Expecting a baby? One of the decisions you need to make, revolves around diapers. Yup, which diapers should you use is the question of the day.
So today we’re taking a break from our regularly scheduled programming, otherwise known as travel guides, for a little pre-Earth day P.S.A. Here’s everything you need to know about cloth diapers, from a mom that has cloth diapered four children!
In this guide you will learn about the types of cloth diapers and cloth diapers materials (and why you should care about them). We’ll go over how to choose reusable diapers, recommended brands of cloth diapers, and washing cloth diapers.
Find out how many cloth diapers to buy, what things you need and what you can skip, and how much money reusable diapers will save you! This is the no fluff guide to cloth diapers for new parents, by a mom!
Several times in the past few months, I’ve written friends that have shown interest detailed emails about cloth diapering and how we do it. I know I already wrote a post about this a while back, but thought I should share some of the basics and my new perspective after transitioning to solids. This is the email I sent with very few edits for clarity.
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In general there are 3 types of cloth diapers, prefolds, pockets and all in ones. Here’s a quick explanation of each type:
All in One Diapers
All in ones are the closest to disposable diapers in that an absorbent material is sewn into a waterproof cover, making them just one piece. (See picture above).
Most come with snaps, and they are often referred to as One Size Diapers, because you can adjust to use them at all sizes, from about 10 lbs and onward. They are very easy but can get expensive costing $20+ per diaper.
Prefolds are essentially a square of cloth with many layers that acts as the absorbent core of the diaper. You you use them with a waterproof cover.
They are basic and cheap because you only need to change the inside most of the time and can reuse the cover multiple times between washings. Buying brand new prefolds will cost around $2 for each prefold and $12 for covers.
The name comes from the original diapers. Before disposables existed, diapers were made of one large piece of cloth, called Flats, that had to be folded to make many layers of absorbency. These are “pre-folded”, hence prefolds.
Pocket diapers are somewhere between the ease of all in ones, and the frugality and adjustability of prefolds. These seem to be the most popular option in the cloth diapering world. Prefolds may also be refered to as AI2, or all in two, referencing the two pieces they are made of: the cover and the inserts.
A pocket diaper is a cover with one layer sewn, usually made of fleece or another moisture-wicking fabric. This helps keep moisture away from baby’s skin to prevent irritation. You add absorbent layers into the pocket, between that inner layer and the outside cover. Cost wise, a pocket diaper will hover around $15.
Most often, the inserts that come with pocket diapers are made of microfiber. If you do decide to choose pocket diapers, I suggest using cotton inserts. This is for two reasons:
- Microfiber needs to be perfectly washed and perfectly rinsed, otherwise over time it will begin to stink. Cotton is much more forgiving.
- Washing microfiber releases microplastics into the water system. If you are cloth diapering for environmental reasons, then you may as well take this into account as well.
Tip: The medium size Cloth-eez prefold fits perfectly in most One Size Pocket Diapers!
There are also “hybrid” diapers which are similar to a pocket diaper, but you can use disposable inserts some of the time. I find these pretty useless, as the disposable inserts cost just as much as a normal disposable diaper but you still have to wash the covers.
How Many Cloth Diapers to Buy
If you intend to cloth diaper from birth, you will need two sets of cloth diapers:
- Newborn size cloth diapers (for a baby about 5-10 lbs)
- Regular size (9-30 lbs), also called one size diapers
The number of diapers you buy will depend on how often you want to do laundry. For the newborn stage, I think around 36-48 is good, since it allows you to do laundry every third day. Click here for my complete, detailed recommendations!
For one size diapers, you will need 24 diapers. In time, you will only be changing 5-6 diapers a day, so this will be enough, but with cloth more diapers makes things easier.
Generally speaking, the more diapers you have the less wear and tear they accumulate over time. If you have a barebones stash of 12-18 diapers, you can make it work, but it will involve more laundry! You also may find it hard to keep up and end up quitting cloth. (Based on friends’ experiences).
The key to using cloth diapers is making it as easy on yourself as possible!
If you cloth diaper to save money, for the first child you will break even on a newborn stash, and save a lot on the regular stash. Additional children mean a lot more savings! (More below)
Newborn Cloth Diapers
For the newborn phase I suggest to get prefolds + covers since it lasts such a short time. We got 4 dozen prefolds and a few different covers, to make things easy. (Newborns easily go through 12-14 diapers a day).
Snaps vs Velcro
Whether you are buying all-in-ones, pockets, or covers, you will need to decide between getting snaps or velcro for attaching the diaper.
