Friday, May 2, 2008

The Beginner’s Guide to Cloth Diapering

The Beginner’s Guide to Cloth Diapering

Whenever I tell someone that my son wears cloth diapers, they always get a quizzical if not confused look on their face. They usually ask me why and sometimes offer to buy me diapers since obviously I cannot afford disposable. What they don’t know is that I love cloth diapers. I love that my child is wearing something that is natural, breathable and comfortable but moreover that I am doing my little part to keep plastic and other non-biodegradable material out of the landfills. I started looking into cloth diapers while I was pregnant after learning that it takes over two centuries for a conventional disposable diaper to biodegrade. I also learned that the chemical gel that keeps diapers dry to the baby’s skin could also be a potential health hazard not to mention that the paper that is used is often times bleached. I couldn’t imagine putting that next to my precious baby’s skin. After all, I’m careful to use only natural body products on my skin, preferring shea butter and olive oil to the paraben laden mineral oil concoctions so prevalent in the stores. So, I started to do some research and discovered a whole world of cloth diapering that is varied, vast, interesting, fun and sometimes frustrating! I hope that this article can guide you and help you to avoid some of the mistakes I made while helping you to give a priceless gift to your child and to the Earth.

The most basic and least expensive type of cloth diapers available are called prefolds and you use these with a separate diaper cover to keep baby’s clothes dry. These are the diapers of old, the ones you remember! They are called prefolds because you have to fold the diaper before fastening it on your baby using diaper pins or a Snappi® fastener which you can purchase online. A Snappi® looks more or less like a rubbery “Y” with teeth at each corner that you hook into the diaper to keep it together (see picture below). Prefolds come in six different sizes:









up to 8 lbs




Preemie & Newborn covers. Doublers in larger size diapers. White stitching.


6-18 lbs




Small & Medium covers. OK for light wetter in pocket style diapers. Kelly Green stitching.

Infant/ Newborn

6-18 lbs




Small & Medium covers. Perfect "stuffing" for pocket type diapers. Hunter Green stitching.


12-30 lbs




Medium & Large covers. Good in-between size, but not for heavy wetters. Many customers purchase these diapers for custom boutique or embroidered burp cloths. White stitching.

Premium/ Large

12-30 lbs




Medium & Large covers. Most used size in prefolds. You may never have to move up to toddler. Royal Blue or White stitching.


over 25 lbs




Large & XL covers. Great for nighttime, especially for a heavy wetter. Makes a super changing pad! Hunter Green stitching on all four sides.

Courtesy of

Snappi Diaper fasteners. Courtesy of

Unbleached prefolds are the best type of prefold, in my opinion, primarily because they are made with cotton that is not treated with bleach to whiten them so they are the most absorbent. You must wash unbleached prefolds on HOT a few times (say 3 or 4) before you first use them. They become more absorbent over time and you will no doubt be quite surprised at how much this type of diaper can hold. You can also find prefolds that are made from hemp. To increase absorbency (like for overnight wear) lay absorbent inserts (usually made of hemp or microfiber) into the diaper before you fold and fasten it. Another neat trick I picked up is to cut up pieces of fleece like you find at the fabric store and after you fold the diaper, lay a piece on top, closest to baby’s skin. The fleece will wick the moisture away from the skin keeping baby dry and comfy. Prefolds are the workhorse diapers—nothing fancy, just functional. I have grown to love prefolds but only after having used other, more updated and easier-to-use cloth diapers first.

Fitted diapers also require a cover but are a bit easier to use than prefolds because there is no need to fold them before putting them on baby since they are shaped like disposable diapers. Generally, they have some kind of snaps or Velcro to fasten them but occasionally you will find that you have to either tie them, Snappi® or pin them closed. Fitted diapers come in a variety of natural fibers including cotton and hemp.

