Let’s Talk Cloth – Cloth Diapers 101

By Christine Rodriguez

February 18, 2021

Christine is a Registered Nurse and mama of two. Her first child and his struggles with feeding and sleep ignited a passion in her for helping other families successfully feed their little ones, and have happy, harmonious sleep!

When you think about cloth diapers, what do you picture? Those old cotton flats with some safety pins on the hips? Baby running around with a big, bulky wad of fabric between their legs? The washing, or the payments to a diaper service?

I remember being a mom-to-be and thinking the same things. I wanted to cloth diaper. I had worn cloth as a baby and I just felt like it was something I wanted to do for my little one. But I had NO clue how to start. I asked in a mom group. That got me 400 different opinions on everything from styles to detergents, to nighttime use, to cloth potty pants. I felt completely in the weeds.

So, what does a new mom need to know when considering cloth? First and foremost, diaper services are (mostly) a thing of the past. Modern cloth diapers are easily laundered at home. If you are considering cloth, you need to have access to a washing machine at a minimum. You can always line dry your cloth, so a dryer isn’t a must, although it IS a big time saver.

How do you care for cloth?

You can’t just use any old detergent, or so we’ve been told. This is where things get dicey in the cloth groups. You have people who are hardcore into the diaper-specific detergents, some who swear by Tide, others who make their own, and then people like me, who are so allergic to scents that only All Free and Clear is used on everything in my home. This is truly an individual choice. There is a belief that certain detergents can cause “build-up”, causing the need for “stripping” the diapers with a special detergent once in a while. This really is trial and error based on the water in your area. All Free and Clear worked like a dream for us, so we never tried anything else.

What types of cloth diapers are available out there?

Different brands and types of cloth have different price points. I elected to use Bum Genius Elementals. These diapers are truly an “All-in-one” (AIO in the Cloth world) diaper. All the absorptive layers are sewn into the diaper, and the shell is made from adorable, colorful, waterproof lined fabric. The outside feels like a fabric, the hidden inside layer is waterproof. These diapers are SO easy to put on. You put them on just like a sposie (that’s cloth-speak for disposable) and instead of a paper velcro fastener, you snap or velcro them shut. When a baby is wet, open the fastener, put them in your diaper pail, clean up baby (you can use regular wipes, or just use water and baby washcloths!) And apply a new diaper!

The next style is the “pocket” diaper. Same cute, colorful, waterproof lining, but inside is a layer of super-soft cloth, and at the back of the diaper is a pocket. You stuff that pocket with an absorptive layer. This can be almost anything! On some desperate days, stuck in a hotel while my luggage made my flight but we didn’t, I resorted to washcloths from the hotel as my absorptive layer! You can use flour sack towels, bird eye cotton, old t-shirts, or purchase these pocket liners from a cloth diaper manufacturer. Pockets usually come with at least one layer to stuff in. Just like AIO’s, they go on and off like disposable diaper. When you take diaper off, its always good to pull the layer out from inside the diaper before tossing it in the pail. Trust me, you will thank me later.

Then you have the hybrids. Those are diapers that have a waterproof shell, and no fabric inside. You then can lay in a pre-fold cloth diaper, or a disposable layer, much like a sposie. These are great for families with babies in daycare. The daycare can use the liner over and over and toss the disposable layer. At home, you can use the pre-folds just like you would any other cloth diaper- fold it in thirds and lay it inside the shell. That’s it! The best of both worlds!

There are a few other types of cloth, like wool and fitted, those are less commonly used, but are definitely good options for some families.

The big question…what about poop?!

It seems to be the most common question I get. But dealing with poop is actually pretty simple! For babies who are exclusively fed human milk, you simply toss the diaper into your diaper pail and wash it on wash day. I recommend washing every 2-3 days, depending on the size of your diaper stash. If a baby is formula-fed or eating solids, you can purchase “diaper liners” that you lay on the inner surface of the diaper. It catches the poop, keeping it from getting on the diaper, while still allowing urine to pass through to the absorptive layer of the diaper. When you remove the diaper, you can toss, or in some cases, flush these liners and the poop! Then, your diaper goes right into the pail until wash day!

How many diapers will I have to buy while my baby is in diapers?

Our babies grow fast. Of course, diapers have to accommodate babies of different sizes. This is where cloth diapers shine. Cloth diapers grow with your baby! For example, Bum Genius diapers feature sizing snaps across the front. Engage the snaps on the smallest setting and you have a diaper suitable for an 8lb baby! These types of adjustable diapers fit babies up to 35 lbs! Depending on the weight of your baby at birth, you can exclusively diaper with just these diapers. Many brands offer this adjustability, and a range of adorable color and patterns!

So how does it stack up financially?
Well, let’s look at disposable diapers first. I used two mainstream, established brands of diapers for the sake of this article. Using an average number of diaper changes per year, you can expect to spend $550- $800/year on disposable diapers. Assuming you don’t potty train before the age of 2, this is an $1100- $1600 expense for one child.
When comparing cloth, I looked at two different popular brands available in many brick and mortar stores as well as online. Assuming you want to wash every 3 days or so, you want to have approximately 25 diapers on hand. Brand “A” pocket diapers at a cost of $17.00 each x 25= $425. Brand “B” organic cotton AIO’s at a cost of $25 each x 25= $625. These diapers will last you from birth to potty training and when cared for properly, can be used for multiple children! Add in a wet bag for dirty diapers on the go, and you add $15.

So, you can see there are definite financial advantages to cloth. Even when you add in the extra detergent and water, you still come out ahead, especially if they are used on multiple children.

The choice to use cloth is a big one, as there are so many options out there. Plus, the styles and patterns are absolutely adorable. Matching shirts and dresses to cute little cloth diapers was just one adorable cloth perk I enjoyed. However your choose to diaper your baby, there is always a bit of trial and error until you find “the one” that works for your family! Enjoy the ride- you got this mama!

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