Monday, October 15, 2012

Cloth Diapering 101!



Hello again!  This post will be an ongoing compendium (word of the day!) of cloth diapering basics, starting with what I've learned and adding as I learn even more!  To begin with I'll list the types of cloth diapers and a short description of each, from the simplest to the most complex.  Asterisks will denote terms I will define at the bottom of this post, or items I haven't gotten to yet.

Flats - The original cloth diaper.  A flat is simply a large piece of absorbant fabric, usually cotton, between 20x20 and 30x30 inches, folded into a diaper shape and wrapped around baby, usually secured by a safety pin, Snappi* or Boingo*.

Prefold - Slightly more sophisticated than a flat, a prefold is a rectangle of fabric in varying sizes from newborn to toddler.  Prefolds are primarily made with layered cotton twill or birdseye cotton, sewn to have 3 sections for folding in thirds, with a thicker pad in the middle of the rectangle.  You'll see prefolds advertised with 2-4-2 or 4-8-4, combinations like that.  This tells how many layers are in each part, so in a 2-4-2 the outside thirds will have 2 layers of fabric and the middle third will have 4.  The more layers, the more absorbency (obviously) but they will also be bulkier than flats.

Covers - Covers are typically made with PUL (polyurethane laminate fabric) which is waterproof.  They come in many colors and designs and are used over flats, prefolds or fitteds*.  Covers will either use an Aplix* closure or snaps and are shaped like a diaper with elastic at the back and legs to contain messes.

Pocket diapers - Pockets are very easy to use.  They are constructed of a PUL outer shell and an inner of a wicking material like microfleece, athletic jersey, suedecloth, or panne with a "pocket" opening to stuff with an insert.  Inserts can be any absorbent material, usually microfiber, bamboo, cotton, hemp, or a blend of any of them.  Pocket diapers are shaped like disposables and come with Aplix* or snap closures.

All-in-one (AIO) diapers - AIO are the most like disposables.  They have the PUL outer and the absorbent insert is included in the diaper, so no stuffing and unstuffing pockets!  AIOs are very popular with the reluctant cloth diaperers in your life (maybe daddy, grandparents, babysitters or daycare) because just like a disposable, they are on and off in one step.  The only difference is that instead of going in the trash, they go in the wetbag* to be washed.

All-in-two (AI2) diapers - AI2 diapers consist of a waterproof "shell", much like a cover, and snap in inserts.  The shell will have an inner fabric of fleece or athletic jersey, usually.  AI2s are a nice option if you like covers, but don't want to use prefolds or flats.  You can reuse the AI2 shell several times over as long as it didn't get completely soaked or poopy.  The inserts will usually be made of bamboo or cotton, often with a stay-dry top fabric for baby's comfort.

Fitted - Fitted diapers are shaped like a disposable, but have no waterproof layer.  They can be made like an AIO, with the soaker* sewn into the diaper, or like an AI2, with the inserts snapping in.  Some fitteds use lay-in soakers/inserts.  Fitteds are popular for overnight because the entire diaper is absorbent, rather than just an insert.  Fitteds DO need covers to be waterproof, but lots of people let their babies go coverless around the house and change at the first sign of wetness.  They can fasten with Aplix*, snaps or snappis/boingos.  Fitteds are very breathable and comfy for babies.

Hybrid fitted - A hybrid fitted is just like a regular fitted, but has a layer of water-repellant fleece sewn into the diaper.  It's still not completely waterproof without a cover, but it will stay dry on the outside much longer and is great for around the house.  Hybrid fitteds are great for heavy wetters who still need breathability.

Woolies - Wool is a great alternative to PUL if you happen to have a child with sensitivities to PUL or if you want to go a route with all natural fibers.  When wool is properly lanolized * it is water repellent.  Wool is also absorbant, so moisture will slowly leak through but will evaporate off of the wool, meaning no puddles but maximum breathability.  There are two ways wool diaper covers are constructed, listed below, and three ways to use it.
             Wool knit - Made from wool yarn and knitted or crocheted.
             Wool interlock - A factory-woven wool fabric, made into wool items.

             Soaker - A wool soaker is like a PUL cover, but a pull-up design.
             Shorties - Wool shorts.
             Longies - Wool pants.
Another great option is to upcycle wool! Wool sweaters can be found at thrift stores for very cheap. Look for at least 80% animal fiber in your sweater, and the tag should read "dry clean only" or "hand wash cold". Wool, lamb's wool, cashmere, and merino are all great for making woolies. Cashmere and merino are the softest, but thinnest and best used for daytime. Most others are good for day or night, depending on the thickness of the sweater. See my wool post for a tutorial on upcycling.
             Lanolized - Coated with lanolin, a waterproof oil naturally produced by sheep. It's the same stuff used to soothe sore nipples while breastfeeding.
Any natural animal fiber can be used for these - wool, angora, alpaca, and so on - as long as it is lanolized.

Absorbent materials

There are many types of absorbent materials to use in cloth diapers.  Here's a short list:

Microfiber - Microfiber inserts are very absorbent and soak up moisture very quickly, but can get compression leaks* if they get too soaked.  Microfiber should NEVER be directly against baby's skin because it dries skin out very badly and can cause a nasty rash.  Always use microfiber inside a pocket or with another material between it and baby.

