Cloth diapering isn’t what it used to be, folks! Gone are the days of pins and wet pails and swishing diapers in the toilet. Today’s cloth diapers are simple, eco-friendly, kind to baby, a huge budget-saver, and oh so cute! When I was pregnant and doing my cloth diaper research, I was overwhelmed by the choices.
On this site I sometimes offer reviews and give-aways on different brands as well as types of cloth diapers. Hopefully these reviews along with my own experience will help some mamas (and papas!) wade through the plethora of cloth diapering information out there. Maybe we’ll even debunk some CDing myths while we’re at it!
Reasons to Cloth Diaper:
- It’s eco-friendly. In short this is obvious, but I don’t think many people realize just how devastating disposable diapers are to our planet. It’s shocking, really!
- It’s budget-friendly. I know many families get sticker-shock at the initial investment involved in cloth diapering, but over the long run it will save you tons, especially if you cloth diaper more than one child. Click here for a savings calculator on Diaper Pin.
- They are kind to your baby. Cloth diapers are a far healthier choice for your little one!
- They are cute. No debating that!
Types of Cloth Diapers:
Flats and Prefolds:
Flats are just a rectangular piece of cloth the same thickness throughout. They require folding, pinning (or a Snappi), and a cover. Prefolds also required folding, pinning (or a snappi), and a cover. Prefolds differ from flats because they have three panels, with the center panel being thicker for more absorbency. We have not used flats for Baby O, but we have used prefolds.
Prefolds are such a great investment for a cloth-diapering family! Ours have out-lasted any of our other cloth diapers, are the simplest to clean, and are comparatively very inexpensive. We’ve never had an issue with prefolds getting funky, repelling, or wearing out. Not to mention, when you use prefolds, you get to cover them in super cute hand-knitted woollies! Hooray!
(Cotton prefolds/wool are natural materials. Many other cloth diapering options, including the ever popular pocket diapers, are made of synthetic materials. I know many families who have not had success cloth-diapering with synthetic cloth diapers have gone on to have great success with prefolds and wool. If you ask me, it’s worth a try!)
As far as sizes, we’ve found we only really need the infant size and then the standard/large to get us from birth through potty learning. We love the unbleached organic cotton best and have found experimenting with different ways of folding them to be rather fun! (My favorite for when O was a baby was the “twist“. Now as a toddler, we like the “angel wing“) As far as pins go, just forget about them! We use Snappis for Baby O and they work fabulously, no poking or bleeding involved! (We do keep a spare pair of pins in the diaper bag for emergencies though!)
Prefolds generally come in these varieties: chinese or indian, bleached or unbleached, organic or not. They are usually made of cotton. They can be found in organic cotton, or even hemp. O uses mostly organic unbleached indian prefolds. They are thick and squishy and quite soft. When you purchase your prefolds they must be washed and dried several times before use to wash off the natural oils and reach maximum absorbency. It is suggested that you do not do this in the same wash/drying cycles as your other cloth diapers so they do not attract the oils. I *think* we washed Baby O’s prefolds 5x before the first use. Prefolds are also nice because you can use them for other things: a doubler, a burp cloth, or even a super absorbent dust rag!
Just as a side note: I would avoid purchasing prepackaged prefolds found in department stores altogether. They aren’t as thick and lovely and I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed.
The first time I read about fitted cloth diapers, I wondered why spend so much more money on something that needs a cover when I could just use a prefold? I’ll tell you why: they fit!
Like a prefold, a fitted cloth diaper needs a cover. Unlike like a prefold, fitteds do not usually need to be pinned (or snappied). A fitted cloth diaper will usually have velcro for fastening. Also unlike a prefold, fitteds come in a variety of adorable prints and fun fun fun colors! Without a cover, a fitted cloth diaper is quite breathable. You can allow baby to just rock a fitted without a cover for a while to allow baby’s bum to breathe a bit while having some protection (though not totally water-proof).
Diaper covers are necessary for both prefolds and fitteds. They are made from a variety of materials ranging from polyurethane laminate AKA PUL (probably the most popular) to organic wool (Mm!). Covers usually have velcro or snaps for fastening and leg gussets to catch leaks. Depending on what you are looking for, the price of a diaper cover varies. The least expensive white pull-on covers can be as inexpensive as $3. Organic wool covers can be as much as $35. What’s with the price difference you ask? Wool diaper covers have some amazing benefits! Wool is naturally breathable, soft, antimicrobial, is great for wicking moisture away from baby’s skin, and is naturally waterproof (though not as waterproof as synthetic materials). Wool does require some special care that we will get to in another post, but I promise it’s worth it!
One of the best things about using a cloth diapering system with a cover is that you do not need one cover for every single prefold/fitted (though you certainly can have a one to one ratio if you want to). One cover per every couple of prefolds/fitteds will be just fine. Your covers can be used a couple of times in between washings so long as they are not soiled or smelly.
