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Cloth Diapering 101: All You Need To Know to Make it Cheap and Easy

Welcome to the jungle! Guess what song I’m totally singing in my head right now? Cue the guitar solos and maybe the washing machine, because today we are entering the amazonian labyrinth of cloth diapering.

Did you hear that? Was that a roar?


Perhaps not. Maybe all you can hear is deafening silence because no one you know cloth diapers their babe and you really aren’t even sure if you should dare even think about starting down that ominous cloth diapering path.

Not to fear! I am your Guerilla warrior. Your bushwacker into the wild and crazy jungle world of cloth diapering.

Why so scary, Jane?

  • There is a HUGE amount of info on cloth diapering to wade through (and how do you know what information pertains to YOUR situation/life/schedule?)
  • There’s an insane amount of acronyms to decipher: AIO, CD, AI2s…Are we still talking about cloth diapers?
  • There are TYPES of cloth diapers??
  • Zillions and zillions of brands…How do I know which brand to buy?

While I can’t roll up into your nursery and give you personal cloth diaper coaching, I CAN help you cut through the creeping vines and reveal the path forward into Cloth Diapering Land.

My guess is that you’re going to find it’s not as hard (or as gross) as you imagined!

Just to calm any fears that may be floating around in your mind at this point…this isn’t an agenda-driven article. I’ve loved cloth diapering my kids, but hey, I’ve also used disposables. I know that cloth diapering isn’t for everyone, and you might be in that category! That’s totally okay. Feel free to read along anyway, as this article is meant to be “for your information” and not “for your conversion”. 🙂

Why Do People Enter the
Cloth Diapering Jungle, Anyway?

With the clear convenience of disposable diapers, why do people consider an alternative? Why are people channeling their Mom’s era when this one is so much easier? There are a couple reasons, and some of them are biggies! While this isn’t an all encompassing list of reasons, it covers the most common ones!

A Desire to Save Money

Averages vary, but the cost of diapering over the lifetime of a child until potty training is about between $1,800- $2,220.

Factoring in the initial start up cost for materials, laundering, water and electricity costs, you are looking at around $800 your first year CDing–and that’s on the high end of things.

You’re looking at even less the second year since you already own the goods. The savings gets even more pronounced if you have a second child and continue to cloth diaper. You already have everything you need and only the laundering will cost you!

A Desire to Avoid Chemicals

What makes disposables so absorbent? Synthetic materials and chemicals. Disposable diapers contain traces levels of Dioxin–an extremely toxic by-product of the paper-bleaching process.

Dixon is a carcinogenic chemical, listed by the EPA as the most toxic of all cancer-linked chemicals. It is listed as a banned chemical in most countries, but not the U.S. Disposables also contain Tributyl-tin (TBT). TBT is a toxic pollutant known to cause hormonal problems in humans and animals.

A Desire to Help Planet Earth

According to Kelly Wels, author of Changing Diapers: A Hip Mom’s Guide To Modern Cloth Diapering every child in disposables generates half a ton of diaper waste that goes directly into our landfills. YIKES.

As for decomposition, no one knows the exact time frame of how long disposables take to degrade, but it’s estimated to take between 250-500 years. Real Diapers.org also notes that 300+ pounds of wood, 50 pounds of petroleum feedstocks and 20 pounds of chlorine are used to produce disposable diapers for one baby EACH YEAR.

A Desire to Up the Cute Factor

Bottom line is: they are adorable.

Every brand differs, but they are all pretty darn cute. You can expect to find every pattern under the sun in literally every color.

And there are those “awwws” cloth diapers invoke when you go to change one at the park, even by people who’ve chosen not to cloth diaper!

Learning the Native Language of the
Cloth Diapering Wilderness

Before we start talking about methodology, we should stop and make sure that we’re all speaking the same language.

It’s time for a quick course in terminology. Trust me, if we don’t start here you’ll be completely frustrated and lost by the time we actually start traipsing through the rainforest.

So, before you break out your wallet and start setting your station up, read through this section carefully so you know what you’re really buying!

Covers: The cutely designed outside portion of the cloth diaper that everyone gushes over. Typically constructed of PUL, a waterproof fabric that protects your baby’s clothes from wetness.

Prefolds (also called Chinese prefolds): A prefold is just like it sounds: a semi-prefolded piece of multi layered absorbent fabric sewn together. You can usually find these in large packs of 100% organic cotton ones ready to go at your local natural baby store. They consist of three sections and are folded into thirds and placed in a cover or a pocket diaper. There are more layers in the middle for absorbency and they are thinner on the sides. Typically, these are used with diaper covers or stuffed into pockets.

