Stay at Home Mom

The Ultimate Guide to Cloth Diapers

the ultimate guide to cloth diapersI bought some cloth diapers when I was pregnant with my son Jameson. After he was first born, I felt too overwhelmed with the thought of using them. I gave them a try after settling into life with a newborn, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Honestly, the more I use them, the more I love them. Two major benefits are cloth diapers are more sustainable for the environment,  and they are also free of questionable chemicals found in commercial diapers, which are typically bleached with chlorine. The process of bleaching with chlorine results in a byproduct called dioxins, a known carcinogen according to the Environmental Protection Agency. I am not an expert regarding the chemicals in commercial diapers, but any chemical that comes into contact with our skin absorbs into our body and is slightly concerning. The more we can minimize chemical exposure in our kids, the better. I do use disposable diapers overnight and when traveling on longer trips, so I have some work to grow in this area. But I do try to use cloth diapers exclusively during the day and as often as possible during other times. There are a few knowledge essentials to getting started.

1. Types of cloth diapers

Pre-folds (old-fashioned diapers) – Pre-folds are the most economical cloth diapers available, and they are my personal favorite. Fold them in thirds and lay them inside a diaper cover is the simplest way to use them, which is exactly what I do. You can also get creative with your diaper folds and secure with a Snappi or diaper pin; I am not particularly good at various diaper folds so I don’t use this method. Plus, getting a diaper on Jameson is practically a 5 star circus act, so keeping it simple is key.

Traditional pre-folds are made with cotton but newer options are available in both hemp and bamboo. A diaper cover (i.e. shell) or wool soaker is essential to keep the wetness contained. Diaper covers may be one-sized or a sized cover. The one-sized cover actually means it adjusts to varying sizes using snaps and grows with your child from birth to toddler. A sized cover is fixed and does not grow with your child. Pre-fold diapers also serve a dual purpose as burp cloths, household clean-ups, and more.

All-in-one cloth diapers (also known as “AIO”s) – These diapers are the easiest diapers to use and have the absorbent material sewn into the diaper cover. The absorbent material may contain natural or synthetic fibers. No diaper cover required. No stuffing required. This is the positive and negative for this cloth diaper type, depending how you look at it. It’s an easy cloth diaper to use and is great for anyone who worries cloth diapers are complicated. On the other hand, we can’t adjust the stuffing if more absorbency is needed. An AIO may be a one-sized diaper or a sized diaper, and it may have a Velcro or snap closures.

Pocket cloth diapers – The pocket style diapers are the most popular style of cloth diapers and don’t require any additional covers. A pocket style diaper has a pocket opening between the outer waterproof shell (or cover) and the inner layer that touches baby’s skin. You can place the absorbent material (insert) inside this pocket opening. The insert may contain natural or synthetic fibers. A pocket diaper may be a one-sized diaper or a sized diaper. It may have snaps or Velcro closures.

2. Buying new or used cloth diapers.

I bought both used and new diapers, and I think either one is a good option. There are great previously used cloth diapers available. If the previous owner maintains the diapers well, it’s a great idea to buy used, and it can save a lot of money. If buying used, a quick washing and stripping at home may offer peace of mind. Used cloth diapers offer even more sustainability.

New cloth diapers are good if this is your first child and they can be reused for future children. Be prepared to pay a bit of money upfront. After the initial costs, there will be some money spent on water and proper detergent in order to maintain the diapers. Truthfully though, if the diapers are used from birth to potty training, I think the money will be well spent on the front end.

3. Determine how many cloth diapers are needed.

A lot will depend on if you cloth diaper full-time or part-time; however, 24 cloth diapers is about the bare minimum to get started full-time. I think 30 diapers is a more realistic number to start with, especially if you’d like to carry a few extra diapers in your diaper bag or car. You can always buy more if needed. If using pre-folds, you will need about 5-6 diaper covers (remember these can be re-used for several diaper changes) in addition to the 24-30 pre-folds.

4. Cloth diaper maintenance.

First, make sure to use cloth diaper friendly detergent. Rockin’ Green and Tiny Bubbles are very popular safe brands. There are mainstream detergents that are okay to use with cloth diapers, but may degrade the quality of the diaper over time. Here is a cloth diaper detergent chart to help you decide what to use. When possible, avoid using commercial diaper creams with cloth diapers since they can create residues inhibit absorbancy over time. If you do need to use diaper cream, you can always strip your diapers as detailed below.

