Cloth diapering can sound a bit intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be.
Depending on the type of cloth diapers you choose to use, cloth diapering can actually be just as easy as using disposables! The fact that they’re cheaper, cuter, and reduce waste is just icing on the cake.
While I was pregnant, I was fortunate enough to get a quick cloth diapering tutorial from my sister-in-law, who has used cloth diapers with both of her children over the past several years. She taught me the difference between the main types of cloth diapering options, including prefolds, fitted inserts, pocket diapers, and all-in-ones. Oddly enough, I thought I’d like the pocket diapers best, but when it actually came time to put them into practice, the prefolds were the ultimate winner. They are SO easy, I haven’t felt the need to use anything else in the last 8 months!
There are a variety of folds you can use when working with prefolds (these can especially come in handy when working with small newborn bodies), but the easiest way to use them is by simply folding the diaper into thirds and placing it in the center a cloth cover.
For most diaper changes, only the cloth insert gets damp, so that’s the only part you have to replace at each diaper change– reducing your laundry load each night, when compared to using pocket diapers or all-in-ones. After using a package of newborn disposable diapers the first week or so (that were gifted to us), Austin and I both agreed that using prefolds was just as easy as using the disposable diapers. In fact, we preferred it!
The best part about prefold diapers? They are the cheapest type of cloth diaper available. The ones we currently use are actually hand-me-downs from our in-laws, but they got them from Green Mountain Diapers, which sells prefolds starting at just $25 for a dozen. Considering the fact that you can go through 12-20 diapers a day in those first few weeks, these diapers pay for themselves in no time! (And when you consider that they can be used for 3+ children, it’s seriously a deal!)
As an added bonus, I’ve found that we have virtually no leaks or blowouts when using prefold diapers, which wasn’t the case with the disposables and the pocket cloth diapers that we tried.
Choosing the prefold inserts was easy, but choosing the type of diaper cover you use can be a little more tricky– only because there are so many options available! We started off using extra-small sized Thirsties covers when our little guy was a newborn, which worked great. (They were another hand-me-down.) When he outgrew those covers, we tried a GroVia cover, which was gifted to use during our baby shower. We instantly fell in love with them, and bought several more! Not only have they fit our little guy perfectly as he grows, they also have a unique type of velcro that isn’t too “sticky” to make a loud noise during middle-of-the-night diaper changes, but it also securely holds diapers in place all day long. After trying several varieties, I tend to prefer velcro covers to snap covers, because they are faster and easier to change– more like disposables. However, I think any covers would work; it’s just a matter of preference.
Now, let’s get the next question that most people have about cloth diapers– how do you clean them? Again, it’s easy.
We use a diaper hamper, just like everyone else, but instead of using plastic bags that go into the trash, we use cloth pail liners that go directly into the washing machine. There’s no smell and no mess! If you live in a small space, or have multiple changing areas, you can also use cloth wet bags as an easy hamper alternative. (We use these bags in our bedroom for quick diaper changes– the large wet bag easily loops over a door knob or crib rail.)
For the first six months, or up until the baby starts solids, there’s no extra work when cleaning the diapers. You simply add an extra soak cycle at the beginning of the washing process, to help remove the waste, then wash on a heavy cycle with detergent, then add an extra rinse at the end to make sure all of the detergent is removed. We use Country Save detergent, which was recommended to us by all of my cloth diapering friends. (You only need a half scoop per load, so one box lasts a long time!) When your baby starts eating solids, there are sprayers available that easily connect to your toilet to help make removing waste a hands-free event.
We also use cloth wipes, which we keep in this wipe warmer for quick and easy diaper changes. Using cloth wipes is an easy choice, since we’re doing a load of laundry every night, regardless!
What You’ll Need To Get Started
The hardest thing to figure out when you first start cloth diapering is deciding how many diapers you’ll actually need. Part of this decision will depend on how often you want to do laundry! We tend to do one load per night, so this is the number of diapers and wipes that works for us:
- 2 dozen prefolds in your baby’s current size (we’ve used the orange newborn and yellow small size over the last 8 months) This number is nice in case laundry gets delayed a bit, or if you want to keep a couple of inserts in your diaper bag.
- 6-8 covers (We like GroVia and Thirsties)
- 16-24 cloth wipes (I like GroVia wipes best)
And just to make planning easy, here are the other essentials we use regularly:
- Wipe Warmer (this one comes with 4 cloth wipes, too!)
