Cloth Diapers: A Beginner’s Guide

Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapers are awesome, and I am truly addicted. However, it hasn’t always been this way! When Monkey was born, we were too overwhelmed by the vast choice of modern cloth diapers that we ended up skipping them altogether. By the time his little brother arrived, however, we were ready to start dipping our toes in the cloth nappy waters. We started out with just a few, and now, since a month ago, we are using cloth diapers full time during the day. Next on the list is night diapers, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.

A reader (and a friend) recently approached me for advice on getting started with cloth diapers, so I decided to answer her plea via a blog post. This is by no means an exhaustive guide, just a simple one to introduce you to the various types of cloth diapers, their pros and cons and my personal brand recommendations.

Where Do I Start?

This is usually the part that puts off most parents when they decide to give cloth diapers a go. Where on earth to begin? There is a vast array of modern cloth diapers available, all of which have their own advantages and disadvantages. The mistake a lot of parents make is going out and buying an entire birth-to-potty kit of a particular brand. They usually find that they don’t work out for whatever reason, and give up on cloth altogether. The fact is this – not all diapers will work for all babies. In addition, what works brilliantly for your 3 month old may not work so well when they are closer to a year. The best thing to do is to buy some preloved diapers to try out. If you’re in the UK, clothnappytree.com is a great place to start. It has a large, friendly and informative forum which boasts a classifieds section – you don’t need to have been a member for any length of time, or have any particular number of posts to your name to get started buying and selling. If you’re in the US, check out diaperswappers.com, and our Auzzie sisters can try usednappies.com.au. When it comes to cloth diapers, there really is no need to buy new. My entire stash, bar one nappy, is made up of preloved diapers. If you do want to buy new, try Amazon.com.

How Many Diapers Will I Need?

This very much depends on what kind of nappy makes up the bulk of your stash, and how often you wash. If you use lots of fast-drying prefolds or terries, you won’t need half as many as you would if you use mostly AIO’s. I have 15 diapers plus 6 prefolds and 2 wraps (so a total of 21 diapers) and I find this is ample – especially now the weather is warmer and they dry in a couple of hours on the line. I wash usually every second or third day.

However, because I prefer not to tumble dry if I can help it, I will probably invest in three or four more diapers once the good old British winter returns and the sun disappears again.

When buying diapers for the first time, try not to worry too much about how many you will need. Just collect a few here and there, get a feel for them and build your stash gradually.

What Else Will I Need?

Other than diapers (and a baby, of course…), You will need –

  • A wet bag – you can use these to transport your used diapers when you’re out and about. Also very handy for when the nappy bucket gets full. Having more than one is very useful.
  • A nappy bucket – use this to store the used diapers until you wash them. There’s absolutely no need to soak them, as modern washing machines are good enough to clean them well. Some people prefer not to use a bucket at all, and stick with a wet bag.
  • A laundry mesh bag – this isn’t essential but I find ours invaluable. It has an elasticated neck, which stretches around the rim of the bucket. Then, when it’s full, I can just pull out the bag and throw the whole thing into the machine.
  • You may find some kind of nappy liner to be useful if your baby is eating solids. Milk-fed baby poops are very liquid-y so there’s no problem in throwing them straight in the machine, but once those poops get more poopy you’ll want to get rid of the bulk of it before washing it. Liners also help protect the nappy which you may want to sell at some point down the line. We use inexpensive biodegradeable paper liners, but many choose to use fleece liners (easily made from an old fleece blanket).
  • If you’re using prefolds or terries (or some brands of fitteds), you’ll need some nappy pins or Nappy Nippas. However, we use prefolds and as of yet we haven’t had a need to Nippa them yet.

Okay, now we’ll talk about the main types of cloth nappy.

Two-Part Diaper Systems

Two part nappy systems are comprised of the nappy – the absorbent bit – and the cover – the bit that keeps the pee and poop away from the clothes. There are a few different types of two-parters. You’ve got your traditional terry squares – these probably graced your bottom when you were a baby. Next, you’ve got your prefolds – these are the same idea as the terry squares, and still require some folding, but they are much easier to get the hang of. And then, at the easiest end of the scale, you’ve got your fitted diapers. These go on just like a disposable, with either aplix (Velcro) or popper fastening. Fitteds can be boosted with extra layers of microfibre, cotton, bamboo or hemp.

All of these diapers will require some kind of cover to keep the wetness away from baby’s clothes. Those plastic pants that you probably wore as a baby are generally not recommended now, because they don’t let the skin breathe. Most waterproof wraps nowadays are made from PUL. You can also use fleece (which is not waterproof but is water resistant) or wool. Wool is a wonderful fabric for a nappy cover – naturally antibacterial and water resistant, and once lanolised it’s practically bombproof. It’s a fantastic choice for nighttime, because it lets the skin breathe and yet easily contains a whole nights worth of pee.

Pros

  • Nothing contains a poop explosion like a good two-part nappy
  • Wraps/covers come in a vast array of designs and outer fabrics, as do the diapers themselves
  • Cost effective – prefolds and terries especially are very cheap to purchase in comparison to more ‘high-tech’ diapers, and they are great stash-boosters.
  • You don’t have to change the wrap every time you change the nappy – only change if soiled.
    Prefolds and terries dry super fast. Fitteds can dry quickly, depending on what they are made out of.

