Some readers may asking why one would consider using cloth diapers in the midst of our serious water shortage. But disposable diapers use up more natural resources than laundering cloth; toxic materials go into their manufacture. The diapers or materials to make them must be shipped to Israel. Then the diapers have to be transported to the store, to your house, and to the garbage truck, where they are (possibly) treated and sent to rot in a landfill for thousands of years. If laundry is so bad for the environment, perhaps we should wear disposable clothes. (We’ll save the discussion on disposable dishes for another time.)
Because Katherine asked so nicely I will share my diapering system with the world. As in other housekeeping decisions, my priorities are practicality and frugality. I found it easy. I am not, as one columnist suggested, a martyr to the cause of environmentalism.
- Two or three dozen “Chinese pre-folds,” absorbent flat rectangular diapers made of layers of cotton, with extra layers in the center. I chose the pre-folds over the “fitted” diapers or fitted “all-in-ones” because they a) cost less b) dry faster c) take up less space in the closet and washing machine and d) last longer, having no elastic. For babies I needed about 36 small ones, and for toddlers 24 large ones. You can use a towel or flannel blanket in a pinch, or sew your own, even out of used fabric, with very minimal skills.
- 3-5 “PVC” (a type of soft plastic fabric) diaper covers in each size. These close with snaps or velcro and keep the diaper from soaking onto the baby’s clothes. If you are a purist you can get wool covers.
- A large bucket or two for wet and dirty diapers. I never soaked diapers.
- Regular laundry detergent; my kids didn’t have sensitive skin. Yes, I know it’s bad for the environment, but I used a minimal amount.
- White vinegar (see below).
Everything was brought from the US by me or a relative. Most cloth diapers sold here are expensive. Fitted diapers are also cotton, but shaped like disposables. PVC covers work with them too. All-in-ones are fitted and include the plastic covering. Some all-in-ones come in one (adjustable) size so they be more economical in the long run, although they take more space in the machine and longer to dry.
I tossed used diapers into the pail. I tried to change the baby as soon as s/he was wet; in the early months that might have been once an hour. As long as the baby was exclusively breastfeeding I never rinsed diapers. After they started solids I dropped bm’s in the toilet and, if necessary, rinsed off the diaper into the toilet using a “niagara” (bidet — a hose with a sprayer at the end) that we installed ourselves. Rinsing diapers was by far the most annoying part of the experience. But cloth diapers absorb soft bms much better than inexpensive disposables, and rarely leak.
I washed the diapers separately three to four times a week, in a regular (cotton) cycle at 40 degrees Celsius (warm). I used much less than the recommended amount of detergent. Detergent residue left in the diapers interacts with fresh urine and begins to stink. Well-cared-for cloth diapers smell infinitely better than disposables. If the diapers did begin to smell, I washed them without detergent, in very hot water, with a half cup of white vinegar (placed in the fabric softener dispenser). I had to do this half a dozen times over the four years I used cloth.
Any stains came out after two or three washings at most, even with the low temperature. If you have a European front-loader like most Israelis, you can fit a lot of diapers into one load. Stuff them in up to the top. As long as you don’t have to force the door closed you are fine. You should have enough diapers for a load plus extra, depending on the season and whether you line- or machine-dry.
Covers need to be washed frequently, but with the household laundry and not with the diapers. They can be rinsed out in a pinch.
To diaper the baby you lay the cover out flat, place the folded diaper inside, and snap or velcro the cover with the diaper inside, onto the baby. No pins are necessary. If you like you can use pins or “snappies” to close the diapers before wrapping with the cover. This makes the baby and diaper easier to clean. Tuck in stray diaper corners into the cover or the baby’s clothes will get wet. I never changed diapers at night, I just added an extra diaper into the cover.