How long should a cloth diaper last?

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The idea behind cloth diapering for most parents is saving money- using a diaper over and over saves way more than using throwaway diapers.  That being said, cloth diapers are great but they aren’t magic- heavy use and repeated washing and drying takes a toll and they will wear out.  The question is- what is a normal life span and are there certain diaper brands or types that outlast others? (Note- the diapers shown in this post are from my personal collection, being in this post doesn’t mean they aren’t good brands, it just means they were well loved)

howlongdoclothdiaperslast

The Life and Death of a Cloth Diaper

A brand new cloth diaper is a beautiful thing!  Then, they are often used, sometimes immediately (that “new diaper reflex” kicks in!) and to the washer it goes.  Just like your favorite cotton t-shirt, cloth diapers will start showing their age after repeated washing.

pilling

The first thing that you might notice is pilling.  Pilling can happen on natural fibers or the lining on the inside of a diaper (microfleece or suedecloth, though microfleece tends to pill more than suedecloth) and is harmless.  If the pilling bothers you, either because it looks bad or you think it is too rough on the baby’s skin, try a sweater shaver to smooth it back out.  Depending on the quality of the materials and the type the pilling may be annoying or not.  For me, fleece pills up well on most brands.  In the above photo the pilling touching the baby is totally fine and normal for fleece, but the underside has way more pilling, it just isn’t an issue because the baby will never feel it.

curlyandfuzzy

If you have velcro diapers, the next type of wear you will see is the fuzzing of the velcro tabs and potentially curling.  Fuzzing will become a problem and will make the velcro less and less sticky.  Strings and other lint will also gather in the velcro but the good news is that those things can be cleaned out with a diaper pin tip or snappi tines.  Some diaper brands, like GroVia, have tabs to place the velcro under to prevent curling.  Curling can make your velcro not as sticky too because there is less tab to stick to your strip, reducing their effectiveness.

relaxedelasticdiaper

Relaxed elastic is something that happens much later in the game, often after 1.5-2 years, and is a result of many factors.  Elastic loosens over time, becoming less stretchy.  The leg openings will look larger and this can affect how well your diapers work and fit.  If you have used the same one size diapers for a long time you may not even notice because the elastic relaxed but your baby grew and those larger leg openings weren’t an issue.  If you bought used diapers with relaxed elastic and have a younger baby it could mean the diapers won’t fit as tight as they should around the legs, leading to leaks.  This is a fixable problem with basic sewing skills- replace the elastic and exend the life of your diapers another 1-2 years!

Holeydiaper

Holey diapers… or rather, diapers full of holes, is a sign of a very well loved diaper, and these often don’t happen until after a diaper has lived a full life.  Sometimes holes don’t even appear until the diaper is on a second baby.  Certain diapers and materials are more likely to develop holes- natural fibers will start to weaken at stitched areas, for example.     The old style of the bumgenius Elemental would develop holes at each corner where the soaker was attached.  Prefolds can develop holes just from repeated washing but this won’t happen for a very long time, you may never even see holes until they find a new life after diapers as rags.  One Size diapers can develop small holes around the size snaps where stress pulls on the fabric.

Delamination is the worst problem of all and essentially ends the life of a diaper (look to this post from Applecheeks for an image, I didn’t have any to photograph for this post).  All of the other problems listed above can be be repaired, lived with, or are just aesthetic.  When a diaper delaminates, meaning the shiny plastic layer on the inside of your PUL or TPU is cracked or peeling, the diaper is going to leak.  Leaky diapers=wet clothes=pointless.  There is no way to fix a diaper that is truly delaminated.  If you have quality cloth diapers you shouldn’t see this happen at all, or only after many years of use.  Cheaper diapers (those famous $5 diapers from the co-ops or Ebay) see this happen sooner in some cases.  There have been quality brands that had this happen faster but the issue was with a certain batch of PUL and wouldn’t normally happen, and often they will replace that diaper because it is under warranty.

Prevention

Can you prevent the wear and tear on your diapers?  Yes and No.  Pilling is going to happen no matter what.  Line drying your diapers will help prevent the velcro tabs from curling and can extend the life of your elastic.  Over bleaching can break down elastic faster and weaken fibers, making holes develop faster than normal.  Delamination shouldn’t happen at all, and if it does, only after a long and full life of many, many years.  In my 5 years of cloth diapering the only items to ever delaminate were a few diapers from Ebay I bought before I knew better and one wet bag.  Having a larger stash will (of course) reduce the overall wear on all of your diapers.  Washing the same diapers very frequently will wear them down faster.  This holds true for any article of clothing.

Bummis is by far the longest lasting brand I’ve ever come across.  Simpler diapers like flats and prefolds last longer than any modern diaper because they have less stitching and holes already put in them, less complicated shapes, less to screw up!  Other than those tidbits, across the board you will have to deal with the wear and tear and there is not magical answer on which will be guaranteed to last the longest since it also depends on your washing habits, the frequency, and how long you use them.

Cloth diapering is still the better choice all around, but please understand that they are susceptible to wear and tear just like your t-shirts and socks.

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Kim Rosas began Dirty Diaper Laundry in 2009 out of a desire to help more parents understand modern cloth diapers. She lives in Florida with her husband of 5 years and her two boys. Even though none of her boys wear diapers anymore she is still just as committed to promoting them. In her spare time Kim enjoys video editing, photography, and coffee.

