Cloth Diapering 101

I’ll be honest, until I got pregnant I never really thought about cloth diapers. And really unless you are pregnant or a new parent looking to save some cash you likely weren’t one of the few who focus on the issue either.

I am lucky in the fact that I didn’t hold a lot of preconceived ideas around Cloth Diapers, when I was growing up I and my kid brother were both cloth diapered since that was just how it was done then. I’m sure at some point the disposable diaper would have been more convenient, but they just were not as readily available where we lived as they are now.

But I really didn’t know what to expect with cloth diapers until I got right into the thick of it. Belive me you can reaserch a whole lot about what they are and how to use them etc and still not really get it until you actually do it for a week or two.

But that still begs the question, what do you need to know to get started? In this post I’ll walk you through the basics of getting started and what worked for me, but you may need to experiment a bit to see what will work for you and your little one.

baby sitting beside a stack of cloth diapers

Try a couple in one type or cloth diaper “system”

The first thing to know is that there are different types or systems of cloth diapers. Most brands sell one “type” a few have a couple options.

Cloth Diaper Shells or Covers

I like these as they are pretty inexpensive to get started with, you just need a couple shells (the PUL or waterproof barrier that you see on the outside) and a bunch of inserts or the absorbant part. It is a 2 piece system, but is actually one of the most compact systems out there.

I love this system for when I’m out and about, if kiddo needs a change chances are all I need to swap is the absorbat piece since things like poop just wipe off the PUL shell. I could pop a couple inserts (absorbancy) into my purse and run out the door at a moments notice with out worrying about having enough diapers in the bag.

Pocket Cloth Diapers

These were the ones I tended to use around the house most often, they work like a disposable in that you swap the whole thing any time kiddo needs changing. Also like the Shells they have a PUL exterior to catch leaks and are pretty simple to keep clean.

The catch is that you need to stuff the inserts into the pocket (hence the name) sewn into the shell so kiddo does their business on the inside of the diaper. You can of course use these like the Shells and lay the insert (absorbant part) on the inside of the shell if you like as well which I did frequently.

baby in modern eco stacks of cloth diapers and replacement bushings selective focus close-up bright background, little cute foot kid, the concept of health. hygiene of the child. reusable diapers

The All in One (AIO) Cloth Diapers

This is kinda the “Top End” Diaper, I can’t personally speak to how I would use them as we don’t have any. However there are no steps to this diaper. No stuffing, no folding, no nothing. Just change baby when they need it and toss in the wash, repeate as needed.

The reason I DON’T have any of these is that they are typically on the more expensive side, even though they still save you money they take longer to dry and you need more of them to have a functioning stash if it’s all you use. However I do plan on adding some of these so that when we take kiddo to be baby sat it’s easier. Heck I expect hubby would find them easier as well…

Hybrid or All in Two (AI2) Cloth Diapers

This system is similar to the shells with inserts, but have insterts that snap into the shell. I wasn’t a fan of the idea of having to buy a specific insert to make the diaper work so we only have one of these right now. While I found it was simple enough to use it never became a favourite due to the snaps and having to match that diaper to that insert and still needing to add additional absorbancy to the diaper anyway.

However when we hit the todler and potty training time it ended up working a bit better for us as I needed less absorbancy anyway to help kiddo remember to use the potty.

Wool Covers for Cloth Diapers

Wool covers are an exterior shell that can be used with any of the absorbant inserts available. As they are a more breathable fabric then PUL (pretty much all fabrics are) it can be a great option to help reduce or avoid things like rashes .

I personally can not use these because I have a skin sensitivity to wool, however I’ve heard some really great reviews from family members who have. The thing to note with these is that they normally do not come “lanolinized” which means you need to buy lanolin to soak and prep the wool covers with.

These covers can be great for kiddo not feeling wet right away as wool holds about 3 times it’s weight in liquid (pee), and they only really need to be washed when they get dirty with poop. These also come in formats that look more like leggings or shorts not just diaper covers.

Open cloth diaper with two insert above top view

The Types of Cloth Diapering Inserts (all require a cover)

This is the absorbant part we add to the above exteriors (except the All in Ones which don’t need one).

Flat Inserts

This is a large square piexe of fabric that can be folded to fit your needs. Have a heavy front wetter? Fold it one way, pees more at the back (yes it happens) fold it another way.

This really is the “old school” way of doing cloth diapering, and likely is what I was in as a kid. If you are good to watch kiddo for when they pee you can also get away with out a cover and just use pins (Safety pins were invented for these) to keep them up.

Personally I LOVED this method for preventing rashes and was simple and easy to use at home in the early stages. Quite frankly I would credit this with the reason why kiddo had so few rashes to begin with.

Prefold Inserts

Prefold inserts are similar to flats in that they usually are one big piece of fabric. The main difference is that they are pre-folded (hence the name) and sewn to keep the folding. You’ll need a diaper cover for these as well, but they can usually work with just pins to keep them on too.

