Whether you’re expecting your first baby or you’re well into parenthood, trying out cloth diapers is an exciting experience. These reusable alternatives are economical, environmentally friendly, comfy—and so darn cute! Plus, they’re super easy to use: We promise they’ve come a long way since the days of safety pins and stinky pails.

Are you feeling a bit overwhelmed? Never fear: We’ve created a complete guide to cloth diapering, including the different types of cloth diapers, proper washing and care, and diaper rash solutions. We’ll even help you master the art of overnight cloth diapering, so the days of wet sheets will be a distant memory.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF CLOTH DIAPERS

There are several types of cloth diapers to choose from. Don’t feel overwhelmed! You do not need to pick one system. You can mix and match, working out as you go along which types you prefer. Nothing will be wasted!

Apart from the newborn size, most diapers fit babies from 8 pounds all the way up to 35 pounds—they are adjustable and so grow with your baby all the way through to potty training. If you’re a first-time parent, you may want to buy one box of disposable diapers for the first couple of weeks, to adjust to life with a baby, and then start on the regular-sized cloth diapers.

The cost to set up can vary from about $300 and up, depending on which diapers you choose. (Compare this with $1,400 to $2,500 you would spend on disposables!) You want about 18 to 24 diapers for a comfortable stash. Your investment will pay for itself within the first few months, and there will be no outlay should brothers or sisters come along.

The smart way to collect your stash is to register for diapers. They are a good price point for shower gifts, and people then know they are getting you something useful.

All-in-One (AiO) Cloth Diapers
This is the closest to the style of a disposable diaper because there is nothing to do but fasten the sides to the front of the diaper—it really is “all-in-one!”

Pocket Cloth Diapers
The outside waterproof shell (equivalent to the old “rubber pants”) is lined with a fleecy inner layer. There is a pocket opening at the back into which the absorbent layers can be stuffed. You can stuff the diaper with one of the provided inserts, with a prefold, or many other creative options such as terry washcloths. You can even put extra absorbent layers inside the pocket, particularly helpful at night time. Parents love pockets because they dry more quickly than all-in-ones.

Diaper Covers/Shells
Diaper covers, or shells, are the outer waterproof layer in which you can lay your choice of insert. They can cover inserts, flat diapers, prefolds, fitted diapers, and disposable inserts. Do not put micro-terry inserts next to a newborn’s skin—they are too absorbent and will absorb the natural oils from baby’s skin. Be sure to use a liner. If baby just pees, you may be able to just change the inside of the diaper and keep the same shell.

Liners
Many parents like to use disposable liners. When baby poops, the liner can be lifted out and flushed down the potty. The dirty diaper, which is now not nearly so dirty, can go straight into the diaper pail or the wet bag. Liners also come in washable fabric. This can be helpful if you need to put any ointment on baby.

Organic Fabric
Choosing cloth diapers means you are no longer putting chemical-laden disposable diapers next to baby’s skin. Some parents like to make sure that the fabrics used in the diapers are organic.

The GroVia company prides itself on using all natural materials. The outside waterproof layer, for instance, is heat-sealed rather than using PUL fabric. The GroVia O.N.E. Diaper can be used as an all-in-one with included snap-in inserts, or a shell, to hold prefolds or any other inserts you wish to use. Other examples of organic diapers include Smart Bottoms and bumGenius Elemental.

Designer Diapers

To add to the fun of collecting diapers in fabulous colors and patterns, some manufacturers now release limited-edition diaper designs! bumGenius offers special series, which includes designs named for author Jane Austen, Mary Pickersgill (the maker of the flag that inspired the National Anthem), mathematician Waclaw Sierpinski, and composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Many parents treat themselves monthly to a new design or color. It’s all part of the fun of cloth diapering.

HOW TO WASH CLOTH DIAPERS

Parents considering cloth diapers are often put off by the idea of extra laundry. But there’s no need to worry. Instead of taking out a trash bag full of stinky disposable diapers each night, you’re going to be simply switching on one load of laundry—and saving a tangible amount of money while you do!

Since the introduction of liners, there is no need to dunk or swoosh poopy cloth diapers. The liner, which looks like a dryer sheet, acts as a poop catcher and can be flushed down the potty complete with the poop, leaving just a wet diaper.

The wet diaper goes into your diaper pail, which can be an inexpensive kitchen trash can, lined with a liner. At the end of the day, just tip all the dirty diapers into the washing machine. If you use a washable pail liner, throw that into the wash along with the diapers. Have two pail liners to use on alternate days. Make sure that you have un-stuffed any pocket diapers.

Put on a rinse cycle and then a regular wash cycle. Don’t skimp on detergent—use the recommended amount. You can use a specialty detergent, but there is really no need. It’s best to use a “free” detergent with no perfumes or softeners. Bleeching cloth diapers is not recommended. And remember not to use fabric softener as this can compromise the absorbency of diapers.

