Cloth Diapering 101: Everything You Need To Know To Get Started

Cloth Diapers Basics

My husband and I didn’t really think through how to use cloth diapers when we started them with our first daughter.

We were interested, but not fully invested.

Someone gave us three bumGenius pocket diapers and we loved them so we decided to buy more.

While we were using just this type of diaper, the crazy, big world of modern cloth diapering slowly opened up to us and we gradually learned more and more about it.

We started small and we didn’t know much, but we ended up cloth diapering all three of our babies full time.

So, if you’re just starting out and you don’t have a clue, it’s okay.

Sometimes, it’s best to figure out the details yourself.

However, if you are a type A person who wants to know all the information first, or if you just have questions, I will try to address all the major cloth diapering issues people generally have here.

Choosing Cloth Over Disposable

First of all, why would one use cloth diapers?

There are so many reasons, and I’ll mention a few of the more common ones here.

To Save Money

Lot's Of Money

We first chose to use cloth diapers for the savings.

If you change your baby an average of eight times a day for two years, that is 6,000 diapers total.

You can either use the same 24 cloth diapers repeatedly, or buy 6,000 disposable diapers.

If we just look at the cost of diapers here, that comes out to $450 for one year and $900 for two years if you use Walmart’s Parent’s Choice brand.

It will run you $750 for the first year and $1,500 for two years if you go with the more expensive Pampers.

On the other hand, if you purchase four reusable diaper covers at $15 each (the average price), 24 small prefolds, 24 medium prefolds,12 large prefolds, and two Snappies, that will cost you $355 for one year and $355 for two years.

If you purchase 24 bumGenius one size fits all pocket diapers, that will be $480 for one year and $480 for two years.

This is assuming you didn’t shop sales.

Also, we aren’t taking into account the amount of money spent on a garbage service and gas for grocery store runs, or on the extra water and electricity used for washing and drying.

There are a lot of different factors to take into account when you compare how much money you will save using cloth versus disposables.

The savings might not be that big for the first child. However, those cloth diapers usually last through two or three babies which is when you really start saving lots of money.

A Gentler Option

Gentler Option

There are lots of chemicals that go into making a disposable diaper such as chlorine which is carcinogenic and highly toxic; sodium polyacrylate, which is extremely absorbent and can rob a baby’s skin of its natural moisture (this was taken out of tampons for its link to toxic shock syndrome); and tributyl-tin which has been found toxic to aquatic life and has been linked to obesity.

In addition, it has been found that the temperature inside a disposable diaper will raise the scrotal temperature in boys to a level that is harmful to their future fertility.

Personally, I don’t want to expose my kids to these chemicals and their harmful side effects during a very important developmental part of their lives.

Many parents seem to find that when their children are in cloth diapers, there are less instances of diaper rash, and looking at those chemicals, I can see why.

Better For The Environment

Six thousand diapers in the landfill or twenty four? Which one is better for the earth?

I realize that both cloth and disposable diapers also take a toll on the environment in their production, but rather than delve into that, I think it’s safe to say that the difference between production and disposal of twenty four diapers and the production and disposal of 6,000 diapers is huge.

Types of Cloth Diapers

Cloth Diaper Types

There used to be only one or two options when it came to diapering your baby: flat diapers or prefold diapers.

Then disposable diapers came into the scene and they cut the options down to one, pushing cloth diapers out of the picture almost completely.

When the modern cloth diaper movement came into the picture, it gave parents options again.

However, those options are not just limited to disposable or reusable diapers.

When you delve into the cloth diapering world, you delve into tons of different reusable choices as well!

Hybrid Diapers

Flip Hybrid

Hybrid diapers, such as Gdiapers, Grovía OS, or the Flip system are diapers which have a reusable outer shell and both a reusable and disposable option for the absorbent inserts.

Both types of inserts slide into the diaper at each change while the shell is used for multiple diaper changes.

When you’re on the road, you can go with the disposable option.

When you’re at home, you can opt for the cloth inserts.

The price of hybrid diapers is on the high end if you choose the disposable option, and the medium to low end when you use the reusable option.

Prefold And Flat Diapers

Prefolds And Flats

These are your grandmother’s diapers. They are diapers that must be folded around a baby, and closed with a fastener such as a Snappi, diaper pins, or Boingos.

A flat diaper is a large piece of cloth, usually 27”x27” squared, and it is a single layer of fabric.

