Look, we get it: using cloth diapers can sound intimidating—all that cleaning and laundry!
But we promise, with a little bit of research, it’s much easier than you’d imagine. Plus, choosing cloth diapers comes with a lot of perks: it’s environmentally friendly, gentle on your baby’s skin, and lighter on the wallet. Not to mention all the cute prints and patterns you’ll find and my personal favorite, the adorable “fluff butt.” Plus, many cloth diapered babies even end up potty training earlier than their peers in disposables.
Cloth diapers definitely has their advantages, and as a cloth diapering mama myself, here is some more information to get you started if you’re curious.
Benefits of Cloth Diapers
First up, why should you actually consider using cloth diapers, aside from the fact that they are way cuter and make your baby’s butt look adorable? Some of the most common benefits to cloth diapers include:
They are way more eco-friendly than disposable diapers. Disposable diapers take a vast amount of resources to manufacture, no matter how “eco-friendly” they purport to be—and then they take years to decompose. Plus, disposable come wrapped up in additional plastic packaging and then parents use disposable plastic bags to store the dirty diapers, creating even more waste. And we haven’t discussed disposable wipes yet! The point is, disposables add up to a lot of landfill.
They are reusable. Sure, cloth diapers take resources to manufacture, too, but once you have them, you can use them over and over again, and so can your second (or third, or fourth child). Then, when you’re done using them, you can resell them or give them to a friend.
They save you money. Cloth diapers are great for saving money—you don’t have to keep buying pack after pack of diapers or other one-use diapering items. You’re set once you have your initial set of diapers and any other diapering gear.
How to Use Cloth Diapers
You can get started with cloth diapers as soon as you have your baby. You can either purchase newborn diapers in a variety of styles ranging from AIOs to covers and prefolds, or try a “newborn hack” of folding down one-size cloth diapers for your baby.
There are even cloth diapers for premature babies. Some babies are born big enough that they can go straight to one-size diapers, but generally if your baby is born under 8 pounds, they will likely be too small to fit those initially.
How to actually use a cloth diaper will depend on which type you choose—most will come with instructions and when in doubt, there are tons of helpful guides online, or turn to a local cloth diapering community. Cloth diapering moms love to help out newbies! But in general, here are some tips:
- Buy a few different types, if you can, to experiment with what type works best for you and your baby. A great way to do this is to buy a few gently-used so you don’t spend too much money.
- You can absolutely use regular wipes if you prefer, while cloth diapering. Just be sure to throw away your wipes in a different receptacle than your cloth diapers so you don’t end up accidentally washing them!
- Don’t use regular diaper cream when using cloth diapers. Regular diaper cream will ruin cloth diapers, so buy cloth diaper-safe cream, or use a disposable cloth diaper liner (this is an insert that can be thrown away).
- Wet bags are key! When you change your baby’s diaper, you need someplace to put it, right? Wet bags are what cloth diapering parents use to stash dirty diapers until they are ready to be washed. They can be washed right with your baby’s diper and seal shut to keep odors out. You might want to buy a few different wet bags and stash them in places you change your baby’s diaper around the house.
The Best Types of Cloth Diapers
If you’re just starting out, it’s not a bad idea to get a variety of types, to see which system works best for you.
- All-In-One Diapers. All-in-one diapers, or AIOs, are typically considered the most “user friendly” of cloth diapers as you put them on much as you would a disposable and all the components are already there. You can buy them with Velcro or with snaps. They are also the most expensive and slow-drying diaper if you are line drying.One example of an AIO that I found to be very good was Bestbottoms AIOs. Extremely leakproof, they also worked well for naptime.
- Pocket diapers. Pocket diapers have a “pocket” that you put a reusable insert in for absorption made out of cotton, bamboo, hemp, or microfleece. They are as simple to use as AIOs, but do require the prep of putting in the insert. Many people like the customization factor for absorbency with pocket diapers.
- Fitteds are made completely out of natural fibers, so they need a cover made out of wool, PUL, or fleece. They are particularly good for nighttime diapers as they are thick, bulky, and absorbent and can be customized with additional cloth inserts to boost absorbency. This Bambino Mio cover is an example of a cover you can put over a fitted.
