What You Need to Know Before Starting Cloth Diapering

There are so many benefits to using cloth diapers over disposables, but knowing where to start can be overwhelming. This guide will answer all of your cloth diapering questions!

How to use cloth diapers

Cloth diapers are making a comeback! While they may seem like a lot of legwork, the benefits to the environment and your pocketbook alone are enough to encourage anyone to make the switch.

On average, a baby goes through 6000 diapers in their lifetime. Disposables take about 500 years to break down, meaning the very first diaper ever worn is still in a landfill somewhere. That’s a lot of diapers! Another concern is that many mainstream disposables can contain chemicals like formaldehyde, VOCs, and dioxins, which have dangerous properties that can affect your child’s health.

As a mother who has had success using cloth diapers, I’m constantly asked to share what to do and what not to do. Scroll down to read my cloth diapering guide below.


What are the different types of modern cloth diapers?


Modern cloth diapers come in many different shapes and sizes. Here are the main contenders on the market today:


#1 Flats and prefolds:


Flats are a square of fabric that needs to be folded to fit your baby and then fastened, and prefolds are flats that come already folded. These need a waterproof cover to go overtop as the entire diaper absorbs liquid.

  • Pros: Cost effective and quick drying.
  • Cons: Require an additional snap, folding can be tricky, and you need to use a cover.


#2 All-in-ones:


These are the closest to a disposable that you can get. They are a one-piece diaper with a sewn-in, water-resistant layer so that there’s no need for a waterproof cover.

  • Pros: Easiest to use and don’t require any folding or a cover.
  • Cons: Can be pricier than other options and take longer to dry.


#3 All-in-twos (Fitted & Pocket)


Fitted: A fitted cloth diaper that is completely absorbable. These need a waterproof cover to go over top to prevent leaks. Pocket: A waterproof shell with a little pocket that you can tuck an absorbable insert into.

  • Pros: No folding or additional external snapping needed and one size fits most.
  • Cons: A waterproof cover is needed for these.



How many cloth diapers do you need?


This depends on your child’s age and how often you wash. If you plan to wash every other day, you will likely need:

Newborns: 24 – 30 diapers

Infants: 16 – 22

Toddlers: 12 – 16

Covers: Most water-proof covers can be reused between changes as long as they aren’t soiled, and you air them out between changes. 4 – 10 is a rough guide, depending on the age of your child.  



Getting the right fit and preventing leaks 


Leaks are prevented by making sure the diaper fits your child just right. Check that there’s no leg gaps, and if you’re using an all-in-two, that the insert is fully tucked in.

Rule of thumb: If you can slide two fingers between the diaper and your child’s skin, they’re fitted perfectly.



How to wash cloth diapers


Contrary to what some quick googling on cloth diaper laundering might make you believe, you do not need a PhD in washing machines to figure out how to wash and care for these. You can wash cloth diapers every day, every other day, or even every three days. My recommendation below is based on washing every other day.


Step 1: Get a dry pail


I recommend using a tall, lidded, plastic laundry basket with holes all around it. This may seem counterintuitive, but keeping your diapers in an enclosed bag will cause ammonia to build up, making them stinkier and difficult to clean. 


Step 2: Get a silicone brush with a handle


These brushes are naturally antimicrobial and antibacterial, and can be sterilized in boiling hot water.

For older babies, you can simply plop the poop into the toilet, and then give the diaper a little rinse and scrub with your silicone brush before putting it into the dry pail. For newborns, getting flushable liners are a great option if you don’t want to deal with runnier poop.

You can put diapers that only contain urine straight into the dry pail. I recommend rinsing diapers that have been used overnight as they contain higher concentrations of ammonia. Give them a quick cold water rinse, then into the dry pail they go.


Step 3: Choose a detergent


Try to find a detergent that is suitable for sensitive skin, and skip the fabric softener because it can compromise the diaper’s absorbing capabilities.


Step 4: Prewash


This is an important step because it will get rid of the bulk of the nasties, allowing you to wash your diapers in clean water with other clothing items after this step. 

  • Set your machine to a wash, rinse, and spin cycle. You can use the shortest one. 
  • Select a medium spin.
  • Use WARM water for your prewash because it is the best for getting biological waste to let go of the fabric.
  • Wash your diapers on their own without other clothing items. 


Step 5: Main Wash


Now that your diapers are cleaner, and about as dirty as your usual laundry items, they are ready for the main wash. 

  • Set your machine to the longest wash, rinse, and spin cycle that it has. If there’s a soaking option, use this too. 
  • Select a medium spin.
  • Use HOT water for your main wash.
  • You can wash other clothing items (that are hot water safe) in with your diapers for this wash.
  • Fill the drum up ½ to ¾ full as this creates a “clothing stew” and allows the diapers to agitate against one another, getting them super clean.



Step 6: Drying


Dry them out in the sun, on a clothing line, or in the dryer on a low heat setting (as long as your brand of diapers are dryer-safe!)



A note on preventing stains:


Giving your diapers a good scrub with your silicone brush will remove the bulk of the stain, and then washing as you normally would with a high quality detergent should take care of the rest. If you still notice lingering stains, the sun is the best natural bleacher! 



The importance of a barrier cream


Cloth diapers can be slightly less breathable than disposables, particularly at night when you’re not able to air out the covers in between uses or change your all-in-ones as frequently. So it’s important to use a barrier cream after each change or only use it at night – depending on your little one and their skin sensitivity.

Another important rash prevention step is making sure you wipe your baby’s entire area that’s covered by the diaper, and then waiting until their skin is completely dry before applying cream and putting a new diaper on. We love Erbaviva’s Organic Diaper Cream!


Erbaviva Diaper cream


Erbaviva Organic Diaper Cream






Continue exploring