Behind the Diaper – The Diaper Fairy (Diaper Service Series)
After sitting in on part of the diaper service day at the RDIA conference (before ABC) last year, I realized how little I really know about diaper services, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. For the past 5 years, Emily Weixler McCay has been the fairy behind the Louisville area diaper service that is anything but ordinary. Emily agreed to take some time out of her busy schedule to give us a peek behind the scenes of a diaper service, and answer all my questions.
The Diaper Fairy‘s “flight pattern” runs through Louisville and Southern Indiana, and they offer additional services such as stripping or washing your own stash of diapers for you.
You can also shop for diapers, baby carriers, natural toys and more at The Diaper Fairy Cottage, their retail shop.
Without further adieu, I present a behind the scenes look at the Diaper Fairy!
Emily: We do a lot of marketing around how light and glittery we can make cloth diapering. But let’s be honest, what we do isn’t glamorous! That’s what makes my “life” as The Diaper Fairy even more fabulously funny.
Let’s get down to what goes on behind the scenes. What I’m about to tell you and show you; this is the first time I’ve really shared it in front of clients.
Maria: Do customers get the same diapers back each week?
Every service seems to handle this differently. But no, because our service is structured as “Community Laundry”, we do not offer the same diapers returned weekly. We launder diapers for over 120 babies per week and when we combine loads, it allows us to use bigger machines more efficiently. Community laundry also allows us to rotate stained diapers back through a rewash cycle easily and to adjust a family’s weekly order up or down without having to compromise our inventory of diapers. We explain our washing arrangement to new families with confidence. Our partnership with a medical laundry facility leads to zero issues on bacteria hanging around from their or another baby and has worked well for going on six years.
Do you offer options other than prefolds?
In addition to four different sizes of prefolds, our service also offers Flip microfiber inserts from Cotton Babies. We provide our clients a choice between two different types of absorbency but both can use the same reusable wipe-out shell. We added this microfiber option several years back when we found that some of our older/larger babies were both affected by the dampness and bulk of the larger sizes of prefolds. With the addition of a microfiber option, we gave our service an even more mainstream audience. We would love to add All-in-Ones and we are currently running trials to see what holds up well in our medical laundry machines
What kind of accessories do you offer?
We offer cloth wipes, potty training pads, padded pants and rental of both newborn and one-size covers.
What about night time options?
We offer doublers as an accessory option in our service. We rent both microfiber and hemp in bundles of tens. We encourage and train customers to use wool covers also for waterproofing. My Fairies and I are considering offering a wool washing service for families since it doesn’t have to be done daily.
Do they have to scrape solids, do you do it, or does your machine handle it?
We request a family take care of as much of it as they can easily (even just to help with odor in the diaper pail on their end.) Therefore, ideally, our families use either flushable liners or a diaper sprayer. However, our industrial machines are usually able to handle whatever remains.
What do your washers/dryers look like (sorting/folding process also)?
I contract our laundry to a regional medical laundry that has been family owned and operated for 83 years. Outsourcing the laundering has allowed me leave the washing to professionals and to lower my overhead while I continue to grow my client base.
We meet and switch out dirties for cleans with our laundry facility 2-3 times a week at 6:00 am, and I promise I’m always wearing pajamas.
Once they take care of the washing and drying, they cycle unsorted bags of cleans to us. We have our own workshop separate from our retail store where we sort sizes, stains, and type of diaper or accessory. Our workshop features a large sorting table, bushel carts filled with clean fluffy diapers, and racks and racks of shelves for our bundles waiting to be bagged. We usually have 2-3 fairies working on a day’s orders at once. Two fairies will sort and a third will bag as they go. I know it’s hard to believe, but sorting and stacking is a fairly Zen process and can be quite relaxing and therapeutic, and we all like doing the job.
How many diapers do you launder a week?
We launder around 1000 lbs of linen in 3 days of routing. Last September, we hit a major milestone: We’ve laundered over one million diapers since we opened in 2010. The irony of all of this is I never actually laundered one of my own daughter’s diapers! We lived in another city used a service (and fell in love) the entire time she was in diapers.
What kind of detergent/cleansers do you use?
Our laundry facility uses an EcoLabs commercial cleaner that is a custom mix that is pretty standard for our diaper industry.
What would you tell anyone concerned about diapers being sanitary?
Our wash process is done on the same machines, with the same level of heat, that surgical linen is cleaned with. In addition, four times a year, we send a random diaper sample to an independent 3rd party lab to check for pH balance and bacteria removal. Our laundry partners are true professionals and we have never failed a test.
About how long does a diaper last before it has to be retired? What do you do with retired diapers?
The average life span of a “service quality” diaper is about a year and half, maybe up to two years. You can tell when diapers are ending their life cycle because it seems to happen all of the sudden, with dozens all at once.
Once a diaper has heavier staining we just can’t address, or a hole through the top layer larger than about a dime, in our minds, it’s time to retire it. However, there is usually lots of life left in it for homewashers and other uses so we sell off our used prefolds to the community. In addition to homewasher interest, there is often a waiting list of window washers, car detailers, and people who clean homes.
How long do people usually stay diaper service customers? Do they end up washing at home afterwards?
We’ve found that there are truly two types of families on our flight patterns: Those who expect to use us just for the newborn period and those who will stay with us until potty-training. Our service is actually a pretty even mix! Both types of families are great and their needs are very different. We work with all customers with training and support regardless of how long their plan is to stay by offering both a consultation before they start service and an in-home follow up visit to address any questions after the first week.
Now that we have our retail store, we love being able to help our future-homewashers build a stash as they leave service.
Emily, thank you so much for this peek behind The Diaper Fairy’s wings! I learned a lot and I’m very impressed that diapers are so sanitary, and that you do in-home follow ups, wow!!
Be sure to check out The Diaper Fairy, “like” The Diaper Fairy on Facebook and follow @LouDiaperFairy on Twitter.
Did anything surprise you? What else would you like to know?
How can someone purchace part of your worn out stash of diapers for cleaning etc
Emily Weixler McCay is a shining example of what makes this industry great. 1,000,000 diapers – That is a lot of fluff love! We are so proud to have Emily as member of the Real Diaper Industry Association. Her energy and enthusiasm for the industry are inspirational.
I love that Emily and her fellow “diaper fairies” are so dedicated to their craft and to serving the needs of their local communities. This is critical work in helping to create a sustainable future for cloth diapering – better for babies, families and the environment. By helping make reusable cloth an option for so many families, word is spreading about the advantages of cloth diapering.
I love that you are doing this series, as this is a wonderful peek inside the world of diaper services. I look forward to the next in the series! Thank you Maria
Real Diaper Industry Association
How awesome!!! I would love to have a service like this. Great article , Maria! That’s a ton of diapers!! I love that they repurpose the old diapers , and work with a family business!
Awesome. I loved chatting with the one in our city last year. So interesting!
This was a really interesting article! It actually kind of makes me regret not doing a service with the newborn stage, although I did have my older son in diapers, too, at the time. I’m impressed by the quality of the clean. And I think I’d enjoy working as a sorter fairy! 🙂
Me too! Imagine all those mounds of clean fluffy diapers! 😀
I LOVED reading this! What a fun look behind the scenes (now I want to utilize a diaper service, too! And it sounds like it’d be fun to work there, too! PLUS, who knew there was a whole waiting list of people who wanted used prefolds??? FASCINATING!
Very cool, right? 🙂