Cloth Diapering Basics

When you first investigate cloth diapering it can feel a little overwhelming. There is a lot of information out there, but really, there are just a few things you have to know to get started.

Start with the basic information about using cloth baby diapers on this page, and pick up other bits of information as you need it.

1. Will you wash your diapers yourself or will you use a diaper service?

  • The answer to this question depends on why you are using cloth diapers and what you have available in your community.
  • Not all communities, especially small towns, are serviced by a diaper service company. If you don't have a diaper service in your area, you may try calling the closest company and asking if they would be willing to come out your way. If they are not able to, you won't have the option of using a diaper service.
  • If you are using cloth to save money, laundering them yourself is far less expensive than using a diaper service.
  • Diaper services are extremely convenient. I have used one in the past myself, and it was very nice to toss soiled diapers into the pail knowing I was not responsible for cleaning them and to have fresh, clean diapers just show up on my doorstep every week. This convenience is particularly nice in the first few sleep deprived months when a newborn joins your family.
  • You will not have to make any decisions about what type of diapers to use if you use a diaper service; you'll just use whatever the service provides. This can be positive in that you don't have to invest any time learning about the pros and cons of different types of diapers. It can also be a negative because most diaper services only offer prefolds to their customers, which is fine if you want to use prefolds, but not great if you want to use other, simpler diaper styles.
  • If you decide to use a diaper service, read through the section on diaper services, and you can skip points 2-4 on this page.

2. What type of diapers do you want to start out using?

  • If you decide to launder your own diapers, your next step is to decide which type of diapers you want to start out using.
  • If you are using cloth on a tight budget, you may want to start out with prefolds. On the other hand, if you're okay with paying a little more for convenience, you may want to try all in one diapers. This page about types of diapers outlines different types of diapers and links from that page will give you more details about the strengths and weaknesses of each cloth diapering system, popular brands and approximate prices.
  • Keep in mind, you don't have to stick with just one type of cloth diaper. For example, you may use prefolds when you're around the house and have a few all in ones on hand for when you're out and about.

3. Once you've chosen a style, what brand do use want to use?

  • Just like you don't have to stick with a single type of cloth diaper, you also don't have to stick with a single brand. You will be able to mix and match to some extent.
  • When choosing a brand consider what is available in your area (you'll have far more options if you're open to buying diapers online).
  • Also take into account the fabrics used in each brand. Each type of diaper fabric has its own pros and cons. For example, you may want to go with bamboo or hemp if your baby is a heavy wetter, or organic cotton or organic wool if you want to avoid fabrics from crops grown with pesticides.

4. How many diapers do you need to buy?

  • If you are washing your own diapers, you'll ideally wash a load every couple of days, so you won't need as many diapers as you might think. Also, if you are using cloth diapers that feature a diaper cover that can be separated from the absorbent layer (for example, prefolds, pocket diapers, fitted diapers), you will not need as many diaper covers (diaper covers can be reused through a few changes as long as they're clean).
  • The number of diapers you'll need depends on the age of your baby, and whether he or she is a heavy wetter. There isn't one magic number that's right for everyone, but here are a few guidelines:
    • Age 0-6 months - enough soakers for 10-12 diaper changes per day
    • Age 6-12 months - enough soakers for 8-10 diaper changes per day
    • Age 12-24 months - enough soakers for 6-8 diaper changes per day
    • Potty learning toddlers - enough soakers for 3-5 changes per day
    You'll also need approximately 4 diaper covers for every soaker.
  • Don't run out and completely stock up on every extra going if this is your first time using cloth diapers. There are some extras, like Snappis and doublers, that are indispensable to some parents and other parents never use them. My suggestion would be to get the basics you need to get by, see how things go and then decide what extras you need.
  • Also, as much as possible, don't completely fill out your stash all at once. I understand you need to be prepared, but try to give yourself a little freedom to experiment with different types of diapers and diaper covers. Different styles work for different families, and if you completely stock up on one brand or style and then discover another style would work better for you, you'll be in a situation where you've wasted money or you'll feel stuck with a brand that's not ideal for you and your baby.

5. How do you put on a cloth diaper?

  • Some systems, like all in one diapers or fitted diapers are very simple to put on. They are shaped just like disposable diapers, so there's not much to learn in terms of putting one on.
  • Diaper systems that require folding, such as prefolds, require a little more knowledge to put on, but once you know a few basic folds, they are not difficult to use.
  • For an overview of folding cloth diapers, see the article Folding Diapers.
  • For specific instructions on common diaper folding techniques please see:
    Newspaper Fold
    Angel Wing Fold
    Bikini Twist

6. How will you care for your diapers?

  • If you decide to use a diaper service, you'll simple store wet and soiled diapers in your diaper pail (which may be provided by your cloth diaper service company) and place your diapers out in an agreed upon location for pickup once a week.
  • If you wash your own, you will probably want to experiment with a few different methods until you find the routine that works best for you.
  • Information on caring for cloth diapers (including washing and storing them between washes) is outlined in the section Washing Cloth Baby Diapers.

Take your time as you research cloth diapering, and don't let yourself become overwhelmed by all of the infomarion out there. Do keep in mind that many childbirth professionals recommend cloth diapers, and cloth diapering is really quite simple. Start with the basics, and you will quickly develop a system that works for you and your baby.


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Cloth Diapering Basics