The only rules in cloth


I know it seems there are sooooooo many recommendations, and options, and choices, and lions and tigers and bears, how on earth do you know if you are doing it correctly? Fear not! There are actually very few rules when it comes to cloth diapers. 

Your Three Cardinal Rules
1. Use a cloth-diaper-safe rash cream
2. Establish a good wash routine using a great detergent (and no fabric softener!)
3. Do not use microfiber directly against baby's skin


Like to know why (I know I always like the 'why?' behind things)? Continue on below.... If you'd prefer to stop reading, you're set. The name of the game when cloth diapering is simple - get enough absorbency inside the diaper to match your baby's wetting needs. As long as you follow these few rules in the process, any experimentation along the way is just that, experimenting to find what works best for your family and your baby. Throw on your lab coat, cool goggles, and go to town! 
AND, if you've broken one or more of the three cardinal rules, you are still ok. Each can be corrected with a bit of elbow grease/research/soothing bum balm! Read on... 



For My Fellow 'But Why?' Folks

 

1. On rash creams
'Cloth-diaper-safe rash cream' simply refers to a diaper area treatment that easily washes out of cloth diapers.
Conventional rash creams (a la Desitin, Boudreaux and others you typically find in big-box stores) do not come off of diapers in the wash, and instead buildup to clog the diaper's fibers; in place of a functioning, absorbing diaper you are then left with a Slip N' Slide. 
Great cloth-safe rash creams include California Baby, CJ's BUTTer, delish Yum Bum Balm more GroVia's Magic Stick (note - not an exhaustive list, there are others in addition to these). In fact, what you use on baby's bottom doesn't even have to be marketed as a 'rash cream.' Some people choose to use coconut oil or olive oil with great success.
Not sure what you are using is ok? Use a liner to be on the safe side.
Conventional rash cream used by mistake? Don't worry, this can be remedied by stripping (specifically, the Dawn stripping method). Need to use a conventional or prescription treatment? Just add a liner to protect the diaper's surface. 
2. Laundry Time
I'd venture to say most persistent rashes and leaking/repelling/stinking diapers are caused by a poor wash routine. If you are using a natural detergent with a low ingredient count (aka superfluous things like brighteners, fabric softeners, enzymes, etc are not added) and/or you use a top-loading washing machine (aka a washer that uses *a lot* of water when washing) then you can likely get away with a bit of fudging with your wash routine and detergent. 
But if you are using a conventional detergent (ie. Tide, All Free & Clear, etc) and/or you have a front-loading machine, you need to ensure you are rinsing really, really well (I highly recommend taking a look at this washing guide). 
If possible, use a detergent fantastic for cloth diapers: Allen's Naturally Powder/Liquid, Planet Ultra Powder/Liquid, Planet 2X, Mountain Green Free & Clear, Tide Free (be sure to rinse this one especially well), Country Save, Rockin' Green, Lulus and more.
If do decide to use a conventional detergent, again, be sure you are rinsing really well. 
Rash
'But Abby, I was her clothes in this detergent and it is just fine.' 
Yes, but she also isn't urinating onto her clothing. In other words, if there is any detergent residue in the diaper it will be 're-activated' when baby wets, thus irritating baby's bottom. 

Leaking/Repelling/Stink/Red Bum
'But Abby, it worked for the first few months without issue.'

Correct. Most 'bad' detergents will not instantly cause issues. Instead, if not thoroughly rinsed away on each laundry day, they will gradually build-up. Once it is built up, the detergent can cause smell issues (ammonia), repelling or leaking and/or a red bottom. 
'So once and for all, does Fabric Softener cause repelling or not.' 
There are some instances in which fabric softener is safe to use (I know, a wee bit confusing to throw this option into the mix). Here are the conditions in which fabric softener is ok: a. the diapers are natural fibers (aka hemp, cotton, bamboo) AND b. it is a natural fabric softener (aka Ecover, Seventh Generation or something similar). If either a. or b. is not met, then fabric softener should not be used.

Have issues with a red bum, or leaking/repelling diapers? Time to strip! Instructions can be found here.


3. Microfiber
Microfiber is a manufactured fiber that is designed to be super absorbent, thanks in part to thousands of tiny loops of fabric. This vast surface area not only means amazing absorbing power, but also means it can absorb a bit too well. In other words, it will quick strip the moisture out of baby's bottom and your baby will be left with red chafed areas. 
I dare you to hold a piece of microfiber in you hands for five minutes. You don't have to do much, but be sure you have constant pressure between your palms and wiggle on occasion. Ick, right? Hardly a scientific experiment, I know, but now imagine that feeling against the most sensitive areas of your body. Double ick. 

Oops, used microfiber on the bum? Treat any sore areas of baby's bottom with your favorite rash cream, and alter the way you use your microfiber. Some ideas - wrap it in fleece, suedecloth or a prefold or flat, or you can even wrap it in an old t-shirt or washcloth (if you do this, just be sure that the repurposed item has been thoroughly washed in über-hot water so it doesn't have any detergent or fabric softener residue). 
And a big LASTLY, you are sure to find people in various cloth diapering circles who say 'well I do X and my diapers are just fine.' Yes, I don't doubt there are people out there who are able to challenge the rules, slathering their baby in Desitin without adding a protective liner to the diaper, or who use heaping scoops of Tide without issue, etc etc. Cloth diapering is so subjective and those that are able to 'break' these few cardinal rules are evidence of that.
Just be sure to remember that you never know the other side of the story - maybe their top loader uses more water than Lake Mead (and you have a front loader), maybe their super-soft water ensures all that extra detergent rinses away cleanly (and you struggle with hard water), maybe their baby's bottom is super-hardy and can withstand some buildup (whereas your baby's skin is sensitive), maybe they only use natural fibers (and your stash is primarily synthetic fibers), maybe their idea of 'a thin layer of Desitin' is significantly thinner than yours and on and on. Subjective? Absolutely! A touch unfair? Yup! Just know, whatever the case may be, I'm here to help you figure out any frustrations along the way!