The Simple Guide to Cloth Diapers

When I started to look into cloth diapers when Little Guy was just weeks old, I was severely overwhelmed by all the information coming at me. I wished there was a super simple guide to cloth diapers, but there just wasn’t. When searching the rabbit hole of Pinterest, I found a few blogs here and there but none gave me actionable steps on how to start.

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I started to ask my fellow “crunchy mom” questions and it’s like she had the holy grail of cloth diaper knowledge! Her son is now two years old and still in cloth diapers. She uses a different type of diaper than I do, but she provided me with insight into this world of baby diapering.

Let’s break down this monster of a baby product into a few sections to make a Simple Guide for Cloth Diapering:

  • The Benefits and Cost
  • Why We Chose Pocket Style Cloth Diapers
  • The Elements of a Cloth Diaper
  • How to Maintain Cloth Diapers
  • Things to Note

The Benefits and Cost of Cloth Diapers

Baby bums are sensitive, squishy little things and I was very determined to make sure Little Guy’s booty was well taken care of. Cloth diapers are more breathable than disposable diapers and don’t contain any of the chemicals used to produce disposables. Each cloth diaper can last several years if well maintained. That eliminates boxes and boxes of disposable diapers from landfills every year! Who doesn’t love producing less trash?

When you buy less boxed disposable diapers, you’re saving money. This is the biggest benefit to us! The cost to cloth diaper after you get started is very minimal. We only need to purchase Tide laundry detergent every few months to wash the diapers in. With a coupon, a big bottle only costs us $10. Even with the cost of a load of laundry factored in, cloth diapers still come out on top.

So how much does it cost to get the “perfect setup”? There are four main items that we purchased to get our version of the perfect setup:

Our cost was approximately $230 to get the “perfect” set up that we wanted. These prices are what we paid on Amazon. I did not buy everything at the same time, but would buy the items as they went on sale. You can find items cheaper, you can find items that are more expensive. In the end, it is up to you on how much you want to spend.

With cloth diapers, you definitely get what you pay for. We bought a very off-branch of pocket style diapers and regretted it after a month of use. They are sized a little bit smaller and the PLU (water-resistant) fabric on the outside is much flimsier than the slightly more expensive brand.

Why We Chose Pocket Style Cloth Diapers

I won’t lie to you mama. When I looked at all the overwhelming choices of diapers, I chose the one that looked the least gross, the easiest to do, and the least expensive. When you combine all of those together you get pocket style diapers.

Pocket style cloth diapers are also referred to as diapers with inserts.  There is an outer shell that has the water resistant fabric (usually in a fun color) with buttons on the front and the interior is a softer blended fabric. In the back of the diaper, there is an opening that is big enough to put an insert of your choosing in. Once you put an insert into the diaper, the diaper goes on your sweet babe.

Pocket style is also one of the cheaper ways to cloth diaper. My friend used Grovia diapers with inserts/liners that snapped into the diaper shell. Those were on the higher side of what I was willing to spend in order to just try it out in the beginning. Ours came with inserts (2 per diaper) and we purchased more absorbent ones after reading reviews.

The Elements of a Cloth Diaper

There are four basic elements of a pocket style cloth diaper:

  1. The adjustable shell
  2. The insert
  3. The pocket
  4. The fabric interior

The Adjustable Shell

The adjustable shell is meant to grow with baby. Little Guy has worn cloth diapers since he was two months old. He was a bitty babe when he was born at 5 pounds so we used disposables until he was big enough to wear cloth.

One set of snaps across the top is the “waistband” of the diaper. You want it tight enough to stay on but loose enough so they don’t have a muffin top.  The second row of snaps across the top is for the thighs. Our chunky monkey is on the second to last snap now. Same thing with the waist: you want it tight enough so there is no leakage but loose enough so it doesn’t squeeze their legs.

The three rows of snaps in the front of the diaper are for the front to back length. The back of the diaper should be just above their booty and the front should easily meet it.

We purchased several sets of Alva Baby cloth diapers and LOVE them! They are very cute too!

The Insert and the Pocket

The insert for a pocket style cloth diaper gets stuffed into the opening at the back of the diaper. The opening is at the very top of your baby’s bum and is 4″ wide on most pocket style diapers.

The diapers we purchased from Amazon are the brand Alva Baby.  The sets that you purchase from Amazon come with 6 diaper shells and 12 microfiber inserts. The insert will ALWAYS go inside the pocket in the back! Microfiber should not touch baby’s skin for long periods of time.

We purchased additional bamboo inserts from Alva Baby. They are more absorbent and easier to stuff into the pocket and pull through to the front.

When stuffing the diaper I literally stick my entire forearm into the diaper. This ensures that the insert is pulled all the away through to the front and hasn’t bunched up anywhere. Even though the PLU shell is water resistant, you can still get leakage around the legs and tops of the diaper.

The Fabric Interior

The interior of these diapers is soft on that baby’s bum and helps prevent diaper rash. It is free of harsh chemicals which is why we love cloth diapers even more.

