Cloth Diapers for Beginners: Everything You Need to Know

As new parents, the arrival of a baby can bring about overwhelming changes in your life. One item that demands constant attention is diapers, which are in direct contact with your baby’s skin. While disposable diapers have been the norm for decades, cloth diapering is gaining popularity as an eco-friendly and cost-effective alternative. However, navigating the different types of cloth diapers, accessories, and care considerations can be daunting for beginners.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll provide everything you need to know about cloth diapers for beginners. From understanding the basics of cloth diapers to choosing the right type of diaper for your baby, we’ll cover essential accessories, prepping and caring for cloth diapers, building a cloth diaper stash, and using cloth diapers outside of the home.

Guide to cloth diapers for beginners

Types of Cloth Diapers

Many different types of cloth diapers are available in the market, and choosing the right one for your baby can seem daunting. Here are the most common types of cloth diapers you’ll encounter:

Prefold Diapers or Flat Cloth Diapers

Prefold diapers on Amazon

Prefold diapers are cloth diapers consisting of rectangular-shaped piece of fabric folded and sewn to create multiple layers of absorbent material. Some of the materials included cotton, bamboo, and hemp. Additionally, they have extra layers of fabric in the center panel for absorbency.

Prefold diapers require a waterproof cover to keep moisture from leaking out. The cover can be made from various materials, including polyurethane laminate (PUL), wool, or fleece. Some may come with a sewn-in soaker pad that provides extra absorbency. However, most prefold cloth diapers require additional inserts to be placed inside to provide the absorbency needed to prevent leaks.

Prefold diapers are considered one of the most basic and affordable cloth diapers.

Benefits: The primary benefit of prefold diapers is their affordability. They are versatile and can be folded in many ways, allowing for a customized fit. Prefold diapers can also be used as burp cloths, changing pads, or other baby clean-up needs, making them versatile.

Downsides: The main downside is requiring additional inserts or covers to provide enough absorbency to prevent leaks. They must also be folded correctly to fit your baby’s shape, which can be a learning curve for new parents. It is one of the most complicated cloth diapering methods to master.

Fitted or Contour diapers

Fitted diapers on Amazon

Fitted diapers are similar to prefold diapers but with additional features that provide a more customized fit for your baby. They have elastic around the legs and waist, which prevents leaks, thereby containing any mess.

They are typically made of absorbent materials like cotton, bamboo, or hemp, which can be stacked for added absorbency. Like prefold diapers, fitted diapers require a waterproof cover to keep moisture from leaking. The cover can be made from polyurethane laminate (PUL), wool, or fleece. Some fitted cloth diapers also come with a sewn-in soaker pad that provides extra absorbency.

Fitted diapers can be easily adjusted to fit your baby’s shape and size. Depending on personal preference, they can be fastened using snaps or hook-and-loop closures.

Benefits: Fitted diapers have superior absorbency compared to prefold diapers. They are ideal for heavy wetters or overnight use. The elastic around the legs and waist also provides a more secure fit, reducing the risk of leaks and blowouts.

Downside: Not a downside, but it costs more than prefold diapers. However, they also require more care and maintenance, such as prepping and stripping to maintain their absorbency. Moreover, they are bulky.

All-in-ones diapers

All-in-one diapers (AIOs) are cloth diapers designed to be the most convenient and easiest-to-use option for parents. They are called “all-in-one” because they combine the absorbent and waterproof layers into a single diaper, eliminating the need for separate inserts or covers.

AIOs consist of an absorbent layer made of materials like microfiber, cotton, bamboo, or hemp sewn into the waterproof outer layer. The outer layer is usually polyurethane laminate (PUL) or waterproof material.

AIOs come in various sizes, from newborn to toddler, and can be adjusted to fit your baby’s shape and size. Depending on personal preference, they can be fastened using snaps or hook-and-loop closures. Some AIOs also have additional features, such as adjustable absorbency levels or a pocket for extra inserts for heavy wetters.

Benefits: The main benefit of All-in-one cloth diapers is convenience. They are the easiest to use, requiring no assembly or additional covers or inserts. This makes them an excellent option for on-the-go diaper changes or caregivers unfamiliar with cloth diapering.

Downside: They are the most expensive type of cloth diaper available, making them a significant investment for parents. You will have to wash the complete diaper after every change. Additionally, since the absorbent and waterproof layers are sewn together, they may take longer to dry than other cloth diapers. Adding extra inserts will hang out loosely in the diaper.

