Cloth Diapering 101: What are cloth diapers, Why cloth, How many do I need, and other common questions
Child models a Thirsties diaper in print We All Scream.
What are cloth diapers?
Cloth diapers are reusable diapers made from cotton, bamboo, hemp, microfiber, or other absorbent materials, with a waterproof layer either built in or in a separate piece (cover) to put around the absorbent materials. They can be as simple as cotton or bamboo cloths knotted or pinned onto baby with rubber pants (older style, but still popular with some), or as robust as all-in-one diapers with absorbency sewn in with a waterproof layer on the outside. Cloth diapers have been around in some form for generations, but the modern cloth diaper is designed to be much easier to use and more comfortable for baby.
Why use cloth?
For so many reasons! Disposable diaper costs add up to thousands of dollars per child, and each diaper can take 500 years (!!!) to decompose (1). A full cloth diaper stash, on the other hand, can be had for much less and can be used over multiple children, saving a great deal of money long-term, whether you want 1 child or many. And, at the end of their usable life, the absorbent portions of diapers make excellent house-cleaning rags, and even the PLU or TPU outer layers can be repurposed into other items if desired. This gives an enormous range of use to each diaper and greatly reduces its environmental impact. Natural fibers like cotton, bamboo, and hemp, will break down much faster than other materials, so even when it does make its way into the landfill at last, it won’t stay for nearly as long, and there will be far fewer of them.
Cloth diapers are also convenient—yes, I said it! Convenient! You never have to worry about running to the store. Many cloths can be repurposed as diapers in an emergency. The worst that could happen is you little cutie gets to air out for an hour or 2 while the laundry runs =). No midnight runs to the store for diapers for you!
Also, cloth diapers are CUTE! With adorable, fun patterns and colors, there’s something for everyone to love, including dad and grandma!
Disposable diapers include a gel inside the diaper for absorbency. If the gel is oversaturated, it will burst and get really, really gross. The worst that can happen with a cloth diaper is that baby’s clothes or sheets get wet. Cloth diapers also contain blowouts much better than disposables, meaning less poop and more fun for you! And, cloth diapers come in a range of fabric types, many of which are especially soothing to babies with sensitive skin. No plastics, dyes, or other harsh chemicals come in contact with baby’s skin in a cloth diaper whereas a sensitive baby may not tolerate the feel of a disposable diaper.
Finally, cloth feels like home—soft, comfortable, and smells like clean laundry. What’s not to love?
But poop… ew, right?
Like many things in parenthood (and life!), poop is inevitable, and you’ll get used to it. With fewer blowouts, cloth diapers make dealing with poop easier—nice and contained! While exclusively breastfeeding (no solids or formula), poop is water soluble, so it can go right in your washer—really! Once your little one eats something other than breast milk, simply dump, scrape, or swish the solids into the toilet, then put the diaper in the pail for wash day. P.S. –You are actually supposed to dump disposable diaper poop into the toilet as well, as landfills aren’t meant for human waste. Try scraping one of those—yuck!
I’m overwhelmed! What are all these types! What’s the difference???
Here’s a quick rundown of styles.
Flats or prefolds and covers: Flat diapers are long pieces of fabric that you fold as you diaper your child—the “original” cloth diaper. Prefolds are flats that are folded and sewn into different sizes. You would need a few sizes of prefolds to diaper from birth to potty but may only need one size of flats, depending on your little one’s needs. Whichever absorbency you choose, flats or prefolds, you will need a water-resistant cover to put on top to keep their clothes and bedding dry. Covers can be re-used if not soiled, if desired, a few times before washing. The absorbent inserts are changed every time.
All in Ones: A water-resistant shell with sewn-in absorbent inserts. For the most like disposables option, choose hook & loop tabs. Simply lay the diaper out, place baby’s bum in, fold the absorbency to where you prefer it, and then attach to baby with the tabs! (See some All in Ones here)
Great in-between options:
Pocket diapers: Water-resistant lined shell or cover, lined with soft material, with a “pocket” for absorbent inserts. Some have 2 openings, some have 1. The whole diaper must be changed every diaper change. (See some pocket diaper options here)
All in 2 diapers: Water-resistant lined shells have options to snap in absorbent inserts as needed. The whole diaper must be changed every diaper change
Fitted diapers: An absorbent flat diaper of cotton, hemp, bamboo, or other materials sewn into a diaper shape, typically closed with flaps, snaps, or pins, and paired with a water-resistant unlined cover. A great choice for anytime, but especially useful overnight, with or without an additional insert for extra absorbency. (See some fitted diapers here)
Okay, but like… what if I’m out of the house?
