When we were expecting our daughter, I knew, I wanted to start with cloth diapers, even though my husband was suspicious about the potential odor and thought it would be so much more work than regular diapers. If you have ever researched about cloth diapers, you know how overwhelming the sheer amount of information can be! There are prefolds, fitted diapers, all-in-ones, pocket diapers, covers, corganic, cotton, wool, velcro, buttons… Being pregnant, I spent a good couple of months on the Internet before deciding even what kind of system I wanted to go with (and yes, also googling everyday for potential progress on the little bean). I went to several baby stores including babiesRus and buy buy baby, who carry mostly all-in-ones (e.g. BumGenius) but ultimately wanted something organic.
Pretty early on I found the Green Mountain website, which offers a tremendous amount of information about cloth diapering. They have a wide variety of cloth diaper systems (and lots of cloth diaper accessories and equipment) – still, I was overwhelmed. Finally I turned to Youtube, where I found many extremely helpful videos. Ultimately, what helped me decide, was writing down the pros and cons of each system and finding out exactly how each system works.
So, here it is, your Cloth Diaper 101.
Cost: Between $10 and $20 for a dozen
What is it: Prefolds are diapers, which already have a thicker center, much like a liner. They are usually in thirds, with the middle part being thicker. They go directly on your baby’s bottom and may need a snappi or diaper pins. To make a prefold more absorbent, you can add as many inserts as necessary (and comfortable for your baby). Prefolds wick the fluids away from your baby’s bottom and will be wet on the outside, which is why you will need a cover to go with your prefolds. They are between flats and fitted diapers.
Pros: Prefolds are fairly inexpensive and come in a variety of materials, including organic cotton. They are very versatile. This is the material that is between the baby and the cover and if you are like me, you can make sure, that only organic cotton/material will touch your baby’s sensitive skin.
Cons: They are a little bit more complicated than fitted diapers or all-in-ones and can be bulky
Cost: Between $10 and $15 for a dozen
What is it: These are the original cloth diapers! Flats are similar to prefolds, but do not have a thick center. They are just one single layer of a material such as cotton. They also need a cover.
Pros: They are the most inexpensive of all cloth diaper systems. They are versatile and the material is usually cotton and can be organic.
Cons: They are more complicated to fold.
Cost: Between $10 and $20 per diaper
What is it: This is similar to a prefold, but already sewn into a diaper shape, so you only have to put it on your baby and snap it closed. Materials are similar to the prefolds, from cotton (optional organic), fleece, bamboo, etc. They are just one step away from all-in-ones. You can still add inserts, if desired. You will need a cover.
Pros: They are very convenient and still a little less expensive than all-in-ones. Diapering with fitted diapers is a breeze.
Cons: They are a lot more expensive than flats or prefolds and they are not quite as versatile. They may fit your baby or they may not.
Cost: Between $10 and $20 per diaper
What is it: A pocket diaper is pretty much a cover with a pocket, where you can tuck in an insert (or a prefold or a flat diaper) into.
Pros: Very easy system, just remove the insert and add a new one. More flexible than the all-in-ones as you can use any insert that fits the pocket.
Cons: Relatively expensive. While the inserts can be organic, the material of the pocket diaper itself is usually not, or mixed with other materials.
Cost: Between $15 and $25 per diaper
What is it: All-in-Ones are the most expensive and most convenient cloth diapers. They are just like regular throw-aways, but re-usable. It’s one-piece and has different materials – one to wick the moisture away from baby’s skin and a waterproof one.
Pros: Very convenient, ideal for the reluctant spouse or daycare
Cons: Most expensive, least flexible, There are some all-in-ones which come with organic material on the inside, but pretty much all have non-organic material touch your baby’s skin.
Amount you will need per day
Of course, every baby is different. It is ok to not change everytime your baby pees, but you should initiate a diaper change when you suspect that there’s something more solid lurking in the diaper. We changed our newborn’s diaper about every 1 – 2 hours and about 3 – 4 times a night. Then it became every 2 – 3 hours during the day and once a night and finally after 4 months, we are down to every 3 hours or so and no diaper change during the night. I do pack heavy at night though. She has two inserts – and if I suspect that she pooped, I will change her diaper. She does not eat solids yet and is nursing, so her number twos are only once every couple of days. All in all, this is what I would suggest if you don’t want to wash twice a day:
Average amount for Newborns: 3 – 4 dozen
Average amount for 3 – 6 months: 2 dozen
Average amount for 6 – 12 months: 2 dozen
I always keep 2 diapers in my diaper bags as well, so far, we’ve been doing well with 2 dozen and I wash every second day.
Covers are needed for the prefolds, flats and fitted diapers. They are the fun part of this whole cloth diapering business, because they come in all sorts of materials, colors and shapes. I made sure to buy different ones and not a whole lot of the same ones because they may not fit a particular baby. You’ll kind of have to play and see, what is the most convenient for your little one. My favorite ones are the Imse Vimse Covers. They have lots of organic and great quality covers. We use their Organic Cotton Velour Cover and their regular Organic Cotton Cover. I have heard, that experienced mothers tend to not recommend hook and loop closures for older kids, because they are easier to be torn off by the kids. So far, we have not had any issues, but then again, our little one is only 5 months old and has not shown much interest in her diapers. We have also used the Bummis Super Snap Covers, they are very sturdy and reliable. We have noticed that he ‘celery dots’ print tends to leak more. I’m not sure why that is – it does seem to be a little thinner. It’s our least favorite. But the ‘froggy’ and ‘bloom’ prints work great. I recently bought the Kissaluvs diaper covers and love them. They are one size fits all and they really do!
