Cloth diapering: it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing

Five years ago last month, I made my first cloth diapering purchase—a stack of premium pre-folds and a couple covers. Even though our cloth diaper stash has been retired for quite some time now, I still have fond memories of the time my daughters spent wearing their cute cloth diapers.

It might seem strange that a person whose children are no longer in diapers is so passionate about encouraging other parents to try cloth diapers; there really isn’t a rational explanation for my advocacy, other than I believe it can be a wonderful way to care for children while also reducing landfills.

A common hesitation about switching to cloth diapers is the notion that you have to use only cloth diapers all the time.  But if we examine the hurdles faced by parents who want to cloth diaper, a part-time approach to cloth diapering just might be the perfect solution.

Common barriers holding parents back from cloth diapering?

1. Choosing the right kind of cloth diaper is too overwhelming.

There’s an abundance of diapering products available today.  We’ve come a long way from pinned pre-folds and plastic pants!  Which makes it easy to get overwhelmed by all of the choices.


Photo by moohaha

Once you get a feel for the different cloth diapering systems, resist the urge to make the switch to cloth all at once.  Instead, buy  just one or two diapers before making a big purchase. Some retailers will let you order a trial package to test out the various systems to see which works best for you. Or, shop gently-used diapers on Craigslist or a local buy-sell group.

Give yourself plenty of time to adjust to the cloth diapering learning curve. And if you decide not to switch to cloth after all, you can keep the one or two diapers you purchased on hand for middle-of-the-night and out-of-diapers emergencies.

2. My child is in daycare and our care provider doesn’t allow cloth diapers.

If you’d like your baby to be cloth diapered but your care provider resists, take an actual cloth diaper to your care provider. When people see how cloth diapering is similar to diapering with disposables, you might be surprised how easily minds are changed.

baby leaves

If your care provider still refuses to use cloth diapers, take heart—part-time diapering is still an option in this situation. You’ll still save money on disposable diaper costs and limiting the number of diapers in the landfill.

3. My partner/co-parent isn’t on board with using cloth diapers.

Again, a visual aid can come in handy. Many people still imagine the cloth diapers that our parents used on us and don’t want to fumble with pins and diaper pails filled with bleach. Show your partner the kind of diaper you’re interested in, and you might be pleasantly surprised.

If, on the other hand, your partner is still hesitant to make the switch, make arrangements for that parent to have access to disposables when your child will be in his or her care. It’s important to respect the preferences of each parent, and diapering shouldn’t cause a rift.

4. I can’t find a good solution for nighttime cloth diapering.

Okay, I confess—I added this one based on my own struggles when our daughters were in diapers. Neither of my girls slept through the night until they were well into toddlerhood, and more often than not, I would nurse them back to sleep (sometimes several times a night) when they awoke.

baby sleeping

This made it difficult to deal with cloth diapers at night. Frankly, I was too tired to change diapers all night long—I tried every conceivable system recommended for nighttimes.

Eventually, I surrendered that we were going to use disposables at night. It precluded us from being full-time cloth diaperers, but it was the most workable solution for us.

Sometimes we parents feel we’ve found the best ways to care for our kids, and when we can’t do the best all the time, we feel defeated. Extend yourself grace, and remember, there is nothing wrong with taking a “sorta” path to these matters. Trust me on that one.

You can say no to constant busyness.

To lead your family with peace, you need to know your NOs and YESes. But what are they?

Like Your Life can help you figure them out.

40 Comments

  1. Kendra

    Good advice! I quit cloth diapering because of the nighttime (constant waking, nursing, wetting) and “going out” issue. I don’t know what we were thinking! I guess we really weren’t… we were surviving 🙂 I’m pregnant and want to try it with number two. I’m a little afraid that I’ll end up taking a loss again, but I think we’re going to go into it with, as you said, kinder expectations of ourselves.

