I have to say that even though Matt and I decided we'd use cloth diapers long before there was a baby in the picture, when the time came to start using them I was a little apprehensive. Now with two weeks of cloth diapering under our belts I can't imagine going back to disposables. Here's what I've observed, in Q&A format.
How often do you wash cloth diapers?
Every other day.
Doesn't that mean you're spending your life doing laundry?
No more than I do by virtue of having an infant in the house.
Plus, a load of cloth diapers only contains about 11-14 diapers, so it doesn't take long to clean them in the washer or get them to dry. On our standard Kenmore washing machine (we do not have anything fancy) it takes about 10 minutes to prewash the diapers and then about 30 minutes to wash them with a second rinse. I put the inserts in the dryer for 60 minutes, which is plenty of time, and hang the diaper shells outside (thank you, nice weather!). I find it's easiest for me to stick to the washing and drying routine by running the load of diapers first thing in the morning so the diaper shells will be dry by afternoon.
Aren't cloth diapers gross to change?
No more so than a disposable diaper.
Aren't cloth diapers gross to wash?
I can see that this could be the part where parents decide not to use cloth diapers. I invested in an extra pair of rubber gloves that I keep in the laundry room. I wear them when I am separating the diaper shells from the inserts as I put the diapers in the washer for the prewash cycle. But I am not an easily grossed out person, so if you are then cloth diapering might not be for you.
Do your diapers truly come out of the wash looking clean?
The first time, yes, the second time, no, so then I learned that I needed to put a little bit of laundry detergent directly on the dirty diapers as I prepared to wash them on the hot cycle. That trick, coupled with hanging the shells inside-out to dry in the sun has resulted in perfectly white, clean diapers thanks to the sun's bleaching powers.
Aren't cloth diapers more prone to diaper blowouts?
If you're not familiar with this term, a blowout occurs when a diaper leaks....big time. Unfortunately the first day of cloth diapering we experienced the biggest blowout we've had to date, though we haven't experienced many in general. If we'd been using a disposable diaper, though, it definitely would not have contained the mess either. One thing I have noticed is that cloth diapers can get oversaturated faster than disposables, so a particularly wet diaper could leak. Cloth diapering may require being more vigilant about diaper changes, but I'm fine with that, seeing as I will be the main person doing diaper changes for the next year and a half.
What's the ideal number of cloth diapers to own?
20 diapers is our sweet spot currently.
When we started out with 17 cloth diapers I felt it was a few too many, and I was right. The first time we did the diaper laundry we were down to two spare diapers, leaving us with enough to use while the diapers dried. I found a decent deal on the Bum Genius 4.0 Artist Series diapers through Sew Crafty Baby and bought 3 of those oh-so-pretty diapers (I am not being sarcastic -- who knew diapers would be so cute? See the patterned ones below).
When is the ideal time to begin using cloth diapers?
Even though I only started using cloth diapers because we were almost out of disposables when our baby was 7 weeks old, I think this really was the perfect time for us.
Magically, we started using cloth diapers right when Natalie started producing fewer dirty diapers. (For our purposes dirty diapers = contain a #2.) It's not unheard of for newborns to have many dirty diapers a day. Newborns produce a lot of dirty diapers because their intestinal track is still adjusting to life outside the womb. As it begins to function more normally they produce fewer and fewer dirty diapers. Some parents report that as their child hits 2 months and older it's not unusual for the baby to go for days without a dirty diaper, and it sounds like from a medical perspective this doesn't concern doctors either. Although this has not been our experience, we are definitely seeing the number of dirty diapers diminish and that is OK.
I would also say that when we started using cloth diapers Natalie weighed at least 10 pounds. The Bum Genius 4.0 one-size diapers claim to work on babies from 8-35 lbs., and because Natalie was born weighing more than 8 lbs. we technically could have used these from the start, but I am glad we waited for her to get a little more meat on her bones and for us to adjust to parenthood using disposable diapers before making the cloth diaper transition.
These Bum Genius diapers are expensive at $18 a pop. Do cloth diapers really save you money?
For us the answer would be yes. We've only purchased 8 of the 20 diapers we own, and because I purchased all our diapers on sale we've only spent $120 of our own money on diapering for Natalie. Even if you bought all the diapers yourself, though, you would definitely save diaper money in the long run once you make the initial investment. The Real Diaper Association (yes, this exists) estimates that the average family would spend $1,600 to diaper a child in disposables for two years. The Young House Lovers used Seventh Generation disposables for their daughter's first 9 weeks and spent $180, meaning they believe they'd spend $3,000 for two years (though my math would indicate the number would be closer to $2,000, but maybe I'm doing it wrong). The point is, though the numbers vary greatly, everyone will spend more on disposables than on cloth.
Because you're running your washing machine and dryer every other day aren't you negating any positive impact you'll have on the environment and your wallet?
Based on everything I've read it appears that from an environmental perspective disposables will never be able to win out over cloth. We all know plenty about the number of disposable diapers in landfills so I won't bore you with those dirty (Ha!) details. In terms of energy: Yes, it takes energy to clean cloth diapers, but it takes lots of energy to produce the thousands of diapers we'd go through if we used disposables exclusively (we will use disposables when we travel out of town).
The jury is still out on how much our energy and water bills will increase as a result of washing diapers, so I plan to keep track of all our bills from this coming year and compare them to what we paid a year ago to see the difference. (This will be similar to my year-long Costco experiment.)
I'm finding that my initial plan to store the diapers in the top drawer of the dresser in the nursery is working out just fine. I've been making an effort to arrange the diaper shells and inserts in the drawer in a way that will encourage us to use all items equally. I'm placing the newly laundered inserts at the bottom of the pile and the newly laundered diaper shells at the back of the drawer, therefore prompting us to rotate through our entire stash without wearing any item out too quickly.
An unexpected benefit of using cloth diapers is that our garage no longer smells. That's where we store our outdoor trashcan, and a particularly smelly round of disposable diapers sitting out there for days can get a little funky.