Cloth Diapers Part 1: The “Ew” Factor

A friend of mine requested a post on cloth diapers.  Because disposable diapers are still the norm, there is a lot of misinformation out there about using cloth diapers.  So I thought instead of doing one post about cloth diapering, that I would do a series on the topic.

For the next few Fridays I will post about different aspects of cloth diapering.  Today’s post is on the “ew” factor.  Cloth diapers are not gross, but a lot of people do still believe that using them is dirty and unsanitary.  If you are thinking about going with cloth diapers for your little one, then you will definitely want to follow this series (see also the “further reading” list).

While cloth diapering is becoming more mainstream, many parents still resist this option.  If you believe that using cloth diapers means dunking poop in the toilet, an overwhelming stink and germs everywhere, then you are mistaken.  Cloth diapers today are so much better designed than they were in the past.  This means that a lot of things parents used to have to do to clean cloth diapers is now obsolete.

Here are the top three questions I am asked about cloth diapering that fall in the “ew factor” category, and the truth behind the myth of the dirty, stinky cloth diaper.

Ew #1: Don’t You Have to Dunk the Diaper in the Toilet?

Well, actually, no.  If your little one is breastfeeding exclusively, then her/his poop will be water-soluble.  If your child drinks formula or when she/he begins eating solids, then her/his poop will no longer be water-soluble.  However, you still won’t need to dunk diapers in the toilet.  Anything solid can be dropped into the toilet and flushed away (thank you gravity!), and anything squishy will come out in the wash.

Most people use a wet bucket (a garbage can with some water and natural detergent) for soaking/stain prevention.  Then you simply tip the entire contents of the wet bucket (water and all) into the washing machine.  We use a washable wet bag for Little Man’s dirty diapers that we empty into the washing machine.  And (gasp) I don’t even bother soaking them before they are laundered.

Ew #2: Don’t Dirty Cloth Diapers Smell Bad?

Cloth diapers can begin to smell bad after a lot of use if they have soap buildup or chemical residue on them, in which case they will need to be stripped properly.  After a year of cloth diapering Little Man, I still have never run into this problem, though.  There is always a twang when Little Man goes poop, regardless of whether it is in a disposable or cloth diaper. However, the smell is generally no better or worse in a cloth diaper.

You may find that disposable diapers are extra stinky the odd time that your little one manages a poop that shoots up and out the back of the diaper  (something that rarely happens in cloth diapers due to their design). Also, disposable diapers often have a bit of a weird chemical smell when there is a lot of pee inside (e.g. when disposable diapers are worn overnight).

Ew #3: Isn’t it Unsanitary to Reuse Diapers?

Is it unsanitary to wash and reuse your underwear?  As with any dirty clothing, proper washing and drying will ensure that cloth diapers are sanitary.  Some parents fall in the trap of believing that disposable diapers are more sanitary because they feel “dry” even when they are soiled.  In my opinion, sitting in a soiled diaper is far more unsanitary than wearing a properly laundered cloth diaper.

In order to clean diapers properly, it is recommended that you use a natural soap (with as few additives as possible) and wash the diapers on hot.  Fabric softener and dryer sheets are a definite no-no as they leave residue on diapers.  You should have enough diapers that you are going a maximum of three days between washes (at least 24 diapers).

There you have it, a few stinky mysteries solved.  What do you think?  Are cloth diapers great or gross?  I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic.  Thanks for reading today.  Stay tuned next Friday for a rundown of the many different types of cloth diapers available.

Further Reading (1999) The Top Ten Myths About Cloth Diapering. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 27 Apr 2012]. (2008) Etsy Cloth Diapers : Laundry Tips. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 27 Apr 2012]. (2008) Etsy Cloth Diapers : Myths and Complaints. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 27 Apr 2012].