Keep washing as simple as possible. Plan to wash approximately twice per week. Between washing, keep dirty diapers in pail with a liner or a wet bag while on the go. Per recommendations washing should include 1 short cycle warm water wash without detergent, 1 long/heavy duty hot water wash with detergent and 1 additional rinse cycle. Honestly, that’s quite a bit of water, and I’m not convinced it’s totally necessary if using pre-folds. With pre-folds, I usually just keep it to 1 long/heavy hot water wash with detergent and hang to dry outside in the sun to naturally bleach stains and eliminate any remaining odor. Then fluff in the dryer for 15-20 minutes on medium to reduce stiffness.

Stripping diapers. If your diapers become less absorbent or develop an odor when they become wet or soiled, stripping diapers is an easy fix. Stripping diapers will remove mineral or detergent buildup, correct improper washing, and remove additives or residues that have been used while diapering your baby. Do several (4-6) hot water washes (no detergent) to get rid of most residues. If desired, add 1/4 cup of vinegar OR 1-2 drops of Dawn dish soap to the first one or two cycles.

Cloth diapering is pretty basic overall. Deciding the best type of diaper for your family may be the hardest part. After doing it for a while, washing and maintenance truly become second nature, and it won’t feel like additional work. Minimizing our child’s exposure to chemicals and sustaining our environment is just the beginning of the many awesome benefits of cloth diapers.

What types of cloth diapers are your favorite? What brands brought you success?

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  1. Lauren’s SIL here 🙂 Thought I would share my experience, I started using cloth almost 6 years ago and still use them (most of the time) today with our youngest. Back then there weren’t as many options as there are today, so this post is very helpful. I didn’t know anyone who used them and relied on message boards and forums for all my information.

    For the newborn stage, I used primarily Kissaluvs (KL0s) with Thirsties covers. (I had a few prefolds as well and used those when the KL0s were in the wash). The KL0s worked well for those first few months before the pocket diapers fit better. Once the girls outgrew those I used primarily Bum Genius pocket diapers and 3 like the one in your picture. When my oldest was 1.5 I had the elastic replaced and had the Velcro converted to snaps through someone I found on I’m not sure they sell them with Velcro anymore? But I do prefer the snaps. (I own 1 newer BG with snaps that I bought for our middle child) They are all still being warn by our their 3rd child.

    For my 3rd child we ended up renting the newborn diapers. I sold the ones used with our first 2 not knowing I would need them again. That is an option for those wanting to try a variety of diaper brands without the long term commitment. I rented through (Excellent customer service, in my opinion) I believe they offer a 3 month rental period for newborn diapers. I primarily rented Kissaluvs with Thirsties covers since I knew I liked those already, but also tried bumGenius NB AIO.

    I’ve pretty much only used Rockin Green for the detergent (I switch between hard rock and classic rock). Their Funk Rock saved us from throwing smelly diapers out, nothing else worked! I have also tried Tiny Bubbles and liked them too. I tried Allens Naturally liquid and it just didn’t work for us at all.

    For diaper rashes, I couldn’t find anything that really worked well for our 1st, she had (and still has) sensitive skin. Our 2nd didn’t have as many rashes but California Baby worked well for her. For our 3rd, she only gets the occasional rash as well and now I use pure lavender essential oil mixed with coconut oil when needed (I wish I would have known about that 6 years ago!)

    If possible, I recommend taking a class if you have a shop close to you that offers them. I went to a class 1 week before our oldest was born! It was very helpful and I learned a lot! (FYI – I went to the Mom & Pop Place in Neenah, WI. I’m pretty sure they still offer them)

    Good luck to anyone who wants to give cloth a try! I know someone who tried 1 cloth diaper but quit because it didn’t work for her son. So don’t give up. I was determined to give this a try for all the reasons Lauren mention and I am glad I stuck with it 🙂

  2. This is really helpful info, Lauren!

    For anyone who is interested in cloth diapering at night, I double stuff prefolds at night by placing a premie prefold inside of the current-size prefold and this holds the moisture really well! No leaks! While we use pocket diapers throughout the day (bum genius and flip), I don’t trust these through the night. I am so thankful for double stuffing prefolds!

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