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Cloth Diapering Handout

Why Cloth Diapers

There are many reasons families choose to use cloth diapers and lots of types of cloth diapers to choose from!  Some families are concerned about the chemicals and amount of petroleum products used to make disposable diapers while others worry about the space disposable diapers take up in landfills. While the environmental benefits of cloth diapers are sometimes debated, the cost benefits are pretty well accepted! Cloth diapers have a higher initial cost than disposable diapers, but the long-term savings can be huge. In most cases you can easily cloth diaper a child, from birth until they are no longer in need of diapers, for less than half of what you would spend on disposable diapers over that same amount of time.

Cloth Diapering Systems

Prefold or Flat Diapers- Prefold diapers are one of the most economical ways to cloth diaper.  They are rectangular, with several layers of fabric, and are either folded in thirds and placed inside a waterproof cover (called “trifolding”) or folded and secured on the baby by using diaper pins or a Snappi diaper fastener before putting on the waterproof cover. 
Flat diapers are another inexpensive diapering option.  These "old school" diapers are square and just one layer of fabric.  They can be folded down several ways to be secured around the baby with pins or a Snappi, similar to how a prefold would be used, or folded into a rectangle and laid in a cover (called "pad-folding"). 
All flat and prefold diapers need a separate waterproof diaper cover to go over it.  We recommend buying one cover for every 4 flats and/or prefolds in your diaper stash. This means that if you are using all flats/prefolds, you will need a total of 24 diapers and at least 6 covers.

Fitted Diapers- Fitted diapers are more expensive then prefolds but are pre-shaped and usually close with either snaps or hook&loop (similar to Velcro), though some have no closure (can be fastened with pins or Snappi). Unlike flats or prefolds they have encased elastic at the legs and back of the diaper (which helps contain poop).
All fitted diapers need a separate waterproof diaper cover to go over it. We recommend buying one cover for every 6 fitteds in your diaper stash. This means that if you are using all fitteds, you will need a total of 24 diapers and at least 4 covers.

Waterproof Diaper Covers
- Diapers that don’t already have a water resistant outer layer, like prefolds and fitteds, will need a diaper cover over them to keep baby’s clothes (and everything else!) dry. In general, we recommend one diaper cover for every 4-6 diapers in your stash. Most families find that they can reuse a diaper cover a few times before needing to fully wash it; if it is simply damp on the inside you can wipe it down or give it a quick rinse in the sink and then air dry (most covers dry within a couple of hours). So, take off a diaper cover and wipe down as needed, air it out, and then reuse it at a future diaper change. Diaper covers made of TPU (polyester urethane laminate) fabric are the most common type of cover used and can be usually be washed and dried with the diapers.

Hybrid/All-in-Two Diapers- Hybrid / All-in-Two Diapers are a two piece diaper system, which consists of a reusable waterproof shell/cover and an absorbent snap-in or lay-in insert.  With an All-in-Two system, you can reuse the waterproof cover (as long as it's clean enough!) with a new insert at a future diaper change.  This makes for an economical diapering system, as you don't need as many covers as you have inserts; Usually families find a ratio of 1 shell cover for every 2-4 inserts works well for them.
Once the shell/cover and insert are put together, a Hybrid / All-in-Two Diaper goes on very easily.  There's no folding necessary like you would do with a prefold or flat diaper plus shell/cover combo and there's generally less bulk than with a fitted diaper plus shell/cover combo.  Generally, people choose Hybrid/All-in-Two Diapers for daytime use as most will not be absorbent enough for overnights.  They are also a great choice for on the go, as packing a diaper bag with a couple of shells/covers and several inserts will take up less room than the same amount of pocket or all-in-one diapers.    

Pocket Diapers- Like fitted diapers pocket diapers are shaped, have enclosed elastic at the legs and back, and close with either snaps or hook&loop. However the outside of a pocket diaper is waterproof, so no separate cover is required. Pocket diapers are named for their pocket opening, which is stuffed with an absorbent insert prior to using. The trimmest options for inserts are hemp or microterry. You can also use a flat or prefold diaper as an insert. Every pocket diaper needs at least one absorbent insert, though some people will use more than one for heavy wetters or for naps/nighttime diapering.  Even though the absorbent insert and pocket diaper shell come apart completely, pocket diapers are “one and done”, no reusing any parts until after washing.

