Sunday, September 30, 2012

Complete Cloth Diapering Guide

I absolutely love cloth diapers. I love that I'm not contributing to the 7.6 billion pounds of diaper trash that ends up in landfills each year (in the U.S. alone) that will take up to 500 years to completely decompose. I love that I'll never run out of diapers and be forced to make a last minute trip to the store. I love that I'm not puting harsh chemicals against my baby's skin. Harsh chemicals like dioxins which the EPA recognizes as being highly carcinogenic. I love that cloth diapers don't smell (I find that disposable diapers have this nauseating chemical-like smell to them) and even though I hate doing laundry, oddly enough I love doing diaper laundry (I find it satisfying). Best of all, I love that I'm not spending a ton of money on what is essentially garbage. 

I get asked about cloth diapering a lot and what I've found is that some people decide not to do it because they wrongfully believe that cloth diapering requires a huge upfront investment. The truth is, is that it really depends on what kind of cloth diaper system you decide to use. The method I chose, prefolds and covers, is among the cheapest and most versatile methods available. 

What You'll Need to Get Started

*Please note that throughout this post I will be referring to prefolds as diapers and vice versa* 

A prefold is an absorbent, rectangular diaper that is divided into three sections. Each section is made up of many layers of gauze-like fabric (usually cotton but sometimes hemp or bamboo) with the middle section containing the most layers. They must be used in conjunction with a diaper cover since a prefold itself lacks waterproof properties. They are very versatile and can be folded a few different ways. They are also virtually indestructible and can survive being washed and dried several hundred times, boiled, and even bleached (although bleaching and boiling isn't recommended or even necessary unless you are buying used prefolds). Usually, they cost around $2 each and it is recommended to have two dozen in each size in order to cloth diaper full time.

Prior to use, prefolds must be prepped by being washed and dried 4-6 complete times. Be sure to wash with hot water and a small amount of detergent and dry on high heat. This will rid the prefolds of all the natural oils that are present in the cotton that prevent them from being as absorbent as possible. This prepping process will shrink the prefolds by 5-10% and will cause them to quilt.

From top to bottom: Size one Osocozy prefold, 
size two Osocozy prefold (that has been dyed and shortened), and a size large Cloth-eez

Pictured above are three different sizes of prefolds. The two smallest are from the brand Osocozy while the largest is from Cloth-eez and is sold by Green Mountain Diapers. The smallest is a size one and according to the manufacturer, fits infants weighing 7-15 pounds. Behind that is their size two prefold (which I have dyed and shortened) which is said to fit infants and toddlers weighing 15-30 pounds. The largest prefold pictured is a size large Cloth-eez. It is supposed to fit infants and toddlers from 20-35 pounds.

Prefold dimensions after prepping/shrinking (length x width in inches)
Osocozy, size one: 13 x 10.5
Osocozy, size two: 14 x 13
Cloth-eez, size large: 17.5 x 15

I found Osocozy's sizing to be a bit off, as my daughter used size one until she was nearly 20 pounds. For their size 2, there is no way my daughter will be able to wear them until she's 30 lbs. They are simply just too narrow (it's important to note that my daughter is tiny and has always been in the 20th percentile). As for the Cloth-eez, while it is quite long, making it necessary to fold the excess down in the front, the width is perfect and I'm confident that this size will work for the remainder of our cloth diapering days.

How long each size will work for your baby is largely dependent on how big your baby is and what folding style you use. Also, it's important to note that size two Osocozy prefolds are actually much longer than the one pictured. I found the size two prefold to be much too long and I altered all two dozen of mine to be 4 inches shorter in length, making them the same length as the size 2 diaper covers by Thirsties.

If I were to go back in time, I would have skipped purchasing the size two osocozy prefolds and instead used the large size Cloth-eez immediately after my daughter outgrew her size one Osocozy prefolds. While the size two Osocozy prefolds were nice, they were definitely unnecessary as they only fit my daughter for approximately 6 or 7 months before we sized up to the large Cloth-eez.


Covers are necessary as they act like a waterproof layer between the diaper and your baby's clothing. They can be made of synthetic fabrics like PUL (polyurethane laminate) or natural fibers such as wool (wool must be lanolized first. we'll get to that later). They can be purchased in various sizes (for instance Thirsties Duo Wrap comes in two sizes) or in a one-size-fits-most variety (like the covers by BubuBibi). PUL covers are generally inexpensive, ranging from $6-20 while wool covers are much more costly, ranging from $10-50.