Not home, no problem! Although you can of course choose to use disposables when out and about, cloth diapering can be easily managed with a little planning. For an eco-friendly cloth outing, pack your diaper bag with your diapers for the day, your cloth wipes in a small wet bag (pre-moistened or dry with a separate spray bottle packed separately or in another wet bag), and a medium to large wet bag for the dirty diapers. We recommend an additional wet bag to separate any clothes that might have been messed in the process. Check out some wet bags here.
What about wipes?
Cloth wipes are awesome! And very easy to use. You can use them in a wipes warmer with solution or store them dry and wet as you go with a spray or peri bottle. You can use plain water or make a simple solution with your choice of recipe. Wipe your little one normally, then launder the wipes with your diapers. Easy! Of course, if you prefer disposable wipes you can always use those, too, and throw them away as normal. (See some wipes here)
Okay, but diaper creams, I’ve heard I’ll ruin my diapers!
Some diaper creams can cause stains or repelling, it’s true. But, many popular diaper creams are totally cloth safe. And, if you prefer a diaper cream that isn’t cloth safe, or you need to use a medication that isn’t cloth-safe, you can also use disposable liners—a simple homemade solution some parents use are Viva paper towels! Just dump the solids and throw the disposable liner away.
Ah, do I have to do this 24/7??? I don’t know …
You definitely don’t have to cloth 24/7 if you don’t want to! Many families find combinations that work for them, whether that’s only at home, daytime only, nighttime only, weekend only, or some combination. Whatever works for your family, any cloth you use is saving the environment, and saving time and money on purchasing disposable diapers.
Laundry? Is it hard to keep things clean? Poop, remember???
Start with a basic formula—you can always tweak from there! We recommend 2 washes with adequate detergent. Wash 1 –use your machine’s quick cycle (this gets rid of the initial “dirty,” but doesn’t clean the diaper). Wash 2 – use your machine’s longest, heaviest duty cycle. We don’t recommend extra rinses. Your diapers are clean! Stains are normal, but if you still see solids, if there is an odor, or if they otherwise just don’t seem clean, some small adjustments can often get you back on track. Feel free to message us for help!
Hang dry or dry in the dryer – either works! A properly functioning dryer should not destroy cloth diapers, but, if yours gets very hot or is older, it may be safer to dry on a lower dry setting.
You can wash as often as you like. Most prefer to wash every 1-3 days. The more days between wash days, the more diapers you’ll need.
I want to give it a go! Where do I start?
Awesome! You’ll want to answer these questions:
- How often do I want to wash diapers?
- How old is my little one?
Even older little ones really need to be changed every 2-3 hours in cloth during the day. If they are sleeping well overnight and don’t have a bowel movement overnight, you may need only 1-2 overnight diapers and 3-4 diapers daytime diapers, if washing every day. But starting with a younger baby, you’ll likely need more.
Newborn: Newborns poop a lot! 15-20 diapers a day is a solid start. So to do laundry every other day, you’ll need 30-40 diapers
3 mo – 6 mo – 10-15 a day, 20-30 every 2 days
6 mo + -- 6-12 diapers a day, 12-24 every 2 days
12 mo + -- 4-6 diapers a day, 8-12 every 2 days
These are just estimates—you’ll figure out what works for you. You can always start by getting a few and adding as you need them. A great way to build up a stash is to start when you’re pregnant and purchase a diaper or 2 a week until you have enough.
The important thing is to get started! The biggest hurdle is getting going. You’ll learn what you need as you go along.
What questions do you have about cloth diapering? Have you given them a try? Do you want to?
Interested in buying cloth diapers? Check out what we have in stock here.