The Ultimate Guide on How to Use Cloth Diapers

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prepare some baby cloth diapers on the desk for using

Do you want to lower your carbon footprint, or are you looking for ways to reduce diaper rashes? Cloth diapers are the answer to both of those questions. Modern cloth diapers aren’t like your grandma’s cloth diapers, and learning how to use cloth diapers is a breeze.

I’ve used cloth diapers for all of my children, and it’s been the best choice for my family. Reusable diapers are cost-effective and eco-friendly, a great combination when raising a modern family.

Many people are interested in learning how to use cloth diapers, but they assume it’s just like the old style of diapers. Most are surprised to see stylish diapers with snaps or Velcro in adorable prints.

Now, after around nine years of cloth diaper use, I’m going to share my knowledge with you. Best of all, no rubber pants are required.

So, why would you want to use cloth diapers? We need to look at the benefits to help you decide if baby cloth diapers are the right choice for your family.

1. You Save Tons of Money

Babies cost money – lots of money. We all know that, and saving money is essential for most parents. I would rather have money to do fun things with my kids rather than spending it on diapers.

Babies also use a lot of disposable diapers; you typically use 8-10 diapers per day. That’s around 2,920 diapers in a year!

The cost of disposable diapers vary greatly, depending on the brand, quantity, and if you use coupons. However, you can assume that disposable diapers will cost you around $600 for the first year. In general, expect to spend approximately $50 per month for disposable diapers.

Statistics say that parents spend around $1,400 for each child on disposable diapers.

An average stash of cloth diapers costs between $200 and $600, depending on the type of diapers that you purchase. The average cost of a cloth diaper is between $8 and $20. That’s quite a savings, but don’t forget that you can use these diapers for a second child.

The biggest savings will come in the second year. You’ll have a diaper stash ready to go, so that second year of diapering won’t cost any money, and, since most toddlers aren’t potty trained until three years old, you’ll use these diapers for a solid three years in most cases.

2. You Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Disposable diapers are full of chemicals, and even “eco-friendly” diapers contain polymer crystals that absorb your child’s urine. The absorbency is why many parents select disposable diapers in the first place, but is it worth putting all of those chemicals next to your baby’s skin?

Cloth diapers use fewer resources when compared to disposables. So, if you’re interested in reducing the environmental strain on the planet, cloth diapers are the best choice.


Disposable need 60 times the amount of solid waste than cloth diapers, and they use 20 times the amount of raw materials. Babies who use disposable diapers use around 300 pounds of wood, 20 pounds of chlorine, and 50 pounds of petroleum.

WOW! It’s no wonder that switching to cloth diapers makes a difference for the environment.

3. You Reduce Landfill Waste

Parents send around 27 billion disposable diapers to the landfills each year. Landfills house way too much garbage, and all of the bacteria in the trash produces methane gas, which is a potent greenhouse gas.

Many experts blame global warming on methane gas, and landfills are the third largest producer of methane gasses released into the air.

Disposable diapers take around 500 years to decompose fully. That means all of the proto-type disposable diapers that were developed before released to the public are still rotting in a landfill somewhere.

Your disposable diapers from your infanthood are still decomposing in a landfill somewhere.

Talk about gross!

4. Makes Potty Training Easier

As your child gets older and nears the age of potty training, cloth nappies come in handy. Toddlers can feel wetness. Regular disposable diapers and training pants pull the moisture away from your child’s skin.

Since cloth diapers don’t contain polymers to absorb the urine, your child will feel the wetness on his skin. For many toddlers who are learning to use the toilet, they quickly discover that they prefer to feel dry, not wet.

5. Babies Have Fewer Diaper Rashes

One of the reasons why I switched to cloth diapers was that my first child struggled with diaper rashes. Every disposable diaper we tried seemed to give her rashes, and that was distressing for both of us.

Rashes are caused by several reasons, such as:

  • Sensitive skin
  • A reaction to chemicals in the diapers.
  • Yeast infections
  • Food allergies or sensitivities.
  • Not changing frequently
  • Moisture on their skin.

Rashes have increased dramatically since the 1950s when disposable diapers were introduced to the public. No studies have proven why cloth diapers reduce rashes so well, but here are a few theories.

  • The natural fibers are softer.
  • Parents change the diapers more frequently.
  • They don’t contain as many chemicals.
  • Cloth diapers are more breathable.

6 Different Types of Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapers have grown in popularity, and traditional cloth nappies still exist, but significant updates have been made to make cloth diapering easier than ever.

Nowadays, you can select from an array of cloth diaper types. I’ve tried all of the types of cloth diapers because I wanted to see what worked best for my family. What works for my family might not work for your family. I recommend giving them all a try unless you’re opposed to one type of another.

