Cloth Diapers 101

Congrats! You’ve brought a new bundle of joy home and are ready for all the joys and challenges of caring for a baby. The first decision you’ll likely make is whether to choose cloth or disposable diapers for your little one. While there are many innovative products on the market designed to make this task a bit better, the concept behind cloth diapers hasn’t changed since our mothers used them.

Here is what you need to know about making the greener choice in diapers.

Types of Diapers

The modern cloth diaper has the same components as the original, but with a better design. Considering that you’ll want about 20 diapers on hand for each infant, it makes sense to learn which type works best early in the journey. You can still buy the diapers your grandma used (clothespins and all), and some parents choose these for the ability to make them as thick as you please. For the rest of us, consider one of the following options:

Prefolds – These work like the traditional cloth diaper, using pins to secure. The benefit is that they are thicker where they need to be, eliminating much of the “how to fold” guesswork. Contours are a version of these that are thinner in the middle where the legs go, eliminating all the fold work.

All-in-ones – With the absorbent inner layer and waterproof later together in one product, it has a fitted shape with elastic leg holes and easy closures – such as snaps or Velcro. These work like disposables, and you can put the whole diaper in the wash.

Fitteds – These are like an all-in-one diaper, without the waterproof outer layer. You’ll need to buy that separately.

Pockets – Much like an all-in-one, these come in two parts: the waterproof outer layer with a pocket, and an absorbent inner piece that goes into that pocket. You can change out the inner layer as needed, or wash the entire diaper at once.

Diapers are made from an assortment of materials, with many manufacturers keeping an eye on sustainability products. Diapers are made from bleached or natural cotton, wool, hemp, or bamboo. The outer, waterproof layer can be made from synthetic fibers, such as polyurethane laminate (PUL) or polyester blends. Picking the right material for your baby’s sensitive skin needs may take time to figure out. For the best experience, it is recommended that you use an unscented laundry product designed for infants.

How to Use Wash Cloth Diapers

Those new to cloth diapering may feel overwhelmed, but the process of using and cleaning these diapers is simple. In fact, since we have modern plumbing systems, access to hot water, and superior detergent options to our parents and grandparents, there isn’t anything to it. Simply dump any solid waste from the diaper into the toilet and place the diaper in a lined pail until ready to wash. Prepare a “diaper-only” load according to the diaper care directions, usually a hot/cold wash setting on “extra” clean for maximum rinse cycles. You will probably want to wash your diapers twice since you are not pre-rinsing or soaking. For extra small loads, you can even use special “mini” laundry pods to avoid waste.

How Much Will You Save?

While estimates will vary depending on factors such as the price of your cloth diapers and whether you launder them yourself, there is a significant cost savings to those who switch to cloth. The Bump estimates a $1,000 - $2,200 savings opportunity over the first two years of baby’s life. If you continue to use cloth through the potty-training years – or have multiples in diapers -- you’ll save even more. Add in the significant savings of resources from plastic that isn’t made or introduced into our natural environment, and it's easy to see why the cloth diaper trend has made a comeback!