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Cloth diapering a toddler

Well, cloth diapering has been different than I thought it would be. I tried to approach cloth diapering with an open mind, knowing that it was something that we were dedicated to. So, with that said, our cloth diapering journey has been full of ups and downs and lots of learning.

Cloth diapering tips

My first recommendation when cloth diapering is to find a local baby store that carries cloth diapers. This was such a great resource to me, beyond just having a local business to support with my cloth diaper purchases. A lot of local baby stores hold cloth diapering classes. This was informative to me because it discussed all the different types of cloth diapers for all the different ages and stages as well as how wash routines for each of those as well. This is also where I went every time I needed to troubleshoot our cloth diapering routine.

My second recommendation-- and one that may be harder to support-- is having a cloth friendly pediatrician. Our kids have all been extremely prone to yeast. Baby #4, the only one of our boys that we cloth diapered, was no exception. Nystatin is not cloth safe and so we switched him to disposables for all of his yeast infections. Baby #4 also had other issues that pulled him out of cloth for a little while and through all of it our pediatrician supported our cloth diapering. It has been really great not having our pediatrician blame baby #4's yeast infections on cloth since cloth is not the issue considering our other 3 boys all had the same problem and did not ever wear cloth.

My third point-- which is more of a tip-- would be to remember that baby's skin changes through each of the ages and stages-- from newborn, to infancy, to starting solids, to toddler years. Their stomach changes how it digests the new foods it is encountering. Their skin changes as they grow. Our little guy had a big reaction to Freetimes. We had him out of cloth for a long period of time as we moved across country. When we put him back in cloth, he had reactions to the Thirsties microfiber diapers I used for overnights. It was a mess. One we still haven't quite sorted out and so we started putting him in disposables at night until we can find better overnight options (organic cotton has not made the cut for overnights for us).

What's it like cloth diapering a toddler?

I am so glad we started cloth diapering. Even with the hiccups we've had along the way, I wish we had started cloth diapering from the start with baby #1. I feel like we would have saved so much money, even though we are currently putting baby #4 in disposables at night and the other times we use disposables. We definitely plan on cloth diapering baby #5 and, since it is a girl, I've been looking up adorable girl print Elementals. I will be pulling out all our newborn stash for her. It makes me so happy that we already have diapers from the newborn days to the toddler years for baby #5.

It has not been as free from disposables as I would like, sadly. As I said, we use disposables for overnights and baby-sitters. I also keep them for sickness and yeast infections. For instance, he was in them off and on through the first trimester with baby #5 when I was feeling so horrible; I also use them when a stomach bug hits our house. Not just because of the frequency of diaper changes during those times, but also because we have 4 children and that's just a lot of laundry.

In other respects, it is amazing. I absolutely love not having to worry about diapers all the time. I don't have to drag all the children to the store just to buy diapers. When I need diapers, I just wash and voila! Diapers! I had hoped when we started on our cloth diapering journey that it would be something that my husband is on board with and he has been this whole way. He still changes just as many diapers (read: all the diapers whenever he is home-- haha!) and he is completely comfortable changing and rinsing even the most soiled diapers. It has been an easy process to take on and I'm glad it has worked as well as it has.

When people find out we cloth diaper, I think one of the biggest comments I get is, "We decided against it because of the dirty diapers." I'm probably going to be the wrong person to comment on this. We have somewhat potty trained twins that still wear diapers at night at 4.5 years old and often need their sheets changed at 1 am. We have waded through the potty training trenches with our first 3 boys and so taking on cloth diapers with our fourth has been no big deal. Are the dirty diapers pleasant? No, obviously not. But are they worse than changing a disposable? No, they really aren't.

The inside of a BumGenius Elemental diaper

The organic cotton diaper liners are sewn in to the waterproof diaper cover,
making them all-in-ones that basically function like a disposable diaper
What the BumGenius Elemental diaper looks like "on the bum"

I'm not sure how much of that comes down to the type of diaper we chose. I have never changed a pocket diaper. We only use BumGenius Elemental diapers, which are all in one organic cotton diapers. There are no inserts and no stuffing with these diapers. They essentially function the same as a disposable diaper. We do use cloth wipes at home. Instead of putting them in a solution, we store them dry and spray the wipe with solution from a spray bottle before use. (Side note: we also discovered that our baby has a reaction to Tea Tree Oil so I have to be careful what I put in the cloth wipe spray.) Regardless of whether our 20-month old is in cloth or disposables, changing a dirty diapers at this point in time is just not fun, but one hasn't been worse for us than the other.