Velcro, also called hook and loop, is more perfectly adjustable but it will wear out over time. For One Size Diapers I only recommend snaps! However, for newborns, having velcro makes things a little easier. Since you will use them for less time, newborn diapers is the only time getting velcro makes sense.
I also recommend a Snappi, which is a cute plastic thing that holds the prefold in place, kind of like an ace bandage. A newborn wearing a prefold with a snappi correctly in place, will never have a blow out!
This can seem overwhelming but the learning curve is really quick! Within a few days both M and I had figured out how to do diaper changes really easily and quickly.
We use a combination of all-in-ones and prefolds. The all-in-ones we like using at night because they are thicker and also easier to change in the middle of the night. If necessary we add a doubler to keep baby extra dry.
During the day we primarily use prefolds + covers. The Green Mountain Diapers red edge (medium) Cloth-eez fits perfectly in most one size pocket diapers or covers!
Once bowel movements are formed we don’t even bother with a snappi, just lay the prefold tri folded in the middle of the cover and you’re good to go!
As I’ve accumulated more I also like to use all in ones or pre-stuffed pocket diapers when we’re out of the house for a while.
Cloth Diaper Brands I recommend
My favorite cover for prefold is Thirsties (but as mentioned above, they are all pretty much similiar, so choose a pattern that makes you happy.
My favorite pocket is Kawaii. Because pockets are so popular, one feature to watch out for is the size of the side wings (the ones you wrap around to close in the front). Many brand skimp on fabric here and it makes it so much harder to snap on a wiggly baby.
For all in ones, my favorite is Blueberry Simplex All in One! These diapers by far have had the best longevity, and some I have been using since our first child!
Note- If you read this post a few years back, our old favorite was BumGenius. I still like the fit of these, but unfortunately quality has gone down over the years and the more recent ones I bought started delaminating (meaning becoming not waterproof) quite quickly.
Cloth Diapers to Avoid
I do not recommend any “no name” brand because like a lot of things in life- you get what you pay for with diapers. If it’s some random brand you haven’t seen mentioned be wary of quality. Ditto to diapers that seem super discounted or cheap. Sorry!
I also have to note, that Grovia brand diapers never fit my chunky kids well, but if you have a skinny baby maybe they will work for you because I had no complaints about the quality.
Also, Gerber prefolds are not for diapering- these are for use as a burp cloth.
What Type of Material to Choose for Cloth Diapers
Cotton Inserts vs Microfiber Inserts
Everything I use is cotton. This is a personal preference because it is very low maintenance in terms of laundry (plus very absorbent and soft).
By this I mean, that you can use almost any detergent with cloth diapers, and you don’t have to worry about residue sticking to the diapers and causing stink or leakage, as happens with microfiber that isn’t washed correctly.
You can also use your preferred diaper rash cream without worrying about it causing your diapers to repel (and thus not absorb pee)!
Hemp and Bamboo Diaper Inserts
There are a myriad of different materials for inserts, if you use pocket diapers. Hemp, bamboo, charcoal, microfiber and cotton are usually the materials used for diaper inserts.
Cotton is so easy that I didn’t have to branch out much. We never used hemp inserts but we did try out bamboo.
I did like the bamboo all in one diapers from Nikki’s Diapers. I’ve been really happy with the absorbency and find it similar to cotton. The downside is that they take a long time to dry…just like cotton.
The main reason I’m not super excited about these, is that the flaps (side tabs, or “wings”) are a little on the short side making them harder to close on my chunky babies. I also don’t think they have the same longevity, since the elastic is already loose after one baby.
Wool Diaper Covers
If you are looking for 100% natural materials for cloth diapers, then cotton inserts are the way to go. You will then want to use a wool diaper cover. Like the synthetic diaper covers, the wool covers can be used multiple times between washings.
Most diaper covers are made of some type of plastic. PUL, Polyurethane laminate, is a common type, but nylon, polyester and vinyl are also used. Most of the covers are functionally the same. They may have slight variations in feel.
For example, the polyester Bummis cover, is great and lasted through all 4 kids, but it is also less breathable. The Thirsties cover which I personally prefer is more breathable, but also needs to air out longer between uses. The Flip cover by BumGenius is not bad, but only lasted 2 kids.
The key to making your diaper covers last, is to air dry them! Speaking of which…let’s talk laundry.
