Cloth Diapering: Making Sense of all the Choices

Cloth Diapering

Slowly but surely, cloth diapering is reasserting its position in the diapering world. Cloth diaper websites are springing up all over the internet, forums on the subject are popping up on Mama sites in the cyber world, and women hoping to earn some money from home are busy creating and sewing cloth diapers and accessories.

Some may hear the words cloth diapering and have the reaction of, “Ugh! How messy and yucky! What a lot of work that would be! There is no way I would ever want to cloth diaper my baby!” Other reactions range from, “I don’t have the time to add more loads of laundry to my to-do list” to “I would never be able to even pin a cloth diaper on my baby!”

Other women react with a curiosity and interest in cloth diapering, but when looking into it, find themselves overwhelmed and confused by all the options that are presented to them. First, there is the lingo that one has to get past when first starting to explore the cloth diapering world. Words like pre-folds, flats, AIO’s, doublers, wraps, and Snappi’s seem laden with mysterious meaning that will never be interpreted and understood.

Once the lingo is grasped, usually through the helpful advice from Mama’s on diapering forums, who are usually more than pleased to provide the Cliff Notes edition for all the key words, there are then the overwhelming options of different cloth diapers to choose from. Should one go with good old-fashioned pre-folds and covers or invest their money in the more expensive All-In-One diapers? Are Chinese pre-folds better than Indian pre-folds, and if so, why? Is there even really a difference between all the options?

When exploring the world of cloth diapering a woman can quickly be overwhelmed and decide it is just not worth the time and effort it takes to even get started. But consider for a moment the benefits to cloth diapering.

Probably the most obvious benefit is the money-saving factor. Internet research provides average costs for using disposable diapers versus using cloth diapers. Sites, figuring the cost of each diaper that will be used throughout a baby’s diaper stage of life, estimate that the cost of using disposable diapers for an average of three years in a child’s life can range anywhere from $2,694 to a staggering $7, 349!

Conversely, other sites, figuring in the cost of laundry detergent, water, and energy costs per load of laundry, bring the average cost of cloth diaper expenses over three years to $552 maximum. Of course, the initial cost of cloth diapers needs to be figured into this expense, so tack on another approximate $500 for buying the cloth diapers and accessories and the grand total comes to $1,052.

Taking the lowest average for disposable diaper use and subtracting the cloth diaper cost from it, at the very least you save an average of over $1, 500 alone! Subtract your cloth diaper total from the highest average and the savings comes close to $6,300! You could buy a brand new washer and dryer with that type of savings!

A second benefit to using cloth diapers is avoiding the chemicals that are in disposable diapers. A little known fact about disposable diapers is that the water-absorbing gel they contain, which makes them so super absorbent, is a substance known as Sodium Polyacrylate. This is the same substance that has been removed from women’s tampons in recent years due to a correlation with Toxic Shock Syndrome. Yet this same substance remains in babies’ diapers! Interestingly enough, no studies have ever been done on the possible effects on babies as a result of being exposed to this substance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in their genital area.

Yet another benefit of cloth diapering is earlier potty training. Some independent studies have shown that, because cloth diapers don’t suck away the moisture like disposable diapers do, children are more aware when they eliminate, and are thus easier to potty train. What mother doesn’t want extra aid when it comes to potty training her child?

A final benefit to cloth diapering is the environmental impact that using less disposable diapers has on our landfills. Google the amount of time it takes a disposable diaper to break down in a landfill and answers from 75 to 500 years will come up. Even if no one can agree on the amount of time it really takes, the point is, several decades at the very least have to pass for a disposable to break down.

For those squeamish about the mess of dirty diapers and the process of cleaning them, a wonderful tool has been introduced to the cloth-diapering world — the diaper sprayer. This tool is every cloth-diapering parent’s dream and can be attached to the toilet plumbing on any common toilet. Think vegetable sprayer, only on a toilet. Using this wonderful device simply requires that a person turn the knob that controls the water flow between the toilet and the sprayer, hold the diaper down in the toilet, squeeze the handle, and voila, the majority of the mess is sprayed into the toilet! This is a must have for anyone who chooses to cloth diaper. Without it, attempting to clean off dirty diapers before putting them in the washing machine can be enough to consider spending approximately $3,000 a year on disposables!

