Cloth Diaper Basics
So you are thinking about cloth diapering? Yay! I am so excited for you and I am so happy you ended up here! I am “that mom” that talks about cloth diapers to anyone and everyone. That’s why I wanted to put together this blog to make the idea of cloth diapering so appealing to you that you couldn’t imagine doing it any other way!
My goal is to give you a clear understanding about all the basics so it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. I remember when I first started researching cloth diapers and discovering that there were so many different styles and terms my head was spinning. I remember feeling like I would never get the hang of it!
I am here to tell you that it does not have to be that complicated. Yes, there are a lot of different styles and brands, but they all have some basic similarities. You will have to find a system that works best for you and a brand that works best for your baby, but have faith. You will find what works for you in no time!
When I first decided to cloth diaper I bought a variety of diapers, most were secondhand. It allowed me to test out different styles to decide what I liked best and also find a brand that fit my daughter properly. The good thing is cloth diapers hold their value and you can usually resell them with little profit lost. There are also services that will send you a variety to test out like this one here.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something that I have recommended. While clicking these links won’t cost you any extra money, they will help me keep this site up and running! Please check out my disclosure policy here for more details. Thank you!
Thank you Grovia for gifting me diapers for this post. In this post I share diapers I was gifted along with diapers I purchased. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Let’s start with the basics.
Why cloth diapers?
My biggest motivation to use cloth diapers was the environmental burden disposable diapers places on the earth. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that about 20 billion disposable diapers are dumped in landfills each year, accounting for more than 3.5 million tons of waste. That’s a lot of diapers! The worst part is these diapers take over 500 years to decompose. That means that every disposable diaper ever used is still on the earth!! (Insert mind-blown emoji here.) Not to mention the fact that the chemicals used in the diapers are contaminating ground water, they are releasing large amounts of methane gas and they use so much of the earth’s already limited natural resources. All this combined (and more) places a really heavy burden on the planet. Cloth diapering is the best option for the future of our planet.
My second motivator was the health of my child. A lot of disposable diapers have harsh chemicals in them. We try to avoid as many toxins as possible and I certainly didn’t want toxins touching my daughters most sensitive parts 24/7 for multiple years of her life. (Hopefully not too many years though! LOL.)
Disposable diapers often contain Dioxin, a by-product of bleaching, which is listed by the EPA as the most toxic carcinogen. They also contain Tributyl-tin (TBT) which is a chemical known to cause hormonal problems in humans and animals. Umm.. no thank you!
Aside from chemical exposure, cloth diapers also seem to cause less diaper rashes due to them being made from softer materials. Less diaper rashes = happier babies!
Cloth diapers are (usually) more affordable.
Our other huge motivator for using cloth diapers is financial. Cloth diapers can save you a ton of money! Especially if you buy second hand or use them for multiple children. When cared for properly they really hold their value and can be resold to make a large percentage of your initial investment back. The best part is that if you have more than one child you don’t have to buy more diapers as long as you have enough and the diapers aren’t damaged. (See care instructions later in the post for information on how to protect their value.)
On average families can save around $2,000 per child! I don’t know about you, but $2,000 is a lot of money in our household and can be put to better use than on something that is going to go straight into the trash.
Just try not to get addicted to all the cute prints and your wallet will be happier! LOL.
And now the burning question…Do I have to touch poop?!
In short, no. Well you might, but that is a hazard that comes with the job of parenthood and not specifically related to cloth diapers. In fact, cloth diapers might actually help you touch less poop, because they tend to have less blow outs. (One of my favorite perks of using them.) In the beginning diapers can be thrown straight into the wash. (Yes, even the poopy ones!) Before babies start to eat solids its all water soluble, meaning it will all wash down the drain.
Once solids are introduced things get a little messier, but don’t worry its not as bad as you are probably thinking. Most of the time its easily “plop-able”. Meaning you can turn the diaper over and it will fall right into the toilet with little effort. For messier poops, you can attach a diaper sprayer to your toilet. They are fairly inexpensive and easy to install. This is the one we have here. It comes with a holder you can attach to the wall so it will hang.
