How to work with cloth diapers for beginners. It seems so much harder than it is! Let's go over what to buy, how to use them, and basic care.
The upfront cost of cloth diapering might seem shocking at first. What you spend now will pay for itself with its repeated use and with what it saves long-term when you consider what you would be spending on conventional diapers. I personally choose to use cloth diaper covers and prefolds. The items you need for this method are cloth diaper covers, prefolds, Snappis, wet bags, a cloth diaper sprayer for the toilet, a drying rack and/or clothesline, and appropriate detergent. (Keep reading ahead, I promise I will cover some detergent info!)
Learning how to use your cloth diapers is much easier than you think! I'm going to share a few different ways to set your diapers up. There are so many different folds you can try on your baby! I will be explaining and showing step-by-step photos for the angel wing fold, pad fold (newspaper style for boys), and a reverse padfold (the padfold that's best for girls.)
The biggest thing that held me back from getting started was figuring out how to properly wash cloth diapers. Once I figured out a wash routine, I was so much more confident! I know many families are intimidated by the laundry component and I am here to tell you that you don't need to be. Let's get started.
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Finding a cloth diaper resale group online can be so helpful for families on a tight budget! Buying preloved cloth is absolutely okay. Strip the diapers accordingly and wash them properly.
What do I need to buy to begin cloth diapering?
- Cloth diaper covers.
- Wet bags
- Cloth diaper sprayer for the toilet.
- Appropriate detergent.
- Optional: drying rack and/or clothesline.
Covers and Prefolds
Covers are the waterproof part of a cloth diaper. They should be washed at least once before use. One size diapers have snaps all over the front to adjust the size to fit your baby.
Prefolds are the part that goes on your baby's body inside of the cover. We have two sizes on hand: newborn and toddler.
Here is a newborn size prefold:
Here is a toddler prefold:
What is a Snappi?
A Snappi is a reusable plastic version of a clothespin. It is much safer and simpler to use. No need to fear poking your baby with a needle during a change!
Cloth diaper sprayer
The setup is simple and the instruction booklet is very clear! You attach the cloth diaper toilet sprayer to the toilet itself and you use the shield-like bottomless bucket inside of the toilet bowl. We place the shield into a bucket next to the toilet when it is not in use.
At first, I just did the "dunk and swish" method. That's where you dunk the soiled prefold in the toilet, swish it around until all the solids are off of it, and flush. It wasn't super fun to do in general, let alone while I was sensitive to smells while expecting our next baby. At first, I didn't want to spend the money on a diaper sprayer but I'm so glad we chose to get one. We got the Spray Pal diaper sprayer. I really like it and I feel it gets our diapers much cleaner than the dunk and swish method ever did!
When your baby is only breastfeeding you can wash as is since breastmilk poop is water soluble. I personally still sprayed or did the dunk and swish before washing anyway. If your baby is formula-fed and/or starts solid foods you need to do this in order to properly clean your diapers.
Best wet bag for cloth diapers
Wet bags are used for holding soiled cloth diapers between washes. We keep one in each bathroom and use a travel-size one for our diaper bag when on the go. The ones I use have an open top to fit into small garbage cans that have lids but if you plan to just hang them or have them stored in another way, you should opt for wet bags with zippers. Our travel wet bags have them and it does a great job keeping the moisture and smell in.
Here is the large size wet bag we use in our bathrooms at home:
Here is one of our travel size wet bags:
It's easy to feel that cloth diaper overwhelm with all of this. Part-time cloth diapering is an option to consider. This is when you use cloth diapers and conventional diapers as well. Examples: Using cloth diapers while your baby is awake but using conventional diapers for naps and nighttime. Cloth diapering at home but using conventional whenever you go to someone else's home or out to run an errand.
There is no shame in this! Don't let anyone make you feel bad. Do what is best for your family.
The best detergent for cloth diapers
It's important to know that there is a difference between laundry detergent and laundry soap. You absolutely HAVE to use detergent on your cloth diapers to keep them sanitary. Many nontoxic brands that people use are actually laundry soaps but you don't realize it unless you look into it.