There are a variety of different folds used to wrap this around baby to customize fit and absorbency.

Some popular folds are the origami fold, the kite fold, the diaper bag fold, the pad fold, and my favorite, the airplane fold.

A prefold diaper is a flat diaper that has been folded in half once, and then into thirds and sewn – it’s a pre-folded flat diaper.

It has four to eight layers of fabric. It also needs to be folded around your baby, but the folds are less intricate.

Some popular prefold folds are the angel fold, the twist, and the pad fold.

Prefold and flat diapers require a cover to be waterproof. Prefolds and flat diapers are the least expensive cloth diapers to buy.

Diaper Covers

Diaper Cover

Diaper covers are the waterproof (or water resistant) outer layer added to a cloth diaper that is not waterproof on it’s own such as a prefold diaper, a flat diaper, or a fitted diaper.

You can purchase a more traditional diaper cover made of PUL (a laminated fabric) or you can go with a less conventional and more breathable cover made of wool or fleece.

All of them can go multiple diaper changes before being washed unless soiled with poop.

PUL diapers can be used for 6-8 changes, or about a day before they get washed.

Believe it or not, wool diaper covers can go about two weeks without being washed, due to the nature of wool and lanolin, and then they must be hand washed and laid flat to dry.

The price of different diaper covers varies greatly.

Pocket Diapers

Pocket Diaper

Pocket diapers fasten like disposable diapers with elastics at the legs and waist.

The outer layer is a laminated, waterproof fabric, and the layer that touches your baby’s skin can be a variety of different fabrics such as microsuede, microfleece, or bamboo.

An insert made of microfiber, cotton, hemp, or bamboo slides into the pocket, envelope, or sleeve of the diaper.

The pocket feature allows for adjustability with extra inserts and doublers.

This diaper is used one time between washes. The price of pocket diapers varies, but is usually in the mid to high range.

All In One (AIO) Diapers

AIO Diaper

These diapers fasten and fit like pocket diapers with elastics around the legs and waist and snap or velcro fasteners over the belly.

The difference between an AIO and a pocket diaper is that the absorbency is sewn or snapped into the diaper.

The diaper is used one time between washes.

This is the easiest diaper to use at diaper changes as it is ready to go straight from the laundry without any folding or stuffing.

They are, however, a bit fussier to wash than any of their counterparts and they are generally the most expensive.

All In Two (AI2) Diapers

Grovia AI2

All in two diapers are a two piece system that is somewhere in between a fitted with a cover and a pocket diaper.

They come with removable inserts that either lay or snap into the diaper.

The cover can be used for multiple diaper changes before being washed unless soiled with poop.

Best Bottoms, Grovia OS, and Flip diapers are good examples of the AI2 system.

Grovia and Flip AI2s can also be used as hybrid systems if you opt for the disposable inserts.

Most of the covers/shells in AI2 systems can double as diaper covers with your fitteds, prefolds, and flats as well.

These diaper systems are generally less expensive than pocket diapers, but more expensive than prefold and flat diapers.

Fitted Diapers

Fitted Cover

Fitted diapers fasten to your baby the same as an AIO, AI2, or pocket.

They are basically an AIO or a pocket diaper that lacks a waterproof layer.

They have elastics around the legs and the waist, and fasten in the front with snaps or velcro.

Occasionally, they are fasted with pins.

They are very absorbent and are often used for nighttime diapering.

They require a diaper cover to be waterproof and are on the mid to high level of the cloth diaper price scale.

One Size Diapers

One Size Diaper

One Size or OS is simply short for a diaper that is “one size fits most.”

These diapers usually fit babies from around eight to forty pounds depending on the brand.

The diaper adjusts size either with rise snaps at the tummy or with adjustable elastics in the legs and waist.

They also have a generous amount of snaps or velcro at the front.

Most diapers come as OS diapers these days.

It’s hard to still be able to find sized diapers with systems other than prefolds and fitteds.

I’ve used all of the above diapers except for hybrids and I’ve found that each system has it’s appropriate uses.

Pocket and AIO diapers are great for people who aren’t accustomed to using cloth diapers on a regular basis.

I always save my easiest pockets and AIOs for babysitters and daycare.

Flat diapers and prefold diapers are a wonderful inexpensive and all natural diapering option.

Fitted diapers are popular for their night time absorbency.

