Cloth Diapers: How do they REALLY work?

7 Jun


Whenever people noticed that I use cloth diapers with Freestyle, the reactions are usually along the lines of, “Good for you– I just couldn’t deal with washing the poopy diapers!”

My response was always: It’s not as bad as you think!

And it really isn’t.

For me, I never really thought of the choice between disposable and cloth. I just assumed I’d be using disposable because that’s what I was used to seeing around me. When I was pregnant with Freestyle, a good friend talked about how she’d use cloth diapers in the past which put the idea in my head. What really convinced me was actually seeing another good friend (and neighbour!) using them. Suddenly it wasn’t a weird hippie thing, it was something practical and right in front of me!

Now, I am no expert. I’ve only used it on one child (so far!) and am only able to share my personal experience. I decided to do so because I found that a lot of people were curious about how it all works!

I’m just going to use the website of the brand we use, Mother-Ease, for any references. For the record, I’m not being paid to endorse any of the brands that I’m going to mention. The rest of the post is based solely on my experience and the specific products that I used. There are different systems and ways to do it, so again, if you’re serious about it, I’d encourage you to do your own research!

So here goes…

Frog is happy in his cloth diaper!


Why did you decide to use cloth diapers?

  • We felt that it was safer for Freestyle. We read a lot about the chemicals that go into making disposable diapers and wanted to limit this exposure.
  • We feel that it is better for the environment because a) you’re not creating more garbage, b) the waste is disposed of properly, and c) we can reuse them for our other children. I know there is some debate about water and energy usage with constantly washing the diapers. I don’t know which comes out on top, but even if they came out even, I’d still think that being able to reuse the cloth and not add to the landfills give cloth diapers the edge.
  • We think that it’s more economical. In total, we’ve spent probably just under $600 on the diapers and accessories. It is a big upfront investment but it’s been nice not to have to be constantly buying diapers! We will be able to use these diapers until Freestyle is completely potty-trained and for our second baby! (Based on our experience, I’d say that you should expect your hydro and electricity bills to go up by 25-35% [our hydro is relatively low but we also have a very old washer and dryer…].)
  • It seemed great that we’d always have diapers on hand, and if we ran out, we could just throw them in the wash instead of having to run out and buy more.
  • I read that babies in cloth diapers tend to potty train faster because they know the difference between feeling wet and dry. In our personal experience, it did seem to help when we potty trained Freestyle by 18 months.
  • Babies are supposed to experience less diaper rash because they are exposed to less chemicals. (Full disclosure: Freestyle did go through a period with a prolonged diaper rash but we never determined why it happened. The best answer I had was that if she couldn’t be in a wet diaper for any amount of time and her doctor recommended using disposable. I wasn’t convinced but tried them with mixed results while we were out when I couldn’t change her immediately as at home. However, when it cleared, I went back to cloth and she has been fine since!)


How does cloth diapering work?

  • Here’s a link to explain the different types of cloth diapers. I’m just going to share about the one I’ve used which is a one-size fitted diaper from Mother-Ease.
  • It’s one-size because it has different snap holes so that the size changes as your baby grows. That means you don’t have to keep buying bigger sizes! Seemed the most economical to us.

You can adjust the size using the snaps.

  • Fitted cloth diapers are shaped like regular disposable diapers– fitted to prevent any leakage.
  • Our diapers have separate components, which I like because I don’t always want to use all three: cloth diaper, diaper cover (waterproof and breathable), liner.

Diaper, liner, cover.

  • At home I will just put on the cloth diaper because I can feel if it is wet and change her immediately.
  • If she was sleeping or we are going out and I wouldn’t be able to change her immediately, I could choose to add a liner for extra absorbancy.

Here the liner is snapped into the diaper.

  • I would use a diaper cover when we are out or when she is asleep so that her clothing didn’t get wet.

Diaper + liner + cover.

  • When you’re changing the baby, you can toss the soiled diaper into a diaper pail (you can do a wet or dry system, see below) and then do the laundry when full or too smelly! This could be kept in baby’s room or in the bathroom (which is what we did). Many cloth diaper companies sell odour-free diaper pails.

This bucket is in the upstairs washroom for soiled diapers.

