What You Need to Cloth Diaper Your Baby

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Research Your Investment

Buying cloth diapers is expensive initially. Though an adequate supply of cloth diapers can cost between $300 and $500, compare that amount to the $1,600 the Real Diaper Association estimates the average family spends on disposables for a baby’s first two years. Now consider that your supply of cloth diapers, with proper care and use, will last through more than one child. Your investment is certainly worth it.

Before you buy, read up about the different styles of cloth diapers available today. Ask parents you know who use cloth what they would recommend or visit parenting forums to read about the pros and cons of certain diapers. You do not want to spend hundreds of dollars on a diapering system that will not work for you or will not fit your baby properly. Helpful websites where you can learn more about cloth diapers include Green Mountain Diapers and Mothering magazine’s online forum.

Keep in mind that most families decide to use a combination of styles so they have the right diaper to use in different circumstances. For example, parents who use prefolds during the day usually need to use a well-stuffed pocket diaper at night.

How Many Will I Need?

Newborn babies will need several more changes per day than an older, solid-fed baby. For the first few months babies need to be changed every hour or two, and so will go through about 12 diapers a day. If you are planning on washing diapers every three days you will need three dozen diapers. Six diaper covers should be sufficient since they only need to be washed if they are soiled. If you will be using pocket diapers or All-in-ones (AIOs) exclusively you will need three dozen since they need to be washed after each use.

As babies get older they need to be changed less frequently than a newborn. Cloth diapering an older baby usually means using eight diapers and three covers per day. Purchase two dozen diapers and five covers (if necessary) in your baby’s size.

You may have to try different products to find the diapering solution that works for your baby. For heavy wetters you will need to purchase soakers or doublers - which are thick and pad-like to add extra absorbency. Wool diaper covers work best at keeping heavy-wetting babies dry at night.

What About One-Size Diapers?

The world of cloth diapering has recently seen the introduction of adjustable one-size diapers, eliminating the need to purchase a whole new supply of diapers as your baby grows. Most one-size diapers claim that they can fit a child from birth to potty-training. Depending on the size of your newborn, this may or may not be the case. A nine-pound baby is much bigger than a six-pound baby! If you are planning to cloth diaper your newborn you can’t go wrong with buying some newborn prefolds and diaper covers to use for at least the first month.

One-size diapers can truly fit most babies and are a real money saver. Favorite one-size diaper brands include BumGenius!, Haute Pockets, Happy Heiny’s, and Tiny Tush.

Additional Necessities

The cloth diapering family also needs a few extra items to help with their diapering routine. A diaper pail with a lid will store dirty diapers and inserts until wash day (a small lidded garbage can works fine for this purpose). A mesh bag or lid-free pail can hold diaper covers and used pocket diapers. A waterproof wet bag or two makes traveling with dirty diapers easier. Cloth diaper wipes ensure that you won’t need to use disposable ones. To wet them, you can buy a wipes solution or make you own.

Laundry detergent that is clean-rinsing and free of dyes and perfumes is best for washing your diapers. Any detergent residue can cause problems such as rashes, leaks, and lingering odors. Try Allen’s Naturally, Charlie’s Soap, or Country Save brands. You can see if your normal laundry detergent is recommended for washing cloth diapers by checking this laundry detergent chart.

Do’s & Don’ts for Newbies

Cloth diapering isn’t rocket science, but there is a lot to learn for parents who haven’t tried it before. Since cloth diapers haven’t been popular in over a generation some knowledge has been lost in the meantime. Things have changed, too - with a whole new line up of high-tech cloth diapers on the market, renewed interest in green living, and health concerns regarding disposables driving more parents to choose cloth. The following DOs and DON’Ts are designed to give parents a crash course in modern cloth diapering.

DO: Research the cloth diapers available today and decide what diaper styles to try. You may want several different diapers to use in certain circumstances - diapers to use for daytime, for naps, for overnight, and with a child care provider. One of the best ways to research cloth diapers is to visit active online cloth diapering forums. There you can ask parents questions about cloth diapers and read what others have to say. Try visiting the forums at Mothering.com and DiaperSwappers.com.

DON’T: Think you can’t afford to invest in cloth diapers. Although purchasing an adequate supply of cloth diapers is expensive up front remember you will be saving a significant amount of money in the long run. If you can’t afford to buy all the diapers at once buy them gradually as your budget allows.

DO: Find the diapers that fit your child best. Modern cloth diapers fit remarkably well on most babies and are better at containing leaks than disposables. However, if your child is especially chunky or thin you may need to look around to find diapers that fit properly.

DO: Change your baby often. Babies who wear cloth diapers need to be changed more often than those wearing super-absorbent disposables. Check for wetness every hour and change as often as needed.

DO: Wash your diapers in a clean-rinsing detergent every 3 days at least. Diaperjungle has a list of detergents recommended by parents for use on cloth diapers. Be willing to experiment with different detergents if you notice any skin irritation on your baby. Every child’s skin is different. What works for washing diapers in one family may cause problems for your child.

DO: Wash diapers in cold water for a first rinse. Set the washer to run a full cycle with cold water and a small amount of detergent to rinse the diapers. Follow with another full cycle in warm water, or the temperature recommended by your diapers’ washing instructions.

DON’T: Add too much detergent to your wash. Cloth diapers wash clean with a surprisingly small amount of detergent. Use no more than half the recommended amount of detergent per load. If too much detergent is used residual detergent left on the diapers after washing can cause a build-up that leads to skin rashes and odors.

DON’T: Use fabric softener. Fabric softener coats the diapers with a non-absorbent film that will repel moisture.

DO: Hang your diapers to dry in the sunshine. Whenever possible, dry your diapers after washing on a clothesline in the sunshine. Sunlight works to naturally kill bacteria and remove stains.

DON’T: Leave home without an ample supply of cloth diapers and accessories, especially when traveling. For a day out and about you’ll need several diapers, cloth wipes and cleaning solution, and plastic bags for dirty diapers. If you’re packing for a family trip bring along your detergent.

DO: Encourage family members or child care providers to use cloth diapers when watching your baby. You may need to give them a lesson on how to use the diapers. Bring along a plastic bag or wetbag (sold at cloth diaper retailers) for dirty diapers.

DO: Spread the word about how you enjoy using cloth diapers for your child. Let other parents know that using cloth is an easy way to reduce your family’s environmental impact. Remind others that using cloth diapers greatly reduces household garbage and keeps human waste out of landfills.

This post is part of the series: Using Cloth Diapers

From basic supplies, to what to do in emergencies, learn the ins and outs of using cloth diapers for your baby.

  1. Green Baby Basics: What You Need to Cloth Diaper Your Baby
  2. The New Generation of Cloth Diapers: Style Guide
  3. Cloth Diapers for Newborn Babies
  4. How to Use Prefold Cloth Diapers: Folding Guide and More
  5. Best Value Cloth Diapers: One Size Diapers
  6. Sew Your Own Cloth Diapers: A Guide to Patterns, Fabrics, and More