    I also think we may wait until 10 pounds to start full-fledged, because our daughter BLEW through the newborn size we bought, and those first few weeks are the hardest anyway!

    • Megan

      Absolutely. Those newborn sizes never worked for us. My girls were 9.12 and 8.8 at birth! I found it was easier to find my groove in most aspects of parenting with my second daughter. So congrats and best wishes for baby #2!

  2. Nicola

    We use cloth diapers in our house. My 14 month old is an extremely heavy wetter & we have tried a LOT of different brands of diapers. Here are some things that I have learned along the way:

    1. Bamboo fitted diapers are the most absorbant and these work best with wool covers. Alot of people are horrified when you mention wool thinking that it is too much work & that it would make baby too hot. Lanolizing wool is extremely easy & 100% wool is breathable so therefore it keeps you hot in winter & cool in summer (much cooler than PUL covers will keep baby)

    2. WAHM diapers are by far the best diapers, much much better than commercial brands.

    3. Do not buy only 1 brand or 1 type of diapers. What works for baby now might not work as well as they grow, change shape & pee more. But keep it simple too so don’t spend alot on loads of different types.
    I have recently seen the light & simplified my “stash” of diapers. I now have 2 brands & types. I have some 1 size bamboo fitteds & some 1 size pockets. Lots of boosters too. Pockets never really worked for us because A is such a heavy wetter. After trying loads of different, pretty pockets, I have found that bumgenius work best for us. I do not use the microfibre inserts that come with them because A can outpee them in less than an hour (microfibre, while quick drying is useless for heavy wetters) so I use a double bamboo inserts & 2 hemp boosters. Bumgenius pockets can take alot of stuffing so you should be able to make them work for whatever type of wetter you have.

    3. Join a cloth diapering forum for their classifieds section. You can get lots of barely used second hand diaper for a fraction of the cost but be careful not to get seduced by all the pretty diapers.

    4. I have also had great difficulty finding a diaper to last the night. Some WAHM in the U.K have recently started making wool night diapers for super-wetters & I invested in a couple of these. They are expensive but hold their value very well so can be sold on easily & they are still cheaper than using disposables at night.

    • Megan

      Fantastic advice, Nicola! Thanks for rounding out the article with so much helpful information.

      I also loved, loved, loved our WAHM diapers (especially fitteds!) and our gorgeous wool stash. *sniff sniff* I miss those days!

  3. Andrea Merrigan

    Thanks for the article! We do not have kids yet, but have been trying with not much success. We plan to cloth diaper so I have bookmarked this so I can read it again in the future! By the way, I love your blog!

    • Megan

      Thanks for the kind words and best wishes on expanding your family!

  4. Clara

    Hi,
    Thanks for making me feel better about using a combination of cloth and ‘sposies! When my daughter was born, we used primarily disposables for the first 2 months (she’s my first — and I had to get a hang of the whole breastfeeding & mothering thing!). Then I decided to go full-time with cloth – primarily one-size Bum Genius. I absolutely loved it! Around 12 months, though, we started having some stinking issues and leaking issues (could be the detergent we were using, but hard to tell?) and our daycare provider was complaining about all the leaks. Plus, nothing could keep my daughter’s pjs and sheets from getting soaked every night. So, I tried using the grobaby (now grovia) biosoakers. I had less energy/time to keep up with diaper laundry during the week anyways because of my work/graduate school schedule, and this helped cut down on the diaper laundry since I only had to wash covers. Biosoakers are an eco-friendly alternative to traditional sposies, and I can still use them with all my cloth covers. I was feeling very guilty for awhile for giving up cloth diapering full-time and only using them on the weekends, but bottom line is that this is what is working for our family now and making our lives easier and keeping our daycare provider happy…so that’s what we’re doing. I would definitely do full-time cloth again if my schedule wasn’t so nuts and if the laundry room weren’t right next to my daughter’s room to keep her up at night 😉 thanks for this great post !

