is not on board at all.  We’re talking no way Jose, are you kidding me?  Partially it’s because he’s grossed out by diapers in general and is a bit of a germaphobe, both of which are going to be eye openers for him when the baby arrives and he’s wiping all kinds of nasty fluids.  I’m confident that he’ll get more comfortable with practice, but the biggest issue he has about cloth diapers is washing them in the same washer where all our clothes are cleaned.  I’ve tried explaining the science behind it, but it grosses him out to think he’ll be wearing poop shirts.  Any advice on this?>

2. The other thing he points out, which I kind of agree on, is practicality with our lifestyle. We live in Egypt and travel a…lot… His other beef with the idea of cloth is “what do we do with stinky gross cloth diapers while traveling” Is this where the cloth and disposable harmony comes in? And since getting more cloth supplies will require stocking up while in the states and making due if we don’t have something we need, is it even worth our time trying?

thanks!

I think the whole “cloth diapers are back in vogue” thing has caught a lot of people by surprise — a lot of husbands and grandparents, anyway, judging from the emails I get on this topic. I still remember my husband’s face when I turned to him one random day and said that I was thinking I’d like to switch to cloth diapers. We were over four months in on our second baby, for the record, and I basically had the idea like, that day and proceeded to get completely gung-ho about it in a manner of hours. Anyway, his face was Very Skeptical Side-Eye, over the whole thing. But he was intrigued over the cost savings, he’s quite the save-the-earth type, and by that point he was no longer apprehensive about diapers in general. He’d changed a few thousand or so, after all.

But for your husband’s specific concerns (which are valid! and probably shared by a lot of people!), here would be my responses (which you can totally frame as coming from “your friend who cloth diapers and has THREE KIDS and KNOWS WHAT SHE’S TALKING ABOUT and who is only KIND OF A LITTLE BIT CRAZY”):

First, let’s talk about the grossness of cloth vs. disposable. And let’s agree on the fact that ALL DIAPERS are kind of gross. Your baby is going to poop and pee into something, and you will be responsible for handling and disposing of that something, be it cloth or paper or plastic. But if I wanted to lobby for cloth being less gross, I’d focus on these points:

1) Disposable diapers are more susceptible to the dreaded, not-at-all mythical “blowout.” This is a very regular, common problem when your baby is a newborn, as the poops are very liquid and come out…uh, very forcefully. Disposable diapers are all about the fit around the legs, but there is absolutely NO protection or barrier around the back of the waistband. It just kind of…sits flat against your baby’s back, and poop will shoot up and out of the diaper. All over your baby’s back, clothing, carseat, crib, swing, or YOU. I have literally cleaned baby poop off the back of a baby’s NECK. It’s THAT REAL, PEOPLE. This problem can happen pretty regularly until six months or so (when solids are introduced, and the poops get grosser and bigger but at least stop shooting out at top speed). It can also crop up again in toddlerhood when your baby is only going once or twice a day and oh dear god, that’s a man-sized poop! And you just sat down on it and rolled around on the floor and ohhhh, YAY. There are still days when I am so very thankful for having REAL elastic around my baby’s waistband.

2) On that note, let’s do away with the notion that if your washing machine will be a poop-free zone if use disposables. Ha. HAHAHAHA. There will be poop on your baby’s clothing, bedding, blankets, etc. You will be putting poop in your washing machine pretty much no matter what. (Breastmilk baby poop is nothing, though. There’s no point in trying to shake or rinse or anything: It’s right on par with like, a yogurt stain or something. Washes right out.) When your baby gets bigger, you can shake or rinse off the solids into the toilet before tossing the diaper into the pail. (And for the record, I would recommend shaking solids out of disposable diapers too, because otherwise your diaper pail is disgusting and emptying it on trash night is an exercise in oh-god-don’t-let-the-baggies-rip terror. So again, the idea that disposables are some kind of amazing shield against having to actually deal with/handle/see/inspect your baby’s waste isn’t super realistic.)

