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Alternative Diapering 101

Alternative Diapering 101

Madeleine Shaw is co-founder of Lunapads International and proud Mom to almost-5 year old Gigi . And she knows more about cloth diapering than anyone you know.   Today she shares her extensive wisdom with the Mommazon’s of the GirlieGirl Army;

Your belly’s looking nice and round and you’re looking forward to the bliss of snuggle & smiles – and on the other hand, the not-so-blissful reality of dealing with your bundle of joy’s toileting needs. Mainstream disposables are an eco nightmare: what are the alternatives?

It can seem a bit overwhelming at first, but I’d like to share my own story in the hopes of assuring you that you too can find a way to manage your child’s waste in an eco-friendly way that suits your lifestyle.


The benefits of choosing alternative diapering products and practices are practically identical to those of choosing cloth menstrual pads or the DivaCup (something to think about for when your period resumes, if you’re not already a fan), namely:

* Financial savings: up to $2000 per child.

* Earth Friendly: keep more than 7000 disposable diapers out of landfills – equivalent to one tonne of solid waste per child.

* Easy to use: innovations in recent years have made cloth diapers just as easy to put on and take off as disposables: no more pins and crinkly plastic pants!   And the washing – if you can operate a washing machine you can do this, without getting your hands dirty.

* Reduce exposure to potential toxins: parents choosing to use cloth diapers know exactly what is up against their child’s delicate skin 24 hours a day.   Disposable diapers don’t always include full disclosures on their “ingredient” list.

* Promote better skin health: with less chemical exposure in cloth and cloth diapers being changed more often, babies in cloth often have a healthier environment for their skin.

* Earlier Potty Training: Parents using cloth diapers tend to be very aware of their child’s elimination patterns and are able to help them learn in a more efficient manner.   Children that have been diapered in cloth often retain the association with “I pee and I am wet” facilitating earlier and easier learning.

What’s the tradeoff?

* There is an initial investment that is not present with weekly purchases of disposables (you can use a gift registry to get started, or look into picking up some second hand cloth diapers – most are so well made that they can easily last for several children – and no, this is not gross.)

* There is a bit of a learning curve – you need to educate yourself about how to make this system work in your life.

* Without the needed learning, there is a higher rate of families discontinuing cloth diapering due to perceived failure.

* There will be two to three extra loads of laundry to do each week.

Cloth diapering: My “Recipe for Success”

When I had my daughter in 2005 I already knew that I wanted to use cloth and got a few different types to start me off. I experimented and adapted to suit my own lifestyle and would like to share my “recipe” for successful cloth diapering in the hopes in inspiring any fence-sitters out there.

You will need:

– about 2 dozen cloth diapers and 6 covers (or equivalent AIO diapers – more on the different designs shortly)

– a large pail with a lid

– biodegradable detergent and hydrogen peroxide

– washing machine and (preferably) dryer

– a roll or 2 of diaper liners (disposable or cloth –   I have never had much luck with them personally, but many people find them really useful.)

Use the diapers, remove any fecal matter into the toilet (this is easier once your child starts eating solids), and leave the used diapers in the bucket. If you are out of the house, store them in a plastic bag and/or reusable “wet bag”. I washed a load about every 3 days.

Initially I soaked the diapers, but after a while realized that it wasn’t really necessary in our climate, which made things a lot easier. Wash the diapers twice in hot water with biodegradable detergent and tumble or line dry.

Once I got comfortable with cloth diapers, I moved on to cloth wipes. I liked these so much that I now make a package of a wipe warmer and cloth wipes as a shower gift for friends. Take the wipes on the road with you as well (I used one of the plastic ones that you can get with a small quantity of disposable wipes.)

You will need:

– 1 “wipe warmer” (readily available at baby stores)

– about 4 dozen kiddie washcloths or cut-up bits of flannel or other cotton fabric (Lunapads sells organic fleece wipes that would be perfect for this)

– liquid soap

Note: the wipe warmer instructions will tell you not to put water in it – ignore this. Take the cloths and stack them inside the warmer. Take a tall drinking glass and add 1 pump of liquid soap, then fill with hot tap water. Empty the glass into the warmer on top of the cloths. Use the wipes as necessary and put the used ones in with the diapers & wash together. You will notice that these homemade wipes work better than disposables and are also not chilly on baby’s bum.

