Updated February 2018.
I’ve held off on writing an official “Cloth 101” type post for a long time. For one thing, it’s a lot of information to cover. For another, I wanted to wait til I truly felt like I had the expertise to really set a cloth-curious family on the right track. Well, four years in and many, many a cloth diaper brand and accessory tested, I feel ready to be your cloth diaper muse.
I’ve also added a post called “My Top 5 Tips For Successful Cloth Diapering,” which I highly recommend you check out!
“How to Cloth Diaper” Questions for your cloth diaper oracle:
- When can I start?
- How many do I need?
- Do I need to buy newborn diapers?
- How much will it cost?
- Which ones should I buy?
- How do I wash them?
- How do I store in between washings?
- What do I do with the poop?
- How often do I change a cloth diaper?
- What about overnight?
- What if I have leaks?
- Where do I go to understand all the terms?
- What about when I leave the house?
- What about rash creams?
- Where can I find out even more?
I started cloth diapering Cub at Day 4. With baby on the way, I plan on starting right from birth. Some families choose to wait longer, til they have the whole newborn thing under control, or simply until their one-size diapers begin to fit.
Start when you’re ready. Go halfway first: try a couple cloth diapers during the day and use disposables at night. (Curious about Eco-disposable options? Check this post.) And it’s never too late to start. Just because year one was in ‘sposies doesn’t mean year two can’t be in cloth.
Every time you use a cloth diaper, consider that 20 cents in your pocket!
I personally recommend at least 24 to 30 diapers, but more is better in terms of never running out between wash days and in terms of ensuring less wear and tear on your stash so they last longer. I clearly have far more than 24 diapers in my stash, as do many cloth fanatics. You can definitely cloth diaper with two dozen diapers!
There are quite a few factors that will determine if you want to invest in a stash of newborn diapers. One size diapers are designed to fit from birth, but it really depends on the brand and the shape and size of your baby.
If you want perfectly fitting, adorable newborn diapers, it may be worthwhile for you if you plan on cloth diapering right from birth, if you plan on having more children, if you plan on recouping the cost by reselling or even if you split the cost of a lot with a friend who is due a couple months after you. You can save money on a newborn stash by buying second hand, or even renting.
Another very cost effective option to get you through the “until our one-size diapers fit” stage is to buy half a dozen newborn covers, and a set of flour sack towels.
With Cub, I used prefolds and covers for around $100, as I explain in this post. With Little Miss, I reviewed a huge variety of newborn diapers, of which my top two were the TotsBots Teeny Fit and Blueberry Simplex.
A set of 24 diapers can range from around $200 (Alvas, Kawaii, Sunbaby) to $500 or more. Here’s a post on how to save money on brand-name diapers, and a post for a starter cloth diaper stash I recommend.
That’s the loaded question. Every cloth diaper Mama will have a different answer. I fully endorse buying some different brands in your initial lot. My personal stash is a variety, but I am a particular fan of BumGenius 5.0 and the Funky Fluff Lux.
Another option to consider is a trial program, where you essentially rent a mixed lot of diapers for a certain period of time for a low fee before you make your final decision. Renee at Lil’ Monkey Cheeks offers this possibility Canada-wide.
You can also read all my cloth diaper reviews!
Every washer is different and every stash of diapers is different. So, take these recommendations as a guideline and tweak as necessary. I am a wholehearted supporter of using the detergent that works best for you: do not stress about what is “cloth diaper safe.” Simply avoid a detergent that has a built-in fabric softer (ie: Tide with Downy), and if you or your child is sensitive to fragrance, choose fragrance free. I personally have used Tide Free & Gentle, now that it is available in HE!
Read my full wash routine using Tide Free & Gentle Powder for All Machines here.
Now that my son no longer reacts to regular Tide, which I find more effective, I follow this wash routine.
My preference is to use a diaper pail (or a pail of any kind) lined with a pail liner. Come wash day, I grab the wet bag and dump the dirties into the wash, tossing the bag in as well. My favourite pail liner wet bag is the Funky Fluff Pail Liner.
