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How to Cloth Diaper, Troubleshooting, Washing Issues

Cloth Diaper Care Instructions – How To Make Them Last For Years

One of the perks of cloth diapers is that you can use them over and over again, saving lots of money and lessening the amount of waste you generate in the process.

Another perk is that ideally you can use your cloth diapers for multiple children, compounding the savings!

However, it is important to emphasize that cloth diapers are NOT indestructible. They are just as prone to wear and tear as any piece of clothing.

In fact, they’re probably prone to MORE wear and tear.

Think about this: Most people have enough cloth diapers for 2-3 day washing. That means you are wearing and washing cloth diapers anywhere from 2-3 times a week…the same cloth diapers are getting used and washed very frequently.

Think about your favorite shirt and how long you have had it. How often do you wear it and how often do you wash it?
hanging-shirts

Most of us probably wear our favorite clothes once a week or once every 2 weeks. We hope most clothes will last a couple years. If we want clothes to last longer, we invest in high quality brands that we know are made well to withstand the wear and tear over time.

But are we surprised if a shirt we love starts to develop signs of wear after two years? Not really. Especially if we opted for a low-quality brand.

However, some people expect a cloth diaper (which is washed and used anywhere from 3-6 times more often than your favorite shirt) to somehow be indestructible and have a 10+ year lifespan because that is the impression that was made on them when they initially invested in cloth diapers.

Don’t get me wrong–you can definitely use your cloth diapers on more than one child. I have! I have been using the same cloth diapers for almost 5 years now (though I have added new ones to my stash over time). My oldest didn’t potty train until after age 3 and my kids are just about 3 years apart, so many of my diapers have had constant use and washing 2-3 times a week for 5 years.

However, my diapers definitely started showing wear and tear at the 3-year mark, and after almost 5 years, I am finding I have some diaper shells that are ready to be retired (or at least will require some repair, like replacing elastics, if I wish to continue using them).

I would say my cloth diaper use was average, and maybe we were slightly hard on them. I think there are things I could have done to prolong their lives more, but overall I’m pleased with how long they have lasted.

Have Realistic Expectations

Before I explain how to best care for cloth diapers for longevity, I just want to reiterate that having realistic expectations is important.

No, your diaper was not poor quality if some elastics started to relax after a couple years. No, it’s not junky if you had to repair a seam here and there.

Remember, diapers are essentially clothes. You need to treat them with care to make them last, just like any other article of clothing you own. But even with really gentle care, clothes that get washed so frequently are prone to some wear and tear over time.

But even if the elastics start to wear out or whatever other problem arises after a couple years, more than likely they are still usable! They may just be better for older babies/toddlers or other specific situations, but it’s very unlikely they need to be thrown in the garbage or recycled. You may also be able to do some simple repairs and they will be as good as new.

All that aside, here are some ways to make your cloth diapers last as long as possible.

1. Choose Natural Materials

cotton-prefolds

Natural materials such as organic cotton, hemp, or bamboo are going to hold up much better overtime to frequent washing than microfiber. Microfiber can lose some absorbency overtime, whereas natural fibers will likely retain their same levels of absorbency if cared for well.

However, almost all diapers come with an outer layer of PUL or TPU on the outside as the waterproof layer. It is synthetic and definitely prone to wear and tear if not adequately cared for. So even if you choose organic cotton all-in-ones, if it has an outer layer of PUL/TPU, you will need to care for them gently.

One way to make this easier to do is to choose a system like all-in-twos or prefolds & covers. Choose natural fibers for your all-in-two inserts (prefolds are usually natural fibers already). That way, your diapers are actually separate pieces and you will likely be able to retain the quality of your natural fiber inserts/prefolds for many, many years. If your PUL or TPU has a problem, it’s not a whole diaper that is ruined–does that make sense?

2. Choose A Quality Detergent & Reasonable Wash Routine

powder-laundry-detergentChoose a high-quality laundry detergent that gets your diapers clean with the least amount of wash cycles possible. Tide Original is a popular choice because it can clean diapers very well the first time. Other detergent choices may have you running more cycles per load, or choosing heavier-duty cycle options. Both of those things have the potential to wear your diapers out faster.

While we don’t want to wash diapers on the “delicate” option (not enough agitation), there is a reason why it exists! Some articles of clothing can wear out much faster with too much agitation. Agitation is essential for getting cloth diapers clean, but that doesn’t mean they are immune to the impact that may have over time.

All that said, having a good quality detergent will enable you to have a reasonable wash routine without too many extra cycles. That will help protect your diapers over time (and save water!)

It will also prevent the need for extras like vinegar and bleach. Vinegar and bleach can be used on diapers at times to fix issues, but they can be hard on the diapers, too. Using a good detergent will minimize the need for any extra substances to be used on your diapers.

3. Do Not Soak Your Diapers

Soaking cloth diapers after use until the next was is a practice that used to be pretty common. It is not really recommended anymore with modern cloth diapers.

First of all, it’s generally unsanitary.

Second, it’s an unnecessary mess to worry about and clean up. The last think you need is to create extra work for yourself.

Third, it is very hard on modern cloth diaper materials. It can be hard on the PUL/TPU and the elastics. For the long-term health of your diapers, store them in a dry pail in between washes.

4. Avoid the Dryer

While it is safe to use the dryer on LOW heat for most cloth diapers, that does have the potential to wear out the PUL and elastics over the course of a couple years. Hang drying your diapers may help prolong their lifespan.

If you purchase a system like all-in-twos or prefolds & covers, you can put the inserts in the dryer (the dryer should not negatively impact the natural materials) and hang dry the covers.