1. Pocket Diapers

Pocket diapers were the first type of diaper that I tried. They get their name because there is a pocket sewn into them were you stuff an absorbent insert. Then, you’re good to go!

The outside layer of pocket diapers is made of a PUL waterproof fabric. Then, the inner layer is either a layer of cotton or microfiber.

Pocket diapers come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Some have snaps that hold them closed while others use Velcro closures. Either way, changing a pocket diaper is just as easy as changing a disposable diaper.

The one downside to pocket diapers is that you have to take the time to stuff them all. That can be annoying. Also, if the insert bunches up, you might have leaking problems. However, they’re more budget-friendly than all-in-ones.

2. All-in-Ones

Nowadays, all-in-one cloth diapers are the type that I use the most. They’re the most similar to disposable diapers. All-in-one diapers are precisely what their name suggests – all together in one, single diaper.

On the outside of the diaper, you’ll find a PUL waterproof layer that comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Inside, you’ll find multiple layers of cotton sewn into the diaper. Each brand has its design to make drying easier. All-in-one diapers close with either snaps or Velcro.

3. All-in-Twos

All-in-two diapers are close to pockets, but the insert snaps or lays inside of the waterproof cover rather than being stuffed into a pocket. Also, unlike pocket diapers, the outer covers of all-in-twos can be used over and over again, just like you would reuse a cover with a flat and prefold diaper.

Some AI2 diapers come with a disposable insert option. Those are called hybrid diapers, and they’re appealing for parents who don’t want to give up disposable diapers entirely. Disposable inserts are great for when you’re out and about or on vacation.

4. Covers

Covers are what replaced the old rubber pants that your grandparents wore. Modern-day covers are adorable and shaped, just like a disposable diaper. They are used over the top of prefolds, flats, or fitted diapers.

5. Prefolds & Flats

Flats and prefolds are the oldest and most traditional type of cloth diapers. Flats are basically a large piece of cloth that you fold up to use as a diaper.

There are many benefits to flat diapers. They’re the cheapest option, so they’re extremely budget friendly. In fact, some people use flour sack towels that you can purchase at Wal-Mart as flat diapers. They work great.

The other benefits to flats include:

  • They last for years. Flats can be used from birth to potty training and likely through all of your kids. Then, you can use them for dust rags - seriously.
  • You can adjust the absorbency by doubling. If your baby is a heavier wetter, fold two flats together.
  • Flats are easy to wash and dry. They dry in a flash outside on a line, and you can even hand wash in a pinch.

Prefold diapers are similar to flat diapers, but they’re pre-folded. That’s why they’re called prefold diapers. These diapers are like multiple layers of flats put together in a small, thicker square. The process of folding these diapers is much easier. Some parents just folded them in thirds and lay them inside of covers.

Just like flats, prefolds are an affordable option, and they last for years. I still have some of the first prefolds I purchased years ago.

6. Fitteds

Fitted diapers are possibly the least favorite choice, but we have to include them to be thorough. Fitted diapers look like an all-in-one diaper, but they don’t have a waterproof exterior. That means you still need to put a cover over the top of them to stop your baby from leaking everywhere.

Why would parents use fitted diapers? They’re very popular as a nighttime cloth diaper because of the many layers of fabric used. Fitted diapers are very absorbent and capable of lasting all night. You might want to consider adding three to four fitted diapers to your stash just as a nighttime diaper.

How Many Cloth Diapers Are Needed?

Unlike disposable diapers, you need to have a stash of cloth diapers upfront, and that means the cost comes first. So, how many diapers do you really need?

You want to have 8-10 diapers available for a single day, so most parents recommend having a stash of at least 24 cloth diapers. If you’re using cloth diapers with a newborn baby, you’ll want to have around 36 cloth diapers; newborn cloth diapers need to be changed more frequently.

Cloth Diaper Accessories to Buy

You picked out all of your cloth diapers, but what about cloth diaper accessories?

I’ll be the first to tell you that you don’t need tons of accessories. Some accessories are part of the equation when it comes to cloth diapering, but you don’t have to purchase all of them. Here are a few accessories you might need or want to consider purchasing.

1. Diaper Pail or Large Wet Bag

First, you do need someplace that you can store the dirty diapers. While a trash can works, most parents use a diaper pail or a large, hanging wet bag. I consider this a necessary accessory!

2. Smaller Wet Bags

Do you want to be able to go out and cloth diaper? If so, a wet bag or two is needed. They’re a bag that has a waterproof lining. So, you can put dirty diapers into the wet bag without getting the other items in your diaper bag dirty.