All-in-Ones- All-in-ones are just that, the whole diaper in one piece, no separate waterproof cover or stuffing required as the absorbency and waterproof layers are attached.  Once an all-in-one has been used the whole thing needs to be washed.  All-in-ones are shaped like a diaper, have enclosed elastic at the legs and back, and close with either snaps or hook&loop.  They are basically as close to a disposable diaper as cloth diapers get, except instead of throwing it out after use you'll put it in the wash!
In general, all-in-ones are best as daytime diapers, as most do not have enough absorbency to last overnight on their own. However, since they are very user friendly they are great for quick changes on the go, babysitters, or anyone unfamiliar with changing cloth diapers.

Cloth Diapering Accessories – The Extras

Wet Bags and Pail Liners- These are great waterproof bags that come in a few different sizes. We recommend a couple in the small or medium size for use in your diaper bag to store your wet/dirty diapers when you are out of the house. You may also want to buy one in the large or extra large size to line your diaper pail at home. These can be washed in your washer along with your diapers and then dried along with the diapers or hung to dry.

Cloth Wipes, Wipe Solution, and Wipe Pouches- If you will be using cloth diapers, why not cloth wipes for baby too? They can be thrown right in the wash along with diapers and will save you a lot of money in the long run! We recommend about 36 cloth wipes for full-time use. You can simply wet the wipes with warm water or purchase a liquid wipe solution to use with them. There are even small sized wet bags made just for toting your pre-moistening cloth wipes when you are out of the house!

Fleece Liners- Fleece liners are a great way to keep baby feeling dry. They are rectangular pieces of microfleece that you simply lay in a diaper next to baby’s bum. After use they are simply washed and dried along with the diapers and then reused. They can also help with poop removal as well, once the baby has started solid foods.

Flushable Liners- Flushable liners are a wonderful accessory to have once baby starts eating solid food. You lay a liner in between the baby and the diaper to “catch” the poop. When the diaper is wet/soiled you remove and flush the liner in the toilet (you can also just flush the poop and throw the liner out). Flushable liners are not recommended if you have sensitive old pipes or a cranky septic system.

Diaper Sprayers- Another great option for poop removal! Diaper sprayers attach to the piping that fills your toilet tank with water. You then use the sprayer head to rinse poop off of the diaper and into the toilet. No more “dunk and flush” like our grandmas used to do! This is a much cleaner and easier way to help with poop removal once babies start eating solid food.

Doublers and Inserts- Doublers are small rectangular pieces of fabric that add a nice boost of absorbency to a diaper especially if you have a heavy wetter. They’re also nice to add for naptime or long car rides. Inserts are thicker and bigger, to use as the main absorbency in a pocket diaper. Extra inserts come in handy to “double stuff” pocket diapers for nighttime.

Diaper Fasteners- In the past, to secure prefold or a fitted diaper with no closure parents had to use pins. These days, there are other choices! Though not necessary, using a diaper fastener with prefolds allows you to get a custom diaper fit for the baby and reduces the amount of poop that may get on the inside of the diaper cover.


“One-Size” Diapers… The Real Scoop

There are lots of one-size diaper covers, fitted diapers, pocket diapers, and all-in-ones on the market. Many will claim to be the only diaper you will need from birth until potty learning but in general, most families find that one-size diapers and covers fit best when babies are between 10-30lbs. They may be too bulky to use on small newborns and large toddlers may outgrow them before they are fully out of diapers. So you may still need smaller or larger diapers in addition to one-sizes, if you would like to use cloth diapers from birth until potty learning.

Another point to consider with one-size cloth diapers is that a set of one-size diapers may wear out after full time use for one child over the course of 2-3 years. Sized diapers (newborn, small, medium, large, etc) will be used for shorter periods of time before the baby outgrows them, so there will not be as much wear and tear on them. Most sized diapers will be able to be packed away to use later on another baby but many one-size diapers may only do their job for one child.

Overall, one-size diapers are usually a good investment for most families and will likely fit a baby for the bulk of their diapering days. They can also be a great choice if you have two (or more!) babies in diapers at the same time, as the same one-size diaper will likely fit both a baby and a toddler or two different sizes twins.