    • Megan

      Yes! The biosoakers came out after my youngest had learned the potty, so I haven’t had a chance to use those, but I have heard great things about them!

      I’m glad it was encouraging to you to hear that part-time is a perfectly acceptable way to approach cloth diapering. 🙂

  5. Stay At Home Babe

    Oh my gosh, this could totally be my testimonial! We switched to cloth diapers over a year ago and I had to accept and forgive myself for the fact that we would have to be part-time. My husband hated the cloth diapers at first, and I had to give him room to use disposables (he’s since come around) and night time absolutely didn’t work for us either. Also, there are days where the laundry has piled up, or quite frankly, I just wanted the lazy convenience of grabbing a disposable. We use cloth about 65-70 percent of the time now and it feels good. No one’s stressed, but I still know it’s better than using disposables all the time. Win/win.

    GREAT POST, excellent advice!

    • Megan

      There were times when I had to put the cloth away altogether just to catch my breath and get back on track! I am all about accepting reality and going with what works at that moment in time.

  6. Pixie

    There are a bunch of newborn cloth rental programs available nowadays!

    This is great advice; I never recommend people to buy all one kind to start. Upon doing my cloth research the things I like I thought I wouldn’t and vice versa! You never know until you try what systems work best for you!

    • Megan

      Very cool on the newborn diaper rentals! I had no idea! That’s one thing about the cloth diapering community – it moves quickly to respond to the needs of parents.

      Thanks for sharing that, Pixie!

      • Pixie

        No problem! I know of a few, one online and one local to the Dayton Ohio Area, if anyone needs to know about them and can’t find info I’d be happy to help! ~Pixie

  7. MacKenzie

    I agree with Nicola, don’t be intimidated by wool! We love wool for nighttime especially. And it doesn’t have to be expensive. That is my little girl in the top picture in a homemade wool cover (dyed with kool-aid!). If you can crochet or knit, you can make one with just a couple dollars worth of wool – or find a grandma that wants to help you out!

    Also, we did do newborn diapers but went with prefolds. As soon as she outgrew them, they become our burp rags and extra pocket liners so we didn’t waste money on diapers we wouldn’t be using for that long.

    • Megan

      SUCH a great idea to reuse the newborn prefolds. They can definitely be repurposed into new life.

      Using wool was a wonderful part of our CD experience – even in hot South Texas summers!

    • Theresa

      So love the wool! I have several pairs of shorties and longies. My daughter still likes wearing them with her undies.

  8. Amanda

    Thank you for this post!! We are also part-time cloth-diaperers, and it has worked so well! We bought a huge stash of bumBenius diapers before my son was born (I wish we had tried out more brands though… excited to do that more when #2 comes along!), and have used them about 50% of the time. We rarely use them when we’re going out, and rarely use them at night. My husband also doesn’t like using them as much as I do, so he generally puts sposies on our son on their “daddy days”. We did take a pretty long break from cloth altogether when our bumGeniuses started leaking and the velcro stopped sticking. (It took me awhile to replace the velcro!) I’m pretty sure we’ve still more than gotten our money’s worth, since we’ve been able to use them for 2 years, and will probably use some of them for future babies. 🙂

    • Megan

      That’s the tricky thing about any diaper with a velcro or Aplix closer – they just wear out after a while. But yeah – 2 years? I would say you definitely go your money’s worth!

  9. Mamabear

    Amen! I have been telling this to people too, just start small and see what works for you.

    My two year old developed terrible eczema under his diaper and we have had to put him back in disposable training pants to heal, because we are having a potty training power struggle and he was staying wet in his cloth trainers. I HATE having a stinky trash can again. Poor thing, he prefers his cloth pants, but I have to heal his blistered skin.

    I love what you said about natural living parents being too hard on ourselves….we are recovering from a stomach bug and I was mad at myself for sending my child off with a ziplock baggie this morning because his reusable baggies hadn’t been washed yet….

