The No Sh*t Guide To Cloth Diapers And Poop
If the idea of standing over the toilet, trying to get poop off a diaper, turns your stomach, you’re not alone. One of the most frequently asked questions about using cloth diapers is:
“But what do you do about the poop?”
The thing is, it doesn’t matter whether your diaper is disposable or reusable; if you care for a baby, you’re going to deal with what comes out the bottom end. It’s all just a case of preparation and knowledge. Once you have those, you’re good to go.
So, we’ve searched the net, spoken with caregivers, and even hit up the occasional scientist to confirm what we’ve heard to bring you this, everything cloth diapering folks have learned about cloth diapers and poop.
The No Sh*t Guide to Cloth Diapers and Poop
Not all poo is created equal. Before you know how to deal with the poop in your child’s cloth diaper, it helps to know what kind of poop you’re dealing with.
What Type of Poo Does Your Baby Do?
Here we’re talking about the day-to-day poops your child will have, not the “special poops” such as when they are sick.
The makeup of your child’s waste and what you have to do with it depends on whether you are feeding with:
- Beast milk only
- Formula only
- A mixture of breastmilk and formula
- Any type of solid food
Exclusively Breast Milk Poop
A baby who consumes only breast milk has water-soluble poop. As a result, you do not have to rinse off or remove the poo from the diaper before washing. Just fold it up and drop it in your diaper pail.
Exclusively Formula Poop
Formula milk provides all of the nutrition your baby needs by combining those nutrients with milk. Whether it is cow, soy, or any other type of milk, that milk base is not fully and as efficiently digested in the same way as breast milk.
The poop of a formula-fed baby contains undigested elements of the base milk, which is what gives it the signature “poop stink.” These elements are not water-soluble, so as much poop as possible needs to be removed before storing and washing the dirty diaper.
Mixed Breastmilk and Formula Poop
If your baby has a combination of breast and formula, their diapers must be treated in the same way as exclusively formula baby poop. Remove as much as you can before storing and washing.
Post Solids Poop
Once you introduce solids to your baby’s diet, the amount of undigested waste in their poop cranks up, and it becomes more important to get rid of as much poop as possible before storage and washing.
Disposing of the Poop in Cloth Diapers
A baby who consumes only breast milk will produce water-soluble poo. You do not have to clean this off of the diaper before it is washed. However, if you want to remove as much as possible, the information for mixed feeding or exclusive formula milk diets applies.
If your baby has a diet that is exclusively formula milk, a combo of breast milk and formula, or any kind of milk plus solids, their poo is not water-soluble, and you’ll want to remove as much as possible before washing.
Cloth Diaper Liners
Some people opt for diaper liners to help them deal with the poop.
These are not the same as diaper inserts. A diaper insert is made to absorb fluids. A diaper liner does not absorb liquids. Instead, it acts only as a barrier between the diaper and poop, or the diaper and ointment minimizing how much comes into contact with the diaper itself.
Diaper liners can be single-use liners that you dispose of with the poo or reusable liners that you can wash and use again.
Disposable Diaper Liners
Disposable liners usually come in a roll. You tear off one liner, just like you would a piece of kitchen towel off a roll, then you lay it on the inside of your baby’s diaper. When you change the diaper, you dispose of the liner.
Reusable Diaper Liners
Reusable diaper liners are strips of cloth that you lay inside your baby’s diaper. At changing time, if a diaper is only wet, you simply drop it in the wet bag with the rest of the diaper.
If your baby has pooped, you can either spray, scrape, or shake off the poo and put the liner in the wet bag. Alternatively, if the poop is especially difficult to clear up, there’s always the option of throwing the liner away.
Fleece liners are especially popular for several reasons:
You can make them at home by simply cutting up an inexpensive receiving blanket. There’s no sewing involved because fleece doesn’t fray, and the average blanket makes roughly 30 liners.
Fleece wicks moisture away from the skin and leaves your baby feeling dryer for longer. This also helps prevent diaper rashes in babies who are especially sensitive to moisture against the skin.
- When you use fleece diaper liners, you place the “fluffy” side up. Then, when your baby has a bowel movement, 99% of the time, the poop effectively peels off the fabric, making clean up especially easy.
If you choose to make your own fleece diaper liners, the only word of caution we have is to double-check that the fleece you buy is microfleece. This is the same fabric you will find on the inside of our pocket diapers. Microfleece is lightweight, wicks moisture away from your child’s skin, and feels especially soft, even after multiple washes.
The other kind of fleece is polyester fleece. However, this type of fleece repels water which is excellent if you’re out in the rain, but the opposite of what you want inside a diaper.
The Downside to Liners
So, if making your own fleece diaper liners is such a fabulous idea, why doesn’t everyone do it?
Well, although fabric diaper liners can make poop clean up easier, they can also bunch up and if they do, they can cause discomfort.
Spray It Off
This method involves installing a manual sprayer on your toilet. This is an affordable, easy task, and you don’t need special tools or skills. You hold the diaper in the toilet bowl and spray water at the area where the poop meets the diaper. This dislodges the solids, and you can flush them away.
Spray guards are optional. In the example above, you clip the top of the diaper onto the bit at the top that looks like a clipboard. You then hold it so the other end of the guard is in the toilet bowl. When you spray your diaper, the guard prevents stray splashes from escaping.
Scrape It Off
Using something like a dollar store plastic spatula. Hold the diaper above the toilet bowl, so the end of the diaper is inside the toilet but above the waterline. Use the spatula to pry or scrape the solids off and into the water.