*Please note that not all wool covers will run you quite $35. There are many options including some lovely WAHM items that can be found for less.
In the beginning, the majority of our cloth diaper “stash” was made up of pocket diapers. Generally speaking, pocket diapers will have a PUL outer with a fleece lining and a pocket cut in the back for stuffing. They are fastened with snaps or velcro. Pocket diapers are easy to use as they do not require any folding or pinning. Moisture is wicked away from your baby’s skin and absorbed by an insert. Most pocket diapers come with a polyester insert and they usually work well, but I find hemp to be the most absorbent. You stuff the diaper with the insert before use and pull the insert out after use. We pull our inserts out while changing the diaper and then just drop the diaper, insert, and cloth wipe all in the wet bag for washing. Easy as that! This two part system also helps cut down on washing and drying time.
You can find pocket diapers and their inserts in a variety of materials (including organic wool) and the price will vary from as low as $12 to $35 depending on materials you choose.
Even the most expensive pocket diapers will probably cost you less in the long run than disposables, especially if you plan to cloth diaper more than one child. Besides, they are definitely a healthier, more luxurious option for your baby!
I would say pocket diapers are the most popular option of cloth diapering systems simply because of ease of use and affordability.
All in ones are the cloth diaper option that most resemble disposables in ease of use. They are a one piece system that you put on your baby with snaps or velcro. After use you just remove the diaper and throw the whole thing in your wet bag! One draw-back of all-in-one cloth diapers is that they require a bit more drying time than other options. We honestly haven’t used a lot of AIOs.
Some other cloth diapering options not mentioned in detail here include:
Contour Diaper: between a prefold and a fitted. The diaper has a contoured shape but requires a snappi for fastening.
A-I-2 Diaper: a PUL outter with snaps on the inside to snap in a soaker (insert).
One Size Diaper: usually a pocket diaper adjusted as your baby grows. Most can be worn from birth to potty training. We have used a lot of one-size pocket diapers and found some are better than others. Fuzzi Bunz one-size has been our favorite as far as both fit and durability.
Caring for Your Cloth:
To properly care for your cloth you need just a few items:
- a wet bag*
- detergent that will not leave additives on your cloth
(I’ll help you with this. Reviews/Give-Aways Coming Soon!)
- cloth-friendly diaper cream
- a washing machine
- a dryer/clothes line
A wet bag is where you keep soiled cloth diapers. It does not need to be complex. You can find an array of wet bags online (many WAHMs do great work) or even make one yourself. Many families line a lidded trash can with a wet bag to control smells. When you wash your cloth you generally can just throw the wet bag right in with the diapers, keeping it nice and fresh!
Washing your cloth is not a big deal either. Just throw them in the machine with some cloth-friendly detergent (examples are Charlie’s Soap, Country Save, and Sensi-Clean) and wash as usual. It seems every family has a different method they prefer for washing their cloth. This is what we do:
- Set machine to highest water setting.
- Run a short regular cycle with cold water.
- Start regular cycle and add chosen detergent in recommended amount.
We now wash all of our laundry in the same detergent we wash our cloth in. That way we don’t have to worry about having different detergents for us, our baby, and our cloth. (Cloth-friendly detergents are usually fine for baby clothes as well.) Doing our laundry this way saves time and money.
- Dump diapers (previously separating inserts from pockets and so on) and wet bag all into the machine.
- Wash on hot regular cycle.
- Run and extra rinse cycle.
- Put freshly washed cloth in dryer or hang on line to dry.
Putting the cloth on the line may take longer but is the best way to remove stains. Plus it’s greener!
- Re-stuff pocket diapers, fold prefolds, covers, and fitteds.
- Put freshly laundered cloth in baby’s room and admire.
On diaper rash: Most cloth-diapering families report very little or no trouble with diaper rash. In fact, that is why many families switch to cloth in the first place! (O has rarely experienced diaper rash and it has always been minor, especially when using prefolds/wool. I believe this is due to the breathability of the natural materials.) If you do experience diaper rash, it is important to use a cream that is cloth-friendly. Our favorite is California Baby. We’ve found these diaper rash creams are also a great hand moisturizer!
If you do accidentally or unwittingly use a detergent or cream that is not cloth-friendly, do not panic. You can strip your diapers. By removing any additives or residues that may have built up on your cloth, your absorbency and wicking properties should return. Sometimes, after a bit of regular use, it’s nice to strip diapers just to freshen them up.
One easy way to strip funky cloth diapers is to wash them in a few squirts (maybe a tablespoon?) of dawn dish soap with hot water.
*A wet bag differs from the old way of using a wet pail in that a “wet” bag isn’t actually wet at all. It is a dry bag that you put wet things (cloth) in.