Both prefold diapers and fitted diapers require a diaper cover (also known as a wrap) to keep your baby’s clothes from getting wet. There are many options available. If you want to stick to all natural fibers, the best diaper covers are wool. You can buy wool diaper covers knitted or crocheted by work-at-home-moms or you can knit or crochet them yourself! There are a number of free patterns available on the web or you can purchase patterns online. (The patterns you buy are often more specific and the seller can give you detailed information on how to modify the pattern to tailor the cover to your baby). There is also a yahoo group you can join dedicated to knit and crochet diaper covers. There are other types of wool diaper covers available like the Stacinator diaper cover which is a stretchy merino wool cover. Wool diaper covers are fabulous in that they keep baby cool in the summer (hard to believe but true) and warm in the winter and in that they really work wonderfully to keep baby’s clothing dry. It takes a little care to clean wool diaper covers because they must be washed by hand and line dried and they may occasionally need to be re-lanolized. Lanolin is the oil secreted by sheep into their wool. It is lanolin that endows wool with its waterproof quality. However, you do not need to wash wool diaper covers every time they are used. I wash mine about every 2 weeks unless some poop gets on one. I will discuss the methods for washing all diapers in further detail below. Another type of cover available is made from PUL fabric, a waterproof synthetic fabric that comes in all colors and prints. PUL is what certain types of waterproof windbreakers are made out of. It is very easy to care for and can be washed along with the diapers although drying them in the dryer is not recommended (they dry very quickly anyway). I used Bummi’s Super Whisper Wrap® which is an inexpensive PUL cover that is very reliable and easy to fasten over your fitted or prefold diaper.

The next type of diaper available is called the Pocket diaper. I have a soft spot in my heart for pocket diapers. They are much more pricey than either prefold or fitted diapers at an average of $15 a piece (compared to $2 on average for prefolds and $8 on average for fitteds). However, in my mind they are well worth the price. Why? Pocket diapers are an innovation in cloth diapers and are especially appealing to people who are transitioning from disposable diapers because they utilize fleece or microsuede to wick moisture away from baby’s skin and keep his skin dry. They are also easily fastened with snaps or Velcro and great because they dry extremely quickly. Pocket diapers are basically a piece of fleece or microsuede and a piece of PUL or waterproof outside covering that are sewn together leaving a space or pocket between the two. To use the diaper, you must stuff that pocket with some absorbent material such as a hemp or microfiber insert or an unbleached prefold. The most popular brand of pocket diapers are FuzziBunz® because they were the first. Personally, I love FuzziBunz® for their reliability but there are plenty of other great brands out there including some wonderful ones made by work-at-home moms. I like to stuff my diapers as soon as I take them off the line or out of the dryer.

The last type of cloth diaper available are all-in-one diapers or AIO’s. They are called all-in-ones because the absorbent part of the diaper and the cover are all sewn together. All you have to do is snap or Velcro the diaper on to the baby. Some people prefer AIO’s because they are very simple to use—just take one off and put another one on—no folding, pinning or stuffing. AIO’s are great when you are on the run but because all of the pieces are sewn together, they can often take a long time to dry and can be rather bulky. They are also on the higher end of the price spectrum.

Take note: every retailer of cloth diapers has their own sizing chart. If you are buying diapers like I was, i.e. while pregnant, then, of course, you can only guess what sizes to buy. I ended up having an 8 lbs. baby who put on a pound a week. He did not stay in the newborn size for very long at all. But if your baby is already here, don’t hesitate to measure the baby to make sure the diaper will fit properly. It will save lots of frustration. Trust me!

Washing Diapers

A quick search of the internet will reveal a myriad of methods and procedures for washing diapers. I have tried everything and I say simple is best. The first thing you want to do is find a detergent that is free of whitener and brighteners. You want a basic detergent that will rinse out completely leaving fresh and clean diapers. Do not use fabric softener or any detergent that has fabric softener in it as this will coat the diapers and render them useless. Do not use pure soap (like Ivory). Do not use chlorine bleach. The best detergents for diapers are the ones with the fewest ingredients. Try to avoid the health food store detergents because even though they are a great natural choice, they often contain essential oils that may also coat the diapers. Check the labels though. You may find a great one. The detergent I use now after much trial and error is Charlie’s Soap (which is not really soap). I find it to be mild and gentle but also effective and completely clean rinsing. You can wash your diapers and PUL covers as well as any inserts you may have together. My diaper washing method is as follows:

1. Rinse on cold using medium water (adjust the water level to how many diapers you have—diapers should be freely moving but should also be coming into contact with each other pretty frequently as this helps to get them clean). Sometimes I add a little Bac-Out or baking soda if the load is particularly stinky.

