Everything you need to know about how to use cloth diapers – types of diapers, how to wash them, common mistakes, and more!
As soon as you learn the basics, cloth diapering your baby is actually really simple.
✔️ Put diaper on baby.
✔️ Change baby.
✔️ Wash diaper.
✔️ Put away diaper.
But let’s be honest… the concept of how to use cloth diapers is really overwhelming.
You start your research and all of a sudden you’ve got a dozen questions zooming through your mind at lightening speed.
- How do I wash them?
- Where do I put them all?
- How many will I need?
- What kind of diapers do I buy?
…. and so many more.
My goal with this post is to get rid of that overwhelm and lay out everything you need in regards to how to use cloth diapers. I’ve been cloth diapering almost constantly for the past 3 years and am going to be sharing everything I know!
PS: This post probably contains affiliate links. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This means I may be rewarded monetarily or otherwise upon purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you. My full disclosure policy can be found here.
What are Cloth Diapers?
Cloth diapers are exactly what they sound like – a diaper made out of cloth! They are reusable as you need to wash them out after being used so you can use them again and again!
When many of us think about cloth diapers, we might think of a burp rag pinned together with clothespins. While those certainly still exist, we have so many more options now! There’s pocket diapers, all in one, and so many more (I’ll get to this later)!
Benefits of Using Cloth Diapers
If you thought “ew why would anyone want to do that” as you were reading that… you’re not alone. Cloth diapering sounds like something a crazy person would to to many. But actually there are so many benefits to cloth diapers!
In fact, I’ve written an entire post about the cloth diaper benefits (click that link there to open a new window and go read the post!).
I’ll try not to reinvent the wheel, but here’s a rundown of my favorite cloth diaper benefits.
The cost of cloth diapers are truly mind blowing when compared to disposable diapers. Cloth diaper cost is easily one of my favorite benefits of using them.
So what is the cost difference of cloth vs disposable diapers? THOUSANDS. (Yes, really!)
The average family will spend an estimated $1,200 from the age of infancy to potty training per child. Let’s pretend you have 3 kids – that’s about $3,600!!!
Cloth diaper cost however…. is only a few hundred at best. You buy them once and then you can keep using them no matter how many kids you have. Sure, you might get addicted to all the patterns and form an addiction… (not that I know anything about that LOL).
But overall, you just buy your stash, a diaper sprayer, and maybe some wet bags. Maintenance will consist of soap and water cost, that’s about it. You can easily keep the cost around $100 if you shop around fb groups or ebay. If you want them brand new, you can get an entire stash for $200-500. Even on the high end though, that’s a MASSIVE difference.
Another one of my favorite cloth diaper benefits is how eco-friendly they are! A disposable diaper will take HUNDREDS of years to decompose (if they ever do) and are loaded with chemicals and other materials that are harmful to the Earth.
Plus, there are an incredible amount of resources being used in order to produce disposable diapers. We’re talking chopping down trees, using up oil, and other precious resources that are quickly running out.
And should we talk about how much waste is piling up in landfills as a result of the use of disposables? It’s a lot!
Now I understand I’m a weirdo with a crazy latex allergy that even uses cloth pads (YES REALLY LOL!!)… but something about making a baby wear a scratchy disposable diaper for 2-4+ years just sounds awful.
By putting them in cloth, I know their but is nice and comfy! In fact I know it is, because I watched my middle child go from scratching at herself all the time with rashes every other week to never being bothered with it when we switched.
They feel so much better on them!!!
Now don’t forget to check out the full post on cloth diaper benefits for not only a more detailed breakdown of each of these benefits, but also 5 more that I cover in depth!
Types of Cloth Diapers
I’ll be honest and say that there are a lot of types of cloth diapers out there. So many in fact, it can feel very overwhelming when you look into them. (I remember that feeling!)
I’m about to go over what my personal recommendation is, other common choices I’ve seen friends and family choose, and other options I’ve heard floating around that exist.
The diapers I have used over the years and have personal experience with are pocket diapers. More specifically, I use Alva Cloth Diapers.
While I have heard others say not to stick to one brand and to try out other ones, I have never had a problem with them. I am very happy to recommend Alva Baby as an option for pocket diapers.
I bought them used off eBay when I first started and then bought 20 of them along with some wet bags before my youngest babe came. I even got a cute little fox toy when I ordered directly haha!
Pocket diapers have an outer shell that you then “stuff” with inserts or some other material. I find this gives more flexibility and you’re not at the mercy of the diapers. You can choose from a variety of materials (I personally have only used microfiber inserts but heard bamboo inserts are great too as they are more absorbent), double or triple stuff when needed, etc.
Pocket cloth diapers are definitely my diaper of choice at this point. (Granted I haven’t tried anything else, but still hah!)
As I said, pocket diapers are the only ones I have tried but since I was happy with them, I had no reason to try anything else. However, there are other options I have heard family and friends use.
I am going to share those with you as well as why you might want to check them out.