  • In the diaper pail, you can do a “wet” system meaning having water in the pail so that the diapers soak. You just dump the water down the tub/toilet so that you can move it to the washing machine. It still may be heavy though, since all the diapers have absorbed the water! A “dry” system just means that there is no water in the pail. We started with the wet system but it seemed too cumbersome and annoying to keep emptying the water so we switched to dry and it’s been fine ever since.
  • Your cloth diapers will come with washing instructions. For us, we first put them through a hot rinse cycle. Then a second hot cycle with soap nuts.

These are soap nuts. They are the fruit of the soapberry tree and contain saponin, a natural cleaning agent! You put about 5 nuts in a little muslin bag and use it up to 5 washes! We get our soap nuts from Earth’s Berries.

  • Hang dry in the sun to get out any stains and save on electricity. You can throw them into the dryer for 10 minutes to get them soft if you’d like. Using the dryer is good too.

What do you do with the POO?!

Newborn – 6 months: Baby’s poop is very runny and doesn’t smell (a lot). And if you think that smells, just wait until they start eating solids! What you do is rinse the diaper over the toilet or in the tub, which is what we did (yes, I get that sounds really disgusting, but we made sure it was all cleaned out afterwards). You can buy  a diaper sprayer and attach the hose to your toilet so that you can use it to spray the poop off. I also found a DIY version here (I haven’t tried it so I can’t say if it really works or not). We kept holding off on buying one but honestly found rinsing it down the tub’s drain was fine. Again, newborn poo was not bad.

[EDIT (10-29-12) : I should mention that at the time no one was using that tub to bathe! I was just thinking about this now, as our second child has arrived, because the tub is now being used. I think this time around we will just rinse everything into the toilet from the start. We have a hand-held shower head hose so I might try using that to rinse it. I’m not too sure about the diaper sprayer system. If anyone has tried it, please let me know how it’s worked out for you! Thanks!]

6 months (approx. when they begin eating solids) – 1 year: As aforementioned, baby’s poop becomes more solid…and smelly! At this point what we did was just knock the poop into the toilet with a piece of toilet paper.

1 year – 18 months: I know all babies are different, but with Freestyle her bowel movements (BM) became pretty regular so the good thing was there was probably just one, maybe two poopy diapers to deal with per day. Again, we’d knock the poo into the toilet and flush it away! To me, it seems better than keeping it wrapped in a container until garbage day! And it’s also dealt with by the sanitary people rather than rotting in a dump somewhere.

18 months + : Again, this is our personal experience. By now Freestyle was (daytime) potty trained so she was doing all her business in the toilet anyway. She still wears a diaper for naps and bedtime, but will just pee in them.


But…but…isn’t it gross?

Yeah, sure in the beginning it’s a bit icky to be holding a pee-soaked piece of cloth in your hand and not throw it away! It’s weird because we (or me, at least!) are used to a disposable, one-use society. We use tissues, not handkerchiefs! Pads and tampons, not rags! Toilet paper, not cloth wipes! (Though I know a friend who uses the reusuable options! While I admire her greatly, I’m not quite there yet!)

However, after a week or so you just get used to it. If it’s your first kid anyway, changing and using diapers in general is probably something new. What starts off as a two-person operation becomes a one-handed feat after a while, right? Same with cloth diapers…first you’re squeamish then you really don’t notice it because it’s become your norm.

There are also cloth diaper delivery services. How I believe it works is the company delivers a bunch of diapers to you each week. At the end of the week, they’ll pick up the soiled diapers and drop off an batch of clean ones. The upside is that you don’t ever have to do diaper laundry! The downside (and the main reason we didn’t go with this option) is that the diapers are shared among the clients. You’d have to do more research on these companies though because that’s all I really know!

Honestly, the gross factor wears off eventually! Yes, it’ll come back when your baby is eating solids and producing them too…but again, “a body can get used to anything, right”? 🙂


Do they stain? 

Yep, they do!

But believe it or not, just putting them out to dry in the sun gets rid of most of the minor stains! We would hang them outside to dry in the summer or just near the window in the winter. Apparantly, if you spray a lemon juice-water mix on the stain before you sun them, it helps with getting the stains out. I didn’t try this with Freestyle but I will with the next!


What do you do when you go out/travel?

You can bring them! For a 3-day trip we just brought the cloth diapers along with some ziplock bags and a garbage bag to hold them all. If you’re staying at a hotel you can ask if they’ll wash them. We just kept them in the bag and did a wash right when we got home!