Shake It Off
If the poop is solid enough, and you’re brave enough, you can gently shake the poop off into the toilet bowl. This technique is only really suitable if there’s a good, solid poop that’s only lightly stuck to the fabric.
Swish It Off
This method is as old as toilet bowls, or perhaps even as old as cloth diapers themselves. To swish, you hold the diaper in the toilet bowl with the poop below the waterline. Then you swish, shimmy, and shake the diaper around in the water until the poop comes off.
The downside of this is that once you dunk the diaper in the water, it will quickly absorb a ton of liquid, leaving you holding a heavy, wet, dripping diaper.
Squirt It Off
Some people like to use a peri bottle or something similar and use a directed spray of water to remove poop from a reusable diaper. The downside to this is that you’ll usually need multiple peri bottles full of water on hand, or you’ll have to keep stopping and refilling the bottle.
Don’t Worry About Every Last Spot
Although it is important to minimize the amount of poop left on your diapers, you do not have to worry about removing every last speck before you put them into your pre-wash storage.
Storing Dirty Cloth Diapers
Long gone are the diaper storage methods of our grandmothers, where diapers sat in a big bucket of stinky water, complete with floating flecks of poo. Today’s diaper storage is way less difficult, usually in dry pails, and if you do it right, virtually odorless.
Old School Dirty Diaper Storage
Grandma would change the water every day to keep the smell down, then drain the fluids off on wash day.
Soaking in water helped avoid poop and pee drying into the diaper and causing the type of staining that was difficult, if not impossible to get out by the handwashing methods of the time.
That’s not taking into account that laundry was such an arduous, all-day task at this time that most, if not all, families would rinse out wet diapers, dry them, and use them again without an actual wash. Then diapers would be “properly” washed on laundry day.
Modern Dirty Diaper Storage
Today, the majority of people use “dry” storage for their dirty diapers. This usually consists of a reusable, waterproof sack rather confusingly called a “Wet Bag.” The bag either hangs on a hook or sits within a garbage can or similar container.
Solid waste is removed from the diaper, and the diaper is then dropped into the wet bag without further rinsing or soaking. Then, when you do the laundry, you lift the bag out of the pail, empty the diapers into the washing machine, and drop the bag in on top.
With a dry pail storage system, remember:
Counter-intuitively, airflow is crucial for dirty diaper storage. So, it’s important not to have a pail that deals up tightly.
Two wet bags makes things easier because you have a spare for use while the used wet bag is in the washing machine.
- You don’t have to scrub the pail clean each time you take out a wet bag, but it is essential to wash it out on a fairly regular basis.
Washing the Pooped-In Cloth Diapers
The exact details of your cloth diaper wash routine depend on your washing machine, the detergent you use, and the hardness of your water. However, the basic steps are the same no matter what your situation.
You begin with a cold wash without detergent. This loosens solids and any other residues that can cause stains. Coldwater prevents any potential stains “setting” into your cloth and becoming more challenging to wash out.
Next, you do a wash with hot water and detergent. This wash will clean and sanitize your diapers. Finally, you rinse to remove any detergent.
So, altogether your wash routine will look something like this:
First: Put the diapers into your machine, and run the machine on a cold rinse, cold, quick wash, or another short, cold cycle. This is important as it reduces the chance of staining (source.)
For this wash, use a small amount of detergent. The exact amount will depend on the detergent you choose. We have recommendations for exactly how much in the next section on detergents.
You can also use Oxiclean or a similar wash booster.
Second: Wash the diapers on a hot cycle with detergent and a half cup of baking soda. Baking soda is not essential, but it does help to boost the cleaning power of your detergent.
If you use pocket diapers and do not remove the inserts before your first wash, check they have come out of the pockets before your second wash begins.
Third: Finally, run a rinse cycle. This step is critical as detergent build-up on your diapers can reduce their absorbency and contribute to diaper rash.
If you can choose different lengths of rinse cycle or different water levels, choose the longest cycle and the highest water level.
How to Deal With Poop Stains in Cloth Diapers
There are many ways to deal with poop stains on your reusable diapers.
The easiest and most affordable option for removing poop stains is the sun.
Simply take your clean diapers out of the washing machine and, while they are still wet, lay or hang them in the sun. Leave your diapers to dry, and the vast majority of stains will have magically disappeared.
This works even if you lay your diapers inside, by the window, in the sunshine.
However, you do need sunshine and not just sunlight, and remember to hang your diapers length-wise to minimize any excess strain on the elastics.
If the sunshine doesn’t work or isn’t available, lemon juice is another excellent option. Spray or pour diluted lemon juice onto the stain and allow it to dry. We use one part lemon juice to four parts water. Once the juice has dried, be careful to rewash the diaper to remove all of the lemon from the fabric.
Living somewhere with a severe sunshine shortage, my go-to stain remover is Oxiclean. It is readily available, easy to use, and cloth diaper safe.
For best results, either:
- Select a small wash setting on your washing machine and wait until it has finished filling with water. Turn the machine off and add a scoop of Oxiclean, swishing it in the water to ensure it fully dissolves.
Add your diapers, swirl them around to ensure they are thoroughly wet, and leave them to soak overnight.
In the morning turn the machine on again and allow it to finish the cycle. Then wash your diapers as usual.
- If you only have one or two diapers you want to treat, you can dissolve some Oxiclean in a tub of water or bucket and soak them overnight. Wash as usual the following day.
If you use a commercial stain remover, follow the directions on the packaging.
While some people like to make their own stain removers, we don’t recommend it. Using the wrong ingredients or even the slightest mismeasurement for homemade stain removers can damage your precious cloth diapers.