When actually choosing which system to use for cloth diapers, as already stated, the options seem confusing and endless. In essence, despite all the lingo and options, there are three main systems for cloth diapering.

The first system is the cloth diapering system our grandmothers used. Using pre-folds and/or flats, these diapers are kept together with diaper pins or the modern day Snappi (a rubber fastener with plastic teeth that grip the diaper and are much easier to use than diaper pins). They are then covered with rubber pants. This is a method that is quickly being abandoned, however, because rubber pants are hard to come by in today’s modern world of cloth diapering. In addition, they are not that breathable and diaper rash is quick to develop.

Staying along the same lines of this particular system, there is a second option available. This system also uses pre-folds and/or flats, which are then in turn covered with different types of covers or wraps. These covers and wraps are varied and are either commercially made or hand-made by work-at-home-moms who have a business of creating cloth diaper accessories.

Covers and wraps are made out of materials ranging from polyester and vinyl to polar fleece and wool. They are usually fitted, in that they are contoured like a disposable diaper with elastic legs and come complete with fasteners such as Velcro and snaps.

Covers and wraps that are made out of polar fleece and wool are more specifically referred to as soakers. Unlike polyester and vinyl covers that are waterproof, fleece and wool instead repel the urine and moisture from the cloth diaper allowing clothing to remain dry. Although there are best selling covers and wraps, such as the popular Thirsty wrap, usually the best wrap is found by personal experience.

As far as pre-folds and flats, the difference is as follows. The pre-fold is a square piece of fabric, pre-folded and sewed into a rectangular shape. The outer layers usually contain a few less layers than the middle layers. You may see the layers represented like this: 4 x 8 x 4. This means the right and left folds have four layers of cloth and the middle fold has 8 layers of material. This folding provides several layers of absorbent material. A flat, on the other hand, is a square of fabric that contains the same amount of layers throughout and has no pre-sewn fold lines. Flats are cheaper than pre-folds but are put on the baby in the same exact way. Proper folding and use can be found in illustrated guides on the internet.

The two main pre-folds are Chinese pre-folds and Indian pre-folds. Again, personal preference is usually based on experience, but the main difference is type of material used as well as softness and durability. Chinese pre-folds are more durable, whereas Indian pre-folds are softer but wear out quicker.

Some may want to use only organic materials for their diapers and pre-folds and flats are also available in organic cottons and hemp.

When using pre-folds and/or flats with diaper covers and wraps, some may choose to use liners or doublers as extra coverage. A liner typically has three layers of fabric such as terry cloth, and a doubler typically has two layers of fabric. A doubler or liner can be put between the cloth diaper and the baby and is helpful in drawing moisture away from the baby’s skin. This is preferable because cloth diapers do not draw moisture away from the baby’s skin, and during long periods between diaper changes, such as nighttime hours, this can cause diaper rash.

When choosing from the different style diaper covers and wraps, it is often a matter of trial and error from parent to parent and baby to baby. A cover that one parent swears by may be the most hated cover for another parent. However, if reviews are read and cloth diapering message boards are frequented, one will begin to notice tried and true favorites emerge.

The last category of cloth diapers are AIO’s, otherwise known as All-In-Ones or Pocket Diapers. These diapers are the most expensive, but often the most favored, out of all cloth diapers. Just as it sounds, AIO’s are cloth diapers that contain an insert, a liner, and a cover, all in one neat little package. The inserts usually need to be replaced inside the liner after each washing, but this is quickly and easily done. The liners to AIO’s are usually made of a moisture-drawing material and are great at keeping baby’s little bum from being in contact with urine. For night-times, some people will add a doubler or liner in addition to the insert for extra soaking material. AIO’s eliminate the process of folding pre-folds or flats and fastening them and then covering them in yet another step.

With these basics, the parent that is interested in pursuing the world of cloth diapering has a bit of a foundation to work with. From here, the best decision and plan of action would be to find a cloth diaper company or privately owned business that offers packages with several different cloth diaper options, such as three pre-folds and three wraps, 1 flat with a fitted cover, and two AIO’s — or some other combination. Usually a discount will come with a package like this, with the option of returning what you do not care for and receiving money towards another purchase of the supplies you do like.

Cloth diapering can be a confusing world to enter into, but once it is entered, it is not easily left!

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