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Cloth Diapers – Findings from Year One

Cloth Diapers Year One header image

Diapers are diapers, right? As a first time dad thinking about all the things that you are going to need once you find out your are going to have a baby, diapers seems like they would be last on the list – they were on mine anyway. Especially with all the cool Daddy-Tech out there to play with, why would you even want to think about diapers?

Until, of course, that night at dinner when my (slightly crunchy) wife said “I think we should use cloth diapers.” This hit me from so far out of left field that I knew I needed to throw myself headlong into becoming a cloth diaper expert ASAP before answering her question…and it was a bigger challenge than you might think.

Research Phase

On one side, you have a lot of people that claim that disposable diapers take from 75-400 years to break down in a landfill. With a baby using 9-13 diapers a day that’s a lot of land fill – the 3rd most common item by volume in landfills. On the other side, you have people claiming that all the extra water and electric usage to wash cotton diapers causes more harm on the environment. In the end, without finding any solid data to support either side, we went with cotton. Mostly because (honestly) I thought it was a hardcore bad-ass Daddy thing to do.

Cloth diapers have changed a lot since I was a kid in the 70’s when you had a piece of cotton that was safety pinned on and then a pair of rubber shorts were placed over it to try and stop leaking. While those are still available, most people have switched to “Pocket Diapers” which consist of a an outer liner that looks pretty much the same as a disposable diaper in configuration but contains a cloth liner capable of holding removable super absorbent fabric pads inside.

Pocket Diaper

Pocket Diapers: also good in a pinch as oven mitts.

With lots of different companies making these pocket diapers – all with slightly different features and appearances – we decided to buy several types/brands and see what was going to work best for us. With prices running about $15-$20 each we decided to go with the “one size” design that adjusts quickly and simply between sizes as your baby grows from 1 month to the end of wearing diapers (as opposed to the fixed size option).

Game Day

All the different-color diapers looked so good arranged above our changing table, and I could not wait to use them. You, unfortunately, have to wait until your kids are about 1-2 months old before they fit into these diapers. So we started out using disposables, and I’ll admit – it was pretty easy, and took me a while to get used to cloth once we switched. However, once we did switch, both my wife and I noticed that our son’s rashes pretty much disappeared. Also, once you have a system in place, it becomes very easy to deal with reusable cloth diapers.

Year 1 Findings

Now that we are one year in, we have really found our groove with diapering – which does now include using a disposable at night due to the amount of leaking we were getting from the cloth (no matter how many liners we were adding). We have also found that even though all of these different brands look pretty much the same, they do have subtle difference that become really important, and below is a summary of our findings:

