I get asked about traveling with cloth diapers a lot, and since the holidays are upon us, I thought this would be the perfect time to give you my top tips for traveling with cloth diapers.
But first, let’s make sure you want to take your cloth with you.
How Is Travelling with Cloth Diapers Different Than Travelling with Disposible Diapers?
One of the biggest concerns with cloth diapers is how good they are to travel with. With disposables, you have your diaper bag with diapers and wipes (and possibly additional things like trash bags and creams).
After a diaper change, you throw it all away whenever you find a trash can, which we’ve found is sometimes harder than others. At someone’s house, you may have to be creative since they likely won’t have a diaper pail and won’t want stinky diapers in their trash can.
With cloth diapers, you still have your diaper bag with diapers and wipes. You’ll change the diaper, just like you would disposable, but instead of throwing it into a trash can (if you can find an acceptable one), you pull out your travel wet bag and dump the diaper in that. Your wet bag is water-resistant (it’s made from the same PUL material as some cloth diapers), locks in odors, and zips and/or ties shut.
Your diapers can stay in there until you’re back home and ready to do a load of laundry.
Is Travelling with Cloth Diapers a Good Idea for You?
If you’re still unsure if you want to use cloth diapers on your trip think about the following:
- How long are you staying at your destination, and will you have access to a washer/dryer? If not, is hand washing an option? If stored in a wet bag, cloth diapers need to be washed every four days or so to prevent mold and bacteria buildup. How close to that deadline can you get a load of laundry in?
- Do you have enough diapers for the whole trip?
- Do you have natural fiber inserts or other diapers (like GroVia O.N.E‘s or fitteds) that will survive a long car trip? Car seat straps can cause compression leaks, and immediate diaper changes won’t be possible.
- Are you visiting family or friends that are going to give you a hard time about your cloth diapers? If so, are you ready for that battle on your holiday?
- Will you be taking lots of photos that disposilble diapers could make uglier than your cute cloth diapers?
- If using disposibles, will you have access to a diaper pail or garbage (that belongs to somone ok with dirty diapers being put into)?
- Will you regret not using your cloth diapers?
How to Make Cloth Diapers Work on a Long Trip with No Washer
If you’re planning on a trip longer than 4 or 5 days, want to use cloth diapers, but won’t have access to a washer? You CAN still make it work if you’re willing to hand wash and air-dry.
The major downside is, you won’t be able to use your Measure Method Cloth Diaper Wash Routine, since won’t know how hard the water is or be able to measure water levels etc. You’re also going to have to use some muscle power and touch your dirty diapers (Pro tip: pack rubber gloves).
But if you’re only washing them out by hand once or twice while you’re away, it shouldn’t affect your diapers so much so that it can’t be corrected by a few washes at home when you return.
In general, to hand wash during travel, you want to of course remove all the solids from the diaper first if your baby isn’t breastfed (exclusively breastfed baby poop is water-soluble, but once baby eats anything other than breastmilk it’s not). You can use the dunk-and-swoosh method, or make a portable diaper sprayer from a peri-bottle, to get the solids off. I have more info about removing the poop here.
Once the solids are off, rinse them out using the shower or tub faucet. Next, you’ll want to fill up the tub or sink with hot water and put a small amount of detergent in the water first. Less than a teaspoon is plenty for a sink, and a tablespoon is plenty for a tub to start.
Throw your diapers in next, making sure not to put too many in at a time, and let them soak for a bit. Come back and scrub them together as much as you have the muscle for. The more friction and agitation the better.
Finally, drain the water and rinse them again under the shower or tub.
Here’s the important part: USE YOUR NOSE!
Since you can’t measure things properly here your nose is going to be your fail-safe. Once the diapers are rinsed, how do they smell?
Do they smell a little, just faintly, like a barnyard? If so, put them back in the sink or tub with a tiny bit more detergent and go again.
Do they smell like detergent? Rinse them more.
Do they smell like ammonia? Rinse them more, wringing them out while you rinse.
Do they smell clean? Perfect, hang them out to dry somewhere safe, and make sure to use your Measure Method Wash Routine when you get back home.
How to Wash Cloth Diapers at a Laundromat or Other Washer That’s Not Your Own
If you do have access to a washing machine while away, this is good news!
Unfortunately, unless you have a water hardness test and some time to figure out how much laundry the machine you’re using can hold, you once again won’t be able to use your Measure Method Wash Routine.
Unfortunately, unlike hand washing where you can just keep rinsing to correct any issues, a washing machine leaves far less room for error. Errors in your wash routine can of course cause detergent buildup or on the other hand leave your diapers unclean, both of which can cause smells and rashes.
But if approached carefully, the damage can be minimized and corrected when you return home and can run a few of your regular washes.
