The Real Cloth Diaper Guide from a Mama Who’s Done It
Cloth Diapering Essentials and Tried and True Tips
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Getting started with cloth diapers is easier than people think. With all of the unknowns for those new to cloth diapers it can seem overwhelming. New things and experiences can feel that way. Learning is always a process. I’m here to tell you that cloth diapering your baby is possible, and you can do it! Yes, even washing them. I have been cloth diapering for more than three years, and am currently diapering my second child. I am going to share my personal experience as a cloth diaper mama, so hopefully you can get started with less fear and more excitement.
There are many things to consider as a mom-to-be, and diapers are definitely one of them. Your child is probably going to need diapers for at least two to three years. Cloth diapers may sound great in theory to some, but they get scared away because they’re unsure of how to use them. Disposable diapers just seem easier. After all, you just throw them away and buy more.
Why I Chose Cloth
When I was expecting my first child, I researched all things baby related. Google + First Time Pregnancy = Information Overload. I read about what to eat, what not to eat, what I need to have before Baby arrives, how much baby stuff will cost the first year…the list goes on. When I started looking up diapers, I discovered what disposable diapers contain. One of these things are dioxins (which are a byproduct of the diaper manufacturing process). According to the World Health Organization website, dioxins are environmental pollutants known as persistent organic pollutants. Once they enter the human body, they remain there for years. Long-term exposure is linked to problems with the immune system, nervous system, endocrine system and reproductive system. Newborns may be more vulnerable to exposure to dioxins (www.who.int). Now, some studies state that dioxin levels in diapers are really low. That said, diapers are in contact with skin nearly 24/7. Skin absorbs what it is in contact with. Even at low levels, it really concerned me. Thus, I began my journey into cloth diapers. I read articles about how to use cloth diapers, just like this one.
My second reason for choosing cloth was cost. Cloth diapering a baby costs less than half of what disposable diapers cost over the same period of time. This includes the cost of washing and drying them too. I love saving money, so this was also a positive factor in my choice. Lastly, knowing that a disposable diapers remain in landfills for up to five hundred years before decomposing was pretty compelling. That’s five generations (or more!) of a family before a diaper is gone.
I also read that the original intent of disposable diapers was for use during travel to make it easier on parents. Travel and vacations are usually an occasional thing, so disposable diapers weren’t meant for exclusive daily use. If disposable diapers were treated this way today, we would create much less waste.
Now that you know my journey into cloth diapers, I will now share what I have learned over the last three years.
The cost of an individual cloth diaper can be surprising at first. Newborn fitted diapers can range between $7.00 and $12.00 depending on the brand and where you purchase them. If you go to a trendy baby boutique, expect the $12.00 price tag. I went the $7.00 route for organic cotton diapers. Larger sizes are a little more. Remember though, you’ll reuse a single diaper over and over. The average cost of a single disposable diaper is $0.30. I’ve used each size large diaper I have once every two to three days for about two years. That’s less than $0.05 a diaper “use”.
Popular Types of Cloth Diapers
- Flats – Large, thin squares or rectangles of fabric. The “original” cloth diaper
- Prefold – Padded rectangles with two seams down the length, creating three “sections”
- Fitted – Looks similar to a disposable, with snaps or hook and loop (Velcro®) closure
- All In One (AIO) – A diaper cover that is permanently attached to a diaper
- Pocket Diapers – Diapers with an opening for inserts (padded liners that hold pee and poo)
There are other things that you’ll need to cloth diaper your baby. All of them have a higher upfront cost, but a much lower overall cost in comparison to disposable diapers.
What To Buy
They are “sized” – Newborn, Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large. In my experience, the most useful sizes are Newborn, Small and Large. You can easily skip Medium if you use fitted cloth diapers. Beginning your cloth diaper journey with diapers that fit and work for you and your baby will make it easier to stick with it long-term.
Doublers are a separate insert for diapers – sort of like a pad or underwear liner. They are useful for heavy-wetters and overnight.
