We knew we wanted to cloth diaper since before Alice was born, and we were determined to make it work. We were both cloth diapered - my mom hand washed my prefolds in a bucket when we lived in a VW bus, and my partner’s mom scrubbed his flats when he was a baby in the Dominican Republic. We were interested in both the cost savings and environmental impact of cloth.
Here’s a bit about our experience cloth diapering from birth to potty training, with two parents working full time outside of the home. I am an elementary school teacher, and my partner is a social worker. We each work at least 40 hours per week outside of the home, but we didn’t let that deter us from our decision to cloth diaper our baby from birth.
Cloth is not all or nothing
Our family chose to go 100% cloth, and we were lucky that we had childcare that was willing to use it too. There’s nothing wrong with choosing to use a mix of cloth and disposables, for whatever reason. Plenty of folks use both, which is totally FINE! Any amount of time that you use cloth will save you money and reduce your footprint.
Our families initially gave us the gift of a diaper service. The service dropped off clean prefolds and picked up the dirties once a week. We washed the covers with our own laundry, we were able to size up the diapers from the service as our baby grew. We skipped having to buy a separate newborn stash, which was a great benefit! By the time we bought our own diapers we were using larger sizes, and we used the same prefolds until she potty trained about two years later. A downside is that having a service can be expensive, and they are not available everywhere. Our service (which unfortunately has since closed) charged $26.50 per week. The service was nice because it got us started, but we ultimately chose to wash on our own when the gift ran out.
Finding a routine
Figuring out how washing our diapers fit into our daily routine was extremely useful. For most of the time our daughter was in diapers we washed every 2-3 days (this was when we had a full enough load of diapers and other laundry in our front loading machine). Eventually we bought a bigger machine and were able to start washing once a week. We also always added other smaller sized laundry to our second wash cycle, so it helped us stay on top of all our laundry. As she started to soil fewer diapers, our loads shifted to less diapers and more other items.
On wash days, I would get home after picking Alice up from daycare, walk the dog, then start my prewash of just diapers (for more on wash routines, check out Fluff Love’s pages on washing in HE and standard machines). I dumped the contents of the diaper pail, as well as the wetbags from daycare right into the washer. When she was on breastmilk only I just let the poops be (breastmilk poop is water soluble, meaning it’s fully washed out with detergent). Later, when she started eating solids, we plopped the poop into the toilet before washing.
Before dinner, I would go to the washer and start my main wash, adding whatever baby laundry needed to be washed that day. Then, before bed, I would move everything to the dryer, sometimes taking out covers to hang dry. If I didn’t get to the laundry to move to the dryer before bed, I would do that part in the morning. As long as you clean your washer regularly it’s fine for diapers (or clean laundry) to sit for a bit before moving to the dryer. The next afternoon after work, I would take everything out of the dryer, fold and sort it, and put it away. I have always loved to do our laundry, and even more so since cloth diapering, so laundry (including diapers) remained mostly my job. My partner helps around the house in lots of other ways!
It’s also possible to use cloth if you don’t have a washing machine at home. Plenty of families hand wash or wash at the laundromat.
Cloth and daycare
It’s a common misconception that daycares will not use cloth diapers. We had our daughter in two different daycares that used our cloth diapers without issue, and we interviewed others who were also willing. Most states do not have laws that prevent providers from using cloth diapers, and all it takes is a little education!
The first daycare that we used had never done cloth before. I met with the provider and showed her the diapers, explained how to use them and shared our reasons for having chosen cloth. I asked her to give them a try and she was open minded. We also would have bought different diapers if our provider had requested.
Our next provider had used cloth diapers with one of her children and was happy to continue with ours because she knew it was important to us. We sent a wetbag every day, and enough diapers for changes every two hours plus extras. We made sure that there were enough covers for the whole diaper to be changed every time, per state law. We also sent extra outfits in case of any leaking due to fit. Another benefit of using cloth with daycare was that I knew exactly how many times she had been changed at daycare.
If your daycare provider isn’t currently cloth friendly, give them an opportunity to see your diapers and learn about them. Ask them to just try the cloth diapers, and see if it could work for them. They may find that it’s not a big deal at all!
The bottom line
Don’t let other people tell you the reasons why you can’t use cloth diapers. If you want to use them, your family can make it work - whether you wash your own cloth full time, use a diaper service, or mix cloth and disposable diapers. Working families absolutely can cloth diaper, and finding your routine rhythm so that it fits into your lifestyle is key.
Sadie Cora is a public school educator in Massachusetts and is mom to now-seven-year-old Alice.