- Diaper Dekor Plus Diaper Pail
- 2 cloth pail liners
- 2 large wet bags (if you have a changing area in another room)
- 2 medium wet bags (to carry with you in the diaper bag)
- Diaper Sprayer (once solids are started)
- Earth Mama Angel Baby Bottom Balm* (we also use regular coconut oil as a barrier cream)
*Note: We were advised not to use mainstream diaper creams with cloth diapers, so be sure that the diaper cream you use is safe for cloth diapering. We’ve tried Earth Mama Angel Baby, Motherlove, and regular coconut oil, all of which washed out of our diapers easily.
My son is currently 2 years old now, so we don’t use the prefolds as often because he is able to open the velcro on the GroVia covers– and that could lead to a messy disaster. We currently use the Bum Genius 4.0 Pocket diapers, which is what we originally registered for during my baby shower because they were recommended to us by other cloth diapering moms. However, we never used them when he was younger because they didn’t fit well and would leak all the time. Now that he’s bigger, they fit perfectly and we love them. The pocket-style diaper keeps him dryer and lets him go longer between changes, which is nice with his more active lifestyle now. We only use about 4 diapers a day at this point, and I think with our next baby we will use the exact same method– prefolds + covers for the first 12 months or so, followed by the pocket diapers when they fit correctly.
Once my son started sleeping through the night, we couldn’t find a cloth diaper that would keep him dry and comfortable (despite trying wool inserts, doubling up the pockets, etc.) so we eventually decided to let him sleep in a disposable diaper at night. This instantly solved all of our sleeping problems, so I would do that again in a heartbeat! We started using Honest Company diapers at night around 18 months, which is when he started truly sleeping through the night. That brand has been great at keeping our son rash-free during his 12-hour stretches of sleep, and don’t leak even without using an “overnight” diaper.
I hope this helps those of you who want to try cloth diapering navigate all the options available. We couldn’t be happier with our system!
Reader Feedback: Have you ever tried cloth diapers? Feel free to share your favorites and tips below!
Questions and Reviews
I can’t believe it’s been 8 months! and lol…blowouts.
Great post! Love cloth! And like you, we’ve had FAR fewer problems with blowouts and leaks using cloth than with disposables. I’ve actually moved from the initial prefolds to using flats, which I LOVE. I do also have a handful of hybrid fitteds, which are also really great. I live in a very hot and humid climate, so I opted out of the PUL covers and have a few fleece and a few wool. They’re actually very breathable and great for our climate.
So nice to read this article. My diapering days are long gone, but I used cloth diapers over 30 years ago, and it is so nice to see there are now so many options and that it is so accepted. I faced 2 year of constantly hearing that I should switch to disposables, when I knew that cloth diapers were less expensive, much better for my baby and better for the environment. It was amazing how quick people were to share their disapproval of my choices w/ me. Glad it is easier for parents today.
I am so happy to see this! We are trying to get pregnant, and I am set on using cloth diapers. This is very helpful! Thanks!
I read your blog all the time (it is my favorite recipe blog – even though I love grains and meat, haha :). I rarely comment, and this is a random post to comment on…but I have been looking into cloth diapers, and don’t know anyone personally that uses them, so my research has been a little bit overwhelming. Your insight was really helpful.
I have a special needs baby, and am looking for some money saving options for diapers, especially if we have another baby while he is still in diapers (which is very likely). I just have one question for you (that you may not know since your little one is still really little) do cloth diapers help with faster potty training – it is a common claim from cloth diaper user?
Thanks for all of the hard work you put into your blog. It is fabulous.
I’ve heard that cloth diapers can help with potty training for two reasons. One is that the baby feels “wet” with cloth diapers, so they don’t want to keep using them as they get older– which gives them an incentive to use the potty sooner. The other is that parents tend to be more motivated to start potty training earlier with cloth diapers, because they don’t want to keep cleaning them forever! Ha ha. We actually started using the potty with our baby when he was 4 months old, just to get him used to it, and we’re hoping it helps with earlier potty training in the future, too!
What do u put on the wipes? Do u mix a solution or just water?
I just use water, but I’ve heard you can make homemade wipe solution pretty easily, too. I just haven’t felt the need for it!
What do you do when you’re out and about? I’m very interested in using cloth diapers in the future (although my husband and I aren’t planning on having any little ones for a few more years). I’ve always thought that at-home changings seem manageable, but have never really heard about using diapers on-the-go from anybody first-hand. What kind of system do you use for that? Does it smell? Are these naive questions? I love this post, but would just like to know a little bit more!