This is the waterproof outer cover that you place over the diaper.
Cloth wipes look like small washcloths and are used with a wipe solution to clean Baby.
Fasteners are used to secure diapers. I’ll go into more detail about this below.
A diaper pail is where you will store the dirty diapers prior to washing.
Diaper Pail Liner
This is a bag that you put in the diaper pail. When you are ready to wash a load of diapers, take the whole bag out and empty it into the washing machine, bag and all.
A waterproof bag for dirty diaper storage. Keep a small one in your diaper bag for outings. Wash the wet bag with the rest of the diapers. Diaper pail liners are also called wet bags .
There are several cloth diaper laundry detergents on the market. I’ve only used Country Save, and I am happy with it.
Small Open-Top Trash Can
Having a small trash can next to the changing table is a wonderful thing. You’ll use it when your diaper pail liner is in the wash, and if you choose to use disposable wipes.
Clothes Washer and Dryer
We didn’t have a washer or dryer when we began cloth diapering. I purchased a portable Panda Washer that plugged into the wall and used a tiered drying rack to air dry the diapers and covers. It was a lot of work, but it shows you that cloth diapering is possible in many living situations.
Washing and Drying Cloth Diapers and Covers
When you receive your brand new cloth diapers, you’ll need to “prep” them. This simply means washing with hot water and drying them a few times to increase their absorbency. New diaper covers just need to be washed once.
Once you start using them on Baby, wash them on the warm setting and do an extra rinse at the end of the wash cycle. Sometimes I start the wash on hot for a few minutes if there are some really good (poop) diapers in the load. Hot water will wear the cotton more over time, just like your own clothes. So, even when I use hot water, I don’t fill the entire wash basin with hot water. Dry the diapers on low. It takes about one and a half full dry cycles to dry my diapers. Your dry time may differ depending on your machine and time settings. You can put the covers in the dryer too, but it will shorten the life of the covers. Machine dried diaper covers lasted me about a year before the lining failed to hold pee in. I had actually used those covers for close to two years, but I air dried them on the drying rack for a year before we had a standard washer and dryer. I have since started to air dry covers again. I toss them on the bed to dry.
What To Do About Poo
In the first few days of your baby’s life, meconium will be the first “poo”. This is what has been storing up in your baby in the womb. It’s black and looks like tar. This may stain cloth diapers. I found it really helpful to cut up one of my husband’s old undershirts into small rectangles and place it between my baby and the diaper until the meconium cleared out completely.
After this stage, baby poo will be so thin that you’ll toss the diaper – poo too, into the diaper pail to wash. Once Baby starts eating solid food and the poo looks more like poo, you can flush it. There are diaper sprayers for sale to remove poo off of cloth diapers into the toilet. I’ve never used them. I have used Bummi’s Bio-Soft liners though. These are very thin flushable liners that resemble toilet paper sheets. They will “catch” poo, and then you flush the liner and poo down the toilet. You can also use these for meconium, although the meconium could get through the liner. As my child grew and ate more “adult” food, I used toilet paper to help remove the poo into the toilet. Sometimes I rinse the diaper in the toilet bowl. Yes, it can be gross. It’s poo. But you’re supposed to dispose of poo into the toilet, even with disposable diapers. If I rinse a diaper in the toilet, I either let it hang out in the trash can next to the toilet before transferring it to the diaper pail or bring the diaper pail into the washroom with me. Sometimes I place a really soiled diaper in the washing machine for a rinse or quick wash (after removing what I could). Solid poo is my favorite. You might be thinking I’m crazy right about now, but it empties into the toilet so easily and leaves a very clean diaper. Trust me, it’ll make you happy too once you see all the other stuck-on stuff. Now that I’ve grossed you out a bit, let’s address another reality. Your child will have diarrhea one day. And it will smell worse than the regular stuff. When this happens, wash the diapers the same day and use some hot water and a little more detergent. It’s worth the extra load of laundry.