Washing Cloth Diapers (Laundry)
If you look up how to wash cloth diapers on the internet, you will find many, many answers. People get very passionate about the “right” way to wash diapers. After 10 years in this game, I can tell you that there is no way that is better than another way. Just find what works for you, for your diapers, for your washing machine, for your water.
Every time we have moved: from Mexico, to New Jersery, to New York, to Texas, I have had to change my routine a bit based on the laundry detergent and the washer that was available. We have also traveled with cloth diapers to other parts of the country and even to Israel! So here’s the main idea:
How to Wash Cloth Diapers
- Rinse off poop and pee. Breastfed poop can go directly in a washing machine as it is water soluble. For formula, or after starting solids, you need to rinse off the poop since it is not water soluble. You can just “dunk and swish” in the toilet, and use a diaper sprayer, also called a bidet. I do recommend the bidet for new parents as it is less “yucky”.
- First run a wash in the washing machine to rinse off the pee. This can be a basic cold water wash.
- Then run your main wash for actually getting the diapers clean. I suggest hot water, and heavy soil level. Use detergent, and if necessary a laundry booster such as borax, washing soda, or baking soda. If your water is hard you may need a booster, if it is softer you probably don’t.
- Make sure that the diapers rinse clean. You may want to do an extra rinse, since if you have extra detergent residue left on the diaper that will cause build up and may irritate baby’s skin. If your water is very hard you may want to avoid an extra rinse as that could deposit minerals on the diapers. (I personally have not found this to be a probablem with “normal” hard water).
- Dry your diapers. If you can dry them in the sun, that will help keep them white from the disinfecting properties of UV sunlight. If that’s not possible, dry on low heat in the dryer. Just hang the plastic cover to dry. The plastic will deteriorate in the dryer over time.
Cloth Diaper Washing Routine
We keep soiled diapers in a wet bag. This wetbag can be flipped inside out directly into the washer and washed with the diapers. We have done this in two ways which both worked really well.
- Use a Bummis brand wetbag, inside of a Simple Human trash can. We had the trash can in our bedroom and there was no smell!
- Use a Planet Wise wetbag that we zipped closed. Also works great! Our Planetwise bag has had amazing longevity and has been used for many, many years.
As a reminder, once you start solids, poop needs to be dumped into the toilet. I use a bidet and it is quick and easy and the nice thing is that by the time you need to use the bidet, they poop a lot less often and it is not messy anymore.
Every third day, I take the entire wetbag and flip it into the washing machine (no touching the diapers), and toss in the bag itself as well.
The main thing with washing is not to use any softener because that makes the diapers repel. Other than that it’s just a matter of finding out what wash works best with your machine.
I usually do a pre-rinse cold, then wash on hot with detergent, and extra rinse. I usually hang dry them. I like to leave them for a solid 24 hours because I’m lazy. Ha! This is part of the reason I will recommend actually having 4 days worth of diapers and not just three…
Bigger babies wet more but less often. We use about 5-6 diapers a day, but at night I add a “doubler” (an extra layer of fabric) just to be safe.
The reason I recommend a large stash for this stage is because you will be using the diapers for a much longer time period of time. This way you get less wear and tear (and don’t have to do laundry as often).
Guess what? When we lived in New York City, I still cloth diapered using a portable washer. It’s possible. Perhaps I’ll come back with a complete post on how to do that.
A note about disposables. While I do not prefer them, they do have their uses. When traveling we will often times use disposables. During the intermediate solids phase around 8-10 months, when they have solids in poop but it is not yet perfectly formed, we have used disposables. (Once it is formed it is very easy to dump in the toilet). During times of stress or moving, we have used disposables. It’s ok.
Alternatively, you can also use a diaper liner. Similar to a dry wipe or paper towel that you lay in the diaper and can flush down the toilet. This makes things easier with number two. Ultimately I don’t prefer them, but maybe you will!
As an aside, we have tried all the natural brands at various points: Seventh Generation, Honest, 365, etc. I had at one point started writing a comparison, but really it doesn’t matter. At this point I actually like the Target Up and Up brand, as we get no rashes or reactions to the elastic with them.
Tl;dr Cloth Diaper Summary
- Reasons to cloth diaper: healthier, cheaper, environmentally friendly
- Type to get: prefolds to save money, all-in-ones for ease of use
- Number to get: at least 3 dozen
- Accessories to get: a bidet (diaper sprayer), a snappi for prefolds, doublers
So that’s my personal introduction. For more FAQ including- why we chose to cloth diaper, why we love it, and how much money we’re saving, see my first post HERE.