Picture it, Gainesville 2011 (are you conjuring up images of Sophia Petrillo from the Golden Girls?). I wanted to learn how to sew so my mother bought me a sewing machine. I started looking online for all of the cute things I could learn to make. Aprons, bags, crayon rolls... the possibilities were endless. I stumbled across the Very Baby diaper pattern and was instantly smitten. I started researching cloth diapers and decided (even before I became pregnant) that I wanted to use cloth diapers when the time came.
Once I started reading about them, cloth diapers made perfect sense to me. I like a good deal and I like to save money. I liked the idea that there wouldn't be chemicals pushed up against my baby's "cash and prizes" all day long. Most of all, I loved the way they looked.
Here are the major reasons why you should use cloth:
Cost: If you have one baby, you'll probably spend between $1,500-2,500+ on disposable diapers and wipes before the age of three. If you have just two children that could add up to $5,000. If you were to buy a very minimal stash of cloth diapers consisting of prefolds and covers (say 3 dozen Osocozy prefolds @ $18/dozen and 6 covers @ around $12/cover) that is $126. Throw in a few wetbags, some Snappi's or pins and you're looking at $160 or so. Cut up some receiving blankets or use some baby washcloths for wipes. That is it. That will cover you until potty training if you really need to diaper your baby on a budget. Say you are more of a pocket kind of gal. If you bought 24 KaWaii pockets it would run you about $263. If you bought 24 bumGenius 4.0's about $407. Add another $50 for wetbags and pail liners and you're good to go. The cloth diapering online stores have great sales so you might even be able to do a bit better. And, there are even cheaper alternatives like purchasing used or through co-ops.
Environment: Say the average baby goes through 8 diapers/day (maybe 12 during the newborn stage and 4-6 or so in the toddler stage, but say 8 on average) and it takes 2.5 years to potty learn. That is 7,300 diapers per child going into the landfills. I'm not super granola or anything, but when I do use disposables I feel a bit guilty throwing another disposable diaper into the landfill knowing it won't biodegrade for 500 years - that's a real number people, 500 years. I didn't just make that up. Even taking into account the water and soap you will use washing your cloth diapers you are still saving the environment and landfills.
Chemicals/Safety: Disposable diapers have A LOT of chemicals in them. Think about it - do you want chemicals, especially dioxin, pressed up against your baby's "hot spots" for up to 3 years straight?
Rashes/Sensitivities: Some babies get horrid diaper rashes from disposables and some are just plain allergic to them. Babies in cloth diapers get less diaper rash and the ointments or salves used with them are usually more natural. There are a small percentage of babies that are sensitive to certain materials in some cloth diapers - like suede cloth or microfleece - but there are usually other options available like all cotton that will work for them.
Blowout containment: If you have a baby then you've probably dealt with quite a few poo explosions before. If you don't have a baby yet, then picture a baby with poo oozing down their legs and up their backs, coating that super cute outfit you put them in. Cloth diapers are MUCH better for poo containment. In 6 months I've had only 1 blowout in cloth and that was due to user error (I put the
diaper on too loose).
Not having to run to the store in your pajamas: There will inevitably be a time where you'll run out of disposables if you aren't a super planner/stockpiler and you'll have to run to the store at 9 o'clock at night. With cloth diapers, you'll always have diapers available as long as you keep up with the laundry.
Cute factor: This was the one that got me. Cloth diapers come in so many fun colors and prints - they are just cute and make the whole diapering experience a lot more fun for me. I love the look of a fluffy butt.
This is the one thing that usually throws people for a loop. You just wash the diaper once it's dirty mmmkay? You scrape the poop off, dunk the diaper and swish it around in the toilet, or if you're fancy you could get a diaper sprayer and install it in your bathroom. Or, if you’re like me, you get a good pair of rubber gloves and rinse them in your utility sink. It's really not that bad. I'm a nurse after all. If I can deal with an adult stranger's poop then I can certainly handle my own child's poop.
