When I first found out I was pregnant I knew we would use cloth diapers. My husband and I are keen to save both money and the environment, so being able to do both at once is an automatic win. Plus, I try to avoid chemicals like those in disposables. I’m the oldest of five, all of whom were in cloth, so I didn’t think I was intimidated by it.
As I started reading up, however, I quickly realized that modern cloth is a whole other story. From brands to wash routines to all the different types, it was easy to get overwhelmed. While there are plenty of fantastic cloth diaper blogs (and a few bad ones) out there, I honestly think the plethora of info is scaring people away.
Now that I’m familiar with using cloth I find the whole process pretty simple. Really. Cloth diapers are well worth the switch. Do disposables have entire blogs and enthusiasts and passionate moms advocating for them? Nope. What they do have is massive marketing budgets, but even those aren’t enough as more and more parents choose cloth. If you’re on the fence check out Why I Cloth Diaper. If you already know what you want then read on.
My hope is that you’ll be able to get started once you’ve finished reading this cloth diapers for beginners guide. Pregnant me had two cloth-diaper-using friends who patiently answered my questions or walked me through their own basic routines. It was invaluable to me. If you have further questions please post in the comments or contact me. I’ll be happy to share what I know, or point you towards other resources.
Cloth Diapers for Beginners
Basic helpful info
All cloth diapers are comprised of two parts: absorbency fabric and a waterproof piece. If these are not sewn together in one piece than the absorbency need to either be “stuffed” inside the diaper, placed on top of the diaper, or covered with a waterproof cover (which is kind of like the plastic pants you might remember from the past, except better).
The absorbency comes in a variety of different fabrics. Microfibre is the cheapest. I personally much prefer natural fibres such as bamboo, organic cotton, and hemp.
Choosing the diapers
This is a big step as cloth diapers require an initial investment (But don’t let that scare you off. You’ll save loads in the long run). There are a number of different types of cloth diapers, and each is represented by an acronym online, making decoding even more difficult. To start out I recommend choosing “pocket” diapers, (where the absorbent insert is put inside a “pocket” after washing), or “all-in-ones,” (where the absorbency and the waterproof cover are all together in one piece). I still mostly use pockets because I don’t mind the work of stuffing them and I like that I can adjust the absorbency by changing the inserts. An “all-in-two” will let you place the absorbency on top of the diaper, similar to a pocket except without stuffing.
If you’re on a tighter budget you’ll want to choose flats or prefolds. These more closely resemble the white pieces of fabric of old, but you don’t have to use pins any more. These allow you to use only a few waterproof covers while rotating out the absorbent prefold. They actually can be quite simple once you get the hang of it.
There are a few types of diapers I haven’t mentioned, but they’re probably not what you’ll use to start out.
You can also save money by buying either “China cheapies” or used diapers. Some groups are really against the cheap generic diapers made in China. I got a few while still pregnant. I don’t mind using them as back-ups (I leave one at my moms and one in the car). Apparently they aren’t necessarily up to safety standards. I mostly avoid them now because I find them flimsy, they have no resale value, and I prefer to support ethical and quality companies. I do have pre-loved diapers in my collection—some of them are my favourites. Just be sure to bleach them before putting them on your baby. I use the bathtub or sink instructions from this infographic. I just saved the photo in my phone and reference it when I need to.
The diaper-change set up
There are no hard fast rules when it comes to setting up your diaper station. I use a garbage can with a step-top lid and a cloth pail liner. You may want to choose a hanging pail (basically a big waterproof bag). You will probably find that cloth wipes are much easier once you’re using cloth diapers; everything just gets tossed in the wash together.
If your baby is exclusively breastfed then their diapers can go straight in the pail and then into the wash. Breastfed poo is water soluble. Amazing, right? When baby starts solids you will want to rinse their diapers in the toilet before washing. I originally used an old spatula straight in the toilet. This worked just fine, but I ended up getting this diaper sprayer and a Diaper Diamond shield (affiliate links). These certainly makes things easier, but I file them under the nice-to-have category.
Using cloth diapers
If you have acquired “one size” (OS) diapers you’ll know that they are meant to fit from birth to potty. However, they won’t, unless you have a big newborn. If this is your first baby in cloth cut yourself some slack and get a package of disposables. I’m always torn whether to recommend this or not, but I think you’re more likely to stick with cloth if you can get off to a positive start. I was all eager and optimistic with BamBam and then between recovering from birth, adjusting to having a baby, and the learning curve of cloth it was a month before she was regularly wearing her cute cloth diapers.
