Cloth Diapering, Decoded
Navigating the world of cloth diapering can be confusing! Here are some common types of cloth diapers and how to use them.
What makes a prefold different from fitted? What kind of liner do I need, and how many? Should I choose these one-size-fits-all diaper system or something made for each stage of my baby’s growth? Do I really need to buy diapers and covers?
When I was pregnant, one thing I knew without question was that we’d use cloth diapers on our baby, but when the time came to actually choose and use them, there were a lot of confusing moments! And for some reason, cloth diaper makers don’t seem to be big on including detailed instructions with their products.
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For any parent concerned about the environment, cloth diapering is pretty much a no-brainer, isn’t it? Disposable diapers are such a waste! They pile up in landfills, and all of that human waste breaks down to create methane, a greenhouse gas far more harmful than CO2.
Plus, disposables are just expensive! Since my baby was early, he was too small to wear cloth at first: most diaper systems seem to start at 7 or 8 pounds, and Darrol was 6. Those weeks where we were using paper diapers were the pits! We were constantly running to the store for more. Over the first year of an average child’s life, you can spend around $500 on cloth diapers or $800 on paper. And those numbers are for cloth diapers that don’t grow with your baby. If you choose a cloth system that grows with baby, that $500 investment is it. You’re set until he’s potty trained! With paper, you’re spending that $800 every year that your child isn’t potty trained.
I ended up registering for a few different types of diaper, and when we signed up for a diaper service, they provided yet another sort, so I’ve kind of been through the cloth diaper ringer. Here’s what I’ve learned!
Next: Common Diaper Terms
Common Cloth Diaper Terms
Cloth diapes have come a long way from the big piece of fabric and a safety pin that you might picture if you’re not familiar with modern cloth diapers. Those cloth and pin options are still out there, but there are many, much easier options available! Here are a few of the common terms you’ll find when you start looking into cloth diapering.
What it is: This is basically a big piece of very absorbent fabric that’s stitched in three horizontal and three vertical rows. The stitching helps guide you as you fold this big piece of very absorbent fabric to stick it into your diaper cover.
How you use it: There are two ways to fold your prefold. If you look at the stitching, you’ll see that all of those lines form rectangles. You fold the diaper in thirds along those guidelines. For a small baby, you fold along the shorter lines, and for a larger baby, you fold along the longer lines. You want the folded cloth to be long enough to cover the baby from front to back inside the diaper without sticking out.
What it is: Some cloth diapering systems, like Grovia, have custom-made liners that fit in the covers perfectly. This replaces the prefold.
How you use it: Your liner will either snap into the diaper or you’ll be nestling either end into pockets built into the front and back of the inside of the liner. You can also buy disposable liners, which are handy to have when you’re traveling. Some of the disposable liners are flushable!
What it is: Some diaper systems have fitted liners. These are shaped a lot like paper diapers but made from cloth. They are by far the easiest liners out there, and in my experience they leak the least. The downside is that I haven’t seen fitted liners that adjust to grow with your baby from year-to-year.
How you use it: Just like little pants. There is a row of snaps or a strip of Velcro on the waist, so you can adjust some for your baby’s size. Usually, they’ll be for a weight range, like 7-14 pounds, and you’d need to replace them when your baby outgrows them.
What it is: The cover is a water-resistant shell that goes on over the liner. Check out my son’s super cute Grovia liner above!
How you use it: The liners can be a little bit tricky. Some are very simple and go on just like paper diapers, and some are a little bit more complicated. If you have an adjustable liner, the front it most likely covered in snaps, so that you can size the cover to fit your baby. Here is how you use those snaps to size your diaper cover:
The Grovia isn’t the only adjustable cover that uses this snap system to resize – we have a pack of Econobum diapers that work the same way.
Next: Making cloth diapering work for you!
Image Credit: photo by Becky Striepe
Making Cloth Diapering Work for YOU
I’ll be honest here: I can see why some parents prefer disposables. They may be expensive and wasteful, but boy oh boy are they EASY. Pull off a poopy diaper, toss it in the bin, never think about it again. With cloth, things can get a little bit more hands on, and it’s important to figure out how to make that work for your household!
This kind of offsets the cost-saving benefits of cloth diapering, but if you have it in your budget, I can’t say enough good things about a diaper service! My incredibly generous mother gave us a year of service as a shower gift, and it’s been a huge help.
Our diaper service provides fitted liners and cloth wipes. Twice a week we set out a bag of dirty diaps and wipes at night, and in the morning there is a bag of clean ones waiting for us. No rinsing, no extra laundry! The only things our service doesn’t provide are the covers, so we picked up a bunch of the adjustable hybrid Grovia covers, which should last us until baby Darrol is potty training.
If you’re on a tight budget, washing the cloth diapers at home is your best bet. How often you’re washing depends on a lot of things. If your baby is breastfed, you’re going to be doing more washes, because breastfed babies poop more than formula fed babies.
You’ll need a wet bag to store dirty diapers, and if you’re dealing with a pee pee diaper, you can just toss it right into the bag. For poopy diapers, you’ll want to rinse them a little before bagging them up. You can rinse in the sink or tub. You can also do like a couple of my friends and get a hose attachment for the toilet, so you can rinse that poop into the toilet and flush it.
Keep experimenting with setups until you find one that works best – every family is different, and finding the cloth diapering situation that works best for you might take some time.
I’d love to hear from the other cloth diapering moms and dads out there! What snags did you run into when you first got started, and what’s working well for your family?
Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by SimplyLA