Changing a cloth diaper at home

Our children playing on the mountain of laundry
To cloth diaper at home, I just stay on top of the laundry. (Everyone who knows me will laugh out loud at that, so I guess I should clarify. I wash the laundry and then move it to a giant laundry mound on the floor of my bedroom.) Our cloth diaper stash supports a wash routine of doing a load of diapers every two days. If we go through a lot of diapers in one day, for some reason, I will do a load even if I washed the day before. We still have our cloth diaper changing station. We have since moved since my first blog posts on cloth diapering. The cloth diaper changing table is now in the nursery instead of a bathroom (no bathrooms big enough at our new house!). It is still fully stocked, with the diaper pail and wet bag next to the changing table. The bathroom with the sprayer is right next to the nursery.

Unsnap the diaper

Take it off the baby

Throw it in the pail

If a diaper is only wet, it is changed just as you would a disposable. We take it off and throw it in the diaper pail. If baby #4 needs a quick wipe, we spray a wipe and clean him up. If not, we powder and then re-diaper.

"Baby powder-- what?!"

I can almost hear you exclaiming. Yeah, I know baby powder has a bad name in recent years. Yes, I know that baby powder is often linked to yeast; this is our first baby we've used baby powder on and it works well for him. No, we do not use talcum powder, only cornstarch. Yes, we are careful to keep it away from baby's face.

Why do we use baby powder?

I have found, for us, that it helps keep the moisture off baby #4's skin. We have had a multitude of issues with his skin, some that I've touched on from diaper area trouble to general skin issues... it has just gone on and on the stuff we've had to deal with regarding his skin. We use organic cotton diapers and I have discovered that using baby powder and frequent diaper changes keeps his skin clearer longer instead of using cloth safe diaper creams at each changing. I really feel like the powder helps pull the moisture from his skin. We do have some cloth safe diaper creams that we have used and liked; none work as well as baby powder and frequent diaper changes. I feel bad admitting we use baby powder. It is such a heated topic in parenting circles lately, but I have talked it over with our pediatrician for anyone who is concerned.

Homemade cloth wipe (cut up receiving blanket). I fold into fourths.

Spray with homemade cloth solution
(Recipes can be found at Cloth Wipe Solution Recipes by Zany Zebra Designs)
So, back to the logistics of diaper changes. For a stinky diaper, I will speak as to how I change his diaper. I know my husband has a slightly different routine, but it is roughly the same. First I assess how dirty the diaper actually is. If it is pretty normal, I spray a wipe and clean his bottom first. I dispose of the cloth wipes into the diaper pail as each wipe is soiled during the diaper change.

Wipe baby with first wipe
Throw the first wipe in diaper pail once used
Folding the diaper under his bottom while I finish cleaning him up
Once I have cleaned off his bottom with the first wipe, I fold the diaper underneath his bottom and so he is sitting on a clean part of the dirty diaper. He is still not completely clean and so I do not want to put him directly on the clean changing cover (more laundry for me). I then spray another wipe and wipe him clean again. Usually I can clean him up with 2 wipes. I sometimes will fold over the second wipe and do a thorough freshening up of his diaper area, but for the most part 2 cloth wipes will do the job.

Tucking the heavily soiled wipe in the stinky diaper

Putting the diaper with the heavily soiled wipe out of reach
of the baby on the shelf of the changing table

Finishing cleaning the baby with the 2nd wipe.
Usually this wipe will not be soiled enough for a rinse and goes straight in the diaper pail

Sometimes the cloth wipes get heavily soiled. If that is the case, I pull the diaper out from under the baby and tuck them inside the soiled diaper. I then set the diaper on the shelf of the changing table and finish the diaper change.

