Cloth diapers: What you need to know

Once upon a time cloth diapers, it seemed, were only for the staunch environmentalist. Today, cloth diapers have come a long way. They’re easy to use, come in a variety of options, and are cleverly designed to be leak-proof.

Photo by Syrie Wongkaew

Step One: Choose a style that works best for you

Generally speaking, there are three main types of cloth diapers.  It is always a good idea for first timers to try out a style or system before investing heavily in that system to make sure it works well for your family. Cloth diapers can be expensive (although still much less expensive than what disposable diapers cost in a year) so it is better to be sure you like the type that you will be investing in.

  1. Prefolds and flats: These are the traditional cloths diapers that have been around for centuries.  Made up of one large piece of fabric, they differ in that prefolds have been stitched for more absorbency in the middle area of the diaper and flats are a thinner layer of fabric. You can fold both in a variety of ways and then hold them into place with either diaper pins or more modern Snappi clips.

Pros:  Economic and easy to clean. Both dry quickly, although flats dry the quickest.  They can be used as a diaper in itself (with a waterproof cover) or as absorbent inserts in other systems, (by simply folding them into a rectangle and laying them inside a diaper cover)

Cons:  You need to purchase an additional water proof cover or wrap to make sure your system does not leak.

  1. Pocket Diapers. Pocket diapers resemble a basic diaper cover with snap or Velcro closures. They have an inner pocket that you stuff with an absorbent, reusable insert before using.

Pros: they dry quickly, aren’t too bulky beneath clothes and you can control their absorbency by how you stuff them.

Cons: They have to be manually stuffed before use and unstuffed before washing which, depending on the ‘situation’, can get really messy.

  1. All-in-Ones. No stuffing inserts here; with AIOs the absorbent insert is sewn right in to the diaper cover. When you are done you toss the whole thing in the laundry. Adding a flushable liner to these might be advisable for even easier clean up.

Pros: No assembly required, these are the easiest to use

Cons:  They take longer to dry and because of the ‘one use, one wash’ system requires you to have a larger in-home stock.

Step Two: What you will need

  1. Build up a good stash of cloth diapersYou do not want to run out of diapers, nor do you want to be cleaning diapers every single day. The magic number will depend on the type of diaper you are using and how often you can/want to do laundry.  Generally speaking if you have a newborn,  you will need two to three dozen diapers or diaper-plus-insert sets.  This number will decrease with age.
  2. Flushable Inserts: I like adding a flushable insert for a (much!) easier poop cleanup. (Otherwise you will need a diaper sprayer for rinsing solid waste off diapers and into the toilet before placing the dirty diaper in the diaper pail.)
  3. A diaper pail: You will definitely need a contained place to store the dirty diapers that are awaiting being cleaned.
  4. A Wet bag2-3 waterproof wet bags for stashing soiled diapers when you are out of the house.
  5. Safer detergent: Cloth diaper-safe detergent is a must, too: This means a non-toxic detergent free from fabric softeners, oils, fragrance and  whitening and brightening ingredients.

Step Three:  Tips for washing your cloth diapers

  • Always prewash your diapers before the first use. Take into consideration that cotton and hemp diapers tend to shrink 10-15%, but bamboo will shrink up to 20%.  These natural fibers will normally absorb more after a couple of washes (they might not be ready for nighttime absorbency until after 10 washes).
  • Stick to non-toxic laundry detergents. Avoid laundry add ons like fabric softeners, oils, fragrance, brighteners and enzymes  which can actually affect the absorbency of your diaper.  Best to stick to a natural, fragrance-free, non-toxic detergent.
  • Before washing diapers, pull out all inserts and boosters.
  • Read manufacturers washing recommendations first.
  • Always wash the diapers separate from other clothes and laundry. Make sure you don’t overload the washing machine otherwise the diapers won’t get the chance to be cleaned enough.
  • Start with a cold pre-wash cycle, then a regular wash in hot water (unless the manufacturer’s instructions state otherwise). Follow with a rinse.
  • Ensure that the diapers are well rinsed. If necessary, re-rinse the diapers to make sure that they are completely clean.
  • If your diapers have a lingering smell after washing, consider adding baking soda (about half a cup per load) to the wash or vinegar (about one cup per load) to the rinse cycle.
  • Remember to check if your diapers are dryer safe and if so, close any Velcro fasteners before putting diapers in the dryer.

If you are on the fence about cloth diapers, remember it is ok to start off as a part time cloth diaper user.  Perhaps start using clothes diapers at home and disposable while traveling  or visiting grandma or even cloth diapers during the day and disposable ones at night until you build your confidence!

Shop the Article:

  1. Osocozy Organic Fitted Cloth Diapers: Crafted in the USA, they feature three exterior, full-width layers of soft, absorbent, durable birdseye weave material. The interior flannel pad adds adds another six or seven layers of absorbency, depending on the size. You can rest assured your baby’s bottom is safe as these diapers are made with 100% certified, unbleached, organic cotton material and the classic hourglass-shaped diaper features durable snap closures, gentle elastic bands at the legs and waist that ensure a snug, leak-proof fit.
  2. Ubbi diaper pail: Made of powder-coated steel to achieve maximum door control, the ubbi Diaper Pail is equipped with rubber seals strategically designed to lock in odors as well as a sliding lid that minimizes air disruption, keeping the smell inside the pail. To meet the needs of today’s eco-conscious parents, this award winning nursery essential offers the convenience and value of utilizing any standard trash bag or reusable cloth liner.
  3. Logan and Lenora Wet BagFact: every mama needs a waterproof bag. But not every mama wants to tote around an ugly carryall, even if it is functional. Enter Logan + Lenora, a range of fashionable, beautiful waterproof diaper clutches, totes and more, for the discerning mama. Using a waterproof lining that is twice as thick as waterproof laminate, vapor-proof (seriously) and toxin-free, each Logan + Lenora product is quality-tested to the highest standards.
  4. Rockin Green Laundry DetergentRockin’ Green Laundry Detergent is an eco-friendly way to get your whole family’s clothes clean. It works hard on dirt and stains while being gentle to the environment and your family.