Cons

  • More to carry around with you when you’re out and about
  • More of a faff to put on than a pocket or all-in-one nappy
  • Prefolds and terries need to be changed more often

Alternative Mama Recommends….

My favourite two-part diapers by far are the Bummis Organic Cotton Prefolds, which I use with either a Bummis Whisper Wrap, or a Blueberry Wrap. We don’t tend to use fitted diapers, simply because we get on just fine with the prefolds and they are so cheap! However, there are many great fitted diapers out there – we loved Tots Bots Bamboozles when Squishy was first born, but found them to be too bulky once he started wearing proper clothes rather than just sleepsuits.

Pocket Diapers

Pocket diapers are my absolute favourite type of nappy. The majority of my stash comprises pockets, and for good reason!

Cloth Diapers: A Beginner's Guide

Inside an Itti Bitti D’lish Snap-In-One

Before we start, I want to briefly explain inserts and boosters to you. Inserts and boosters are what you stuff your pocket diapers with. Inserts are bigger and thicker than boosters. I either use one insert with one booster, or two inserts together. Inserts are the main ‘workhorses’ of your nappy stuffing materials, and boosters add absorbency without adding much to the bulk of the nappy. You can also use boosters by just resting them on the inside of the nappy rather than stuffing them inside – this is particularly useful with all-in-one diapers.

A pocket nappy is exactly what it says on the tin – a waterproof nappy with a pocket that opens at the back, in which you put the absorbent stuff – your inserts. They allow for complete customisation of absorbency and slimness. They come in SO many different colours, patterns and fabrics – you can even get custom made ones! You don’t need to use a wrap with pocket diapers – they will have a layer of waterproof PUL either on the outside, or within the nappy, between the bottom-side of the pocket and the outer fabric.

Pros-

  • What I love most about pockets is how customisable they are. If I know we will be going on a long car journey, for instance, I can stuff an extra booster or insert into the pocket to make the nappy last longer.
    Generally, pocket diapers are lined with microfleece, which wicks wetness (try saying that after a couple of tequilas) away from baby – some people find that the microfleece layer is dry enough at a change to just replace the stuffing!
  • Huge range of different styles, shapes, designs and fabrics
  • Can be used as night diapers but not recommended for heavy wetters
  • There is a pocket to suit every price range

Cons-

  • … I can’t actually think of any
  • Oh, yes, I can think of one – it takes time to re-stuff all of the diapers once they are dry before you put them away. Although, if I’m being honest, I actually quite enjoy doing it!

Alternative Mama Recommends…

I absolutely adore BumGenius v3’s, FuzziBunz, Blueberry One Size and Tots Bots EasyFit (the EasyFit is actually sold as an AIO but as it has a pocket for extra boosting, I consider it a pocket nappy).

All-In-One’s/All-In-Two’s

All-in-one (AIO) and all-in-two (AI2) diapers are arguably the easiest of diapers to use. As the name suggests, AIO’s don’t need anything extra – no inserts, no waterproof cover. Some of them do have snap-in and/or pop-in boosters, and of course you can add extra boosting yourself if you wish.

Cloth Diapers: A Beginner's Guide

Cushie Tushie Couture in Bumblebee

AI2’s are kind of a hybrid – a cross between AIO’s and pockets. The absorbent part of the nappy usually snaps in with poppers, which allows it to dry quicker. Also, if you change the baby often enough, you may find you only have to replace the snapped-in boosters and not the nappy outer!

AIO’s/AI2’s are a great choice for when your baby goes to daycare or if you leave them with a relative who isn’t a proficient cloth nappy-er. They go on just like disposables, with either aplix or poppers.

Pros-

  • The ultimate in ease – they go on just like a disposable. Perfect for dads, grannies and nursery/daycare
  • Huge range of colours, designs and fabrics
  • Absorbency is customisable by adding boosters if required

Cons-

  • Can take a long time to dry in comparison to others, and not all diapers can be tumble dried.
  • Tend to be much more expensive
  • Can be bulky – some brands more so than others.

Alternative Mama Recommends…

My Favourite AIO’s are my beloved Cushie Tushies. They are simply fab! They dry relatively quickly, come in super-cute designs and are very good at containing poop. I also love Itti Bitti D’Lish diapers, which come in either an AIO or AI2. They are incredibly slim fitting and fit under all of Squish’s clothes – even his jeans!

Tell Me About Washing!

When your baby is little and not eating any solids, there really won’t be much need to do a special nappy wash. I just threw Squish’s diapers in with our washing. Occasionally they would start to smell a little funky – when this happened I would do a special separate nappy wash at 60 degrees C to freshen them up. Now that the Squishy-Man is chowing down on solids as well as boob, we do dedicated nappy washes every second or third day.