You don’t need a bin specifically designed for cloth diapers. You can use any garbage can that fits enough diapers in between washing, and I recommend a lid that can be left slightly loose, as some air circulation is better for reducing odours. This one, available at Walmart for $8.99, is very popular!
If space is at a premium, you might consider a hanging wet bag, of which there are many models. My favourite is the Funky Fluff Hanging Diaper Pail.
I’d recommend having two of whatever wetbag or pail liner you choose so that you can have one in the pail and one in the wash.
Exclusively breastfed poop is water soluble. You don’t even need to rinse it off! I always just tossed the soiled diapers in the pail (lined with a wetbag) and then dumped everything in the wash on wash day.
Once baby starts solids or if baby is on formula, you’ll want to dump solids into the toilet (by the way: you’re supposed to do this with disposables, too) and possibly rinse. Some people like to use a diaper sprayer with a Spray Pal. I am able to use my Spray Pal with the shower attachment from our bathtub when needed. Sometimes I just put on my rubber glove and swish in the toilet bowl. Another option is biodegradable liners that catch the poop and that are ostensibly flushable (really depends on your plumbing situation), or fleece liners than are easier to rinse than an entire diaper.
On average, I’d say babies in cloth get changed every 2-3 hours. Having never really had a kid in full-time sposies, I can’t say for sure if this is that different. I think some parents probably stretch changes in disposables because of their massive capacity for storing urine in that weird gel. Cloth diapers can also last for naps and overnight. If you know you won’t be able to change a diaper for 4 or 5 hours, make sure you “build” your diaper accordingly, with boosters or extra inserts. If your baby is sensitive to wetness, most diapers have a “stay dry” layer that is made of fleece or some kind of polyester. The “stay dry” feeling is not as effective as with disposables, but neither is it as drying on baby’s skin. Obviously, as with disposables, I change as soon as there is a poop.
A lot of families use disposables over night until they feel comfortable with their daytime cloth diaper routine. Overnight, you naturally have to consider adding enough absorbency to last 10-12 hours of sleep. Many brands make diapers that are specifically marketed as overnight diapers. You can read all my tips for overnight diapering here, and my favourite combination of inserts for overnight, known as my “Overnight Insert Sandwich,” here. If you have a super soaker like my daughter was for a long time, you may need one of my Top 3 Heavy Wetter solutions.
Leaks are usually a result of incorrect fit or insufficient absorbency. Troubleshoot, troubleshoot, troubleshoot! Here’s my post on the most common causes of leaks.
Take a look at this awesome Troubleshooting Leaks posts from fellow cloth diaper bloggers:
- Cloth Diaper Revival: All About Leaks
- Cloth Diaper Geek: 10 Reasons Your Cloth Diapers Might Be Leaking
- Dirty Diaper Laundry: Troubleshooting Cloth Diaper Leaks
Check out Olivia at This West Coast Mommy’s guide to Cloth Diaper Terms. If you’d like help with the abbreviations in cloth diapering groups on Facebook, check this table and simply ignore the right-hand French translation!
Cloth is portable! Just bring a small wetbag with you to transport the dirties. If you want the diapers to take up less space in your bag, choose an AI2 system where you just need to change the insert.
If you’re worried about toting poop around all day, use disposable liners so you can just toss the poop and go. Personally, on the odd occasion I’m out visiting family or friends and Cub is in a disposable, I really hate leaving a dirty diaper in their garbage. I’m much happier taking home the laundry!
It is very important to avoid certain common ingredients in diaper creams when using cloth diapers. Think about the heavy, greasy ingredients that would be impossible to launder out of your clothes: petrolatum (Vaseline), mineral oil, cod liver oil, paraffin are all ingredients to avoid. Because these ingredients are very commonly found in zinc oxide creams (like Desitin or Zincofax), you’ll often see recommendations against all zinc oxide creams in general. This post explains a bit more on why there are some zinc oxide creams that are okay to use.
There are creams that are 100% cloth safe, meaning you don’t need to put any kind of liner in the diaper, you can just apply the cream and put on the diaper. You’ll notice these creams contain ingredients that are familiar (and often edible!): coconut oil, shea butter, Vitamin E, jojoba oil and essential oils. You can even make your own!