5 GOLDEN RULES for successful cloth diapering:
- Match the absorbency of the diaper to your baby’s needs. Each baby is unique, and the absorbency they need will depend on factors including growth rates (particularly for newborns), age and how often they feed (or are drinking for an older child). Starting at around 3 months for many babies, you may need to add absorbency at longer sleep periods and overnight.
- Change frequently. Regardless of whether you use cloth diapers or disposable diapers, change your baby every 2-3 hours or when soiled. Exceptions include naptimes and overnight.
- If you must use diaper creams, use a flushable diaper liner. All diaper creams are oil based – even natural and organic diaper creams are made with olive, coconut or other oils. The oil in the diaper cream will keep moisture away from baby’s skin, but it will also coat the diaper fabric. If oil permeates the fabric of the diaper, it will prevent absorption.
- Use a recommended detergent. Cloth diapers are easy to care for, and they are very hard working. Using a low residue detergent will help keep them performing well. Choose a detergent that has few ingredients and/or is recommended by the manufacturer or trusted cloth diaper retailer. When in doubt, ask!
- Wash your diapers every 1-3 days. Most families have enough diapers to last two (2) days and are washing every other day. Please don’t leave your dirty diapers in the diaper pail for more than 3 days at a time – urine will take on a strong ammonia smell and diapers left for long periods may develop odours and mildew, both things you don’t want!
The most common fabrics for diapering are cotton, hemp, bamboo, and polyester (microterry). Cotton traditionally has been the most popular fabric used for cloth diapers, it is the base for which all other materials are measured. Hemp is 3 times more absorbent than cotton, while bamboo and microterry are 2.5 times more absorbent.
Cloth Diaper Styles
For generations, flat diapers comprised the majority of cloth diapers used in Western culture. Flat diapers look like a receiving blanket: large, flat pieces of fabric in several layers, finished around the edges. These diapers are folded around the baby in a variety of ways and held in place with pins, or more commonly today, a Snappi. Modern flat diapers are often about 12” x 12” unwashed, often made of very absorbent fabrics like hemp and usually consist of two or three layers of fabric.
Flat diapers are made of natural fibre including hemp, cotton, and bamboo. When they are wet, the moisture will travel through the fabric of the diaper. A waterproof or water-resistant (wool) cover is required. Flat diapers most often used in one of two ways:
- Folded around the baby in a variety of folding techniques and fastened with a Snappi.
- Folded into thirds and used as an absorbent layer in a snug-fitting waterproof cover.
Pre-Folded (Prefold) Diaper
Pre-folded diapers are rectangular pieces of fabric with extra layers sewn into the center for added absorbency and are used in the same way as flat diapers. Bummis prefold diapers, the most popular brand in Canada, offer prefold diapers with three panels. These panels have four layers, eight layers, and four layers, respectively. There are two types of pre-foled diapers: Indian (made in India or Pakistan, often of organic or unbleached cotton) and Chinese (bleached white cotton, manufactured in China).
Prefold diapers are made of natural fibre including hemp, cotton, and bamboo. When they are wet, the moisture will travel through the fabric of the diaper. A waterproof or water-resistant (wool) cover is required.
A fitted diaper is a diaper made of natural fibres including hemp, cotton and bamboo. A fitted diaper is cut into an “hourglass” shape, has elastic at the leg and waist openings, and fastens around baby’s waist with snaps or Aplix (Velcro) closures.
Flat diapers are made of natural fibre including hemp, cotton, and bamboo. When they are wet, the moisture will travel through the fabric of the diaper. A waterproof or water-resistant (wool) cover is required.
Pocket diapers combine a waterproof cover with an inner layer of a stay-dry material (fleece or suede cloth). These two layers are sewn together in such a way as to leave an opening in the back or front into which you place absorbent material. This absorbent material is called an insert. Most pocket diapers are sold complete with one or two inserts.
The stay-dry layer next to baby’s skin is a polyester material that does not absorb. It allows liquid to pass through into the insert below, keeping baby’s skin feeling dry.
The flexibility of a pocket diaper allows you to customize the absorbency to match the absorbency required by your baby, which changes as baby grows. Removing the insert prior to washing allows for better cleaning of both pieces, and allows these diapers to dry very quickly.
All-In-Ones combine a waterproof layer with inner absorbent layers sewn together with or without a stay-dry layer of fabric next to baby’s skin. The diaper goes on in one piece, comes off in one piece, and washes in one piece. All-in-ones typically have a longer drying time because of the extra layers of fabric sewn in place.
