Cloth Diapering, vol. 1: Getting Acquainted with Sh*t

There’s no point mincing my words. If you are going to use cloth diapers (or actually have a baby at all) you are going to have to flush any remaining primness and decency down the toilet right now. There will be shit. It will be disgusting. You will have to deal with it.

I am a pretty stalwart lady. I have gutted and butchered many an animal, trimmed the poop encrusted hairs from around a sheep’s ass, reached up into a hen’s vulva to release a stuck egg, and scraped the maggots from home smoked fish so I could eat it. I have a strong stomach for grossness. But I will admit to you that if I had to wash my toddler’s shitty diapers by hand in a bucket of water, I’d go to Costco and buy Huggies.

Thank god for washing machines! With a machine’s help, I find cloth diapering surprisingly easy. But before you go out and spend a heap of money on cloth diapers I want you to consider that the shit has to be mostly cleaned off before the diaper goes into the machine, and from my personal experience it does not “shake off into the toilet” as they like to say on the label. Fortunately, as parenting often goes, you aren’t handed a toddler with their more or less adult stools, but rather a cute little baby with surprisingly inoffensive breastmilk poop. You get a good 6 months to practice up on your stomach clenching.

Of course, you have to deal with poop no matter what kind of diapers you use. Cloth just ups the anty. And it’s worth it right? Take charge of your baby’s waste stream, etc, etc. In case you need any fact bolstering, here’s a few goodies from the Real Diaper Association:

  • Disposable diapers are the third largest single consumer item in landfills, and represent about 4% of solid waste.  In a house with a child in diapers, disposables make up 50% of household waste.
  • No one knows how long it takes for a disposable diaper to decompose, but it is estimated to be about 250-500 years.
  • Over 300 pounds of wood, 50 pounds of petroleum feedstocks and 20 pounds of chlorine are used to produce disposable diapers for one baby EACH YEAR.

So, think you’re ready? You want to take the leap and commit to shit?

(I ought to clarify right about now that we have always used disposables at night and if we are going out for a daylong outing or on vacation, etc. In other words, we are far from hard core on the cloth issue.)

When I was 3 months pregnant with my first, still coming around to the idea and freaking out about how much baby crap we were already accumulating from well meaning friends and relatives, a woman I knew called on the phone to ask if I wanted some cloth diapers. I took a big gulp and said yes, knowing I would need them and it would be stupid to turn her down. She came by an hour later with three huge boxes of cloth diapers. As she unloaded one after another from her minivan I had a panic attack. It took everything I had not to tell her to pack that shit back up and leave me alone, my baby would pee into a pile of sphagnum moss thank you very much.

When I look back on that moment, and the general disgust I had for the boxes of hand-me-down clothes and toys that poured into our household almost weekly, I am so embarrassed! Of course I ended up using all of those diapers (babies grow fast, don’t you know) which were in pristine condition and would have cost $12-18 a piece if I had had to buy them. I had been given several hundred of dollars worth of high class goods, and I don’t remember if I even thanked her!

Down here in New Orleans I was given two more small sets of diapers. The only thing I ever had to buy was a few extra covers. I am one lucky lady.

If you are not so lucky, and you are in the market for cloth diapers, I have a few things to tell you. One is that there is a dizzying array of choices! And everybody seems to have very different opinions on which ones are good. Two is that, for whatever strange reason, cloth diapers have become something of a boutique (ie: overpriced) item. Be careful if you go shopping on Etsy— you should not be paying $28 for a fucking diaper, no matter how cute.

Because I was given so many different diapers, I have a decent scope of experience. There are three basic types: the so-called ‘pre-folds’ are the flat rectangular ones that our mothers used, bless their heart. (I can’t for the life of me figure out why they call them pre-folds when they come out of the wash flat.) Then there are ‘fitted’ diapers which need a cover put on over the top. ‘Pocket’ diapers have a built-in cover which you insert a wide pad into. And lastly ‘all-in-ones’ have it all, in one.

***Before you experienced mamas click away from this post, will you just scroll down to the comments and add your own experience? I’ll talk about use and care in the next post, right now we are just looking at types of diapers, and the more voices the better.***

I started out with all-in-one Kushies like these:

They are easy, there’s no doubt about it. But they take forever to dry, because they can only dry from one side. And I can tell you they do not last through two kids. The first thing that gives out is the elastic around the leg, meaning more and more leaking problems. Then the plasticy material that they make the cover out of starts to fray around the seams and you lose the whole diaper.