New clean diaper under baby

Pull diaper up

Snap closed on waist

Once baby #4 is cleaned, I remove the diaper from under him and set it on the shelf of the changing table until I finish his diaper change. I then put the new clean diaper underneath him. I powder his diaper area and then I snap the new diaper shut. The baby is now finished at the changing table and so I sent him to run wild while I dispose of the soiled diaper.

Carrying the soiled diaper and wipe to the bathroom to spray in the toilet with our diaper sprayer

How I hold the diaper to spray if I'm going to spray a diaper and a soiled wipe.
I find a clean corner of the wipe to pin to the diaper and hold the sprayer with my other hand.

How I hold the diaper to spray if I just have a soiled diaper and no wipe.

Our diaper sprayer

Where we store it. I can say something about how we lost the hook in our last move and my hubs is going to fix it somehow, but we all know it will just stay this way until we move again (and we can say the same thing at our next house).
I take the soiled diaper to the restroom for rinsing. If I need to spray the wipes, I bring those too, tucked inside the soiled diaper. I turn the sprayer on (we keep it stored off so that it doesn't leak and so that our boys don't play with it). I thoroughly spray the diaper into the toilet. Most of the time, the diaper soil will roll out of the diaper into the toilet and I just have a little to spray off of the diaper. Sometimes it is heavily soiled and nothing rolls off of the diaper. In that case, I just spray the diaper a little longer. The sprayer has enough force that it has cleaned off the diapers well for us so far. (Our toddler is 20-months old right now.)

To carry the diaper back to the diaper pail from the bathroom, I first fold it in half.

Obviously normally I do this with 2 hands. In general, I do not take pictures of my hands while I do this so I am able to utilize both of them instead of tying one up with a DSLR.

Since I don't have 2 hands free, I'm showing each step with the diaper sitting on the toilet. Typically I would fold it up quickly with both hands.
After I fold it once, I fold it again loosely. This is the step where most of the water leaks out so be sure to do this over an open toilet.

I fold over the flaps one at a time... (ONE)


...and then I can hold the dry waterproof shell of the diaper and carry it back to the diaper pail
without the diaper dripping on the floor.

Back at the diaper pail I let the diaper unfurl in my hand and drop it in the pail. I don't like to drop things in the pail wadded up because I dump the diaper pail wet bag directly in the washer and I want everything washed loose.

Because of the waterproof outside shell of our diapers, I do not have to worry about the diaper dripping when I carry it back to the diaper pail. I take care to not spray the outside of the diaper as I rinse it. Once it is rinsed, I fold the bottom half of the diaper up into the dry part I have not sprayed. I then carefully roll it up into itself, folding the wings over the diaper so it is in a nice tidy bundle for me to carry to the diaper pail. I am careful to do this part over the open toilet because water rolls out of the diaper as I fold it up. I then drop the diaper into the pail, letting it unfurl as I drop it in. I highly doubt that makes much of a difference, but I tend to think it washes better being open.

Laundry routine

My wash routine hasn't changed too much. I did buy the Rockin' Green Funk Rock Ammonia Bouncer. We haven't been having a hard time with an ammonia smell as he wears them or in the pail, but I felt like when I opened his diapers to change, they had a much heavier ammonia smell than I expected. I started throwing a tablespoon of the Funk Rock in with our rinse cycle and that completely eliminated the ammonia problem. Our baby store got me hooked on the Rockin' Green Laundry Detergent. I love that it is biodegradable and unscented. When I first started buying the Rockin' Green Laundry Detergent, I wanted to test it out and see how I liked it. I washed all our boys' clothes in it and became a major fan. This stuff works great.

To wash the diapers, I pull the wet bag out of the diaper pail. I turn the wet bag inside out into the washing machine (no touching the diapers required!) and rinse them with the tablespoon of Funk Rock. Once the rinse cycle ends, I add clothes from our boys' laundry hamper to make a full load of laundry. I add 3 scoops of the Rockin' Green Laundry Detergent and wash on heavy duty. When that ends, I throw them in the dryer. I confess-- I have been drying our Elementals. I know that is hard on them, but we live in the Pacific Northwest. Hang drying takes so long with Elementals. When the sun comes out again to stay, I will hang dry again. What I usually do is dry them a little bit and then let them hang dry for the rest of the way, but I don't feel they get much benefit from that either as they are hang drying in our laundry room instead of in the sunshine.

