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Non-Toxic & Zero Waste Diapering: Cloth Diapers 101

When you’re first starting out, cloth diapering can be extremely confusing – I’ve been there! There is so much stuff to know about sizing, materials and styles, it’s hard to know where to start.

That’s why I wanted to make an extremely detailed post that goes through everything you need to know about cloth diapering. There’s a lot of trial and error when it comes to using cloth, and what works for me may not work for you, but at least you can start here and know the basics.

It’s kind of a long one so let’s just jump right in.

Everything you need to know

There are four cloth diaper style options for you to choose from. This is the first decision you’ll need to make, then you can customize your stash from there.

Prefolds

These are what your parents used. They are basically just an absorbent square cloth that you fold into the shape of a diaper. You would use a fastener to keep it on your baby, and you would need a waterproof cover to go around the prefold to prevent leakage.

I have never used these diapers so I’m not the best advocate for them. Personally, that seems like too many steps to me so I never bothered with prefolds.

Pocket Diaper

A pocket diaper is a more modern cloth diaper. This diaper has a waterproof outer layer (so no cover needed) and a slit on the inside to put layers of absorbent material that will soak up your baby’s messes.

Take note: a pocket diaper needs an insert to be absorbent. Without an insert there’s really nothing to it. Most pocket diapers come with inserts, and you can also purchase them separately.

I have several pocket diapers, some from Bum Genius, others from AMP. The advantages of pocket diapers are the quick drying time, and that you chose what you stuff them with. They can be very slim fitting and non-bulky (depending what you put in them).

The Bum Genius pocket diapers and the AMP pocket diapers I have do not need un-stuffing before they go in the wash. The inner stuffing agitates back out through the slit in the wash, so no need to get handsy with a dirty diaper.

That being said, about every second wash I have one diaper that’s stuffing didn’t come out. It’s not a big deal though and both the diaper and liner still appear clean.

The disadvantage to pocket diapers is that it’s a tiny bit more work to stuff them after washing (only because you have to find the insert separately in the pile of clean diapers). Truly, I don’t see a real downside to pocket diapers.

All-In-One Diaper (AI1)

An all in one diaper is the most like a disposable. Some All-In-Ones have all the layers of absorbency and the waterproof outer liner sewn together with no place to stuff any extra inserts. This style of All-In-One is super easy to use, but has the longest drying time and little options for extra absorbency.

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(Pictured are Tots Bots Easy Fit All-In-One Diaper (top), and Bum Genius 4.0 Pocket Diaper (bottom))

Others, like my Tots Bots and Blueberry are like a pocket diaper, but the insert is sewn in on one end. With this style, you can add more inserts into the pocket, or you can just slide the built-in insert and away you go.

With both my All-In-Ones the built-in insert (and extra inserts) agitate out in the wash like the pocket diapers.

I use my Tots Bots with the built-in insert during the day, and at night I like my Blueberry Basix with an extra insert for heavy wetting.

As I mentioned, All-In-One diapers are very easy to use, but they take longer to dry than a pocket diaper (especially if everything is sewn in). That being said, my Tots Bots Easy Fit Diapers don’t take much longer to dry than my Bum Genius Pocket Diapers, and if you get in the habit of hanging to dry before bed, all your diapers will be dry by morning.

All-In-Two Diaper (AI2)

All-In-Two diapers are very much like the prefold/cover system I talked about first. Basically, it’s an absorbent layer that you place in a cover, then put on your baby. It’s the same idea as a pocket diaper, but instead of sliding the insert into a pocket, it just sits on top.

The idea is that when the insert is soiled, you can just replace it with a fresh one and reuse the outer shell. Personally, I don’t put anything wet back on my daughter, if she pees, I give her a fresh diaper all around.

Again, I have never used this style of diaper, to me the other types of cloth diapers seemed superior.

Size Options

When choosing your diapers, another thing you need to consider is the size. There are two options: one size or sized diapers.

One size diapers (OS)

One size diapers usually claim to fit about a 5-7lb baby to a 30-35lb baby. How they do this is either by snaps down the front for different sizes, or elastics in the legs that can be tightened.

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(Pictured are three One Sized Tots Bots Easy Fit diapers, two with snaps and one with apex. You can see how small and how big these diapers can be) 

The downside to the snaps is they can become bulky in the front on the smaller settings. I can’t really speak to the other style because all of mine are snaps, but I’ve heard good things about that style as well. 

The one sized diapers probably won’t fit your newborn even though they claim to, and if they do they will probably be super bulky. I found at 2 months when we started cloth I had to move up a size in her clothes because of the bulk.