5. Purchase a Larger Diaper Stash

cloth-diaper-stash

If you have more diapers to cycle through, you can do laundry less often, which will also help your diapers hold up better over time. It also saves water and electricity to wash less often. Depending on what style of diaper you are using, you could get 5+ days in one load.

Now, that will not work for ALL diapers. Some diapers are much bulkier and will take up more space in your washing machine. But it could definitely work out for an all-in-two system!

6. Brand Matters

Just as buying high-quality clothes makes them last longer, buying a better brand of cloth diapers will help with longevity, as well. It doesn’t mean these higher quality diapers are immune (because it’s still lots of heavy use!), but they will be able to withstand a little more.

broken-alvaI have seen people in cloth diaper support groups saying they regret purchases of higher-end brands because they feel like Alvas (or other China Cheapies) work just as well. It’s hard to argue against people’s personal experiences. However, I have noticed that many people that say this have not necessarily been cloth diapering for that long (one year or less).

Alva diapers do work, and they are a fabulous option for people on a budget. Same with other China Cheapies. I’m not saying don’t buy Alvas if that’s what your budget requires, but I am saying you should be prepared to do some repairs on them, and maybe even purchase more of them down the line.

There is nothing wrong with that as long as that is your expectation. But if you want your Alvas to last 5 or 6 years without any sort of repair needed, you will be disappointed. Here you can see my experience with Alvas–again, I think they’re a great budget option! But you’re not going to get several years of use with no repairs out of them. πŸ™‚

My bumGenius diapers have not needed any repairs in almost 5 years, though the elastic is looser now. My Alvas didn’t even make it a year until they needed to be repaired, and now I need to have a sewing day and repair many of them again. Which brings me to #6…

7. Be Willing To Do Repairs

If you want something to last a long time, you need to be willing to keep up with maintenance, including mending them when necessary. If you notice a seam starting to give out, reinforce it or stitch it back up before the problem gets worse.

Elastics can be replaced on diapers relatively easily, too. You can buy replacement elastic online. Here is a quick tutorial I found on YouTube for putting new elastics in:

It says 5 minutes, so I’m sure that would be 60 minutes for me. πŸ™‚ I have relied on my mom to help me repair diapers in the past, but I have a major goal of becoming more handy with a needle and thread/sewing machine.

Can Cloth Diapers Last Through Multiple Kids?

In short, definitely! But:

If you follow my advice, you should have no problem making your diaper stash last for several years.

What brand of cloth diaper has held up well for you over the years? Let me know in the comments!

Holly Lee

I'm Holly and I'm the mom of two awesome young boys. We have been cloth diapering for 5 years. My family and I live in Minnesota with our dog, Ruby, and cat, Gherkin. Outside of Rocking the Cloth, I am also a middle school teacher. Thank you for visiting Rocking the Cloth--feel free to email me at holly@rockingthecloth.com if you have any questions or concerns. I'd love to help!

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10 Comments

  1. Hi there πŸ™‚ I see how expensive Pampers are and also about how to be more eco-friendly. Natural cloth diapers are a perfect solution. I never knew how to maintain them to keep them in good condition for several years. Thanks to your article I know what I should do with diapers to protect them. Thanks a lot!

    1. Holly Lee says:

      Glad you found it helpful!

  2. Matt's Mom says:

    I have my first grand baby coming very soon and my daughter-in-law is going to use cloth diapers.  So I had been looking for the best ones to purchase for her.  This is great information on care and really everything she needs to know.  I am going to bookmark this site and show it to her.  Thanks for the great invaluable information!  I’m looking forward to my new grand baby and I will be using this advice too!

    1. Holly Lee says:

      That’s wonderful! Your daughter-in-law is lucky to have your support!

  3. AnnetteCristina says:

    Wow, cloth diapers sure have come a long way since my kids were young. I had no idea you could replace the elastic either.  There’s no question that using cloth diapers is a huge money saver hands down. Which brand of detergent do you recommend? Many parents often have to resort to disposable diapers during the time their children are in daycare. Has that been your experience? 

    1. Holly Lee says:

      Hi Annette!

      Tide is probably to most widely used detergent for cloth diapers and most people feel like it works the best. I would agree. I’ve used a handful of detergents, and I always go back to Tide. I’m experimenting right now with a “green” detergent and plan to write a post about how it compares to Tide. Still in the experimentation stage so I can’t say for sure yet. That was probably more info than you needed there, hah! But anyway, Tide is great for cloth diapers.

      I’ve been very fortunate that I have never had a daycare turn down cloth diapers (we interviewed 3). Here is a post for using them at daycare that might help.

  4. Kinggold19 says:

    I salute the person that reviews this article. Motherhood is not an easy task, and this information is really amazing. What I would like to say about this is that cloth diapering is a good choice to make, and the best way to go about it here has been outlined. Choose natural materials, to buying a quality detergent and washing routine and so on. But make sure you buy more diapers so as not to wear out the one you already have. Good job & Well done. 

    1. Holly Lee says:

      Thank you!

  5. Nicole Stiles says:

    We cloth diaper, but are new at it. I’ve been learning the ins and outs of the washing routine. I try to wash daily or every other day so that the poop doesn’t stay in them for too long. We have plenty of flats to last several days. My mom just bought us some more pockets as well. I didn’t know to expect the microfibers to not last as long. That’s good to know. When they don’t last as well as the others, I’ll know why. Thanks for all this great info.

    1. Holly Lee says:

      No problem! For what it’s worth, microfiber *theoretically* doesn’t last as long…but I’m still using much of the same microfiber that I was using 5 years ago with little issue. πŸ™‚

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