17 July 2010

Cloth Diaper Basics

Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert on any of this. I have done extensive research for the past year or so on all things cloth diapering and this is some of what I have found. I do plan to do follow-up reviews on all of the products I use once I have a real live baby on which to try them.

For anyone interested, here is a good place to learn about the different types of diapers:
Green Mountain Diapers they also sell diapers [they have the largest selection of prefold sizes I know of] but the page I linked has an overview of the different types of cloth diapers so you can see what you thing would work best for you.

The basic types are:
Flat: This is the giant square of fabric that our grandparents used. You have to fold them up and either use a pin or Snappi to close them. They require a cover to avoid leaks. I guess when you're using them with a cover you don't have to fasten them but I'm sure it's less of a mess when it's time for a change. These are the most economical way to cloth diaper but I think most people avoid them nowadays because they require some work. They also dry the fastest because they are so thin.


Prefold: My grandmother actually used these on my youngest uncle when they first came out. They're the same concept as a flat diaper, only they are already "folded" or multi-layered so you can skip the step of folding them yourself. The two main types are Chinese and Indian Prefolds [and you can get them in white or unbleached, organic or regular]. Chinese are more durable but aren't as soft. The Indian ones are softer but don't last as long, although I doubt that would be an issue until you use them with subsequent children. These are another economical way to cloth diaper and still require a cover. If you are interested in prefolds but want to spice things up, a lot of people dye them. Do a Google search to find out the best way to do it, because I definitely don't know.


Contour: This is similar to a prefold except it is smaller because it's cut out at the legs. It is sort of shaped like a maxipad and you put it inside the cover. I don't know much about these but it seems like it might lead to more leaks than other types of diapers just because there is less material [but what do I know?]. You can also use them with or without fasteners.

Fitted: These are a little more expensive but can still be one of the least costly options. There are sized fitteds that fit from certain weight ranges, etc. and there are One-Size fitteds that, like Natalia said, grow with your baby. They have snaps and/ or Velcro-like closures [if you use that, you want Aplix, it's more durable than Velcro] and adjust to your baby's size. Different brands are recommended by different people and it seems like it all depends on the size and shape of the baby. They also require covers to be leak-proof but seem to contain messes better than the previous options because the legs usually have some sort of elastic to hold it all in.

I settled on using a combination of Mother-Ease Sandy's and One-Size. They are an affordable brand that is very highly recommended. They're made in Canada and they also have a lot of colors and materials to choose. My plan may actually change, though, because with some thinner babies the Sandy's small size fits much longer than for others so it might make more sense to skip the One-Size altogether at that point, especially as I plan to do EC so I might not even need the larger size.

As far as Mother-Ease goes, their Sandy's fitteds come in 3 sizes: Newborn [which most people seem to forgo altogether and just use prefolds or the small size], Small, and Large. The One-Size may be bulkier at first but if you use them, in theory you only have to buy one set of diapers to use the whole time.

There are many brands of fitted diapers that get good reviews but I have seen lots of recommendations for Kissaluvs, Thirsties, and Swaddlebees. Many people also like to support work at home moms who sell their items online [there are a lot on Etsy under WAHM]. If you're crafty, there are a lot of instructions online about how to sew your own.


These are essentially the same as fitted diapers except they require no cover because the cover is built right in. They are the closest to the look and ease-of-use of disposables and the most convenient to use on the go. They do take longer to dry because of the extra materials and they cost more than other options. There are also pocket diapers, which similar to AIOs except there is a pocket inside with a removable absorbent insert so they take less time to dry.


G-Diapers: These are kind of a hybrid so I wasn't sure where to mention these. They are essentially a reusable outer layer/ cover with a disposable, biodegradable insert. These would be a great alternative to disposables and would require less laundry than cloth options. It also might be a good way to ease into cloth diapering without fully committing. I bought them a couple of years ago for my cousin from Amazon for a good price on a starter kit.


