The Benefits of Natural Fibers

There are a number of absorbent materials available for cloth diapering. Microfiber is probably the most commonly used- it allows manufacturers to keep the cost of diapers low, while providing a decent level of absorbency. After using my fair share of microfiber and finding aspects of it frustrating, I started to try some natural fiber inserts. The cotton prefolds I used in the newborn stage had been surprisingly absorbent, and my research revealed that natural fibers might actually be superior to microfiber in some situations. I discovered that natural fibers can be extremely absorbent while remaining more trim than microfiber, that they may be easier to keep clean, and that they can be gentler on a sensitive baby’s skin.

 

The natural fiber options I added to my stash included organic cotton, bamboo, and hemp blends. While they require more preparatory washing than microfiber, I quickly discovered that they held more urine than the microfiber inserts I was using. For example, one tri-folded bamboo viscose insert held at least as much urine as a medium/large microfiber insert. Frequently, the inserts I tried were more trim than the microfiber. Suddenly I was able to double-stuff a naptime diaper without any difficulty. Two of the bamboo viscose inserts greatly outpreformed two microfiber inserts, and were about half as thick.

 

Compared to cleaning microfiber, cleaning natural fibers comes easily for me. Not everyone deals with microfiber “stinkies” but at times, I did. The majority of my diaper laundry could be perfectly clean and without odor, but some of the microfiber inserts would cling to stains and scents. It was frustrating, to say the least! Some brands will suggest that bleach be used on microfiber to avoid this problem, but bleach is a cleaning product I prefer not to use. Once I started using the natural fiber inserts, I noticed that I wasn’t dealing with any unpleasant smells- and I didn’t have to use bleach, or any other harsh additives, to keep the inserts from getting stinky.

 

Another issue, which isn’t a problem for all families, is that of sensitive skin. My son reacts to exposed PUL easily. I have seen babies who have reactions to microsuede or microfleece, used to cover a microfiber insert. When families encounter this difficulty I suggest they give some natural fiber diapers a try, to find a fiber that won’t cause a reaction for their sensitive-skinned baby. Of course some children could have sensitivities to various natural fibers, but in general they are a good alternative for babies whose skin doesn’t tolerate the synthetic blends used in microfiber topped with microsuede or microfleece.

 

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I decided I had to try Bottombumpers, first and foremost, because all of their designs feature natural fibers inside of the diapers. Every Bottombumpers diaper is lined with 100% organic cotton, and their soakers are also made of 100% organic cotton. Not only do Bottombumpers use this natural fiber option, they go a step further and create a stay-dry lining with a top soaker layer made from organic bamboo velour. This commitment to a fully natural fiber lining and absorbency system, coupled with a natural fiber stay-dry element, is difficult to find among national cloth diaper brands. There are lots of reasons to love the innovative design of Bottombumpers, but in my opinion, this is what makes Bottombumpers such a standout diaper.

 

If you are frustrated with microfiber, want to find something more trim and absorbent, or know that your baby is having reactions to synthetic fibers, you should consider trying some natural fiber inserts or diapers. Remember that you will need to do additional prep washes- anywhere from 2 to 5 for most fibers, depending upon the brand’s suggestion. (These extra prep washes help to increase the absorbency of the fibers.) Typically the cost will be slightly more than that of a synthetic fiber diaper, but the benefits can far outweigh the extra investment!

 

Talk back!

Have you tried replacing your microfiber inserts with natural fiber inserts? Did the natural fiber linings and soakers draw you to Bottombumpers diapers?

Diaper Laundry – It Doesn’t Have to be a Messy Ordeal

When I teach Cloth Diapering 101, there are a few questions that seem to pop up in every class. The topic that every family wants to discuss, in detail, is the wash routine. (A close second place- “What are all of these styles of diapers and how do they work?”) From my experiences with so many people, it seems that laundry questions and concerns are the number one barrier to a family choosing to use cloth diapers. They also tend to become the number one frustration for cloth diapering families. Perhaps this is because there is so much information online- much of it conflicting, or at least more involved than is really necessary.