A diaper sprayer allows you to spray all the solids straight into the toilet before throwing them in the wash. We like to keep a bin beside the toilet to collect them in after we rinse them off. You could also keep a wet pail for collecting them until wash day.
Another great option is to use disposable liners like these ones here. They are flushable and will keep poop from touching the diapers. We don’t use them personally, because we don’t mind rinsing our diapers and we are confident in our wash routine. We simply don’t see the need to spend money on liners, but it is a great option for those that prefer it.
But won’t they stink?!
While we are talking about poop, let’s address another common fear most people have when considering cloth diapering. I hear this concern A LOT when I talk to other people about cloth diapers. For some reason people seem to be convinced that cloth diapers are going to smell worse than disposables. Let’s be honest here for a second: Diapers, whether they are cloth or disposable, are going to stink. They are literally meant to hold smelly things, but there are ways to manage the stink!
The first way is to keep up with a good wash routine and wash often. (We’ll talk about that next.) Next, is to make sure you are rinsing your diapers in between washes. As I mentioned above you should be rinsing soiled diapers with your diapers sprayer. You don’t have to do this with every diaper, but you should for diapers with solids and for heavily wet diapers. This will not only help with the smell, but also to make sure they are being washed thoroughly which can prolong their lifespan.
You should also make sure that your dirty diapers are getting good circulation. I know your instinct is probably to close them up in a trash can with a lid, but that can actually make the smell worse! We keep our diapers in a kitchen size trash can with a diaper pail liner, (this is like a large wet bag which I will show later, you can find one here.) We keep the lid off and it allows the diapers to breathe and actually helps keep the smell down.
I would also like to mention that from experience and from talking to other parents that have used both disposable and cloth diapers I have noticed cloth diapers usually smell less than disposables. The chemicals in disposable diapers can actually make them smell worse than cloth.
How often do I need to do laundry?
This answer will depend on how many diapers you own. We typically do cloth laundry every 2-3 days. We have a large stash so it allows us to go longer. I wouldn’t recommend going longer than four days though, because things can start to get pretty stinky! If left to sit for too long the ammonia in the urine will start to build up. Ammonia is what causes that burn your nose hairs smell. Rinsing your diapers thoroughly can help to prevent them from getting to that point, but the best prevention is to wash them frequently.
You will want to establish a good wash routine for your diapers and this will vary depending on the washing machine. We start our diapers with a prewash. This is a normal cycle with hot water and detergent.
I think it is important to take a moment here to discuss laundry detergent. Using a harsh detergent is going to cause your diapers to deteriorate quickly. I recommend finding a non toxic, gentle, plant based detergent. The most important reason I recommend this has nothing to do with the diapers and everything to do with your sweet little baby who will be wearing them around the clock. Our skin is our largest organ and it absorbs toxins within 23 seconds of contact. Commercial detergents often have very harsh toxins in them that are scientifically linked to some scary things like cancer, hormone disruption, infertility and more. That is NOT something I want on my child’s most sensitive parts. I personally use Thieves laundry soap which you can order here. I trust the ingredients and the company due to their Seed to Seal guarantee which is stricter than FDA guidelines. The best advice I can offer you is to do your research and know what you are washing your babies diapers and clothing in! You can use the EWG website as a resource. (Disclaimer: This is not meant to scare or shame anyone for their choices. I am also not trying to sell you on a product I use. I share this because I wish I had been warned about the dangers in our everyday products sooner. Companies try really hard to hide the bad things in their products and its up to the consumer to do their own research and make informed decisions.)
Okay, now I will get off my soap box and get back to the wash routine. After our prewash we run a second cycle. This one is done on the longest setting with the recommended amount of detergent and on hot again. Note: It is not recommended that you use bleach on your diapers. It isn’t necessary for cleaning them and will damage the diapers. If you do happen to get some staining you can hang them to dry in the sun. The sun acts as a natural bleach.
You can always check with each brand for wash instructions for the best information on caring for your diapers.