  10. April

    What a great article! I cloth diaper mostly full time when I am at home. Like you said, I had a hard time at night so I use disposable. Alot of times if we are going to be running around all morning and I Know my kids poop ( alot) I will just put a disposable on them. I don’t feel guilty anymore because I know it will be less stressful for me. But I feel great that I can use the cloth diaper while I am at home, saving money and less waste ( I had 2 in diapers for 15 months!) I think it is a great idea too to take in slow and try a few kinds of diapers. I love my bum genius all in one diapers, especially now that they have the snaps on top instead of the velcro, awesome! Hubby doesn’t even mind doing diapers anymore, yay!

  11. Lindsey@ Piecefully Home

    Fabulous post, it’s great to encourage parent’s to do cloth diapering even if it’s not full time! I used disposables from time to time, esp. when traveling. I’m so thankful that we decided to cloth diaper the majority of the time with my son, but I never wanted to feel guilty for the occasional disposable. But, after awhile our cloth diapers started to wear out and we decided to go to disposable only thinking it was time for him to potty train anyways instead of making the investment of cloth knowing he was our last. So know he wears his training underwear for the day and only the disposable at night and naptimes.

  12. Shelley

    I needed to hear your honesty and your encouraging words. We’ve been cloth diapering our children from day one but struggle just like you did with night time. Like you we use spousies at night and it’s always bothered me. You’re right we do tend to hold ourselves to very high standards. Thanks again for the gentle reminder that it’s okay to be on the sorta path!

    Blessings to you,
    Shelley

  13. Maridyth

    Hear, hear!
    Love the post. I was initially put off by cloth diapering because of the overwhelming number of cloth diapering choices. Finally, I bought one and tried it for a little while. We ended up with pre-folds and they’ve worked great.

    I’ve learned you have to give yourself a break as a parent. The “best” changes from situation to situation. Sometimes, when life gets a little hectic, we’ll put away the cloth diapers for a week or so until life’s pace equalizes. And you know, I’ve fine with that. Life’s too short to feel guilty about using a disposable diaper!

    • Theresa

      I used prefolds even after I bought the all-in-ones from a friend that is a WAHM. There’s just something about folding a diaper and putting on a baby butt…lol. I used pins for the longest time but then someone introduced me to Snappis. 😀

  14. Tsh

    Just wanted to quickly add to the conversation and say that we do part-time CDing, too. Reed wears ‘sposies at night because we simply can’t find a workable CD system that keeps him dry all night (and I’m too cheap to buy made-for-bedtime CDs). It works well for us, and he asks to switch to his usual CD soon after waking. I think it feels more like “big boy underwear” than ‘sposies. 🙂

    We also use ‘sposies on long car trips. I don’t mind using CDs on shorter trips, or even on flights sometimes, because I know we’ll have access to a washer/dryer soon. But when we’re driving for days at a time, I just go with ‘sposies so that I don’t have to carry around a bag full of dirty CDs in the car.

    Great post, Megan! As always!

  15. Jessie

    Great article! We, too, used disposables for the first month (?) of our daughter’s life, even though we fully intended to use cloth exclusively. There was just too much other stuff for us to get the hang of at the same time! We also used disposables at night until we hit upon the right combination for our girl: Green Mountain prefold, hemp doubler, fleece liner, and a PUL cover. It works for us, but it took a lot of experimenting to find it!

    Thanks for the encouragement to go easier on ourselves with the crunchy. I need to hear that all the time!

