Cloth Diapering: I Tried It…and Failed
I’ve always wanted to try cloth diapering. Not badly enough to actually do it, but in a wistful, I-wish-I-was-a-good-enough-person-to-give-that-a-try kind of way. It seems like one of those things that only people who are good at gardening and sewing and surviving in the wilderness would be capable of. I’m bad at gardening, even worse at sewing, and the only way I’m surviving in the wilderness is if you move my house (and indoor plumbing) there. But, in the spirit of helping other moms – and the earth – and because I don’t think it’s ever too late to try something new, I’ve given it a try. Notice the past tense. I still admire people who cloth diaper – in fact, I admire them now more than ever. I don’t think I’ll be rejoining their ranks, however. I don’t want to discourage anyone, but I do think there’s a definite lack of voices out there telling the other (read: dark) side of the cloth diapering story.
Why I Quit Cloth Diapering
Here’s what I discovered about cloth diapering in the few months that I gave it a whirl. There are many cloth diaperers out there who will be disappointed by these revelations, and some might honestly disagree with them. But I feel the need to tell it like it is, or was, for me:
- It’s gross. This should be obvious, I suppose, but EVERYONE who cloth diapers seems to think that it’s not that much worse than disposable diapers. I can only assume that this is because they’ve never actually used a disposable diaper. Cleaning a poopy cloth diaper is the absolute worst chore in the entire world. It is every bit as icky as you think it will be. When my toddler would poop in his cloth diaper, I would have to take it off, pull the (soaking wet, sometimes poopy) inserts out, toss them in the (nasty, smelly) diaper bin, then dip the cover in the toilet, repeatedly, while flushing, until most of the poop was off of it. That usually meant several minutes of sticking my hands into a toilet bowl full of poop water as I flushed and then waited for the bowl to refill so I could flush again. Does poop get all over the toilet? Yes. Does it get all over you? Sometimes. THEN, when the diaper bin is full, you have to wash the diapers in the washing machine. That’s a whole separate item on the list (see #4).
- You have to change them a lot more often. I think this was my biggest problem. My toddler can easily make it through the day on 3-4 disposable diapers. I typically change him in the morning, before nap, after nap, and before bed. No diaper rash, no leaking, no stink. HOWEVER, cloth diapering is a totally different story. I never knew how badly a wet diaper (not poopy, just wet) could smell until I started using the cloth diapers. And, they aren’t nearly as absorbent as a disposable diaper, so if you don’t change them every 2 hours or so (that’s 8+ diapers a day), you will have a leaky, smelly mess on your hands (literally). Which wouldn’t be so awful if that didn’t mean at least one load of diapers every day, which has to go through 2 wash cycles and be (partially) line-dried. Again, see #4 below.
- Diaper rash. Even though I’ve read many claims that cloth diapers are better at preventing diaper rash, my experience was the opposite. The last straw for us was a persistent rash (I think it might have been a yeast infection) that just kept getting worse and worse. Maybe it’s because I couldn’t keep up with the diaper changes, or because you can’t use any of my favorite diaper rash creams with cloth diapers (because they stain…super annoying), but a week after we switched back to disposables, the rash was gone.
- It is hard work. I like hard work, usually. I enjoy cleaning. But cleaning cloth diapers is ridiculous. First, there’s the whole toilet process described in step 1. Then, there’s the actual laundering process. Here’s what that involves:
- DAILY emptying of the diaper pail into the washer. That means lugging the whole stinky mess to the basement, dumping the contents of the washable liner into the washing machine, turning the liner inside out (ick, ick, ick), and running the whole mess through not one but TWO cycles on the washing machine.
- Then, you have to separate out the liners from the covers and hang the covers up to dry. The liners go in the dryer, and they take FOREVER to dry. Twice as long as any normal item of clothing. If you miss a day, unless you have dozens of these things, you will run out, which will actually be a relief, because then you can dip into your hidden stash of disposable diapers. In a family as big as mine (6 kids at home + 2 adults), I have to do two regular loads of laundry every day to keep up. Cloth diapering means one extra load, which is really two extra loads because it has to go through the washer and dryer twice. That’s about an hour of laundry per day. Even more, when I was heroically – nay, foolishly – trying to line-dry all of my laundry outside. I HATE admitting that I can’t do something, but I just can’t do four loads of laundry every day.
- The diapers are really bulky. This means that all of the pants that used to fit your child will suddenly be too small. I guess that if you cloth diaper from the start, this isn’t an issue, but transitioning from disposable to cloth with my two-year-old meant that I either had to force him to wear everything a size too small or buy him a whole new wardrobe. I think you can guess what I did, and neither of us were happy about it.
- Everyone thinks you’re weird and refuses to participate in the changing of the diapers. Be prepared for nearly everyone you know to think you’re some kind of obsessed, earth mother-y wacko who is condemning not only everyone who ever used a disposable diaper but the American culture in general. Babysitters will not know how or want to learn how to change a cloth diaper. Day cares will refuse as a matter of policy. Relatives will laugh. People who are old enough to have had to use cloth diapers because there was no alternative will laugh. When you complain about how hard it is – and you won’t want to complain, but you won’t be able to stop yourself – no one will have any sympathy for you. Cloth diapering is a hard, lonely business.
- It did nothing to help potty-train my child. They tell you that because your child “feels” wet with cloth diapers to a greater degree than with disposable diapers, he will want to start using the potty sooner. As miserable as cloth diapering made my child (and me), we did not find this to be true. Granted, I did little else to encourage him to use the potty, but I was hoping that one day he would just rip the diaper off in disgust and plop himself down on the toilet. It didn’t happen.
I don’t write this to discourage you from trying cloth diapers. If you commit to cloth diapering, I do think you can do it, and do it well. But if you’ve tried it and failed, or never tried it at all, and you’re feeling guilty about it, I’m here to tell you to let it go. It’s okay. You are not a failure, and you are not alone. There are plenty of other ways to help out the environment (recycling, composting, turning off the lights) that don’t involve sticking your hands in the toilet ten times a day.
Resources for cloth diapering
If you want to try cloth diapering, I did find a bunch of great resources online that helped me get started. You’ll at least want to read up on the different types of cloth diapers before you buy anything, or you could end up with a lot of expensive stuff that you can’t use. I bought my stash of diapers on ebay, which was SOOO much cheaper than buying new, and it was a quick way to get all the supplies (liners, covers, wet bags) at once.
How to decide what to buy: https://www.greenmountaindiapers.com/pages/newmom
How to get started with cloth diapers: https://wellnessmama.com/61634/cloth-diapers-get-started/
How to wash cloth diapers: https://www.clothdiapergeek.com/wash-cloth-diapers-successfully/
Cloth Diapering 101 YouTube playlist from Naturally Thrifty Mom: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLD5E1175A23AD31DC