Sized Diapers

Sized diapers come in a variety of sizes, starting at newborn, or premie, all the way to toddler sizes.

Sized diapers are a lot less bulky because they fit without any adjusting needed. On the downside, you would need a pretty good stash of each size diaper. For example, a 2 month old baby could go through 12 diapers a day or more, that means you’ll need at least that many in that size.

I didn’t want to spend a fortune on cloth diapers so I opted for one sized diapers. We started cloth diapering my daughter at 2 months and the diapers fit her good then (she was 7lbs 7oz at birth) and we could have probably started earlier.

If you wanted to start cloth from birth, you may want to buy some newborn sized diapers. We chose to start later on because I didn’t want to have to buy newborn size and one size, and you would need a ton of newborn diapers (they poop non-stop!!). When we have our next baby, I will probably start cloth at around 4-6 weeks and just stick to one size diapers. 

Snaps vs. Apex (Velcro)

In the cloth diaper world, they use the word “apex” for velcro. Cloth diapers usually come in two options for closure, snaps and apex.

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(Pictured are two One Sized Tots Bots Easy Fit Diapers, you can see the difference between snaps and apex — and the cute patterns!)

Snaps

Some benefits of snaps are they have a snug fit, and they are harder to undo (and do up) then apex.

For the first year having them hard to undo isn’t really a benefit, but once your baby learns how to undo their diaper, it’ll be beneficial if they can’t. 🙂

Apex (Velcro)

My husband prefers the apex over snaps, and honestly, I do too. If I were to do it all over, I might buy all apex (but we’ll see if my tune changes when she figures out how to undo them!). It’s just quicker and easier.

One thing to note about apex, make sure to fold the velcro tabs back onto themselves before they go in the wash or you could do major damage to the other diapers!

Bamboo vs. Microfiber

Let’s talk inserts. Adding extra inserts for overnight is pretty much essential regardless of the diaper style you choose. There are a few options out there, here’s a quick overview:

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(From left to right: Microfiber (with snaps for one sized diapers, came with Bum Genius 4.0 Pocket Diapers), Microfiber (newborn insert, came with Bum Genius 4.0 Pocket Diapers), Bamboo (bought separately), Microfleece (came with Tots Bots Easy Fit Diapers, good to layer on top to keep moisture away from baby’s bum. It’s the same material most diapers are made of and can also be bought separately))

Microfiber Inserts

Microfiber inserts are generally cheaper, and quite absorbent. They absorb liquid quicker than Bamboo or Hemp inserts, but they have been known to hold onto smells in some cases (I’ve never had a problem).  Microfiber can irritate your baby’s skin, so it should be tucked into a pocket or layered underneath.

Bamboo/Hemp Inserts

Bamboo and hemp inserts are generally more costly, but are super absorbent and absorb liquid slowly. These are best for overnight use (vs. used alone in a pocket diaper during the day) layered with a microfiber insert.

How many will I need?

I would advise buying at least a dozen if you’re going with one sized diapers. If you go with sized diapers, you will need about a dozen of each size until your baby is older and doesn’t wet them as often.

For a long time we had 12 one sized diapers and we had to do laundry about every night when my daughter was younger. We now have 18 diapers and do laundry every second or third night (my daughter is 10 months now and wets her diaper less often).

Some people have a massive stash of 40-80 cloth diapers, buying them slowly to spread out the cost. That is an option, but it’s not necessary to have so many. We have gotten by just fine with only about 18 diapers.

Wet Bags/Pails

You have a few options when it comes to where to put the soiled diapers when they come off your baby.

Wet bag

A wet bag is basically a waterproof zippered bag that is smell-proof that you put the soiled diapers in until they get washed. When it’s time to do a load, you just toss in your diapers and the wet bag can go right in with them.

You can also buy wet bags for use when you’re out and about. Many people will just pack one or two around in their diaper bag.

Diaper Pail

This is basically a canister with a waterproof liner. Just like a wet bag, when the pail is full you put the liner and the diapers in the wash.

What we do is use a canister style kitchen trash can and just put the soiled diapers in that. When it’s time to do diapers, I just take out the canister insert, toss the diapers in the wash and rinse out the insert in my laundry sink.

The liners and cloth diaper canisters can be a bit pricey, so using a kitchen trash saved us some money.

What about Diaper Sprayers?

You have even more options when it comes to how you want to deal with the poopy diapers (so many options!).