Of course, for trips (especially longer ones), you can always just switch temporarily to disposable. We’ve done this too! There are a lot of more environmentally-friendly, chlorine-free options nowadays. During the brief disposable stint that we did, we used Seventh Generation and Naty By Naure. Both are available in the natural section at Loblaws. I liked Seventh Generation because they worked very well. I didn’t like Naty because a few times the diaper seemed to break down when used.


What are the bare essentials? How many diapers would I need to buy? I’m on a budget here! 

So are we! Again, all together I’d say that we spent about $600 for all the diapers that we needed for Freestyle (and now for Baby 2!). This is all we used:

  1. Cloth diapers– At least 24 diapers. 12 per day (Newborns will need to be changed 8-10x a day, plus 2 for good luck!). With two days worth of diapers, you’d do the laundry every other day. Biker got fed up doing all that laundry though, so we caved and bought another day’s worth. It was okay but when Freestyle was older (closer to 1 year), she didn’t go through as many diapers. So if you can hold out, I’d do it!
  2. Liners– They recommend about half the amount of liners than diapers. To be used when you need extra abosorption. There are cloth liners and also disposable, biodegradable liners that you can flush down the toilet.
  3. Diaper covers– Mother-Ease covers come in different sizes, so I think the minimum that you could get away with would be 2-3 covers of each size. Since babies vary in size and grow at different rates, so just order them as you need them.
  4. Diaper pail(s)– You can buy specially designed pails from cloth diaper manufacturers. Or, what we did was just use a bucket that we already had. We put this in the bathroom upstairs. Once it was full, we would bring it down to the basement and dump it into a larger pail (this we did buy) until it was laundry day.

    If it isn’t laundry day and the upstairs bucket is full (or too smelly!), we dump the diapers in this larger blue bucket.

  5. Wet bag– This is a super useful bag for when you go out. There is a section that is lined with waterproof material so you can store your soiled diapers until you get home. We have a Planet Wisewet bag. We got a medium size and I would say that it can hold about 5-6 Mother-Ease diapers comfortably (it says 8-9 on the website). It works very well and I never noticed the smell either! Wet bags are also useful for swimming.

    The wet bag has a waterproof liner. You can keep a couple of diapers, wipes, etc. in the front pocket. Even if you don’t use cloth diapers, these wet bags are PERFECT for swimming or the beach!

  6. Wipes– If you decide to use cloth wipes, what I did was buy 24 thin baby washcloths (in one colour to differentiate from her washcloths for the bath!). We keep them in a container in the bathroom so that I can wet them at the sink before changing her diaper. When you’re out, you can bring along a small spray bottle of water (or make a special solution- there are tons of recipes online) for those times when you’re not near a sink.


Why did you go with Mother-Ease?

  • My friend highly recommended them and said that they had good customer service. Being a bit lazy in the research department (and because I trust her), we were sold!
  • I like that they’re a Canadian company.
  • I like that they are flat without the bunching from the elastic on the openings because I feel that they’re easier to clean, dry, and sun.
  • They have a few choices of material, including bamboo and organic cotton.
  • I liked that they did not have the diaper cover attached so that we could use just the cloth diaper at home (more breathable and I could tell if she was wet immediately to change her).
Any complaints?
The Mother-Ease diapers have worked out well for us. The only things that I’d say to think about is the bulkiness. Any cloth diaper will be bulkier than a disposable, of course, but I’ve seen other cloth diaper brands which hardly looked any different than a disposable. I found that with the one-size Mother-Ease diapers, they were especially bulky with the liner and the cover altogether, giving Freestyle a huge balloon bum! This was more noticable when she was smaller, of course. When she was bigger and would just wear the diaper, it was much better. So there’s that to consider.
They also have a line called Sandy’s which are different sizes and made with a more absorbant material. We use these as Freestyle’s overnight diaper and they’ve worked very well (no overnight leaks unless it was a LOT of pee, and that only happened once or twice).
Also, if this matters to you, the diaper cover designs are okay but not particularly trendy. Again, it just depends on if that matters.
Other than that, we’re pretty happy with our choice! We’ve never experienced a leak when we put the diaper on properly.