Cloth diapering out of the house
From top row:
Planet Wise wet bag. More cloth than I will need for the amount of time I plan on being out.
(I pack a diaper for every 2 hours + an extra one.)
Backpack with plastic shopping bags. Orange bags are small disposal bags.
(Actually, the bags we buy for our dog... but they are biodegradable just like the diaper ones.)
Inhaler + spacer (we have 2 asthmatics).
Baby powder, cloth friendly diaper cream, disposable wipes. Plenty of disposable diapers.
I keep a lot of disposables in our diaper bag. They are great for emergencies + childcare situations. That way I only need one diaper bag for cloth + disposables.

To cloth diaper out of the house, I pack a diaper bag with more cloth diapers than I think we will need for the amount of time we are leaving the house, disposable diapers just in case (or to use if we are heading somewhere he needs to be out of cloth, like childcare at church where other people are watching him), disposable wipes, plenty of diaper disposal bags, plastic shopping bags, wet bag, and baby powder. I keep hand sanitizer and a change of clothes in the diaper bag as well.

I always change a stinky cloth diaper in a restroom changing table when we are out in public. If he isn't stinky, I will change it in our mini van or where we are hanging out at an outdoors park. I have had to change a stinky toddler diaper at a park when there were no restrooms available (unless you count a port-a-potty a viable restroom option).

Pretend this is a changing table in a public restroom and not the ottoman in my family room.

Wiping baby with the first wipe.

Put the wipe in the disposal bag.

Wipe with the second wipe.
Put the wipe in the disposal bag.

Tie up the wipe disposal bag when finished wiping baby.
To change the diaper, the whole process is pretty much the same. Unless the changing station is next to a trash can (which some of them are), I open up a little trash bag to put the disposable wipes in after I use them. I set this well out of the toddler's reach or you are looking at a hot mess mid-way through diaper changing. If possible, I set the dirty diaper to the side to clean a little before I put it in the wet bag.

Put soiled diaper in wet bag.
I diaper the baby in a new clean diaper and that is when I assess if I can clean the dirty diaper a little before putting it in the wet bag. A lot of times the changing table in a public restroom is in a bathroom stall. If it is, I hold the diaper out and let the soil roll out of the diaper into the toilet. If the soil is sticking to the diaper, I will sometimes take a wad of toilet paper and grab off whatever comes off easily (much like picking up after a dog, but with a wad of toilet paper instead of a plastic bag). I throw this in the toilet. If I either do not have access to a toilet or the diaper, for some reason, is soiled in a way that I will not be able to easily clean in a public bathroom with a toddler underfoot (and, most likely, 2 preschoolers and possibly our 1st grader standing outside my stall door), I roll the diaper up a bit and throw it in the wet bag.

Put new diaper on baby and put changing supplies back in backpack/diaper bag.

Congratulations! You have baby in a clean diaper on the go!
The wet bag seals in odors and doesn't leak. I have had no issues with our wet bag when out and about with cloth diapers. When I get home, I pour the contents of the wet bag into the diaper pail unless they are stinky. In that case, I take it to the restroom in our house with the diaper sprayer and carefully open the wet bag. I find a good spot to grab the edge of the diaper, hold the diaper out and spray it clean. I put the diaper back in the top of the wet bag and carry the whole thing to the diaper pail, drop the diaper into the diaper pail, and then drop the wet bag into the diaper pail. If I only had wet diapers in the wet bag, I do not wash after one use. If I put a stinky diaper in the wet bag, I always wash it.

How often do you change a cloth diaper?

With normal wear, he can wear an Elemental cloth diaper for 3 to 4 hours. If he wets heavily, he will need it changed every 2 to 3 hours (like if he drank a lot of liquids at a meal or had juice instead of water). Because of our baby's skin issues, we check his diaper every 2 hours and change him immediately when he has a stinky diaper. It actually can be hard to tell when he has a stinky diaper in cloth, oddly enough. My pregnancy nose is very sensitive and can smell when he is a little "off," but a lot of times my husband doesn't even notice a difference a foul odor to warrant a diaper change. He will begrudgingly check the back of the baby's diaper and say, "Wow! He is stinky!" and then take him off for a change. The pregnancy nose knows though. I don't know if the waterproof cover of the cloth diapers keeps odor in or what about disposables makes stinky diapers so pungent. Of course he still has diapers where he walks in the room and everyone yells, "The baby needs to be changed!" But, for the most part, his stinky diapers are much more under the radar in cloth, which is why I check before each diaper change to see if he is stinky or just wet. It is much easier to know before the diaper is off in cloth what you are getting in to than to be surprised at a floor diaper change away from the wipes.

