Transitioning to Cloth: One Diaper at a Time

Transitioning to Cloth, One Diaper at a Time

A friend of mine just had her third baby.  She watched me cloth diaper my children and is entertaining the idea of using them on her third child.  However, it can be pricey and their budget is already stretched pretty tight.

Another friend has a daughter who is already 18 months old.  She just learned about modern cloth diapering but is wondering if it is even worth trying since her daughter will hopefully be potty trained in the next year.

Perhaps the idea of cloth diapers intrigues you, but you can't fathom spending hundreds of dollars to buy a system that may or may not work for you.  Cloth diapering doesn't have to be an all or nothing commitment.  You can dive right in with a stash of fluff all ready and set to go when the baby is born or you can ease into it one diaper at a time.

Some people ease into the cloth diaper world because they simply cannot afford to buy all the diapers and accessories at once.  Others start cloth diapering slowly just to test it out and see how it works for their family.

What do you need to get started?

Most cloth diaper mommas have a stash of between 12-24 diapers.  They might have a couple of hemp inserts for nighttime diapers, a pail liner to hold dirty diapers at home, a wetbag to travel with dirty diapers, a couple dozen cloth wipes and maybe a special detergent.  However, all you need to get started is one cloth diaper.

How to build your stash

Every cloth diaper momma is at a different place in life with her children, family and finances.  Here are some ideas for how to collect cloth diapers:

  • Buy one diaper a month.  You pick the time frame, maybe you can buy one every three weeks.
  • Buy gently used cloth diapers.  I recently found some extra diapers and inserts at our local children's consignment shop!  I have bought others from families on Craig's List.  Some great websites to check out are: the Cloth Diaper Trader, Diaper Swappers and Padded Tush Stats.
  • Try inexpensive cloth diapers. Prefolds can always double as burp cloths or rags later.  (Buy DSQ - Diaper Service Quality - prefolds for best absorbency).  A dozen prefolds and a few covers can be had for less than $50.
  • Be on the lookout for diaper giveaways from manufacturers or local stores.  If it means I have a chance to win a free diaper, I'll give my email address to anybody! (Well, maybe not anybody.)
  • Watch for great sales incentives.  I recently went online to buy another diaper and some detergent samples and found one site giving away a free diaper with a purchase of $29 or more.  I was so excited to get a free diaper just for choosing to buy from them instead of another store!
  • Look into receiving donations of cloth diapers from organizations such as the Cloth Cooperative. They provide cloth diapers to families in need to help start or supplement their diaper stash.  (More organizations that do similar work are listed on the Diaper Aid Hub Facebook page.)
  • Ask for cloth diapers for a birthday gift, shower gift or even for Christmas!

Laundering a Small Stash

Most companies recommend that you not wash more than 8-10 diapers at a time to ensure that the diapers come out clean.  So, what do you do if you only have 1 diaper to wash?

Handwashing is always a great way to clean a small stash of cloth diapers.  Amy, the owner of Zany Zebra Designs, posted a great article on handwashing cloth diapers and provided detailed instructions as well as helpful tips.

Does the idea of handwashing not sit well with you?  Then wash them in the washing machine but on a smaller load setting.  However - be careful with this - you want to be sure there is enough water to clean the diapers well (often triggered by the weight of the load) and enough material in there so the diapers have something to rub against to get them clean.  You could add some towels to the load to fill it up.

Every Little Bit Helps

Regardless of whether you jump in with both feet or you just stick a toe in to test the water, using cloth diapers is worth it.  Each disposable diaper not thrown into a landfill makes a difference.  A quarter saved in your piggy bank for every time you use a cloth diaper adds up to a lot of money - - to buy more diapers or ??? (can you come up with a way to spend some extra money???).