How Effective Are Cloth Diapers?
Cloth diapers are the only diapers that I’ve used. I’ve found that cloth diapers work really well, and am cloth diapering my second child too. I’ve used them daily, for air travel and long road trips. Have there been challenging days? Sure. But you’ll have those whether you choose cloth or disposable diapers. Blowouts happen, with disposables and cloth. It’s a fact of parenting life. Change the diaper, the onesie and move on. With cloth diapers, the cover is the part that protects from leaks. Always make sure the diaper is completely covered by the diaper cover. Check the leg area and tuck it in. Most of the time, especially at the beginning, you’ll just need a cloth diaper and cover. Doublers are good for overnight, heavy-wetters and as Baby grows (and produces more pee). Doublers are available in several sizes and fabrics to accommodate your baby’s needs.
How to use on a baby
The way you put a cloth diaper on a baby depends on the type of cloth diaper(s) you choose. I personally use fitted cloth diapers and prefolds. Fitted diapers look a lot like disposable diapers. Imagine a disposable diaper with snaps. Prefolds are flat padded rectangles with two seams down the length (making three sections); these are similar to the classic cloth diaper. Fitted cloth diapers are my favorite, and if I were to start over, I would purchase them exclusively. These are the reasons I prefer fitted cloth diapers with snap closures:
- They are easier to put on a wiggly baby
- They are better at containing messes
- They stay in place
- They are adjustable, and fit snuggly
- Doublers fit nicely inside
- The snaps are secure
- They are easier for babysitters and other caregivers to use
Prefolds work well too, and are a good option if you are on a budget. There are many ways to fold a prefold. Honestly, keeping it simple has worked best for me. Fold it in thirds along the seams and place it in the diaper cover. Place Baby on the diaper, lift the diaper over the front of Baby and snap the cover over the diaper. Alternatively, lay the open prefold on a diaper cover, place Baby on the diaper and fold the sides of the diaper in and over the front of Baby. Snap the cover over the diaper. If you want to use diaper pins, sticking them in a bar of soap helps the needle to go through the cloth. I used diaper pins a lot with my first, and am barely using them now. It’s easier and faster to change a prefold without diaper pins. This is also another reason I like fitted diapers. Snappi brand diaper fasteners are another option. To me, they’ve been more trouble than they’re worth. I’ve tried them, and don’t like the way they look. The claws don’t grip the diaper well, and the claw also falls out of its holder. If you want a closure, choose diaper pins.
Diaper covers are essential; it’s what keeps wetness in. Cloth diapers are cotton, and using them without a cover is like putting your baby in regular underwear. It’s not going to be effective. Use the same cover for multiple changes. I change the cover for pee if the edges of the cover are wet, but mostly poo if it got on the cover. I usually use two or three covers a day.
Newborn size covers fit well for the first few months. You can also purchase size Small to get Baby through about five months if you’d like. The “One Size” diaper covers work best after Baby has grown a bit; they’re really big on a newborn. One Size diaper covers have a few rows of snaps that pull the front of the cover up to create a better fit. They are large enough to fit a child up to two or three years old.
Did I mention cloth diaper covers are Adorable? They are available in so many colors and patterns. Match covers to your baby’s outfits or holidays. You might as well have fun cloth diapering! Babies with round cloth diaper bottoms are irresistible. SO cute!
I’ve used Flip, Bummis, Thirsties, Econobum and Blueberry covers. My favorite is Blueberry Coveralls and Blueberry Mini Coveralls (for newborns). The fabric is more durable, and they Work! They perform well overnight and last a long time.
I have a dresser for my little one, with a changing pad secured to the top. I place diapers, doublers, cloth wipes, disposable wipes, diaper covers and bottom balm in the top drawer. Having everything within reach is the goal. Only keep the size you are currently using in the drawer. I keep the diaper pail on one side of the dresser, and on the other side I keep a small trash can for disposable wipes and dirty diapers (when the pail liner is in the wash).