Cotton - Cotton is very absorbent and comes in lots of different materials; cotton fleece, cotton flannel, cotton terry, or cotton birdseye to name a few.  Cotton absorbs quickly and holds a moderate amount of liquid, but can still have compression leaks.  It is great when paired with another material like bamboo or microfiber.  Cotton can go against baby's skin.

Bamboo - Bamboo fabrics are nearly 10x more absorbent than cotton, and they are ideal for diapers.  Bamboo comes in many fabric types' fleece, flannel, velour, and terry are common.  Bamboo holds more liquid and absorbs quickly, and gets fewer compression leaks than cotton or microfiber.  Bamboo must be washed 6-10 times to come to full absorbency due to the natural oils retained by the bamboo fibers.  Boiling for 30 minutes can quickly prep bamboo inserts if you don't want to wash them that many times before using.

Hemp - Hemp is comparable to bamboo as far as absorbency.  It absorbs liquid at a slower pace but holds onto it much better and hardly ever gets compression leaks.  Hemp is ideal for use as doublers* underneath other inserts, where it can slowly absorb and "lock away" excess moisture.  Hemp can go against baby's skin.

Zorb - Zorb is a synthetic fiber manufactured for absorbency.  Zorb is very absorbent but has been reported to get compression leaks quite easily.  It does need to be prepped before it comes to full absorbency, but it can't be used alone.  It must be sewn sandwiched between other fabrics or it falls apart in the wash.  Zorb II does not have this problem and is thinner than original Zorb. Zorb II can go against baby's skin.

That covers the types of diapers/inserts you'll encounter.  Here is a list of terms and accessories and their definitions.

Wing-to-wing (W2W) - when a diaper has one kind of fabric on the outside amd a contrasting fabric on the back of the wings.  Usually only WAHMs* will have this feature.

Hidden PUL - When the PUL is between the inner fabric and a decorative outer fabric that isn't waterproof.  This makes it possible to have any pattern on the outside of a diaper but retain waterproofness.  A pocket, AIO, or AI2 most commonly have this.  Diapers with a cotton outer and hidden PUL do have an increased chance of moisture wicking onto clothes, but usually only if the insert gets very very soaked.

Snappi - An alternative to safety pins, snappis are shaped like a T with a longer top and shorter bottom.  The three arms are stretchy and have little plastic teeth on the ends that grip fabric to keep it on your baby.  Snappis are great because they hold a flat, prefold, or fitted closed, but there's no chance of stabbing your baby with a pin!  Snappis can come off during play, so you have to use a cover with a diaper that is snappied.

Boingo - Boingos are like a snappi, but you need two of them because they fasten on each wing of the diaper.  They claim to not need covers because they don't come off during play, but I've never used them so don't take my word for it.

Aplix - The type of velcro commonly used for cloth diapers.  Also referred to as hook & loop.

Wetbag - A waterproof PUL bag to put soiled diapers in.  Wetbag usually refers to a smaller bag with a zip closure for travel, but you can get large wetbags for home use.

Pail liner - Same thing as a wetbag, but fits in a diaper pail.

Insert - An absorbent pad stuffed into a pocket diaper or laid in a cover, fitted, or AI2.

Soaker - Can refer to a couple things:  when speaking of absorbency, it means an insert.  when speaking about a fleece or wool soaker, it means a small pair of pants to cover a fitted diaper or flat/prefold with.

Stash - Your collection of cloth diapers and accessories.

WAHM - Work-at-home-mom, a mom who makes custom diapers to help support her household.  WAHM dipes can be hit or miss, but some are highly coveted. I personally love Witteybums, The Bumtique, RozyBunz, AsherLiz designs, and many more.  I'll do a post on the WAHMs I've bought from later.

Repelling - When the synthetic inner of a pocket diaper won't absorb liquid through to the insert due to detergent buildup or the use of fabric softener.

Wicking - Wicking can refer to the type of fabric used to achieve a stay-dry feel, or when the inner fabric comes into contact with baby's clothes and causes wetness to "wick" onto the clothes or the outer of the diaper.

Compression Leaking - Compression leaks happen when an insert gets overly saturated and the weight of the baby makes liquid squish out.  Even with a PUL diaper the excess liquid will take the path of least resistance, usually through the inner and onto the clothes.

QSFW - Stands for Quick Snap Flat Wrap, it's kind of like a prefold, flat and fitted all in one.  It's very flat so it dries really fast, but the way it folds up creates a pocket of sorts you could put extra absorbency in.  There's a good tutorial on how to make a QSFW here.

Doublers - A doubler is a thin type of insert used to "double up" the wet zone in a diaper.  It can be one or two layers of almost anything, just enough to fold up for extra absorbency.

Wet Zone - The wet zone is the spot in a diaper that gets the pee first, and therefore heaviest.  For boys this will be in the front, but for girls it's more common in the bottom or back, especially while sleeping.