Once the wash is done we will put the inserts in the dryer. All of our covers will get hung to dry on our drying rack. We like this drying rack because it fits perfectly in our kitchen (this is where we get the most sun) and allows us to dry a lot all at once. It also folds up small for storing it when its not in use. I don’t recommend drying your covers in the dryer because the heat can melt the PUL (Poly-Urethane Liner). The PUL is what makes the liner water proof and holds the liquid in.
Diapering in Public
One of my favorite perks of cloth diapering is not having to find a trashcan for a disposable while we are out and about. I have been in many parking lots where parents have left dirty diapers behind in their parking space because there were no trash cans nearby. I can imagine a disgruntled parent already frustrated from having to change a diaper in the parking lot, possibly wrestling more than one child into car seats only to realize there is no trash can around and they don’t have a bag to put it in. #parentstruggles
With cloth diapers we use a wet bag to store our dirty diapers in and then bring them home to wash them. The wet bag is made from the same material as the diapers are so liquids and stinks stay inside.
How Many Diapers Do I Need?
There are a lot of variables to this question. How many will be in cloth? Are you planning to cloth diaper full time? How often will you be doing laundry?
I recommend around 25 diapers for one child in cloth diapers full time washing ever 1-2 days. We probably have 50-75 diapers because we experimented with a lot of different diapers and were also given a lot of diapers. We also like being able to wash every 2-3 days and stuff pockets even less frequently. (and by “we” I mean Calvin.) We will be purging a bunch of the diapers we don’t love as much soon and will probably have closer to 40-50 in the end. (This is still more diapers than necessary, but like I said we prefer a larger stash.)
You will have to decide how many is realistic for your family and lifestyle. Some people love having prints for every outfit and every holiday/occasion. As you can imagine their stashes are pretty large. Start with 25 and go from there. You can always add more if you need more.
The Different Types
First let’s talk sizes
I’m sure you’re wondering how they could possible be affordable if you have to buy new ones as your child grows. Well, the answer is, you don’t. You will hopefully only have to buy one size although some people choose to buy a size specific for newborns. We chose to do this because our daughter was 6lbs 13 oz. We also found a great deal on a newborn stash of All-in-ones and bought a few covers and prefolds on sale. (You will learn what these are next.)
I was glad we chose to do this because they fit our little one so much better and I didn’t have to use disposables in the beginning. Some people choose to skip the newborn cloth and use disposables until their baby fits the one size diapers which is usually somewhere around one month or 10 lbs. You have to decide what works best for you. Once your baby grows into the one size diaper they shouldn’t ever need a different size, unless they happen to be a larger baby or if they potty train later in which case there are brands that seller larger diapers and even diapers that are like pull ups. (You’ll see these below.)
How is it possible to only need one diaper for a growing baby? The diapers have snaps on the sides, along the top and down the front of them. This allows you to adjust them in multiple ways to get a good fit. The top and bottom snaps make the diaper smaller and the side snaps pull it tighter around the legs and the waist. Test it out on a teddy bear to get the hang of it. See images below.
Okay now let’s talk about the different styles. This is where it gets a little bit confusing, but you will get the hang of it in no time. The different styles are important mostly because they will determine the wash routine. I will explain the pros and cons I see with each style and why we like them for different times.
All-In-Ones. These are diapers that are exactly as the name describes. They are all one piece. They don’t require extra inserts and they usually don’t come apart. (Some brands will have styles that vary.) Some people will lay an insert down inside to add extra absorbency as needed though.
Pros: Less laundry. If you are someone that dreads laundry these are the ones for you. They don’t require any extra prepping. You can take them out of the laundry and put them right on your baby. We loved this style for the newborn phase because we were doing A LOT of laundry on very little sleep.
Cons: They take a lot longer to dry. Especially if you hang dry them. There are many layers that causes them to take a long time to dry thoroughly. These All-In-Ones from Grovia dry faster than most All-In-Ones due to their design. (Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of an All-In-One that doesn’t come part.)
A pocket diaper is one that has a thin soft layer on top of the outside layer of waterproof material. There is an opening at the top leaving space between the two layers. This opening is for stuffing inserts into for absorbency. There are a few different kinds of inserts to choose from. (I will write another post on inserts in the future and link it here.)
