Everything You Need to Know About Cloth Diapers

One way you can save big bucks during baby's first years is by cloth diapering, especially if you plan on having multiple children and can reuse them. Choosing cloth for your child will also save you tons of cash on trash bags (not to mention heaps of diapers in the landfill). Here's the process broken down for those who might be curious or even feel intimidated.

How It Works

Many people are surprised to learn that cloth diapering doesn't take a whole lot more effort than standard diapering. You put the diaper on your child, he or she soils it, you change the diaper, and then you start fresh. The only difference is that you'll be dealing with the diapers again on the washing end. As you can imagine, getting the job done requires some planning and practice.

The good news: laundering diapers is far less gross and time-consuming than you might think. And there are many options available to you depending on your commitment level and lifestyle.

Types of Diapers

There are a multitude of cloth diapering options, and what you choose is up to you. Some diapers have a gazillion snaps. Others have tricky Velcro closures. Some need covers. Others come in two parts. Here are the most common types — demystified.

1. Pocket

The majority of my cloth diapers were pocket style from bumGenius. Basically, the diaper comes in two parts — the waterproof outer shell and the absorbent insert. Our diapers fit our daughter from a few weeks after she was born until she was potty trained. Stuffing and un-stuffing does take a few extra minutes at wash time, but it becomes automatic.

2. All-in-Ones

If you choose all-in-one diapers (AIO), you'll get everything you need in one convenient package. There's no stuffing or covers required because it's all sewn together. My only issue with AIO is that they take longer to dry than the other types. Otherwise, they're super easy to use and come in a variety of fabrics.

3. Prefolds

A lot of people picture prefold diapers when they think of the cloth process. This type is much like what your mother or grandmother may have used with pins, but it's still a popular choice today and most often the best choice for your budget. Instead of pins, you can use snazzy diaper fasteners. You'll cover your prefolds with a waterproof cover.

4. Fitted

Fitted diapers also require waterproof covers. The key difference between fitted and prefolds is that they don't need folding or any special fastener to stay closed. If you choose this type, you'll have to buy different sizes as your baby grows. Each size fits a good range of weights, though.

5. Hybrids

I eventually added some gDiapers to my collection when we started traveling and using a sitter more frequently. As the name implies, hybrid diapers provide a mix of options depending on your preferences. You can fill the reusable waterproof cover with a disposable or cloth insert. They come in one-size and individual sizes. Hybrid diapers certainly offer the most flexibility in the bunch.

6. Used

Seriously. There are thousands of people who incorporate used cloth diapers into their stashes. In fact, that's another reason cloth is a good investment — you can sell them or reuse them when your baby is done. Check out sites like ClothDiaperTrader where you can get gently used diapers for a fraction of their original prices.

Smart Setup

Once you've chosen your diaper type(s), move your attention to your diaper station setup. Much of what you assemble will be the same as if you were using disposables. However, there are some key things that will make life easier on you and others who diaper your child.

1. Diaper Pail and Liner

You'll need somewhere to store the dirty diapers while they're waiting to be washed. We used a tall plastic garbage can with a snap-shut cover and wheels. Instead of lining it with a garbage bag, we bought two reusable diaper pail liners that get washed with the diapers. Toss the diapers in the bin, wheel it to your washing machine, and go.

2. Prep Your Diapers

If you use pocket diapers, prefolds, hybrids, or anything else with more than one part — stuff it or lay it out ahead of time. I used to do this while watching television when they were fresh from the dryer. If you use all-in-ones, you can skip this step. Regardless, taking a bit of time to have everything organized is well worth it.

3. Diaper Liners

Over time, diaper creams and salves can cause the diaper to lose its absorbency. If you need to use creams on your baby, you'll want to use diaper liners to protect the fabric from buildup. To make sure you use them, stick them somewhere next to your wipes. Bonus: Diaper liners also make cleaning up solids much easier.

4. Cloth Wipes

Using cloth wipes is entirely optional. But if you're already washing diapers, tossing in wipes isn't that much more work. You can even make your own cloth wipes by cutting pieces of flannel fabric and soaking them in a gentle wash solution that's just a mixture of water, soap, and oil. Keep your wipes in a plastic bag or container until you're ready to use.

Notes on Laundering

To keep your stash fresh and friendly for your child's bum, you'll want to wash every day or every other day. Jillian's Drawers, a cloth diaper shop near where I live, suggests washing no more than 12 to 18 diapers at a time, using your machine's highest water level setting and hot water.

Try sticking to detergents that leave little residue, fragrance, and other gunk on diapers. Skip fabric softeners. The buildup can make diapers lose their absorbency over time. You can use specific diaper detergents like Rockin' Green or Molly's Suds. A lot of people use plain Tide or Charlie's Soap.

What about number two? It's also a great idea to install a diaper sprayer on your toilet to help wash away solids before they sit for too long. It takes just minutes and can save you a big stink later.

And when it comes to drying, the sun works wonders. If you can, put your diapers on a line outdoors and let the air freshen and the sun zap out stains. Otherwise, dry prefolds and diaper inserts in your machine. Try hanging covers and other diapers on a line or drying rack. They'll keep their integrity longer with gentler care.

What does your cloth diapering process look like? Any tips to share?

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Everything You Need to Know About Cloth Diapers

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