Cloth Diapering 101: How

Baby in cloth diaper

Welcome to the second part of this blog post, where we talk all about the how of cloth diapering. Read about why you should considering cloth diapering in Cloth Diapers 101: Why. You’ve made the decision to cloth diaper, or maybe you’re still on the fence, but you don’t really know how to get started. Maybe the cost savings is intriguing to you but the idea of increased laundry has you feeling skeptical if cloth diapering is actually worth it. I’m here to tell you, it’s worth it. There are a few materials you’ll definitely need to begin your cloth diapering journey but others you can get by without. It all just depends on the level of ease you want when cloth diapering your baby.

Cloth diapers in various colors
Cloth diapers come in adorable colors and patterns, to match every outfit!

Ryan jumped on the cloth diapering train pretty quickly after I brought the idea up to him. I think he was initially skeptical but then became curious because he didn’t personally know anyone that cloth diapered their child. After I explained the many benefits, he was sold. I think he takes pride in the fact that we cloth diaper, and I do as well. It feels good to do something good for the environment while also benefiting your baby and your wallet. Cloth diapering is a great conversation starter too. When people notice Laurel in a cloth diaper, one of the first questions I get is, “Do you like it?” People always seem surprised when I start raving about how great it is. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about cloth diapering that need to be dispelled. Below I’ve answered some of the questions I had before and throughout my cloth diapering journey. These answers come through experience and talking to friends. But first let’s cover materials..

Things you will need:

1. Cloth Diapers. 

Surprise! but seriously you might be wondering about brands and types of diapers, as well as how many you’ll need. The number of diapers you have will determine how often you have to wash them. For example, a newborn goes through up to 12 diapers in a 24 hour period. You could buy 36+ diapers and wash every 2-3 days, or you could buy 12-18 diapers and wash daily, (remember that you need diapers even while some diapers are in the wash.) Basically you can’t go wrong with more diapers, however, budget might hinder you from buying a ton. You also want to remember that you want to wash the diapers at least every 3 days, or they might start to smell icky. Regarding the laundry, don’t be overwhelmed-  you get into a routine with it and it’s easy. This is coming from a girl who despises doing laundry, but you know the worst part about laundry for me? The folding. With cloth diapers, there’s really no folding, just the washing (which the machine does for you.)

Cloth diapers in different colors
I tried to stay gender neutral on my color choices but the pink diapers were just too cute!
  • How many diapers do I need?

As I said earlier, the number of diapers you have will determine how often you wash them. Ryan and I started our stash with 16 diapers, which was a perfect amount for us. I’ve read about people getting by with 12, but I would find that hard to believe. Maybe I changed Laurel’s diaper more than necessary, I’m not sure. In the beginning, I would change her diaper before each feeding, which was about every 2 hours. This was beneficial for me in the middle of the night because it helped to wake her up a little bit so she would eat. I recently purchased two more diapers as I saw them on sale, because why not? So bottom line is I recommend starting your diaper stash with at least 16.

  • Which brand should I purchase?

This is completely personal preference and could be based on many things – from the style, to the reviews, to the cost. The diapers we use are BumGenius Elemental all-in-one diapers. Maybe it was the name that got me! The BumGenius Elemental diapers are made from organic cotton, so they are a bit more expensive than other diapers that are the same style, but different material. This is the only brand I have purchased and tried on Laurel. I have friends that bought a few diapers from different brands to determine which ones they liked best. There are also stores that will let you rent diapers to test before you buy. Laurel’s diapers accommodate a child up to 35+ pounds, which should take her through potty training. Her diapers use snaps that adjust the openings around her legs and waist as she grows (see pictures below).

  • What type of cloth diapers should I get?

This is an important decision to make before buying your diapers. There are several different types of cloth diapers, including all-in-ones, pocket style, and fitted diapers. Your choice here will depend on how much money you want to spend for convenience. If you basically want the cheapest cloth diapers you can find, look into prefold diapers. These are the least expensive option, but also the least convenient. Think about a cloth diaper as having two main parts, the cloth inside that touches baby’s skin and absorbs the liquid, and the waterproof outside or “shell” that keeps everything in. A brief description of the three main types I mentioned:

All-in-one diapers (pictured above): These diapers have everything attached, the inside soft material is sewn into the outer “shell” or waterproof part. These are generally the most convenient and therefore, the most expensive.

Pocket style diapers: These diapers have an opening or pocket between the waterproof shell and the soft part that touches babies skin that you add absorbent material, called inserts. Benefit: you can customize absorbency.

Fitted diapers: These diapers are two completely separate parts, the inside soft part and the waterproof shell. You first put the soft part onto the baby, as you would any other diaper, then put the shell on afterwards.

I mentioned that I use all-in-one diapers on Laurel. Because the idea of using cloth diapers was a little intimidating to me before we started, I figured that the easier they were for me to use, the happier and less stressed I would be. I definitely stand by our choice to use all-in-ones and I would highly recommend them if your budget allows.