When I started purchasing diapers for the first time, I bought newborn and small sizes. I then purchased larger sizes as my infant grew. If you choose to have more than one child, you can store the too-small diapers in sealed cardboard boxes or plastic bins. Wash them once before using on Baby #2. Most of the diapers I’ve used with my second child are from my first. Newborn and small diapers and covers received the least use (babies grow fast), so they are in great condition. Using cloth on more than one baby reduces your overall cost dramatically too.
I did a lot of research before choosing a cloth diaper detergent. I read reviews, checked ingredients and environmental impact. I compared cost and availability too. You are not limited to “cloth diaper detergents”, but I did learn that oxygen cleaners are not good for cotton diapers. Residue from these types of detergents prevent diapers from absorbing, and that’s not a good thing. Stick to simple powder or liquid detergents. I chose Country Save laundry detergent for my diapers because it is highly rated, and I can buy it locally. I use it for cloth diapers and kids clothes. I’ve also used it for my clothing on occasion too.
Cotton wipes (or bamboo/terry/flannel) are often used in conjunction with cloth diapers. We used cotton wipes exclusively for awhile. I made my own wipe solution and kept it in a spray bottle to wet the wipes each changing. I’d dunk several wipes in the solution and have them already prepared for our babysitter. The wipe solution I made contained baby soap, coconut oil and water. You can find different “recipes” online to accommodate your preferences. We eventually switched to disposable wipes, but I still feel a little unsettled with them. They do add up in cost and waste. If you want to reach a compromise, you might use disposable wipes only for really messy diapers. Seventh Generation is my favorite, and yes, I researched every ingredient.
Cloth diapered babies typically have far fewer rashes than disposable diapered babies. Cotton is against their delicate skin, not plastic and chemically treated materials. The occasional times my child had redness, it was due to a reaction from food, illness or outgrowing diapers. The balm I use is CJ’s BuTTer. It has good ingredients and is safe for cloth diapers. Using regular diaper rash cream with cloth diapers is a big no-no because it will muck up the diaper and prevent it from absorbing and doing its job. If you must use regular diaper rash cream on occasion, place a piece of fabric (those old cut up t-shirts work) or a flushable liner between Baby and the diaper. For me, CJ’s BuTTer works great. I’ve tried a few others and repurchased only CJ’s BuTTER. I also use it on scrapes, dry patches and even myself sometimes!
It IS possible to travel with a cloth diapered baby. I’ve done overnight trips and traveled by air with cloth diapers. On trips that are no longer than three days, you can simply store the diapers until you return home. For longer trips and air travel, make sure that you have a washer and dryer available and bring detergent.
Ask friends and family for cash gifts or Amazon gift cards for baby shower gifts. I’m sure you’ll get plenty of cute onesies, but let people know you’ll be cloth diapering and how they can help with that. Cloth diapers will get more use than that size newborn onesie. Have loved ones choose an adorable diaper cover instead!
You’ll need fewer diapers as Baby gets older.
Newborn (20-24), Small (20-24), Medium/Large (16-18)
Diaper Covers (7-8 per size)
Diaper Pail (just a trash can with lid)
Diaper Pail Liner (One, but two is better)
I wash cloth diapers more than anything else except dishes. For real. But it takes two minutes to throw in a load. I would choose cloth again, and I actually am, with my second child. Knowing that I am doing something good for my baby and the environment makes me happy. Old cloth diapers can even be used as rags or gifted to another mom. The upfront cost is more, but you can splurge on things like good quality bottom balm, diaper covers and even baby shampoos and lotion with the saving over disposable diapers. Start with the essentials and then add more as you tune into your baby’s needs. And above all else, enjoy your new beautiful baby! This time is precious, so treasure it and give time to your baby. I know you want the best for your child. Love, nourish, shelter, show patience, and your little one will be off to a great start. Good luck, and congratulations! Let the adventure begin.