Flat: A flat piece of fabric, typically a natural fiber (cotton, hemp, bamboo) that you origami together into a shape that perfectly fits your babies bum. You can also use these alone on your baby without a cover and hold it together with Snappis or pins, but to be waterproof they need covers!

Inserts: A rectangle of fabric that requires no folding (like prefolds do) and will lay right in the diaper cover or can be stuffed in a pocket.

CD or CDing: Cloth Diaper or cloth diapering

Liner: A lightweight bamboo disposable or cloth reusable liner that goes over the diaper insert to make cleaning up solids a breeze, and/or to protect the diaper from non-cloth diaper safe diaper rash creams.

AIO or AI2s: All-in-One or All-in-Two, a specific type of cloth diaper (Don’t worry, I’m going to explain that more in a second!).

OS: One-size diaper. These diapers will fit your baby from 10-ish pounds all the way up to 30 pounds. Brands do vary though, so double check!

Stash: Your personal collection of cloth diapers.

5 Cloth Diapering Methods
For You to Choose From

Cloth diapers (CD’s) have come a long way from the ones your Grandma wrestled with. They are more functional, affordable, and darling than ever. (Have you SEEN some of these prints? So, so cute!)

Let’s start with the types of cloth diapers you’ll commonly see out in the wild.

Cloth Diapering Method #1: Cover + Prefold

This method consists of a waterproof cover in a never-ending array of cute designs, mixed with an insert or prefold that fits your baby’s specific needs. Covers and prefolds are the most economical choice and usually many people’s first foray into cloth diapering. You can mix and match brands of covers and prefolds with this method which is another way to cut the cost.

You will either start with a newborn cover, choose sized covers, or go the one size route, which is what I prefer. One size diapers will fit your baby from 8-10 pounds (varies a bit by brand) all the way up to 30 pounds. But, that said, if you have a tiny, itty bitty baby, then you’ll need to use newborn size covers to start, or switch to cloth diapers once they are big enough!

These covers will also come in hook and loop (read: Velcro-like attachment method, but not trademarked), or buttons. I prefer buttons so once the kiddos get older…they don’t rip them off in one fell swoop, which is a real possibility! Buttons also mean a snugger fit which means no blowouts. Ever. Which is a beautiful thing.

When your baby has a dirty diaper, you just throw the insert in your diaper pail, give the cover a quick wipe and reuse it if it’s not soiled. This allows you to stretch a buck a bit, because while you need quite a few inserts in your stash to launder every 2-3 days, you need far less covers to get started.

The Cover + Prefold cloth diapering method is ideal for → DIY Mamas who love different brands, or those who cite saving money as the #1 reason they want to try out cloth diapers for the cost saving benefit.

Here are a few examples of the best brands designed around this method.

  1. Flip One Size Covers – Full disclosure: these are what I use and I LOVE them.
  2. Rumparooz Newborn Covers –  This brand has THE cutest prints!
  3. GroVia One Size Covers – The SNAP GroVias are the way to go. They stay put!
  4. Flip Organic Daytime Inserts – I cannot sing enough praises about these. They are crazy thin, so intensely absorbing and only need a quick fold! Your kid will still fit in adorable outfits with these inserts. LOVE them!
  5. Osocozy Bamboo Organic Inserts – Bamboo is very absorbent. These will be a bit bulky, but they get the job done!
  6. Flip Organic Night Inserts – These WORK. Really, really well. 12 hours, no leaks!

Cloth Diapering Method #2: The All-in-One (AIO)

All-in-one cloth diapers have a waterproof cover and an absorbent inner liner that is connected to the shell. The diaper insert and the cover are all one piece, hence the name, All-in-One. These diapers fasten with either a hook and loop system or snaps.

Just take the whole thing off, throw it in a wet/dry bag and simply put on another clean AIO from the diaper bag.

Since the AIO’s are much less scary to change, this method is ideal for…

  • Parents who use daycare providers.
  • Parents who are on the go a LOT.
  • Babies who are in the care of extended family frequently so Mom and Dad can work.

Here are some examples of popular AIO cloth diapers:

  1. Bumgenius Elementals One Size Diapers
  2. Smart Bottoms Organic All-in-One Diaper
  3. Thirsties One Size AIO

Cloth Diapering Method #3: All-in-Two (AI2s) or Hybrids

This diapering system comes in two parts — a cover and an insert that snaps in, simply lays in the cover, or a disposable insert for on the go and travel that you throw away. The difference between these inserts and disposables is that they DO degrade over time. These diapers are typically the slimmest and least bulky of the other options.