Kate, RDA Volunteer, Cloth Diaper Momma

How cloth diapering made me more ‘green’

Off to a good start, I had not spent more than $50, except on my doctor, for the first six months of the baby’s life. Well, babies eventually need to eat solid food and so they will start to cost some money, but that was to be expected.Fast forward to baby number 2. We have been cloth diapering for 2 1/2 years now. We cloth diapered... but used disposable wipes. (This seems really weird to me now, but I guess it made sense then.) When I forgot to pack disposable wipes in our diaper bag, I had to find some way to clean our precious baby’s bottom before placing it on a fresh clean diaper. What to do? Use a wash cloth?...I guess that’s okay. And wait, I have a stack of baby wash cloths I received for a shower 2 years ago that no one on earth could go through before adulthood! So now I am a cloth diapering and cloth wiping momma!


With that thinking in mind, along with a good frugal friend and some good books, I find other ways to be cheap and unknowingly throw myself into a world of frugality and being ‘green’. I learned how to make my own laundry detergents and cleaning products. I learned how to reduce what we consumed by buying in bulk to reduce the packaging and reuse things that would normally go into the trash or recycling bin like the metal tops on frozen juice. These make great flash cards or matching games when a magazine picture is taped to them! I learned to reach for things in the kitchen, such as coconut oil, for remedies such as diaper rash. Thanks to the wonderful cloth diapering community, I was able to transform our family from simply frugal to frugal and green!

We now have 2 adults and 3 kids (including 1 in diapers) living in our house, and are one of the biggest families on our block. Here’s the kicker...we have the smallest number of trash cans out on garbage pick-up day! How is that? Smaller than the senior woman who lives alone? Smaller than families of four who are at school and work ALL DAY? And much smaller than any family with a disposable diapered baby!

I read a guest post on a cloth diaper blog by a “Jennifer M”, who said, “What started with frugality to save some green has actually made us green, and we like it.”  I just can’t say it any better!

- Veronica Rathbun, RDA Volunteer, Owner of Diaper Momma Cloth Diaper Service of Dayton, OH

The Genius of Cloth Wipes

This is a cross post from Sarah is an RDA Volunteer, and she blogs about cloth diapering, family, natural parenting, baby wearing and life in general. She lives in Washington (the state) with her husband Joshua and their children Ainsley (3.5) & Liam (15 months). They are expecting a new baby to cloth diaper in August.

Most of you probably know that we are huge cloth diapering advocates. There are a zillion reasons for this, but I will be talking more about that in future posts. Today, I am simply in awe of cloth wipes.

When we started cloth diapering Ainsley, I didn't even know that cloth wipes existed. In fact, I have only used them on her once or twice. I heard about them when I was pregnant with Liam. I was intrigued by the idea, and yet admittedly a tiny bit grossed out. Reusing the thing you wipe poop with?!? (It's not really that gross, by the way. You DO wash them!) Then there was the question of how does one use them anyway. I read. And I read. And I read some more.

I realized that using cloth wipes didn't have to be hard, I just had to be willing to try. At first I used a spray solution to clean Liam's bum, but this kid is so sensitive that even that stuff made him red. So now, I just get our handy cloth wipes good and wet & wipe away!

Reusable cloth wipes - for at home and away!

Here are the things I love most about cloth wipes:

  • They are multi-taskers. When not using then on bums, they are frequently used to clean hands, noses, windows, etc. Right now over half of our stack is being used to wipe sore, snotty noses.
  • They get the job done faster. I use one or two cloth wipes for the same amount of poo clean up that would take at least 4 disposables. Win!
  • No red bum. While I have finally found disposable wipes that don't irritate Liam's skin, it's nice to have something that will get him clean without causing pain.
  • Less money! Who doesn't love saving money?! Just like diapers, you have an initial buy in cost, but these suckers are so totally worth it. For the cost of two boxes of Costco disposable wipes or less, you can buy all the cloth wipes you need. You can even make your own from flannel receiving blankets! Plus, they'll be useful even after your little ones are all done potty learning.
  • No laundry sorting. I don't have to remember to fish out the disposable wipes from the diapers before washing. Everything goes in the same place. Hooray for simplicity!