So, now that that's settled, what type of diapering system is right for you? And what do all of those abbreviations mean?
Here are the most common types of diapers available in the "modern" world of cloth diapering:
Prefolds: These are the old school diapers your grandparents (and maybe even your parents) used. They are rectangular pieces of fabric with multiple layers, especially in the middle, that you pin (or snappi/boingo) onto your baby. They are cheap, comparatively speaking, and will likely last through more than a few children. They are usually cotton or some other type of absorbent natural fiber and are not waterproof so you'll have to put a cover over them.
Flats: Also old school. These are just large squares of fabric that you fold up and pin/snappi/boingo on your baby. Also, you could padfold them and place them in a cover. You can use almost anything as a flat... old receiving blankets, t-shirts, etc. You can also use flour sack towels (FST) that you find at your local Target or Walmart in the kitchen area that are about $1 apiece. These also require a cover. Flats are probably the cheapest option and the easiest to clean with the fastest drying time.
Fitteds: This is a diaper that can consist of any number of materials and usually has elastic around the legs and adjustable waist sizing (with snaps, Velcro/aplix, or even good old fashioned pins) but it is not waterproof so a cover is needed… or a wool cover – which I’m not going to get into at this point – I’ll save that topic for a rainy day. (You can read more about fitted and hybrid fitteds in THIS post)
Pockets: A pocket is usually made up of a waterproof shell sewn together with a liner that forms an inner pocket that is stuffed with an insert for absorbency. Most pocket diapers will come with microfiber (MF) inserts but you can use almost anything including prefolds or flats to customize the absorbency based on your babies needs.
(AIO): Basically, this is just what it sounds like – all one piece. There is a waterproof (or maybe even wool) outer layer with a soaker sewn in. This is most similar to a disposable and the probably the most daddy/daycare friendly. However, what you gain in convenience you lose in drying time - these can take a long, long time to dry.
(AI2) or Hybrids: This is a diaper with a waterproof outer layer but with an insert that snaps in place or is just laid into the shell. Unlike a pocket diaper, here the insert will go directly up against the baby’s skin.
one-size. This is a diaper that is meant to last from birth (or soon after) until potty learning. The diapers usually fit from anywhere between 8-35 pounds give or take a few.
polyurethane laminate, what some outerproof layers/covers are made of.
work at home mom. There are many fabulous moms out there who are making cloth diapers and selling them on Etsy, Facebook or Hyena Cart.
Here is a link to an aggressively large list of abbreviations.
If you decide to use flats or prefolds there are a ton of different resources and YouTube videos on different folds and how to use them. Google it my friend.
How many will you need?
First, you’ll have to decide how often you want to do laundry. If you can wash every day then you don’t need as many diapers. Most people (myself included) will tell you to wash every other day – this keeps the stink factor to a minimum. I wouldn’t ever try to push it past every 3 days unless it was really, really necessary.
If you are planning to start with a newborn you’ll probably need about 36 diapers. Newborns pee and poop all. the. time. Most go through about 12 diapers per day so you’ll need at least 24 and then some to wear while the laundry is going. As I mentioned earlier, most one-size (OS) diapers don’t start to fit until 8 (more like 10) pounds so you’ll likely need specific diapers for the newborn stage unless you just want to do disposables until your baby fattens up a bit and fits in OS diapers J. Older babies go through about 6-10 diapers a day. Keep in mind that cloth diapers should be changed about every 2 hours or so.
There are heavy duty or pocket diapers that you can stuff with more absorbent materials (hemp doublers, etc) for naptimes and overnight though. Another thing to think about - the smaller your stash of diapers is the more use each one will get. That means if you only have 20 diapers and they are washed about every other day then each one will get washed over 150 times per year. So, don’t be mad at Fuzzibunz or whoever because your diaper doesn’t last through 3 kids.
What else do you need?
Depending on the cloth diapering system that you choose you may need things like:
Pins, Snappis, or Boingos: These are products that will hold the prefolds, flats, or fitteds on your baby.