Pros: They are easily adjustable for absorbency. You can prep all of your diapers ahead of time or you can stuff them as you need them and chose the inserts you want for how long you think you will need the diaper to last. (More inserts for nighttime use vs. less during the day.) They also dry very quickly because the inserts go in the dryer and the covers dry quickly hanging in the sun.
Cons: Pocket diapers require more prepping which will lengthen your time spent doing laundry. I am fortunate enough to have a boyfriend who will sit himself in front of the tv and stuff diapers with no complaints. (I hit the lottery there!)
These are a combination of a pocket and an all-in-one. Usually they will be designed as an all in one, but will have an additional pocket in the back for extra absorbency if needed. I personally don’t have much experience with this style and unfortunately I don’t have a photo to share with you.
Covers and Prefolds
These are probably the closest style to the diapers your parents would have used. These consist of a cover which is just the water proof layer and then prefolds. Prefolds are the absorbent layer that you will fold and then fasten to your baby before putting the cover over it. You can use a snappi to hold them together as an alternative to a safety pin. (Find those here.)
Prefolds look a lot like a swaddle blanket or a dish towel and there are many ways to fold them. Some folds allow for better absorbency based on gender, because the urine flow will be different. Boys will need more absorbency in the front while girls tend to need more in the middle and back. Other styles of folding are typically on preference. There are a lot of great charts available for how to fold and roll your prefolds.
(All of my covers and prefolds are currently in storage I will update this blog with a photo of them when I am able to get to them.)
Grovia is by far my favorite brand of cloth diapers. Their diapers are all organic, durable and of course cute! I am obsessed with all of their diaper styles and I honestly would not be able to pick a favorite if you asked. I love each style for different purposes. They even offer a great Bundle and Save option for purchasing multiple diapers!Save up to 10% with GroVia Cloth Diaper Bundles!
I love the Grovia All-In-One diapers for a super trim fit. These are the closest to a disposable diaper I have ever used when it comes to fit.We use these for day time use. They require very little prepping and laundry is easy because the additional liners are exposed vs. an All-In-One that is sewed together.
I love their Hybrid because you can reuse the shells for multiple diaper changes. They are like a cover and prefold system, but you don’t have to mess around with folding them. You just snap the inserts in and swap them out during the next diaper change. They have deep gussets on the sides to contain leaks.
Oh my gosh do I love this diaper! I wish I could install a feature that allows you to reach through whatever device you are reading this on and feel how incredibly soft this diaper is! It is the perfect diaper for night time use because it is super absorbent! It has a hook and loop and a snap feature that allows you to choose how you want to close them. The hook and loop is removable and can be easily replaced. These diapers have snap in inserts so you can adjust the amount of absorbency you need.
Grovia has a pull up option for potty training. The trainer has a feature like the pocket diapers to modify absorbency and it has flexible sides to easily pull on and off. These are the perfect reusable option to replace pull ups.
We used a lot of Alva diapers in the beginning of our cloth diaper journey because they are very affordable. I love them for night time use because they are pocket diapers so I can adjust the absorbency easily. They come in a variety of prints and colors. We personally love the fit of Alva diapers for our daughter compared to other diaper brands we’ve tried.
In my opinion Nora’s Nursery pockets are like an upgraded Alva. They are made from organic material and are so soft! I find them to be more durable than Alva, but are very similar in style and fit. I love that they come with bamboo inserts instead of microfiber like the Alva’s. They are still really affordable and can be bought in sets on Amazon. The sets I have can be found here and here.
Wet Bags & Pail Liners
Wet bags and pail liners are both made from the same waterproof material (PUL) as the diapers. They are used to store soiled diapers in between washes. Wet bags come in different sizes and usually hold up 10 diapers. pail liners are larger and can hold closer to 30 diapers. We keep our pail liner in a trash can next to the diaper changing table, but some people store them in their bathroom.
Cloth diapering doesn’t have to be that complicated. I hope this post has given you all you need to start your cloth journey. If you have any questions I didn’t cover in this post comment below or send me a message.