I also always change his diaper before I leave the house every time. If he is wet at all, even a little bit, I change his diaper before heading out. If we are at a restaurant with a bathroom and changing table and getting ready to leave to wander shops away from an easily accessible restroom, I change his diaper. It is hard to find a place to change a toddler's diaper, especially if you are dealing with a soiled cloth diaper. It isn't socially acceptable to pull off the clothes of a stinky 20-month old to change his diaper on a sidewalk bench outside of a shop or restaurant (but, I mean, when it comes down to it, you gotta do what you gotta do sometimes). Since we already deal with enough awkward parenting moments with our four boys, I do try to avoid the ones I can. Checking the toddler's diaper before we leave an area where I can easily change him when I know we are heading somewhere that I cannot easily change him makes our life much more simple. The nice thing about parenting toddlers is that you do become tuned in to normal times of day for them to have a soiled diaper. For instance, I know mid-morning to expect a stinky diaper change. Conveniently, that often works out well for our typical family schedule. I can usually change his stinky diaper before we leave the house. With our twins, I could expect a late afternoon soiled diaper change. I don't remember our oldest's and perhaps that's best. Who really wants their schedules posted on their mom's blog? My point is, while I bring everything I need to change the unexpected stinky diaper, for the most part, I know what to expect when heading out of the house with the baby in cloth.

Differences between cloth diapers and disposables

Well, the first and most noticeable difference to me and my husband is the frequency of the diaper changes. While I attribute a lot of that to our baby #4's sensitive skin, I know that cloth diapers are recommended to change every 2-4 hours. I'm not saying we have left our children in disposables longer then that, but...

The second difference would be the on-the-go diaper changes. Because of the frequency of diaper changes, if I'm out running a lot of errands, I usually have to change his diaper at some point while I'm out. He usually is just wet and so it is a quick change in the mini van, but read above. With our toddlers at this age, I probably would just wait to change all wet diapers until we got home (unless it had to be changed). Also, while changing a stinky cloth diaper at home really isn't a big deal, changing a stinky cloth diaper on-the-go takes a little more forethought. Not a lot and I'm in the rhythm of it now, but the first stinky cloth diaper in a public restroom I definitely had, "Oh, crap! Now what?" thoughts running around in my head.

Do cloth diapers leak?

Short answer: no. Long answer: yes.

The short answer is no because they don't. I know that for those 2-3 hours he's in his cloth diaper his Elemental diaper is not going to leak-- stinky, heavy wet, nothing. And we won't smell it either. It is all wrapped up in there and he's good.

The long answer is yes because if after hour 3 he starts heavy wetting, yeah, the diaper may leak. Or after hour 4... yeah, possible leakage. The other day my hubby and I were running errands and completely forgot about diaper changing. We went to lunch (where the toddler sucked down lemonade); then we went here, there, and everywhere. As he was pulling the baby out of his car seat at home, he says, "Oh, man!" and the bottom of baby #4's pants was starting to have the leak lines around the leg holes of the diaper. If he had been in disposables, he would have just had that huge hanging disposable diaper sagging between his legs. In cloth, it had finally started leaking. Today though baby #4 did jut over 4 hours in the same diaper and no leakage, nowhere near leaking when I changed him.

But, if you leave a kid in any diaper long enough it will leak, cloth or disposable.

More reading on cloth

Check out my previous blog posts on cloth diapering: under Popular Posts, Kimber's Posts on Cloth Diapering. I discuss buying cloth diapers, types of cloth diapers we used from newborn to the toddler years, and logistics of cloth diapering.

Our 20-month old toddler
What are your cloth diapering tips? How has your cloth diapering experience been?


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