It’s pretty similar to using disposables when you’re on the go, you just don’t throw the used diapers away– you throw them in a medium wet bag instead! I typically keep a couple of prefold inserts in my diaper bag, plus a cover or two, and a medium wet bag, which holds 3-5 wet diapers. If I’m at a friend’s house, I’ll still use my cloth wipes and just use their sink to get them wet first, or if I’m out at the zoo or something I’ll just take a small pack of disposable wipes with me (I like Honest brand). I’ve used disposables once while I was out and about, and using cloth is just as fast and easy!
Cloth diapers are back ! how absolutely wonderful .. Great post, Megan.
Information = TRANSFORMATION.
Love your posts. I have a 20 month old and we have done cloth since he was born. We use a pocket diapers system that has grown with him. We used prefolds and covers and newborn all in ones until almost 8 wks. Then he fit well into our pocket diapers.
Great post! I have a 20 month old who is in cloth. I tested out a bunch of different types as a newborn and although I had no issues using the prefolds with a cover, my husband was not a fan. He said he felt like he had to put on two diapers each time and didn’t like how he had to touch the damp prefold!! I used the fitted prefold a from green mount diaper to make it a little easier for him since we didn’t want mess with pins and my husband couldn’t figure out the snappi’s. So, the only way I could get him on board was if we used AIO’s. He also thought he would prefer the Velcro over snaps but found the snaps easier to use. We still have a few Velcro covers and at this point I’m glad we didn’t invest in too many because my daughter was quickly able to figure out how to remove her diaper. A couple of mornings I went in to get her and she had unzipped her pj and taken off her diaper!! I only use the Velcro if she is wearing pants now. We now exclusively use bumgenius AIO’s and although much more expensive than prefolds, they are still much cheaper than disposables. We’ve also had almost zero leaks or blowouts, yay. The biggest challenge has actually been figuring out the best laundry cycle and detergent to get the dipes clean and free of detergent residue using our HE front loader. We had a few episodes of red bum or stinky dipes until finding a routine that works.
I have been using Allens Naturally liquid detergent to wash cloth diapers and wipes. It was recommended to me by a woman who runs a cloth diaper store. It’s cloth diaper safe (no buildup) and requires only 2 tsp per HE load. Works great! http://www.allensnaturally.com/laundry/
Thanks so much for this information! Although we’re still awhile off from having littles ones, I’ve thought about doing cloth diapers but everyone just makes them sound like such a difficult option I thought I probably couldn’t handle it. After reading this it seems much more doable! Now I just have to get my husband on board 😉
Thanks so much for your post! I’m in my fourth month of pregnancy and my husband and I really want to use cloth diapers. How many covers should we purchase (or put on our registry) in each size? Do you have a recommendations for that?
I’d say you need at least 6 covers in the beginning, because diapers can be a little more messy during those first couple months. The covers I use are one-size-fits all, so there’s no need to buy different sizes. (However, I did use a few extra-small Thirsties covers during the newborn stage, just because we had some hand-me-downs.) We didn’t use any cloth diapers the first week or two, until the meconium stage was over– I wouldn’t even know how to start cleaning that type of waste out of a diaper!!
I used the Bum Genius all-in-ones for my son, but next time around I’m going for pre-folds with covers (and a diaper sprayer!). My biggest peeve with the all-in-ones is re-stuffing them after they’re clean. I don’t need that extra step in my life. I do sometimes use liners. Not as eco-friendly, but when those poops start getting nasty, it’s nice to pick them up and flush them away.
I’ve been using cloth diapers for the last three years and I love it!! I’m starting to prefer my prefolds and covers for home and the pocket diapers when we go out and others might change the baby. What is your favorite detergent? I have tried using my homemade detergent and it just doesn’t do the job, my diapers still smell. I have stripped them and still get the smell…help?
I use Country Save, and haven’t had any issues with smells: http://amzn.to/RjLy5D My sister-in-law used the same detergent on the diapers before she gave them to me, too!
I don’t have kids (my boyfriend and I aren’t even engaged haha) but i am pinning all your baby posts because I know they will definitely come in handy a few years down the road, thank you!!!