  • Brands
    • FuzziBunz (one size): these leaked on our newborn despite trying all possible settings, and the fact that he was in the listed weight range. When I contacted FuzziBunz customer support, I was told that “maybe he is too small” (again, despite being in the correct weight range). We also spent a lot of time adjusting all of the elastic settings trying to find something that wasn’t too tight, because they were leaving red marks on his legs, and something that was too big and leaked…and just when we would find a perfect setting he would grow and we would start all over.
    • bumGenius (one size): these function pretty much the same as the FuzziBunz except that they don’t have all the elastic adjustments, which we thought was going to be a negative but turned out to work better than we thought. The pad inserts were also a little bigger than the FuzziBunz, which gave them a bulkier look (to an already big-looking diaper) but they worked well and leaked much less than the FuzziBunz.
    • bumGenius Elemental (one size): This is the latest offering from BumGenius and we have used 3 of these diapers for the past few months. The outside is the same as the previous bumGenius design but the inside now has 2 organic cotton flaps sewn into the diaper so you don’t have to stuff then liners inside the diapers anymore. It a great idea, and is more absorbent (because it has 2 liners) but is SO THICK that it can make it hard to get pants over the diaper unless the pants are pretty roomy.
    • Flip (one size): When I was at the store, these looked like the worst design because they don’t have all the adjustment and insert bells and whistles of the other pocket diapers, and really just looked like a shell for the insert. As it turns out this is our favorite for just that reason! Unlike FuzziBunz and bumGenius pocket diapers with the sewn in polar fleece liner, the Flip can be reused several times before washing (which is not as gross as it first sounds) because it IS just a shell for the liner. As long as the soil is only on the liner and either does not soak through or you rinse it off, you can simply put a clean liner in and reuse it. This is not the case 100% of the time, but more often than not, you can. This also makes it much easier to change and keep him in cloth when on the go, and (we’ve not tried them, but) you can also get disposable liners for the Flip.
  • Snaps vs. Velcro: Most brands of diapers offer the same design in both snap and velcro closures and when I was looking at them I was told by several cotton diaper veterans that the velcro is great until the kids learn how to undo them – then it’s a nightmare. So we started with snaps right off the bat and they are fine now that we are used to it.
  • DIY: you can look on YouTube for many videos on how to sew your own pocket diapers from fabric available at most fabric stores, but I found the cost in materials to be not much of a savings versus just buying them. And frankly, once your kid arrives, sewing is about the last thing you have time for!
  • Sprayers and Liners: Many sources recommend that you buy a sprayer head that attaches to the water feed line on your toilet to spray waste out of the diapers before putting them into the bin, but we heard a lot of negative reviews about them so we opted to just use wipes to push the waste into the toilet. You can also buy flushable liners that look like thick toilet paper to put in the diapers to catch the waste. We found these to be extremely useful once we switched to solid foods and they do catch 75%-100% of the waste and are simply removed, flushed, and have caused no problem with our sewer system.

(Our) Winner

Flip Diapers

Flip Diapers w/ organic liner

Everyone is different and has different likes/needs in products, but for us the Flip is by far the best product for how we live. If you can afford it, I would encourage you to buy at least 1 of each product and try it for yourself, as well as looking on Criagslist for used ones that you might try first before making the investment in 8-10 of the ones you like. And with our 2nd child on the way, these diapers are really starting to pay for themselves versus all the money we would be spending on disposable diapers.

Why am I doing this? You can watch endless hours of reviews on YouTube and read days worth of “Mommy” cloth diaper blogs (like I did), but until you actually strap these things on your kid, you have no idea what you are really in for. Especially because I never found anyone that posted pictures or video of damage from the day after your kid had the bean medley for the first time! And on those days (like yesterday) when it’s really-really nasty and you are scraping poop off of the liner into the toilet, and it’s all over your hands, you might ask yourself “why am I doing this?” but the lack of rashes, early potty training and general good health of your baby’s parts are all worth it, not to mention all the money you save and can put toward vintage toys that you swear to your wife you are going to share with the kids.

Have a favorite cloth/reusable diaper brand of your own? Let us know in the comments below!

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Author: Huckleberry Starnes View all posts by
Huckleberry Starnes is an artist and industrial designer, who after working for clients like NASA, The Smithsonian Institution, CIA, FBI, and the U.S. Military, took on the role of stay at home dad. He wants to help other dads maintain their geek lifestyle while being a positive role model, a supportive partner, and cool dad. Huckleberry has one son and a new daughter who still has that "new baby smell." You can follow his other stories on his blog: http://rulethegalaxy.tumblr.com/
  • http://www.8bitdad.com Zach Rosenberg

    I was always completely intimidated by the whole cloth diaper thing. But now three years deep on buying disposable pieces of shit, I kind of wish I would have gone this route. Then again, I’ve got a day job and wouldn’t be the one cleaning them as often as my wife. Great article – should help a lot of dads think it through!

