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Let’s get one thing straight. Cloth diapering is not rocket science. Even when it involves a little origami, it’s not all that complicated. At least not in the way that giving birth, surviving school breaks, or explaining the ultimate why is complicated. Some things in parenting are more difficult than others, and on the big-picture scale, cloth diapering falls somewhere between cooking macaroni and breastfeeding in a carrier. So: not that hard.

However, in the years I’ve been teaching people how to use cloth diapers, I’ve noticed there are a few mistakes that everyone tends to fall into. I don’t know why this is. Maybe the most obvious resources all tend to skip over these things. In any case, I thought it would be helpful to list them all in one place. So here you go: a few of the most common — and most easy to fix — mistakes that people make with cloth diapering.

1. Putting a microfiber insert directly against the skin. This is by far the most common mistake I see, and honestly, it doesn’t surprise me. It’s particularly common with people who start cloth diapering by using two-part systems (i.e., prefolds and covers) who then switch to one-part systems (i.e., pockets). It makes a lot of sense. You get used to only changing the inner part of the diaper and reusing the cover. And then you look at a pocket and think, Hey, this diaper has two parts. Why can’t I just change the inner part and reuse the outside? Which you could, except for one small problem: microfiber is very, very absorbent. So absorbent that it will actually pull moisture out of your baby’s skin. Which will dry out your baby’s skin. Which will cause a rash.

But don’t feel bad if you’ve done this. I totally did it myself.

2. Reusing diapers that aren’t meant to be reused. Along the same lines, a lot of people feel like they ought to be able to reuse a diaper that’s meant for only one change. This is another common problem when you’re switching from prefolds to pockets. You’ve gotten used to prefolds feeling really wet, and pockets have a microfleece layer (not to be confused with microfiber) against your baby’s skin, which feels a lot dryer. So you feel the diaper and think, Gee, this is hardly wet at all. Maybe I can just change the insert and reuse the diaper. Which technically you probably could do occasionally without causing a rash. But the part of the diaper that lies against your baby’s skinĀ is wet, which means the entire diaper is meant to be changed.

My mom always does this for some reason. She doesn’t actually reuse the diaper, but she doesn’t put it in the wash bucket either. After she babysits, I often come home to find damp diapers spread out next to the changing table. “It was only a little bit wet,” she says, “so I wasn’t sure what you wanted to do with it.”

Well, I wanted to wash it. It’s not like I’m throwing it out. Don’t worry, I’ll use it again. When it’s clean.

3. Not adjusting the absorbency correctly. This is mostly a problem at night, although it can be a problem during the day if you’re not changing frequently enough (or if your baby is a really heavy wetter). One common problem is overstuffing a pocket so much that it ends up gapping around the legs. You think it’s leaking because it’s not absorbent enough, so you keep stuffing more in — inserts, boosters, prefolds, and maybe the kitchen sink. But it keeps leaking, because the problem isn’t the amount of absorbency — the problem is that it’s so overstuffed that you can’t tighten it properly. So instead of having elastic nice and flush against baby’s legs, you’ve got big gaps. The pee isn’t even going into the diaper at all — it’s rolling right off the microfleece onto your baby’s clothes. The solution is to use trimmer absorbent layers, such as hemp or zorb, so you can fasten the diaper correctly.

4. Not researching your wash routine adequately. I hate to put this on the list, because people are often so intimidated by the whole washing issue that they give up on cloth entirely. And the reality is that much of the time, you can get away with all sorts of “bad” washing habits and your diapers will be fine. At least for a while. But after a while, you start to have problems, and instead of googling, say, “dryer sheets + cloth diapers,” which will tell you right away what you’re doing wrong, you assume it’s too complicated and give up. One particularly common problem here is Charlie’s Soap, which causes a rash for some babies, especially if you’re using a different detergent for the rest of your laundry. It’s an easy problem to fix if you follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use, but it’s really common (so much so that when someone tells me their diapers are causing a rash, my first question is always, “Are you using Charlie’s Soap?”).

5. Not trying different types of diapers. There are a few brands that almost always work for everybody, but since every baby is a little different, chances are that you’ll like one brand a lot better than another. Which is why I always recommend that you not buy a lot of diapers until you’ve tried a few different types. With all the stores offering trial packages and rentals these days, there’s no reason not to experiment a little before you invest a lot of money.

Of course there are plenty of other mistakes people make, but if you avoid these, you’ll at least avoid looking like a total newbie. And if you share this list with your friends who are just getting started with cloth, you’ll look like a complete cloth pro.

You’re welcome.

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