I wanted to do cloth diapers with my first daughter, did all the research, but still felt so intimidated that I never started. After your last post mentioning cloth diapers I checked out the GroVia hybrids and found that they met all my wishes and bought 8 hybrid cloth inserts and three covers to use on my new baby. The first couple of changes felt a bit awkward, but once I figured out the fit, I love them! In fact, I’m surprised I love them so much. As my daughter has grown, the GroVia shells have fit so nicely, not too tight, and always holding it all in. No leaks or blowouts with these! Also nice and trim for cloth. Thx for sharing your system!
By far one of the best and informing posts about cloth diapering! I only wish I would have done that with my son but if we have another baby, we are definitely going to try to use cloth diapers.
Thanks Megan! I’ll have to try that detergent!
Thanks! I will need all of the help I can get when it’s time to potty train my little guy :). I have just started sitting him on the toilet, but I think I will give the cloth diapers a try as well – plus they will force me to do laundry more than once a week, haha!
Megan, I have twins babies and these instructions about diapering will be helpful for me. The baby will have fewer diaper rashes within these cloth diapers. Using cloth diapers vs using disposable diaper will reduce your baby’s chances of getting asthma. So, it is important to save health of our children.
I am a soon to be first time mother and want nothing more to use cloth diapers! I have a couple of questions:
1. What do you do when you travel?
2. What do you do when they go swimming?
3. how long has your little one worn cloth diapers?
4. What do you do when you are out for a long day?
I was thinking that I would have to interchange between cloth and plastic, but I really don’t want to have to do that, but if I do, okay. Please advise 🙂
When I travel or am out for a long day, I just bring a supply of cloth diapers (several inserts and an extra cover or two) in my bag and use them just like I would at home, except I also keep a medium wet bag in my diaper bag– to keep the dirty diapers away from everything else. (The wet bag and all of its contents just go into the washer when you get home.) If you’re traveling for days without access to laundry, then I’d probably just use some all-natural disposables. We’ve been using cloth diapers for nearly 9 months now, and I’ve only had to use disposables once so far, when we didn’t have access to a washing machine.
My little guy hasn’t gone swimming yet, so I don’t know about that one, but I’ll be sure to update when we do. 🙂
JB/Megan, there are cloth swim diapers although I haven’t actually tried any yet. 🙂 I must say I’m so surprised you love the prefolds. Good for you that you found something you like but those were the worst ones I tried! So bulky and always leaked quickly. I had a horrible time (tried so many different things and wash routines) honestly finding diapers that really worked for my babies particularly my youngest. It seems, from my experience, that it can be extra challenging to find diapers that don’t leak on a small baby. Anyway, not trying to scare people off from cloth! 🙂 I love cloth diapers since I found Mother Ease! They were actually one of the first I tried and while they were reliable they were also very puffy and plain so I kept looking. I found out later though that they have other diapers that are trimmer and cuter. I use the original AIOs at home because they’re cheaper and the Unos when we’re out. My favorites though are the fitteds from them along with the Air Flow cover. I just don’t have many because they’re the same cost as the Unos (I don’t like reusing the covers of the fitted) and are still puffy like the original AIO. The reason I like them is the Sandy’s fitted, which is super absorbent, can be made nice and snug but it’s sooo soft and then the cover can be put on a tad bit looser and still contain everything. Just seems like they’re super comfortable and they don’t leave red marks. The cover is also so soft. As for washing, I use Tide HE Original in a cold wash with extra water and an extra rinse, and then I wash them again in hot water (no detergent) with extra water and an extra rinse. They smell wonderful. 🙂 Only issue I have now, but seems to be the way it goes, is staining from my three month old. Anyway, I’m talking way too much just about diapers! haha…
Hi Megan great information! I really had my heart set on cloth diapering but my peanut came early and I wasn’t ready! I do have a few AIO diapers and I find them to be huge and bulky. At 10 weeks and almost 10 pounds the few diapers I have almost look uncomfortable on her. I am wondering if you find the prefolds to be less bulky? Has your baby been able to wear clothes true to size or did you have to go up a size to accommodate the diaper? I am really disgusted at the amount of garbage we are generating right now and want to make the transition soon. I really thought I had it figured out and now I’m not so sure which diaper is best. Your input is greatly appreciated! Thanks!
Yes, cloth diapers are almost always bulkier than disposable, so I think it’s pretty standard to go a size up in clothing. I had the best luck with prefolds during those first few weeks and months because our other cloth diaper options (AIO and pockets) leaked badly. Now that our baby is nearly 11 months old, we’ve just recently given the pocket diapers another chance, and they are fitting better, though they still have to be pretty tightly snapped in order to avoid leaks. We use pocket diapers for overnight now, because they tend to keep his skin more dry than the prefolds. (That wasn’t an issue when he was younger, since we were up several times a night feeding and changing him, anyway.) Best of luck to you!