Seriously, cloth wipes are awesome. I think every home (even with older kiddos) should have some. They just do everything!

- Sarah Mahar, RDA Volunteer

Cloth Diapering in the Great Outdoors

Oh... The Great Outdoors!

There are so many wonderful things about camping with your little ones with you; exploring, discovering and playing.  The first time that they catch a fish, see a butterfly or go swimming in a stream are magical moments.  The last thing that I worried about as a parent camping was diapering, let alone washing the diapers.

To be honest, my wife and I have been fair-weather campers (at least until our kids get older), but we still enjoy the Great Outdoors.  Our past year has been mostly in camp grounds with the basics in plumbing and little else.  We knew when we started cloth diapering we didn't want anything to stand in our way, not even the lack of running water to wash.

There are many ways that camping with cloth diapers can be tackled. We hope that you can take a little from what we learned to make your experiences that much better.

Option One: Pack enough diapers to make it through without having to wash.

Pack enough diapers / wipes and wet bag to make it through the trip.  You will need to know how many times you baby goes to bathroom and make sure to pack at least a couple extra diapers per day.

This is great if have enough diapers, or if you are taking an overnight trip.  Chances are, this is not the most practical option.  There are always unforeseen problems and it is always better to go in with a Plan "B".  We have done this before in a hotel in NYC and realized about 3/4 of the way through the weekend that there was no laundry, which is why familiarity with hand washing is important...

Option Two: Hand washing diapers in a toilet, sink or bucket, with access to running water.

You find yourself in a location with current plumbing, but no laundry.  If you are a cloth diapering parent, these are the basics that you should know.  It is always handy to have an idea of what it takes to hand wash your diapers in a sink or toilet if the situation arises.

  • There are a couple things to remember... get the solids off first and you don't have to use as much detergent per diaper.   If you are washing them all in the sink or a bucket together, use about the regular amount of detergent. and be sure to rinse a couple times.  There are some great ways to use a home made camp washer for your diapers, a quick YouTube search of Camp Washers Cloth Diapers will bring up some great tutorials.
  • This is tricky, you will need a place to hang dry the diapers, and be sure to give yourself enough time for them to dry.  This works best if you break your stash in half and know that once  1/2 has been used, it is time to wash and dry.

We have done this as well, even forgotten our stash completely and used kitchen towels found at the closest Mom & Pop Hardware store (1 cover and 10 towels over 3 days).  We did have to clean a couple of diapers every 3-6 hours, but I wasn't going to let the situation ruin my weekend out with the family :-)

Backup Plan: Cleaning diapers with no running water in the great outdoors.

You will need some form of bucket or wet-bag (waterproof), a good eco-friendly (stream and river safe) detergent and some form of water (safe natural or bottled).  There are a ton of steps, but being out in the wild comes some responsibility as well.

  • Dig a hole far from your camp or near a "bathroom" area to scrape the solids off into, this hole will be covered when finished.
  • Place all of the dirty diapers into the bucket or bag and fill with water & soap and agitate thoroughly.  You will want to use the container to rinse the diapers in as well, so make sure that you ration your water accordingly.
  • Make sure to dump all waste water into hole that was previously dug as well.  We do not want to contaminate natural waters with the detergents or human waste.
  • Rinse the diapers with clean water, again agitating.
  • Cover the hole when finished or at the end of each day, depending on how long you are out.
  • To dry the diapers hang on a line or on a nice sturdy tree branch.
  • Just like above, you will want to make sure that there enough diapers to make it through the drying time.  Depending on your total number of diapers, cutting the stash in half has always proven to be the best method.

We have yet to try this method personally, but have talked to families that have.  It is the most labor intensive, but what is easy when camping?