The covers can also be wiped and reused when the diaper gets soiled; only the insert needs to go in your pail if the cover stays clean.

The All-in-Two/Hybrid cloth diapering method is ideal for…People who love the convenience of disposables, but want to try out cloth diapering.

Here are three examples of the AI2s diaper styles:

  1. Flip Cloth Diapers with either Stay Dry Inserts (great for newborns or heavy wetters) or Disposable Inserts (ideal for traveling).
  2. GroVia Hybrids with No-Prep Soaker Pads
  3. Best Bottom One Size Diapers

Cloth Diapering Method #4: Pocket Diapers

Pocket diapers are a cross between an AIO and an AI2’s. They come in two parts — a water resistant shell with a pocket opening sewn inside, and a separate insert that fits into said pocket opening.

When you purchase a pocket diaper, they provide you with an insert (typically microfiber), but you can stuff your pocket diaper with whatever insert or prefold you’d like (yes, even a dishtowel in a pinch). This allows you to customize the absorbency to suit your baby.

Inserts run the gamut from hemp, bamboo, or charcoal bamboo inserts. Like an AIO, when you change a pocket diaper, the whole thing goes in your diaper pail for washing.

The Pocket cloth diapering method is ideal for…Those Mamas with a heavy wetter, or a babe prone to blowouts, pockets are totally customizable to YOUR baby.

Here are three examples of pocket diaper styles:

  1. BumGenius 5.0 Stay Dry
  2. Thirsties Pocket Diapers
  3. FuzziBunz® Pocket Cloth Diapers

Cloth Diapering Method #5: Flat Diapers

A flat is a large, thin single piece of fabric. Think what your grandma probably used–that’s a flat. The good news is we have moved away from the flat and pin method (pins = ouch!) into plastic snaps to keep them tightly secured on baby.

Popular ways to secure these diapers are Snappis or Boingo clips and they come in all sorts of cute color combos. It requires some practice to get the folding down, but this is the method still used all around the world for a reason: it’s cheap, it’s versatile and it works!

The Flat cloth diapering method is ideal for…Moms who don’t mind folding and prepping their diapers and taking the extra steps for the maximum cost savings. If you’re a homebody at heart or have your tot outside a bunch, you can forgo the covers even!

Here’s what you would need to use the Flat Cloth Diapering Method:

  1. Flats: Osocozy Birdseye Cotton Flat Cloth Diapers
  2. Clips: Snappi Diaper Fastener
  3. Covers: Air Flow Snap Cover

How Many Cloth Diapers Do You Need?

Whichever method you choose, a good rule of thumb is to have enough to get you to washing diapers every 2-3 days.

You don’t want to let dirty diapers sit for more than 3 days as a general rule due to ammonia build up and just, well, the ick factor. This usually shakes out to be around 30 inserts and 10 covers, or 30 AIOs.

Of course, each child varies, and that estimate is more for newborns and infants who poop and pee a TON. Older kids will go through a lot less, which is great for you and your wallet!

Start Your Journey With the
Right Cloth Diapering Support Gear

Alright Mama! You’ve read through your options, and picked your diaper route you’re embarking on, and purchased your cloth diapers. You’ve read the map, pulled on your hiking boots and hoisted the heavy pack of supplies–you’re ready to go!


We definitely need to circle back. The right supplies make the cloth diapering journey much more pleasant. Surprisingly, you really don’t need that many items to scale the CD mountain.

Here are the items you’ll want to have ready to go. (Honestly, you’re going to need many of these things, even if you don’t end up cloth diapering!)

#1) An Anti-Smell Diaper Pail – Great news! You almost certainly have one of these already! I use this guy and love it.

#2) A Sturdy Cloth Diaper Bag – Essential and much more eco-friendly than a trash bag. When it’s time to wash, you grab your bag, dump the diapers in the wash and the bag right in after it. Easy peasy. Buy a snazzy one like this one.

#3) High-Quality Cloth Wipes – Standard wipes are a total pain when you’re cloth diapering. Trust me on this. Cloth wipes simply get thrown in your diaper pail along with your inserts or diapers for washing.

#4) A Soothing Bum SprayThis bum spray is amazing. Refreshing smell and non-irritating, you can also use it as a facial cleanser! True story.

