Cloth Diaper Guide, Tips, & Tricks
Modern cloth diapers offer a variety of styles, fabrics, and features that make them more fun and less daunting than ever before.
While the initial cost of purchasing a supply of cloth diapers can seem daunting, the savings add up quickly!The average diaper-wearing child goes through at least 8-10 diapers a day for 24-36 months. That's over 3000 diapers a year, ranging in cost from $.30 to $.80 each! The savings that come from using cloth diapers are significant; roughly $2000 per child. A stash of 36-48 cloth diapers will suffice for most children through potty training, and can sometimes even be reused for subsequent children. Additionally, cloth diapered children may potty train sooner than children in disposable diapers which can bring even more savings.
They are reusable and can be used at least 150-200 times!Trash is a growing problem, and diapers piled in landfills not only occupy significant space but breed dangerous germs and can harm our groundwater. The greater Phoenix area is now reduced to one landfill with the government trying to reduce waste to slow it from hitting capacity. Each individual disposable diaper takes approximately 500 years to decompose. Additionally, disposable diapers contain petroleum-based ingredients and non-renewable resources. Many studies have proven that disposable diapers negatively impact the environment both in the production and disposal after use.
It boils down to this – would you rather wear underwear made from cotton or plastic?
Your baby's skin won't be exposed to Sodium Polyacrylate, the highly absorbent chemical that is found in disposable diapers, which was removed from feminine products in 1985 after being linked with Toxic Shock Syndrome. Disposable diapers also contain dioxin, which is a by-product of bleaching paper. Dioxin is the most toxic of all cancer-causing chemicals, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
So many colors, so many prints! Cloth diapers are so cute you won’t even want to put pants on your child - and in Arizona you don’t need to! Cloth diapers are comfortable and you have the added benefit of knowing exactly what you’re exposing your baby’s skin to.
Cloth diapering doesn’t have to be all or nothing. One cloth diaper can save at least 365 diapers from going into the landfill.
Quantity of cloth diapers required depends on baby’s age and how often you launder.
Estimate replacing or adding a few diapers throughout your baby’s diapering years. General use and care, laundering methods, water hardness, detergent etc., all impact the lifespan of cloth diapers. These amounts are estimates based on average usage.
Cloth diapers can cost as little as $300 for a basic stash, up to $1000 for a luxury stash. Price can vary depending on brand, style, and personal preference. Below are estimated costs for getting started.
Just like clothing fits adults differently, diapers fit each baby different depending upon the shape and size of baby. If a diaper has become too small, tuck it aside and try to use it again down the road as baby's shape and size continues to change. Babies tend to lean out once they become mobile, sometimes allowing diapers to fit again.
- Cloth diapers have two different sizing scales. Weight range sizes (NB, S, M, L, XL) or "one-size" (OS) which allows adjustability from S to L.
- "One-size" diapers (covers, pockets, all-in-ones) allow caregivers to adjust the size as baby grows. These diapers may not fit for small (less than 12lbs) or large babies. It is typically recommended that newborns wear newborn or size S diapers until they are at least 10-12 pounds.
- Cloth diapers are designed in various styles by several different brand manufacturers. Each brand and style may have a slightly different fit and may offer varying features.
- As your baby grows, you may find some brands and styles work best for night, day, or in particular situations.
- All parents and caregivers have their own preferences. Make sure to have some easy-to-use styles available for novice diaper changers.
The infamous question, snaps or VELCRO®? It boils down to personal preference. Both have their pros and cons, and it's great to have both options on hand.
BENEFITS OF SNAPS:
- Babies and toddlers usually can't unsnap a diaper, as their little fingers don't have the strength or dexterity. This means less naked bums running around as your little one goes through the naked phase.
- Snaps can be sturdier, as they don't accumulate "fluff" like VELCRO® can.
- There's no extra step prior to laundering.
DISADVANTAGES OF SNAPS:
- Those with arthritis or fine motor weakness may have a hard time snapping diapers shut.