Great post! Have you found the prefolds to work overnight? Do you have to change the baby during the night?
Up until recently, we were still getting up to feed him a couple times a night, so I would usually change his diaper at least once in the middle of the night, too. I think the prefolds could work overnight, but most friends I know use some sort of hemp insert for extra dryness protection. I’ve recently tried using my pocket diapers again (which leaked terribly when my baby was younger), and I’ve started stuffing those with extra inserts to create an overnight diaper. I use these bumGenius pockets, which keep him nice and dry throughout the night, and then we use mostly prefolds during the day.
Hi Megan, I love your site and all the amazing recipes and information you have! My baby is 9 weeks old and i am finally venturing onto the diapering world. With the grovia covers, did you find that you had to wash them after one use? If not, how many changes would you use the same cover for while just switching out the inserts? With the bumgenius pockets and all in ones, it seems that you dump the diaper after each change (like you would a disposable), but is that the same when you are using a cover with a prefold? Do you normally just switch out the prefold and use the same cover a few times?
Yes, with the prefolds you can use the same cover a few times before you need to wash it. We’d only wash them after one use if there was a blowout. 🙂
We are due in 3 weeks, and just getting all cloth diapers washed and put away. Thank you so much for the info-daddy to be is worried that we will need diaper cream, but I wanted to hold off-what if we never need it??? Now I know I can use coconut oil in a pinch before we get to the store:)
I definitely don’t recall needing diaper cream at the beginning– so I think you’ll be fine! We actually use this brand now and love it: http://amzn.to/1bYr1NS (But, we still need it very rarely– maybe for one or two diaper changes every few months.)
Thanks for the great post! I’ve been looking for an article like this since all that information on line on cloth diapering is so overwhelming for me right now! I have three questions:
While researching for the best wet bag, have you encountered any that are not anti-microbial? I know that there are studies now showing that anti-microbial soaps are actually not good for you so I am trying to stay away of anti-microbial products all together.
Second one: Have you had any trouble with the diaper smell after your son started solids? A friend of mine told me that the smell was bad unless she sunned the diapers for days (after washing, drying and then stripping them with Funk Rock).
And did you use a dryer to dry the diapers and did it stink afterwards? I am worried to ruin the dryer for the rest of the household members.
We’ve been doing this for 21 months so far, and I’ve never sunned our diapers. (I would have tried that earlier if I could, but our apartment doesn’t make that easy.) With the occasional stripping with Funk Rock I think our son’s diapers smell just fine. Our washer and dryer definitely are fine; no smell!
And I don’t use wet bags anymore, since most of our diaper changes are at home, so I never looked into them further. We just keep our washer on the soak cycle all day, so it’s full of water, and we throw the used diapers in there to soak all day. That keeps the smell away and then we just run the cycle each night so they’re clean in the morning.
Curious about your thoughts on the practicality of cloth diapering where my laundry is located in a common space (basement) of my building. I live in NYC. Daily loads seem nearly impossible with a newborn.
Thanks in advance!
That does sound very challenging! My friends who don’t have their own washer and dryer out here in LA tend to rely on cloth diapering services, which come a couple times a week to pick up your dirty diapers and replenish your clean stash. If that fits into the budget, it sounds like a nice option, though you’ll need to have a larger stash of diapers to begin with, since you’ll have to collect laundry for a few days at a time. Or, you could just plan on doing laundry a couple times a week yourself using the communal laundry in your basement, with a bigger stash of diapers and wet bags. The biggest pain with the washing process is letting the diapers run in a soak cycle first, so you’ll have to run downstairs one more time than you’re used to after that initial rinse cycle. But, I think it’s doable!
I plan to get 60-72 prefolds and 24 diaper covers. So, I don’t have to launder but once weekly is this possible or would you say a little over board? Any advice will be extremely help helpful. I don’t like the idea of washing every 2-3 days.
Finally, an article that fully explains how it works instead of talking about why it’s so awesome or just giving me five million links to other articles!! I can finally figure out the cost of buying vs making my cloth diapers!!
I love the idea of the cloth pail liner. Just one question, do you actually throw the liner with the diapers inside in to the washing machine?
I used those cloth diapers with the thick centers when mine were young and loved them. They are great as burp rags too.