Letter Re: Using Cloth Diapers in TEOTWAWKI


This will not apply to most of your readers, but my wife and I are using cloth diapers for our newborn son. At $5 a piece they pay for themselves quickly and will be useful when items are hard to obtain during uncertain times. Thanks for the blog, and attached is a link for the diapers. – R.T.

HJL’s Comment: There are many advantages to cloth diapers. There are also many disadvantages. On our first child, we used cloth diapers (the standard white cotton with a separate plastic overpant). The point was to “go natural”, I think. However, I still remember swishing out the diapers in the toilet and the ammonia smell of the diaper pail to this day! For the second child, it was disposables all the way. It was good to know that we could use cloth if we needed to though.

In a TEOTWAWKI situation cloth will probably be the diaper that is used. But a word of warning for new prospective parents is in order. Just like anything else that has a significant “ick” factor to it, you need a procedure in place to deal with it. As a side note, the cloth diapers themselves have come a long way. No longer do you have to worry about impaling your baby with the diaper pins (or stepping on them in the middle of the night while you are half asleep trying to tend to your baby.)


  1. Our first daughter was allergic to disposable diapers so we had to use cloth. You need to boil the diapers every so often to get rid of the ammonia. We used cloth diapers with the other two also, only using disposables when visiting or traveling.

  2. I don’t have any children, but I have experience with cloth diapers from when my sisters were young. There are methods that could be used, having been through it. A clothesline is a very useful tool. Probably someone would stay on diaper duty to wash/scrub out diapers. It doesn’t have to be the same person, as several people could rotate. But I imagine that the washboard would stay in use. A pot soaking them would be good. A clothesline under the eave of the house will accommodate rainy days, if a line around the wood stove isn’t desirable. I would recommend making the diapers out of flannel and making them foldable or able to take apart so the layers can be washed and dried easily. I do like the modern formed diapers with elastic around the leg, but those are not easily washable. And they need to not be thick. The modern trend of diaper liners is a good idea. My mom just folded receiving blankets and pinned them.

  3. My daughter and son-in-law went the cloth diaper with my youngest grandson. They LOVE cloth diapers! And the modern cloth diapers will last through several children (based on how my grandson’s diapers looked after he graduated out of them – the vast majority of them still looked new). I was sure my daughter wouldn’t be able to handle the “ick” factor but she never even blinked! I think reducing the amount of trash they sent to the landfill may have played a part in that. (I actually thought I might have to potty-train the grandson since my daughter hated to give up his stylish bum covers!)

  4. Just a short comment. Most of us older folks remember when there were almost no other options other than cloth diapers. I remember helping my mom hang them on the clothesline on dry days and stringing them up around the stove on wet ones.
    Perhaps cloth diapers would be a good item to store.

  5. I like a combination approach to diapers. I used a disposable overnight because they are designed to pull moisture away from the skin. I found it yielded better sleep. I also used disposables when in town or traveling so I wouldn’t have to fuss with getting dirty ones home. I used cloth during the day while at home, which was most of the time. I had plenty of cloth on hand to switch to all cloth should tshtf.

  6. I used cloth diapers on all four children and still have them in the rag basket. Oldest child is 40 and youngest is 26. i washed them when i was homesteading in northern Canada in a washtub with a hockey stick to agitate them. It worked better than a washboard. With the younger two ( one who just returned from Africa and 2 plus years in the Peace Corps and one who is getting her PHD in biology) I had a washer. I have grandchildren and great grandchildren using what I call “fako diapers” and I vote for cloth. Just too expensive with the disposables . My daughter has used a combination of disposables and cloth with her two. Putting all that material in landfills is awful.

    1. Agreed, putting all that material in landfills is awful, but still preferable to simply dropping them in supermarket parking lots. It’s a shame that a lot of folks haven’t figured out what civilization is about.

  7. Oh and potty training occurred early using cloth. They can feel they are wet. My son was done at 16 months and the longest child took 22 months (daycare required disposables so for those hours she had absorbing gel and I think that may have affected taking longer).

  8. My little brother had cloth diapers. He’s 49 now and I still remember how to fold and pin them. I had to put them in the pail and I remember thinking “Whew this one is bad” once in a while, but it wasn’t any more disagreeable than changing the cat litter 🙂 Babies seem so much more comfortable in cloth. Hint from an old pediatric nurse: Disposables can indeed be worn until they are sagging and soaked, but that isn’t really good for baby. It only seems they wear longer; in fact, babies should be changed whenever wet or dirty. If you’re having trouble with leaks, try triple folding the middle of the diaper. The lady who used receiving blankets probably did that.

    Cloth diapers also make great cleaning rags, burp cloths, bed pads and menstrual pads. They’re so much more versatile and cheaper than disposable they’re worth investigating. If you’re still on the fence, imagine never, ever being short of money for disposables again.

  9. I remember when there were diaper services, that would come pick up the used cloth diapers and drop of a fresh supply, many times young couples would be gifted such a service by friends or relatives.

    I also remember when disposables first came out as I had a job with the local Public Works department, people would constantly flush them down the toilet and clog their sewer pipes, that is until they got the bill for the repairs, they tended to stop after that.

  10. I used cloth diapers on our first 3 children. We hauled water for 5 of the years. I just soaked the diapers in a 5 gallon bucket then rinsed them all out at the same time. Vinegar in the soaking water will help with the smell. Using a liner can really help. A sturdy brand of paper towel cut in half will work well and is really helpful for the smelly ones. I spent time working in a orphanage in Mexico and they just used any absorbant cloth and used strips of cloth to tie around the child to keep them on. This sort of works but my first trip to a store I bought diaper pins and some plastic pants to minimize the leaks. But I did learn that many things can be turned into diapers. Tee shirts, towels or other clothes can be modified to work. I also found the diaper liners at the dollar store and would suggest that if you think a baby might be involved in your future you might want to get some and some diaper pins.

    1. All four of our children used cloth diapers. My wife occasionally reminded me of the savings, which are substantial. We live in the suburbs of a a huge metropolitan area. I installed a big box store sprayer attached to our master bathroom toilet. All I can say is I listen to my wife, we have had no major issues, the youngest is now 2 and potty trained .. I put up a retractable clothline in the back yard and sunlight is amazing in turning brown to white on clean reusable diapers.

  11. i like flour sack towels folded “pad style” and laid in a one-size buttoned cover. quite thick and if you need added protection just put another one in there. the towels and covers can be easily hand or bucket washed and dry super quick on the line. the covers are adjustable to fit about 10 lb babies up to potty trainers

  12. For the record, modern diapers are quite a bit different from the old staples you remember if you diapered babies in the 80s and earlier. There are at least four different styles, if not more. There is the cloth with water proof cover(but much different from the PVC cover y’all remember), all in ones, inserts, so many colors and features now that make cloth diapering actually kinda fun.

  13. Sunlight is the key -diapers look cleaner and last longer by drying on a line in sunlight than when using bleach and a dryer. Sunlight also clears up stains on other baby clothes, too.

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