I know that this may seem a little overwhelming, as it seemed to me.  But, being a guy, well the guy that I am, I wasn't going to fail.  We actually used a camp fire to help speed up the drying time, but just be careful not to get the diapers too close. This could end a wonderful trip quickly. :)

If anything, I hope that you take away that cloth diapering isn't just an option while in the comforts of your home. These methods can be used on any get-away, not just camping.

- Josh Fox, Central New York Real Diaper Circle Leader

Traveling? Check out a diaper service!

This is a cross post from Elle is an RDA Volunteer, and she blogs about cloth diapering, crafting, home renovations, family, natural parenting, speech-language, and life (not in that order!). She lives in Omaha with her husband Josh and daughter Penelope, who is one year and five days old.

My family spent last weekend in Ohio celebrating New Year's Eve with my husband's brother and his fiance. When my brother-in-law got engaged at Thanksgiving, we decided that we'd better get out to Ohio to meet his fiance and her daughter before the wedding, so we planned this visit.

When we were getting ready for the trip, I was trying to figure out what to do about diapering my daughter. In all of our other travels, we've washed diapers at our destination. I wasn't sure I wanted to ask if I could wash diapers at their house. "Hi, I just met you. Can I wash dirty diapers in your washer?" Maybe a little weird. I could've packed enough diapers for 3 days, but I don't really like to pack pocket diapers because they take up so much room, and I didn't have enough other diapers to get through the whole weekend. We could've made it work, but I decided to look into using a diaper service for the weekend. I'm so glad I explored this option because it worked out really well!

The service dropped off the diapers and a large wet bag the day before we arrived, and they picked up the dirty dipes a few days after we left. We brought our own covers (6) and a couple of small wet bags to store the used covers. It was hardly anything to pack, and the diapers were in great shape. They were all high quality prefold diapers. The service gave us an individualized rate just for the weekend and number of diapers we needed. I made a conservative estimate and asked for 30 diapers, but we only used 18. I had actually guessed that we would need about 18, but I wanted to be extra sure that we wouldn't run out. My daughter is using the potty several times each day lately, especially for number 2. We hardly ever change a dirty diaper anymore (mostly just wet ones), as we usually get her to the toilet in time. I didn't think to contact the Ohio diaper service until 3 or 4 days before we left, so it doesn't even seem to take a lot of lead time.

I think a diaper service is a great option for vacation diapering. It's also a great option if you are opposed to washing diapers. It's no more expensive than using disposable diapers, but you still get the environmental, health, and other benefits from cloth. I think most diaper services mainly offer prefold diapers, but you might find other options. Our local diaper service in Omaha actually offers pocket diaper service as an alternative. Or, you can have them wash your own diapers for you. This way, if you're using cloth and having problems laundering them, you could opt for that service. Maybe your local service has additional options. Although, I do think prefolds work just fine.

The next time you're going out of town and thinking of switching to disposables while away, consider using a diaper service! It seems like most communities offer some kind of diaper service these days.

Morton Family on vacation - - in cloth diapers!

–Elle Morton, RDA Volunteer

Executive Director's Note: For a diaper service at your next travel destination, check this directory of RDA business members!

Year-End Charitable Giving to the Real Diaper Association

The Real Diaper Association's mission is to get more babies into reusable cloth diapers. Our three main reasons for promoting real diapers are simply that they're better for the environment, for babies, and for family finances. With all of those benefits, cloth diapers are a worthwhile cause.

Worthwhile or not, though, there isn't a lot of money to support a cause that effectively takes money away from a powerful industry - the single-use disposable diaper industry. Who are the beneficiaries of our message? Parents who are struggling to afford diapers, babies, and future generations living on this planet - - none of whom are financially able to support spreading this message on their behalf.

Do you fall into one of the following categories?

