Preparing for a baby comes with a load (no pun intended) of decisions, the most obvious one being how to cover their cute little bums. After all, babies use diapers every day for at least two years, making diapers no small investment in the long road of parenting.
When I was preparing for my first-born (now six years ago – yikes!), I came across the idea of cloth diapering. No one I knew had used cloth diapers and I couldn’t find any great resources on the process. It wasn’t really popular then, but for some reason, it stuck with me. If I could do even a little to reduce our waste footprint while adding a baby to our family, maybe it was worth a shot, I thought.
It felt important to me, so I dug in, did the research, and felt entirely intimidated. Trying to decipher odd abbreviations (who knew that CD is short for cloth diaper?) and deciding on a cloth diaper style was overwhelming. Without many resources available, I felt lost and nearly gave up on the whole thing.
What I settled on was keeping things as simple as possible. I’d use disposables for the newborn period, instead of buying mini-cloth diapers that would have no use in a couple of months. I’d use disposables on extended outings that would require multiple changes. I’d use all-in-one diapers that are easy to wash and fold because I know myself and didn’t think I could keep up with stuffing and sorting various inserts.
After cloth diapering two babies, I will say that it was MUCH easier than I ever anticipated. And, I love that if we decide to add another child to the mix, I have a stash of diapers all ready to go. Another plus: cloth diapers have a really high re-sell value, so when you’re done with your stash, you can send it off to another babe in need and likely get back at least 50 percent of what you paid.
If you’re interested in clothing diapering your baby, here’s what you need to know.
What kind should I choose?
As I mentioned, I chose all-in-one diapers to set myself up for success, but if you’re someone who doesn’t mind some extra work for a lower cost, there are plenty of diapering options. One style doesn’t fit every family’s needs, and you might even decide to have a few different kinds for a few different circumstances (traveling, at home, etc.).
Flat, Prefold, and Fitted Diapers
These are the diapers your mom or grandmother probably used. They are the most basic and least expensive – they require folding, positioning, and need clips or pins to fasten around your baby’s waist (though some of the newer fitted ones have snaps). There’s a waterproof cover that is pulled over the top that comes in a few different fabrics: PUL (the most popular), wool, and fleece.
From what I understand, there is a learning curve with these diapers and they require a bit more effort. But, there is more flexibility for you to build exactly the type of diaper that works for you and your baby in that stage of life.
Pocket diapers offer simplicity – the waterproof cover has a pocket where you stuff an absorbent insert and that’s about it. You can adjust absorbancy by layering inserts or by folding over liners to create an added layer wherever your baby might need it.
You pull the insert out after each use and then put it back in after everything is washed and dried. Pocket diapers are the most popular modern cloth diaper – there’s a bit of work involved, but everything is pretty uncomplicated and they are more cost-friendly than all-in-ones.
These are the ones I opted for. These are most like disposables – all the pieces are together, you put it on, and take it off. But, instead of tossing like a disposable, you wash.
Because of their simplicity and ease of use, all-in-ones are also the most expensive option. We prioritized a cloth diaper stash over pricier nursery items or bigger baby gear, so for us, it was worth it.
All-in-ones and pocket diapers both come with two options: snap or Velcro. I opted for snaps because I get terribly annoyed when everything comes out of the washer all stuck together in one piece.
How many will I need?
This depends on your lifestyle and accessibility to a washer and dryer. Some might prefer washing the cloth diapers every day with the rest of the baby laundry, while others might want more of a stash in order to go more time between washes.
I had about 18 diapers in my stash and washed every other day when my babies were small and every 2-3 days as they grew older and needed less frequent diaper changes.
Note: newborn sized cloth diapers are usually a separate buy, as most of these only fit babies 8-35 lbs. Many parents, like me, opt to use disposables for newborns and jump into cloth diapering when babies are big enough to use the one-size ones.
And how do I wash them?
The washing process is what intimidated me the most when I started using cloth diapers, but as I got accustomed to the process, it was pretty painless. Here’s how it works.
- When changing the baby, I’d take off the soiled diaper and dispose of any poop before tossing the dirty diaper in a wet bag. (Before your baby begins solids, no need to dump out the poop. After your baby begins solids, either dump the contents of the diaper directly in the toilet or use a flushable liner to make things easy).
- Every other night, I’d toss all of the diapers and the wet bag into our washer.
- First came a cold rinse – this gets rid of any waste remnants and gets the diapers prepped for washing.
- Then, a hot wash with half-the-normal-amount of a cloth-diaper safe detergent (some popular detergents, particularly free and clear ones, can cause cloth diapers to repel instead of absorbing, which ultimately will cause leaks). I used Charlie’s Soap, but have heard the original Tide powder is a good option for washing cloth diapers.
- After the hot wash, another cold rinse to make sure all the detergent was gone.
- Then, I’d hang them on a clothing line to dry overnight. Many people dry their diapers in the dryer, but it can affect the elasticity over time.
What else do I need to know?
Cloth diapering was a great, positive experience for our family – much less complicated than I had initially thought and I’m so happy we chose this route. But because cloth diapers are different from the disposable diaper route, there are a few things you need to know.
Using a traditional diaper cream is a no-no with cloth diapers – different creams can affect the absorbency of your diapers, and the last thing you want is leaks. The plus side is that babies using cloth diapers rarely get a rash. If they do have slight irritation, there are a few options for cloth diaper-safe creams, including just plain ol’ coconut oil.
And then there’s the wipes issue. If I was hesitant about cloth diapers, I was even more so on cloth wipes. I figured I’d go all in on the diapers and just use disposable wipes. As it turns out, that is much more of a chore than it seems. Having to dispose of used, stinky disposable wipes in a different way than the cloth diapers was not functional – it was much easier just to use a simple cloth wipe for the diaper change and throw all the dirty items in the same wet bag for the same wash. I also loved being able to use just water or a gentle cleansing liquid to clean my babies’ sensitive skin. You can pile them up pre-soaked in an old plastic wipes container or a wipes warmer, or just leave them dry by your changing pad with a spray bottle of water or cleansing solution.
A few other things you need to know
As with anything, you might come across some challenges in your cloth diapering journey. For me, there were three things I found problematic but was able to solve fairly simply:
- Smell – Sometimes, urine can leave an ammonia-like smell in the diapers after long-term use. This can be fixed by a quick spray of a stain and odor remover that breaks down enzymes (Bac-Out worked for us) before tossing the diaper in your wet bag.
- Leaks – Over time, you might find your diapers more prone to leaks all of a sudden. Cloth diapers can collect build up over time which affects their absorbency. You’ll have to “strip” the diapers at that point – a process that requires washing your diapers with a teaspoon (for HE washers) or tablespoon (for regular washers) of dish detergent. After the detergent wash, you rinse on hot 2-3 times until all the residue is gone. (In four years of cloth diapering, I’ve had to do this twice).
- Stains – Finally, cloth diapers can stain. It seems obvious, but I just want to put it out there. This doesn’t mean they’re not clean, it just means they are stained. Fortunately, every single terrible stain I’ve had has come out after a day of laying the diapers in the sun. Easy and completely natural.