3. Cloth Wipes

Some people opt not to use cloth wipes, so this is a want, not a need. It makes sense to use cloth wipes if you’re going to use cloth diapers. They make more sense when paired with cloth diapers; you can just toss everything into the diaper pail.

4. Diaper Fasteners

If you decide to use flats or prefolds, you will want a few diaper fasteners. Instead of using pins like grandma, we now use diaper fasteners. They have little teeth that grab onto the fabric and hold everything in place.

5. Diaper Sprayer

When your baby starts to eat solids, you’ll notice a change in his poop. Exclusive breastfeeding poop (EBF) is water soluble and doesn’t need to be sprayed off of the diapers, but formula-feeding and solid-food poop does.

A diaper sprayer attaches to the back of your toilet, and you can use toilet water to spray off poop.

How to Wash Cloth Diapers?

As soon as you mention cloth diapering, people immediately ask about washing them. Washing cloth diapers seem to be so intimidating, but it’s one of the easiest processes.

When you wash cloth diapers, you want to make sure that you first start with a prewash. There is no use in adding soap to the washer if your diapers are full of urine and feces. A prewash gets all of that out of your diapers first.

Next up, you want a hot and heavy wash on hot water. At this point, you add the laundry detergent of your choice. I also end with a second rinse to be sure all of the soap crystals are out of the diaper. Leftover soap crystals that mix with urine can cause strange scents!

My cloth diaper wash routine looks like this:

1 A prewash with hot water
2 A hot, heavy wash with laundry detergent
3 An additional rinse cycle
4 Dryer or line drying

What is the Best Detergent for Cloth Diapers?

You don’t need a cloth diaper specific detergent, although many parents prefer to use a soap created for cloth diapers. Instead, make sure you that you use a detergent that is safe for cloth diapers.

Some of the detergents marketed for the use of cloth diapers are weak and don’t do a great job at cleaning them. I had problems with several cloth diaper detergents, but it’s individual. Make sure you try them!

Here are some laundry detergent for cloth diapers.

  • Seventh Generation Ultra
  • Tide Powder Detergent
  • Rockin Green Natural
  • Tide Free & Gentle
  • Charlie’s Soap Powder

Should You Buy New or Used Cloth Diapers?

Just like anything else, you can purchase used cloth diapers. Buying used cloth diapers saves you a lot of money, and it’s perfectly safe. If you would reuse cloth diapers with your other children, then it’s safe to purchase used cloth diapers. 

Before you put them on your child, it’s best to wash them thoroughly. That family might have used a laundry detergent that could cause a reaction. It’s best to wash first.

Purchasing new cloth diapers is the safest choice, but it also won’t save you any money. There are dozens of cloth diaper stores that you can shop online or in person!

How Do You Store Cloth Diapers?

Storing cloth diapers doesn’t have to be complicated. You can use an empty drawer in a dresser or grab some cloth bins and store the diapers on a shelf inside of the containers. Some parents line a shelf with the diapers.

How you want to store your cloth diapers is up to you! You can be as creative as you want. Just make sure that they are stored in a dry place that has consistent temperature range. Too much fluctuation in temperature can cause problems with the elastic.

Don’t Use Diaper Cream for Cloth Diapers

Not all diaper creams are created equal. You shouldn’t use a diaper cream that contains any petroleum because it can cause buildup on your diapers, which cause them to repel. That means the urine would bead up on the diaper instead of soaking in, causing leaks. No one wants to deal with leaking diapers!

To avoid any damage done to your diapers, use a diaper cream that’s made for cloth diapers. A few choices are:

  • Balm Baby Diaper Balm
  • CJ’s Butter
  • Eco Sprout Bottom Balm
  • GroVia Magic Stick
  • Grandma El’s Diaper Rash Remedy

Can You Use Cloth Diapers in Daycare?

Are you wondering if daycares will hold you back from using cloth diapers? The answer can be a bit complex. It depends entirely on the daycare that you select. Some have rules that prohibit cloth diapers, while others are very open to the idea.

As more and more parents switch to cloth diapers, daycares are starting to become more accommodating. Be sure to ask about them when you search for the right daycare for your child. If they don’t use cloth diapers, ask if they would be willing to learn and give it a try.

Cloth Diapers Are Worth a Try

I started my cloth diaper adventure, knowing that I could stop using them if they didn’t work out for us. It doesn’t have to be permanent; you can stop at any time as well. In the end, I’m glad that I decided to give them a try because I still use cloth diapers years later.

If you’re curious, dive right in! Cloth diapers are worth a try; they’ll save you money and the environment.


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