All-In-Twos are sometimes referred to as “hybrid diapers”. All-in-Twos refer to a two-part diapering system that is made of a waterproof cover and removable absorbent insert that is placed inside the cover. Some styles include a stay-dry layer, some are made of natural fibres like cotton or hemp.
The absorbent part of the diaper is placed inside the waterproof cover. When it is time to change the diaper, the absorbent part is removed and a new absorbent layer is placed inside the same cover. If the cover is soiled, the cover is also replaced. With most All-In-Two systems, twice as many absorbent inserts are purchased as covers, assuming that a cover can be reused for two diaper changes. All-in-Twos are among the most economical cloth diapering systems available.
Vinyl, Vinyl-Coated Polyester, PVC
Often referred to as “rubber pants”, vinyl covers are what your mother likely used if she cloth diapered. Vinyl diaper covers do not breathe, cannot stand up to the repeated washings required of a diaper cover and will harden and crack over time. They are produced of polyvinyl chloride, a plastic that may contain phthalates, an endocrine disruptor, and may also produce harmful compounds during the off-gassing process. It is Nurtured policy to not sell any products made of vinyl or PVC.
Polyurethane Laminate (PUL)
PUL covers generally consist of knitted polyester or cotton that has been treated with polyurethane, making them waterproof but breathable and mildew resistant. PUL covers will not yellow or crack over time. This is the most common fabric used for modern cloth diaper covers and is makes up the waterproof layer of pocket diapers, All-In-One diapers, and All-In-Two diapers.
Wool is THE original cloth diaper cover. Before 1940, if a cloth diaper had a cover, it was a hand-knit wool cover. Wool is naturally breathable, keeping baby’s body temperature up to 4°C cooler than PUL covers, which in turn helps prevent the growth of bacteria that can cause diaper rash. Wool is naturally anti-bacterial and can absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture without feeling wet. A common misconception is that a wool cover is scratchy against baby’s skin. A high-quality wool cover made from untreated wool is soft and comfortable.
Wool is naturally self-cleaning as a result of the lanolin content reacting with urine to chemically form a kind of soap – amazing! Your diaper cover can be air dried between uses. Wool covers should be hand washed and re-lanolized when soiled or if developing an odour. To wash a wool cover, simply soak in a basin of lukewarm water and a bit of wool wash. Dry flat. To create a water-resistant barrier on the outside of your wool diaper cover, a wool diaper cover must be lanolized.
How to Lanolize a Wool Cover
You will need:
- A sink or basin
- Wool Wash
- Lukewarm water
- ComfortLan nipple cream or other lanolin preparation
- A small drinking glass
- Enough hot or boiling water to fill drinking glass
- An old bath towel
- Fill your sink or basin with lukewarm water; add a small amount of wool wash, swish with your hands to create bubbles.
- Pour or squeeze a generous amount (1-2 tablespoons) of lanolin into the basin, swish to mix with the soap – the lanolin will bind to the soap, helping it to stick to your diaper cover.
- Swish the diaper cover around in the sink to scoop up any floating lanolin.
- Remove diaper cover from sink, squeezing out excess water. Do not wring.
- Place diaper cover flat on a towel to dry. If the weather is wet or humid, drying could take up to 48 hours.
Glossary of Terms
A doubler refers to an hourglass or rectangular shaped piece of natural fibre fabric (cotton, hemp, bamboo) that is placed next to baby’s skin to increase diaper absorbency at naptime, overnight, or for a baby with a heavier wetting pattern.
There are two types of diaper liners: flushable and reusable. When using a natural fiber diaper (cotton, hemp, bamboo), a reusable fleece liner can be placed on top of the diaper. Fleece does not absorb, but allows the liquid to pass through, leaving the baby with drier feeling skin. Reusable liners are also used to help prevent or reduce staining on natural fiber (cotton, hemp, bamboo) diapers.
A flushable liner can be placed on top of the diaper and serves two purposes: 1) makes poop cleanup easier (just lift off and flush) and 2) is a barrier between the fabric of the diaper and any diaper cream. All diaper creams contain oil and should not be used directly against the fabric of the diaper. Diaper creams will “block” the fabric of the diaper, keeping liquid from absorbing, and are difficult to wash out. When using diaper creams, always use a flushable liner.
Inserts are the absorbent material used in the pocket of a pocket diaper.