The inside (waterproof) material of almost all covers is PUL (Polyurethane Laminate), which is safe under temperatures of 428F degrees (and I don’t think, we tend to bake our covers). This website offers more information about PUL. And while it is (breathable) plastic and may irritate sensitive skin, it rarely touches your baby’s skin. Many covers are made in a way, where the PUL is covered by the prefold, flat or fitted diaper.
If you want (and/or can) spend a little more, you can get wool covers, which are great, especially for the night. Wool is a very particular material. It can be used to soak fluids as well as wick moisture away. The magic behind is Lanolin, which is a natural part of wool. Because wool is so breathable, it stays cool during summer and is warm in winter time. It does need to be hand washed and Lanolin needs to be added every once in a while (though you can use a special wool hand wash soap that contains Lanolin), but you won’t have to wash it very often. I don’t use wool often, as it is still a little to big for our little girl, but I expect to have to wash it about once a month or so. It stretches, so it can be used for various sizes. I bought a Disana wool cover and also use the Disana wool detergent.
Covers come in a myriad of prices. You pay for material, prints, brand names and flexibility. Typically, the cost of a cover is around 12$ to 15$. I recommend spending a little more for good quality covers. I started out with 4 covers for my newborn and now have about 6 covers which fit her well. I do like a little variety, so 6 is a good number.
Most covers don’t do well when washed with the diapers. I usually wash them separately and hang them instead of throwing them into the dryer. Covers might get a little damp, especially after the night, so I just hang them to dry. I don’t wash them every day, except if they are dirty. Usually they get washed about once or twice a week.
Materials for diapers vary greatly. I personally prefer organic cotton. It’s easy to wash and care for and it absorbs nicely. There are three kinds of cotton:
- Conventional Cotton
- Conventional unbleached cotton
- Organic cotton
Growing conventional cotton uses more insecticides and chemicals than any other major crop. It accounts for more than 10% of the world’s use of pesticides. Cotton starts out as hydrophobic, meaning, it repels water. In order to ensure absorbency, cotton is bleached, to remove oil and wax. If unbleached cotton is used, it has to be washed more often, so prep time for your diapers is longer (see ‘Prepping and Washing Cloth Diapers’). Organic cotton is more and more available, the largest producers being Turkey, India and China. Organic Egyptian cotton is now also widely available. There is some organic cotton grown in the US. No pesticides or genetically modified plants can be used. Organic cotton can be found bleached and unbleached. Muslin is a type of loosely woven cotton fabric and is sometimes used for diapers.
Flannel is also used for diapers and it can be made out of wool, cotton or synthetic fiber – for diapers, though, it is usually cotton. Terry Cloth is mostly made out of cotton, but can contain polyester. Micro Fleece or Fleece is all synthetic, usually polyester. It is excellent for wicking away moisture, it can hold 1% of its weight in fluids.
Hemp is the new cotton – there are tons of hemp diapers on the market now. Hemp is comparable to cotton, but uses a lot less water during the growing process. Note that hemp can not legally be grown in the US, at least not as of today, all hemp material is imported.
Believe it or not, but Bamboo is now often found as a fiber for cloth diapers. It is sometimes mixed with cotton, but only needs little pesticides when growing.
Velour is usually made out of cotton, but can contain synthetic fibers, such as Polyester. Jersey used to be made out of wool, but can now be also cotton and synthetic fibers.
When you use prefolds, fitted diapers or flats, you can use inserts to give your cloth diapers a little oomph. Inserts are great for the night or when you travel and don’t want to change every 2 or 3 hours. You can pack as many inserts as fit, just make sure, your baby is still comfortable. Inserts come in most of the materials described above. Wool can also be used as a material for inserts, as it is both hydrophobic and wicking, depending on how it’s been prepped. You’ll need inserts for pocked diapers. They can be used with all-in-ones as well.
Prepping and Washing Cloth Diapers
Before you can use your cloth diapers, you need to prep them. All-in-ones and pocket diapers do not need much prepping. I would wash them once or twice before using them. All other diapers (not the covers) need a bit more prepping time. Since I use unbleached cotton, I wash the diapers 4 – 5 times. Bleached diapers should be washed at least 2 – 3 times. I start them in cold water with a little detergent (only just a blop, since they are not really dirty. I set the machine on a pre-wash, extra-rinse, no-spin setting, so when it’s done washing, the diapers are still heavy with water. This way, when I do another cycle, the machine calculates more weight, which uses more water. This time, I do a hot-cold cycle with a pre-wash, but no extra-rinse and a medium spin. I repeat this cycle 4 times and use the dryer in between to shrink the diapers.
Make sure, the laundry detergent is fragrance-free. I use Planet Earth detergent for all baby clothes and diapers. Here’s a good cheat sheet to help you decide on which detergent to use. To wash the diapers after use, I do a cold cycle with detergent and white vinegar for the pre-wash, extra-rinse and no-spin, then a hot-cold cycle with just a tiny bit of detergent, with pre-wash, extra-rinse and medium spin.Some use bleach every couple of weeks. When the diapers have spots, I just hang them in the sun – that’s all the bleach I use.
How to fold Cloth Diapers
There are many ways to fold cloth diapers and Youtube provides a lot of tutorial videos. Here is the way I do it with prefolds:
This is my organic unbleached cotton prefold
And voila, that’s all there is to it! We have been cloth diapering since about day 3 of our baby. It’s much easier than we thought. It was just a lot to sort through all the information available and finding the right system.