All-in-One (AIO) Diapers: These are another great option as there is nothing to stuff inside. They hold true to the name as you put the diaper on, and wash it. There isn’t much to it and they’re very easy to hand off to a daycare or babysitter. They’re great if you want to minimize the work required but don’t care how much control you have.
Hybrid Diapers: These are very similar to pocket diapers, except the insert sits directly against the baby’s skin and you can choose either cloth or disposable inserts. You may want to try these if you cringe at the thought of sticking your hand inside a wet diaper to pull an insert out but still want some control.
Prefolds: These are pieces of fabric that are extra thick in certain areas where your little one will pee. These are most common to be used for newborns as other options are generally not ideal for babies under 12 pounds.
While those are great options, they are not an extensive list. There are also the other types that I am not as familiar with:
Cloth Diaper Accessories
While cloth diapers are great to figure out, it doesn’t stop there! While all you really need is the diapers, cloth diaper accessories are worth checking out and considering purchasing if your budget allows.
Below, I will be sharing some of my favorite accessories that I feel greatly improved our setup.
Trust me when I say the Spray Pal Diaper Sprayer is an accessory you don’t want to skip out on. I skipped out on this as it seemed “unnecessary” when I first got started but OMG was I wrong!!!
This one is different now than what we have as it is an improved model – but they are amazing. You don’t have to ever touch poop with this and as someone who dunked poop diapers into the toilet and rang them out before running to the washing machine like a crazy person…. that’s an amazing thing.
Grabbing some large hanging wet bags are great for your wash routine set up. While many hang them on their door, I chose to use them as a liner inside of a cheap trash can I got at Walmart for like $5-10. We threw them in there when they were ready to wash and then dumped the entire thing into the washing machine. Easy peasy!
If you do alot of traveling, send your baby to daycare, etc…. these smaller wet bags are great! You’ll want something better than a plastic bag to stick diapers in. I also love that these work great for swimming or any other wet garments you might want to protect from your things.
I personally have not used reusable cloth wipes but I really think I should! My babies have been very sensitive to disposable wipes and they just seem so wasteful! You can see if a friend has an old wipes container and soak them in your own solution, if you want. Then just wash them with your diapers.
There are a variety of detergents you can use, but we landed on and ended up using Tide Free & Gentle. The most important part is to not use a liquid or pod detergent, as some detergents will ruin your diapers over time. In order to not reinvent the wheel, I suggest checking out this list of approved detergents from Fluff Love University.
How to Wash Cloth Diapers
You’ve decided to cloth diaper, you’ve got the goods, now what’s next? Next is to learn how to wash them, of course!
Test Your Water
Before you do anything at all – you need to test your water using these test strips. The wrong wash routine (which is determined by the hardness of your water) can turn into a disaster very quickly.
But why does it matter if your water is hard or soft? Simply put – it will ruin your diapers and irritate your baby’s skin if you’re washing your diapers in untreated hard water. There are extra minerals that need to be broken down. Soft water on the other hand, can create additional suds that make your diapers feel slimy.
So what do you do? First is to test your water with test strips and go from there. While I will try and cover this in more detail later, I don’t want to leave you empty handed. Check out this post on washing in hard water, and this post on washing in soft water.
Choose Your Detergent
Next is to choose the detergent you will use! According to Fluff Love University (my go to for all things cloth diapers!), you can use almost anything as long as it DOES NOT follow this criteria:
- does not contain a sufficient concentration of surfactant to clean poop from cloth diapers when used up to 3x the recommended amount
- uses a formula that is known to cause burns to users
- uses a formula that will cause damage to diapers or impede the function
- has been consistently shown to be ineffective by users
If you want more specific details for the detergent you’re looking to use, check out their full database here.
Determine Your Wash Routine
The next part is to figure out what your wash routine is. This will vary depending on the type of washing machine you own. You can check out this washing machine index for specifics on your specific machine.
As a general rule of thumb, this is the routine you should follow below.
Prewash: Prewash is generally washed on cold with a standard amount of detergent. The intent of this wash is to pull out any poop or urine soaked into the diaper.
Main wash: Next, is the main wash where you use half the amount of detergent on hot. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP!!!! I have been guilty of only doing one wash when in a pinch, but the water difference between the prewash and main wash is pretty gross.
Dry: Lastly, is to dry your diapers. Sunbleaching is the preferred method, but if you can’t… set your dryer to a low heat for about 20 minutes.
REMEMBER!!! Always check the machine index for exact specifics of how to set your specific machine. This information should only be used as a general guideline so you understand the process.
Decide How to Store Them
Once you wash them, how are you going to store them? I’ll be honest and say that I am very all over the place with this. LOL.
My storage setup goes a bit like this:
- Fold the inserts and covers separately and store in the hallway linen closet
- After washing out any poop, throw them in our wet bag lined trash can
- Wash, fold, and then put them back into the closet IF we get that far LOL!!
