Cloth Diapering 101


Your mother, grandmother or a favorite aunt may have relayed tales of the "old days" when smelly, drippy cloth diapers were a chore. In generations past, the "new" disposable diapers were seen as a life raft for drowning mothers whose day revolved around endless duties. Today, though, we take a far different view of cloth diapering - and that's not only because of ecology, it's because cloth diapering is easier than ever before. Here's how to get started.

Why Should You Cloth Diaper?


Disposable diapers are so easy. In addition, many contain materials that stop leaks and may even require fewer changes during the day. So why cloth diaper?

Actually, there are a number of reasons to use today's cloth diapers.

They're adorable. Okay, so maybe we shouldn't have put this at Number One, but it's so hard to argue with. The inserts/prefolds are generally pretty simple (we'll go into that below) but between Etsy and bigger-box but personalized sellers, there's plenty of cuteness to choose from in the world of today's diaper covers.

They save on landfill. You knew this already - but did you know how much? Well, in her first year alone, a baby will need approximately 2500 diapers. Yes, that's right. That's A LOT of plastic hanging around and clogging landfills.

Generally, they don't contain harmful chemicals. Plastic isn't just a problem by itself; the processing of it causes a buildup of chemicals your baby just doesn't need. NOTE: PUL (polyeurethane laminate) is commonly added to cloth diaper covers to help make them waterproof, but is considered far less harmful than most commercial additives and wicking "beads" or inserts.

They're adjustable. If you're worried about leaks, cloth diaper inserts can be folded any way you wish (usually doubled or tripled for absorption) and diaper covers often have a number of snaps, buttons or can be pinned to any size that fits your baby. They're also usually sized for a general weight range, just like disposable diapers.

They feel good. Cotton and other natural materials are soft against Baby's skin.

It's easier to throw diapers into the wash than run out at midnight during a snowstorm to buy disposables. 'Nuff said.

Yes, you WILL save money, particularly if you read reviews and choose top-performing, midrange to low price range diapers and covers.

You can use them for your next child. Coverings are generally very washable to near-new status if you're careful, and inserts (prefolds - the actual diaper) come very clean but do not necessarily have to look just-out-of-the-package (they don't show, after all). As long as your inserts are still absorbing and cleaning up well, you can reuse them for your next child, which will save you cash.

What You'll Need


Here's the quick-and-not-so-dirty on putting together your diapering starter will need:

  • Enough prefolds to last you about three days. That's about 12/day for newborns, about 8/day for older babies. That may sound like a lot, but consider this: you can find quality, 5-star rated prefolds for $10-15 per 10 prefold package. 
  • Diaper covers. These are more pricey than prefolds, but you may be able to use fewer of them per day as the prefold may not necessarily soak through to the cover for each changing. Start with a dozen; as one gets soiled, spray/wring it clean and hang to dry so it's ready by the time you've cycled through all your others.
  • Wipes. Many parents choose to also use cloth for wipes; if so, choose absorbent, soft materials, make sure they've been pre-washed, and moisten to use. You can even cut up larger, worn-out pieces of terry material.
  • A waterproof diaper pail. You can use one specifically made for diapers or simply choose a small kitchen garbage pail.
  • Snappis or pins to keep the diapers closed.

How to Cloth Diaper Your Baby

Diapering a baby is easy. Here's how:

1. Un-pin or un-snap the diaper cover and set aside. If it isn't damp, you will be able to reuse it until the next diaper change.

2. Pull the soiled prefold down. Remove and set aside or put directly into the diaper pail.

3. Clean Baby with your wipe.

4. Having your replacement prefold ready is best. With the prefold double- or triple-folded (see Folding Your Baby's Diaper below), place it under your baby. Make sure it comes to the top of Baby's buttocks in the back and covers her fully in the front. Boys may need the front pulled a bit higher as they urinate upward. Girls will need the most protection at the bottom center.

5. Pin or Snappi the diaper closed per manufacturer's instructions.

6. Place the diaper cover over the pinned/Snappi'd diaper and snap or button closed.


Folding Your Baby's Diaper

We've spoken before about "folding" the diaper. Is this the hard part? Nope. There IS no hard part to the mechanics of diapering a baby, unless you count mastering the Snappi (which wasn't a learning curve even for us...the people who are all thumbs).

1. ALWAYS start with prefolds that have been washed at least once (see Washing the Prefolds and Covers, below).

2. To use the easy Triangle Fold, lay the diaper out in a diamond. This is best for diapers that are at least triple-ply; otherwise, you will need to fold them over (we'll show that in a moment).

3. Fold the top part of the diamond down as show below so you now have a triangle.

4. Lay the baby on top of the diaper facing up.

5. Bring the bottom corner up over the baby's front area.

6. Pin or Snappi.

There are other folds you can use. If you have two-ply or less prefolds or if they seem thin, you will need to double them, twist them or otherwise provide "bulk" into the soiling area. Here are a few fun ways to arrange your cloth diapers once you've mastered the Triangle Fold:



Washing the Prefolds and Covers


Eew! Here's the "ick" factor that keeps so many away from cloth diapering. But it really shouldn't, because it's not much worse than handling disposable diapers. You are still dealing with soils, one way or another. Washing cloth diapers is probably MUCH easier than you're envisioning. Here are the steps.

1. Remove bulky solids, if any, from the diaper (it's easiest if you do this at each diaper change). You can use a diaper sprayer if you'd like, but not every parent does this; that's up to you.

2. If diapers are particularly soiled/stained, you may pre-soak in cold water. Again, this step is up to you (on a personal level, we hardly ever felt the need to do this).

3. Place diapers and covers (and cloth wipes, if you use them) in the washer; DO NOT include any other clothing items in the wash.

4. Choose a dye- and fragrance-free laundry detergent. DO NOT USE FABRIC SOFTENER. Fabric softeners place a coating on fabrics and make them less absorbent.

5. Use a warm or hot setting unless diaper cover directions state to use a cooler setting (this will depend upon the fabric and the manufacturer). If it's the latter, wash the diaper covers separately at the appropriate setting.

6. Hang to dry OR dry in your dryer per manufacturer's instructions. DO NOT USE FABRIC SOFTENER.


That's it! Beware - diaper cover collecting can become habit-forming as there are so many adorable styles out there. In addition, there may be a learning curve until you find the perfect prefolds and covers. Again, this is a fun process, so watch your budget and be smart about your spending until you find a routine that's best for you and your baby.

Happy diapering!