I was also given some Fuzzi Bunz which are a pocket diaper.

They were already well used and maybe they would have worked if they were new, but as far as I can tell they are crap. I keep using them because that’s what I have right now, but they leak like sieves. They are made from some kind of polyester, and from my experience I would say, why the hell would you make a diaper out of a material who’s best property is not getting wet? I understand the concept of keeping baby’s skin dry, and I can see a single layer of polyester maybe, backed my cotton, but that pee has to go somewhere! Anyone with a different Fuzzi Bunz experience please speak up.

My favorite diapers so far are an old version of Bum Genius, that it looks like they don’t make anymore. They’re fitted terry-cloth type material with velcro tabs, so pretty easy. They have lasted well. They do need a cover, but I feel like the extra step is well worth it. (The only Bum Genius I can find online now are all-in-ones, anyone familiar with these?They look good.). This Mother-ease Sandy’s diaper looks vaguely similar:

I did have a bad experience with some Thirsty covers that used velcro closures. The velcro was just a straight-up strip (no backing) and over time it started to curl back on itself, exposing the scratchy stuff to my little pudgy boy’s fat thighs. I had to trash them eventually, he was getting welts. I would in general recommend snap closures because of this problem, plus the velcro gets gunked up and has to be cleaned out periodically and just generally wears out faster than snaps. (Although those first all-in-ones I got had velcro, sewed onto a thicker strap, and they have lasted just fine, I still use some of those.) Here’s what my current covers look like, these are Best Bottoms:

Many people have rave reviews of wool diaper covers, called ‘soakers.’ I never had the opportunity to try them, but the idea is that they allow baby’s little butt to breathe and keep the skin healthier. Makes good sense. Wool can be surprisingly water-proof, and supposedly soakers are very soft and not at all abrasive. Ask me about my experience with $24 lambs’ wool nursing pads sometime though. Grrr…

I tried pre-folds for awhile with both babies, and I just didn’t have any luck with them. They never fit right and so leaked or bunched up and were uncomfortable. I have talked to many other mamas who loved pre-folds though, so I would definitely recommend trying them, if you can. They are a fraction of the cost of all these fancy diapers, and last much longer because they have no elastic, snaps, velcro, bells or whistles to wear out. Also they dry way faster, which is not to be underestimated. (If you are going with pre-folds, or some of the fitted diapers that come without fasteners, you will probably want some Snappies. These are a brilliant replacement for safety pins, danger-free.)

I think the reason that everyone has such different diaper opinions is that every baby is different. Mine both had unbelievably fat thighs and needed big ole’ leg holes. If your baby has skinny thighs you will specifically need small leg holes or you’ll have leaks. Then there are differences in quantities of pee, types of poop, etc. Both mine peed a LOT. And a lot at one time, too, which I think is partly why the Fuzzi Bunz didn’t work. Maybe they can hold a cup of pee if it comes in a few tablespoons at a time, but when yer kid dumps the whole load at once, they can’t absorb fast enough. The frustrating thing about buying diapers before you have your baby is how do you know?

If you have a cloth diaper store in your town, check to see if they have any kind of trial program. We have a great shop here that gives a one month free trial with all the brands she sells, so that you can figure out which ones you like. Online, Diaper Junction has a test drive program, but you do have to buy the diapers and then you can return the ones you don’t like. Better than nothing…

There’s one more important decision to make. You can either buy one-size-fits-all, which are supposed to be adjustable for newborn-toddler, or you can buy ‘perfect fit’ diapers for each size. I hate to tell you this, but I haven’t seen the one-size diapers work for newborns. I think they might work fine for age 1-potty training, because their butts don’t actually grow much after 1yo, but on a newborn or even 6 month old, those one-size diapers look pretty ridiculously enormous.

Having said that though I ought to mention that the actual ‘newborn’ size is almost worthlessly small for most babies I’ve known. Mine fit that size for all of two weeks. Then the breastcream started to kick in and the thighs started to bulk up.

Lastly, how many will you need? This would depend on your baby and your wash cycle. You will go through at least 5/day in the beginning. If you do laundry every 3rd day, and they take 2 days to dry on the line, you need 5 days worth of diapers, 5 x 5 = 25, though you will want a few extra as a buffer. If you are going to use the dryer or commit to washing every other day you can get away with fewer diapers. Bear in mind that if you use fitted diapers with separate covers, you will only need 4 or 5 covers. They can be used for several rounds, until the get a shit smear. They also dry super fast.