  • Tom Williams134

    We used cloth starting around 6 months for our twin boys and have been using them ever since. The twins are almost 3 and our youngest is almost one. Thanks to our love of cloth diapers, my wife got a job at a cloth diaper store near us (Sweet Cheeks Diaper Co in York, ME). With twins, it just doesn’t make sense to not use cloth

  • RAZMATAZ73

    I just wanted to quickly comment that the style of diaper that the Flips are is called Hybrid. GroVia diapers are also hybrids; their liners snap into the shell instead of tucking into flaps. There are also all-in-one diapers that are similar to pocket diapers except you don’t stuff the absorbing material into the diaper, it’s already there and ready to use like a disposable. 

    I prefer hybrid diapers like the Flip, GroVia, and Best Bottoms because buying 8-10 shells and then 24-32 inserts is cheaper than buying 24-32 all-in-one or pocket diapers.

    • Darth_Father

       Great points Razmataz73.  I was just trying to give a general overview of “cloth” diapers, but you hit it on the head, even within each category of these diapers are subsets of different features. 

      I also prefer the Flip even if these days it seems like by boy is only giving me one use from each shell.  But hey, it’s my fault for taking him to The Varsity!

  • John

    Surprised you didn’t mention pre-folds… We used those from day 1, with a 5 lb preemie. Never a leak.. Sorry, leaked with the rental fuzzy-buns we had, probably from the fleece not being stripped properly.

    We use Flip covers, or any of the other brand names that are the same idea, shell + snaps, with pre fold as the liner with a Snappi.

    Golden.

    • Darth_Father

       John, I was really just sharing my thoughts on our personal journey into cloth diapers and where we are 1 year later for people that might be thinking about it, rather than the definitive buyers guide.

      Your and your partner must be real champs to start day 1 and with pre-folds no less.  How long has it been now?

      Also, we had the same problems with Fuzzy-Buns and they claim that they don’t need to be striped (another topic I didn’t even touch).

      Anyway, tip of the helmet to you cloth diapering rock stars!

  • Heidi

    I have 12 BumGenius 4.0′s with snaps and 12 SmartiPants.  SmartiPants are a lot like BumGenius in that they are pocket, one size, diapers that have 3 rise settings and a multitude of snaps around the waist to get the best fit.  I can’t say I really have a preference for one brand other the other.  I do have to keep an eye on how much water my 1 year old drinks because if I’m not paying attention and she downs a full sippy (10 oz), I’m going to be dealing with a full diaper that needs to be changed pretty soon their after.

    Cloth can be more time consuming and you might have to change your kiddos diaper more often, but I actually like that I’m changing her more often.  It means that she isn’t sitting in her own waste products for long.  Also, I HATED changing my baby and seeing those little gel bits from the disposable diaper clinging to her very sensitive skin.

    I love that cloth is maybe daunting to families, but so many people are researching and finding out that it’s an effective way to diaper a baby and is actually pretty easy.

    Also, it’s funny to be so excited to talk about a diaper when someone gives you that quizzical look as your are changing your babe!

  • GizzardStone

    We used little smudgeez which are made locally. Went through two sizes. Maybe three. They were great. Snaps are good. I tried to dry them on the line as much as possible. Once the poop gets too human like, we switched to throw-aways.

    Nothing decomposes in a landfill. Not even newspaper. So the figure on how long it takes a diaper to degrade is a red herring. It’s a problem with landfills, not garbage.

    -mike

  • McWetty

    Good read. We too choose the Flip diapers as our champion.  

  • Starbuckscout

    Thank you for this. We did tons of research on cloth and for some reason never came upon Flip. We have 9 Fuzzi Bunz Elites and have added 3 of the Flip “day packs” to our registry. Looking forward to trying both out. 

    • Huckleberry Starnes

       Starbuckscout, glad to hear that my post was helpful and that you guys are excited about cloth.  My wife and I both found the Flip to be our favorite, however early on the FuzziBunz might fit better because of their height adjustment.  And don’t be discouraged if it takes a few months before any cloth diapers really fit correctly. It’s also important to remember that you can place the liners in the pockets differently depending on the sex of the child and double up on them to make the diaper most effective.Congrats and good luck!