Size two Thristies Duo Wrap Snap

Size two compared with size one, both with the rise adjustment fully open

I use PUL diaper covers from two different companies, Thirsties and BubuBibi. The ones pictured above are the Thirsties Duo Wrap Snap. According to the label, size one will fit an infant that weights between 6 and 18 pounds and size two will fit from 18 to 40 pounds. These covers feature a double leg gusset that creates a perfect fit around the legs as well as snaps along the front to make the rise adjustable. The inside is lined with PUL, making the cover waterproof without being bulky. These can be hand or machine washed and tumble dried on low. Personally, I hang these to dry as they air dry very quickly and will cut down on wear and tear, making the covers last longer. 

The Thirsties Duo Wrap comes in two varieties. One closes with the use of aplix (velcro) and the other uses snaps. I much prefer the snaps as it keeps the cover securely in place (my baby quickly learned how to take off the aplix covers) and they don't suffer the same level of wear in the washer as the aplix does. I found that after a few months, the aplix tabs were so worn that the pressure of my daughter simply sitting up was enough for it to come undone. The Thirsties Duo Wrap costs approximately $13.

18 month old (23 lbs, 32" tall) in a one size BubuBibi cover

The covers by BubuBibi only come in one size and claim to work through all stages from infancy to toddlerhood. Similar to the Thirsties Duo Wrap, the Bububibi cover is made of PUL, features double leg gussets, and has three sets of snaps allowing for the rise to be shortened/lengthened. Unlike the Thirsties Duo Wrap, the side flaps can be overlapped (note the extra snaps on the flap on the left side of the photo), creating a tighter fit. These covers also feature snaps in the front and in the back to give the user the option to use snappable inserts (also sold by BubuBibi) rather than prefold diapers.  These covers are incredibly affordable, costing approximately $6 each. I personally cannot say enough good things about these covers. They are cute, functional, and very affordable. The only drawback is that I highly doubt it would fit an infant under 6 months of age.

***Please keep in mind that although I have a lot of diaper covers (8 that currently fit my daughter: 5 size two Thirsties Duo Wraps and 3 one size BubuBibi covers), it is NOT necessary to have this many! I just like having a lot of cute options and see diaper covers as both functional and fashionable. I recommend people to have AT LEAST 3 covers that currently fit your child. If you opt to have the minimum, make sure to hand wash a cover as soon as it gets dirty. This way, you'll always have one on your baby, one freshly washed that is hanging to dry, and one that is clean, dry, and ready to be used. A wet cover will dry in just a couple hours.***

Wool diaper cover by Disana

Besides the PUL covers, I also own two wool diaper covers. One is by Disana and cost $23 while the other is an upcycled wool cover (was previously a wool sweater) and was purchased by an Etsy seller for $14. Wool must be hand washed, lanolized, and air dried. Lanolizing wool is what makes it waterproof. Lanolin is a waxy substance created by sheep to coat their wool so that their skin can stay warm and dry even in the rain. After handwashing the cover, simply melt a small lanolin bar or a squirt of lanolin cream (make sure it's 100% lanolin) in a bowl of hot water then soak the wool cover in the lanolin water for at least 30 minutes. You can also use a lanolin wool wash bar instead of the small, individual bars or the cream. Just rub the bar against the wool cover in the bowl of warm water until the water appears milky. After the 30 minute soak period, remove the cover, squeezing out all excess water then air dry. Wool covers take a long time to air dry (1-2 days) so if you opt to use wool, make sure to have at least two covers. 

The benefits of wool covers is that they are all natural, breathable, and provide great coverage. I use my wool covers in an unconventional way, putting one over the top of a PUL diaper cover for nighttime diapering. I found that as my daughter aged, she did more tossing and turning in her sleep. Often times this would cause her PUL diaper cover to shift, exposing a small portion of her prefold. The exposed prefold would leak onto her jammies and bedding. With the addition of the wool cover, there is absolutely no chance of urine leaking onto anything while she sleeps. 