- It can be a little more difficult to fit a snap diaper on a newborn as you can't get a perfect sized closure; you can only close the diaper where the snaps are placed.
- Snaps can be cumbersome during the night when you don't want to turn on lighting.
BENEFITS OF VELCRO®:
- Extremely quick to place a diaper on baby once they enter the stage where they must always be on-the-go.
- You can fit the diaper to the exact size that you need.
- It may be easier than snaps for anybody with arthritis or fine motor weakness.
- It's very quick for nighttime changes.
DISADVANTAGES OF VELCRO®:
- Baby may learn how to undo the VELCRO®, leading to naked bums in the house.
- You must fold down the VELCRO® prior to laundering to ensure no fluff is caught in the hook and loop.
- It can be noisy while baby is sleeping.
TYPES OF CLOTH DIAPERS
You often hear parents discussing which style of cloth diapers they prefer, and unless you know the lingo, it can be confusing! Why so many? Cloth diapers are like all articles of clothing; several styles, brands, and manufacturers offer a wide selection for all preferences!
Integrated diaper systems provide absorbency and a waterproof diaper cover all together as one piece. The different integrated systems include the diaper portion which can either be snapped into place or removed for faster drying time. They can also differ in what kind of fabric is next to baby.
Two piece diaper systems have two separate parts; the absorbent diaper and the waterproof cover. This allows parents to reuse the cover several times, replacing the absorbent diaper portion as needed. This system also requires less laundry because the cover doesn't need to be washed as often as the absorbent insert.
Prefold Cloth Diapers are flat, rectangular diapers. They fit into most covers without a problem. Prefold diapers allow you to be in control as to where the majority of the absorbency is. You can fold a prefold in numerous different ways, and some people even fold differently for boys or girls to help alleviate leaks. If you decide to change your diapering system to include more integrated diapers, you can always use your prefolds as additional inserts. Prefold diapers are part of a two-piece diapering system and require diaper covers.
Why we love them:
- Great for newborns. You fold however you prefer, which can help with newborn leaks.
- The most economical way to cloth diaper baby.
- Prefolds can be used down the road as additional inserts. They also make for great household cleaning down the road!
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Contours are specifically designed to fit most brands of cloth diaper covers. Made of 100% cotton velour exterior, they provide a soft, luxurious feel and optimum absorbency with two interior layers of microfiber terry. Contour Soakers also feature an opening to add extra absorbency, if needed. This is a great diaper system for newborns, and can be used all the way through to potty training! This is a two piece diaper system and requires diaper covers.
Why we love them:
- Easiest cloth diapering option for newborns!
- Modern form of prefolds - economical, simple, but easier!
- Can adjust absorbency by adding additional inserts into the contour pocket.
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Fitted Cloth Diapers are absorbent, soft, and easy to use. Usually sized, these diapers fit each stage of baby perfectly. They feature either snap or VELCRO® closures to allow a perfect fit on baby to prevent leaks. Fitted diapers are very absorbent, and many parents use them for overnight leaking solutions. Fitted diapers are part of a two piece diapering system and require diaper covers.
Why we love them:
- More absorbent!
- Trim fitting, since most are sized.
- Great for overnight.
Covers are compontents of a two-piece diapering system that requires two parts; one part is the absorbent diaper and the other part is a waterproof diaper cover. These must be used together to create your diaper. This system allows parents to reuse the cover several times, replacing the absorbent diaper portion as needed.
Why we love them:
- Two part diapering systems are generally the most economical of all the systems.
- Quick drying time.
- Can be used from newborn age until potty training.
- Reusing the waterproof cover/shell means less bulk in the diaper bag. You only need absorbent inserts!
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A pocket style diaper typically features a stay-dry wicking fleece interior fabric, and an adjustable, removable absorbent insert for quick laundering. The absorbent insert goes inside a pocket opening inside the diaper. Most pockets come with two inserts that allow you to add more absorbency as baby grows and needs more. Pocket diapers are a little more friendly on your wallet, however they often require you to "stuff" your pockets. This means that you have to stuff the absorbent insert inside of the pocket of your diaper. Many pocket diapers feature a microfiber insert, which cannot be put next to baby's skin, hence why "stuffing" is required.