It’s important to remember to never use additives in your nappy wash! Fabric conditioner will severely impact the absorbency of your diapers. I sometimes add some Napisan if I feel they need freshening up, but it’s a rare occurrence. It is also, for some reason, best to use powder rather than liquid detergent (but I have used both, without any adverse effect).

A Word About Wipes

Believe it or not, it is actually far easier to use cloth wipes if you are going to use cloth diapers. If you use disposable ones, you will have to think about where you are going to put them! The nappy will get thrown into the bucket or wet bag, whilst your pile of poopy wipes will have to be transported to a bin. Cloth wipes are inexpensive, or you can even make your own out of an old towel – just make sure you hem or overlock the edges or they will fray in the wash. I find simple cotton terry wipes to be very effective and it takes hardly any extra effort to use them. I just fill a small tub with water (I like the Lock & Lock tubs), a few drops of lavender essential oil and a small glug of olive oil, and squash the wipes in. Hey presto, wet wipes ready for the next change!

Cloth Diapers: A Beginner's Guide

Reusable wet wipes

Alternative Mama’s Top Cloth Tips

  • When you buy a pocket nappy, the chances are it will come with one or two microfibre inserts – this generally won’t be enough to stop the nappy from leaking after an hour or so, unless you have a very light wetter. Microfibre holds the liquid between the fibres, so when it becomes full it will squelch out. I find that a combination of bamboo and hemp inserts work very well to hold the wetness. Hemp is the most absorbent, but it doesn’t absorb quickly. So, put the bamboo insert on top and the hemp insert or booster beneath. I find that microfibre on top of hemp works pretty well too.
  • If using pocket diapers, be sure to pull the inserts out of the nappy before washing.
  • If your diapers become stained or dull, simply lay them out in the sun for a few hours! This will brighten them up a treat.
  • Always check the washing instructions for your particular nappy! In addition to this, check the label on your wet bag too. Ridiculously, some brands of wet bag can only be washed at 40 degrees C, whereas most diapers can be washed at 60.
  • Cloth diapers need to be changed more often than their freakishly absorbent disposable counterparts. On average you’ll be changing every 3 hours in order to keep baby comfortable and their clothes dry!
  • Chuck a few drops of tea tree or lavender essential oil into the empty nappy bucket to keep it fresh.
  • If your babe has a funky nappy that you want to show off, team it with a pair of Huggalugs or BabyLegs instead of trousers!

I really hope this post has been helpful! Please feel free to ask any questions and I’ll do my best to answer.

Cloth mamas, what tips would you give to someone who’s just getting started? What do you love about cloth? What are your favourite types/brands?

Comments

  1. Becki says

    You know i heart you completely, right? Thankyou so much hun, this was exactly what i needed. Ive raided my hairdresser savings and im off to find some pre-loved nappies to practice with – i never thought i could get so excited about poop containment!

    You are proper lovely :D xx <3

  2. April says

    I use cut up old cotton t-shirts for wipes. This way, I don’t have to sew them (which I hate doing). I put my wipes solution in a spray bottle, so I just spray straight on the baby’s bum. We also use these wipes for feeding time, which gets messy when he pulls off the boob and lets it spray him in the face! the t-shirts are softer than washcloths.

    Also, Fuzzi bunz has a great support site. I accidentally dried one of my one-size diapers on high (which destroys the PUL) and they replaced it for me, plus sent me two baby legs to make up for the cost of shipping the old diaper back to them.

    • says

      What a great tip, thanks April! Do you find that they’re grippy enough for poop? The fleece ones we were using are fine for breastfed baby poop but no good on my 3yo, which is why we went to cotton terry.

      Wow, A* for FuzziBunz! Impressive customer service there!

      Thank you for commenting :)

  3. Michelle says

    Really worth doing is a nappy trial – if you live in the UK you can hire a big box of nappies for a month. My friend did this and the box included most common brands so she could see which were the best fit for her bubba.

    Also in many parts of the UK you can get vouchers from your local council to help with the cost of nappies – £40 in Southwark where I live.

    Camomile tea makes a nice base for wet wipes.

    Cloth nappies are great. My two favourite brands are Smartipants and Babba and Boo.

    • says

      Ooh yes, camomile is lovely. we used to use it all the time but I keep forgetting to buy the tea bags, oops!

      yes the nappy trials are great, so useful for those starting out with cloth. Our local Children’s Centre do that scheme, but for some reason it hasn’t been all that popular, which is a shame.

      thanks so much for commenting :)

  4. Anna says

    Have you seen the cloth bum mums facebook page? https://www.facebook.com/groups/236621143023811/

    i found it really helpful for starting out, and great for established cloth bummies like youself.
    I’ve been using cloth with my baby girl since about 2 mths old and she’s now 8 mths. We are big fans!
    our favorites are pre folds with a variety of different wraps. we use bambino mio primarily with their own brand wraps, then use blueberry coveralls, weenotions (preloved lol)and i have a starbunz on the way. but now she’s all over the place i’ve started to use pocket nappies as they stay much better.

    i also make my own wipe solution, and use fleece or minky wipes for face and toweling ones for bottom. we keep our wipes dry and use a spray bottle. a little one for out and about and a big one for at home :)

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