Besides prefolds and covers, you're going to need something to put dirty diapers in. Some people choose to use a diaper pail (or trash can with a lid) with a reusable, washable liner while others opt to use a large wet bag. I ended up using both. First, I chose the large wet bag as it takes up very little space, it travels nicely (can be folded up), and closes completely, eliminating any and all possible smells. The drawback to using a large wet bag is that it must be unzipped and held open in order to place a wet diaper inside while a diaper pail can be opened with your foot, allowing the diaper to be tossed in. Next I tried a diaper pail with liner. While it was nice to be able to open the diaper pail hands-free and drop in a diaper, I honestly wasn't a fan due to the limited capacity and the fact that diaper pails aren't air-tight. Finally, I went back to using a large wet bag by purchasing a much more affordable bag that ended up being even better than the first one I tried.

The wet bag I started with was by Planet Wise and cost approximately $30. It comes in a variety of prints and colors. It is a double layered wet bag with the outer layer consisting of cloth and the inner layer consisting of PUL. It also features two zippered compartments. The main zipper across the top accesses the main compartment where wet diapers are to be stored and the zipper on the side accesses a pocket that is not waterproof. This side pocket is meant to store clean diapers, however I never used this pocket and felt as though it was unnecessary. It also has two handles on the top and is meant to be hung on a door handle or hook. I quickly found that this bag is nearly impossible to zip while actually hanging, so I left mine on the floor in front of the diaper changing station where it easily held 3 days of cloth diapers with room to spare. This bag survived being machine washed and dried on high every other day for 13 months (nearly 200 trips through the washer and dryer) until it finally fell apart. The outer fabric developed huge holes and rips in it and one of the handles ripped from the bag. Even though this had happened, oddly enough the inner waterproof layer held up perfectly. I ripped out all the decorative cotton fabric and now have a wet bag made entirely of PUL with a zipper closure. It's not very pretty but it works and I now use this bag when we travel out of town.

A large Planet Wise hanging wet/dry bag

A look inside my wet bag (which can hold 24 prefolds along with a bunch of wipe, liners and covers)

Safety 1st Simple Step diaper pail with a Thirsties Diaper Pail Liner

Back of reusable liner must be rolled in to allow the step mechanism to move freely

XL wet bag by BubuBibi

After the half-demise of my Planet Wise bag, I purchased a diaper pail by Safety First ($14) and a Thirsties diaper pail liner ($17). I figured that this would be a better option for me as a diaper pail liner would be cheaper to replace in the future while the pail itself would last indefinitely. The diaper pail is a little on the smaller size and while it actually holds less than the large Planet Wise, I am still able to fit two days worth of diapers in it. It took a little trial and error to make it work as I didn't realize at first that the pail liner has to be rolled in towards the back so that the lid can snap on securely as well as ensuring that the step opening mechanism is clear. The diaper pail liner I chose would be able to fit a much larger pail and could even be used alone as it has a draw string closure.

After a few months, I found the diaper pail/liner combo to get annoying as by day two, I was having to really stuff its contents down into the pail to make room for more. I've since purchased an XL wet bag by BubuBibi for $14. I've been using it since spring 2013 and it is still in perfect condition. It easily holds 3 days worth of diapers, washes beautifully and holds in smells nicely.

Wet bags for on-the-go. Left is by Planet Wise, right is by Kushies

A useful (but sometimes considered unnecessary) cloth diapering item is small wet bags for on-the-go use. These will hold 3-5 wet diapers and fold to fit nicely in any diaper bag. They are also useful for soiled clothing and bibs and even wet swimwear. Some people opt to skip these and just use plastic shopping bags but as I've never seen a disposable shopping bag without a hole, I'll stick to these instead.


Finally, the last thing you will need to complete your basic cloth diapering stash are Snappi Diaper Fasteners, cloth wipes, and a diaper sprayer. Technically a diaper sprayer isn't necessary but it is very useful and a great time saver. Also, not everyone uses cloth wipes, but since they have all the same benefits as cloth diapers, I feel as though they're important to use as well. Other things that are useful include doublers (often called inserts) and stay dry liners.

Snappis are a modern alternative to diaper pins. They consists of three stretchy "arms" and on the back of each arm are spiky plastic hooks. These dig into the diaper and hold everything in place. Snappis cost approximately $6 for a pack of two.