Once you have your diapers stuffed, or your prefolds and snappis (affiliate link) ready, it’s simply a matter of getting a good fit. If you have OS diapers the snaps on the front adjust the “rise.” You will snap them all the way down for little babies and allow them to size up as your child grows. A cloth diaper won’t fit as far up baby’s back as disposables. Don’t stress, though. Another beloved advantage of cloth is that they don’t result in as many blow outs. Don’t be afraid to do up the snaps nice and snug. If you have questions on fit I’ll include a short video at the bottom of this post that demonstrates how to put on a cloth diaper.
Really, the way to do it is to take your child and try a cloth diaper on her. Play with the snaps (or aplix) and try a few different adjustments. You’ll get a feel for it .
Washing the cloth diapers
If there is any one area of cloth diapers and brings fear, trembling, and an over-abundance of crazy advice, the laundry routine is it. It’s a bit ridiculous. I wash every 2-3 days (Honestly… Sometimes 4). I’m going to detail the wash routine I follow below.
A quick note on detergent: I don’t suggest buying the overpriced stuff that is “cloth diaper safe.” Fortunately most companies seem to be coming around and allowing their warranty to stand regardless of detergent used (check your own warranties, though). There are apparently some things that you don’t want in your diaper detergent such as brighteners and softeners, but they’re not hard to avoid. I personally use any version of Tide (affiliate link). It’s available everywhere and it works just fine to get my diapers clean.
Simple wash routine
- Prewash your diapers in either cold or warm water with a small amount of detergent. Sometimes you can do this as part of the main wash. I have to set it separately on my machine.
- Run a main wash on hot with a regular amount of detergent. Select a heavy soil level where possible.
- Do a final rinse in any temperature. I simply select “extra rinse” when I set the main wash. If you have hard water (mineral marks on your toilet, shower, ect?) you will probably skip the extra rinse as you don’t want mineral buildup.
- I hang out my covers (the water resistant part) to dry. In the winter I just drape them around the edge of the playpen. They can technically go in the dryer if the heat is turned down (not worth it for me, and I want to prolong their functional lives). The inserts can go in the dryer, although I hang everything outside in the summer. A little sunshine will take any staining right out of the diapers.
If you find that you are having build up, repelling, or stink issue you may need to strip your diapers and reassess your wash routine. However, in all my experience with cloth I have never once had to strip. Usually a little more detergent, a nice hot wash, and some sunshine will get everything ready to go again.
A short list of DON’Ts
- Don’t use traditional diaper creams. Most cloth diaper retailers sell cloth-safe creams, or you can just use coconut oil. I like BALM! Baby Diaper Balm (Affiliate link)
- Don’t place microfibre directly against baby’s skin (micro fleece, however, is ok)
- Don’t use dryer sheets! (Really, you shouldn’t be using these anyway, but on diapers it’s a special no-no)
A short list of DOs
- Find what works for you. That’s all that really matters.
- Watch baby for a reaction. It is possible that you could experience yeast, ammonia, or, rarely, allergies to the fabric. Don’t let this stop you. In 1.5 years of cloth I have never had any problems.
Shopping list to get started
- 24(ish) cloth diaper changes (really the only thing you neeeeed. You’ll want closer to 36 if using cloth with a new baby.)
- 1-2 pail liners/hanging wet bags
- 2-3 wet bags (for diapers when you’re out and about)
- Cloth wipes (I made my own using this tutorial and flannel from the thrift store. ‘Cause I’m that hardcore. However, the cheap baby face clothes work as well, or you can buy wipes from most cloth diaper companies.)
Don’t be scared! It’s not that hard! If you’re still a little overwhelmed after reading this cloth-diapers-for-beginners guide then ask questions or see if you can find a cloth class at a local baby store. If buying a bunch of cloth diapers is a little much right away you can use a diaper service to figure out what you like. If you can give it a shot I’d like to bet you’ll end up telling other parents why cloth is the way to go, plus saving enough money for a family vacation.
Feel free to share this guide with friends who might be interested. Do you think there’s anything missing? Let me know!
Finding a fit video: