Cloth diapering is such a huge subject that I've been hesitant to blog about it. There is so much information out there, it's already overwhelming, so I don't want to add to the confusion.
Instead, I would like to cut through all the information and give just the basics on how I do it. This is by no means how everyone does it, or even how most people do it. There are books, blogs, websites, parties, consultants, and stores all dedicated to the different ways that you can use cloth diapers. I'm just me, and this is what I do.
1) Decide Why.
First of all, it is important to think about why you are going to use cloth diapers. Is it to save money? Is it for environmental reasons? Because they're cute? Because your baby has sensitive skin or you're worried about chemical exposure? Those are just a few of the reasons people choose cloth.
It's very important that you know what your reason or reasons are going into it. This will determine what kind of diapers you get, how you use them, how often, and even how you wash them.
For me, it was all about money. I've mentioned before that we use cloth diapers to save money. The estimate is that the average child costs around $1,000 a year on diapers alone, so over $2,000 from birth to potty training. Wow.
Needless to say, that wasn't an option for us, so we looked into cloth. Now, there are some people who say they are using cloth to save money, but I swear they've spent about $2,000 on all their diapers! That is not me. We are doing it because we actually don't have that much money to spend, so I don't get "just one more diaper because it's so cute" or because "it matches her new outfit" or whatever. I don't have a huge stash that I can show off on a clothesline. I have exactly as many as we need to keep her in diapers, and that's it. For me, it really is about the money.
2) Chose a Style.
Because money was the reason, I knew I needed to use the most economical diapers I could find. I wanted the best quality and durability for the lowest price. That meant no all-in-ones or other fancy diapers that cost $20-$30 (or more!) per diaper. I know there are some companies that sell really, really cheap pocket or all-in-one diapers, but in my experience, they are not well-made and they leak a ton, which is not cool. Going through two or three outfits a day is one of the things I hate about disposables. I didn't want to deal with it in cloth, too.
I decided to use prefold diapers with covers. This is pretty old-school, but it's gotten a few upgrades that make it a lot easier than when our parents were using them.
First, the prefolds themselves are pretty cool.
They are made from unbleached Indian cotton or bamboo, so they are super absorbent and just buttery-soft!
Second, say goodbye to diaper pins! This is called a Snappi, and it is awesome.
And finally, the old rubber pants are a thing of the past. They have made way for the amazing joys of PUL fabric. It is a waterproof fabric that feels like thin plastic on one side and cotton on the other. This is the cover that you put over the prefold diaper to keep it from leaking.
You can get them with snaps or Velcro, but I prefer snaps because they last longer and don't get caught on everything in the laundry.
These covers are very adjustable, made to fit babies from pretty much newborn through toddler. Again, this was the most economical option for us. They do make sized versions, but then of course, you have to buy more of them when your child outgrows it.
3) Chose a Brand.
I use two brands of covers: Flips and Imagines. I like them both. The Flips are what I have the most of, and I just recently started using Imagine products. I especially love the Imagine fitted bamboo diapers for nighttime, because they are more absorbent and we haven't had a single leak since she started sleeping in them!
**Update: After using Flips for 17 months with my first, I found I was disappointed that they did not hold up better. The elastic became very lose on them, to the point where I do not think I would be able to use them on a baby again. Maybe they would still work for a toddler, but since one of the selling points of cloth diapers is being able to use them for several children, this was disappointing. For my second, I have switched to Imagines and Nicki's covers, which both have double gusset leg elastic and seem to hold up better.
4) Get What You Need.
Ok, so say that, like me, you are wanting to cloth diaper to save the most money possible, and you want to wash every night, but you are unsure where to start. Basically, you will need three days worth of diapers. On any one day, you'll have one batch that you're using, one batch that's being washed and dried, and one batch that you're folding and putting away for tomorrow. You also have a few stashed in the diaper bag.
Remember, you might need more or less than I do, depending on how many diapers your baby goes through in a day (we go through 6-8) and how often you wash.
I wash mine every night because it helps prevent staining and because I think it's kind of gross to leave them sitting for days at a time. Also, I'm terrified my house will start to smell bad. The more often you wash, the fewer diapers you have to have.
So if you do it like I do, here's what you need:
18-24 Unbleached Indian Cotton Prefold Diapers
These come in different sizes, so check the weight guidelines. This is the one thing I have had to buy more of as she's gotten older, because she outgrew the infant sized prefolds. Imagine sells my absolute favorite prefolds. They are so soft and fluffy, and their dimensions are great!