#5) A Cloth Diaper-Safe Rash Cream – Topical creams like Desitin and the like have unsavory ingredients (read: fish oil washed= fishy smelling diapers) that imbed themselves in the diapers and repel liquid. Not good news! Stick with an approved diaper rash cream and still use a liner to be safe (see below!).

#6) Handy Disposable Liners: These are disposable, biodegradable and make cleaning up poo a breeze. Anytime you need to use a cream, you’ll want to stick a liner in the diaper. They can also be used as wipes as well.

#7) Baby-Safe Detergent: This detergent has been shown to not only be strong enough to clean the cloth diapers you’ve invested so much in, but gentle on very sensitive baby skin!

#8) The Magical Diaper Sprayer: I’m telling you, this is ESSENTIAL for when your kid gets into solids. Breastmilk and formula poop is water soluable (who knew!) and you can throw it right in the wash unrinsed. Babies into solid food poo….not so much.

#9) An Essential Spray Pal: Another must must have item for solid poop land. While the diaper spray works by spraying off solids, the Spray Pal is a plastic cone placed in your toilet with a clip. You clip in the diaper insert, spray away and you’re all set. The poo goes right where it belongs: in the toilet, not on your hands or anywhere else it shouldn’t.

Is your cloth diapering journey coming to a close? Your well loved diapers can aspire to a life beyond your standard cleaning cloth! Most brands can be resold for a nominal fee. Covers, prefolds and the like can be sold back to the manufacturer, or to third party businesses who pass along used diapers to other Mamas and even those in need. Recoup some of your cost and feel good about paying it forward!

The Beginner’s Guidebook to
Cleaning Cloth Diapers

This could be a whole post in and of itself, but for the sake of simplicity (btw-thanks for hanging around for this novel so far!) we will cover the basics.

First up on the list is the question on everyone’s mind: WHAT ABOUT THE POOP?

The pee is usually a non issue. It’s sterile; it’s fine. The poop is the scary zone. Totally get that. I mean, even with disposables you shovel enough of it on the daily, right? Don’t worry, we will get down to business in a minute. (Pun totally intended.)

The First Thing You Need to Do with Newly Purchased Diapers…

…is to wash them.

I know you’re supposed to wash all new clothes before you wear them, but when it comes to cloth diapering, this step actually becomes pretty vital. The act of washing will strip out the oils in the natural fibers that may repel liquid. This is especially true of organic cotton. Stripping away those oils will make sure your cloth diapers are as absorbent as possible.

How, exactly, you do that will depend on the manufacturer of the diaper the types of materials used.

Some AIO’s you just need to wash once, but most prefolds and flats you need to wash between 3-5 times before they reach FULL absorbency.

Washing Option #1: Throw the diapers in with your normal wash (IF your entire family is using this fragrance free, baby-safe detergent). After they are washed the first time, just toss them back in AGAIN with the next load…and one more time with the next.

Just keep these 3 key facts in mind (or risk damaging your investment!)

  • DO NOT dry your diapers or inserts in between loads.
  • Once washed, dry the inserts, prefolds, AIO’s or AI2’s in the dryer WITHOUT dryer sheets.
  • DO NOT dry waterproof covers. EVER. It will ruin them.

Washing Option #2: Wash them once and go. Follow the drying instructions above. Yeah, they won’t be super absorbent right off the bat, but they will get there with use. Quickly!

How to Effectively Wash Soiled Cloth Diapers

All you wanted to know, and probably some things you did not about poopy diaper changing land in cloth diapers. With ALL methods, you’ll want to put the solids in the toilet and flush.

Breastmilk Poop: Throw in your diaper pail and you’re good. No need to rinse.

Formula Poop: Water soluble just like breastmilk poop. Also fine to throw in the pail after solids are discarded.

Solid Food Poop: I trust you’re using a liner to make life 10x easier, right?! Flush the solids and the liner. While you’re in there, clip the diaper or the insert to a Spray Pal and spray away anymore poo that you may have missed. Toss in the diaper pail with the rest of the soiled diapers.

There are a ton of different strategies on washing poopy toddler diapers. The one I prefer is this: a cold pre-rinse/soak, then a long hot wash with detergent, a rinse and a second rinse. Remember to not use as much detergent as you would in a normal load! 

Fight Against Lingering Cloth Diapering Smells by Stripping Them

Sometimes, bad things happen to faithful cloth diapering Mamas. Residue is one of them. This is a super common thing to happen and it’s no sweat to fix.

You know you have a residue issue if your diapers…

  • Smell like ammonia when urine hits them.
  • Have any sort of smell whatsoever.
  • Start repelling liquid and causing leaks.