Wool diaper covers do require special care, but nothing too extravagant and if you ask many parents the benefits are worth it. First of all, wool is probably the most natural choice for a diaper cover you are going to find. Wool is thermal and helps regulate body temperature. It will help keep baby warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Wool pulls moisture away from baby while remaining a waterproof barrier for baby’s clothes. Wool breathes, allowing air to circulate through the cover. Wool is naturally antimicrobial. Wool is green, sometimes literally.
Caring for wool covers isn’t difficult, just different. Care generally consists of hand-washing (though not always), air-drying, and lanolizing. Wool covers generally only need to be washed once a week or so, depending on how many covers you have in rotation. Most wool covers need to be hand-washed or they may felt and shrink. To wash your wool cover use a wool friendly wash and cool water. Gently agitate the cover and then remove excess water by rolling in a towel. Lay flat to dry.
Lanolizing your wool is also a fairly simple and quick process. (I know you don’t have a lot of spare time.) To lanolize your wool submerge it in a sinkful of lukewarm water (not too hot). Meanwhile, add about 1 teaspoon of lanolin and a little bit of wash to one cup of water. I use Lansinoh lanolin because I happen to have lots of it lying around. Heat the mixture for 30 seconds or so in the microwave, until the lanolin is liquid. Stir your mixture until it is cloudy. Pour the mixture over your cover and agitate gently. Let the cover soak 15-30 minutes. Do not rinse. Roll the wool in a towel to remove excess moisture and lay flat to dry.
General Cloth Diapering Tips:
- Cloth diapers from exclusively breastfed babies can be thrown directly into the wash. Formula fed babies, older babies, and babies eating solids will likely need the contents of their diapers emptied before washing. You can simply shake the diaper or use a diaper sprayer.
- Keep something extra over your changing pad and cover to protect it. It’s easier to just throw a spare prefold or burp cloth into the wet bag than to rewash your changing pad cover every day. We use an organic cotton pad that was actually meant for the crib. We didn’t feel safe putting it in the crib, but found it makes the changing pad extra luxurious!
- Keep a small toy near your changing station. This will distract baby and keep little hands away from a soiled diaper.
- Use cloth wipes and just throw them in the wet bag with the used cloth. You don’t need to buy cloth wipes specifically. We have a mixture of lovely hemp cloth wipes as well as cheap “baby” wash cloths. We have some organic cotton wash cloths that we use when we need an actual wash cloth, but those other guys work great for a wipe! Cloth wipes are also more green as well as economical!
- Try different kinds of inserts to see what you like best. We have three different kinds of inserts: polyestr, bamboo, and hemp. They all work just fine, but the hemp are the most absorbent and the most trim.
- Use a squirt bottle of some sort for wetting your wipes. We use the peri bottle from the hospital for this purpose. Many companies sell special baby washes. We usually use plain water with a drop of lavender essential oil.
- You can put your wet bag in a trash can with a lid to control smells. Our wet bag just hangs on a hook by the changing station. Some wet bags have a fabric tab on the inside where you could put a few drops of essential oil (lavender and tea tree are good choices). *Always use a very modest amount of EOs. Too much could cause your cloth diapers to start repelling moisture.
- Attach velcro to laundry tabs before throwing your cloth in the wet bag. That way you won’t forget or have to pick through dirty laundry later.
- Some folks put vinegar in the rinse cycle to combat hard water (act as a fabric softener). We don’t do this as it isn’t always recommended, but do whatever works for you!
- Stuff your diapers before putting them away. This will save time during a change.
- To cut down on the bulk of a one-size diaper on a smaller baby, try using a trimmer insert. A hemp insert will absorb just as well (or better) than a microfiber insert and is typically about half as thick.
- Hang your cloth in the sun to both disinfect and bleach stains.
- Giving your cloth a bout in the dryer can help reseal PUL.
- PUL diaper covers that are not soiled can be wiped and air-dried between uses. This will allow you to have fewer covers in rotation and save you money.
- If your prefolds have become a little small for fastening, you can try tri-folding them for a bit to make them last just a bit longer. Outgrown prefolds can also be used as inserts for your pocket diapers.
- Snappis are an easy (less frightening) alternative to pins.
- Use a detergent that can be used on all of your laundry, including your cloth. This will save money and time.
- Be sure to only use diaper creams that are cloth diaper friendly. We use California Baby.
- Periodically “stripping” your diapers can help with wicking and absorbency issues.
- Be sure to periodically lanolize your wool covers.
- Keep diaper loads to 18 or so diapers maximum so everything gets cleaned thoroughly. Make sure to keep your water on the highest setting.
This list is by no means inclusive. If anyone else has any tips to add, I would love to hear them!
This page only describes our own cloth diapering methods. Please refer to your own product instructions so as not to void any warranties.
All opinions and ideas expressed on this site are just that, personal opinions and ideas. I can only vouch for the experience and opinions of my own family. Please use your own best judgment and seek the advice of a medical professional (or otherwise appropriate professional) when deciding which products and/or methods are best for your family. I am not and do not pretend to be an expert in anything other than my own experience. Thank you.