New Dads Guide to Diapering; or, the Scoop on Poop

If you’re an expecting dad, you may not know this yet, but it’s my duty to inform you: babies produce copious amounts of bodily fluids (and eventually solids). All day long. And you have to deal with it, one way or another.

One of the laws of baby physics is that if it goes in, it must come back out. It doesn’t have to come back out the same way it went in, but it does have to come out.

In this post, I thought I’d stick to addressing the lower half of the baby, as the messes that come from there tend to get your attention pretty fast…

New Dads Guide to Diapering

You’ve got several choices for dealing with substances from the baby’s bowel and bladder:

  • Disposable diapers
  • ‘Green’ disposable diapers
  • Cloth diapers
  • Refuse to acknowledge it – Also known as decorating yourself and your house with the ‘tie-dyed with poop’ look.

Disposable Diapers

Seriously? Are you even considering spending your hard earned cash for something that will get used once and then get buried in the landfill for ever and ever? OK, you might be, but I encourage you to rethink using disposables as an option.

Consider this: your child will go through 10 to 15 diapers each day as a newborn, and then 8 to 10 per day for the next several years. That amounts to around 3000 diapers per year (your mileage may vary). Even if you get them cheaply, do you want to be responsible for adding 3000 diapers each year to the landfill? (Best guess on the length of time for disposable diaper to biodegrade in a landfill? 100 years.) Check out the components of a disposable diaper.

‘Green’ Disposable Diapers

As a die hard green guy, I take exception to the idea that any kind of disposable diaper can truly be green. Call them what you will (biodegradable, flushable, compostable), they are still made to be disposed of after a single use. The gDiaper claims to be compostable, yet for those who don’t compost already, that just translates to ‘flushable’. And flushing more material down the toilet is not a good idea, either for your plumbing, or for your septic system, or your local sewer system.

Another component of issue in disposables is the “super absorbent polymer”, or sodium polyacrylate, which lets you go longer between diaper changes. I’m going to steer clear of putting that in my compost…

Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapers are by far the best, in my book. The overall cost is lower – an investment upfront is needed, but you won’t have to buy them every week, like disposables. Babies tend to get fewer diaper rashes in cloth diapers, as fluids aren’t trapped next to a baby’s skin with a plastic film. Nothing extra gets put into the landfill or sewer system, so you can feel better about the volume of waste produced by your house, and for a ‘natural’ parent, it’s just the right thing to do.

Because cloth diapers need to be washed, there is a higher water usage compared to disposables (at least for the end user, although I’m sure quite a bit of water goes into manufacturing disposables). To help with that, you can run your washing machine water through a biological filter (a mini wetland area for filtering graywater) and reclaim some of the water for your landscape.

Refuse to acknowledge it

You really need to reconsider this option if you want to maintain any sort of social life.

Cloth Diapering Guide

What should you buy for diapering your baby? There are quite a few choices of styles and brands of cloth diaper systems for sale, but the basics are the same: an outer wrap (to keep fluids from soaking through, and to catch any leakage) and an inner liner. The liner is the only part that needs to be washed daily, and you’ll need plenty of them.

We’ve found that standard cloth diapers (tri-fold is one name for them) work great, and are widely available, although some liners have extra features (snaps, fitted elastic leg openings). You’ll need a couple of different sizes – newborn, 3 to 6 month, and toddler – and wraps for each size.

The best wraps we’ve found are made from wool (not scratchy at all!) and know some people who have made their own from old wool sweaters (felted in the wash) or crocheted or knitted their own. You’ll want to start with at least 3 or 4 wraps and enough diapers to go at least two days without having to wash them (you’ll be surprised how fast they go through them).

How do you store dirty diapers? We’ve tried using a diaper pail several times, with water and white vinegar (for smells), but have since reverted to simply using a hamper or basket for dirty diapers. For very messy diapers, you can rinse them briefly in the toilet before putting in the hamper, or consider using a pail just for poopy ones.

How do you wash cloth diapers? Short answer: in a washing machine. We use a gentle, biodegradable laundry soap for our diapers, and just wash them separately from our clothes. I’ve never had to use a long wash cycle, or a pre-soak, but for diapers with dried crusties, it may be needed.

When we lived in our tiny house, we did a fair amount of laundry (including diapers) by hand in a 5 gallon bucket, and when we camp for long periods, we wash diapers by hand. It’s not the most fun thing ever, but it is possible. We also used a laundromat for washing diapers for while, but after seeing the amount of money we spent there each week, we just invested in a washer – it’s way cheaper in the long run.

But what about stains? The sun is the best stain remover for diapers. We’ve never used bleach or similar products, as we hang our diapers on a clothesline to dry, and the sun bleaches out any stains. Even in the winter, when the sun was not out as often, we didn’t use a bleaching product. Our thoughts about it were that having spotless diapers was not a priority for us – they are rarely visible, anyway.

What do you think about baby wipes? I think you’ll definitely need something to clean up the baby, as you can’t just throw them in with the diapers… We use cloth baby washcloths, and wash them with the diapers. We’ve never used disposable baby wipes, even the ‘green’ ones, as the waste involved was too much for us.


If you really want to lessen the impact of diapering on the planet (and your wallet), whether you use cloth or disposable diapers, consider using elimination communication to speed up the potty training and get them out of diapers as soon as possible – our kids were only 1 and a half (average) when they gave up diapers completely. And for some time before that, we were able to cut the amount of diapers they used in half because of it.