Over time detergent can build up in your diapers. Fortunately, all you need to do is strip it out and your diapers will live on freshly just fine.

Start the stripping process by filling your washing machine with as much water as it can hold and do 6 washes with hot water and no detergent, followed by a thorough dry in the dryer or on the clothesline.

Quick Cleaning Do’s and Don’ts to Follow

DON’T get crazy with special cloth diapering detergent. DO use the same baby-safe detergent you already have for their clothes.

DO mix and match brands if you go the cover and prefold route. Your baby is unique and you know them best. You DON’T have to be “brand loyal” to make it work. They really are all interchangeable. That said, if you find a system that works for you, run with it!

DON’T wash your diapers with any detergent that has fabric softner added. To that end, if you are drying in the dryer, steer clear of the dryer sheets. Line drying is triple duty here: you know it’s 100%  safe for your diapers, it keeps your diapers in good shape by reducing wear and tear of drying and the sunshine also bleaches poo stains naturally.

DO search for cloth diaper safe diaper creams online before you paste them on. DON’T mess with your investment and you’ll be able to use the inserts for all your children and future children if they are cared for well!

DO connect with other cloth diapering mamas like myself (by commenting below) or on Facebook! DON’T try to make this life adjustment by yourself and only rely on Google!

A Quick Word About Overnight Cloth Diapering

Okay, so you got the daytime routine down. Hooray! You rock. You may have even mastered the art of errand running and Target shopping with cloth. Awesome. Okay, but there is one more looming monster: overnight diapers. This requires a bit more problem solving.

If your kid is a hydrant of fluids overnight but a great sleeper, you do NOT want to wake a sleeping baby by soaking his PJs. A lot of folks opt to use disposables at night, including yours truly over here when I got started.

However, I wanted to make the leap to all cloth, so I read countless articles on the web about strategies for handling the pee so I didn’t find an unpleasant-smelling pool in the crib at 3 AM.

So I was really really happy when Melissa at Mother-Ease said she might have a solution for me.  She sent over…

Here’s what I really liked about these overnight cloth diapers…

  • They were easy to assemble. Similar to what I use already.
  • They weren’t too bulky and uncomfortable looking.
  • THEY HELD THE PEE. WHEW. (and really, that’s all you need to know, ladies)

Mother-Ease has been around since 1991, which means they have seen EVERYTHING in the Cloth Diapering Jungle. I think that gives them a unique perspective to help CD mamas like us find effective solutions…

Besides their overnight diaper, they also offer these Bamboo Liners which I adore. They make clean-up a snap!

Give Cloth Diapering a Try and Save 10%

Right now Mother-Ease is offering a 10% off trial package with the code MIGHTYMOMS10%OFFTRIAL during checkout.

Or, if you’ve already been cloth diapering for a while, you can take $5 off anything from the Mother-Ease Night Time Collection (minimum $40) with code 5OffNightMIGHTYMOMS.

It’s Time to Give Cloth Diapering a Try

I totally get that cloth diapers can be a really intense venture and a lot of new moms don’t even have the headspace to go down this path– with my first I didn’t either!

In hindsight, though, I so wish I would have made the investment with my first child! I would have saved even more money the second time around.

Just like in life, cloth diapering isn’t an all or nothing commitment. Plenty of people do a hybrid system of cloth at home and disposables on the go, or cloth all day and disposables at night. One of the best parts of cloth diapering is that it can be tailored to your little tyke!

It’s never too late to start cloth diapering–even if you have a toddler, and honestly once you get the flow down, it’s not that much more work. A solid routine and rhythm will make cloth diapering feel more manageable as it quickly becomes your new normal.

Even if you have been throwing around the idea of cloth diapering, but keep talking yourself out of it, it’s my hope that you will you come away from this article with a bit more knowledge and confidence that you really can do it!

As it is, as a Mom, you already are the Queen of the Jungle, right?

Cloth diapering can easily become just one more feat in the list of amazing that you do regularly every day! Happy diapering!

Are you thinking about cloth diapering your infant? What’s holding you back? What questions can I help to answer? Share them in the comments below.

Have You Read These Yet?

We  honesty!  This post contains affiliate links that provide extra money for our mutual coffee habits addictions. Click here to learn more.


Diaper Facts. RealDiapers.org 
Get Ready to Learn about Cloth Diapering. FluffLoveUniversity.com
Why Cotton Babies? CottonBabies.com
Cloth Diapers: How to Get Started. WellnessMama.com

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