Cloth Diapering 101: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started

There are a million decisions to make when you’re expecting a new baby, and how to diaper them is no exception.

Many natural mamas see the appeal of cloth diapering, but just don’t know where to start. Other parents may not have even considered cloth diapering, or don’t know anyone who has done it other than their grandma.

Well, the good news is that cloth diapering is probably easier to do thank you may think. And today’s cloth diapers are a lot easier to use than your grandma’s 🙂

Here’s everything you need to know to get started.

Benefits of cloth diapering (CDing)

Good for your baby – Disposable diapers contain harmful chemicals. These chemicals can irritate baby’s skin, causing diaper rash. Dioxin, a by-product of bleaching, is listed by the EPA as the most toxic carcinogen. Disposables also contain Tributyl-tin (TBT) which is a chemical known to cause hormonal problems in humans and animals.

Good for the environment – Disposable diapers generate sixty times more solid waste and use twenty times more raw materials to make than cloth diapers do. Yikes. Additionally, it’s estimated to take between 250 and 500 years for a single disposable diaper to break down in a landfill. Whereas cloth are used over and over before heading to the landfill, and they they take about 5 months to break down. You may even be able to compost old cloth diapers as long as they’re made from natural fiber such as cotton or wool.

Good for you – They’re cheaper! Cloth diapers cost more upfront but save you considerably in the long run. Disposables are more convenient sometimes but cloth is much more convenient at other times. For instance, you never have to run out to the store in bad weather or in the middle of the night  to buy more!

Here’s a fun video we did a while back: 6 Reasons Why Cloth Diapers Are Better Than Disposables (And 1 Reason Why They Ain’t)

Types of cloth diapers

There are almost as many cloth diapering choices as there are cloth diapering mamas, and it can be overwhelming to find the best cloth diapers for you and your family.

Here’s an overview of the most popular kinds of cloth diapers.

Types of Cloth Diapers - fitted, prefold, all in one, hybrid, flats, pocket, and more by Mama Natural
Flats

These diapers are probably what your grandma used. They are a thin piece of fabric that you can fold in many ways to fit your baby. There is a little extra time involved in folding them but the advantage is that you can customize the absorbency (thicker in the front for boys, thicker in the back for overnight, etc). (Where to buy flats)

Prefolds

Prefolds are rectangles of fabric that are extra thick in the center. You will have to do minimal folding to use these, since the absorbency is already built into the middle section. (Where to buy prefolds)

Fitteds

Fitted diapers are similar to an all-in-one (see below) except they don’t have a waterproof cover built in. They are absorbent fabric that has elastic at the legs and waist for a “fitted” style and usually have their own closures. (Where to buy fitted diapers)

Contour

Contour diapers are similar to prefolds except they don’t need to be folded in order to fit through the legs since they are tapered in the leg area. They don’t have their own closures. 

Each of these styles besides the fitted will need to be pinned with a snappi or good ol’ diaper pins. Each of these diaper styles also needs a waterproof cover and there are many choices for those too. (Where to buy contour diapers)

  • PUL (polyurethane laminate) covers are usually polyester with a PUL coating for waterproofing. You can find them with snaps or velcro closures. Some styles range in single sizes from XS to XL, meaning you will need some of each size, while others have just two sizes that can be adjusted to fit your baby as he grows.
  • Wool covers are natural, breathable and especially absorbent, great for nighttime diapering. Usually they are a pull-on style that can double as clothing.
  • Fleece covers are similar to wool covers but are less expensive and great for babies who are sensitive to wool.

Pockets

Pocket diapers are made up of two parts, the outer waterproof shell with a “pocket” on the inside, plus an absorbent insert to stuff inside the pocket. These can be found in single sizes or adjustable sizes too. (Where to buy pocket diapers)

Check out this post on why we chose Bumgenius pocket diapers.

All-in-ones

All-in-ones (AIO) are the most like a disposable considering there is nothing to fold or stuff. These diapers are also made in single sizes or adjustable sizes. (Where to buy all-in-one diapers)

All-in-two

All-in-twos (AI2) are similar to pocket diapers. They consist of an outer waterproof shell and an absorbent insert. Unlike pockets though, the insert sits directly against baby’s skin. These tend to dry quicker than the AIOs. (Where to buy all-in-two diapers)

Hybrid

Hybrid diapers are similar to AI2s except that the insert can either be cloth or disposable. They also tend to be the most expensive. (Where to buy hybrid diapers)

Cost of cloth diapering (compared to disposables)

There’s no doubt that cloth diapering will save you money, but how much?

According to Diaperdecisions.com, cloth diapering from birth to age 2.5 can run from a total of $381 (for prefolds and covers), including the cost of washing, to $1468 (for hybrids) while disposables would cost about $2577. we’re going to cut that price of cloth right down the middle for this graphic here.

Cost of Diapering cloth versus disposable diapers meme by Mama Natural

In reality, you can get away with fewer diapers than they suggest, so your actual cost could be lower. With Diaperdecision.com’s figures, you are saving between 43% and 85% of the price of disposables.

