Did you know that babies in natural fiber cloth diapers tend to potty train approximately one year sooner than their friends in disposables?! If that’s not a major perk for choosing cloth, I don’t know what is! While there are several studies that have been done over the years to support these claims, we can speak directly from our own personal experience...
When we were preparing to launch our diaper service in NYC in 2009 we wrote the business plan assuming we would keep our service families for 3 years (since 36 months was the average potty training age in the US). Well, we realized in those first few years that we were wrong. Our service babies were all potty training around 2 years old, not 3. And that trend continues with our Esembly babies (most of whom potty training between 23-26 months).
In the 14 years that we’ve been working in this wonderful cloth diapering world, the average age that babies are potty training out of our diapers is 25 months. That’s 11 months less of diapering than if you were to choose disposables!
Why is that so incredible? Two main reasons…
- $$$. Whether you are using disposables, a diaper service, or home laundering - the sooner your baby potty trains the more money you’ll save. Boom!
- Diapering a baby is no biggie - but diapering a 2.5 - 3 year old is a whole lot of ick. That’s a big little person eating lots of real food and running all around. The closer to 2 you can get your little friend out of diapers, the happier you’ll be as a parent.
Soooo WHY do they potty train earlier out of cloth??
Disposable diapers are loaded with Sodium Polyacrylate (small petro-derived beads that absorb moisture and swell) and topped with layer of moisture wicking synthetic material. Both of which disguise moisture and leave the toddler with no ability to correlate the sensation of needing to pee with the feeling of it after. Which leaves the parents with virtually no tools to potty train! Whereas with natural fiber diapers (like our organic cotton Inners) the toddler is able to make the connection between pee and the after-effect because cotton feels slightly damp to the touch when fully saturated.
Potty training throughout history
What's interesting is that when we rewind the clock and examine the historical trends in potty training age, we can trace a direct connection to the surge in popularity of disposable diapers. Back in the '50s and '60s, for instance, children were typically fully potty trained by the tender age of 2. This pattern persisted until the mid-'90s when we began to witness a subtle shift. What was driving this shift? Well, the rising preference for disposable diapers was a significant factor! As we entered the 2000s, with disposable diapers dominating the market and the introduction of SAP gel beads and synthetic materials, it's hardly surprising that the average potty training age inched up from 2 to 3 years old.
Of course, sales also played a pivotal role in this transformation. Cloth diapers are a one-time purchase, reusable for the long haul. Whether your little one achieves potty training mastery at 18 months or holds on until 48 months, it doesn't impact the revenue of brands selling reusable diapers. But, when it comes to single-use disposable brands, the longer your baby remains in diapers, the more money they make. Just imagine the substantial financial gains for giants like Pampers and Huggies if all 11 million diaper-age babies in the United States continued to rely on disposable diapers for an extra 12 months!
But ok, enough of that. Lets get into the how-to! If your baby is approaching 2 and you’re thinking about potty training your cloth diapered little one, we’ve detailed our best tips, tricks, and advice! All conveniently located in this blog post.
So, how do I know when to potty train?
“It’s super easy! You just wait until your child is showing signs of readiness!”
…okay, but what does that mean, really?
We’ll be honest; we can’t say we’ve ever identified a common behavior that indicated “readiness”. Every child is so different, and in our experience (we’ve helped thousands of families cloth diaper and potty train their kiddos) there is no one tell tale sign that means “ready”. One child might start showing an interest in the toilet, which can of course be capitalized on, and another might simply be out growing their diapers.
So what’s our advice? Instead of waiting on your child to show you the mystery “signs of readiness”, start feeling it out around 18-24 months and when YOU are ready to begin, we invite you to consider the following steps!
A 5-step approach for potty training your little one
We are all busy and don't have months to dedicate to potty training. (Almost our entire team here at Esembly are mamas. Trust us when we say, we get it!) So we say save yourself the costly and time-consuming training pants method and instead jump right in!