We recommend using reusable wipes with your cloth diapers. Some families like to prepare a wipes solution to use with their reusable wipes. Our favourite recipe is as follows:
Lavender and Tea Tree Cloth Wipe Solution
Store solution in a peri bottle for easy diaper changes! Store excess in a mason jar or other glass container in your refrigerator.
Advanced Tips, Terms, and Tricks
Imagine you get toothpaste on your shirt as you're getting ready in the morning. You grab a wet cloth, and rub it around on the tiny spot where the toothpaste is. All of a sudden, you have a wet spot the size of your fist on your shirt - the shirt fabric soaked up the water from your cloth and it started to travel through the fabric fibres. Now imagine your baby pees in his diaper, and the fabric around the exact area where your baby peed starts to soak up the fabric. As the fabric absorbs the liquid, it starts to move from between baby's legs to the outer edge of the fabric. If there's a little bit of fabric peeking out of the waterproof cover, or if a diaper shirt has gotten tucked in there, it will also start to pick up the wetness, and eventually you'll see it come through baby's pants. This is referred to as wicking in cloth diapering.
In a fully opened diaper, there is the front, the back, and the leg gathers. You put the diaper on your baby with the front panel against the baby's belly. That bit of fabric is wide across the front and slowly tapers down to the gathered leg opening, that narrowing portion with the Velcro-style loops or the male snaps is called the "wing".
In some diaper designs, the panel against baby’s belly can start to sag or droop, loosening the leg openings and leaving the baby more prone to leaking around the leg. This is known as “wing droop”.
There are many definitions and directions for how to strip diapers. At Nurtured, stripping refers to the procedure of removing excessive build up from the fabric of your diapers. Excessive build up is most often caused by using too much laundry detergent, a detergent with many additives, or excessive mineral build up. The most severe build up is as a result of zinc-based diaper cream use without a flushable liner.
To strip your diapers you will need:
- Dishwashing liquid (available at most supermarkets and some discount stores). Original Dawn is most often recommended, however, other brands has been used with good results.
- A rough wash cloth, finger nail or potato brush (optional)
- A basin or sink
- If you are stripping pocket diapers, remove the inserts.
- Before wetting the diaper, squeeze a generous amount of dishwashing liquid on to the diaper fabric.
- Fold the diaper closed and rub vigorously or scrub the fabric with a fingernail brush, potato brush, or face cloth.
- If you have a top loading washing machine, do not rinse the diapers, wash on hot with no detergent. The remaining dishwashing liquid will help to remove any lingering residue. If you have a front loading or HE washing machine, rinse the diapers thoroughly in warm water. Wash on hot with no detergent and double rinse.
What to do if diapers are leaking?
- Is the diaper saturated? The most common cause of a leaking diaper is a diaper that simply has reached the amount it can absorb. If the diaper is saturated and baby has been in the diaper for a short time (one hour or less) you will need to add absorbency with extra inserts (in the case of a pocket diaper) or doublers (in the case of all other diaper styles).
- Have you used diaper creams? All diaper creams are oil based to keep moisture away from baby’s skin. At any time a diaper cream is used, ALWAYS USE A FLUSHABLE LINER to separate the diaper cream from the fabric of the diaper. Just as the diaper cream coats the skin to keep moisture away, it also will also coat the diaper fabric to keep moisture away. When baby pees, the liquid will hit the oil barrier and look for the path of least resistance – out the leg. Zinc-based diaper creams are particularly difficult to remove.
- Check the fit. Is the diaper too loose around the legs? Run your finger around the leg opening and check for a snug fit. Moving baby’s knees toward his chest, check for obvious gaps between the diaper elastic and baby’s thigh. Is the diaper snug around baby’s waist? Ensure that the top of the diaper is at or just slightly below baby’s belly button.
- Change more frequently. Particularly if you have been using disposable diapers. Families who have been using disposable diapers tend to change less frequently. It is recommended, regardless of diaper type (reusable or disposable) that a diaper be changed every 2 hours (exceptions being naptime and overnight).
- Check the diaper cover and/or clothing. Is there a bit of diaper shirt tucked inside the diaper? Is there a bit of diaper sticking out of the cover? Contact with clothing or fabric peeking out of the diaper cover can lead to wicking and wetness.
- Check your detergent brand. Is it a brand that is recommended for cloth diapers.? Note that soaps and citrus-based detergents may lead to build up over time. Minerals from hard water may also build up over time. As a preventative measure, try washing your freshly laundered (but not yet dried) diapers on a hot wash with no detergent every 4-6 weeks. We also recommend low residue detergents or detergents with alcohol-based surfactants.