Snappi cloth diaper fastener

A diaper sprayer is basically your every day kitchen sink sprayer that attaches to your toilet water line. It sprays clean water at a high pressure that quickly can rinse away even the nastiest of dirty diapers. Diaper sprayers cost approximately $40. You can get a cheap kitchen sprayer but keep in mind that after you gather all the plumbing hardware to make it fit your toilet, you'll probably save $5 at most.

diaper sprayer attached to toilet water line

Cloth wipes can be purchased online and in some stores, but at nearly $1 per wipe, I recommend making them yourself. Mine measure about 5x7 inches and are made from two layers of flannel. To make them, I stitched right sides together, leaving an opening for turning. Once turned right side out, I ironed them and then sewed around the perimeter and down the middle. It is recommended to have at least two dozen cloth wipes, although three or even four dozen is best if you wipe after every diaper change. I have 40 wipes and I used 4 yards of flannel (which was on sale, costing $8 for all 4 yards) and a spool of thread ($2) to make these.

homemade cloth wipes

A doubler/insert will increase the diaper's absorbency and are great for nighttime use. While they are very useful and nice to have, they are far from necessary and the same thing can be achieved by taking a second, smaller prefold, folding it into thirds, and laying it on top of the first prefold (keep in mind that this method creates more bulkiness). Doublers usually cost $3-5 each.

Hemp insert made by Thirsties

Stay-dry liners are almost always made of thin fleece and almost always rectangular in shape and similar in size to a doubler. They are meant to be worn under the diaper and against baby's skin. Since fleece is not absorbent, it allows wetness to pass through the liner where it will be absorbed into the diaper below. This keeps wetness off of baby's skin and creates a long lasting dry feel. They are great for nighttime and allow your baby to sleep longer since they won't wake up, demanding to be changed. They're also great for walks and trips to the park on cooler days (a wet diaper will feel really cold against baby's skin without a stay dry liner) as well as long car trips or wherever frequent changes aren't possible. Stay-dry liners can be purchased online but please know that they are just run-of-the-mill pieces of fleece that have been cut into rectangles (they don't even have stitching on the sides as fleece does not unravel). Personally, I was unhappy with the small, rectangular shape of stay-dry liners since my baby's sides still got wet, so I created my own version. If you're interested in purchasing a set of fitted stay-dry liners from me, contact me through my Facebook crafting page HERE.

Homemade fitted stay-dry diaper liner with velcro

Homemade fitted stay-dry liner with snaps

A look at a typical diaper change, nighttime diapering, and laundering your cloth diapers

Diaper changing station

Let's start by taking a look at my diapering station.  I have 8 PUL covers, 24 prefolds, 40 homemade cloth wipes, 3 Snappi Fasteners, 4 doublers, 3 homemade fitted stay dry liners, and two wool covers that make up my regular diapering routine. I also have four pocket diapers (one FuzziBuns and three Imagine) but I find these to be bulky, inconvenient, and impossible to troubleshoot if you experience a leak (whereas with prefolds, if you ever experience a leak, you can experiment with different folding techniques).

Using a squirt bottle to wet the top wipe with homemade wipe solution.

After I lay baby down on the changing pad, I start by wetting the top cloth wipe. My wipe solution consists of plain tap water although you may add a tablespoon of baby oil to the water to make the wipe slide smoothly and to help moisturize baby's skin. 

After I unfasten the cover and the diaper, I use the moistened wipe then toss the wipe and wet prefold into the wet bag. If the diaper was dirty (poop), I set it aside and later (once baby is in a safe place like her crib) bring it to the bathroom where I put on gloves, spray it off, wring it out, and then place it in the wet bag. Once your baby's poops become more solid, dirty diapers are even easier to take care off as the poo easily falls off the diaper and into the toilet. 

Next I put on a new prefold. I use the jelly roll fold (as seen below), which is not only great at preventing poop explosions but it also utilizes the full width of the diaper. While keeping the cover underneath baby, I first lay a flat prefold under baby and on top of the cover. Next, I roll in the sides then I pull the front up through the legs. I undo the rolling a bit on the front and secure the prefold with a snappi. If the prefold is too long for the time being, I fold the excess down in the font just before I snappi it. The angel wing fold and bikini twist are achieved in a similar way, by first laying the flat prefold under baby, either folding in the sides (for angel wing fold) or twisting the entire front (bikini twist), then pulling the front up through the legs and securing with a snappi.

I secure the diaper cover and check around the legs to make sure none of the diaper is showing (if any is showing, simply pull the cover over a bit to cover the diaper completely. I also feel along baby's lower back to make sure none of the prefold is exposed along the top of the cover.. If you have any leaks, chances are it's because the cover wasn't completely covering the prefold. I use the same cover throughout the entire day unless it gets soiled in any way.

