How Long Do Cotton Cloth Diapers Last? (and 7 Tips to help prolong their lifetime!)
We’ll come right out and say it. We believe that organic cotton is THE BEST material available for cloth diapering. But what is it’s life expectancy? Can organic cotton Inners really be used and washed over and over again for multiple babies?
The short answer is: yes, for the overwhelming majority of Esembly families, a single set of diapers can be used to cloth diaper one, two, or even three babies. Passing pre-loved diapers onto future babies is one of our favorite things about cloth diapering; not only does it radically reduce waste, but it saves you a bunch of money, too!
In this blog post, we’ll detail everything you need to know to help your diapers live a long and “healthy” life… as they should!
Why don’t cloth diapers last forever?
Esembly Inners are made of 12 layers (Size 1) or 14 layers (Size 2) of soft, 100% organic cotton. These multiple layers make the diaper super absorbent without using any chemicals or synthetic materials. 🙌
But, like any natural fiber (such as linen, hemp, bamboo, etc.), the lifespan of cotton can vary. Just think about an old cotton t-shirt, towel, or bed sheet. Over time, with constant use and frequent washing, there is some thinning of the fabric and maybe even some holes or tears. The same can happen to your diapers.
Fortunately, when cared for per our instructions, our Inners are expected to last a long, long time. As mentioned, the majority of Esembly families use their diapers to diaper multiple babies or even resell them on our Pre-Loved site! But in some cases, even when following our instructions to a T, there can be variables beyond our control that can impact the lifespan of the diapers.
Over the years, we’ve identified some common culprits that can shorten the lifespan of your diapers…
7 Tips for helping your cloth diapers live the longest, healthiest life possible
If you’re lucky, you have optimum washing conditions: soft, pH-neutral water that is never too extreme in temperature and a washer with the Goldilocks amount of mechanical action. These conditions will most likely leave you with diapers that are still in “like new” condition on the bum of your 3rd baby - in which case, you might be done reading this post already (if at all 😂).
But for everyone else out there, here are some important tips and additional information that will help you protect your diapers from any premature degradation of the cotton:
Diaper creams that contain cloth, UN-friendly ingredients like petroleum oil, mineral oil, cod-liver oil, lanolin, high concentrations of zinc oxide (over 15%), or heavy wax do not wash easily and effectively out of fabric. The build-up of these ingredients can cause breaks and tears in the fabric. Not to mention that the lingering grease coats the fabric fibers, locking in stains, stinks, and causing leaks.
3. Avoid washing in ultra-hot water. We recommend warm water with the first wash cycle and hot water with the second wash cycle.
Ultra hot water (anything over 140ºF / 60ºC) will damage your cotton (as well as break down elastics and the water-resistant fabrics of the Outers and storage bags). So always be sure to avoid wash cycles like “Sanitary” or “Allergiene” or any steam or extra hot settings. These are simply too hot for your diapers, period.
(Looking to “sanitize” your diapers? Check out our instructions for an “Optional Refresh” instead!)
4. Only use bleach per our instructions for an Optional Refresh, and make sure to pour the bleach into the bleach dispenser of your washer. Bleach should NEVER be poured directly on top of the diapers (or ANY fabric) or added manually into the washer barrel. It can burn holes right through the cotton 😱
5. If you have hard water, you’ll need to ensure it’s properly treated to prevent the premature degradation of your diaper cotton.
Water hardness (a measure of the mineral content of the water) varies greatly based on location and the source. In parts of the country where the water is very hard, or for homes that are on well water, the very best thing you can do is have a household water softener installed. This is because the high level of minerals in hard water can cause damage to your appliances, faucets, and pipes in addition to your laundry. (This article does an excellent job of explaining the effects that hard water can have on laundry)
If you're washing your diapers 2-3x a week in water, that's on the harder side, you'll start to see a degradation of the cotton (and also elastics and the Outers’ fabric) much sooner than you would if you're washing in soft or normal water. In fact, diapers washed regularly in hard water will often not make it through 1 baby without showing considerable wear and tear.
If installing a household water softener is not an option, fear not! There are other solutions to soften your water during the wash cycle. You can add Borax or Calgon to each wash cycle. We recommend doing this for all your laundry cycles, not just diapers. You can read more about hard water here on our How it Works page.
6. DO NOT SOAK your diapers!! Not even in plain water. Period. 😬
We know there are many recommended methods for “stripping” your diapers or giving them a good soak to ensure they’re “cleaned and sanitized.” Not only are these practices unnecessary (when you have a good wash routine), but soaking can damage your diaper fabrics. Why, you ask? When you were young, did anyone ever tell you not to try to comb knots out of your wet hair because it’ll cause breakage? Well, it’s the same with natural fiber diapers. When the fibers are saturated, they swell and are more fragile, leading to a higher chance of breakage. The fabric is woven, so when a few fibers break, it leads to holes and fraying.
If you need to give your diapers a deep clean, the “Optional Refresh” as detailed here will likely be just what the doctor ordered: www.esemblybaby.com/laundry.
For the same reason, we also do NOT recommend any rinsing or spraying of your diapers. These practices can also weaken the natural fabric fibers, causing them to break and tear prematurely. (This is especially true if you have hard water.)
7. Finally, Less washing = longer life.
If you suspect your water and/or machine are wreaking havoc on your poor diapers, you can try washing less frequently. Try washing every 3-4 days instead of every 2-3 days.
That said, we would not recommend going longer than 4 days without washing because of the laundering issues (like mold/mildew or stubborn ammonia build-up) that can rear their ugly heads when you go too long.
Now that you have the low down on cotton care, Do you notice any sort of theme? If you didn’t, take note: having a great washing routine is the key to helping get the most out of your diapers! 👍 (we’ve got washing the “Esembly Way” detailed for you here: The Complete Guide to Washing Your Cloth Diapers at Home)
Esembly cloth diapers are designed to be your trusted companions for countless diaper changes, from the day you come home from the hospital to the day you say goodbye to your Size 2s and graduate to potty training! (a bittersweet milestone – as any cloth diapering mama will tell you! 🥲). With proper care, you can diaper with confidence, knowing that your eco-friendly, organic cotton Inners are ready to serve you and your little ones for years to come!
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!