3) Cloth diapers require special detergent. Special clean-rinsing detergent, which will actually lead to less residue in your washing machine and less “carry-over” from one load to the next. I also recommend adding an extra rinse at the end of your diaper wash cycle, just to flush everything out one last time. I swear to God no one in my family has ever walked around wearing a poop shirt. Most of the diapers are just…wet, anyway. For all the talk about babies and poop and ZOMGPOOP, the reality is MOST diaper changes are urine only.

4) For traveling, this depends. I have traveled with cloth diapers and disposables, and sometimes a hybrid of each. There are pros and cons to BOTH, trust:

a) Disposables take up more space in your luggage, especially since you’ll always want to pack a million more diapers than you THINK you’ll ever need. (Because you are correct: You will always need more diapers than you think.)

b) Disposables are awkward when you’re a guest in someone’s home and aren’t handling the trash disposal. We once stayed at a family’s condo and very literally walked each and every dirty diaper down to the other end of the hall to the building’s trash chute. Even if you use those handy odor-repelling baggies (you know, because it’s great to create even MORE non-biodegradable waste), I’ve never really enjoyed leaving behind a wastebasket full of diapers at someone’s home (or even a hotel).

c) If you go somewhere with a washer and dryer, you can pack fewer diapers. And don’t worry if your destination doesn’t have the “right” detergent or you can’t soak them overnight or anything: The occasional half-assed laundry cycle will not cause your diapers to disintegrate at the seams or anything.

d) You travel with cloth diapers, you travel with a wet bag. You put dirty diapers in the wet bag and zip it up. Mash it into the bottom of your suitcase, bring it home and dump the whole thing, bag and all, into the washer. That’s…about it for special gear or accessories. Pretty mild, as baby travel gear goes. I promise, it’s not scary at all and dirty diapers in a bag don’t really take up any additional room in your luggage AND a good wet bag will COMPLETELY lock in the odors and dampness. I use the ones by Planet Wise and they come in a variety of sizes, for just one or two diapers (like for your carry-on, on the plane, etc.) for up to several days’ worth.

5) You can always go halfsies. Dude, cloth diaper at home and buy disposables when you travel. Use disposables on the plane and switch back to cloth at your destination. Whatever you want to do! It’s OKAY. You will not fail at cloth diapering if you opt to not use them 100% exclusively all the time. You will not automatically turn them into a bad investment (or not “worth it”) if you occasionally grab from a pile of emergency back-up Huggies, you know?

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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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Heather (Laptops to Lullabies)
Guest

Great advice! I have a two-year-old and an eight-month-old and have been cloth-diapering since the beginning (with both).

My husband was completely against cloth-diapering in the beginning, but once he realized it is a HUGE cost-savings, he got on board. Now he still doesn’t actually *wash* them (he gets grossed out), but he changes them with no problem, and happily recommends cloth diapers to other people.

Is there anything cuter than a dad telling another dad that cloth diapers are great? 🙂

Chris
Guest

I would agree that once you see the cost savings it’s a no brainer. We use cloth on our 2 girls and “splurge on the disposables for extended trips.

Kate
Guest
Kate

I’ve done quite a bit of travelling with cloth diapers and my rule (after some experimenting) is that I’ll bring cloth if I don’t have to wash on the trip (like an overnight or a weekend), but otherwise I’ll use disposables. I actually think that cloth often does take up more room — they’re bigger than disposables and require more “accessories.” Anyway, that’s just my rule. I would suggest that if you decide to do cloth when you travel that you use diapers that are made of natural fibers. You never know when you’ll get stuck having to use a… Read more »

Heather
Guest
Heather

We’ve been using CDs for 2 years.  My husband was a bit iffy at first, but he’s totally on board now. (The way I convinced him was the money we would save–we figured out that we would recoup our initial investment after 4 months of use.)  Related to that and what Amy said, you will still save money even if you use the cloth only sometimes, which is totally fine.  You don’t have to go 100%.  Some suggestions to make things more user friendly for your husband:  1) Wait a month or two after the baby arrives to get the… Read more »