I didn’t stock any of these since I wanted to play with different folds in the flat inserts but they would be a nice option to add to a cover once kiddo is big enough. The big downside I see on these is that if you have a smaller baby the prefold might not fit them properly unless you get the newborn size (and even then some babies can still not fit).

Fitted Diapers

These are like a diaper that goes inside your shell, it does need to be used with some kind of cover and is a fully absorbant piece. Some even come with velcro tabs instead of snaps for easier fitting.

I don’t really have a preference on these as I haven’t had the oppertunity to try them yet, but from what I’ve heard they are great for reducing “blow outs” as baby transitions to solid food.

PreMade Inserts

Most companies that make shells also make the premade insterts that they recomend to use with them. The difference between these and prefolds is that you can’t snap them up into a diaper on their own. They are litterally made to sit in a shell of some kind and can be made of a variety of fabrics.

This is honestly my FAVOURITE part of cloth diapers. These come in so many fabrics that you can layer and use together to get that “cute bum” look and the right absorbancy in the right place for your little one. They made up the bulk of our stash and I found it simple to maintain and use them through out our cloth diapering journey.

A lot of cloth diapers in a basket

Fabrics and Materials commonly used in Cloth Diapers

PUL

When someone says they have PUL in their diapers they are typically talking about the shell, PUL is a fabric that is water resistant. I wouldn’t say water proof, but resistant. This is that cute colorful pic you see online showing off some great patern that many Moms drool over adding to their collection.

Micro-Fiber

This is a synthetic material and can be a tad rough on the skin especially after washing. It’s normally the fastest to dry and least expensive to buy. While it doesn’t always require preping after purchasing I do recomend at least runninging through the wash once or twice.

This is also the fabric that will likely give up on you the quickest, and stop absorbing as well as hold smells the longest. As it also tends to suck moisture into it I highly recomend putting a liner between it and baby so kiddo’s bum doesn’t get dry and cause a rash.

Hemp

Hemp is a natural fiber and holds more then two times the liquid as microfiber. It’s normally thinner, softer, and very durable and only gets softer and more absorbant with more washes. The down side is that it tends to be slow to absorb. Because of this many manufacturers pair Hemp with Cotton. If you have hemp only inserts it is best to layer them underneath another insert for added absorbancy instead of putting them on top.

When you first get these they should always be washed a few times before the first use, that way you get them softer and remove any lingering natural oils to improve the absorbancy.

Bamboo

Bamboo often comes paired with rayon, which is a fiber made from bamboo. Just like hemp you will need to prep these before the first use and they get softer and more absorbant over time. I loved our bamboo when kiddo went heavy wetter on me over night and often would layer 2 of these over top of a hemp instert to keep kiddo dry for a full 8 hours.

Cotton

You’ve likely heard of this one, 🙂 it’s a natural fiber and is one of the most commonly used of the cloth diaper materials. It’s comfortable (think old t-shirt against your skin) and relatively low-cost. While not as absorbant as hemp or bamboo it is a durable fabric that will hold up long term.

FS or Flour Sack Inserts

Ok, this really isn’t a “fabric” per say, but if you go into any of the cloth diapering Facebook groups you will likely see someone reference it. Basically you can buy flour sack fabric at a lot of retailers for cheap, and it’s often used as an absorbancy booster. This will however get rougher over time and with repeated washing, so if you have a sensitive kiddo make sure you put a liner between kiddo and the sack. While I did try these I found them to be too fussy and I hated handling the roughness of them so I ditched them pretty quickly.

Zorb

Zorb is a relatively new fabric on the Cloth Diapering scene, however, it holds a LOT of liquid, usually more than hemp or bamboo and is thinner than either of them. The catch being that Zorb needs to be sewn between 2 layers of fabric to keep it flat after washing. If you see these inserts I HIGHLY recommend you grab them, especially if on discount since zorb can be more on the pricey side.

Zorb is another fabric that does best when you wash it before the first use and will only get more and more absorbant over time.

On a side note I LOVE zorb in my Mamma Cloth Pads it is a premium on comfort and durability.

woman with a full laundry basket

Caring for your Cloth Diapers (the Washing Routine)

Prepping (before the first use)

If you are buying new the diapers will likely come with instructions on how to prep them before use just look for something that says “pre-wash”. It’s best to follow those instructions. If buying second hand you will likely need to look the brand up online for details or check out FluffLoveUniversity.com they have good recommendations there for most brands. I would also keep your natural fibers separate from the synthetics, at least until you are sure the natural fibers oils have been removed.

My Wash Routine

There are lots of ways to wash your diapers, and it may take some trial and error before you find the one for you. It can vary based on the washing machine you have and the detergent as well as your personal preference. However here is the simple way I handled it.

