Here’s a fully loaded cloth diapering guide, since cloth diapers have had a bit of a comeback! Perhaps it’s because parents are becoming more aware of the chemicals in disposable diapers, or maybe it’s that cloth diapers are easier to use than ever. They’ve come a long way since the days of our parents and grandparents.
The decision to cloth diaper can be intimidating, but this cloth diapering guide will cover your questions and help you determine if it’s a good fit for you.
The Benefits of Cloth Diapering
From less toxic chemicals to cute patterns, cloth diapers have a lot going for them:
- Less chemicals: disposable diapers use chemicals to bleach them white, make them super absorbent, and mask odors. Many of these chemicals have been termed as toxic by the EPA.
- Less waste: disposable diapers are big contributors to landfills as they take a long time to decompose. It’s been estimated that one baby in disposable diapers equals one ton of waste in the local landfill.
- More cost effective: the cost of disposable diapers adds up over time (averages around $2,000), whereas a set of cloth diapers can be reused for years and bought for as little as $500.
- Less leaks & blowouts: because most cloth diapers have well-fitted elastic around the legs and waist there are fewer leaks & messy blowouts are rare.
- Less rashes: rashes happen rarely or never with cloth diapers
- Ease of potty training: it’s easier for babies to tell when their diapers are wet or dirty with cloth diapers. Parents say this allows them to potty train earlier and easier.
- Cute patterns: there are patterns galore for cloth diapers! And they are all so cute it’s hard not to want to collect them all!
- Grow with your baby: many cloth diapers come in adjustable sizes. You can purchase them once and use them for years as your baby grows.
How to Choose The Right Cloth Diaper for You
There’s several different ‘styles’ of cloth diapers. All vary slightly in function and price. Ultimately, the best diaper is the one that fits your lifestyle and price point.
Here’s the most popular options and the differences between them:
Least Expensive, Example: OsoCozy Prefold
The Prefolds are your most basic cloth diapers. They are essentially a square of fabric. You’ll want to pair these with a waterproof cover and some pins or snaps (like these: Snappi Cloth Diaper Fasteners). Learning to folding/fit these on your baby may take a bit of practice, but this is the most cost effective cloth diapering option.
Moderately Expensive, Example: Cloth-eez Fitted Diaper
All in One (AIO)
Most Expensive, Example: bumGenius Freetime
AIO’s are popular because of their ease of use. However they are slightly more expensive than the alternatives. These are the most similar in function to a disposable diaper.
Somewhat Expensive, Example: bumGenius Pocket
The Pocket cloth diapers have a waterproof cover with space inside (a ‘pocket’) to insert an absorbent cloth liner. These are similar to the All in One diapers, except they require the extra step of stuffing the liner in the pocket for each diaper. They are slightly less expensive than the All in One diapers.
These are the style we use! They are super easy to use, dry quickly, and there are plenty of options for patterns/styles.
Moderately Expensive, Example: GroVia Hybrid
Note: If you aren’t sure which style of cloth diaper will work best, it doesn’t hurt to try a few! Before investing in a whole set of one type, try out a few to see what you like.
Diaper Add Ons
In your cloth diapering research you may also come across the following terms. As mentioned in some of the styles above, these can be good to purchase in addition to your diapers:
Example: Reusable Liners
Liners are placed between the baby’s bottom and the diaper and are used to catch waste. They’re not required for most cloth diaper types. Liners are purchased separately to make clean-up easier. Simply remove or wash the liner rather than removing & washing the whole diaper. They come in fabric or biodegradable paper.
Example: Rumparooz One Size Snap Cover
These are the waterproof covers that are needed for some diaper types, such as prefolds.
Example: Thirstie’s Hemp Inserts
The inserts are cloth pads that are added to the diaper for extra absorbency, if needed at nighttime or for heavy wetters.
How to Get Started Cloth Diapering
Once you’re ready to bring some cloth diapers home, the next step is deciding how many and where to buy. Here are some simple starting points:
How many diapers do I need to buy?
24 diapers is about the minimum that you’ll want to purchase. This is keeping in mind that you would probably do laundry around every other day. On average, newborns go through 12 – 18 diapers a day and older babies go through 6 – 9 diapers a day.
Where do I buy cloth diapers?
- Amazon: tons of options here, just double check that the prices are the same as on the brand’s website. I’ve noticed sometimes they are slightly higher on Amazon.
- Brand websites: go directly to a brand or manufacturer’s website (like bumGenius.com or CottonBabies.com). This is great for browsing all styles available and seeing everything a brand has to offer.
- Second hand: since cloth diapers keep their quality over time, buying second hand is a good option too! Check out Facebook Marketplace & Craigslist. Or if available in your area, mom groups that meet up and swap second hand items. Getting a discount on second hand diapers is also a good place to start if you aren’t sure about cloth diapering or want to try different styles.
- In store: big box retailers (like Target & Walmart) both carry some cloth diapers. Local specialty stores (like ones that carry eco-friendly baby products) may have more options if there’s one in your area.