Over the years, my husband and I have found ourselves with a full stash of each of these types and at different times in our lives we stick with one over the other based on what our schedule and needs are at the time.

Cloth Diapering Accessories

As I learned the hard way, you aren’t done with your cloth diaper stash until you have a few extra accessories.

There are lots of accessories available, but you don’t necessarily need them all.

Dirty Diapers StorageDirty Diaper Storage

The only cloth diapering accessory you must have no matter the system you choose, is a couple of wet bags for dirty diaper storage, and possibly a diaper pail.

Wet bags come in all sorts of varieties.

There are large wet bags for dirty diaper storage at home, and medium and small wet bags for your dirty diaper storage in your diaper bag.

There are also hanging wet bags that replace a diaper pail completely, and cloth pail liners that go inside a diaper pail.

Diaper Fasteners

If you use prefolds and/or flat diapers, you’ll need fasteners to close the diapers.

There are three types of fasteners.

The most popular is the Snappi, which is a rubbery T shaped device with teeth on all three ends.

You can also use Boingos which also use teeth to fasten diapers, but each one only has two sets of teeth and you need two of them to fasten a diaper.

Believe it or not, my favorite is often just the old fashioned diaper pins, which are thankfully still available in these modern cloth diapering times.


An accessory that my husband and I feel is a must have in our house is a diaper sprayer.

Diaper Sprayer

You can get them at any cloth diapering retailer and you can also rig one up yourself with materials purchased at your local home improvement store.

Diaper sprayers are used for removing solid waste and putting it into the toilet.

Some people purchase the Spray Pal to go with their diaper sprayers. This protects your face, your toilet, and your walls from any stray droplets of poopy water that splashes as you spray your diapers.

You can also purchase special laundry detergent such as Rockin’ Green or Eco Sprout to clean your diapers.

Purchasing a special detergent ensures that you won’t accidentally put unnecessary additives into your cloth diaper wash.

However, as long as your laundry detergents are fragrance and fabric softener free, you can use your regular detergent for your wash.

I personally love Tide Original, and I started using it after many of my friends who also cloth diaper recommended it.

It cleans my diapers better than Ecos or Rockin’ Green, and using it means that I only have to have one type of detergent on hand.

Cloth Wipes

Grovia Cloth WipesOnce I started using cloth diapers, it only made sense to use cloth wipes as well.

You can purchase cloth wipes at your favorite cloth diaper retailer, or use things you already have such as baby washcloths.

You can easily make your own (even if you aren’t crafty and can’t sew) out of flannel squares or even cut up old t shirts, which is what I like using.


A diaper doubler is an extra insert that you can add to your pockets, AIOs, fitteds, and even prefolds and flats to up your absorbency level.

They’re often thinner than regular pocket diaper inserts and come in as many different fibers.

Diaper Creams

The ingredients in most diaper creams are harmful for cloth diapers.

Petroleum and zinc oxide in particular not only cause build up on cloth diapers, but they also cause them to lose absorbency and actually repel moisture.

Your baby may not need a diaper cream at all because cloth diapers are so gentle on their bums.

However, if you do find yourself combatting diaper rash, try breast milk, coconut oil, or one of the many cloth diaper safe creams and balms that your cloth diaper retailer offers.

I generally use breast milk or coconut oil, but I have also used the Grovia Magic Stick.

Washing Cloth Diapers

Laundry And Washing

The trick to getting your cloth diapers clean is a proper washing routine.

Basically, you need to keep away from regular diaper creams and any fabric softeners, as they will cause build up and eventually lead to diapers that stink even when clean.

Besides this the main key to washing cloth diapers is using lots of water.

A large amount of water ensures that all the urine and feces are thoroughly rinsed from the absorbent layers of the diapers – especially the microfiber inserts.

If you have an HE washing machine, you will definitely need to add a couple of rinses or soaks before and possibly after your wash.

If you have a normal top loading machine, you may not need any extra rinses, as the ratio of water to diapers is really good with those water guzzling machines.

Most diapers have washing instructions on their website, in their packaging, and on their tags.


If you are unable to obtain that information, a good place to start for washing your cloth diapers is this: cold rinse, wash with 1/2 the amount of detergent used on your regular wash, followed by a hot rinse, and then tweak the routine as necessary to suit your needs.

Any parts of the diapers that have PUL or elastics should be dried on a drying rack, and occasionally line dried outside (too much line drying can deteriorate PUL and elastics due to the amazing bleaching power of the sun and the elements).