2. Wash on HOT for the longest setting using a small amount of detergent. Use much less than the manufacturer recommends as this generally more than enough to get diapers clean and to keep them from getting detergent buildup which can affect the diapers effectiveness

3. Do a second rinse if there are any bubbles left (I never have any with Charlie’s Soap)

4. Line dry or dry on medium heat. Alternatively you can dry on high heat but remove your PUL covers and pocket diapers after 10-15 mins. Line drying is a great way to extend the life of your diapers and the sun is a natural bleaching agent that will remove any stains your diapers my have naturally. I personally love the way line dried diapers smell.

If you have hard water (which makes it hard for detergent to work) or a front loading

washer (which generally uses less water than a top loading machine, you may find it a challenge to find a detergent and routine that works but don’t give up. There are plenty of resources online to help you figure out something that works.

Like I said previously, wool diaper covers need to be washed by hand. Please do not use Woolite or any other similar “wool wash” to wash your covers as these will strip the all-important lanolin from the diapers. You can purchase Eucalan, a wool wash that has lanolin in it and that coats the diapers as you wash them. There are other organic wool wash bars that are available online too. Alternatively, you could wash the diaper covers using a tiny bit of dishwashing liquid or pure castile soap (like Dr. Bronner’s) and then lanolizing the covers. To lanolize, simply dissolve about a ½ tsp of lanolin (I just use Lansinoh since it is a highly purified form of Lanolin and since I already had it from the early days of breastfeeding) in about a cup of boiling water and a little bit of soap (to keep the lanolin dissolved). Add that combination to a bucket of cool water and soak your covers for 15-20 minutes. Squeeze (don’t wring) out the excess water and then roll each cover in an absorbent towel to soak up as much water as possible. Hang the covers to dry. The more unprocessed your wool cover, the more you cover will smell like a wet sheep. Don’t worry! When the cover dries, it won’t smell at all. Trust me! Between washings, simply hang the diaper to dry if some urine gets on it. The air will take care of the smell and wool is antibacterial in nature so the combination of the air and the wool will take care of any nasty buggies.

Where can you buy diapers?

Where I live, there are no brick and mortar stores from which to buy diapers. I have had to purchase all my diapers online which in the beginning led to a lot of stress and disappointment because I could not touch or try out the diapers first. I also knew very little about cloth diapers and that made the whole situation worse. Hopefully, you do not have to go through the same thing. There are plenty of great websites out there where you can buy cloth diapers. Generally, the folks selling the diapers are quite helpful and will answer all of your questions graciously and thoroughly.

Will cloth diapering save you money?

Everyone has their reasons for cloth diapering. If your reason is that you want to save money and (of course) save the Earth, well then the best options for you are prefold diapers or fitted diapers. You also have the option of buying used diapers like on Ebay or on the trading post at Mothering.commune (the message board for Mothering Magazine) or I managed to get all the diapers I have been using for my son for about $400 total. This includes prefolds, pockets, fitteds, covers and inserts. My only suggestion would be to familiarize yourself with the diaper lingo so that you can have a clear understanding of what the seller is describing. I have gotten a few duds but overall I’ve had a good experience buying second-hand diapers. I just wash them on hot and add a few drops of tea tree oil for good disinfecting measure and dry on hot. If any buggies can survive all that, more power to them.

If you really want to save money and you know how to sew, it is very easy to make diapers and diaper covers. There are plenty of patterns that you can buy but if you are a very good seamstress, there are good free patterns online that you can modify to suit your needs. If you can knit or crochet, you can make wool diaper covers from free patterns available or ones you can buy. A quick trip to the thrift store can yield plenty of PUL and wool that you can recycle to make covers. You can recycle old wool sweaters that have been felted (basically washed in the machine and dried in the dryer) to make wool covers. You can buy fleece (for pocket diapers or as liners for your prefolds and fitteds at your local fabric store. I have found it for as cheap as $2 a yard (just the plain, non-printed fleece). Take a look at the Resources below for ideas and patterns.

Cloth diapering, in my opinion, is the best way to diaper your child (aside from keeping your child diaper-less which is another discussion)! It is a natural and healthy alternative to throw-away diapers and teaches your child from birth how to love and respect the Earth.

Peace and Blessings!


Sudz 'n Dudz - Welcome

Diaper Folds for Prefold and Flat Diapers

Making your own diapers

1 comment:

Ahava & Amara Life Foundation said...

I am so excited about the prospect of cloth diapering. At 1st it all seemed so overwhelming, but now it doesn't seems so bad. Thanks for this much needed info! ;0)

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