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  • Meghan Rose Daniels

    I used to use Flip diaper covers but they delaminated after 1 year of use. I was always careful to line dry these covers. There was also a time a Flip cover fell apart after 2 weeks. I sent the company an email complaining of that cover which they sent me a new one for replacement. However since then I won’t purchase Flip covers anymore. I’m currently using Thirsties covers on both my girls for almost a year now and they are holding up pretty well.

  • BoiseFamily

    Some people use delaminated diapers for swim diapers since swim diapers are only intended to keep poop from getting in the pool or lake. =)

  • Nicole

    Also diapers can be repaired. If you are handy you can replace elastic yourself or send them out to be repaired which saves on buying new.

    • kimrosas

      Yes that’s mentioned up above :)

      Please excuse typos and brevity. Sent from my iPhone

  • Adelan

    I wish I read this BEFORE I just bought a bunch from ebay…

    • kimrosas

      They aren’t guaranteed to fail, it just seems that overall they do more than other brands. Much of that is likely due to quality control and quality of materials used. As with clothing, Target brand t-shirts crap out and look worse after 50 washes than a Tahari shirt.
      Please excuse typos and brevity. Sent from my iPhone

  • becky shanks

    We know have 24 Bumgenius ‘swim diapers’ for this summer. They were our first diapers (less than 2 years old and used on 2 kids for a short time) and also our first to crap out on us. All of them have cracked PUL and they all gave out at the same time. They are they only brand that I have seen that says that you can bleach them once a month, which I took to mean that it would be safe to do so. Luckily I never remembered to do it monthly and probably brought us a little extra time using them. Now I mainly use flats and I’ve started to make my own diapers and hopefully soon some trainers.

    • kimrosas

      Bleaching once a month is fine- that shouldn’t have caused delamination. Did you ever contact customer service?
      Please excuse typos and brevity. Sent from my iPhone

      • Kara

        Agreed. I have BGs that are 3 yrs old and they haven’t delaminated at all. Most common reasons for delamination of an entire stash would be use of the dryer or washer on the sanitize cycle (too hot and will void your warranty).

  • Nicole

    Wetbags were only briefly mentioned but I’ve had issues with stitching coming undone in some brands but my favorite is monkey foot designs. After 2+ years there were some small holes forming in the seam area and they resealed them for me so I can keep using them. The ones that the stitching came undone I just sewed up but I don’t use them anymore since I like my MK bags better.
    As for the Velcro wear, I had all my old style grobaby diapers covered to snaps when the got ratty (Do they still do that?). Another way to extend the life! I found those tabs provided worked for a while but then the Velcro wouldn’t stay stuck to them in the wash any more. :( I suppose it did extend the viability but later I just had a daisy chain of diapers coming out.

  • Kaitlin M

    So we started out as a prefolds/covers family, but with two toddlers and one on the way, I don’t have the time to trifold/Snappi/Boingo anymore. I can’t really afford to buy more and there’s nothing wrong with my prefolds. Anyway I can easily convert them to something that would be quicker with changes? (off topic, I know, but my diapers are holding up well after two kids and I need to make it a little quicker for the 3rd kiddo).

    • Nicole

      Are you ok with used diapers? There’s http://www.re-diaper.com/
      or diaperswappers. It might be a good way to make your stash faster with lower cost.

    • Danielle Stephens

      Just lay then in the cover (folded on thirds) you don’t have to use closures on prefolds.

  • Jenn

    I feel like one of the main ideas behind using cloth is to save money. And part of that is using the diapers on more than one child. How many children can I reasonably expect to use diapers before I have to replace it?

    • Jill S

      depending on what you’re using, and if you’re willing to FIX the small issues like Kim mentioned, 4, 5, 6… some are hardier than others. some just do fall apart (worse brands, cheapies, bad batches, etc)..

  • Jelli

    I haven’t had much complete deterioration of diapers even though I’ve used them for 3 years. I attribute a lot of that to 100% line drying and using gentle detergents because my stash is definitely not big. We deal with velcro issues mostly, and I’m so grateful that most of the diapers are snaps. Velcro is definitely something I always try to avoid unless it’s a cheap secondhand score or a hand me down. Thanks so much for showing us exactly what happens as diapers get lots of love. We sure do love using cloth on our kids!

  • Katie Lamb

    My Fuzzibunz diapers were very well used. I had about 8 that I used over and over. After about 2.5 years, I had to throw them away because the PUL delaminated. Since you say this shouldn’t happen, it’s probably because I had no hot water and had to boil water and add to the wash. So the boiling water was probably too hot.

    However, what makes me not want to buy any more Fuzzibunz was how quickly the microfleece wore out. The piling is not what bothered me, but it doesn’t stay dry anymore because the fabric has worn out. Will this happen with all microfleece diapers? I have some newer fuzzibunz, and after only 1 year of use they are no longer stay dry. Has anyone else had this problem?

    • kimrosas

      I’ve not had this happen. Did you have a smaller rotation of diapers maybe?
      Please excuse typos and brevity. Sent from my iPhone

      • Katie Lamb

        I have a decent size stash, I wash every 2-3 days. If this is truly uncommon to have the micro fleece wear out to begin feeling wet then maybe it was my agitator. Your micro fleece are still stay dry after many years of use? I can show you a picture, the center is worn so you can see through the fibers. all my fuzzibunz have done this after 12-18 months.

  • Danielle Stephens

    You can repair a delaminated diaper, you add a layer of pul


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