With a fabric interior there are two main things to know: your baby will poop on this and you cannot use diaper cream.

Babies poop. It’s kinda their job. You can either swish that poo off in the toilet, get a sprayer ($$), or you can purchase liners to go directly on top of the interior. We opt for swishing or the liner.

You need to get those poops off the fabric before you put them in the wash, otherwise you’ll end up with an even bigger mess. If you do liners, all you should need to do is take the poo filled liner off of the fabric and toss it in the trash or into the diaper pail. Don’t flush them!

If you need to use diaper/rash cream make sure it is a paste variety (Butt Paste or similar) OR you use a liner. These come on rolls of 100 and can be used as described above (for poo) or to protect the fabric interior of the diaper. Once you get a jelly type diaper cream on the fabric interior it will never be as absorbent again.

How to Maintain Cloth Diapers

You bought cloth diapers, now what?

Once those diapers and inserts arrive in the mail, you will need to wash them several times. We only use Tide. The regular, plain Jane, orange bottle with a blue lid Tide. The fabric softener and scents in some detergents makes the interior diaper fabric hydrophobic and the inserts less absorbent.

Wash cycles to get started are as follows:

  1. Separate diapers and liners (if they came inserted together) and evenly space in your washing machine. If you have a front load machine, you don’t need to worry about getting the load even.
  2. Set your machine to “rinse and spin”
  3. The first rinse and spin should be done in cold water. Let the machine complete the cycle.
  4. After the first cycle is complete, do a rinse and spin cycle again but this time on hot water.
  5. Once the hot water rinse and spin is complete, add in Tide. We fill the cap to the small load mark.
  6. Set the first wash of the diapers with Tide to “whites” with an extra rinse or “power rinse”. This water will be on the hot setting.
  7. After the Tide cycle, take everything out of the washer and hang dry.
  8. When the diapers are fully dry, do another Tide cycle on hot with an extra rinse.
  9. Dry diapers one more time!
  10. Now you are ready to stuff, fold and store the diapers. We keep ours in small bins on the changing table shelves.

Wash cycles to maintain diapers:

  1. Whenever you tiny boo soils a diaper, rinse off any solids and remove the insert from the diaper shell.
  2. When you have separated the liner from the shell, place both parts in the large wet bag you purchased and zip it up.
  3. We do diaper laundry every two days. If we go any longer, it starts to smell like the pachyderm house at the zoo. If you find your wet bag gets fuller at a faster rate, do the laundry when it is full.
  4. Dump your full wet bag into the washing machine and turn that wet bag inside out. The wet bag gets washed too. Ensure the load is even if you have a top load machine.
  5. The first cycle will be a “rinse and spin” cycle on cold. If you have the option, select “extra rinse”. If not, repeat the “rinse and spin” cycle after the first one completes.
  6. The second cycle will be with Tide. Set your machine to “whites” on hot and measure in the Tide.
  7. After the Tide cycle completes, take the diapers out and set them out on a drying rack. No drying rack? You can use your dining room chairs, clothes line outside, or anything you like.
  8. Once the inserts and shells are completely dry, stuff and fold them.

Things to Note

  • We have 24 diapers, 24 bamboo inserts, 48 microfiber inserts (that we don’t use), 2 wet bags (so we can use the spare while the other dries), and 24 cloth wipes. This is the ideal set up for us. We have one baby so this works very well.
  • It takes time to get the snaps working how you need them to. Remember: top row is the waist, second row on the sides is for the thigh, the three rows in the middle are for front to back sizing.
  • Liners are your BFF especially if you want to cloth diaper while traveling. Liners take the mess away but still allow the cloth diapers to provide their full benefit.
  • Little Guy is a heavy wetter. We will use disposables at night most of the time because he pees through everything. There is no shame in using disposables every once in a while if it keeps you sane. 🙂

I know this is a lot to absorb, but if you have your heart set on cloth diapering, don’t let the information intimidate you. You can do it mama! Save money and make that baby bum happy!

The Simple Guide to Cloth Diapering #clothdiapers #momlife

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  1. This is such a good breakdown of info…we might have gone with cloth diapers if this was published five years ago. (And we had a working washing machine )

    1. Hi Kristen! I’m very glad you like this post. I had to do so much research before I finally hopped on the cloth diaper train. If you know someone who still has littles in diapers feel free to pass this along. And yes, a working washing machine is KEY! 🙂 I can’t imagine washing smelly diapers by hand!

  2. This was so helpful! This might be a dumb question, but do you cloth diaper up until they are potty trained? I’d like to make the transition but I’m so nervous about it!

    1. Hi Sandy! I’m so glad that you found this helpful! I intend to cloth diaper my Little Guy up until he is potty trained. I may transition him to pull ups to make him feel like a “big boy”. I do believe that there are cloth versions of those as well!
      Don’t be nervous. It is a learning curve at first and several loads of added laundry every week but it is well worth it (cost savings and health wise for baby). Let me know if you have more questions!

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