Why we love them:
- More economical than All-In-Ones.
- Absorbency can be easily adjusted with inserts.
- Can be more trim fitting for smaller babies and newborns.
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This integrated diaper system features an absorbent inner and a protective, waterproof cover that functions together as one unit. Each brand is different, but they all have the same concept; an All-In-One Diaper works exactly like it sounds - the diaper is one piece, all together. Each diaper may have different fiber contents; some have cotton, organic cotton, bamboo, minky, fleece, and the list goes on. These diapers are similar to disposables in the application, meaning they go onto baby in one simple step.
Why we love them:
- Easy to use and most convenient! Most similar to disposable diapers. Great for daycare, grandparents, and friends.
- Many fabric varieties to choose from.
- Size Small or Newborn sized All-In-Ones are ideal for the middle of the night diaper changes.
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- Whether your diapers are one piece or two pieces, most diapers will require extra absorbency added in for nighttime or as babies get older.
- Absorbency can be customized with inserts. Additional absorbent fabric inserts are put either inside or on top of the diaper when needed. They can be combined or folded to create the perfect absorbency for your baby. Different fabrics perform with different benefits.
- We carry all types, such as Hemp, Microfiber, Minky, Cotton, Bamboo, Charcoal, and more.
- Flushable diaper liners help ease the messiness of dirty diapers. Lay a diaper liner on top of your diaper before use, then flush the liner upon changing.
- Stay-dry liners are great additions for any diaper to help protect baby’s skin when frequent changes may not be possible, if baby's skin prefers to be dry, or if baby has a current rash. The wicking properties of fleece help heal diaper rash by keeping the area dry.
- Silk liners add soothing benefits for sensitive skin. Bonus: They're also anti-bacterial!
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- Pail Liners are reusable and designed to fit inside a diaper pail or garbage container with lid.
- Wash liner with your diaper laundry to help maintain a fresh environment.
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- Wet bags typically only have one pocket that is used to store your wet or dirty items.
- Wet/dry bags typically have two pockets; one to store your wet items, and one to store your clean items. Wet/dry bags are a great solution for a quick trip instead of having to grab the entire diaper bag.
- These waterproof bags are designed for storing your dirty diapers when you are on-the-go.
- They are also handy for storing dry wipes, spray or a change of clothes.
- Wet bags help keep odors contained, your diaper bag dry, and can be washed with your diaper load.
- After the diaper stage, bags are great for potty learning, swimwear, travel and more.
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If you're already washing diaper laundry, you may as well consider using reusable wipes. Reusable wipes are another step to eliminate chemicals being used on baby, while also still bringing in savings. Simply wash your wipes with your diapers and use again.
- Washable and reusable
- No harsh chemicals against baby's skin
- Use dry or in conjunction with wipe solution
- Many different uses; keep on hand for runny noses or in the diaper bag for a quick clean up.
- We suggest having 24-36 wipes in your stash.
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If you've chosen to use reusable wipes, you can also chose a wipes solution. You can store your cloth wipes in a wipes warmer with the solution, or you can dissolve the wipes solution into a spray bottle and spray as you go.
Shop Wipes Solution & Spray Bottles
Diaper sprayers are attached to the fresh water line on your toilet, giving you a continuous stream of fresh water to rinse diapers. Please note, it's important to turn off the water supply after each use to avoid leaking or damage to your sprayer.
- Why dunk when you can spray diapers clean?
- Easily attaches to your toilet for simple removal and disposal of solid waste from diapers.
- The on/off valve also doubles as a pressure controller, so no worry for water blasting out at too high of velocity.
- Can also be used for postpartum care and again during potty learning.
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We carry a variety of eco-friendly detergents that can be used to clean your diapers and the other fabrics in your home. We prefer Allen’s Naturally or Rockin’ Green detergent for an eco-friendly wash routine. Plant-based detergents work well for diaper washing, but you may need to add more detergent.