For best results, wash your diapers every day or every other day. Don’t invite residue build up by leaving damp diapers too long before washing. Whenever possible, put your diapers out in the sunshine to dry. The sun naturally bleaches and freshens the diapers.

Once every six to eight weeks, give your diapers a deep cleaning treatment using a product such as Mighty Bubbles by Grovia. You can use blue Dawn in a sink of hot water to “strip” your diapers. Washing machines are designed to be able to remove fecal material.

However, if you’re concerned about the cleanliness of your washing machine, you can run a wash cycle with no clothes in the machine once a month, adding bleach (or white vinegar and baking soda) to the cycle. It’s nice to have a schedule in place that will take the minimum amount of time and so very satisfying to see your wonderful fresh stash of diapers ready for action.

AVOIDING DIAPER RASH

Most children under the age of 2 years will probably experience diaper rash at some point. The skin under the diaper becomes red caused by irritants such as feces, urine, or cleaning agents. The redness could be an allergic reaction to diaper wipes, diapers, laundry detergent, soap, lotion, or even the elastic in plastic pants.

Diaper rash occurs more frequently at around the age of 9 to 12 months. At this point, baby is still sitting most of the time, but is eating solid foods that may change the acidity of the bowel movements. Consult your doctor if a diaper rash is persistent, bleeding, or doesn’t heal after a few days.

Preventing Diaper Rash

Follow these steps to keep baby’s bottom healthy and pain-free:

  • Before putting on a fresh diaper, be sure the skin in the diaper area is clean and dry—even after using a baby wipe.
  • Change diapers often.
  • Rinse baby’s bottom with warm water as part of each diaper change. You can use moist washcloths, cotton balls or baby wipes. Don’t use baby wipes containing alcohol or fragrance.
  • Pat skin dry with a clean towel. Try to avoid scrubbing.
  • Let baby spend some time without a diaper on, exposing the skin in the diaper area to the air. Enjoy talking and singing with baby while he lies on a large towel—just in case!
  • Try not to overtighten diapers. Tight diapers prevent airflow in the diaper region, setting up a moist environment, favorable to diaper rashes.
  • Wash hands after changing baby’s diaper.
  • Talc is no longer recommended as inhaled powder can irritate baby’s lungs.
  • If using cloth diapers, set your machine for two rinses to avoid any detergent residue, and do not use fabric softener.

Diaper Creams and Cloth Diapers

Many traditional diaper rash creams contain certain ingredients that will clog the fibers of your cloth diapers. This will cause the diapers to repel urine rather than absorb it. Diaper creams safe for cloth diapers, such as the Grovia brand, will wash out of the fibers.

It is still recommended that a diaper liner is used to protect your diaper from buildup that may damage your diapers and even void your manufacturer’s warranty.

Our Cloth Diaper–Friendly Diaper Cream Picks:

Grovia Itty Bitty Magic Stick Diaper Balm is great for diapering on the go because it tucks easily in a diaper bag. This natural formula can be used for diaper rash, chapped skin, cuts, and scrapes.

Grovia Magic Stick Diaper Balm is the big brother of the Itty Bitty stick. It, too, prevents and treats diaper rash using all natural organic ingredients. The Magic Stick can be used with cloth diapers, but a liner is still recommended.

Grovia Magic Stick Z Diaper Balm contains healing zinc. Zinc is a safe mineral that allows baby’s irritated skin to heal faster. The Magic Stick Z can be used with cloth diapers, but a liner is recommended. (Each child should have their own designated Magic Stick, and not share.)

Baby Pibu Bottom Balm creates a protective barrier. It is naturally derived, non-toxic, hypoallergenic, and chemical free.

Baby Pibu Intensive Bottom Relief is a soothing and nourishing skin ointment for diaper rash. It is naturally derived, non-toxic, and hypoallergenic.

LEARNING THE SECRET FORMULA FOR OVERNIGHT DIAPERING

As baby gets older, there is going to be more pee during nighttime. Plus, your child should (hopefully!) be sleeping for longer periods, so this should be the longest time without a diaper change.  To ensure the sheets stay dry, you want maximum absorbency during the night-time hours.

There is a magic formula that can help. The top layer, next to baby’s skin, should be the soft fleecy stay-dry layer. Underneath that should be the thirsty microfiber layer. This is the quick absorber, soaking up pee, just like during the day. (Remember never to put the microfiber layer next to baby’s skin.)

Next comes the additional layer: hemp. Hemp is a slow but very effective absorber, with up to eight times the absorbency of cotton! The urine can come through the microfiber to then be dealt with by the hemp. Regardless of which type of cloth diaper you are using (all-in-ones, pockets, or shells), you can easily add a layer of hemp underneath your usual absorbent layers. Hemp is a natural fabric and will increase in absorbency the more it is washed. The final layer is the outer waterproof cover.

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