Pocket diapers

Pocket diapers have an outer waterproof layer and an inner layer of moisture-wicking material such as microfleece or suede cloth. The absorbent part of the diaper is a separate insert stuffed into a pocket between the outer and inner layers. The pocket is typically located at the back of the diaper and can be accessed from either end.

Some pocket cloth diapers have additional features, such as adjustable absorbency levels or double gussets for protection against leaks.

Benefits: Pocket diapers are versatile. Additionally, it allows you to customize the diaper’s absorbency by adding extra inserts or boosters. It makes them an excellent option for heavy wetters or overnight use. They are also easy to use, requiring no folding or assembly.

Downside: You must stuff the inserts into the pocket before use, which can be time-consuming. Additionally, if the pocket is not completely stuffed, the diaper may not provide enough absorbency, leading to leaks. Another one is that you must wash the entire diaper whenever you change the diaper. You must stock up on more diapers to use in between laundering.

Hybrid diapers or All-in-Two Cloth Diapers

Hybrid diapers combine the benefits of both cloth and disposable diapers. They consist of a reusable cover paired with a disposable insert, providing the convenience of a disposable diaper with the eco-friendliness and cost-effectiveness of a cloth diaper.

The cover of a hybrid diaper is typically made from materials like PUL or TPU, making it waterproof and durable. The disposable insert is biodegradable, making it environmentally friendly.

All-In-Two Diapers

All-in-two (AI2) cloth diapers are a type of hybrid cloth diaper that combines the convenience of a disposable diaper with the eco-friendliness and cost-effectiveness of a cloth diaper. They consist of a reusable waterproof cover and a removable absorbent insert.

The insert is designed to snap or lay inside the cover, making it easy to remove and replace when wet.

Benefit: Hybrid diapers provide ease of use with disposability of a traditional disposable diaper without the environmental impact. Additionally, they require less storage space than cloth diapers, making them an ideal choice for parents with limited storage space.

Downside: They are typically more expensive than traditional cloth diapers, and the cost of the disposable inserts can add up over time.

Cloth diaper vs. disposable diaper

Are you confused between cloth diapers and disposable diapers? Choosing between cloth diapers and disposables can be personal and depends on individual preferences and circumstances. Here are some of the key differences between the two:

  • Environmental Impact: Cloth diapers are reusable and do not contribute to landfill waste like disposables. They also use fewer resources, such as water and energy, over their lifespan compared to disposable diapers.
  • Cost: Cloth diapers have a higher upfront cost but can be less expensive in the long run, especially if you use them for multiple children. Disposables can be less expensive upfront but can add up to a significant cost over time.
  • Convenience: On the other hand, disposables are more convenient since they are single-use and can be easily disposed of. Cloth diapers require preparation and washing.
  • Health Benefits: The major drawback of disposable diapers over cloth diapers is the material used. Cloth diapers are often made with natural materials and do not contain chemicals found in disposable diapers. Additionally, tests have shown that disposable ones have chemicals and pesticides linked to cancer, impaired reproductive development, and dermatitis.
  • Absorbency: Some parents find that cloth diapers are more absorbent than disposables, while others prefer the convenience and reliability of disposables.

The decision between cloth diapers and disposables comes from personal preferences and circumstances. While cloth diapers may require more upfront investment and washing, they can be more environmentally friendly and cost-effective in the long run.

You should plan to decide which ones you want and practice diapering techniques.

Accessories for Cloth Diapering

Several accessories available for cloth diapering can help make the process easier and more convenient. Here are some of the most common cloth diaper accessories:

  1. Diaper Inserts and Boosters: Additional absorbent layers can be added to the diaper to increase absorbency, especially for heavy wetters or overnight use.
  2. Diaper Liners: These thin, disposable sheets can be placed inside the diaper to make cleanup easier. They catch solid waste and can be easily removed, flushed, or disposed of.
  3. Diaper Sprayers: These handheld devices attach to your toilet and allow you to spray off solid waste from the diaper before washing.
  4. Wet Bags: These are waterproof bags that store dirty diapers until they can be washed. They come in different sizes and styles and can be hung on a doorknob or diaper pail.
  5. Cloth Diaper Safe Detergent: It is important to use a detergent that is safe for cloth diapers, as regular detergents can leave a residue that affects absorbency and can irritate your baby’s skin.
  6. Diaper Pail: A diaper pail is a container that stores dirty diapers until they can be washed. They can be airtight or ventilated and come in different sizes and styles.
  7. Diaper Cream: It is important to use a cloth diaper-safe diaper cream to avoid damaging the absorbency of your diapers. Creams that contain zinc oxide or petroleum can create a barrier that affects absorbency.
  8. Diaper Covers: These are waterproof covers that can be used with prefold, fitted, or flat diapers to prevent leaks. They come in different materials, such as PUL or wool, and can be adjusted to fit your baby’s size and shape.
  9. Diaper Fasteners: These are clips or pins to secure prefold or flat diapers. They come in different styles, such as Snappis or Boingos, and can be used with different cloth diapers.