Alternately, if you do choose to buy more diapers than absolutely necessary, you will put less wear on them, therefore your diapers can either be used for a sibling or sold for about 50% of retail, saving you even more.

How many diapers will I need?

We recommend starting with at least a dozen cloth diapers. Doing a load of laundry with fewer than that can be wasteful in terms of water and energy used. Having about 20 cloth diapers is ideal.

Really, it depends on how often you’ll be able to do laundry. You will want to wash diapers every 3 or 4 days. Some mamas wash them every day, although we’ve gone up to a week between washes and our diapers came out fine.

Newborns, on average, use 10-12 diapers per day, infants use 8-10, and older babies and toddler use 6-8 diapers each day. Check out our setup here.

Cloth wipes

Cloth diapering is easier to do thank you may think, and using cloth diapers will save you a ton of money over disposable diapers. Here's the full scoop!If you’ve decided to cloth diaper, choosing cloth wipes is the next logical step. They have all of the advantages of cloth diapers, and don’t add much extra work, since you can throw them right in with the diaper wash.

Cloth wipes can be bought or made. Many mamas enjoy the store bought flannel ones, while plenty go the DIY route and use baby washcloths, old pieces of clothing, or terry cloth towels cut into squares.

Cloth wipes can be stored dry or wet. An old wipes container works well, but if you’re crafty you could try making a cute cloth wipe dispenser.

You can buy a cloth wipe solution for moistening the wipes, or you can make your own easily.

Simple homemade cloth wipe solution

  • 4 oz of water
  • 1 teaspoon baby shampoo
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • a few drops of lavender essential oil

Use the solution in a spray bottle, or pour it over wipes and store wet for up to 3 days.

What if you can’t cloth diaper?

Whether your child is in daycare and they won’t CD, or it’s just too much work to CD on the road, here are some tips to be as green as possible.

  • Cloth diaper part time. Remember that every cloth diaper (or EC “catch”) is one less disposable in the landfill, and that does make a huge difference.
  • Choose an eco friendly disposable diaper. Check out our green diaper showdown for the best green disposables.
  • Knock diaper poop into the toilet as opposed to throwing it away. This is news to most parents, but it’s the way diaper manufacturers and communities want you to use diapers. Look on the back of any package of diapers and you’ll see a note about emptying the contents of a used diaper into the toilet. When untreated human feces goes into our landfills, they can endanger our water supply.
  • Consider elimination communication (EC). Even if you only catch a few poops or pees thats at least a few diapers that you aren’t using and throwing away.
  • Consider investing in a few hybrid diapers and use disposable inserts when it’s more convenient like while traveling.

Here’s how & why other natural mamas use cloth diapers

I asked the moms on my Facebook page how and why they CD with their little ones. Here are some of their responses.

  • When my 1st daughter was born I was scared to even look into cloth diapering. As I got more and more into natural methods, I started researching cloth diapers. When I did, it was so overwhelming. I found a page that broke it down and found that pockets were my best option. So, I started with a small purchase. I was pleased, and chose to purchase some [similar brands]. Now with my 2nd on its way (still don’t know the gender), we’re doing cloth diapers almost right from the beginning (after meconium is out). – Dania Viñuela
  • They’re not as intimidating as people think. And people freak out when I tell them we cloth diaper our kids. They look at me like I’m crazy. But then I explain the benefits of cloth and how much safer it is for our kids especially since they have eczema and are very sensitive to disposables. I also explain how much better it is for the environment and how much money we’ve actually saved with cloth. They are the best decision I made for my kids and will never go back to disposables. – Maetzin A Nguyen
  • Skip the cloth diaper detergent and homemade detergent. research how to use your washer properly and know what kind of water you have (hard or soft). Buy detergent (and a water softener) that works! A good wash routine is key to surviving and thriving while cloth diapering! – Michelle May
  • We cloth diapered because im too cheap to literally throw money away. – Cassi Lynnette
  • I’ve cloth diapered for over three years, now on baby number 2 with many of the same diapers. We start with prefolds and covers and then eventually use pocket diapers. It has saved us lots of money and blowouts! – Sarah Hammer
  • This is my 1st time! My baby is due in May. I bought a gently set of used [hybrid diapers] for newborn off craigslist… And I’m slowly buying my stash to use until he’s potty trained. – Julie Marie
  • I did cloth diaper! I did it to both save money, and to keep toxins off of my baby (Dioxin is one chemical used in disposable diapers, also in tampons that is just one I wanted to avoid). I always recommend to people to get 20-24 diapers, which is enough to wash about every other day. Keeping diapers stored while dirty any longer can allow scents & soiled spots to set in. – Caroline Janssen
  • I use all in one for newborn stage, prefolds and a cover for the rest. I got a deal with the all in one’s but it’s nice to have when you have a newborn since its closest to disposables(therefore easy). I chose prefolds because they are the cheapest option, especially if you want the most natural, organic material on baby’s skin. They also don’t hold stink bad like microfiber. I cloth diaper because I don’t want chemicals on my baby from disposable diapers, save money! And the earth. – Jamie Alvarez
  • I love cloth diapering. I did it off and on with my first (didn’t have a huge stash and the drive to keep up with everything) but am now CD’ing her and my 5 m/o. It makes me sick to spend $30+ every week just to throw it away when it was dirty. I’d much rather have something I can reuse and always have available! I also recommend a diaper sprayer for solids poop! It has saved our lives haha. – Amanda Nelson

Want more information about cloth diapering?