9 thoughts on “Cloth Diapers Part 1: The “Ew” Factor

  1. Pingback: Cloth Diapers « Enjoying Each Moment

  2. Pingback: Cloth Diapers Part 2: Different Shapes for Different Babes | Yeah Baby it's Cold Outside

  3. Hi Catherine,

    First of all, thank you for the post on cloth diapers! We are now up and running with our cloth diapering routine for Baby C. We have several different kinds, but I prefer the GroVia diapers with a snap in soaker pad for going out and about because I just take an extra cover and some soaker inserts which cuts down on the bulkiness. I also really love the AMP diapers because they are made by a Canadian and so soft.

    Last night I was lazy and didn’t change C’s diaper in the night time because sometimes it isn’t wet and the change wakes her up. This morning she had soaked through all her layers and her crib sheet 😦 Bad mummy! So I will probably consider using a disposable at nighttime or playing around with various absorbencies for the cloth diaper.

    One trouble I’ve been having is that we have high efficiency laundry machines and sometimes when the clean diapers come out they still have a mild whiff of ammonia. I discovered the “wet towel trick” — add a wet towel which tricks the machine into thinking there is a larger load and thus adding more water. This helps, but isn’t perfect. I wonder if there is a better detergent. I’m using Nature Clean (liquid). Perhaps powder is better.

    Anyway, I really prefer cloth diapering to using disposables! Much better for her tushie and the environment 🙂

    • Hi SAlleyCat. Here is a link to a website that has solutions for some of the issues you mentioned (washing with a HE washer; the ammonia smell):

      In short you are suggested to run and extra rinse cycle at the beginning of your wash cycle (can be cold) to soak your diapers and make them heavier (avoiding the need for an extra towel in the load and providing more stain removing soaking time). Also, there is mention of a product that gets rid of the ammonia smell (Bum Genius Odor Remover), which I have not tried.

      As for the powdered detergent question, I’m not sure. I am the rebel that washes cloth diapers in cold water, so powder is a no-go for us (it should be fine for hot water, though). Instead I am currently using a homemade detergent, which I found the recipe for here: (I used Dr. Bronner’s soap bar instead of Ivory, though). Good luck with your cloth diapers.

  4. Pingback: Warding off Alzheimers « mimimouthsoff

  5. Hey Catherine,
    my english might not be so good, but here I go. I’ve been using cloth diapers for three months now, before Noam, 4 months old, was too small, and I have to admit I can usually smell when the time comes to change him. I do use disposable ecofreindly/biodegradable diapers at night time, because changing his diaper at night was waking him up more and making it harder to put him back to sleep; and for some reason, he pees like crazy at night, I would have to go throught 3 or 4 diapers a night. Cloth diapers are not as absorbant, but that’s the hole point when our little babies feel discumfort they tell us right away, and supposably it is faster when potty trainning them. I got over the ew factor , and my husband, who was like “WHAT poopy diaper, no way! ” now changes all the diapers during the weekend, because he is not home during the week. If he did it, anyone can!

    • Brigitte, tu parles de très bonne Anglais!

      Thanks for your opinion of your cloth diapers. What brand do you use? We also had to play around a to when Little Man was a newborn to get a good fit so that he wouldn’t wake up wet all the time. We have also opted to go with a disposable diaper at night time. Now that he is older and sleeps through the night I may try the cloth diaper for bedtime.

      I am glad that Alex is willing to change poopy diapers. It is amazing what you will be willing to do when it is your own child’s mess. 🙂 Thank you for your comments.

  6. Catherine, I just started using an all natural powder soap from the Bulk Barn and really like it . You just dissolve the quarter cup of powder in warm water and pour it into the washer. Also, it is a fabric softener so you don’t need to use those fabric softener sheets that have chemicals on them. Keep up the good work that you do. I love to see the pictures of your Little Man.

    • Thanks for the idea Mary. It is amazing what you can find at Bulk Barn these days. Right now I am using a homemade detergent that I made in October (not too bad for something that costed about $10!). Maybe when it is done I will look for the natural detergent you mentioned. Take care.

What do you think? Leave a reply.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s