Autumn
Guest
Autumn

We use the Grovia hybrid/all in 2s, and I have been very happy with them.  Nice to only have to change the liner when it’s just urine.  We did disposables for the first month or so until we got a good fit around her legs, I think she was 9 pounds or so when they started to fit well.   My husband was not thrilled about the idea at first, but once I explained the cost savings he thought it was great.  I forget the details, but all of our grovias, wet-bags (go with the planetwise ones) pails/pail liners, detergent,… Read more »

Meredith
Guest
Meredith

I currently have a 4 week old that I’ve been cloth diapering for 2 1/2 weeks. When I first broached the topic with my husband he was totally against it, even with the cost savings. I found a semi local store that only has cloth diapers and they offered classes to teach us about everything we would need to know. After that class he was totally gung-ho about cloth diapering. My only suggestion is that you don’t just start with one kind of cloth diaper. There are so many things to choose from and there are some things that you… Read more »

Lori
Guest
Lori

You could also use a cloth diaper service that washes them for you! No cost savings there, but it comes out to about the same cost as disposables and is more eco-friendly and baby bottom-friendly. 

Susan
Guest
Susan

I’m only commenting to tell the OP that my husband is grossed out by the idea of washing his clothes with clothing or bedding that have urine on them. We used disposables, but, you know, accidents happen. So, one day, my kiddo had a pee accident at school and I asked my hubs to throw the soiled clothes into a wash he was starting, and he looked at me like I was out of my mind. He was appalled! Little does he know his clothes have been washed with pee and poop pretty much since our kid was born. And,… Read more »

Jennifer
Guest
Jennifer

I know this isn’t part of the original question, but one other issue with cloth diapers, for those of us that have to send our babies to daycare, is that many daycares (at least in our area of the Midwest) DO NOT allow cloth diapers. At All. Period.  Its a sanitary issue, more work for them, etc etc. Some At-Homes would consider it, but it would be an extra fee and an addendum to the contract that they could change at any time if it became an issue.  Something to be aware of as its not one of the more obvious considerations.

Susan
Guest
Susan

We cloth diaper at home and send them to daycare in disposables (Nature Babycare is an awesome, ever-so-slightly less toxic to baby and environment brand). It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

Holly
Guest
Holly

Yep, I did cloth diaper at home, disposables at daycare. It still saved a ton of money I think (esp as I went with Target brand sposies because they had to change every hour, regardless of wet/soiled state, nothing like throwing away a not used diaper!). AND, she barely had rashes, blowouts while at home, etc because of the break from sposies I think.

autumn
Guest
autumn

Our day care in the twin cities lets us do cloth as long as they are ready to go, so I snap in my liners for them and take home a bag of “gifts” every day.  I keep a couple of extra disposables there incase I pick up late or she has extra poops.  They change every 2 hours or when smelling stinky.  Most day cares will allow cloth if you work with them.  Very rarely laws against it, more it’s more hassle for staff.  But now that cloth diapering is “trendy” they were actually semi-advertising they were CD friendly.… Read more »

Joanna
Guest
Joanna

My daughter’s daycare won’t cloth diaper her, but they will put a cloth diaper on her at the end of the day. We send a bum genius in with her each day and the last time they change her dipe they put it on. We cloth diaper with cotton prefolds at home, but have a stash of pocket diapers to send with her since it makes it easier on her teachers. It’s just one diaper a day, but we figure over time it adds up!

sarah
Guest
sarah

Our current (and previous ) daycare actually allowed cloth diapers.  So, it’s worth asking.