What cloth diapering options are out there these days?

There are cloth diapers made for any parent’s lifestyle whether your priorities centre on budget, convenience, natural options or simplicity.

A cross section of what’s available today includes cloth diapers made from natural fibres such as organic cotton, hemp or bamboo, wet-proof cloth diaper covers made of high tech breathable fabrics, one-step cloth diapers with everything integrated and one-size cloth diapers that can be used from birth to potty training.

Starbunz Pig, $24.95 @
Starbunz Pig, $24.95 @

There are 3 main types of cloth diapers: prefolds (flat diapers that do in fact need to be folded), fitted diapers, covers (used for both prefolds and fitted diapers, and All-in-One – commonly known as AIOs, that include both the diaper and the cover in one piece.   Fitted diapers are further subdivided into Pocket diapers (where a cloth insert is folded and inserted into the cover) and a style where the fitted diaper goes on first, followed by the cover.

And the newest invention: a swap-in disposable insert that is compatible with your existing cloth diapering system so that when life demands something more convenient, you can have some guilt-reduced convenience.

So how do you choose?

I wouldn’t worry too much about finding the “right” or “best” style. As is the case with cloth menstrual pads, anyone who cares enough to make them for a living probably has an excellent product – the important thing is to commit to going for it and making at least an initial choice.

Consider a less costly option for your first diapers as you’ll need the most of them and use them for the shortest time.   The second set won’t be as numerous and you’ll use them for longer so this is where to weight your budget.   You’re often also dealing with wigglier babies at this stage and easier (ie AIO) diapers may work better.

Even if you go for very simple/economic such as prefolds, it’s a good idea to have a few “one step diapers” like Pockets or AIOs around for trips out or grandma, etc.

There are several cloth diaper companies that offer “Sampler Kits” that allow you to try several brands.   I would try to connect with some other local Moms who are already cloth diapering (the forums at Motheringdotcommune – known as “MDC” at, are the best way to “find your tribe” locally) and get tips from them about local suppliers or leads on second-hand diapers.   Again, chances are that you will be able to find a Mom-owned business close to where you are who will have a good selection and be happy to answer your questions just by googling “cloth diapers (my city or town)”.

What are some of the myths of cloth diapering?

The biggest ones are the anticipation of how difficult it will be, the worry about leaking and the cost.   As we’ve already discussed, the work of cloth diapering is relatively minimal and the cost is surprisingly affordable over the three years of cloth diapering.   Leaking is a fixable issue. Cloth diapers are engineered to prevent leaks and contain what comes out of your baby.

That said, there are no chemicals in cloth diapers to make them super absorbent like disposables. To get the best performance from a cloth diaper we suggest the following:   ensure a good fit around the legs and the waist (no gaps), increase absorbency in special situations like at night or long car rides and change your baby every 2-3 hours during the day.   These are simple, yet effective methods to ensure that your cloth diapers do what they are meant to!

What other alternatives are there?

New biodegradable disposables, as well as Elimination Communication (skipping diapers completely in favor of learning when you child needs to go and helping them on the toilet) are other options to consider – see the links below for more information.

See Also

Congratulations and good luck!

Businesses we recommend for cloth diaper supplies:

New & Green (Canadian Orders only, sorry!)

Happy Tushies (Great selection of wet bags here)

Earthy Babes

Cotton Babies


Jam Tots

…and don’t forget to pick up some Lunapads or a DivaCup while you’re there ;-)

Other Alternatives

G Diapers

Broody Chick

“Flip” diapers

Nature Babycare

Articles about Alternative Diapering from the Lunapads blog

Elimination Communication

Cloth Diapering

Cloth Wipes

More information about Elimination Communication

Madeleine Shaw is a former fashion designer, co-founder of Lunapads International and proud Mom to almost-5 year old Gigi who calls Vancouver BC home. She is a longtime designer and proponent of all things reusable, including menstrual pads and cups, shopping bags, napkins and more. You can learn more about her company and products at

Madeleine offers many thanks to Karen Randall, founder of the New & Green Diaper Company in Vancouver, whose excellent articles about cloth diapering were liberally plagiarized here. You can read them below;

Cloth Diapering Guide Part 1

Cloth Diapering Guide Part 2

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