Powdered detergent is the best for cloth diapers according to the real pros. I personally use liquid detergent. I choose to use Tide Original for my cloth diapers even though I use a different option for our clothing. Wait, something so toxic on cloth? Yes, it's not ideal. But the detergent needs to have strong enzymes to get them completely clean. I don't mess around with washing these as they touch the most sensitive areas on my babies' bodies. Currently, I am looking into cleaner options that truly work.
Cloth diaper wash routine
The most dreaded part of cloth diapering: figuring out a cloth diaper laundry routine. Once you get it figured out, it becomes second nature. I don't even think about it anymore and I'm on autopilot with my rhythm. Following the proper steps and using a cloth diaper safe detergent is essential. This can get tricky because if you want to get it totally right you need to test your water to see if it's soft or hard and determine the best routine for your water type.
This held me back for so long. I went for this wash routine and I have used it ever since with no issues.
My wash routine is simple:
- Wash 1 settings: warm, heavy, normal cycle. Liquid detergent to the 1 line on the cap measuring cup.
- Wash 2 settings: hot, heavy, heavy cycle. Liquid detergent to the 3 line on the cap measuring cup.
- Tumble dry low for the prefolds and line dry the covers OR line dry all.
You can collect some water out of your washing machine and bring it to your local pet shop where they can test it for free in their fish area. Another option is buying PH strips and testing it yourself at home.
Using a drying is a great way to extend the life of your prefolds. This also makes sunning your diapers easy as it'll be part of your normal routine. I personally do a combination of using the drying rack and using my dryer on low. Using the dryer makes your prefolds a lot softer. I use wool dryer balls to cut down on dry time as well as to avoid toxic dryer sheets. I always line dry my covers so that I never risk melting any of the elastic in them. Every other week I air dry and then the next week I use the dryer.
Sunning cloth diapers is the term for when you lay out your clean cloth diapers in the sunlight to dry. This method helps to remove staining. It can be done outdoors while they are drying on your drying rack or clothesline. Sunning cloth diapers in the winter is still possible as you can place it in a window that receives direct sunlight.
How to use cloth diaper prefolds
There are many different style folds to choose from. I will share a few simple methods that I use here.
How to do an Angel Wing Fold
- Lay your prefold flat and place your baby on top of it.
2. Take the front and fold it in while leaving the back flat.
3. Repeat on the other side. Overlap the front section.
4. Fold the front portion of the prefold over the front of your baby.
5. Wrap the side around your baby's thigh to the front.
6. Repeat on the other side.
7. Use your Snappi to secure the prefold.
8. Put on the cloth diaper cover. Double-check your gussets to ensure all parts of your prefold are inside of the cover. You are all set!
How to do a Padfold: Newspaper Style (best padfold for boys)
- Lay your prefold flat on a table or the floor. (Don't place your baby on it yet!)
2. Follow the lines sewn on your prefold. Fold one of the sides to the center. (You may know this as "hotdog style" from art class as a kid!)
3. Repeat with the other section. Place your baby on top of this.
4. On your baby, you will fold the front up.
5. Tip: For added absorbency and/or fitting all of your prefold in the cover: fold down the front area again for more padding.
6. Put on the cloth diaper cover. Double-check your gussets to ensure all parts of your prefold are inside of the cover. You are all set!
How to do a Reverse Padfold (best padfold for girls)
- Lay your prefold flat on a table or the floor. (Don't place your baby on it yet!)
2. Fold down the top third of the diaper. (you may know this as "hamburger style" from art class as a kid!)
3. Repeat by folding the bottom third up. Turn this so it is the long way and place your baby on top.
4. Fold the front over the front of your baby.
5. Put on the cloth diaper cover. Double-check your gussets to ensure all parts of your prefold are inside of the cover. You are all set!
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Do you cloth diaper?Leave a comment below to encourage other families who are figuring this all out!