If you’re new to cloth diapers, or have been using secondhand diapers for a while and are just now buying your very first brand new cloth diaper, you might have heard that you need to “prep your new diapers in the wash before you use them.” But what does that mean?
“Prepping” sounds a bit like some new dumb social media meme, and it’s kind of tempting to just run up to random strangers and ask them “What do you think prepping is?!” and hopefully get some hilarious answers, but here’s the real one: it’s necessary because new cloth diapers are… new. I know, I know, this has been an extremely informative blog post so far. You must be stunned at the extent of my knowledge concerning such things. But factory-fresh cloth diapers, both cloth and synthetic, should be washed at least once before using them. They might have random residue from the factory or bits of packaging stuck on, and really, I’ve just always thought it a good idea to at least give things a good rinse before putting them on for the first time.
If you have synthetic-inner diapers, like microsuede-lined pocket diapers, one wash is all you need. Your diapers are ready to go! But if you have brand new natural fiber diapers or inserts, such as cotton or hemp, and especially ones made with organic unbleached cotton, you will need to “prep” them before they can be used.
A deliciously quilty pile of freshly washed prefolds.
A long time ago people used pins and flat diapers to diaper their babies. One of the biggest concerns with diapers then was accidentally poking the baby with the pins used to keep the diaper in place. Nowadays, with larger, safer pins and other alternative diaper closures, jabbing baby with a sharp object is far less of a diapering concern. Instead, one of the biggest worries I see parents ask is, “I took off the cloth diaper and there are red marks on my baby’s skin! What gives?”
There are many, many reasons for red marks caused by cloth diapers, and most of them are harmless. If you’re using fabric that can bunch up, like flats or prefolds, and the red marks are on the part of the body where your baby has just been sleeping on, there is little cause for concern. You know how sometimes you wake up and you smile lovingly at your partner, pleased at the luxury of waking up together, and he or she looks back at you and bursts out laughing because you have sheet marks all over your face, and then the loving moment is totally gone? Sometimes red marks from diapers are just something like sheet marks, where the fabric folds press against baby’s soft skin while he or she sleeps. They will fade shortly.
Elastic comes in multiple shapes and sizes on modern cloth diapers. It’s pretty good at the whole poop-containing thing.
I recently wrote an article here about my woes with my cloth diapers in a hard water location, namely the entire state of Utah. Since I had recently moved, I had not yet found the way to clean my cloth diapers and hoped that someone would be able to give me the answer since my research had not found anything that worked. After talking with my sister-in-law, who works at a cloth diaper store, and consulting with many other cloth diapering mothers, I have found what worked for us – Tide original powder and Calgon.
Calgon is a liquid water softener found in the laundry aisle in Walmart. I haven’t found it anywhere else besides online. Calgon contains the active ingredients zeolite and polycarboxylate, which interact with the hard water ions in water to prevent them from forming limescale or interfering with soap lathering. The bottle says that it can also be used as a laundry enhancer, making whites more white and all that jazz. I’m not as fussed about those benefits, but I thought it would be nice if it helped my laundry be better overall.
I started off with a strip where I did a cold rinse to remove all the icky stuff and then added one tablespoon of Blue Dawn Original dish soap and did a series of hot washes until all the bubbles were gone, which took all day. I used a capful of Calgon with every wash. When I was done with the strip, I did one more wash using the Tide Original powder, then threw them all in the dryer for a low heat spin. And VIOLA! It worked.
Cloth diapers are addictive.
Many people, mostly people who don’t use cloth or don’t have kids, will stare at you blankly when those words come out of your mouth. For heaven’s sake, they are diapers! It’s easy to understand buying an entire clothing line of baby clothes you think are adorable, or several of the same cute blankie because you know a few will get lost as the years go by. But…diapers? They’re just diapers, right?
No. They are not just diapers. They are diapers made out of mind-controlling, obsessive magical fabric that spurn you to open your wallet the second your favorite cloth diaper company comes out with a new line of prints, sending you running to grab the mail a few days later, throwing the diapers in the wash and the packaging in the recycle bin before your spouse can come home so they don’t realize you’ve bought EVEN MORE DIAPERS. This crazy obsession with cloth diapers has led to people spending hundreds of dollars on a single hard-to-find, highly sought after print (these people make far more money than me, by the way).
If you’re on a budget, or are afraid of getting caught up in the obsessive side of the world of cloth diapers, then a “Plain Jane” stash might be for you. The definition of a plain cloth diaper stash is a little different depending on the person, but it is basically a simple stash without the hundred-dollar prints or dozens of different types of diapers. For many people, it is a stash of flats and prefolds with some white covers. For others, it might be a stash of 25 white all-in-ones. Still others might have 30 tie-dyed prefolds and a couple of wool covers. Plain stashes can cross over with minimalism, so if you don’t have a lot of space or you just hate having “extra” things lying around (no 100-diaper stashes for you!), this might be something to consider.
It will probably happen at some point. In my case, it happened the very first time we cloth diapered my tiny newborn daughter—your child poops, you run the diaper through the wash, and it comes out stained! Many people feel gypped the moment this happens. After all, if you have 12 fancy all-in-one diapers that cost $25 each, you will probably panic a bit—they were SO expensive! The Internet swore they were top of the line diapers, and after one use they look used and gross! What to do? (Unless you’re one of the mysterious minorities of parents online who claim that in their nine years of cloth diapering, they’ve left dirty diapers lying around for days before washing and never had a single stain. In that case, you can go on washing your diapers in your magic washing machine and send the magic our way.)
How do I know we have it? I don’t. It’s what people tell me when I say the dishwasher leaves spots all over my dishes. But now I know the great evil that is hard water because my daughter has a diaper rash. WHAT? How could a cloth diapered, adorable baby have a diaper rash that won’t go away with all-natural creams, healthy diet changes, and teething remedies? Hard water. That’s how.