- Prefolds/flats. Prefolds and flats are thick pieces of cloth that are the most “traditional” cloth diaper, as they either need to be secured with a device like a Snappi or simply put into a cover in the case of a prefold. They both require covers as well as they are made out of cotton, hemp, or bamboo. While they are the least “user friendly” for beginners, many parents love them because once you have the hang of them they are absorbent, inexpensive, hold up well in the wash, and can double up as burp cloths.
- Swim diapers. Swim diapers are basically a waterproof pocket diaper without an insert, they are meant for taking baby swimming. They will not hold pee (neither do disposable swim diapers, FYI) but will catch poop without issue. The Grovia swim diapers with side snaps are especially convenient for quick changes.
Other Cloth Diapering Gear You Might Need
While not necessary, having the right cloth diapering accessories can definitely help and turn you into a cloth diapering before faster than you can say “diaper pail.” Here are a few of the tools I’ve found helpful in my cloth diapering journey:
- Cloth wipes. If you’re cloth diapering, you might as well use cloth wipes while you’re at it—they cut down on waste and ensure there are no additional chemicals on baby’s skin. You can even make your own out of fabric squares or purchase cloth wipes such as these made by Grovia.
- Wet bags. These are are great for storing dirty diapers. You can keep some at home for your main load and put a few small ones in your diaper bag for on-the-go. They’re also a great way to cut down on one-use plastic waste, and they hold stink in like a champ. I love the Planet Wise bags. Some people like to hang them in the bathroom, others like to keep them in a diaper pail.
- Cloth diaper-safe cream. Regular diaper rash cream will ruin cloth diapers, so make sure you are using cloth diaper-safe cream like Weleda’s or Burt’s Bees if you use diaper cream. You can also opt to use disposable liners if you want to use regular diaper cream.
- Cloth-friendly detergent. Some parents like to get cloth-diaper specific detergent, such as Rockin’ Greens as they find it really gets the diapers especially clean.
How to Wash Cloth Diapers
One of the biggest concerns many prospective parents have about cloth diapering is cleaning off the poop. To reassure you, it’s not actually that big of a deal. If you have a baby who is exclusively breastfed and not yet eating solid foods, their poop is actually water soluble, so you can throw poopy diapers straight in the wash—easy-peasy.
If your child is on formula and/or eating solid food, however, you will need to remove poop before putting the diapers in the laundry machine. You can do this in several ways: simply dunking the dirty diapers in the toilet, using a bidet or showerhead to spray them clean, or using disposable liners. You can even get a diaper sprayer specifically for this purpose.
If you are looking to reduce waste, using liners is obviously the least eco-friendly option, but it can certainly be convenient for babysitters or daycare. You will then need to wash them on a cycle that includes a pre-wash with detergent at a temperature of about 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to use enough detergent but skip fabric softener, as it can break down fibers.
AIOs and pocket diapers will have a longer life with elastics if you opt to line dry, but it is fine to use a dryer for any cloth diapers (except wool)—just make sure not to dry PUL diapers on high heat. You can also wash wet bags and cloth wipes along with your diapers.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many cloth diapers do I need?
It depends on how often you want to do laundry, and whether or not have you have a dryer. Newborns typically go through 8-12 diapers a day, older babies roughly 4-8 a day, and toddlers around 3-6 (depending on whether they use the potty sometimes).
So for example, if you want to wash every other day and you have an older baby and are hang-drying, a good stash size of one size diapers would be 18-22 diapers. That should leave you fully covered for two days plus nighttime and any “emergencies.” If using newborn cloth, even if you are washing and drying daily, have at least 12 on hand.
How do I sanitize cloth diapers?
As long as you have a good wash routine, for the most part, you don’t need to do anything special. The exception is if your baby is having a yeast infection, in which case, you will need to do a bleach soak, or switch to disposable liners until the infection is cleared up.
How long do cloth diapers last?
They can last for years! Flats/prefolds, in particular, have a very long life—many parents repurpose them as cleaning rags once their children have potty-trained. Additionally, many parents resell or donate their cloth diapers if they are in decent condition.
Diapers such as natural fiber AIOs can sometimes get holes in them if you have very hard water and wash frequently, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they are unusable. Note that if your covers or AIOs/pockets have elastics, the elastics can wear out after a while, but those can be easily replaced—you can DIY or bring them to a tailor.
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Reviewed by Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN…