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Cloth Diaper Lifespans

Cloth Diaper Lifespans

By Amalah

My prefolds are deteriorating! For the past couple of weeks, I have to throw out a few diapers after each wash because they are in shreds. They are on their second baby round. My current baby is 5 months old. I wash diapers every 3-4 days using homemade laundry soap. I used the same method for my first baby also and didn’t have to throw any out. Do you have any idea what would cause them to fall apart all of a sudden? Thanks so much in advance!

Your prefolds are deteriorating because sadly, your prefolds have simply reached the end of their lifetime. You didn’t do anything wrong — they’re just old and wearing out. Imagine washing and tumble-drying your favorite cotton t-shirt every three to four days for months and years on end. It probably wouldn’t last six months. Goodness, I wash my kids’ clothing about once a week and regularly have to replace the cotton basics like socks and underwear as they get stretched-out and threadbare.The fact that prefolds are as durable as they are (and cost relatively little per diaper) is pretty amazing. But there’s still a limit to how long they will last.

There are a lot of things that can cause diapers to break down prematurely — the wrong detergent probably being number one, and I admit the Internet Jury seems pretty divided on whether the homemade laundry soap recipes are “good” or “bad” for cloth diapers. Plenty of people use it and swear by it, but I’ve definitely come across some diapering sites that caution against it. I really have no idea. So it’s possible the homemade soap played a part in your prefolds not surviving long enough to diaper two children, but in the end, we’re talking about cotton fabric. Cotton fabric that’s getting heavy duty use and heavy duty washing for months, even years. This seems like a simple case of diapers just wearing out, as all diapers eventually do.

I had very high hopes about reusing my pocket diapers a second time around, and sadly, they didn’t really do too well either. I know there’s a thriving market for second-hand diapers, but mine would not have made very good candidates, unless the buyer was willing to do some major refurbishing. The microfiber inserts were thin, worn-out and useless. All the hook-and-loop closures needed to be converted to snaps, and then the leg elastic was shot for a lot of them. (Another foe of diaper longevity: High Efficiency (H/E) washing machines. The low water level in the wash cycles mean more friction for your diapers, and more friction means more stress and wear and tear on the fabric of your diapers.) In the end, I resigned myself to buying new diapers for the new baby and was much happier with the results. If I were to have another baby (HAAAAA NOPE), my prefolds are still in pretty good shape — I didn’t use them exclusively, which helped — but I still wouldn’t count on never having to buy another cloth diaper again.

Luckily, as cloth diapers go, prefolds are easily the cheapest option to replace. And diapers you buy now will likely last you all the way to potty training. And then make excellent all-purpose household rags for awhile before they give up the ghost.

Published July 30, 2014. Last updated July 30, 2014.
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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  • Leigh

    July 30, 2014 at 9:06 pm

    Some homemade detergent can cause premature wear. Borax, particularly if it is not rinsing well, is often the problem. But not all homemade detergents are like that and you need to find the right one.

     You also see early wear from using too many cycles. Quality prefolds should last for longer than that. 

    He machines have less friction without the agitator, they trade water level for time in making efficiency. 

  • Corinne

    July 30, 2014 at 10:11 pm

    I shredded some prefolds by forgetting them in a wetbag for a few weeks. Apparently toddler pee is pretty toxic when you let it sit on cotton for weeks on end, who knew! But this makes me feel less neglectful because they were pretty old diapers, they’d been through two babies already and had been bought used

  • Karen

    July 31, 2014 at 1:09 am

    Dont know too much about homemade laundry detergent, but they sound like cheap prefolds to me. Or did you buy them heavily used? I just started using my Green Mtn set on my third kid, plus a round with my niece, so this is really round four, in the last five years, and they are as good as new. Washed in Charlie’s and Rocky Mountain.

  • Autumn

    July 31, 2014 at 3:19 am

    My Grovia all in 2s are sliding towards the finish line, as the waterproofing on the seams is just “done”  I’ve washed according to their recommendations, but wear and tear and life happens.  I’ve still saved money, even if I’m buying a whole new set for hypothetical second child. 

    And then I would get to buy all new cloth diaper stuff!  Yippie the hypothetical fun!

    • Melissa

      July 31, 2014 at 1:18 pm

      This is us too, we’re on baby #2 in the Green Mountain prefolds washing in Charlie’s, and they look brand spanking new.  When they stained with newborn meconium, the sun took the stains out.  I think they are the best prefolds we’ve ever had!

      (I tried several different homemade varieties but the Charlie’s beat it every single time.)

  • Christina

    April 4, 2015 at 12:33 am

    I have a question. What do you do with diapers when they are done? Just throw them out? That seems wasteful. I use bumGenius elementals (all in one & organic cotton) and the cotton on the diaper is deteriorating/ripping/getting holes. The snaps are good, PUL is good, elastic is ok but the cotton is just falling apart. I can’t think of any way to save them and the idea of throwing them in the trash hurts my heart a little.

  • Olha Parker

    July 22, 2017 at 5:31 am

    This is the problem of all diapers, and I will have to look for the ones you described, for I want not to think of these prefolds so often. Thanks!