Here are all our posts on how to cloth diaper, from how to strip your diapers, when to strip your diapers, why we chose the brand we use, and more.

How about you?

Did (or do) you cloth diaper? What type do you use? Why did you choose to CD? Share with us in the comments below!

References

“Cost of Cloth Diapers.” Diaper Decisions. Web. 9 Mar. 2015. http://www.diaperdecisions.com/pages/cost_of_cloth_diapers.php

“The Green Space: Trash Degradation Exposed.” Blue Sea Online. Web. 9 Mar. 2015. http://www.blueseaonline.net/manager/filemanager/files/2798-1The_Green_Space.pdf

“Why Choose Cloth Diapers? Real Diaper Association Diaper Facts.” Real Diaper Association. Web. 9 Mar. 2015. http://www.realdiaperassociation.org/diaperfacts.php

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13 Comments

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  1. I’m not pregnant yet but trying to learn as much as I can. I’m really learning toward the pre-folds and covers because I cannot stomach paying $20-$40 for ONE diaper (there’s not that much to them, why do they cost so much????). Anyway, is there anyone who tried pre-folds and hated them and why? I’ve found tutorials on folding and it seems easy enough and some say they don’t even use the pins to hold them in place. Seems like a no-brainer so I feel like I’m missing something.

    • Check out PatPat. They have GREAT deals for CD. I bought 24 new pockets with inserts for about $5-7 each! I started CDing with my 4th, after looking into how bad the chemicals in disposables are. Then I realized that’s why my older kids always had horrible rashes. I love the variety, colors and options. We are stocking up for baby #6 now!

  2. I loved these cloth diapers when my kids were babies! They are a lot easier than people think!

  3. I tried cloth diapering with my baby but stopped because of leaks and having to wash and dry without having the convenience of my own dryer right now. But aside from that my biggest concern now is how do I keep my name warm in the winter time while wearing cloth diapers none of his clothes fit when he has them on and the house isn’t very warm. Any ideas would really like to hear them as well all anyone know of more absorbent inserts for all in ones?

    • You need to get baby leggings and shirt or oversized onesies.

  4. I would love to use cloth diapers, however I’m not sure I can considering I don’t have my own washer & dryer, I either have to pay $2/ load to do laundry in my apartment building or take it to my mom’s, I wouldn’t want to impose dirty diapers on somebody else’s machine. Is there a somewhat clean way of washing them? Could I throw them in a pillow case used for that purpose? I’m thinking about making my own, but I don’t think I’ll be able to seeing as how I have to convert my sewing room to the baby’s room… what’s best to start off with a newborn?

    • I hear where you’re coming from. In my experience, the diapers are nasty going into the machine, but clean coming out. And the washing machine looks no worse for the wear. So I’d say no worries on inflicting the diapers on a family member’s machine. But that’s just me 🙂 Good luck!

    • *I know this is an old comment but commenting in hopes to help someone else*

      If you are nervous about the poop aspect then
      what you can do is get as much poop off before washing. You can use an old spatula, scrape it off, and drop in the toilet. You can buy (or diy) a diaper sprayer to help spray the poop off into the toilet. I would NOT suggest putting your diapers in a pillow case. You want your diapers to get as aggitaged as possible so they can get as clean as possible. Putting them in a pillow case/laundry bag will hinder that. I have washed my diapers in a couple different family members washer and no harm came from any of it.

  5. Hello, this is my 2nd child that I have used cloth diapers with and love it! Although this baby wets her diapers literally every 15mins-30mins and absolutely refuses to sit in it waiting for the next tinkle. So you can imagine how many cloth diapers I go through daily with her. Anyways my biggest issue is that at night she nurses ALL night so she’s wetting her diaper ALL night and this used to mean I would need to change it 2-3 times while she slept (which was hard on me). I have recently switched to Seventh Generation disposables (for night time ONLY) and I now get more sleep because it holds me. My question is: is there a cloth diaper out there that wicks away the wetness and holds a lot with out leaking (like the pocket diapers do)???? I really want to go back to only cloth! Any suggestions would help!

    • I meant that it holds MORE, not holds me! Sorry

    • I have found the most absorbent option for overnight is a prefold and a cover. I use both OsoCozy and Econobum prefold. They are both VERY absorbent. I’ve never had a leak with a prefold and a cover and my baby is almost 8 months old. We use pocket diapers (various brands) during the day but I have had those leak from time to time when they didn’t get changed soon enough.

  6. I learned after I discovered my prefolds wouldn’t fit around my newborn to use a snappi that you can simply fold them and place them inside the cover, no closure needed.. easy peasy

    • Yes! This is what we do too!

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