There are any other ways to store diapers, just follow your own personal preferences.
Common Cloth Diaper Mistakes
Now that we’ve covered the important stuff like important items to purchase, setting up your wash routine, and figuring out how to store them… I thought we should also go over some common mistakes.
These are things I myself struggled with as there wasn’t a lot of information when I started. Hopefully I can save you from the same level of headache I had to deal with LOL.
Not Having Enough Diapers
First and foremost is not buying enough diapers because OH LAWWWWDY did I struggle with this! I wasn’t working from home yet when we first started and our budget was small. I had enough for no lie, 1 single day of diapering. I was washing every flipping day and I can’t even tell you how insane that was.
As a general guideline, you’ll want to try and stock up at least 10-20 diapers (or 2-3 days of diapers). You won’t want to go too long in-between washes so don’t go crazy just because you pile up a lot of diapers.
You will eventually end up with a lot of diapers if you aren’t careful because there are so many cute designs!! Don’t let this be a reason to go a week or more between washes. You still want to wash the dirty ones every few days!
Incorrect Fit on Your Baby
Earlier I mentioned I love cloth diapers because they don’t leak as much or have blowouts. But – this is only true if there is a proper fit. If they aren’t fitted correctly, they will definitely leak like disposables.
To check for a proper fit, lay your baby on their back and lift their legs up in the air. Check the diaper around the legs – does it fit nice and snug? You want the legs and waist to fit tightly to prevent leaks. Even if it leaves a little red mark, that’s okay! Our socks will leave marks even when they aren’t suffocating us, and the same is true for cloth diapers.
Not Stripping Used Diapers
If you purchase your diapers used, you’ll want to make sure you strip them because you never know if the person before you washed them in untreated water. You want to play it on the safe side!
In order to strip your diapers, make sure they are 100% clean and then fill your loader, bathtub, or other container half full with hot water as hot as you can get it! Then, add in your mineral removal solution and let it dissolve.
As an alternative, you can strip your diapers with your standard vinegar. You’ll do the same as above, except add 1/4-1/2 cup of vinegar instead of the solution. You may need to do this a couple times, followed by some rinse cycles. Keep running it through rinse cycles until you rid of the vinegar smell.
Not Testing Your Water
As I mentioned before, it is very important to test your water! Not testing your water means you might be washing diapers in untreated hard water and not even know it.
Hard water just means there is a higher concentration of different minerals in your water. For your standard laundry, it will be unnoticable in most cases. With cloth diapers, however, the detergent will struggle to do its job in pulling the filth out of your diapers and washing it away vs being absorbed back into the diapers. Additionally, it will shorten the lifespan of your diapers.
If you have hard water, you’ll need to use some kind of treatment to soften the water. This is why it’s important to know what water you have! You can grab these water test strips to find out what you have.
Forgetting About Newborn Sizes
As I’m typing this, I’m thinking WELL DUHHHH!! but when I had my littest babe (the only one who was going to be clothed his entire baby life)… I forgot to account for newborn. The Alva cloth diapers didn’t work until he was almost 2 months old as we couldn’t get the tight enough on his little legs. #momfail
You will definitely want to consider other newborn cloth diaper options, especially if you plan to have more kids. We ended up buying disposables and felt like we were throwing money in the toilet! I definitely regret not buying diapers made specifically for newborns.
Other Options to Consider
Cloth diapering sounds great, but what if it just doesn’t sound like it could work for you? That’s okay!! It’s not for everyone. You might not have access to a good washing machine, you might have some limits due to disability, or maybe you are just too freaking busy to worry about dealing with it.
There are other options! Let me go through some alternatives.
Cloth Only Part-Time
First is you could cloth part time. Maybe you can cloth while you’re home, just on the weekends, or some other arrangement you’re happy with. It’s not as extensive, but you’re still doing your part to limit what you put out into the world in terms of waste.
Use Non-Toxic Disposables
Another option if you want to avoid cloth diapers completely, is to use non-toxic disposable diapers. Look for diapers that use organic materials and are able to decomposable in a reasonable amount of time.
Final Thoughts on How to Use Cloth Diapers
WHEW! I know that was a lot of information to take in. If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to reach out and I will do my best to help you in your cloth diapering journey.
When you first get started, you’ll want to choose what diapers and accessories you’ll need. My personal recommendation is Alva Cloth Diapers and the Spray Pal Diaper Sprayer – these are a must in my opinion.
From there, you’ll want to figure out a good wash routine and how to store your diapers. Make sure you understand to prewash, do a main wash, and dry them appropriately with an approved detergent.
After that, it’s just a matter of making sure you get the right fit, have enough diapers, and are washing them correctly. Cloth diapering doesn’t need to be difficult.
If you find it to be difficult for you, you do have alternative options such as cloth diapering part time or opting for a non-toxic disposable diaper option such as Bamboo Nature or Honest Diapers instead.
Have you used cloth diapers before? What tips do you have for new mamas learning how to use cloth diapers?
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