Ltoy
Laurel at 9 months in a white bumGenius cloth diaper.

2. Wipes.

I started my stash with 12 wipes and quickly purchased another 12 to add to the rotation. I use these Grovia wipes and love them. They’re soft and they hold up well to frequent washing. I roll them and put them into a wipes warmer that I received second-hand. I’m able to fit 12 into the wipes warmer, which now lasts about 1-2 days. When I was registering for baby products, I read mixed reviews about wipes warmers and questioned whether I actually needed it or not. In my opinion, its invaluable! Being able to pull out a warm wipe for those middle-of-the-night diaper changes is so wonderful. I think that it has always helped to keep Laurel calm and comfortable during diaper changes. Watch below as I roll all 12 wipes in less than a minute!

3. Diaper pail.

I use this brand, in the “plus” style. It’s perfect. I wash diapers every 1-2 days and I find it to be the perfect size. The lid covers a little trap door that allows the diaper to slip in quickly, keeping smells contained inside. It also has a foot petal for hands-free opening, a must for any diaper pail.

cloth diaper pail
Cloth diaper pail, stylish and functional.

4. Diaper pail liners.

I use these diaper pail liners. The same brand as my diaper pail, these reusable liners fit perfectly and are sturdy enough for daily washing. I’ve had the same two liners, washed almost daily for the past year, and they have held up nicely. I just empty the diapers from the liner, turn it inside out, and throw it in the wash with the diapers. I highly recommend having at least two diaper pail liners, so you can keep one in the pail while the other is in the wash.

5. Wet bag (to keep in your diaper bag).

A wet bag is the same idea as keeping a large plastic ziplock bag in your diaper bag, but this is washable and reusable. You’ll need a wet bag to contain your dirty diapers when you’re not at home. After you change your baby, you’ll place the dirty diaper and dirty wipes into the wet bag. The wet bag will contain any liquid and smell until you get home to wash them. I use the bumGenius outing wet bag. It holds probably 4-5 diapers easily, however, I’ve only ever had 2-3 in it at one time. I throw this in the wash with the diapers as well, inside out.

6. Laundry Detergent.

You’ll want to use a laundry detergent without perfumes, dyes, optical brighteners, and fabric softeners. These can leave residues on your diapers and not only irritate your baby’s skin, but decrease the absorbency of your diapers. I use this Charlies Soap brand. I started with their powdered form when we lived in Colorado since I added it directly to the wash, but now I use liquid form since my current washing machine has a separate compartment for detergent. I’ve tested several “natural” laundry detergents and found this one to be the most efficient.

7. Wipe “solution” (optional).

This is basically your way of dampening your wipes before you clean your baby. Discovering the perfect wipes solution for Laurel took some trial and error on my part. The reason I label wipes solution as optional is because one option is to use plain water on the wipes to clean your baby. I tried this and found that Laurel didn’t get as clean as I would like, as her skin down there started to smell like pee, all the time. I also purchased pre-made little essential oil cubes that I added to water, then poured into my wipes warmer onto my wipes. I noticed that these cubes caused Laurel to form a little rash. I then switched to Dr. Bonner orange-scented castile soap and this too gave Laurel a rash. I discovered that she is sensitive to the essential oils, even when diluted. I now use Dr. Bonner’s unscented baby soap and her skin is a smooth as a baby’s butt… okay you get the picture. I load my 12 wipes into my wipes warmer, fill a pitcher with 2 cups water and a squirt of the soap, then pour the liquid onto the wipes and close the lid. Another option is to keep the liquid in a spray bottle and dampen the wipes as needed. 

Dr Bonner castile soap for cloth diaper wipe solution
Water with Dr. Bonner’s unscented castile soap for wipes solution works wonder

8. Diaper Sprayer (optional).

Because Laurel was exclusively breastfed her first 6 months of life, I was able to leave her poop inside the diaper and put it directly into the washing machine. That’s right, breast-fed poop is water soluble! You don’t have to worry about it clogging your machine or leaving your diapers “dirty,” the mess completely dissolves during the washing cycle. When I added food into her diet at 6 months, I purchased this diaper sprayer which attaches to the toilet, to spray the poop from her diapers, before adding to the washing machine. Once you add food into your child’s diet, you must then discard the poop before washing your diapers, as this poop can mess up your machine. I’m torn on whether I feel like the sprayer is absolutely necessary. I say this because I really only used the sprayer a handful of times. From about 6-9 months, it did come in handy for those soft and messy poops. Now at 11 months, Laurel’s poops are more “solid” and typically just fall off the diaper into the toilet, or I use toilet paper to gently scoop it off, TMI I know. Another option during these short months after adding food is to use flushable diaper liners. Picture something that looks like a dryer sheet, that you lay in the diaper. When your child poops, you easily peel the liner off the diaper and flush it along with the poop! I’ve personally never used them but they could be very useful.

Frequently Asked Questions: 

When can I start my baby in cloth diapers?

