Today, let's talk about a topic that a lot of people often have questions about when they start cloth diapering OR when they notice their diapers not looking so great.
How long will my cloth diapers last?
I think there are a lot of misconceptions out there because of the statement, "One-Size diapers will last from birth to potty training." Yes, the diaper will fit from birth to potty training, but that doesn't mean it'll be functional that long. The lifespan of a cloth diaper really depends on how well you take care of it. Other than manufacturing defects covered by warranty, cloth diaper companies (like Softbums) aren't responsible for replacing cloth diapers because of wear and tear. Would you contact your t-shirt company because it got a hole in after you washed it 100 times? No. Me either. There's definitely an interesting phenomenon in the cloth diaper industry where customers almost expect that companies replace diapers long past their prime.
Now that we have all that out of the way, below you'll find the most common wear and tear components on a cloth diaper and how to keep them in tip top shape the longest.
1. Hook and Loop, Aplix, Velcro (however you refer to it) - If you choose to do velcro on your diapers instead of snaps, this will be the first place you'll see wear and tear. Velcro becomes fuzzy and can curl over time causing it to be less sticky. You'll also notice that lots of strings and fuzz tend to collect there.
Thankfully, both situations are easily remedied. Keeping your velcro tabs clean by picking out the fuzz with your fingers or the end of a snappi can keep them looking nicer longer, as will making sure you use the laundry tabs when washing. Air drying your diapers can help keep your velcro sticky, too. And if all else fails and your velcro is completely shot - you can replace it using some simple sewing. Softbums sells replacement hook and loop here.
2. Pilling - This can happen on both the inside and outside of the diaper. You'll notice pretty quickly that the inside micro-fleece lining on your Softbums or other cloth diapers getting pilly. This is completely normal and harmless. I've never done anything to try to remedy this, but you can use a sweater shaver to remove it if it bothers you.
If you're using hook and loop diapers, you'll also notice that the PUL surrounding your velcro can also get pilly. This is just from the velcro catching on it. Again, totally harmless. You can either be really careful when changing your baby and using the laundry tabs or you can try the sweater shaver trick above being careful not to create any holes.
3. Elastic - Next to go is usually the elastic. You'll see the terms "relaxed elastic" often if you frequent cloth diaper buy/sell/trade groups. This just means that the elastic has stretched out either from natural wear and tear or excessive heat use (either too hot water in the wash or drying on high in the dryer too often. The use of additives can also break down the elastic quicker then it would naturally. Bleach and vinegar are often culprits.
Again, you can prolong the life of your elastic. Don't wash your diapers hotter than about 120 degrees and air dry instead of throwing in the dryer. If you must put them in the dryer - dry on low/medium heat and remove promptly. Never (or seldom) use additives. If you have to for whatever reason, just be aware that it will void your Softbums warranty. If your elastic is relaxed, but your diaper is otherwise looking great you can replace the elastic. Softbums elastic is easily replaceable and can be purchased here.
4. Staining - It's just a natural part of using cloth diapers! Remember - they're being pee'd and pooped in. Even if your diapers don't look stained at first glance, they tend to look dingy over time. Just hold up an old diaper next to a new one and you'll know what I mean!
You can help keep stains at bay by washing every 2-3 days, washing in hot water (but not too hot!), and hanging to dry in the sun (natural whitener) just to name a few things. There's lots of stain tricks and products out there! Just make sure if you're drying outside that you face the inside of the diaper towards the sun. Repeated sun exposure to the outside of the diaper can fade the color/print over time.
5. PUL - You'll know a diaper has completely gone through it's lifespan when you've got holes. Holes in the PUL most often occur on the tabs (the sides you use to close the diaper) since that's where you touch it most often and along the back elastic since it rubs up against your baby's clothes. You can continue to use a cloth diaper that has little holes in these areas as they don't necessarily come in to contact with your baby's urine, but holes in the middle of the diaper means it's usually time to retire it. And a cloth diaper that's delaminated is finished. You'll know that this has happened if you see the shiny inside material of the PUL separate.
Another place you'll often find holes from wear and tear is on the rise snaps of One Size diapers. Fortunately, Softbums doesn't have rise snaps so you'll never have this problem! Phew.....
6. Inserts/Pods - Usually what happens here is that they just thin out over time. You may notice a little less absorbency. Sometimes you may see holes from the wear and tear of washing and drying. And of course, they may become dingy and stained as they get used.
Other Contributing Factors:
- Stash/Rotation Size - More diapers means less washing. Less washing = less wear and tear. A bonus to using Softbums is that you don't need to wash the shell/cover every time it's used. Simply replace the insert/pod. You'll end up washing them less than you would a typical cloth diaper.
- Additives - Additives like bleach and vinegar can weaken elastic and damage PUL over time. Never soak your diapers in these things.
- Water and Drying Temperature - Too hot water or a too hot dryer setting can also weaken elastic, PUL, and hook and loop closures over time. Never use the sanitize cycle on your washer. The water gets too hot on that setting. Line dry your shells. If using the dryer, never dry on heat higher than the medium setting unless doing the 15 minute sealing when you first get your Softbums shells. You can also remove your shells half way through and let them air dry the rest of the way. There's no absorbent material there so it won't take long!
**Remember, one-size cloth diapers don't last forever and they're still cheaper than buying disposables. You'll likely be able to get through one kid from birth to potty if you take good care of them. It's a bonus if you get to use them on another. Replacing hook and loop and elastic will get you even more time. The takeaway: A cloth diaper will last on average 1.5 - 2 years. Double this to 3-4 years by keeping a larger stash, taking gentle care of them and repairing when necessary.**
Let's Connect!: In the comments let me know the longest you've ever used a cloth diaper? Have they lasted more than 1 kid? What ways do you take care of them that have made the most difference? Feel free to ask any questions, as well. I'll stop back and answer. XOXO! :)
Curious about who's writing for Softbums now? Well, that's me! My name is Jenny and I'll be contributing to the Softbums blog weekly. Check back every Wednesday for a new post about Softbums, cloth diapers, and other parenting topics. Like my writing and want to read more? You can find me over at my blog - According to Jenny. I'm not currently active there, but you'll find lots of good stuff in the archives. I've also written for several cloth diaper retailer blogs including Kelly's Closet, Squishy Tushy, Earthy Crunchy Mama, Cloth Diaper Outlet, and the Little Monkey Store.