If you are washing in hard water, you can add ½ cup Borax or 1 capful Calgon to your wash cycle to combat dissolved minerals naturally present in the water. Avoid fabric softeners (including detergent that contains softeners) and dryer sheets as they will cause diapers to repel, not absorb.
When researching cloth diaper-friendly detergents:
- Look for detergents that are free of softeners, and to avoid aggravating sensitive skin consider perfume and/or dye free detergents.
- Keep in mind that fewer additives mean less residual chemicals in the diapers.
- Understand that bleach will weaken the overall fabric, and fabric softeners leave a coating on the diapers, impeding absorbency.
- Special treatments are also recommended periodically to "strip" diapers of the mineral buildup left behind when washing in hard water, which can lead to rashes, unpleasant odors, and can inhibit absorbency.
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Dryer sheets are a no-no with cloth diapers, as they apply a coating to the fabric which will impede absorbency. Wool dryer balls are a natural way to dry your clothes faster (which reduce your cost!), soften your clothes, and help reduce static electricity -- All while keeping those harsh fabric softener chemicals out of your diapers.
The wool soaks up some of the moisture in your laundry as it dries, but then evenly distributes it into the air – helping your dryer stay humid longer, which exponentially reduces static cling. In addition, this “soaking and releasing” action makes your fabrics dry faster. Combine all of these things and less energy is being used!
Why we love them:
- Quicker drying time.
- Reduces static cling.
- Naturally softens fabrics without chemicals.
It is recommended to use 6-12 dryer balls at a time for best results. The more you use, the more effective they are.
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While babies in cloth diapers typically experience a substantial less amount of diaper rash when compared to babies in disposable diapers, it's always a good idea to have a cloth safe diaper cream on hand, just in case.
Be sure to use a rash cream that is cloth diaper safe and free of zinc oxide or petroleum based skin products (petroleum will cause repelling in synthetic fabrics, zinc oxide will stain).
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PREPPING YOUR DIAPERS BEFORE THE FIRST USE
Prepping diapers before their first use is crucial. Proper prepping ensures maximum absorbency and fit.
Drying between each wash is not necessary, but will assist in reducing lint. Prefolds will shrink and “quilt up” to become softer. Natural fibers will become more absorbent with each wash.
NATURAL FIBER PRODUCTS:
Cotton and hemp products contain natural oils that need to be removed to maximize absorbency prior to use. Simply wash these items in hot water up to five times using a minimal amount of detergent and a water softener if needed.
SYNTHETIC FIBER PRODUCTS:
Fleece, Microfiber, Bamboo, Polyester, etc, only need to be washed and dried one time prior to use. This is simply to ensure the cleanliness before use.
- Many other similar mama and baby items are manufactured using natural fibers. The same prepping routine is recommended for absorbent inserts, breast pads and cloth wipes.
- Use minimal amounts of soap during prepping.
- Contrary to popular internet mythology, DO NOT USE bleach, baking soda, vinegar, or dish washing soap.
HOW TO WASH CLOTH DIAPERS
Solid waste from exclusively-breast-fed (EBF) babies does not need to be rinsed. Once formula or food has been introduced, all solids must be rinsed from diapers prior to tossing into diaper pail or before laundering. A diaper sprayer hooked up to your toilet can be used to rinse solids from diapers. Alternatively, flushable liners can be used to catch solids and then be flushed along with them.
STORING SOILED DIAPERS:
After removing solid wastes, store soiled diapers in a "Wet Bag or Wet/Dry Bag" or in a diaper pail with a "Pail Liner". Both wet bags and pail liners should be washed with the load of diapers. Diapers should be laundered every 1-3 days.
- Ensure that most solid waste has been rinsed from the diaper into the toilet, unless it is 100% breast-fed baby poop, which is water soluble and can go straight into the washing machine. Use a diaper sprayer for easier cleanup.
- Rise snaps may stay snapped shut; all other snaps should be unsnapped.