  • A parent grateful for having found and used cloth diapers for their child.
  • A parent who wished they would have had / known about the current cloth diapering options available.
  • Someone who believes in the benefits of reusables and/or rejects the use of single-use plastics (like bags, cups, etc).
  • One of my friends or family members who was planning to give me some useless tchotchke that I'm going to be forced to find a place for or carefully regift.
  • 70+ and temporarily allowed to gift up to a $100,000 distribution from your IRA or Roth IRA to a charity tax-free.

If so, here's an idea - help change diapering practices in 2012 by supporting cloth diaper awareness and education.

Join our fundraising effort Wednesday and Thursday (12/14 and 12/15).  From 7am Pacific Time on Wednesday through 7pm Pacific Time on Thursday, all donations to the Real Diaper Association over $25 will be partially matched by the San Diego Foundation!

PLEASE NOTE: Only MasterCard, Visa and AMEX donations will be accepted and matched for this event. Discover donations will not be accepted or matched.

To participate, please go to our website at  On our homepage, you can enter your payment information and make a contribution, which, of course, is tax-deductible.  If you have any trouble, go to, search for the Real Diaper Association and donate from there.

I'm warming up my hand for the thank you notes now...

Heather McNamara

Executive Director, Real Diaper Association

This year, support a change in diapers!

We're poised, POISED, I say!!

The public is focused on the environment, on the health of their children, and on their tightening budgets. Cloth diapers have undergone a transformation and the industry is now able to provide realistic, simple solutions to benefit every family.

The Real Diaper Association leads a growing, passionate grassroots movement of parents ready to help other families find and use reusable cloth diapers. We have the research to support our efforts and are making inroads with hospitals, daycares, municipal governments, social service agencies, and pediatricians to change diapering practice to one that is more environmentally and economically feasible. We also work directly with parents via volunteer-led support and outreach groups across the country.

With growing awareness of the downsides of single-use plastics, the public is ready for our message and we are positioned to make a clear, immediate impact on diaper choice. In order to do so, we need funding. Therefore, we are participating in the San Diego Foundation's giveBIG event on December 14th and 15th.

Here's the great news: For 36 hours (beginning 7am Pacific Time on Wednesday and ending 7pm Pacific Time on Thursday), any donation (up to $10,000) to the Real Diaper Association through Better Giving will be matched by the San Diego Foundation!  What a way to make an impact with your money!!!

Please plan to join me in participating with a year-end donation!  And please spread the word by sharing this post with your friends before the event and announcing your donation on the day of the event.  Thank you!!

Heather McNamara

Executive Director, Real Diaper Association

Cloth Diaper Users - Real American Idols!

The American Idol Top 11 have created a Public Service Announcement encouraging people to REFUSE to use single-use plastics. It includes the mantra, "REFUSE, reduce, reuse, recycle", which are the 4R's of Sustainable Living of the Plastic Pollution Coalition (of which the Real Diaper Association is a member).

While they don't specifically name disposable diapers as one of the products to refuse, the fact remains that in the U.S. and Canada, nearly 90% of babies use them, resulting in 60,000 single-use plastic diapers used each minute.  Just as people are asked to reject single-use plastic water bottles and grocery bags in favor of reusable versions, we would like to encourage parents to choose reusable diapers. Please check out the Refuse campaign over at Plastic Pollution Coalition and spread the word that YOU'RE refusing single-use plastics and choosing reusable cloth diapers for your baby.  I'm happy to see single-use plastics getting such widespread attention.  Let's make sure people know they have a great reusable diapering alternative!