For all I know, I grew up with hard water. I couldn’t tell you the difference. But I do know that the house we just moved from and the house we now live in have very different water.
As any cloth diaperer discovers, every-so-often the diapers need to be stripped or deep cleaned to get out residues left from detergents, oils, and the ammonia smell that can occur. In our last home, we did it every couple of months with Blue Dawn Original detergent and an Oxyclean soak to knock out that ammonia. It’s always been successful. We use a detergent for everyday use that is made out of equal parts Oxyclean, washing powder, and baking soda that hasn’t given us any trouble. We were careful not to use too much to avoid build up and I was quite proud of our routine. Then we moved.
I don’t regret my decision to use cloth diapers on my child. He has gone from problematic diaper rashes to none at all. He’s happy to come running when it’s time for a diaper change as opposed to crying through a change because it hurts. Instead of bringing me the diaper rash cream he now brings me the inserts when he is helping me get diaper supplies. For my child cloth diapers have been wonderful. That makes them well worth the extra work for me.
There are a few things I didn’t anticipate with the change from disposables to cloth, but I have learned to adjust to the changes that I have needed to make to help my little guy be happy.
When starting out with cloth diapers, you will have more laundry. As you try out different types of diapers, absorbing materials and experiment with the number of inserts you need during a diaper change, you will also increase you amount of wet sheets and soiled clothes.
I’ve blogged before about cloth diapering in an apartment. The article gives advice assuming you have access to a washer and dryer, whether that be the laundromat down the street or a shared laundry room. But what if you have neither, no washing machine in your unit, and you are so hardcore about cloth diapering you insist on using them anyway?
Never fear. You can fully handwash and air-dry your diapers in your bathroom and get some killer biceps as a side effect.
No drying rack? No problem. Get creative with hangers and hooks!
Again, this is something I have personally done, in order to save some weekly quarters. I think I handwashed 2 out of 3 loads of diaper laundry a week for a few months before I got pregnant again and was way too tired to continue (pregnancy and I will never get along very well). It’s far more time consuming than using a machine—but not as much as you think—and once you master handwashing, you can bring cloth diapers anywhere. Wash them in a hotel room sink. Wash them while camping. I don’t blame anyone for switching to disposables while traveling as it is much easier and one last thing to worry about (do I have space in my suitcase for enough diapers? What if the washing machine is broken in the place we are going?); however, if you are as extraordinarily stubborn as I am you may wish to cloth diaper even when circumstances are not ideal.
The easiest diapers to handwash are birdseye flats. They are cotton, so they don’t hold onto stink, and they are thin, so they dry extremely fast. If you need a flat to dry extremely quickly and have access to an iron but no dryer, you can iron a flat dry in short time. That being said, I have successfully handwashed flats, prefolds, cloth wipes, pocket shells, pocket inserts, and a couple of AIOs, although AIOs are the hardest and I don’t recommend it (but you can if you have to).
Items you’ll need to handwash using the method below are:
Eucalan is the delicate wash I see recommended everywhere when people ask, “What should I use to wash my wool diaper covers?” That being said, I didn’t try it until recently, and only bought it on a whim while I getting some cloth diapers from another site, my reason being, “Oh, Eucalan…I guess I should finally try that to make shipping for these other things worth it.” Nothing deep, but then I guess if you have very deep, philosophical reasons for buying soap beyond “I need to clean things,” you probably have other issues beyond the scope of this blog.
So what are the advantages Eucalan supposedly has over other wool/delicate soaps? Let’s see what Eucalan themselves have to say:
- Phosphate free
- Natural lanolin
- Enriched formula
- Recyclable hdpe plastic bottle
Ok, so “enriched formula” is vague marketing speak, but the rest is pretty cool. Non-toxicness and diapers go pretty well together, seeing as baby butts can get pretty toxic themselves without any outside influence. Lanolin is great for wool. What about scents?
Eucalan comes in unscented, eucalyptus, lavender, grapefruit, and jasmine (under the “Wrapture” label). And yes, the name “Eucalan” comes from its original scent of eucalyptus, in case you were wondering! I bought the lavender scented version. Usually I only like unscented soaps because if you get one bad scent you are stuck with it until the soap is gone, but I have a terrible weakness for anything lavender (I make killer lavender encrusted pork chops, just so you know). All scents are created using natural essential oils as well, so no worries about chemically cooked up, overpowering fragrances here. Unless you have specific allergies to any of the ingredients, Eucalan is safe for sensitive skin.
Now, why on earth would you want a no-rinse liquid wash? Well, generally you are using Eucalan on delicates, as it’s advertised, and delicates are…delicate. To rinse you have to handle them more, squeezing and so on, so a no-rinse wash means you can skip that, basically putting a little less wear and tear on your items. It does save that extra rinse step too, which is nice when you are washing a large amount of items at the same time. “But won’t that leave a ton of soap on my laundry…?” you might ask. Eucalan is formulated to have minimal suds, so simply squeezing it out without rinsing is good enough. Not rinsing also leaves a bit of lanolin on the laundry items, which keeps them soft and a little water resistant.
“But what do you do with the poop?”
This question is often asked by new cloth diapering parents, or by non-cloth diapering people who regard cloth diapering as sort of an anachronism, like dressing in Renaissance fair clothing except cloth diapers are worn every day and have more poop involved. It’s not a bad question, because disposable diaper poop goes into the trash most of the time and the rest of us use toilets and merrily flush our excrement away without much thought. So what DO you do with a cloth diaper full of poop?
It doesn’t matter what time period you are from. Babies always pull down your shirt at the most inappropriate times, such as while sitting for a formal portrait.