Cloth Diapering Accessories
Now that we’ve covered the ins and outs of the diapers themselves, what about the other stuff that’s needed for cloth diapering? Cloth diapering has a few accessories that you’ll want to check out:
- Diaper pail + liner: a basic pail is all that’s needed for cloth diapers (it could even be a trash can). A reusable liner is recommended – that way you can throw it along with the diapers inside of it straight into the wash.
- Wet bag: this can take the place of a diaper pail if you prefer. It’s a reusable/washable bag for holding dirty diapers.
- Travel bag: a smaller variation of the wet bag that you can grab and take on the go.
- Cloth wipes: reusable/cloth wipes go hand in hand with cloth diapering. Simply throw them in the diaper pail or bag and wash them with your diapers (12 – 30 recommended).
- Sprayer: handy sprayers are available that attach directly to your toilet. These are for spraying off any solid waste before throwing a diaper into the pail.
- Diaper ointment: with cloth diapers, avoid any diaper ointment that includes petroleum, zinc, or fish oils as they will break down the absorbency of your diapers. Instead, use natural alternatives like coconut oil if needed.
- Bottom spray: you may want a spray to use as you wipe. It should also be one that is natural, not including any chemicals that will block diaper absorbency.
Are all of these accessories necessary?
Really the only accessories you need to make cloth diapering work are a pail or bag and some wipes! The other items are nice to have, but not a requirement.
How to Wash Cloth Diapers
Getting cloth diapers clean is easier than most people think. Here’s the simple step-by-step instructions:
- Get ready for washing: wet diapers & exclusively breastfed baby diapers can go straight into the diaper pail. For formula & solid food diapers, shake or wash off any waste first.
- Wash cold: no detergent. This gets rid of waste & stains.
- Wash hot: add detergent. This cleans the diapers. If you notice that your diapers are still smelly when done with the wash, you may not be using enough detergent or enough water. For very tough stains or smells try adding ¼ cup of bleach to your wash once a month.
- Dry: hang to dry or tumble dry on warm/medium. Hanging the diapers to dry is preferred as it preserves them longer. Hanging diapers to dry in the sun will naturally sanitize and bleach out stains.
What Detergent to Use
Many detergents contain chemicals that will reduce the absorbency of cloth diapers. Check with any manufacturer before using a detergent, but generally ‘free & clear’ detergents are preferred. Also stay away from fabric softeners and baby detergents, like Dreft. Some preferred cloth diaper detergents are:
- Tide – this is what we use! (Just regular Tide in powder form, not Tide Free)
- Rocking Green Diaper Detergent
- Bio-Kleen Free & Clear
- Mountain Green Free & Clear
- Allen’s Naturally Powder/Liquid
How Often to Wash
To prevent diapers getting too smelly, you’ll want to wash them every 2 – 3 days.
Diaper Cleaning Services
Though not available everywhere, diaper cleaning services are worth mentioning! These are local services that will pick up your dirty cloth diapers and wash them every few days. Some will also supply you with fresh cloth diapers when they pick up the dirty ones. This takes away some of the cost effectiveness of cloth diapering, but is a convenient alternative. I’ve seen pretty fair prices for some cities.
I’m planning to send my baby to daycare. Can I still cloth diaper?
Many daycares these days are cloth-diaper friendly. Check what their policy is up front and ask how they prefer it to work. Usually the daycare prefers that you send a bag with fresh diapers for changes and to store any that get dirty.
I just bought a bunch of cloth diapers. Do I need to wash them before using?
Yes, go ahead and wash them. For polyester diapers, do a regular wash before using. For natural fiber diapers: wash 3 – 5 times in hot water and dry between each wash. This allows the diapers to get to their proper absorbency level.
Do cloth diapers really last overnight?
Cloth diapers do last overnight. However, if you find you need some extra absorbency you can buy diaper doublers or add extra inserts if your diaper takes them.
Will cloth diapers make my laundry machine dirty?
Nope! The waste is already washed off by the time they go in, and they won’t get it any dirtier than regular laundry.
Does cloth diapering take more time?
Honestly, yes — it does take more time. The extra time is from spraying down diapers before washing (if needed), running the laundry, and prepping the diapers (for example stuffing pocket diapers) before using them again. This does add a little extra time and hassle. But once it becomes routine, it doesn’t feel like a hassle and the time is spread out over the course of the week. And the benefits greatly outweigh this!
Will the diapers get very smelly?
If you are washing your diapers regularly (every 2 – 3 days or so), then they shouldn’t build up a bad stink — no more so than disposable diapers. If you run into very smelly problems with your diapers, it’s because you likely aren’t using enough detergent or water in the wash. Try adding ¼ cup of bleach to the wash once a month to combat this.
Product Recommendations/What We Use
For an example of a total cloth diapering system, here’s all the product we use in our set up:
- BumGenius Pocket Diaper
- BumGenius Wet Bag
- BumGenius Bottom Spray
- Cloth Diaper Sprayer
- Bumkins Reusable Flannel Wipes
If you think this cloth diapering guide has pointed you in the direction of wanting to use cloth diapers, you also may be interested in making your own DIY Cloth Wipe Solution as well.