Building a Cloth Diaper Stash

If you will be cloth diapering one baby full time we recommend having at least 24 diapers in rotation. This will have you doing diaper laundry about every 2-3 days. If you will be cloth diapering a newborn, you may need more diapers (newborns can easily go through 10-12 diapers a day!) while older babies and toddlers often need less.

Many families new to cloth diapering prefer to try a few different kinds of diapers to see which fits their baby best and is the easiest for them to use before investing in a large quantity. Consider starting with about 12 diapers and then after using for a couple of weeks you can add more of your favorites. If you are on a strict budget, you can also start with a smaller quantity and just wash your diapers daily (consider washing with baby clothes or towels to save water/energy). Then buy another diaper or two whenever you can until you are up to a comfortable amount.


Washing Made Simple

The actual washing of the diapers is what makes many parents think twice about using cloth diapers… well that and what to do with the poop! In reality, washing diapers is fairly easy, and no, you don’t have to dunk dirty diapers in the toilet anymore. While over time you will find a routine that works well for you, here are five steps to get you started with the proper care and washing of your diapers.

Step 1- Wet diapers can go immediately into the diaper pail. We recommend using a diaper pail with a flip top so that you can leave the top open to allow air and light into it (no air+dark place=smelly diapers!). If the diaper is soiled, solid poop (exclusively "milk fed" babies usually do not have solid poop!) should be removed before putting it into the diaper pail. To do so, you can use flushable liners, a diaper sprayer, or simply shake or scrape (we like to keep a dedicated spatula under the bathroom sink just for this) the poop into the toilet.

Step 2- The first step of washing diapers is to put them through a cold or warm prewash, short wash, or rinse&spin cycle in your washer, with only water*. This will help rinse out the pee and any remaining poop from your diapers to allow the detergent added in the next step to do its job better! (*Note: In hard water washing conditions, you may need to add 1/3-1/2 the amount of detergent recommended based on load size during this step as well.)

Step 3- A long hot wash cycle with detergent (just a regular hot water cycle, not a steam or sanitize wash cycle). Use the maximum amount of detergent recommended based on load size. 

Step 4- An extra rinse&spin cycle**. This step is important as it ensures that all of the detergent has been washed out of the diapers. (**Note: An extra rinse&spin may not be necessary in hard water washing conditions)

Step 5- Dry! You can dry most diapers and covers in the dryer, but don’t forget that line drying will save you money and help the environment at the same time. Plus, the sun’s rays do a great job at naturally sanitizing and bleaching out any staining the diapers have. Air drying also extends the life of elastic, waterproofing, and hook&loop closures.

And just for good measure… Remember to wash your diapers regularly, every 2-3 days at least. Leaving wet and dirty diapers in the pail for several days or even a week will result in very smelly, hard to clean diapers. Along the same lines, try not to overload your washing machine either; Wash a total of 24 diapers/covers at a time, at most. 

Please note: The washing routine outlined above is a starting off point. You may need to adjust the detergent amount or add a water softener based on your water quality.  Please also check the care labels on your diapers for any special washing instructions. For example, some manufacturers recommend washing or drying on warm as opposed to hot, and others have warranties that will become void with the use of certain laundry aides (bleach, vinegar, or detergents with enzymes, optical brighteners, dyes, or fragrances).

PS- Don't Forget to Prep New Diapers Before Use!  Generally speaking, brand new, unused diapers made of natural fabrics (like cotton, hemp, and bamboo) will need to be washed/dried at least 3-4 times before using them on your baby, to help prep their absorbency; Covers/non-absorbent parts only need to be washed once.  Wash all diapers that need to be prepped on hot with detergent, then dry on low-medium heat, and repeat.  Do not skip the machine drying during prepping the diapers, it's an integral part of the process!  Since these diapers have not been used yet, feel free throw them in with any other laundry that's being washed on hot instead of washing them in their own load.  Just make sure you're not using any fabric softener!


Any Other Questions?

We have handpicked all of the cloth diapers in our store and offer our expertise and ongoing support to ensure your success in using them. If you have a question about laundering, fit, or need help deciding what type of diapers may work for your family you can always call on us. We love cloth diapers and want you to love using them too!