So, if you are doing some quick math with the prices I have quoted, you are just about freaking out right now. True, even buying two sizes of brand new diapers plus covers will cost you less, in the end, than disposables. But man, that would be an intimidating entry price tag if you had to set yourself up completely.

I would recommend not jumping into that right off. Do a trial of size smalls to see which kind you like and how your baby shapes up. Keep a vigilant ear open when you’re out in the world– once you start looking, you might be surprised to find more cloth diapering mamas than you thought. And they might have a stack of old diapers to share or sell.

Watch Craigslist like a hawk. I doubt they come up very often, but it can’t hurt. Or check out this independent consignment site. I would be careful not to pay too much for used diapers though, unless the people who are selling didn’t really use them (a very common scenario actually, many folks start out with good intentions and then just get overwhelmed). Diapers definitely wear out and if they’ve been used continuously for one kid, they’re probably at about half-life, which means you shouldn’t pay more than 1/3 of the new price.

I’ll go over use and care in the next post, but so far– any questions?

Homemade Laundry Soap

That is somewhat tongue in cheek. By the way.

After the first soap making post, Taryn from The Colorado Desert asked “Why do you say that making your own soap isn’t that good for the environment or you?” I’m sorry if I mispoke, I often write my posts in a rush trying to get a lot of things said in my 30-40 minute writing window…. At any rate, that’s not at all what I meant. And before I get into my DIY laundry detergent report, it seems a good time to explain what exactly I did mean.

I’ll start by saying I don’t know a damn thing about the commercial soap industry, nor the production of lye, borax, washing soda or even baking soda. Ignorance notwithstanding, I in fact do think making your own soap is better for both your family’s health and that of the earth. Generally I think it’s safe to assume that making your own anything is better. If you’re comparing homemade soap to the host of toxic cleaning products at the store, that bet is pretty fail-safe. I rarely use anything stronger than Joy soap, but I’m still going to assume my homemade product more virtuous.

However, unless you’re a Riana caliber DIYer, you’re probably not going to get to everything on your make-at-home list. We are all living in the modern world, and as much as we might pine for a Little House on the Prairie, it’s just not the life or time we’re in. It’s damn hard to get every little thing done!

So, we have to set priorities. This is a personal thing. But also, there is just more or less impact associated with each item you choose to buy. Like I said, I don’t know how much impact is saved by making your own soap. I’d really like to know, but apparently researching the issue is not topping my priorities list…

I just don’t use all that much soap, so I’m assuming (again, we all know the inherent ass making danger here) the impact saved is relatively small, especially since I still have to buy lye, borax and washing soda. When I say relatively, I mean compared to say making all our own bread, cloth diapering, or hanging the clothes instead of using the dryer. Making my own soap certainly saves me less money than those things. Coincidentally, Karyn at Lizzy Lane Farm just posted about saving money and making your own laundry detergent vs. generally cooking from scratch. Although like I said, I don’t know how wicked the soap industry is, I would generally agree with her that soap making is lower on the list of DIY priorities.

I wanted to point that out because I fear there might be some new-to-the-craft revolutionary housewives in our midst, and I don’t want them to feel bogged down thinking they have to start making their families’ laundry detergent and toothpaste if they’re going to do any good in the world. Take heart! There’s loads of other simpler, more money saving, and for most people more gratifying places to start. If you never get as far as soap making, I suspect the world will survive.

HOWEVER. For those of you who have been at the homemaker arts for awhile, after say– purely hypothetically speaking– 15 years or so, you might find that making bread and hanging laundry is starting to feel…. less than revolutionary. You might find that the idea of discovering a whole new field of knowledge and skills is exciting, inspiring, even adventurous. I believe that challenging yourself to learn new things is absolutely essential to leading a satisfying life.

And that’s why I made my own laundry soap.

Not to save the world (though it might help), not to stave off cancer (though it might help), not to pinch extra pennies (though it certainly will help) but simply because I wanted to.

Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, let me tell you about how my new homemade laundry soap works!

I followed Rhonda’s recipe at D2E. Basically you make the liquid soap as I described before, then mix in borax and washing soda (soda ash). If you’re game to try this, Make sure to follow the direction to mix the powders into the hot soap. I just dumped it all into my big detergent jug at once, and the washing soda formed a giant clump that didn’t want to dissolve. The second time, when I took her directions more seriously, it worked much easier.

Directions. They sometimes are there for a reason.