6-9 Diaper Covers
When Cricket was little, she went through several covers a day because...well...babies are messier when they're younger. Now that she is older and eating solids, we usually just use two a day. I alternate between two so that one can air out a little between uses. As long as there is no waste on it, it is fine to reuse the covers. At the end of the day, we wash everything we used that day.
I mostly use Flip covers, but I recently got an Imagine cover and I really like it, too.
1 Diaper Pail
I went to the store and got the cheapest trashcan I could find that had a locking lid. Just a kitchen sized one is fine.
2-3 Pail Liners
This is basically a reusable trashbag made of the same PUL fabric as the diaper covers. At the end of the day, you take the whole thing to your washer and dump out the diapers into the washer along with the bag itself. They don't do well in the dryer though, which is why I recommend getting 3. It takes a while for them to hang dry, and we found that just alternating between two meant that they were never completely dry.
Imagine sells pail liners that are the perfect size and come in cute colors, or you can get Planet Wise bags on Amazon.
2-3 Wet Bags
These are smaller versions of the pail liners that you keep in your diaper bag to put used diapers in while you are away from home. I recommend a fairly large one, because I got a "medium" one once, and it holds exactly 1.5 diapers. They also double as waterproof bags for things like swimsuits once you are finished with the diapering stage.
Imagine carries these as well, and they come in some really cute patterns! They also have some that have more than one pocket, so you can carry clean diapers in one pocket and dirty ones in the other! Genius!
These things are not necessary, but might make your life a little easier if you can spare the cash.
A diaper sprayer is just like the sprayer in your kitchen sink, but it attaches to the back of your toilet so that you can spray (clean) water on your diapers to rinse them when they are dirty. This is important because once your child starts eating solid food or formula, you cannot put solid waste in the washing machine or your machine will die. The cloth diapering community is pretty much split down the middle on whether or not diaper sprayers are worth having, but I will tell you that from my experience, they are awesome. Yes, there are some drawbacks. (You have to be careful or the spray can ricochet and make a mess.) Still, it's awesome.
You can get disposable or reusable liners, and you put them on top of the prefold to catch the solid waste, making it easier to clean up. Since we have a septic system, I've never found these particularly wonderful because we can't flush them, but if we were on sewer, I would be all about them. I don't see the purpose of the reusable ones though, except to keep diaper cream off the prefolds.
I used to make my own reusable wipes. I just cut up an old flannel sheet and zigzagged the edges. I put some in a wipes box and poured a homemade mixture of water, olive oil, tea tree oil, lavender, and baby shampoo over them. It worked really well, but you can also use disposable wipes. It's just annoying to remember to put them in the trash and put the diapers in the pail.
You can't use just any diaper cream with cloth diapers, because a lot of them leave residue behind that can ruin your diapers. There are lots of cloth diaper safe creams you can get online, but I usually use California Babies because you can get it at Target. Also, you can always switch to disposables for a few days if you need to use another kind of cream.
5) Start Simple
I started using cloth diapers when Cricket was about a month old. I just used them around the house at first, and I would switch to disposables when we went out. We also used disposables at night because they are more absorbent. When I started getting annoyed at switching back and forth, I finally just started doing cloth all day. She still used disposables at night for a while, and then one day, I forgot to take off her cloth diaper before bed, and she did fine, so then we were full time.
Some people like to jump in all at once, but for me, I needed to do it gradually. Everything seems so overwhelming when you have a new baby, so it was just too much for me to process all at one time. Plus, it took a while to build up all the supplies we needed because they do cost money. Yes, they save money, but you have to have some to spend up front. We would just buy one or two things here or there, whenever we saw a sale or someone gave us a gift card.
If you are interested in cloth diapering, you can start any time! Even if your little one is a toddler, it's worth it because most toddlers who are in cloth diapers potty train sooner! I've seen cloth on newborns in the hospital and on two-year-olds running around!
You can order from Amazon. I put up a box on the sidebar with some of the items I use. You can use that box to create a wishlist of your own, or to order the things you need!
I hope this helps you get your head around the basics of cloth diapering.
Click here to read Part 2, where I cover our daily routines and our wash routine.
Click here to read Part 3, where I answer some FAQ's.