How to Use Cloth Diapers

Cloth Diapering 101: Tips to Make Cloth Diapers Work for You

Is cloth diapering worth it? Find out how cloth diapers work and what type of diapers are available to decide.

Cloth diapers have come a long way. Instead of just squares of fabric and separate plastic covers, today's cloth diapers are similar to disposables with one-piece designs and Velcro closures. Cloth diapers do require more work than disposables even with these advancements, but you can make them fit into your busy lifestyle if you know how to use them efficiently.

Types of Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapering seems like an old-school choice, but the reusable diapers have undergone major updates, making them more convenient than your mom's cloth diapers. You can still get the traditional flat diapers, which are simple squares of cloth that you fold and use with a cover. But you also have other convenient options.

These modern cloth diaper updates include:

  • Pocket: The name says it all; this diaper type features a pocket that holds an absorbent insert. The outer layer is a waterproof cover that contains the wetness. The inner layer is a soft moisture-wicking material that draws liquid into the insert. Load the inserts into the diapers after washing, so they're ready to go.
  • All-in-one: These cloth diapers are the closest option to disposable diapers. It's all one piece, with the waterproof cover, absorbent layer and moisture-wicking liner sewn together.
  • Fitted: A fitted cloth diaper looks similar to a disposable diaper, with an hourglass shape and contours that fit your baby's body. They have gussets at the legs and snaps or Velcro closures. You need to use a diaper cover with fitted diapers to make them waterproof.

Buy enough diapers to last for two or three days, at least. For babies, plan on 10 to 12 diapers per day. For toddlers, you may only need eight to 10 diapers each day. Stocking up on cloth diapers means you don't have to wash them every day.

A diaper service is an option if you want to try out cloth diapering or share the workload. These services typically provide fresh diapers each week, and they take away the dirty ones to wash for you. It's like having your own magical laundry fairy.

Preparing Cloth Diapers

Before you can test out the diapers on your baby, you need to prep them with a thorough washing. Prewashing removes dirt or other contaminants that get on the diapers before they arrive at your doorstep.

Cotton, hemp and bamboo diapers need to go through the wash multiple times to strip the natural plant oils for maximum absorbency. Send them through the wash at least three to five times before you use them. After about 10 washes, the natural-fiber diapers reach peak absorbency.

Crank up the water temperature to hot when prepping diapers. Add a small amount of detergent. Send the diapers through for a second rinse to make sure none of the detergent gets left. Toss the diapers in the dryer on low heat. Repeat the process if you're using natural-fiber diapers.

Putting on Cloth Diapers

That fresh pile of clean diapers is ready to go. So how do you get them on your wiggling baby? That depends on the type of diaper you use.

For all-in-one and pocket diapers, the process is basically the same as with disposable diapers. If you use pocket diapers, slip the inserts in first. Place the diaper under your baby's bottom; lift the front flap over, and secure the snaps or Velcro. Your little one is ready to get dressed and rock the day.

Fitted diapers are also similar to disposables. Put the fitted diaper on the same way as a disposable. Put the diaper cover over it, making sure the outer layer completely covers the fitted diaper.

Handling Dirty Diapers

Dealing with the messy aftermath is a concern many parents have when considering cloth diapers. With disposables, you wrap up the mess and toss it. When you use cloth diapers, you have to face that mess head-on.

Change cloth diapers at least every two hours. They're not quite as absorbent as disposables, so frequent diaper changes are a must. Take a diaper with solid waste to the bathroom. Dump the mess into the toilet. You can get a diaper sprayer that attaches to the toilet for easy rinsing. Another option is rinsing the diaper in the toilet or in a utility sink.

You also need a diaper pail to store those stinky diapers until you wash them. A dry pail is a traditional diaper pail where you toss the dirty cloth diapers inside as they are. A wet pail is filled about halfway with water. This gives the diapers a chance to soak before washing. You can also rinse the diapers before putting them in a dry pail, so they get a bit of a pre-rinse but you don't have to keep a bucket full of water in your nursery.

Washing Cloth Diapers

Washing dirty cloth diapers is similar to the initial wash except you want to do a cold rinse first without detergent. Run the diapers through a hot wash/cold rinse cycle with detergent, followed by an extra rinse cycle. Pop the clean diapers in the dryer on low heat, or hang them outside to dry. The sunlight helps naturally remove stains on the diapers.

These tips make washing easier:

  • Remove inserts from diapers to wash them separately.
  • Close all Velcro tabs.
  • Avoid overloading the washer.
  • Skip fabric softeners, as they interfere with absorbency.

Pros and Cons of Cloth Diapers

Is cloth diapering worth it? You decide.

Pros of cloth diapers include:

  • Potentially cheaper in the long run
  • Fewer chemicals touching baby's skin
  • Less waste in landfills
  • Variety of styles to match your needs
  • Soft fabrics for a more comfortable feel than disposables.

Cons of cloth diapers include:

  • Hefty upfront investment
  • Less convenient on-the-go
  • Less absorbency, requiring more frequent changes
  • More work to wash the diapers
  • Increased energy use for washing
  • Gross-out factor of handling messes
  • Issues with some day cares refusing to cloth diaper.
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