Image: IngaMun at Flickr

Derek Markham

Things I dig include: simple living, natural fatherhood, attachment parenting, natural building, unassisted childbirth (homebirth), bicycles, permaculture, organic and biodynamic gardening, vegan peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips, bouldering, and the blues. Find me elsewhere at @NaturalPapa, @DerekMarkham, Google+, or RebelMouse.

13 thoughts on “New Dads Guide to Diapering; or, the Scoop on Poop

  • I did Elimination Communication with my son, and while it was hard work, it was worth every second. We used cloth diapers for backup. At first you think it’s all about the elimination. Then you realize the emphasis is really on the communication. We still have a pretty tight bond (son’s almost 6) and are tuned into each other.

    It’s worth it and it’s so much better for the planet!
    .-= Cynematic´s last blog ..Happy Halloween! =-.

  • You didn’t mention the best way of diapering your baby! Call yourself Natural Papa? You should follow up this blog post with one about diaper-free. I shall help you…

    The best way is to use NO diapers. Yes, that sounds crazy, but it is totally possible.

    You take the baby to toilet or potty or sink or under the tree or wherever and they pee or poop. Its easy. It does not work every time, but you get to learn your babies signs when it needs to do its business. For example, during breast feeding, if the baby stops drinking and lets go of the nipple, it probably needs to pee.

    As your baby grows, their signs change. You just need to look out for the signs and you will learn. There will be a lot of “accidents” but that’s OK. Your primary goal is to catch the poop because that’s the messy one. Poop only happens 1-4 times per day and catching it is a lot easier than you think because the signs for poop are the easiest to read.

    If they pee in their pants, no problem, just change their clothes and try to figure out if your baby gave you a sign that you didn’t notice.

    At night time, you can use diapers because getting up all night long takes real dedication – too much for most parents.

    This diaper-free method takes more effort for you as a parent than using diapers but that is the ONLY drawback. The benefits are enormous:

    1. Your baby is healthier. No nappy rash, no UTI’s, no sitting in their own faeces. Just clean, perfect skin.

    2. Your baby has no psychological problems about stopping to use diapers. They don’t need to be “toilet trained” because they grow up knowing that they should go to the toilet when they need to pee/poop.

    3. You get to know your baby better. Because you need to be alert, you understand their patterns better and you develop a closer relationship with your baby.

    4. You save a huge amount of money. No diapers in the day and a washable diaper at night. (The diaper that keeps them feeling dry).

    5. You have almost no impact on the environment, whereas disposable or even washable diapers have a serious impact.

    Our daughter is 14 months old. When she wants the toilet, she comes to us and gives us a hand sign. It took a lot more effort when she was younger, but now it is very easy.

    Anyone can do this. You just need to be willing to put in the effort. It might sound daunting, but that’s just because we’ve forgotten how to do it. It is the natural way and it is how most of our grandparents or great-grandparents were raised.

    In the US, this method is called elimination communication. Learn more about it because it is the BEST way to raise your baby.
    .-= Jake´s last blog ..5 ways to reduce your global warming contribution =-.

    • Derek Markham

      Jake – See the last paragraph of the post – I do recommend elimination communication. That’s what we use. For most, it seems like a big jump – almost impossible – and I wanted people to at least be aware of the ease of use of an alternative diapering method if they can’t make that leap.

      • Apologies, I didn’t spot that last paragraph Derek and your excellent article about elimination communication.

        Diaper free is the best way and as such, should always be recommended as the right way for infant hygiene. It only seems impossible to people because we have lost the knowledge and skills that we past from generation to generation for thousands of years. We’ve gone so far down this (unnatural) route of using diapers, that most people don’t even know that there could be such thing as life without diapers.

        First people need to know that this option exists, then they need to be shown the techniques for having a happy, healthy, diaper-free baby.

  • “I think you’ll definitely need something to clean up the baby, as you can’t just throw them in with the diapers…”

    -Exactly! Bwahahaha!
    Like the commenter above, I agree it is nice to read a man’s perspective on the issue!
    .-= CDB´s last blog ..Cloth Diaper Giveaways: Week 1 =-.

  • i am definitely getting the cloth diapers.. yes, upfront cash investment but spread for a year or so, will come out way too cheap than disposable diapers.. thanks for the tip..

  • There are also a lot of cloth diapers and diaper covers that are adjustable in size, which means that parents won’t need to purchase nearly as many to begin with! This is good for the budget and good for the planet as well!

    In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I own a cloth diaper store. The top-selling diaper cover for us is the Thirsties Duo Wrap…only two sizes needed to fit babies from 6-40 pounds!

    There are also other diapers and covers on the market that fit most babies from 8-35 pounds, so no need to purchase lots of different sizes as baby grows.

  • Hi 🙂

    Quick question about the wool covers. I won’t use wool as I’m an abolitionist vegan, any other suggestions? I know the lanolin is pretty important, so acrylic knits won’t work.

    Thanks for your advice 🙂

    • Hmm. Good question. Other than recycled wool (from old sweaters or the like), I’m not sure there is another option that works as well. Wool sheds water and breathes, so it’s perfect for wraps. However, I’d love to hear if anyone else has a non-wool wrap that works as well. There’s got to be something out there…

  • Caroline

    I wouldn’t have any issue we recycling wool. IMHO it’s better that something is used to the point of destruction then ending up in landfill.
    What about lanolin? This is mentioned on most wrap care pages and I wouldn’t buy any, but I notice you don’t mention it. Do you use anything else instead?

  • Pingback: New Dad’s Guide to Diapering | Cloth Diaper Blog. The All In One Cloth Diaper Resource.

  • Hi there,
    I wasn’t aware of elimination communication as a method when I was training my two boys but I have friends that are about to start training and will let them know about it. Thanks for the info! M.


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