Susan
Guest
Susan

Tip 1 – get a sprayer that hooks to your toilet so you can rinse the cloth diapers before putting them in the diaper pail – they’ll be almost totally poop/pee free before they hit the washer. Tip 2 – I love the flushable/compostable inserts from gDiapers – but I don’t love the gDiaper covers. When we travel I use a g insert in a Thirsties cover and it’s a great compromise between cloth and disposable (but don’t flush them if you’re not sure if your host’s water pressure is strong enough to clear the pipes). Tip 3 – consider… Read more »

Liz
Guest
Liz

I agree with the pp. Natural fibers are so much easier! Cotton prefolds stand up to strange detergents etc a lot better than synthetics. I have never thought I needed to strip my prefolds, but in the year my son has been in Bum Genius 4.0’s, I have stripped 3 or 4 times due to microfiber stink. If you really want easy, I would get flats from Green Mountain Diapers. They dry super fast, get clean really easily, and make me feel like a pioneer lady! I just fold them up like a pad and then place them in a… Read more »

Kat
Guest
Kat

Just my two cents: I bought cloth diapering supplies before I had baby (not a whole lot, but enough to get us started). My plan was to do cloth at home, disposable at daycare. Well…when baby arrived my husband and I decided that our house (as much as we hate the environmental impact) was going to be a disposable diaper house. My mental state could not handle zero sleep, seventy five billion loads of non cloth diaper laundry, struggling to breastfeed and a few other things. It just sort of…fell to the bottom of the list of things that we… Read more »

Amie
Guest
Amie

^ This. We did the exact same thing. And you know what? It’s fine. Great, actually.

Melanie
Guest
Melanie

My hubby also thought I was a crazy pants when I said I wanted to cd (thanks to reading amalah’s blog). I quit my job to be a SAHM when dd was born and promised him I would be in charge of laundry because he just doesn’t deal well with things like that. Well I ended up hurting my back when dd was about 5 months and he had to take over laundry duty and he couldn’t believe how easy it was. We use the fuzzibunz bag that zips open at the bottom. We use disposables of we are going… Read more »

Jessica
Guest
Jessica

I went ahead and bought the FuzziBunz starter kit when I was about 6 months pregnant and my boyfriend said ‘you can do that, I’ll do disposables.’  Then, 2 weeks after the baby is born and he’s all ‘What?  We’re out of diapers?  But I bought so many, it was so expensive…’ and suddenly he’s Mr On Board with cloth.  Plus, the new ones are super easy, and we do so much frickin laundry anyway, a single wash of diapers isn’t a huge deal.   Also, I highly recommend using soap nuts as a detergent. Zero buildup, zero things in it to… Read more »

Shenoah
Guest

I would suggest a diaper service at first to ease your husband into the idea if he’s really that dead-set against it. Then, once he sees how easy it can be, go ahead and invest in your own diapers.

At which point, maybe consider g-diapers. You get the benefit of a cloth shell (with real elastic!) and can put cloth inserts in when you are at home and biodegradeable disposable inserts when you travel. Then you only have to worry about taking home the dirty outer covers.

Emily
Guest
Emily

I have to disagree with how much space disposables take in your luggage vs. cloth. Lol. My diaper bag comfortably fits like 5-6 cloth diapers or like 20 disposables. and when we travel, we know we can always buy more when we get to our destination, so I don’t overpack disposables like I do cloth. I also feel weird asking people if we can use their washers to wash our diapers, so I rarely travel with cloth. And it’s not just the washers, it’s the space. I hang dry. I need space and time for that to work. When we’re… Read more »

Emily
Guest
Emily

and while we are 100% cloth here, you will have to look at your own unique water and electricity bills to see if it’s as much of a savings for you as you’d like. My sister started in cloth and couldn’t afford the water bill. For us, the bills aren’t an issue compared to the price of sposies.

Autumn
Guest
Autumn

On cutting down on power costs, I start drying the diapers in the dryer for about 30 minutes, enough time to get the cloth wipes dry, then onto a dryer rack to finish.   It would take me 90 minutes to get them dry on medium (or 75 on high) so there goes cost savings.  They dry really fast in the winter cause the air is super dry here. I also have a pair of bath towels that go into the wash/dry with the diapers just to bulk out the load.  Things get cleaner that way. 