 

I have seen some claims online that there is no need to tailor a washing routine. Having lived in three different geographic regions during my time using cloth diapers, I have to reject this “one size fits all” laundry fantasy. I have experienced the effect that different water types can have on the results of a laundry routine, and after some trials and tweaks, a theme has emerged. In my experience, a basic laundry formula exists, but special circumstances call for adjustments to the basic plan.

 

For me, the basic routine that has been constant from day one, is rinse – wash – rinse. I have a “traditional”  (aka OLD) machine, which I love because it allows me to easily adjust the water level to the needs of any given load of diapers. In the first rinse cycle I use cold water with my machine’s extra rinse cycle. It has a short agitation period, which helps to remove the inevitable gunk on the dirty diapers. I make sure to use a high water level in this cycle. Once the spin cycle is complete, I do a washing cycle with detergent. I finish my routine with a final cold rinse and spin, to ensure that my diapers are free of lurking detergent.

 

There are differing opinions about what the temperature of the detergent cycle should be. When my son was born, we lived in Germany and my washing machine did not offer warm or hot water! If I wanted to use the machine to wash my diapers (as opposed to doing wash in a bathtub) I had to use cold water. I spent a lot of time fretting over this, but after lots of research I discovered that if my water temperature couldn’t be above 140 degrees farenheit, the hot water wouldn’t kill the bacteria anyway. (Science News, “The Case for Very Hot Water” http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/37933/description/The_Case_for_Very_Hot_Water ) Instead of washing in moderately-hot water in my bathtub, I opted to use the cold water detergent cycle and to sun-dry, or machine dry, my diapers. Dryer heat, or the sun’s heat and UV rays, will help to kill many microbes lurking in diapers. Bonus points to the sun for helping to remove staining, naturally!

 

When I returned to the US, I had the luxury of choosing between cold, warm, or hot washing cycles. Some people prefer to use the hot water option even if they know their water heater’s upper limit isn’t set high enough to kill bacteria, because the hot water makes them feel more comfortable in their wash routine. Others are of the opinion that warm water, in conjunction with machine or sun drying, is sufficient to kill germs and will be more gentle on the fibers of their diapers over time. Some people even go as far as to recalibrate their water heater so it will exceed 140 degrees farenheit. (If you choose this option, please remember that your water can scald during a shower, a bath, or dish washing and adjust the faucet accordingly!) Different diaper brands suggest different washing temperatures, which certainly can add to the confusion about which water temperature is the “right” one for your laundry. Personally, I take the middle route, opting for warm water and sunning, with occasional machine drying. I believe in making informed decisions, and understand that my choice won’t feel like the right one for every family, so in my classes I encourage people to consider the options and to choose the one that seems to be the best fit for their situation.

 

As I have mentioned, I prefer sunning diapers as the ultimate method of drying. But line drying can leave diapers stiff, so many families wonder if it is safe to put their diaper laundry in the dryer. In general, inserts that are free of elastics and PUL/TPU are safe in the dryer, though medium heat or lower is preferrable because repeated exposure high heat will break down fibers more quickly. Covers and items with elastic can go through dryer cycles occasionally, but again require medium or low heat to maintain the integrity of the waterproofing material or elastic long-term. In the end, will some electric dryer cycles hurt your diapers? Probably not that much. But if you hope to use the same stash for more than one child, minimizing the time the diapers spend in the electric dryer will help to keep the diapers in great condition. During the winter, I will sometimes use a combination method, where I hang my covers, pockets, all-in-ones, and hybrid shells on a drying rack by a window, and put my inserts and prefolds in the dryer.