Sprayers:

A sprayer is a hose that attaches to your toilet that you use to spray off the poop from the diapers into your toilet.

Toss it in the washer

In the early stages of cloth diapering, when your baby is on an all breastmilk diet, most people just toss everything in the wash. At this stage, your baby doesn’t have much poop and it’s water soluble.

As your baby starts to move into solid foods, their poop becomes more solid and there is a lot more of it. I’ve talked to a few people that still toss all the poopy diapers into their washers at this point. To me that is pretty gross. That’s a lot of poop.

What I do

When my daughter was just on milk, I tossed all her poopy diapers in the wash. When we introduced food, all I did was take my wet wipe and scrape out as much as I could is one swoop.

It’s not as gross as it sounds, I never got any on my hands, and I saved my washer from a ton of poop (and I never had to install or use a sprayer!).

Diaper Liners

What I’ve started to do within the last few months is use diaper liners. They are biodegradable and flushable (if you chose to flush them) and cheap. I put a liner in my daughters diaper every time I change her (except nighttime and naptimes because I know she doesn’t poop when she sleeps) and it catches 90-99% of her poop.

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(From left to right: wet bag, diaper liners, CJ’s Butter, Rockin’ Green Scoop, Rockin’ Green Funk Rock Pre-Treater, Rockin’ Green Laundry Detergent)

This has made cloth diapering so much less gross! I don’t wipe out the poop with a wet wipe any more, just remove the liner and into the wash it goes.

If you’re skeptical about cloth diapering because you think it’s gross, this is a must. Seriously. If I were to do it all over again, I would start using liners from the beginning.

Diaper Genie/Munchkin Diaper Pail

Another thing I wanted to mention was that we bought a diaper genie at the beginning when we were doing disposables and we still use it for wipes and diaper liners.

I think this is the best way because the diaper genie really locks in the smell. And since you don’t go through the refills as quickly as you would if you were loading it with diapers, it really doesn’t cost much to use.

Bum creams

One rule with cloth diapers to make them last is that you don’t use baby powder. Using baby powder will cause a build-up and will decrease the life of the diapers.

There are a few bum creams that are safe to use with cloth diapers, I love CJ’s Butter. I use CJ’s Butter every time I change my daughters bum, this way it stops diaper rashes before they start.

Cleaning your diapers

Everybody seems to have their own way to wash diapers, so feel free to tweak this to your liking. This is what I do:

Washing

I wash my diapers with Rockin’ Green Laundry Detergent about every second or third day. I wouldn’t go longer than this because they will get stinky and there’s a better chance they will stay stinky even after they’re washed.

I toss them in my washer and do a rinse setting first, then wash them in a hot water setting with another rinse at the end.

Some people chose to let them soak first, but I don’t find it necessary and it’s just one more step.

Stripping Your Diapers

If you find your diapers are getting stinky you can let them soak in the Rockin Green Funk Rock Pre-Treater before you wash them (wash first, then soak, then wash again – don’t strip dirty diapers!).

I’ve been using my cloth diapers for 8 months now and have only stripped them once.  I wouldn’t recommend doing this very often because it will damage the material with consistent use.

Do Not

It’s not recommended to use bleach, fabric softener, regular detergent, or dryer sheets on your diapers.

Bleach will damage the fabric and decrease the life of the diapers, and fabric softener, detergent, and dryer sheets will leave a film on your diaper which makes it harder for the diapers to absorb liquid, therefore, decreasing the life of the diapers.

Hang to dry

I would recommend hanging your diapers to dry instead of putting them in the dryer. The first reason is regular use of the dryer will wear out the material, and second, hanging your diapers to dry in the sun bleaches them back to white and helps remove any smells.

For the first 4 months of using the cloth, I hung them to dry but didn’t have a place to set them in the sun. They got pretty stained and started to smell.

Then I bought a drying rack and found somewhere they could dry in the sun, and within a few washes they were all back to white and no smell! This is my #2 tip for cloth diapering (#1 being liners!).

I lucked out and found this cheap drying rack and it works like a hot damn!

My last piece of advice

Try a few different varieties of diapers; everybody has their own preferences so you can’t really base everything off one or two peoples’ choices. Try out two or three of one kind and two or three of another before you go out and buy 12 all at once.

So there it is, absolutely everything I know about cloth diapering! It’s kind of a lot to take in, but it’s better to know than going in blind!

I hope that this post was helpful, and if you have any questions that I haven’t covered here, feel free to ask me in the comments or shoot me an email and I’ll be happy to help!

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Good luck on your cloth diapering journey!

Xx

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