- If your diapers have VELCRO® closures, ensure they are folded down or covered.
- If you use flushable liners, remove them from diapers.
- In most cases, inserts will agitate out of the diaper during the wash cycle. However, to ensure thorough cleaning, you may pull them out of the diaper pocket halfway.
- If staining is an issue, pretreat any soiled areas with a cloth diaper safe stain remover, following stain remover’s instructions.
Both standard and HE machines will clean cloth diapers properly when used correctly. HE machines will have longer cycles to make up for using less water. To ensure adequate wash times let each cycle run for it’s allowed time. If you have a non-HE machine, aim to fill the drum ⅔ to ¾ high with water. Too much water inhibits the agitation needed to properly clean the diapers and too little doesn’t allow for proper cleaning.
If you do not have a water softener, extra rinse cycles actually do more harm than good. If you have a water softener, an extra rinse may be necessary if diapers come out feeling slimy.
We prefer Allen’s Naturally or Rockin’ Green detergent for an eco-friendly wash routine. Plant-based detergents work well for diaper washing, but you may need to add more detergent. If you are washing in hard water, you can add ½ cup Borax or 1 capful Calgon to your wash cycle to combat dissolved minerals naturally present in the water. Avoid fabric softeners (including detergent that contains softeners) and dryer sheets as they will cause diapers to repel, not absorb.
Start with a cool Prewash, Speed Wash, or Rinse & Spin.
For extra stinky diapers or very hard water, try adding a small amount of detergent to this stage.
Select Heavy or Long Wash and use warm to hot water.
If you are using water softeners such as Calgon or Borax, add them here. Use enough detergent to properly clean a heavily soiled load. If you feel your diapers aren’t getting clean, add more detergent. These are the dirtiest items you are putting in your machine! You want to wash out the bacteria effectively.
Hang dry, or dry in machine with tumble to low heat.
If line drying outside, we recommend drying diapers in the shade, out of the direct sun. Always bring diapers inside immediately upon drying to preserve the elastic and PUL.
- Wool dryer balls can be used to reduce drying time, naturally soften fabrics, and reduce static. While there’s no proper amount of dryer balls, we recommend 6-12. The more you use, the more effective they are.
- Pocket diapers and covers generally dry quite quickly; natural fabric diapers and AIO’s will often take a bit longer to dry. One of the most effective and environmentally friendly ways to dry diapers is to line dry until almost dry, then toss in the dryer with wool dryer balls simply to soften the fabric.
Lanolizing Wool Covers:
This is recommended for new covers, and when your wool covers begin to lose their waterproofing, usually every 2-8 weeks, depending on use and wool type. We recommend the initial lanolization be done with solid lanolin as it gives a heartier treatment than liquid lanolin. Liquid lanolin is fine for normal maintenance, but if you experience a decrease in waterproofing in your covers, a periodic treatment with solid lanolin is helpful.
To Lanolize Your Wool With Solid Lanolin:
- Melt a small amount (minimum pea-sized or a tad more) of the solid lanolin in a cup of hot water or carefully in the microwave.
- Rinse the new wool covers thoroughly under cool, running water and gently squeeze out excess.
- Fill your sink with warm water and add melted or liquid lanolin.
- For best results, covers should be turned inside-out.
- Soak the covers for at least 20 minutes, or for a really robust lanolization, soak overnight. If you have added too much lanolin, your covers may feel a little tacky or sticky. This stickiness will be reduced as the extra lanolin works its way into your covers, which you can help by gently massaging the cover.
Washing Wool Covers:
This only needs to be done when your covers begin to retain odor, usually every 1-4 weeks, depending on use and type of wool. We carry various types of Wool Wash that work best with your wool diapers.
To Wash Your Wool Diaper:
- Rinse your wool covers thoroughly under cool, running water and gently squeeze out excess. This is necessary to remove the urine salts retained by the wool which dry the fibers and eventually retain odor.
- Fill your sink with warm water and add a lanolin-enriched wool wash.
- Gently agitate your covers.