  16. Theresa

    I really enjoyed your article. The one thing that really made me feel better was allowing ourselves a little grace. I have 5 children and only cloth diapered the last one. I truly enjoyed using cloth and had an easy wash system and a very open minded family. Everyone changed diapers at one point or another. {{shout out to the Milton’s haha}} I always felt guilty if I had to use disposable. Like the end of the world was going to happen because I was the one that put that last diaper in the landfill. I have definately lightened up. My daughter is 2 1/2 and has been potty trained since January…oh yeah she rocks. She gets all the kudos because I didn’t lift a finger to help, she just did it. She uses disposable trainers during the night. At first I felt horrible because I’m an advocate for doing as much natural things for your family as you can. But my attitude changed at some point. I now do natural care for my family because I choose to not because I can. Our lives do not obliterate the ozone layer or release toxins into the air as much as they did a few years ago. That’s a bonus for the Earth. 😀 Thanks for your article.

  17. Alissa

    This is totally us! The best cloth diapering advice I got (before my first son was born) was:
    “Don’t be militant about it. Give yourself grace to use disposables when it makes more sense.”

    For us, that means:
    Disposables in the first few newborn weeks, at night, and at daycare. I also put my kids in a disposable if they’re going to have a babysitter or going to my mom’s. My MIL does fine with cloth. Overall, we’re about 1/2 and 1/2, but that’s half as much landfill waste!

  18. Kathryn

    We cloth-diapered almost 5 years ago, so we didn’t have quite as many options as there are today. We used disposables about 30% of the time, primarily at night and for the same reasons you mentioned. Once our daughter stopped night-nursing (and thereby reduced her nighttime elimination), we were able to switch to nighttime cloth. One thing you didn’t mention: for those who do use disposables, there are some great eco-friendlier options. People can try Seventh Generation, gDiapers, Nature Baby, etc.

  19. Emily @ Live Renewed

    We’re part-time CD users too! It’s great to hear from so many others that have taken a similar approach to CDing because I have often felt guilty about not CDing full time.
    With my first daughter, we used cloth exclusively for about 6 months, and I loved it, but we too had issues with leaking at night, and once she got used to wearing a sposie while sleeping, she didn’t want to go back to an overstuffed pocket diaper.

    Then when my son came along and I had two in diapers for a while, it was just for my own sanity that we used cloth about 75% of the time.

    I will say that the greatest savings in using cloth diapers comes when you can reuse diapers on a second (or third) baby. I’ve only bought a few new covers for my son, so the expense for cloth diapering him has been basically nothing. And yes, he does sometimes wear pink diapers at home. I’m hoping he’ll forgive when he gets older! 🙂 Anyway, I definitely recommend keeping your CDs to use for multiple babies!

  20. priest's wife

    My gift of choice for new moms- a pack of disposables for the nighttime! I am all for nighttime parenting- but cloth at night is hard

  21. Lacy

    I am amazed and encouraged by how many people use disposables at night! We now part-time cloth diaper with my 15 month old. With my first son I didn’t really know that much about CD’s but by the time my second was born I had a good friend who was using them. I really felt like I “should” switch but was overwhelmed by the choices and knowing that I would be going back to work with husband staying home with the kids (and he not being too excited about CD’s) made me decide against starting out with #2 in CD’s. But around his 1st b-day I was so tired of paying so much $ every month for disposables for both boys that I got a dozen prefolds and a couple of wraps. Hubby was a bit unsure at first but I gave him the freedom to us disposables on his days…when I did the diapering I CD’d. Now after about 4 months we both use CD’s almost all the time, except for night. Part of me wishes I had done CD’ing earlier with #2, but I also know that first year was challenging and I needed to just get the hang of being momma to 2 and handling all the other things that were going on in our lives. I’m so glad that I was able to do it part time and feel good knowing that we are still saving money and helping the enviroment…plus I only needed to buy one size! 🙂 Thanks for the article and for saying that part-time CD’ing is OK!! 🙂

  22. tiffany

    When we decided to switch to cloth at 5 months (i.e. once I got use to being a mother) we ordered from Jillian’s Drawers, Changing Minds program for 10$. It was awesome and we got to try a bunch of different main brands and send them all back after 30 days and decide what we wanted. All the diapers I thought would work didn’t and the ones I thought wouldn’t did. We ended up with bum genius all in one and after about 7 months they were leaking all the time. I discovered they had a one year warranty and they sent me all brand new diapers. Great experience with their customer service. Now we use disposables at night and cloth the rest of the time and I love it.