 

I have tried a number of detergents and discovered that different options have worked well with different water types. In Germany our water was very average- not particularly hard or soft. I used a cloth diaper safe detergent very happily there, and it was not specially formulated for any particular water type. When I first returned to the US my son and I stayed in Pennsylvania with family for a number of weeks. My parents have well water that is treated with a house-wide water softener, which results in very soft water. (It tastes delicious, incidentally.) The detergent I used in Germany continued to work well during this time, though I discovered that I needed to use less than I had in Germany. If I used the same amount I had used overseas, I had some residual detergent in my final rinse. I decreased the amount of detergent from 2 tbsp to 1 tbsp- the amounts suggested by the manufacturer for regular and HE washers, respectively. Even though I was using a regular washing machine, the very soft water just didn’t need much detergent to get the diapers clean. It was nice to go through my detergent so slowly!

 

We finally settled in Colorado, where our water can only be described as horrifyingly hard. It is mineral-laden and every running of the shower leaves bright white water spots on the glass door. My old standby detergent suddenly left my diapers smelly and looking, well, not-so-fresh. I started to try samples of cloth diapering detergents specifically formulated for hard water. Some seemed to work for a little while, but none seemed to do the job quite as well as my old detergent in normal- to soft- water. I even tried non-cloth diaper detergents to see if they would help; my son (whose skin is fairly sensitive) had bad reactions and even my normal laundry didn’t seem as clean as usual. After a decent amount of frustration, some attempts at stripping, and even a foray into the world of bleach (which I generally avoid altogether) I finally figured out the trick to laundering with very hard water. Using a water softener such as Calgon can make all the difference if you have struggles with hard water laundering. This trick is especially useful if you can’t afford a whole-house water softening system. Adding some water softener to the detergent cycle can help the detergent to provide its most effective cleaning. I wish I had realized much sooner, that my hard water was preventing my detergent from doing its job!

 

Often people will ask me about various laundry additives such as vinegar, bleach, and tea tree oil. Full disclosure- I have tried all of these at different times in my cloth laundering journey. I had varying success with the products and overall I prefer to figure out a reliable routine that works without having to add anything that is potentially harsh on the diapers or a child’s skin. I also caution everyone to find out if an additive will influence the warranty on new diapers, and to take that into consideration before choosing to use something extra in the wash routine. In some cases it might be worth the risk- for example, I used tea tree oil on my prefolds when my newborn son had a yeast rash, and I am glad I made that decision. But that is going to be a personal risk versus reward assessment for any family.

 

In the end, the key to successful cloth diaper laundering is finding a routine that works for you (again, I highly recommend the basic rinse-wash-rinse method) and when troubles arise, discovering the reason for the issue. You don’t necessarily need to involve yourself in some confusing, excessive washing routine. If your root problem is the condition of your water, fix that. If your root problem is going too long between washings, adjust your laundering frequency. If your diapers hold on to ammonia, rinse them right after use (including urine-only diapers) and wash frequently- add an ammonia bouncer if better rinsing and more frequent washing doesn’t help. Don’t be afraid to ask a manufacturer, local store, or online retailer for help discovering your root issue. And as much as possible, keep it all simple! Your cloth diaper laundry should not become a major source of anxiety in your life. You’re a parent, you’ve got enough to worry about.

My Cloth Diapering Journey

My earliest memory of cloth diapers is from my childhood, but the diapers weren’t used for my younger sister, brother, or even for myself. My great-grandmother gave my mom some soft prefolds when I was born. We used them to dust the house. I would spritz some kind of artificial lemon-scented dust-busting spray on the quilted surface when it was my turn to wipe down the furniture. I don’t remember thinking of them as diapers at that point- to me, they were just rags that my mother had been reusing for years. It wasn’t until I started learning about cloth diapers, over 20 years later, that I made the connection and got the back story from my mom. She said the convenience culture of disposables was too tempting when compared with those folded cloths, sharp pins, and plastic underpants.

I married somewhat young, right after I graduated from college. My husband was in the Army and within a few weeks my life changed substantially. I started my first adult-type job and moved to a new city in a new state. The only person I knew, was my husband. I was so thankful when he introduced me to Jennifer, a bubbly and warm woman who took me under her wing despite our difference in ages. Jennifer’s house was one of those places filled with humor and creativity. Her two children benefited from their mother’s incredible energy, love, and her insanely well-honed cooking skills. Jennifer and I loved to shop online together, showing each other Doc Marten’s and wrap dresses we longed to be able to afford. “Next payday!” we would say. And this simple ritural of online window shopping, revealed to me to world of modern cloth diapers.

