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Cloth Diapering Guide

Today’s cloth diapers aren’t your mama’s cloth diapers!  There are a variety of options – something for every style and budget.  We’ve gathered together some basic information on cloth diapering as well as some information on what we’ve learned from using cloth with our kids.  This page is a work in progress so check back for updates 🙂

2 Week Old Callum in a Thirsties XS Cover and Prefold

Why Cloth Diapers?

  • Cost Savings:  Even using the most expensive diapers on the market, you are likely to see a cost savings over using disposables, especially if you factor in resale value and/or using the diapers for multiple children.
  • Environmental Factors:  Disposable diapers are a notorious villain in landfills.  The manufacturing and transport of disposable diapers also is a huge drain on resources such as water, oil, and trees.  Unless you live in an area where water is at a premium, your environmental impact is less with cloth than disposables.  Finally, many brands of cloth diapers are available in organic and all natural fibers.
  • Better for Baby:  In over 3 years of using cloth diapers, neither kid has never had a bad diaper rash – and the only rashes we have had have been the result of “digestive issues.”  Most children will have fewer rashes in cloth.  Mainstream disposable diapers are also full of chemicals (remember the recent Dry Max debacle?) that go right next to baby’s tender skin.
  • Leaks and Blow-Outs:  Or rather the lack of.  Never once have my kids had a poop blowout – and breast milk poop is runny!!  Leaks have only happened when we’ve had a diaper than didn’t fit well (one reason you’ll want to try different kinds), or didn’t put a diaper on quite right.  True story 🙂
  • Cuter:  Really, you can’t argue with that!

Cloth Diapering 101

There is a lot of lingo associated with cloth diapering – here are some of the basics.

Flats: The most basic kind of cloth diaper – essentially just a large square piece of cloth – you’ll need pins or snappis to secure it and a cover to make it waterproof.  These are less commonly used than their cousin the prefold.

Prefolds: Prefolds are a great staple for a cloth diaper stash – economically and sturdy, they are easy to care for.  Prefolds are a square of cloth that has thicker bits – thus the term “prefold.”  They aren’t difficult to use but take a bit more time and effort to put on than other types.  You’ll need pins or a snappi and a cover.  Prefolds come in different sizes; most are cotton but hemp and bamboo blends are also available.

Fitteds: Fitted diapers are designed to hug a baby (usually they have elastic around the legs and waist); they are available in both one size and sized versions.  They fasten with snaps (side or front) or aplix (velcro); snap-less versions that fasten with pins or a snappi are also available.  Fitteds come in a range of materials – usually cotton, bamboo or hemp; many have print fabric outers (lots of cute options!).  Some fitteds have snap in doublers and other are all one piece.  You can add extra doublers for more absorbency.   Fitteds require a cover.

Covers: Covers are a waterproof layer worn over a prefold or fitted.  The most popular option are those made of PUL; these may be a single water proof layer or may have a second layer of decorative fabric on the outside.  PUL covers are available in aplix and snap options as well as front and side closures.  Wool and fleece covers (both water resistant/repelling materials) are also available; these are primarily pull on styles although there are a few brands that offer snaps or aplix closures.

Pockets: Pocket Diapers have a waterproof outer with an inner pocket to stuff with an absorbent layer(s).  Many pockets have “stay dry” inners that wick moisture away from baby’s bum.    Pockets are available in sized and one size versions and come with snaps (side and front) or aplix.

All-In-Ones/All-In-Twos: AIOs and AI2s have waterproof outers and absorbent inners.  AIOs are probably the most like a disposable diaper as they have nothing to snap in or stuff and no cover is needed.  AI2s have a snap in inner layer to speed drying times.

Hybrid Diapers: You may see these referred to as AI2s by some sites but unlike the AI2s described above, hybrid diapers have an inner disposable layer.

Wet Bags: Wet bags come in various sizes; some are diaper pail sized and others are sized for your diaper bag.  As the name suggests, they are a water proof bag for your dirty diapers.

Adorable Prints!

How Many Diapers Will I Need?

In general, you will want enough cloth diapers to last for 2-3 days (you’ll want to wash every 2-3 days).  Newborns go through far more diapers than toddlers; 24-36 diapers is a good sized newborn stash (although on the lower end you will be washing at least every 2 days).  An older baby or toddler won’t need as many.

Callum at 6 Months in a Blueberry Minky One-Size Pocket Diaper

Which Diapers Should I Choose?