Olivia
Guest
Olivia

We have gone halfsies with both our kids (second is 8 months now). Cloth during the day at home; disposable for outings over a couple of hours and overnight. And explosive poop? Well, it did not matter which kind of diaper my son was wearing. Nearly every poop, until just a month ago when he started eating more solids, was a leaky mess. Up the back and/or out the legs in cloth and disposable. They also stained everything. *sigh*

Sarah
Guest
Sarah

I always wanted to use cloth diapers but during the middle of my pregnancy with my daughter, I was completely overwhelmed and told hubby that I was dropping the CD idea.  He was the one who convinced me that we needed to go ahead with it — he was really sold on the idea, go figure! So glad we did.  We use pre-folds and Thirsties wraps — the least expensive way to get into them.  I even got a lot of the pre-folds on Craigslist, even less expensive!  We’re on number 2 and I can’t tell you the money we’ve… Read more »

Christine Smith
Guest
Christine Smith

Yes! disposable liners (we use Bummis, you can buy them at Diapers.com), are great! Lift out the majority of solids and flush it away. We also have a diaper sprayer that my husband put together in the girls’ bathroom. It’s just a sprayer for a kitchen sink, hooked up with a valve to the water pipe for the toilet. He talked to the guys in the plumbing dept at the hardware store and they talked him through it. Simple really. Anyway, it is so nice to be able to rinse off the worst of the mess before it goes into… Read more »

Chris
Guest
Chris

We’ve been CDing for 14 months and we LOVE it. 1. We use BumGenius 4.0 w/snaps, and we LOVE them. Wash with Tide Free, not fancy expensive detergent and never had a problem with perma-stink. A couple times over the course of a year I’ve thrown in some oxyclean and bleach to prevent it. If it helps, we wash cold no soap, then hot with soap and extra rinse. Never, ever have I worried about poop in the washer. We dump big poops in the toilet and use flushable liners in his first dipe of the day, when he almost… Read more »

Chris
Guest
Chris

Ack, not Tide Free. Just plain old powder Tide. Tons of reviews say it’s ok and I’ve loved it.

Emily
Guest
Emily

Regular Powdered Tide is what we use as well. We were using some of the more popular ‘cloth diaper’ detergents and we had stink issues all the time. Been with Tide for over a year and a never have to use oxyclean or bleach or strip or anything. That being said…. it very often depends on the water in the area you live in, what will work for you. There is sadly no ‘one size fits all’ solution for diaper laundry. Your water, your washer, your lifestyle will make a huge difference in what works best for your family.

Dlee
Guest

I’ve been using cloth since my baby was 4 weeks old (now 6 months) and have a couple of observations to share: 1. I’ve only EVER had nappy rash or a “poosplosion” when he was in disposables. Occasionally he might leak overnight if he’s gone for 6-7 hours straight without waking up and needing a change but that’s just pee. 2. The law here states that all nappies, no matter the type you use, must be emptied into the toilet. You’re still supposed to scrape the poo from disposables and, frankly, if I’m stuck cleaning feces from a diaper then… Read more »

Jamie
Guest
Jamie

I was in EXACTLY the same situation when I was pregnant with our daughter.  My husband was thisclose to installing a second washer just so the “poop washer” would not be the regular washer.  BTW, I was fine with this paranoia, but thriftiness prevailed and we still have one washer and a cloth diapered 5 month old.   My two cents are get the fitteds from Green Mountain.  Buy 2 dozen of each size and as many covers as you can afford.  Thirsties are good, Bummies are good – leg gussets are sent straight from heaven – and I have… Read more »

Allison
Guest
Allison

I am due next week with my first and my green bean husband is the one who insisted on cloth.  I did my research and we are doing a rental package from diaperparties.com. They sent me 30 newborn BumGenius and at the end of 12 weeks I can either return and get a good portion of my rental fee back or get extra credits to use toward my purchase of full size CD’s.  I think this is a good way to wade in slowly if you are unsure. Neither my husband or I are super thrilled with the idea of… Read more »