Here’s what we’d recommend:
Step 1: Take your toddler to the store and let them pick out some undies. Nothing fancy. In fact, the thinnest cheapest ones will be best. You'll want to have a dozen or so pairs.
Step 2: Select a chunk of time (ideally 5-7 days) when someone can stay close to home with the child and focus on potty training. Then, with the exception of nighttime and nap time, commit 100% to undies or bare bottoms. Roll up your rugs, there will be lots of accidents in the beginning. But the experience of pee running down their leg and puddling on the floor will have an impact on your child and will encourage potty use. Keep the potty in clear sight at all times and have your child sit on it and "try" at least every hour. Consider a sticker chart/book or some other positive reward system to encourage trying. When there is an accident on the floor, no biggie- just continue on (just give a big “uh-oh” and invite them to help you clean it up). When they do get it right, make a HUMONGOUS deal out of it. Cheer, sing, dance, high-five, take a picture with your phone, go all out.
Step 3: You should begin to see that there are fewer and fewer accidents as the days pass. And by the end of the first week, you will likely be able to venture further from the house. Some folks do purchase a few pairs of training pants to use during these outings just in case, but NO DIAPERS! Training pants or undies ONLY during waking hours from here on out. Pack a change of clothes (don't forget the socks). Be sure to carry a portable potty or at least have every restroom plotted and mapped. Continue to use your Esembly diapers at nap time and night time.
Step 4: After 2-3 weeks there should be very few if any, accidents. You can slowly resume normal life (being mindful to always know where the nearest potty is and to always have a full change of clothes with you).
Step 5: So you have a successfully potty-trained child, except for nighttime and nap time. This is the one area where we do feel you need to wait until the child shows you he or she is ready. As soon as you witness 2 full weeks of them waking with a dry diaper (or waking up at night asking to use the potty) switch over to training pants or undies and use a waterproof sheet protector on top of their sheet in case of nighttime accidents.
There is always a chance for regression. Kids regress for any number of reasons. If this happens, you are meant to start all over from Step 1.
What about training pants?
We do not recommend using disposable training pants. The SAP gel in disposable diapers pulls the wetness away from their skin and your child will have no idea he or she has wet. It is confusing for them and can complicate the potty training process. Instead, if needed stick with a cloth training pant ideally made from natural fibers (like cotton) and lined with PUL to keep small accidents contained.
What do I do for laundering smaller loads of cloth diapers?
Once potty training begins, we often get asked things like “do I still have to launder my diapers every 2 - 3 days?” or “are two cycles still necessary if I’m only laundering pee diapers?” The answer to both questions is yes.
In order to prevent ammonia build-up (and other laundering issues like mold or mildew that can happen if wetted diapers are sitting to long between washes) you’ll need to make sure that you’re still following our laundering instructions as detailed here every 2 - 3 days: www.esemblybaby.com/laundry.
That most definitely won't equal a full load of laundry so go ahead and add in some of your other household laundry to fill it out. Towels, baby clothes, parent clothes, whatever you have that is in need of washing. Just make sure that the items you throw in won't bleed color and can withstand the hot water temps! (And try to avoid oversized items like sheets or blankets. These can tangle easily and "bury" the diapers.)
Above all, do what works for YOU
In conclusion, the world of potty training is brimming with advice, but it's essential to remember that there's no right or wrong way. Your intuition and your child's unique needs should be your compass. Don't rush into potty training if you're not ready, and don't fret if you can't commit fully right now. Trust your instincts and do what feels right for you and your toddler.
Want to learn more?
Our co-founders host a free, virtual, Cloth Diapering 101 class every month to help cloth-curious parents get all the tools and information they need! You’ll learn:
- How to use the Esembly diapers and accessories
- How to easily and effectively launder your Esembly diapers
- The impact that your choice has on the planet, your wallet, and your day-to-day.
You'll leave with the confidence to Live Less Disposably and a 20% discount code to use on your first order. 🥳 We hope to see you there!