Depending on the brand, one size cloth diapers usually run from 8-35+ pounds. Some brands also sell “newborn” diapers that are for babies under 12 pounds. Since Laurel was already over 10 pounds when she was born, I didn’t have to think about her weight as a factor for when we started. I basically transitioned her from disposables when we ran out of the pack that we received in the hospital. It was perfect timing, as she was done with her meconium poops, which I’ve heard can stain your diapers.

How do I wash the diapers?

Each brand has specific washing instructions that you can likely find on their website or on the tag when you buy your diapers. You’ll want to make sure you follow washing instructions precisely, as straying from this can void your warranty, (if your diapers come with one).

If your baby is breastfed, you do not have to clean the poop off the diapers before washing. Breastfed poop is water soluble! After food is added to their diet, you’ll want to remove the poop from the diaper before washing (see Diaper Sprayer under “things you will need”). If your baby is formula fed, simply remove the thick or solid poops from the diaper before washing. Liquid or runny poops can go into the washing machine.

How you wash can also depend on your washing machine. When I first started using the cloth diapers, we lived in Colorado and had a standard washing machine. I would wash the diapers twice, first on warm with a scoop of powdered detergent then on hot with 2 scoops of detergent and an extra rinse. I would then drape the diapers over a laundry basket and lay them in the sun to dry. Since we’ve moved, we now have a high efficiency washing machine that I can program to automatically do a pre-wash, hot wash, and extra rinse. I fill a detergent cup with liquid detergent and add about 1/3 of it into the pre-wash section, then the other 2/3 of it into the main wash section. I then transfer the diapers into the dryer and dry on low for about 90 minutes. The main idea when washing is to do a pre-wash or first wash to get all the junk off the diapers, then a main wash to actually clean them. An extra rinse ensures junk and detergents are washed away.

Once a month, you may need to “strip” your diapers, which is basically just an intense wash to remove any residues that may build up over time. You know your diapers need to be stripped if you start to smell an ammonia smell when changing your baby. If this happens, I wash my diapers using 1/4 cup bleach in the pre-wash, detergent in a hot wash, then an extra rinse. I actually called customer support when this happened and they gave me these specific instructions for my diaper brand. Be sure to contact your diaper company for specific instructions on how to strip your diapers.

What if my baby gets a diaper rash?

Although not common with cloth diapers, diaper rash can occur for various reasons. I noticed that occasionally Laurel’s skin between her thigh rolls would sometimes look pink. Moisture can hide between baby rolls and cause irritation. Because you shouldn’t use regular diaper rash cream with cloth diapers, you’ll want to be sure to find a “cloth-diaper friendly” alternative, which will help to create a barrier between your baby’s skin and moisture. I use this Earth Mama Organics brand. It smells great and is made with organic ingredients so I feel comfortable putting it on my baby’s delicate skin.

Laurel with Earth Mama Organics Diaper balm
Laurel holding her Earth Mama Organics diaper balm.

How do I remove stains from my diapers?

The best way to remove stains from your diapers is to lay them in the sun! In direct sunlight, your stains should be very faded or completely gone in about 10-15 minutes. In dry climates, feel free to completely dry your diapers in the sun, which also doubles as a natural bleacher. When we lived in Colorado and I would dry my diapers outside in the sun, they were usually a little “crispy” when dry. I would just throw them in a low drying cycle for about 30 minutes to soften them up.

Can I cloth diaper when I’m traveling?

Absolutely! The main thing you’ll have to think about when traveling is your access to a washing machine. Depending on where you stay, most hotels have a shared laundry facility you can use to wash your diapers. Always call to check on the availability of this. When staying with friends or family, it depends on your level of comfort on whether you would wash your diapers at their house. Remember that you’ll need to bring detergent and enough diapers to last through the traveling phase of your trip, that is, until you arrive at your destination. We usually use disposable diapers for Laurel when we travel and I regret it every time. I’ve found that disposable diapers really aren’t easier and Laurel always has at least one major blowout when we travel. When we went to Florida for Laurel’s baptism, although we used disposables for the trip, I made sure to bring a cloth diaper for her to wear while she had her baptism dress on. I wasn’t taking any chances!

Laurel in her baptism dress
Laurel in her baptism dress on her grandpa’s lap. Jupiter, FL August 2018

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a million times, I absolutely love cloth diapering. Regardless of the many reasons to cloth diaper, I think it instills a personal satisfaction that no one can take from you. I hope my daughter grows up loving her environment and strives toward a lifestyle of reducing waste. I hope she respects her body and chooses the foods she eats and products she uses wisely. I hope she is economical and plans for her future, while still enjoying the present. As parents, our actions speak louder than words. Our children are watching and absorbing every single thing we do. We have a huge responsibility to raise them, teach them, and guide them toward becoming the type of adult that makes the world better.

If you cloth diaper, what has your experience been like? Are you thinking about it but still have questions? Let me know in the comments!

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Hi, I'm Megan! I'm a registered dietitian, Army wife, and new mom. Welcome to my blog where I share about my life and love for all things health and wellness.

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