Jennifer was never one to do what was easy or what was the social norm- she would embrace the more challenging path if she thought it was the right thing to do. When she became pregnant with her third baby, she started telling me all about the amazing cloth diapers she was discovering online. She told me that it was going to be easy to deal with cloth diapers- which seemed unrealistic to me at the time, but then again, I saw how she was capable of anything. She talked a little bit about all the money she was going to save, but at that point I mostly saw the sticker prices of an individual pocket diaper. I wondered how people could afford enough diapers if each one cost fifteen dollars or more. I wondered if her washing machine would be able to handle the mess. I wondered if it would be a huge pain whenever she wanted to leave the house. And despite all of the doubts, I also had a feeling that she was on to something really smart.

It would be another five years, and a move to Germany, before I was pregnant for the first time. I hadn’t spent much time considering cloth diapers during that time, but it was one of the first things I began to research after I got a positive test. I spent so many hours reading about cloth diapers- the different styles, positive and negative aspects of various designs, about a million different laundry routines and opinions on the best brands. I started realizing that if cloth diapering was something I really felt compelled to do, I could find solutions for all of my early doubts. I set aside money from my own paychecks so that I would be able to afford to try a variety of diapers. When I presented my well-researched desire to cloth diaper to my husband, he was actually excited! He listened to my endless debating over which items to purchase online. We were doing everything with only our internet research- like so many families, the first time we actually saw a modern cloth diaper in person was when our first box of “fluffy mail” arrived.

I chose a fairly representative variety for my original diaper collection, including pockets, all-in-ones, hybrids, and prefolds with covers. My husband and I practiced putting the diapers together and wrapping the prefolds around teddy bears. As our fingers fumbled with the Snappi (“Am I going to stab him?”) we bonded over this new adventure. From acquaintences, I regularly heard that I was “crazy” and that I would give up pretty soon. My friends were more supportive, hopefully because they realized that I like to follow through when I make a decision, but possibly because they didn’t want to be rude or incur my pregnant anger.

When my son arrived in 2010, my husband and I had been given a few packages of disposable newborn diapers. We used them along with our newborn-sized prefolds, until the disposable diapers ran out. At that point, we stuck with our cloth diapers. Every time I changed a diaper for those first few weeks, I was so happy- I could already tell that I was going to save money because of this choice. When my mom visited, she said she wished these modern diapers had existed when I was a baby!

At home full-time with a young baby, I had a fair amount of “down time” for a little while. My son liked to nurse very frequently. I would sit with him, nursing, and reading things online pretty often. At the same time, I had friends asking me lots of questions about cloth diapering. I found myself typing the same answers repeatedly. I decided to start a cloth diapering weblog, where I reviewed diapers, talked about the money I was saving, and discussed different laundering routines and options. Cloth diapers became a hobby and I loved helping friends and complete strangers alike. As my son became more mobile, I had less and less time to write in my blog. But thankfully another exciting life change was just around the corner.

When my son was eight months old, we moved from Germany to Colorado Springs. An internet search prior to our move revealed that the Springs was home to real, live, brick-and-mortar cloth diapering stores. I visited one the day after I arrived. It was so exciting to me that I was living in a community that was able to support multiple storefronts dedicated to cloth diapers. In the past two years I have worked at one store, taught Cloth Diapering 101 classes there, and was even its interim owner and operator. I love meeting families who are considering cloth diapers and watching their eyes light up as they realize how many options they have. It is pretty amazing to help someone overcome obstacles and make a plan to use cloth, and to see them succeed with their goals over time.

I’m thrilled to be involved with the Bottombumpers blog. I hope that I can provide helpful information and relatable anecdotes to those of you following along. Happy cloth diapering!

 

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