How to wash cloth diapers?

Cloth diaper cleaning services are expensive and hard to find. The good news is that washing cloth diapers is easy, like any regular laundry. Here’s how to clean cloth diapers:

  1. Pre-rinse: Start by rinsing the soiled diapers in the toilet or using a diaper sprayer to remove any solid waste.
  2. Pre-wash: Run a short pre-wash cycle on your washing machine using cold water to help remove any remaining waste or debris.
  3. Main wash: Run a full wash cycle using a cloth diaper safe detergent and the hottest water the manufacturer recommends. Use the recommended amount of detergent, and avoid using fabric softeners or bleach, which can damage the diapers.
  4. Rinse: Run one or two extra rinse cycles to remove any remaining detergent residue.
  5. Drying: Line-dry or tumble-dry the diapers on low heat. Sun-drying can help remove stains and sanitize diapers.

Some cloth diapers may have specific care instructions, so always check the manufacturer’s guidelines before washing. Additionally, it’s important to keep the wash routine consistent to avoid detergent buildup or other issues affecting the absorbency and effectiveness of the diapers.

Building a Cloth Diaper Stash

Building a cloth diaper stash can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. Here are some tips for building a cloth diaper stash:

  • Amount of diapers: The number of diapers you need will depend on your baby’s age, how often you plan to wash them, and the type of diapers you use. Generally, you will need around 24-36 cloth diapers to get started.
  • Budget Considerations: Cloth diapers can save you a lot of money in the long run, but they require an upfront investment. Look for sales, discounts, and gently used diapers to save money.
  • Building a Diverse Cloth Diaper Stash: Having a diverse cloth diaper stash can be helpful as your baby grows and their needs change. Try to have a mix of different types of diapers, including prefold, fitted, and all-in-ones.

Troubleshooting Common Cloth Diapering Issues

Like any parenting journey, cloth diapering can come with its challenges. One of them is leaking. It is a common issue when using cloth diapers but it can be prevented. Ensure your diapers fit properly; otherwise, it can lead to leaks and discomfort for your baby. Adjust the fit using a different snap or fastener set if your diapers are too tight or loose.

Additionally, frequently change your baby’s diaper, and double up on inserts for heavy wetters.

Another common one is the smell. Cloth diapers can develop an unpleasant smell due to bacteria build-up. To prevent it wash your diapers correctly, avoid using fabric softeners or dryer sheets, and consider using a diaper-specific detergent. You may need to follow a process of diaper stripping.

Diaper stripping is the process of removing any buildup or residue from your diapers. You may need to strip your diapers if you notice a decreased absorbency or an unpleasant odor.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for stripping your diapers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Use Cloth Diapers from Birth?

Yes, you can use cloth diapers from birth. Look for newborn-specific cloth diapers or prefold that fit your baby’s small size.

How Do You Clean Cloth Diapers?

Wash your cloth diapers every two to three days with a detergent free from fabric softeners and additives. Use the highest water and hottest temperature setting that is safe for your diaper fabric.

Do Cloth Diapers Save Money?

Yes, cloth diapers can save you a lot of money in the long run. While they require an upfront investment, they can save you thousands of dollars compared to disposable diapers.

How Often Should You Change Cloth Diapers?

Change your baby’s cloth diaper every two to three hours during the day or more frequently if they have soiled the diaper.

What About Poop?

You will need to dispose of solid waste before washing your cloth diapers. You can use a diaper sprayer or disposable liners to make cleanup easier.


Cloth diapering can be a rewarding and eco-friendly option for parents, but it does require some upfront planning and investment. By understanding the basics of cloth diapering, choosing the right diaper for your baby, and following proper care and maintenance, you can enjoy the benefits of cloth diapering. Take it one step at a time, and don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice from other cloth diapering parents. Happy diapering!

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