Not ready to use cloth? Here are other things you can do:

  • Try an intro package. Most cloth diaper companies have a trial or introductory package. I’ve also seen dealers that will send you a sample from a few different companies. If you’re still not sure, this would be a great way to try them out! Even if you decide to go with disposable, you can still use them at home!  
  • Cloth wipes. Even if you don’t cloth diaper, you can still use cloth wipes. You can do it while out (bring a small spray bottle of water to wet) or just when you’re at home, like we did with Freestyle. A friend of mine uses them all the time, but we just used them at home with Freestyle. I might try to use them while out with the next baby though. You just need 12-24 washcloths (or upcycle your old, clean clothes by cutting out small squares) and a bucket. Wash as you would regular clothing.
  • Cloth swim diaper. I think this is a great way to incorporate a cloth diaper. You won’t be stuck with a huge pack of one-sized swim diapers if you only go a couple of times nor will you be constantly having to buy more swim diapers if you go a lot. We used bummis’ Swimmi diaper (worked well and you can adjust the size, though didn’t love the velcro design) and Monkey Doodlez (very cute designs and I liked how it was pull-up style). They are so cute that you could even put infants in just the swim diaper and they’d be good to go, or add a swim top for girls if you want.

C’mon, how cute is that?!

  • Try cloth diapers for your second, third, fourth child. Why not?


I know the friends who cloth diaper occasionally read this blog. Do you have any more tips, recommendations, or anecdotes about cloth diapering? 🙂



10 Responses to “Cloth Diapers: How do they REALLY work?”

  1. Karen @ Folk Haven October 25, 2012 at 12:02 am #

    I especially like learning about the Sandy’s overnight diapers. Do you find you have to use a wool cover with these? I’d love to avoid the disposable overnights this time around as I don’t find them in any of the eco-friendlier brands, but my first was such a heavy wetter at night he usually required at least one and often 2 overnight changes when in cloth. Thank you for the recommendation!

    • Montessori Motherload October 29, 2012 at 3:27 pm #

      Yes, you would definitely need a cover over them. They also sell a cloth liner that we used inside the Sandy’s. I remember that we did change Freestyle a couple times when she was younger but when she was older (over 1.5 years), one diaper seemed to be fine until the morning. I can’t say if she’s a heavy wetter though since I don’t have anyone to compare her with. Hope you find something that works for you!

      • Karen @ Folk Haven October 29, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

        Were your nighttime covers wool?

      • Montessori Motherload October 30, 2012 at 1:26 am #

        No, though I know that wool is very absorbent! Did you make your wool covers? Did you find that they soaked through or does the wool material keep everything dry? All my diapers were Mother-Ease so I used their waterproof covers overnight as well.

      • Karen @ Folk Haven October 30, 2012 at 1:34 am #

        I haven’t use wool covers for overnight. I had a couple for when Eli was very small, but he outgrew them long before the stage where I thought of trying overnight diapers. I was asking because I’m trying to decide whether to try making one, investing in one or just making do with a less expensive cover and saving my sewing time for making other things. I think I’ll go with the latter for now, but will perhaps invest or make some wool covers when the new baby hits the age when I don’t need to change her overnight. I am going to try to get Eli into cloth for overnight for now as he seems to not be wetting so heavily as he used to. The thought of using wool appeals to me for breathability factors, but the thought of having to deal with lanolizing… not so much.

      • Montessori Motherload October 30, 2012 at 1:39 am #

        That’s so funny– we’re online at the same time again! Your plan seems like a good one. If you invest in a less expensive cover for when Eli’s younger and make a wool one for when he’s older, it may work out really well since they pee less when they’re bigger. Sigh…so much thought and effort that goes into our children’s bodily functions! 🙂 Good luck, Karen!

  2. Kaitlyn May 3, 2013 at 4:22 am #

    My spouse and I absolutely love your blog and find a lot of your
    post’s to be exactly I’m looking for. Does one offer guest writers to write content
    to suit your needs? I wouldn’t mind publishing a post or elaborating on most of the subjects you write with regards to here. Again, awesome web site!

    • Montessori Motherload August 28, 2013 at 7:56 pm #

      That is the sweetest comment ever! Thank you, Kaitlyn (and Kaitlyn’s spouse!). Sorry for the very delayed reply (when I said take a break, I really meant it!). I was considering doing an update soon so we’ll see. Thank you for the offer and for reading. ALl the best.

  3. Jenn July 18, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    Hello. I enjoyed reading this and have learned a lot about cloth diapering. I was always curious about it, but never really looked into it. My only child is now 13 months old and I think it may be too late to start. :/ You mentioned that some companies offer trial or introductory samples to try. Do you know which companies do so I can contact them? Thanks.

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