Cloth Diapers 101: What You Need to Know

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There is no doubt about it: diapering a baby can get pricey. On average, parents go through about 60 diapers per week—even more for newborns and young babies. On average, this can cost up to $60 per month with disposable diapers, depending on the brand you buy and in what quantity you buy them (small packs versus big boxes).

This can quickly add up over the amount of time your child spends in diapers. Cloth diapers can be a much more economical alternative to disposable diapers. It is possible to buy a diaper stash costing between $100 and $300 that you can use the entire time your child is in diapers—and you can use them for your next child, too.

Cloth diapers come in a variety of designs, they are more affordable than disposable diapers, and to a certain degree, they cut down on waste. While disposable diapers add to landfill contents and solid waste, cloth diapers use more water and energy to wash and/or dry. Ultimately, it's a personal choice as to which kind of diaper you choose.

Cloth Diapers

  • Cheaper than disposables

  • Cuts down on landfill waste

  • Helps children with sensitive skin

  • Waste is better contained

  • Time-consuming to launder (uses energy and water to clean)

  • Need to be more mindful of changing regularly

Disposable Diapers

  • Higher costs over time

  • Adds to landfill waste

  • Some chemicals/ingredients may irritate sensitive skin

  • Leakage is common

  • No laundering involved

  • Convenient and easy to use

Kinds of Cloth Diapers

Modern cloth diapers do not require safety pins or plastic covers as more traditional cloth diapers required. There are several kinds from which to choose, and some are as easy to use as disposables. Cloth diapers can vary in cost and ease of use, so many people use multiple kinds at different points in their cloth diapering.

Prefold Cloth Diapers

These are similar to the old-fashioned cloth diapers. They are the most budget-conscious, although a bit more inconvenient to use. Prefolds are rectangular, so you have to fold them, fasten them with a diaper clip, and add a cover over them because they are not waterproof. When the diaper is soiled, you can put a new prefold inside the same cover if the cover is still clean.

Fitted Cloth Diapers

These are diapers made out of absorbent material with leg and back elastic and snaps or Velcro (hook-and-loop) closures. They do not have a waterproof outside, so you need a cover over them. They come in multiple sizes, so as your baby grows you will need to buy the appropriate size. Like prefolds, if the cover is still clean, you can reuse it and only replace the fitted cloth diaper when changing.

Pocket Diapers

This is one of the first new designs of modern cloth diapers. It has a waterproof layer (no cover is necessary) and it looks like a disposable diaper. Inside, it has a stay-dry lining with a pocket in which you place a diaper insert or a prefold for more absorbency.

Of course, after the diaper is soiled, you then have to take the stuffing out of the pocket. Unlike the previously listed diapers, once a pocket diaper is soiled you need to replace it with a new diaper entirely.

All-in-One Cloth Diapers (AIOs)

AIOs are similar to disposables, except they are made of cloth. Like the pocket diaper, they have a waterproof outside and have multiple inside absorbent layers that you can fold for more absorbency as needed. If you need more absorbency, there are boosters you can stick on top of the layers as well. These boosters can be Velcro (hook-and-loop) or a snap. Like the pocket diaper, AIOs are used once and then a new one must replace it.

Hybrid Cloth Diapers or All-in-Two Cloth Diapers (AI2s)

Hybrids are also called all-in-twos (AI2s). They are similar to AIOs, but AI2 diapers often have detachable absorbency layers inside which allow you to customize absorbency more efficiently. This also allows you to remove a soiled insert and snap in a new, clean one—as long as the rest of the diaper is clean. There are also boosters and nighttime inserts you can add for overnight cloth diaper use.

Where to Begin

If you have not yet tried cloth diapering, it can be an intimidating process. However, once you find the type of cloth diaper that works for you, it is quite an easy alternative to disposable diapers. The cloth diaper community and many natural baby care retailers are happy to talk with you, answer any questions you might have, and even help you troubleshoot if you are having difficulty using the diapers.

There are dozens of social media groups about cloth diapers, and many retailers have chat groups on Facebook where parents talk about various products, parenting questions, and cloth diaper questions.

Cleaning Cloth Diapers

Once dirty, you can rinse the cloth diaper under warm water immediately. However, if your baby is not yet eating solids, this is not necessary. You can place the dirty diaper in a cloth diaper bag or diaper pail (with a liner in it). If your baby or child is eating solids, flush any solid waste down the toilet, and then place the dirty diaper in the bag or pail.

If you are using disposable liners, dispose of them in a trash can or flush them in the toilet (note on the package if the product is flushable). Most diaper brands suggest that you wash diapers every two to three days.

Washing cloth diapers is easy: follow the guidelines set forth by the diaper manufacturers. Use plenty of detergent and run an additional rinse cycle to make sure all the detergent is rinsed off the diapers in order to avoid skin irritation. Keep it simple, and skip any extras like adding fabric softener.

Costs

You might be skeptical about saving money if you look at some of the more expensive cloth diapers online. Some cloth diapers cost up to $40 each, and some are even more expensive. However, there are many Buy/Sell/Trade (BST) cloth diaper groups that exist to help you build your diaper stash at a reduced price.

Though you might be spending more money on a stash of 30-40 cloth diapers, you can use this supply throughout your child's diaper journey, saving you money in the long-term. When your child is done with cloth diapering and if your diapers are still in good shape, you can even sell them back to a BST group.

Benefits

Diaper preferences are a very personal choice, and there aren't necessarily specific health benefits to either choice. However, there are health considerations to keep in mind. If you cloth diaper, you need to make sure you're changing the diapers regularly, to avoid chafing and diaper rash, since the fabric doesn't draw wetness away from the skin like disposables do.

You can add fleece liners to the diapers that help with this, but it's important to change cloth diapers regularly and after every wetting or soiling to avoid skin irritation.

In addition, disposable diapers may sometimes contain ingredients or chemicals that could potentially irritate your baby's sensitive skin. Be sure to monitor signs of skin irritation—if you notice redness or other signs of discomfort, it may be time to switch to cloth diapers to determine if that is a better option for your baby.

A Word From Verywell

Remember, cloth diapering can be used in addition to disposable diapering. For instance, you can use cloth diapers at home, and disposables when you are out of the house. You can use cloth during the day and disposables at night, or any combination that fits your lifestyle. There are no wrong combinations. By trying different methods, you may soon discover that cloth diapering can enhance your diapering experience for both you and your child.

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