- Apply wool wash directly to stains if needed.
- Soak covers as desired.
- Drain water from sink.
- While it is not necessary to rinse, rinsing in cool water will remove soap residue.
- Gently squeeze out excess water and lay flat to dry.
TROUBLESHOOTING YOUR CLOTH DIAPERS
As opposed to synthetic fiber diapers, natural fibered products are more prone to staining. Stains will not harm your diapers or their functionality, but if you prefer stainless diapers, you can treat diaper staining with Buncha Farmer’s Stain Stick. To help remedy staining, try line drying your diapers outside, but be careful not to leave them out there too long as the desert sun can be damaging toelastic and PUL. Bring diapers in immediately upon drying.
Also, just like any other article of clothing, if you rinse your diaper with cold water as soon as possible, you can help avoid staining. Try using a diaper sprayer to aide you in removing solid waste.
- Diapers can leak if they are not absorbent enough. As a baby grows, more absorbency may be needed. Try adding an additional insert or fold the insert differently. Baby boys may need double in the front.
- Diapers can leak due to improper fit technique. Make sure legs and waist fit snug and no "fluff" is peaking out from the leg area. See our Fitting Baby Visual Guide below for more help.
- Diapers can leak if the diaper is the wrong size. Make sure the size is appropriate. Babies too big or too small may not fit into "one-size" diapers.
- Diapers can leak if they have been washed in hard water for too long without an added softening agent. See "Stinky Diapers" below.
Diapers with excess mineral buildup may trap bacteria, which can create either an ammonia smell, usually present after baby pees, or a barnyard or “fishy” stink, usually more obvious when fresh out of the dryer. The bacteria trapped in the fibers of the diaper can cause chemical burns or rashes and can also inhibit absorbency. Stripping will remove mineral buildup accumulated from washing in untreated hard water.
WHEN TO STRIP DIAPERS:
- If your diapers are stinky with an ammonia or “barnyard” smell
- If you think your diapers are the culprit of rash problems
- Overuse of rash cream
- Preparing pre-loved diapers
HOW TO STRIP DIAPERS:
You must use a laundry treatment such as RLR, Funk Rock, or Mighty Bubbles. Contrary to popular internet mythology, DO NOT use vinegar, baking soda, or dishwashing soap.
- Soak clean diapers in hot water between 125° - 135° with added laundry treatment for at least 4 hours (or overnight if preferred).
- If you do not have a top load washing machine, diapers may have to be soaked in a tub or utility sink.
- Water must be over 125° and not more than 135°. Less than 125° will not allow the laundry treatment to penetrate the fabric properly and more than 135° may harm your diapers.
- After soaking, squeeze all water from the items and wash once with detergent and water-softening agent like Colgan or Borax (if needed).
HOW TO AVOID STINK ISSUES:
- A change to your wash routine must be implemented after stripping your diapers to avoid the problems reoccurring.
- Consider adding a water softening agent to your routine or adjust the type/amount of laundry detergent being used.
- Pocket shells and PUL covers usually don’t need to be stripped, unless you are trying to remove buildup from overuse of rash cream, or if you have used detergent that is not recommended for cloth diapers.
FITTING A CLOTH DIAPER ON BABY
After adjusting rise snaps for Baby’s height, place Baby on diaper & form the crotch of the diaper into a canoe shape.
Fit the canoed-shaped front of the diaper into the creases between the thigh & groin (the same place you would wear your underwear).
Wrap the front wings of the diaper around Baby’s body, and then bring the side tabs forward to align the hip snaps.
Fasten one hip snap per side to prevent leakage around leg and thigh.
Fasten hip snap on the other side, making sure the leg fit is snug.
Bring right tab across Baby’s body, and fasten one waist snap to size around Baby’s waist.
Bring left tab across Baby’s body and fasten the opposite waist snap. For smaller babies, tabs may overlap.
Tuck diaper in around leg openings to ensure interior fabric is not exposed. Diaper should ﬁt in crease between leg & groin.
Happy cloth diaper baby!