Rise - The rise of the diaper is how tall it fits on your baby.  When shopping for wool you will need this measurement, use a soft tape measure and measure from the bellybutton, through the legs and to the same spot on the back.  That number is your baby's rise.

Inseam - The inseam is the length of the leg from the crotch to the ankle.  Some woolies will need inseam measurements, make sure to measure with your bulkiest diaper on baby to ensure a good fit.

FDR - Stands for fold down rise.  Some fitteds will have this feature.  A fold down rise is where the front of the diaper folds down to make the rise shorter instead of having rise snaps down the middle of the diaper.  There will usually be two rows of snaps on a FDR, one facing inward for the smallest setting and one facing outward for the largest.

One of the most talked about things in CDing is washing!  Laundry routines vary depending on individual preference and the type of water (hard or soft), but generally it goes like this:
Cold rinse
Hot wash with detergent
Extra rinse

You'll need a good detergent.  The detergent you use does not have to be "cloth safe", although many cloth diaper companies will tell you so.  Laundry is trial and error, just like anything in cloth diapering.  If you find a cloth safe detergent and it works for you, keep using it!  If it doesn't, its time to switch to something else.  People with water softeners often have the best luck with CD safe detergent, because the water has very few minerals that the detergent has to work on removing.  People with no water softener and hard water should consider using Tide, All, or another mainstream detergent for the best effectiveness.  To see your area's water hardness, see this map.

In addition to a good detergent, you need to use ENOUGH of it.  Most cloth diapering websites tell you to use only 1 or 2 tablespoons per wash, but this is far too little.  Use the appropriate amount for your load size.  If you use Tide or something similar, follow the load size guide on the measuring cup.  Not using enough detergent means your diapers will not get clean, and will lead to ammonia, barnyard stink, staining, and rashes.  Think about it: Your clothing is NOT saturated with pee and poop, and you use 1/4 cup per load, but you are expected to put pee and poop covered diapers in the wash and use a fraction of that, and they are expected to get clean?  That doesn't make sense.  Adding an extra rinse to the end of your cycle will be enough to get all of the detergent out of your diapers and leave them fresh and clean.

Cloth diapers should NEVER be washed or dried with fabric softener or dryer sheets as this will cause repelling.

A problem you might run into in your diapers is ammonia buildup.  When urine degrades it turns into ammonia, and sometimes the ammonia can stay in your diapers after washing and give baby ammonia burns (yucky!)  Luckily, it's not terribly common and if it happens it is pretty easy to strip diapers.  The long-term solution to ammonia is to use a strong detergent (such as Tide) and to use ENOUGH of it.

You may find it necessary to strip your diapers at some point.  Stripping is not needed as a part of a regular routine, but rather is a fix for problems with your diapers.  Each stripping method will fix a specific problem.

Hot water strip*: My preferred method of stripping is just a good old washing with plenty of hot water, followed by a hot wash with good detergent.  This method should take care of most problems, because it strips the diapers to a clean base to start over again. (see note below if you have persistent problems.)  Run a full load of diapers through a HOT wash with no detergent, and check for suds during the agitation cycle.  If there are suds, run the cycle over and over until the suds are all gone.  Then run a hot wash, with the recommended amount of detergent.  Do an extra rinse, and again check for suds.  If there are lot of suds, you probably need to use a little less detergent, but if there are minimal or no suds the amount is just right.

Blue Dawn strip: Blue Dawn is used when your diapers have an oily, greasy buildup, such as from using a non-CD safe rash cream.  A Dawn strip should ONLY be done in a bathtub or sink, as putting Dawn in your washing machine will void the warranty.  Fill up a tub with hot HOT water, and add a good sized squirt of the Dawn.  Agitate the water and then add your diapers.  Agitate the diapers around, and pull them out one at a time to scrub any obvious spots with a spot of Dawn and a toothbrush, until they are all clean.  Then rinse them until you get as much of the Dawn out as possible.  After the Dawn is nearly gone it is safe to put them through your washer.  Do a hot wash with no detergent, and check for suds.  Once there are no more suds, your diapers are stripped and you can dry and use them.

Bleach strip: Bleaching will sanitize your diapers and is a good way to get rid of stubborn ammonia.  Fill your washer to the largest load setting with hot water, then add 1/4-1/2 cup of bleach.  Let the agitator run for a minute to mix the bleach in, then add your diapers.  Do NOT pour the bleach on top of the diapers because you might end up ruining the prints.  If you have WAHM diapers, you may consider using less bleach so the fabrics don't fade.  Wash on a normal cycle and then rinse until the bleach smell is completely gone, then dry and you're ready to use them.

RLR strip: RLR is a laundry additive that is great for removing ammonia, mineral deposits and rust from washing in hard water.  Follow the directions on the package.


* If you do a hot water strip but you still have some sort of problem, try one of the more heavy-duty strips based on your problem.  Repelling = Dawn strip.  Ammonia or barnyard stink = Bleach strip.  Mineral deposits or rust colored diapers = RLR strip.


I think that's all the basic info for now.  Most of this is stuff I wish I'd known when I was starting my stash, so I hope it helps anyone just starting out!  I'll be adding things as I think of stuff I've missed.

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