Wetbags: These are waterproof bags that come in a slew of different sizes – some that you can carry with you in your diaper bag, some that hang off a doorknob or your changing table. Basically, it’s a bag to hold your dirty diapers until wash day. And, on wash day turn it inside out and throw it in with your diapers.
Pail liners: These are waterproof bags that go inside your diaper pail to store your dirty diapers until wash day. On wash day, turn it inside out and wash it with your diapers. You’ll want 2 of these – that way when one is in the wash you’ll have the other to use.
Creams: Regular diaper creams (i.e. Desitin, A&D, other zinc containing creams) are NOT cloth diaper safe. I repeat, these creams are NOT cloth diaper safe. The whole purpose of these creams is to create a moisture barrier, so if you slab that on your baby and then put him in a cloth diaper it will coat your diaper and make it repel (read: LEAK). You won’t need to use it that often, but there are cloth diaper safe creams available like That’s BALM! BABY, CJ’s BUTTer, and the Grovia Magic Stick among others.
Cloth wipes: These are optional of course but it makes good sense to use them. That way when you are done wiping up a mess you don’t have to fish the disposable wipe out and throw it in a separate trash can.
How do you wash them?
In your regular home washing machine. Or a Laundromat if need be. Or, if you are really tight on money get flats and wash them by hand or in a camp style washer (bucket with plunger type of thing). I know some people can’t fathom the idea of washing a poopy diaper in the same washing machine that washes their clothes <gasp!>. Seriously, get over it. When the disposable diaper blows out and your baby gets poop all over their onsie you don’t just throw it away. You rinse it and wash it. Same with cloth diapers. Rinse the poop away and put it in the pail. Then wash them ever other day or so.
Depending on your machine (top vs. front loader) and it’s settings you’ll have to figure out a routine that works for you. You could probably google the type of machine you have + cloth diapers and there will likely be a lot of different threads and posts about how people clean their diapers.
Detergent use is well debated topic. Most cloth diaper companies will tell you that you must use a cloth diaper safe detergent without additives or it will void your diaper’s warranty. There are several brands – bumGenius, Rockin’ Green, etc. For me personally, and a lot of other cloth diapering folks out there (especially those with hard water), those CD safe detergents just don’t cut it. The diapers don’t get quite clean enough so what is the point of having a warranty on stinky diapers? I’d rather just use what works (read: Tide Free & Gentle). I’m not overly concerned about the warranty on a $15-20 diaper – I’ll just buy a new one if it wears out – but if you’re strapped for cash then you might want to try CD safe detergents first and see if they’ll work for you and your water type.
My typical wash routine is this (in my Samsung HE frontloader): Pre-rinse on COLD with no spin, then Heavy duty wash on HOT with extra rinse using Tide F&G up to the “1” line, with an additional rinse at the end. Then I hang the shells/covers to dry (outside preferably) and tumble dry the inserts and wipes. The whole washing process takes a while – like 2.5 hours – but I don’t mind doing diaper laundry for some reason.
What about stains? Well, have no fear – the sun magically bleaches away all poo stains you will run into. Just place your freshly clean, wet diaper/insert/whatever out in direct sunlight and in a few hours the stain will be gone.
What if it turns out you hate cloth diapering your child?
Well, hopefully you won’t. But, if for some reason you don’t like it or your daycare facility won’t use them you can always sell them. Believe it or not there is a hot market for used diapers. There are many places to sell them – The FSOT (for sale or trade) forum on diaperswappers.com, the forum on babycenter.com, Ebay, Craigslist, Spot’s Corner, and many groups on Facebook. You will be able to get a lot of your money back if you decide to sell your diapers so don’t let the initial investment scare you off.
Got your new diapers but don't know how to prep them? Learn more about that here.
Learn more about fitteds and hybrid fitteds here.
*Disclaimer: These are my own thoughts on cloth diapering. The figures and information presented above are my own - I wrote this information for some of my friends that were considering cloth diapers.