Cloth Diaper Accessories:
Covers [Also called Soakers]: These have been the most difficult decision for me. There are so many kinds and it seems like everyone has a different favorite brand. Generally, they are made of some sort of synthetic PUL water-resistant material, fleece, or wool. Wool is the most expensive but you only have to wash them -in some cases- every couple of weeks so you can use the same one many times in a row and don't need to buy as many. The lanolin in wool apparently neutralizes the ammonia in urine [some people say that it creates a natural "soap"]. Once the cover begins to smell, the lanolin has been used up and the cover needs to be washed, re-lanolized [lanolin is an additional cost], and it can take a few days for them to dry. Many people prefer to use wool at night over other covers because of the absorbency and the fact that they keep the baby comfortable and dry. I almost forgot to mention that wool can be used year-round because it keeps babies warm in the winter and cool in the summer [I assume due to its breathability].

Fleece also wicks moisture away from the baby's skin similar to how wool works, only it is more affordable and can be washed and dried normally. I found a seller on Etsy who sells them for $18 for 3 covers, you pick the colors and free shipping [her name is Londonware but there are tons if you just search "fleece diaper cover" or "fleece soaker"]. I'm sure these would be easy to make if you know how to do that kind of thing.

The PUL diaper covers seem to be the most recommended, probably because there are so many different brands, colors, and styles. The two I see reviewed most are by Thirsties and Bummis. I have both and they are very similar in design so I'm sure it just, again, depends on the size and shape of your baby. I am going to start out with Thirsties, Bummis, and fleece covers and see what works best.


Doublers: These are inserts that can be used for added absorbency. Some people just need them at night and some use them during the day as well. Many reviewers online use prefolds as doublers as well, so if you plan on using prefolds, you might be able to use them later on with your other diapers if your baby is a heavy wetter. In that case, you would just fold the prefold in thirds and place it into the diaper.

Disposable Liners:
You can buy these at Babies R Us or I'm sure any Target or Walmart. They can be used with disposables or cloth diapers and are basically a thin piece of paper-like material that can make cleanup less messy. You just pick up the liner and dispose of it when changing the diaper. I don't know that I will try them but some people swear by them.

Laundry Detergent: Charlie's Soap is supposed to be a great and affordable laundry detergent [for babies or otherwise]. It's available in liquid and powder form and they also sell an all-purpose cleaner. The only thing I will say is check their site for instructions first. When you switch to it, it supposedly foams up as it cleans the buildup and residue from previous detergents so you don't want bubbles all over the place! Another good thing is you can use it in HE [High Efficiency] washing machines, you just use a smaller amount. The cheapest I found the powder detergent is on Amazon and depending upon how much you want to buy at once [they offer a 5 gallon bucket that will last for 1280 loads], it looks like you can get a great deal.


Another brand, Cal-Ben's, is a natural pure soap that is recommended in Baby Bargains as a good laundry detergent that doubles as bath/ hand soap but I don't know all that much about it other than that. They also apparently make a dish soap.

I've come very close to buying Soap Nuts but still have yet to try it. They have them at Whole Foods and you basically use the natural soap for a certain number of washes before replacing them.

I just got this link in an email from a girl in my childbirth classes, which is a website that helps you choose a laundry detergent based on what you do and don't want [fabric softeners, fragrances, etc.] so check that out if you're on the fence about a certain type.

FYI, if you want to try out a certain brand or even many brands of diapers/ covers before committing to one, most online stores that sell cloth diapers and even the manufacturers' websites have introductory packages. I know some will offer a certain number of diapers and covers for a discounted price. Other stores like Granola Babies, Cotton Babies, and others have sampler kits where you can try one of each brand and send back the ones you don't like for a partial refund.


  1. This post was very helpful! H and I have been strongly considering starting a family lately and are very interested in cloth diapers. I can't wait to hear what you think when you have your child and start to use them :)

  2. I'm glad it was helpful! I will definitely post reviews once I have some real experience. I'm trying out several different types so that I can find out what works/ doesn't work for my baby and hopefully have a lot of feedback to help and encourage more moms to use cloth diapers.