She says to use 1/4 cup per load. That’s just crazy talk. For one thing, she mentions briefly elsewhere that she has a low water front loading machine. Well, those things require waaaaay less soap than a regular water-hog topsy loader. I started with 1/2 cup, and eventually started using a whole cup, because the resultant clothes still smelled a bit less than fresh.

But she super dilutes the stuff, and I don’t see why. The second batch, I used half the amount of water. So now I’m back to 1/2 cup/load. And it works good! The clothes smell clean when they come out of the washer. Even the armpits and crotches.

But, get this. In my usual half-assed scientific manner, I decided I’d better do a control like with the dishes. Maybe clothes don’t need soap either? Maybe that’s why those various laundry cleaning gadgets work, because you actually don’t need anything at all…? And in fact, the clothes sans soap load was surprisingly clean. Maybe if you wear your clothes lightly that would be sufficient. We wear ours purty hard, and although they were fairly clean, they still had a tad bit of smell. Not much. Probably nothing a day hanging in the sun and wind wouldn’t cure. Nevertheless I think I will keep using my homemade detergent. Partly because it’s fun to make, a good project. But note to self– if we’re out, it’s not the end of the world!

Think that’s interesting? Here’s the real kicker. Diapers.

Yup, it’s true. The diaper load with no detergent whatsoever? Clean. I mean, I stuck my nose right in, to several different diapers, in case there was variation. All perfectly clean smelling.

Wow. I totally was expecting to have to run that load again, with soap.

After thinking about it, I suspect it’s because pee and poop don’t have oils in them, like our clothes do. Soap, I think, is mostly for getting oily dirt off. Other dirtiness seems to come off well with plain water.

So, there you have it. You know how they say to use less soap than called for, so your diapers last longer? How about no soap at all?????

Of course, this is baby diapers. For reasons too long to explain here, I stopped using cloth for the Toddler when we moved, so I wash only baby diapers, which are much less stinky. I have no idea if the no soap thing would hold for toddler dipes. Let me know if you try it.

Also, this is in a top loading washer. The low water use of a front loader would probably not float the soap-less wash concept, pardon the pun.

Lastly, while we’re on the subject, that thing I’d always heard about the sun bleaching your whites for you, Holy Smokes! I put the Babe’s….errr… ‘colorfully’ stained diapers outside and in a few hours they’re white again. Works even on a cloudy day. I suspect some sanitizing is going on as well. Which will be handy when his diapers start to take on the Toddler Cloth Diaper Reek, which I used to have to bleach once every coupla months to beat back.

Ah, the cerebral pleasures of expounding on the such plebian subjects as diaper washing.

Washing Diapers, or Pushing Your Poop Boundaries

Ever been sprayed in the face with poopy water? If not, here’s how!

I installed one of these toilet sprayers last week, for rinsing poopy diapers. First warning: be careful how you use it. Make sure you’re spraying down at the diaper. Not perpendicularly. FYI.

It was almost $50, and I really debated whether to buy it. But a neighbor had said she had one and it was the bomb.

Jury’s still out hereabouts.

Well, the thing is, you have to deal with the poop somehow, and no way is any fun. When they’re nursing babies and their poop is so runny and innocuous, I just throw ’em straight into the washer, they come out clean, and I don’t worry my pretty little head about it. But then when they start to eat real food, and there’s The Chunks, this simple method fails.

That’s when I switched to the bucket soaker method. Just keep the poopy ones in their own bucket, then soak for an hour or so before fishing ’em out and throwing ’em in the washer, shaking off most of the poop back into the bucket as you do. But who can like that job? Which of course has to be done every two or three days. Ick. I mean, I consider myself pretty hard to gross out, but, ewwww, gross out.

So, I thought this sprayer might solve all my problems. Of course, it doesn’t. It is still poop. Spraying it off into the toilet is not as easy as it sounds for mature toddler poop. It takes a fair amount of water, and a definite facing of the fact.

But, it is better than fishing around in a bucket of poop water, I guess. So… If you’ve got $50, I’d say go ahead.

It was pretty easy to install, except that the existing hose was so old that the gasket was all but worn out, and when I re-hooked it back up and turned the water back on, it leaked. So I had to go out and buy another gasket. But, that’s not the fault of the sprayer. It was one of those fun projects that makes me feel like I’m a real Handy Lady.

On the box it said one of the uses was to “save on toilet paper.” I guess you can use it like a bidet.

I’ve never used a bidet before- maybe I just don’t know how it’s done. But I did try it out, and I can say, what the f**k? How is that s’posed to work?