Hope
Guest

As a counterpoint to all of the commenters whose husbands eventually came around to cloth diapering… my husband never did. At all. I would hand our daughter to him with a wet cloth diaper and she would be handed back to me in a dry disposable. We also weren’t able to do cloth at daycare (onerous state laws means that NO daycare in our area was willing to do cloth). And I was doing all of the diaper laundry. (the deal we made when I said I wanted to try cloth diapering out) I did cloth for my 3 months… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

An you know what, that’s ok. 

I’m a hardcore cloth diaperer and I’ll say to you what I say to all my friends when I lend them a starter stash “it’s awesome that you want to try and if it doesn’t work that’s ok”

Renter
Guest
Renter

I want to confirm–it’s completely impossible to cloth-diaper if you have to use coin-op laundry, right? I mean, it’s obviously completely impossible to have a baby (with the barfing and the poop generally) with a shared coin-op washer/dryer or laundromat, but it’s a whole different level of impossible to do the special detergents and the billionty cycles and the mucking around with the timing and the soaking. Am I wrong?

God, if and when, my babies will just have to poop in the toilet like I do or outside like the dog does.

S
Guest
S

Not impossible! Depends on what kind of diapers you use and how you plan your time. I CD a premie, with reflux. You can imagine the laundry. Our coin-op machines are in the building on the opposite side of the yard from ours. I made the choice to CD when my son’s skin could not handle disposables. We have a system that works for us now – but will be getting our own washer if need be. You do what you have to do. I can handle lugging 50 bilion loads of laundry back and forth every week. I can’t… Read more »

JanM
Guest
JanM

Not impossible or crazy! I have two kids in an apartment and have never done anything except coin-op. I cloth diapered for just over a year for each of them using the community washing machine. Occasionally I did a pre-soak in the tub, but other then that, I just chucked my diapers in the wash and no one noticed or cared. It was easy.

Lisa
Guest
Lisa

Like Hope, my husband hasn’t come around yet (our baby is 7 months old) and I’m not expecting that he will. I think he’s just accepted that I’m stubborn and we have both accepted that the other person isn’t going to change their mind. He’s grudgingly going along with it as long as I’m willing to do all of the diaper laundry and hand him a bag of already folded and ready-to-go diapers to bring with him to daycare dropoff every Monday. He hasn’t put a cloth diaper on the baby since she was a few weeks old. My mom… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

I had a hard time convincing my mom not to do that too 🙁 (she did it once and you’re right, it’s disgusting). We use pocket diapers (applecheeks) that have inserts that come out in the wash so all you have to do is shake any poo into the toilet and drop it in the pail. After almost 4 years and two kids she still disassembles every dirty diaper and rinses both parts out in the sink! 

Eden
Guest

We have been cloth diapering our son since he was six months old, and he is now 20 months old. We use bumgenuis 4.0 pockets, and looooove them! My husband was originally opposed, until I ordered one to try and he loved them immediately! My main reasons for switching was disposables are expensive, and my baby always blew out of them!

Kelly
Guest
Kelly

We used cloth exclusively for baby # 3 

Totally wish I had used them before. 

Tried covers, AIOs and pockets and settled eventually on Easy Peasies one size pockets. 

LOVED THEM! Baby is potty trained now though 🙁 

Athena
Guest
Athena

Most diaper changes are urine only… HA. I envy those people. Eight and a half months in and my child STILL poops often and regularly enough that basically every nappy change is a poopy nappy change. Like, 3-4 times a day still. And he’s gone way down. I laughed when, at the last (6 week) visit the the midwife postnatal, she reminded me that it’s TOTALLY normal for exclusively breast-fed babies to go as much as ten days without pooping. I was all… “Lady, we’re still waiting for him to go a single *nappy* without pooping.” And then there was… Read more »