There’s no one answer to the “best”cloth diaper.  What one person hates another loves.  The best thing to do is to try a few different things to see what works best for you.  Also keep in mind that the diapers you love may change as your baby gets older and changes “shape.”  I loved prefolds before kiddo learned to squirm and roll and hated AIOs.  Now I love AIOs and rarely use prefolds.

Should I Go With One-Size-Fits-All Diapers or Sized Diapers?

Many diapers come in a “one-size-fits-all” option.  Most of these will not work on a tiny newborn but should last through potty learning.  I personally didn’t like the bulk or fit of one sized diapers when kiddo was small (we started using them during the day around 9 months); others aren’t bothered by it.  I would suggest trying some one size and sized diapers to see what works best for you.  My preference is to use sized diapers for at least the first 6 months or so.  We’ll still be using our one sized diapers for well over a year by the time we potty learn so I feel I’m still getting plenty of use out of them.

How Much Does Cloth Diapering Cost?

The answer to this will vary widely depending on what diapering system you choose to use.  Prefolds are less than $2 a piece.  The most expensive fitteds, pockets, and AIOs can run $25-30 (although the more expensive ones tend to be one sized).  I have a mix of pre-folds and more expensive fitteds and AIOs; I’m still very confident I saved $100s over using disposables.   Not only will most of my diapers be re-used for kiddo #2, many can still be resold for at least some of their original value.  There’s a large market of used cloth diapers out there as well if you want even greater savings.  It is true that you may see a slight increase in your water or power bill due to the additional laundry, but unless you live in an area where these are highly expensive, it’s unlikely to make much of a difference (and still won’t likely outweigh the savings of not using sposies).

Callum at 19 months in a medium Bottombumpers side snap AI2
Callum at 6 months in a knit wool soaker over a fitted diaper (from Etsy)

Is It Hard to Wash and Care for Cloth Diapers?

Nope!  Washing cloth is no more work than doing your regular laundry!  Here’s what I do:

  • Dirty diapers go straight into a regular kitchen trash can (I use a doggie proof stainless steal can but any with a lid should do) lined with a large wet bag.  Before baby starts solids, there’s no need to rinse off poop.  After solids, you’ll want to shake or rinse (a diaper sprayer attached to your toilet is great for this) the majority of the poop off before it goes in the wet bag.  I’ve never had any issues with the diaper pail smelling (unless you stick your nose in there of course!); if you do, a little baking soda sprinkled in should do the trick).
  • Every 2-3 days it’s laundry time!  You’ll want to avoid leaving dirty diapers sitting longer than that as they may get “funky.”
  • First I do a cold water pre-wash (short cycle).
  • Then a hot water wash; you will want to use hot water to get your diapers nice and clean.
  • Then 2 cold water rinses.
  • And off to the dryer (or drying rack)!
  • It is important to choose a cloth diaper safe detergent.  I’ve always used Nellie’s Laundry Soda and have never had issues, but there are plenty of good options to choose from.   Using the wrong kind of detergent can cause stink and repelling issues and can cause diaper rash.  Never use fabric softener on diapers.  And never use too much detergent which can cause stink and repelling issues if it’s not rinsed out.
  • It’s also important to make sure you choose a cloth diaper safe diaper cream if you ever need one.  Using the wrong kind of cream can cause stink and repelling issues. We’ve always used California Baby Diaper Rash Cream on the rare occasion we’ve needed a rash cream.
  • If you ever have staining on your diapers, hang them to dry in the sun – it’s magic!
  • Occasionally, cloth diaper users will have trouble with stink (diapers that don’t smell clean when they should be or that reek as soon as they are peed in) or repelling (diapers not absorbing).  This can be due to incompatible detergent or diaper cream, using too much (or sometimes too little) detergent, or just because.  Stink seems to happen more with synthetic fibers but can strike any type.  If you have stink issues, you’ll need to strip your diapers.  You’ll find lots of different tactics for stripping diapers out there; I’ve never found it necessary to do anything more than a few additional hot washes (with no detergent), rinsing until no more soap bubbles can be seen – and I’ve probably only done that 4-5 in 3 years. I also occasionally toss a few squirts of Bac-Outin my pre-wash for extra stink fighting. You can do an overnight soak in Bac-Out as well if you’ve got the stinks.
  • Finally, enjoy your clean fluff!

Becoming Mamas Favorite Diapers and Other Helpful Tips

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