Here’s what I recommend for those washes away from home in a washer that’s not your own:
- Remove the poop before washing unless your baby is exclusively breastfed. No suprises there, but it should be said.
- Choose the largest load setting if the washer is manual.
- Assume that the washer is a small 3 cubic feet and put no more than about 9 lbs of diapers in at a time and no less than about 3 lbs. Here’s the chart to help you come up with an approximation of how much you can throw in:
|Item||Weight (see note below)|
|Large bath (or beach) towel||1.6 lbs|
|All-in-one’s (AIO)||0.75 lbs|
|Prefolds, Flats & Flour Sack Towels (FST)*|
*Covers won’t add much weight but it’s factored in as rounding up
|Fitteds, Hybrid Fitteds & Overnight Fitteds*|
*Covers won’t add much weight but it’s factored in as rounding up
|Pockets & All-in-two’s (AI2)||Use insert weights below based on the number of inserts, doublers, etc. you use per diaper and round up for the small weight of the pocket and AI2 covers.|
|Inserts, Doublers & Boosters||0.37 lbs|
- Do a rinse/spin cycle (or if the cost is prohibitive at a laundromat, rinse them out ahead of time in the hotel shower or tub).
- Run a heavy-duty, hot cycle. Add the amount of detergent recommended for small loads on the back of your detergent bottle. For Tide this is line 1, which is equal to a 1/4 cup, but for other detergents this will be different. Bring along your own detergent if you can (mostly to avoid skin reactions to new detergents for your baby) and the scoop or cap to measure it out.
- Do another rinse/spin cycle.
- Again, use your nose as a fail-safe. If they smell slightly like a barnyard after the final rinse, you may need to run another wash cycle and rinse cycle. If they smell heavily like detergent or ammonia, run another rinse cycle or even better, rinse them out under a sink or tub faucet until they smell clean.
- Once they smell clean, dry them in a dryer (medium setting or lower) or hang them to dry.
What’s the Cost of Using Disposible Diapers While Travelling?
A few years ago, I went on a long drive to visit friends in my home city, with kiddo in diapers.
For that trip, I decided to use disposables since we were planning on doing things all around town most days, even though it wasn’t my favorite idea. On the drive, however, I used cloth diapers and just kept everything in the truck. At that time, I was wise enough (a.k.a had enough leaks before to know) to choose natural fibers since I knew any microfiber would cause compression leaks in the car seat.
I had all the diapers prepared and ready to go with their inserts and fleece liners all aligned and tucked them and my wipes in a double-pocket wet bag and stuck it on the floor of the backseat so I could just grab that at pitstops. There was no need for a big bulky diaper bag. I had everything I needed and no additional trash can hunt was necessary, which can sometimes happen on road trips.
We had those diapers on the travel back as well.
Total cost: one load of laundry.
While at the hotel, I noticed several reasons why I like to travel with cloth diapers.
First, the smell! OH-MY-GOODNESS! Disposables stink! All the trash cans in a hotel are open, so unless the maid service is on the ball your room will reek that chemical-poop smell.
Cloth doesn’t smell like that!
Of course, there was more yuck factor just watching her in them. Not only did she not look as cute in an ugly disposable diaper, but the moment they’re soiled, the bottom hung down in a gross, sagging mass, even if it was only slightly wet. Gross.
Total cost: $15 CDN for a weeks’ worth of diapers (cheapest we could find), plus $5 CDN for wipes.
As I recall, I became determined to not do disposables ever again after that trip.
7 Tips for Travelling with Cloth Diapers
If you DO decide to use cloth diapers on your trip, here are my top tips for traveling with cloth diapers:
- Pack extra, because you never know!
- Use natural fiber inserts (not microfiber or bamboo charcoal) and use plenty of them for your diapers during car trips. As I mentioned earlier, car seats are known for causing compression leaks, and immediate diaper changes won’t be possible.
- While at your destination, choose easy-to-wash diapers like prefolds, flats and covers if you have them. as these will be easier to clean if you’re using someone else’s washer or handwashing. They will also be easier to clean if they have to sit for a while before you get home.
- Pack extra wet bags and consider doubling-up for overnight diapers. Overnight diapers are prone to ammonia, especially if they need to ‘marinate’ for a day or two before washing. Putting your overnight diapers in a small wet bag, inside your larger wet bag can reduce smells. Just remember to take it out before washing, and note that it will reduce the amount of airflow to the diaper, so you’ll need to wash it sooner. (To learn more about storing dirty diapers, check out this full article on the topic).
- Bring some of your usual laundry detergent with you if you plan on washing them while you’re away. Bring rubber gloves if you’re washing them by hand.
- Bring an old-school peri bottle (like these ones) along as a travel cloth diaper sprayer.
- Don’t be afraid to break the rules and buy disposables if it’s causing you anxiety; you’re on a holiday!