You shouldn’t use bleach on PUL and elastics if you can help it.

A couple of bleaches in the life cycle of a diaper probably won’t hurt it, though it may invalidate the diaper’s warranty.

The inserts, prefolds, and flat diapers can be machine dried and can also be bleached when necessary.

Diapers should be washed every two to three days in order to keep them fresh.

You don’t want fabric that is soiled with urine and feces to sit and fester for longer than that or it can cause damage to the diapers.

Also, the smaller your load of dirty diapers, the more thoroughly they will be washed.

If you find that your diapers are getting stinky, bleaching the inserts, sunning the diapers, and stripping them with a couple of hot washes without detergent will help remove the stink.

Making sure you have a good washing routine to begin with will also really help keep them smelling fresh.

How Many Diapers Do You Need?

How Many

How many diapers you need depends on how old your baby is.

A newborn can go through up to fifteen diapers a day, whereas a toddler might only use six to eight diapers.

For young babies in their first year, twenty four to thirty six diapers are recommended in a full time stash.

Older babies need at least twelve diapers in their stash.

Keep in mind that the more diapers you have, the less each diaper will be used and the longer it will last.

Also, if your stash is made up of AIOs or fitteds, you will need more time to allow them to dry between uses, so you’ll probably need a larger stash.

Prefolds and flat diapers, however, are easily washed and dried in a couple hours so you can get away with a smaller stash if that’s your diaper of choice.

Which Diapers Are The Best?

Matter Of Opinion

Which brands are the best is really a matter of opinion.

I have my own personal preferences, but though I’ve used many different brands, I haven’t used them all, and many moms disagree with me and with each other.

If you really want to find what will work best for you, I recommend talking with some people you know who use cloth diapers and ask which diapers work for them and simply trying a couple of diapers for yourself.

When it is time to make a purchase, don’t buy a full stash of one type of diaper.

Buy one or two of a couple of different kinds.

Try them on your baby for a little while and see what works for you.

You can also take advantage of the trial periods that many cloth diaper retailers offer.

Nicki’s Diapers, for instance, has a 15 day trial period.

After getting frustrated with the majority of diapers that she had in her stash, a friend of mine bought only one of a whole bunch of different diapers, used them for thirty days, returned the diapers that didn’t work for her babies, and stocked up on those that she liked.

Now, she swears by Smartbottoms diapers for her babies.

I, on the other hand, prefer the performance the more inexpensive Imagine Bamboo AIO, which she hated.

After six years of using cloth diapers, some of my favorite brands both for function and long-term durability are Smartipants OS pocket diapers; bumGenius’s Flip covers, Freetime AIOs, and pocket diapers; Grovia’s line of diapers; Happy Heiny OS pocket diapers; Imagine brand diapers; Thirsties diaper covers; and Diaper Rite diapers.

Budget Friendly Diapers

Cloth Savings

The cloth diaper price tag can be a lot to swallow when you’re first looking into reusable diapers for your baby.

However, as I mentioned before, even the more expensive diapers are comparable to two or three years paying for paper diapers.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to accept those price tags.

There are a lot of ways you can get around retail, despite the fact that many brands, such as bumGenius, only have authorized sales.

You can find cloth diapers on the cheap by stalking retailers for sales, and by having a group of friends or an internet forum that will keep you in the loop on special sales you may miss.

You can buy used diapers and purchase from seconds sales.

Many stores offer points that will earn you store credit that can be used towards free diapers and accessories.

As long as your baby shower guests know you are serious about receiving cloth diapers, putting them on your baby registry can give you a good head start towards having a full stash.

If you’re good at photography, some places have photo contests which can earn you more diapers.

If you are a half decent seamstress, making your own diapers might just be the best way for you to cloth diaper inexpensively.

If you have never looked into cloth diapering before, this is probably a lot of information to digest.

You will most likely be picking a couple of brands and one or two systems of cloth diapers and starting there.

Once you get used to the routine of using cloth diapers within the rhythm of your family’s schedule, it won’t seem so daunting to try something new if you feel so inclined.

So, take your time, don’t rush into things, and you can start cloth slowly or all at once when you feel ready.

Like everything, there is a learning curve to this lifestyle but once you get used to things, you may not only find that cloth diapering isn’t that hard, you may also find that you like it!

Add Comment