  23. Ann-Krestene

    Right there with y’all! Had to get rid of the guilt for not cloth diapering full time! I love my BumGenius’ but I do take the occasional break (sometimes washing diapers every other day is such a pain!), and we didn’t even consider cloth diapering at night! 7 disposables a week vs. 7 a day is a HUGE dent! The husband faithfully will put on a disposable every time he changes a diaper, but at least he’s stepping up to the plate.

    I also love diaper liners, they rewash great or flush away with the solids, and we’ve found that keeping a roll of toilet paper to wipe up the bigger messes, then a moistened washcloth for final clean-up has been great; the toilet paper get’s flushed with the poop/liner and the washcloth gets washed up with the diapers!

    P.S For those of you that were/are having leaking & stinky problems with your BumGenius check out the official washing instructions and ‘stripping’ your diaper hints: http://www.diaperswappers.com/forum/showthread.php?t=638665, you can also order ‘repair kits’ (replacement velcro tabs and elastic for leg and waist) from the company, Cotton Babies for $1 ea!

  24. LM

    my DD has gotten used to being changed at night…I tried disposables but they still leaked 🙁 at 6 am…and at 9 months has been pooping on the toilet! most of the time (certainly makes washing CD’s a LOT easier). Tried the pockets but love prefolds!

  25. Barbara

    Hi ladies,

    Just wanted to add a shameless plug for those of you having NIGHTTIME LEAK ISSUES WITH CLOTH DIAPERS — I have a solution. (Or at least, it worked so well for us that I started selling them!) Check out the hemp & organic cotton inserts I have at http://www.justbummingarounddiapers.com . These work amazingly well if doubled or used with a microfibre insert inside a pocket diaper like FuzziBunz. If you use two of these overnight, it’s almost impossible to have a leak, even with heavy wetters. I’ve tried TONS of inserts and nothing else compares. Hemp is 4x more absorbent than cotton, and these inserts are 4 layers thick! That’s like having 16 layers of cotton flannel for each insert. So, if you double, you’re at 32 layers! Most babies can’t wet through the equivalent of 32 layers of flannel, even overnight. Hemp is so amazing that FuzziBunz will soon be coming out with their own inserts (but ours are better!) to meet customer demand. You won’t be disappointed with these! http://www.justbummingarounddiapers.com or link direct at http://www.justbummingarounddiapers.com/product_info.php?cPath=4&products_id=56

  26. CERVANTESBeatriz

    Houses are expensive and not everyone can buy it. However, loan was created to support different people in such kind of cases.

  27. Julie

    I love the title of this blog post! Too often parents think cloth diapering has to be an all-or-nothing thing. That if they can’t do it 100% of the time, they can’t cloth diaper. I seem to spend so much time telling people even if they only use a couple of cloth diapers a day, it’s still a good thing. Even though we cloth diaper full-time, I still have a pack of disposables in the closet for those days when I just have run out of time and energy to do one more load of laundry.

  28. Erin

    i’m sad to say that we are switching to part time cloth diapering because my daycare is loosing my diapers!!! i bought a stash of 24 BumGenius diapers and i’m down to 16 or 17…not a happy mama. So to avoid getting my entire stash thrown away we switched to disposables during day care and cloth at home.

    my concern now is my wash routine, i was doing a full load of diapers every other day now i only have 2-4 diapers every other day, i fill silly to run the washer for that little amount but can’t let the diapers sit longer or they will smell!

    Any suggestions? I work full time outside the home and have an 11 month old.

    Thanks!
    Erin

  29. Katie

    I just wanted to say thanks. I am preparing to part time CD my twins when they come this fall. I felt like people would be like “well, you’re not full time so you aren’t helping”

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