Various Folding Techniques

Jelly Roll fold

Bikini Twist fold

Angel Wing fold

Jelly roll fold secured with a Snappi

Diaper cover over a clean, snappi'ed prefold


Night diapering can be a challenge for even the most experienced cloth diaperers. Not only do you need to find a diapering routine that will hold an entire night's worth of pee without leaking, but you need to make sure that the pee won't be sitting against your baby's skin (which can give them a rash or at least, cause them to wake up). Without finding a solution that does all these things, you'll be left changing diapers (and sheets) in the middle of the night for the next few years. Many cloth diaper users simply give up their search for the perfect night diapering solution and opt to use disposables. I was one of these users for the first 5 months of my daughter's life until I figured out what I think is the perfect nighttime diapering routine.

Night diapering for us is similar to day time diapering with the addition of a stay-dry liner and either a trifolded smaller prefold or a doubler. The stay-dry liner goes on first and sits directly against baby's skin, keeping baby feeling dry all night regardless of how soaked the diaper beneath becomes. The doubler is to boost the diaper's absorbency so that the diaper won't have any problems absorbing 10-12 hours worth of pee. After I secure the prefold onto baby with the doubler inside, I put on a PUL diaper cover. You may have to open up the rise settings as night diapering is very bulky. Finally, I top it all with a wool cover. Not once have I had a leak with this nighttime diaper setup and my daughter is able to go through the entire night without feeling any wetness against her skin.

Night time diaper essentials: 
stay-dry liner, trifolded prefold (or doubler/booster pad/insert), and a prefold

Fitted stay-dry liner goes on first to keep baby feeling dry all night

Clean prefold with doubler gets folded and secured over the stay-dry liner. Notice that the diaper does not touch baby's skin and that excess prefold length has been folded down.

a PUL diaper cover is secured over the diaper (it's okay if some of the fitted stay-dry liner 
sticks out as fleece is not aborbant and will not wick moisture)

bonus leak protection: a wool cover can be added over everything to ensure that there won't be any leaks


Diaper laundry should occur every 2-3 days even if you have plenty of clean diapers available.

To wash my diapers, I first empty the contents of the wet bag (or pail inner) into the washing machine then push the bottom of the bag through itself to turn it inside out. I then drop the bag in with everything else. There is no need to touch dirty diapers! 

I start the diapers on a cold rinse cycle with a half cup of white vinegar. Once that is complete, I run a heavy duty hot wash cycle with a small amount of either homemade laundry soap or commercial laundry soap. The beauty of prefolds is that special detergents are not necessary. Unless your baby has skin allergies, just about any kind of detergent will work. After the washer is done, I transfer everything into the dryer with the exception of PUL covers and wet bags (I air dry these to prolong their life). Do not use fabric softeners or dryer sheets as these can cause your diapers to become less absorbant. 

everything goes in the wash, bag and all. No need to touch dirty diapers.

If your diapers seem like they need a heavy duty washing, or if your baby experienced a rash or illness and you want to make sure that all of the germs have been killed, you can add a half cup of bleach to the wash cycle. I recommend NOT using bleach on your PUL covers and wet bags and instead, to wash those by hand. Although some people report bleaching PUL covers with success, my experience wasn't as positive and I ended up completely delaminating a few covers. 

My final tip is to make sure you use enough water especially if you have a top load washing machine that features a center agitator (like mine). When there isn't enough water, diapers can get stuck beneath the agitator and actually get shredded during the wash cycle (I learned this the hard way). To be on the safe side, always select a load size one larger than what you'd normally think (for instance, I always wash my diapers on medium/large even though it looks like a medium load). 


Cloth diapering is neither a huge time investment nor does it require a lot of money. You can get a complete set of diapers from birth to potty training for under $150 ($90 to get started with additional money needed for when your baby outgrows the small sized prefolds. Keep in mind that disposable diapering costs $40-60/month and that average age of potty training is 2.5 in this country). Laundering your cloth diapers takes only a few minutes at a time (less than 1 minute to start the rinse cycle, a few seconds to start the wash cycle, about 2 minutes to switch the diapers from the washer to dryer and hang covers/wet bags, then under 5 minutes to sort diapers after they're done in the dryer). This time is certainly less than what would be required for a last minute trip to the store. It's also nice to know that we'll never run out of diapers and that I'll never have to clip coupons or price check all the nearby stores to find the best deals on diapers. Cloth is, in my opinion, not only the best choice for the health of your baby and the health of the environment, but also the most convenient choice.

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