Heather McNamara

Executive Director, Real Diaper Association

Recovering Simplicity

Two or three times a month, I am a guest speaker at local childbirth classes, where I have the opportunity to introduce new parents to cloth diapers. I admit that, for a while, I led this introduction with the most adorable newborn-sized hot pink all-in-one with a leopard-print inner and velcro closure. (I would include a picture here since it was my favorite diaper, but, alas, it has been appropriated by a friend's 2 year old daughter for her baby doll and I couldn't bring myself to take it back!) Anyway, my strategy was to wow 'em with the cute and appeal to them via the familiarity of velcro and a single-piece diaper (despite the fact that I'd later have to advise them on strategies for washing this microfiber-inner, slow-drying diaper in our hard-water area). Well, last night, I did something different. When I entered, I sat quietly while the class went over the answers to the workbook questions (this was a Bradley childbirth class, similar to the one I attended for my first child's birth). As they reviewed, the students asked questions about the "Natural Alignment Plateau": "How long does it last?", "How will we know we're in it?", "Does everyone experience this?"  The teacher answered their questions with estimations of time, indicators about centimeters dilated, and (questionable) percentages.  It was clear that the data neither satisfied nor comforted them.  Rather, I think the complexity made them trust themselves less and become more concerned about their likelihood of success. So when it came time for me to talk about diapers, I started with this:
"If you did the Mud Run up at Camp Pendleton, you'd wind up with some dirty clothes.  What would you do with them?  You'd wash them.  Then you'd probably put them back on for your next workout.  It's the same for diapers.  It's that simple."
Then (with my cute pink diaper in exile), I pulled out a prefold.  I laid it flat, put a baby doll on top, then pulled the diaper through the baby's legs and Snappi'd it on.  I then Velcro'ed a cover on over it and squished the sticking-out parts inside the cover.  I explained (in no great detail), that they'd remove it and wash it in their laundry just like their dirtiest clothing (minus fabric softeners).  Then they'd put it back on the baby.  Simple.  Obvious.  Nothing they needed to be "taught".  Nothing they couldn't do. Did I do them a disservice?  I hope not.  I was there to introduce them to cloth diapers AND the San Diego Real Diaper Circle, which is an ACTIVE support group that would help them with any more complex intros to cloth diapering (we have weekly meetings).  I showed them a simple cotton diaper and a PUL cover, which are both easy to launder. Research continues to show that we're overwhelmed with information in this Information Age.  People are longing for simplicity.  So I took a gamble and sold these new parents their confidence and their common sense. Use.  Wash.  Reuse. Simple. Right? Heather McNamara, San Diego Real Diaper Circle Leader Executive Director, Real Diaper Association

Reassessing the "inconvenience" of cloth diapers

Big Disposable Diaper Companies make a big fuss over the convenience of disposable diapers. It makes sense as a marketing strategy. Think about it. Cloth diapers win on each of the following traditional selectors of baby products:

  • Is it soft on my baby’s skin?
  • Is it safe and non-toxic?
  • Is it durable? Will it hold up to repeated child use?
  • Does it have good value or is it inordinately expensive for the amount of use I’ll get out of it?

So how could disposable diaper companies sell their plastic, chemical-filled single-use diapers? They had to introduce another category – convenience. Now, I don’t know about you, but my children are anything but convenient. I’m constantly going out of my way to satisfy their needs. I frequently choose inconvenient solutions to best satisfy those needs because convenience is not my highest priority. Would it be more convenient to leave them in the car on a hot day while I ran into the grocery store?  Yes. Would it be more convenient to serve them prepackaged junk food? Possibly (though I might then have to deal with stomachaches.) Would it be more convenient to set them in front of the television all day long? Perhaps. But I value their well-being and their development over convenience. Besides, it takes a lot to call cloth diapers “inconvenient”. I have a washing-machine in my house and I line-dry my diapers out front. I couple my laundry responsibilities with opportunities for the kids to play around me (frequently with soft, clean-smelling diapers), lessons on independence and personal care  (they’ll have to learn to do their own laundry sooner or later), and lessons on the value of reuse and taking responsibility for our impact on the earth. Having these built-in opportunities is pretty darn convenient, in my opinion. And did I mention how convenient it is for me not to have to earn the extra thousands of dollars it would cost to use disposable diapers instead??? Heather McNamara Executive Director, Real Diaper Association