As the price of diapers continues to rise and people look for alternatives, cloth diapers are making a comeback and gaining popularity. I, for one, quickly fell in love with them. To be honest, it took me forever to actually give them a try because there’s so much information out there, and it can be overwhelming.
We have already explored some go-to brands for cloth diapers, so let’s now get down to the basics of using them.
1. Know the types of cloth diapers and how to use them
Here are the different types of cloth diapers you’ll come across:
- All-in-one or all-in-two diapers: These are exactly what their names suggest: everything you need from a diaper rolled into one package.
- Pocket diapers: Diapers that need stuffing with absorbent inserts. Inserts are made of various materials, so they have different absorbent rates.
- Prefold cloth diapers or flat diapers: These are regarded as old-school. They are absorbent layers that have to be either folded by you (flat) or come pre-folded (prefold). You fold both about two or three times, and they can be paired with diaper covers. Some people just pin these on.
- Fitted cloth diapers: These are shaped much like a regular diaper or a pocket, but they are extremely absorbent because the entire diaper is made of absorbent materials. They are also paired with a diaper cover.
- Cloth diaper covers: This is more of an accessory, designed to do exactly what its name indicates: provide the outside layer to a fitted, prefold, or flat. They can be made of various materials, including wool, PUL (polyurethane laminate, which is a laminated fabric), or TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane, a kind of stretchy plastic).
As for which diaper is best at preventing leakages, it truly depends on how much your baby pees and poops. There are leg gussets (the elastic part around the leg) and fabric that helps lock in the moisture.
For more on how to use each of the types we’ve listed, check out this great video for beginners.
2. It’s okay to mix and match different styles
Who says you have to pick just one style of diapers? Weigh your options. Some people, myself included, prefer to mix and match.
My choices are all-in-ones and pockets. They are easier for me as no folding is necessary, and even though they aren’t the cheapest option, they are still cost-effective. I use them at nighttime since there’s less changing. As the kid gets older, I go with folds/fitted/prefolds during the day.
In short, don’t be afraid to use several or all types.
3. How many cloth diapers should you have?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question. This has more to do with how much you want to wash and how often. You should have enough diapers to not only last between washings but also rotate your stash. You also want to prevent excessive wear and tear on your diapers that are being used daily.
Since I have a big family, I wash weekly anyways, so I made sure to get enough diapers to last for at least a week. Some people have closets full of diapers, while others grab enough for a day and wash daily. It’s up to you.
4. How often should you change a cloth diaper?
You definitely have to change cloth diapers when they’re soiled or wet. A soiled diaper should be changed immediately, whether day or night. As a rule of thumb, your baby should be changed every 2 hours during the day. This is to avoid smell and staining issues. As a result, it keeps your baby’s skin healthy, makes them less susceptible to diaper rashes, and keeps those rare leaks at bay.
How can you tell if a cloth diaper is wet? While they don’t give off quite the same smell as disposable diapers when soiled, you’ll know when to change cloth diapers because they hang down a little lower when wet or they feel stiff. Also, if you don’t use a waterproof cover over a cloth diaper, you’ll see that it needs to be changed.
Since babies of different ages will have different outputs, you should have a general idea of when you will need to check the diaper and how many you need to have on hand for each age. Some babies may not let you know when they’re wet or dirty, so checking the diaper periodically is necessary. Check your newborn’s diaper every 2 hours or less, but older babies may go longer in between changes.
Newborns might need 3-5 cloth diapers at night. As your baby gets older, 2 cloth diapers are enough during the night. You may use heavier night time diapers that can handle a full night’s use without changing, especially if they don’t wake up in the middle of the night.
5. Keeping them snug so they don’t leak
When used properly, no quality cloth diaper should leak. Cloth diapers are designed to keep the mess in place, so if you have a leak, there’s something wrong somewhere. Below are some of the reasons:
- The fit of the diaper isn’t right
- There’s less absorbency
- Absorption speed isn’t fast enough
- The baby is a heavy wetter and needs to be changed more frequently
- Compression leaks as a result of too much pressure on the diaper
- The waterproof layer has an issue
So here’s how to keep cloth diapers from leaking:
- Ensure the diaper fits right. For a snug fit: the diaper should lay flat on the tummy and not shift when baby is moving; the top of the diaper should sit just below the belly button and completely cover the top of the butt at all times; none of the absorbent fabric should stick out of the waterproof cover; and replace elastics that are crunchy, rolled, or don’t have much stretch.
- Add more absorbency to avoid leaks. Stuff one insert into the pocket and lay an additional insert on the inner liner to double the absorbency. Boys need extra protection at the top of diapers, while little girls need it near the middle and back.
- Don’t overstuff the inserts. Too many thick inserts, especially on pocket diapers, push the diaper up and off your baby’s body, preventing the elastics from sitting where they’re supposed to. It can also compress the diaper inserts and cause compression leaks. To lighten the load, purchase a thinner, more absorbent booster insert.
6. Cleaning cloth diapers
Speaking of washing, how do you go about it? The first time you wash cloth diapers is when you get them, regardless of whether they’ve seen some mileage or are brand new. According to manufacturer’s instructions, soiled cloth diapers need to be washed every two to three days.
- Hand wash or machine wash? This is again a personal preference. Some people hand wash, others machine wash, still others do both. I do both in the sense that I pre-rinse poopy diapers and keep them in a pail until laundry day. When that day comes, I use my regular gentle laundry detergent and wash them in warm water, as I would baby clothes.
- The magic of a bidet. Bidet attachments are super helpful if you plan to hand wash or pre-rinse diapers before laundry day. Find one here on Amazon.
- Detergent options. As far as these go, use one that’s compatible with cloth diapers. I always suggest sticking with one product for both your baby’s clothes and cloth diapers. Look for something safe and gentle but also capable of getting the job done.
7. Drying cloth diapers
There’s always been a lot of debate on the “correct” way to dry cloth diapers. I’ve discovered that this also seems to be a matter of personal preference. Just choose an option that works for you.
Dryer or clothes line? Whether to use one or the other is a personal choice. I do have to run my dryer twice because of the number of diapers I use, but a clothes line works just fine—I’ve had my current batch of cloth diapers for almost two years. Also, using a clothes line allows you to do something called sun spotting.
Sun spotting. The sun is your ally when you dry your laundry outside. Sun spotting is the process where the sun dries the diapers, and it can actually remove some of those old stains usually left by poop.
8. Storage options for cloth diapers
I would be lying if I said Target isn’t my go-to for storage options, but there are other places where you can get diaper pails or storage containers.
I have a container for poopy diapers waiting for a rinse at the end of the day. I also have a tall clothes hamper lined with a wet bag where I throw the diapers that have been rinsed to wait for laundry day. If you’re wondering whether they start to smell, the pre-rinse and the wet bag largely take care of that problem.
Here’s how I store my clean stuffed diapers—they are ready to grab and slap on the bum.
9. Don’t overthink the cloth diapering process
There are many benefits to cloth diapering, but it all comes down to preference. If you’re thinking about giving them a try, there will be a lot of experimentation until you find what works for you and your baby. Your choice will depend on how often your child uses the bathroom, how active they are, and what your budget is, among other things.
All I can say is that having tried cloth diapering, I’ll never go back to regular diapers. The benefits outweigh the drawbacks, and this journey is fun in its own way.