  1. Dump it all in a big wetbag as diapers are soiled, removing ONLY the solid poop into the toiliet that came off by shaking the diaper over the toilet
  2. dump big wetbag into the washing machine (I have a front load one) turning the bag inside out in the process. Add one Tide Pod to the drum & one scoop of OxiClean to the dry detergent dispenser.
  3. Run “heavy” setting wash for 1 hour on high heat with an extra rinse.
  4. Toss inserts and folds in dryer on low heat & hang dry shells

Note: running microfiber through the dryer will kill them faster, I did this with our hemp and bamboo inserts but not the microfibers once I realized that (you’ll see tones of lint in your lint trap).

Building Your Stash

Getting a solid stash built up can take time and be expensive if you do it all in one go. I recomend starting when you are pregnant or trying to conceive and spacing the purchases out over time. I also sugest not buying all of one type right off the hop as different sized babies work best with different types of cloth diaper systems.

Having said that here is how I built our starter stash.

Shop discounts

If you are interested in a particular brand check if they have a discount section on their website. Some do, some don’t, others may have links to facebook groups where you can buy and trade cloth diapers.

Shop Second Hand

The bulk of our diapers (read all our diapers) were second hand when I bought them. When I was about 2 months pregnant I started connecting with Cloth Diapering Facebook groups and buy-sell groups in my area and watched for posts about cloth diapers. Just make sure you read the posts really well as sometimes they list something in the conditions like “needs new elastics” which means you will need to pay someone to replace the elastice or do it yourself (which while not easy is simple enough to do if you have a needle and thread and enough time).

Get on the newsletter lists for cloth diaper manufacturers

I got on EVERY cloth diaper mailing list I could find because I wanted to know “all the things”, turns out some of them will do give aways, or one day sales on their diapers (go figure) but only to the newsletter list. I got 2 diapers totally free just for being on the list and responding quickly.

Shop Wish and other cheapie sites

Ok, confession, I was on a budget and I bought a couple diapers off of wish… they were not our fav’s but they got the job done. Just make sure you read all the notes etc on the seller as well as the product and account for delivery delays as these are typically shipped via boat and that can takes months to arrive.

My Starting Stash

Infant laying on white, blue background near colorful cloth diapers

So I’m a huge fan of the AMP brand of Pockets, and have ended up working mostly with them on shells and inserts. I’ve tried a few others but keep coming back to the AMP’s which are the bulk of my stash.

At the beginning I had:

6 newborn shells
20 One Size shells
30 microfiber inserts
5 bamboo inserts
5 hemp inserts
35 cotton liners (not AMP’s)

I had basically purchased these in an exchange from a FaceBook Group for locals that Buy/Sell/Trade and caught this post that included the above and some great extra perks the other Mom no longer needed since her kiddo just finished potty training. So the stash was effectively complete for me.

One note I’d like to make here is that the One Size Shells are great because they can be a very flexible fit. The AMP website for instance lists them as “Fits Baby from Birth to Potty!” and I agree IF you get the fit right in the snaps. I had a long/tall kiddo who was slim so I loved that I could just adjust so many aspects of the diaper to get a better fit.

baby having their diaper changed by Mom

Helpful Accessories

Cloth Wipes

I found these to be a BIG asset when paired with cloth diapers, you can buy them on Etsy, or make your own, or do what I did and run to the dollar store and buy those baby face clothes that come 6 for a $1 and use that. (seriously I bought maybe 6 packs and we still use them for so much).

Diaper Liners

This is a piece of fabric that goes on top of the insert between diaper and baby. It helps keep kiddo feeling dry and gives you much needed time to get to a changing station if you are out and about. Plus they tend to be soft against baby’s skin when the inserts get rough or have a crease form.

Diaper pail liners

I had a diaper pail beside the space where we typically changed kiddos diapers. In an effort to not need to wash the thing out all the time I just kept one liner in it which was easily removed and a back up close by for when the first one was in the wash.

Travel Wetbag

If you plan on leaving the house with cloth diapers on kiddo you need somewhere to put the dirty diapers when they are changed. Do your self a favor and get a wet bag for the diaper bag, it will make it easier, and it’s just as easy to clean as the pail liners.

Cloth Diper Safe laundry detergent

Some detergents leave a residue on your diapers which reduces the absorbancy. So be carefull which ones you use. Also if you toss any aspect of your cloth diapers into a dryer make sure you NEVER use a bounce sheet or similar product in that dryer (wether there is a cloth diper in it or not) the wax from the sheet will again reduce your absorbancy.

Cloth Diaper Safe Diaper Balm

Most of the typicall diaper creams and balms will contain ingredients that can reduce the life and absorbancy of your diapers. If you need to use one, make sure you get disposable liners or switch to disposable diapers for the duration of the cream. Otherwise get your hands on (or make your own) cloth diaper balm for if baby gets a rash.

Drying rack or wire rack for drying

use this for hanging the washed covers, pail liner and travel wet bags after washing, bonus if you have one that can be moved outside for sunning too.

Clothes Pins

Use these to keep the covers, pail liners, and travel wet bags on the drying rack when they are being hung up.