Cloth Diapers Explained

I’ve had quite a few questions about my sons cloth diapers, so I figured I’d just write a post about it. I’m no cloth diaper expert, but after 17 months I’ve found what works, what doesn’t, what I would recommend and what you should definitely NOT buy. So here we go!
When I first heard of cloth diapering I was like “people still do that?” It seemed outdated, nasty and troublesome. But it also sounded cheap….so I started to do more research. Let me tell you…there are about a million different ways to cloth diaper, and after a little bit of research my brain was swimming. I’m not going to go over all the different ways, but it ranges from old school flats and prefolds to diapers that are basically a disposable that you wash. Before Elijah was born I decided that since we are cloth diapering because we are cheap, we weren’t going to buy the expensive, ultra convenient diapers (though we did get a few as shower gifts). After much research I bought two dozen newborn cotton prefolds and a dozen size one Thirsties diaper covers.
Basically, this is almost your grandmas way of doing things. You fold the prefold, which I did my folding in thirds and fanning out the corners to pin. Except that people don’t use pins anymore, thank goodness. There is this nifty thing called a Snappi now…
They are very much awesome. I couldn’t imagine using pins, especially on a wiggly older baby. So basically you just put on the prefold, snappi it, and then put on the cover (which goes on just like a disposable.) easy enough, right? Here is Elijah at 8 weeks in this type of diaper…
I did this for awhile, but when it came time to move him up to the next size I started looking for something different. My problem was that even though the diapers rarely leaked, I couldn’t keep all the runny breastmilk poo inside the prefold. It would always get on the cover, which means I couldn’t re-use it. Here is a helpful piece of advice…make sure that any diaper covers you buy have leg gussets. This is so so so important…if it wasn’t for the leg gussets I would have had poo explosions every time. My favorite kinds of covers are the Blueberry Coveralls and  the Thirsties Duo Wrap…there are lots more that would work fine too, those are just what I like. Anyway, back to my shopping. I started looking into fitted diapers…basically a diaper that is already in the correct shape (no folding) that you put under a cover. I was going to go with those until I stumbled upon the Workhorse diaper from Green Mountain diapers. They are prefold diapers that are sewn to resemble a fitted, but they have extra stuffing, cheaper, and have elastic around the legs. I was sold and ordered 18 of them.
They are awesome. My son is a SUPER heavy wetter and they have never leaked. Poo has never escaped to get on the cover. I bought the ones without the snaps because I want them to last for all my kids and I already own plenty of Snappis. They have my official recommendation….and no, no one paid me to write this post (though that would have been fantastic!). Anyway, I do own a couple of the more convenient diapers, let me tell you about those. I have three BumGenius 3.0 pocket diapers and two 4.0’s that I got at my baby shower. Pocket diapers are basically a cover with a pocket that you “stuff” to make absorbent. Here is one put together and then laid out with all its pieces….
They are supposed to fit from newborn to potty training…they have an adjustable rise just like the diapers covers. The diapers covers though come in a size one and two with three settings in each size, so you do have to buy more than one set, but they fit really well. The pocket diapers fit well now, but as a newborn they were HUGE and he couldn’t really wear then till about his fourth month…but you only have to buy one set.
What I like about the pocket diapers is that they are easy to put on – these are the ones I reach for when the diaper change is a battle and I just want to get it over with. Also, its easier to get the poo off because there no crevices or folds on the inside of the diaper. Things I don’t like 1) you can only use then once before a wash since the cover is connected.  2) They leak. I can’t put him down for a nap in a pocket or the crib ends up wet, certainly wouldn’t consider using this as an overnight diaper. 3) Price 4) Now that he is older, they are really easy for him to take off. You know what that means…one day you will go to get your little angel up from their nap and there will be poo everywhere.
 There is an easy solution to this. Listen carefully, this is the best piece of advice in this whole post. ALWAYS BUY DIAPERS WITH SNAPS! Always. Covers, pockets, all in ones, whatever…BUY THE SNAPS! They are just as easy to put on as the velcro, don’t wear out in the wash, and you kid won’t be able to take them off. Here is a close up of the BumGenuis 4.0 (with snaps!) in action…
Like the drool?
Now for the burning question that everyone has….what do you do with the poo? Well, you put it in the toilet. You can do this one of two ways 1) swish the diaper around in the toilet or 2) buy a diaper sprayer. Let me give you a hint…you should pick door number two. You just hook it up to your toilets water supply, hang it from the tank, and spray off the diaper, no poo-touching required. Then you throw it into your diaper pail (basically a trash can with a lid and liner) until its time to wash them. Pee diapers can go directly into the pail. Here is my diaper pail…its just a trash can from target.
While I’m thinking of it, here is my whole changing station…
The middle section is for doublers and the newborn inserts from the pocket diapers….I always add a doubler for nighttime diapers.
What else? Oh, washing. I wash about every other day. I throw everything in the washer, including the pail liner. I do a cold rinse with no detergent, then a hot cycle with detergent, then a warm cycle without detergent. It seems like a lot of cycles, and if you want to skip the last rinse I’m sure that would be okay. As far as detergent, you can’t use what you use for your clothes, you have to use a detergent that rinses clean or else you diapers will get build up and become water (pee) repellent. There’s lots of options, I use Country Save. It’s about $10 a box and I’m still using the SAME BOX that I originally bought and still have about 1/3 left. As in Elijah might be potty trained before I finish the box. Not bad, huh? You only use a tiny bit per load, perhaps a tablespoon or so. As far as drying them, I pull out the covers and pail liner to let them air dry (if I remember) and dry the rest in the dryer. You can also line dry them, that would be free, plus the sunlight bleaches out any stains.
Now lets do a budget breakdown to see how much cloth diapers will save you over disposables. This is in no way official math, I’m just going to use guesstimates and nice round numbers…
If I honestly sit down and think about it, I have probably spent around $400 on cloth diapers, including the pail, liners, sprayer and all accessories. You could probably spend less if you pick something and stick with it, but I’ve made a few trial and error purchases. Now remember, that $400 will last you through all your kids, you won’t ever have to buy anymore (unless you want too). As far as the extra cost of water and electric, I’ll guesstimate that to be about $8 a month. So $96 a year. Lets say the average kid is potty-trained by age 3 (even though cloth babies usually train earlier and easier that disposable babies-added bonus!). So $288 for newborn to potty trained…plus we can’t forget that $10 for detergent….$298. So I will spend $698 total to diaper Elijah with cloth diapers.
Now lets add up what it would be with disposables. I wouldn’t have bought fancy diapers so we’ll use the price of cheaper Costco diapers (which are awesome, I use them when we travel.) Lets say the average box is 200 diapers for $40 (it varies by size). That’s about 20 cents a diaper. At eight diaper changes a day that’s $1.60 per day times 365 days a year = $584 a year times three years = $1752 to disposable diaper a baby. (If you buy cheap diapers!)
So it’s a little over $1000 cheaper to cloth diaper a baby. But wait, that’s if you only have one kid. I would like to have four kids! Lets take the $400 I originally spent on cloth diapers plus $298 (for utilities) times four = $1592 to cloth diaper my four kids. Disposables would cost me $7008 for four kids. That’s a total saving of $5416!
There is a ton of information that I didn’t cover in this post – if you have any questions just leave them in a comment below and I’ll be sure to get back to you. Make sure you leave your e-mail address in the comment as well so that I have a way to contact you!

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  1. love it, all the information I keep asking you over and over but can't seem to retain. LOL. So I'm actually wondering if it will be hard to switch Gideon in the middle, actually switch myself in the middle. but I think I can build the new habits of doing diaper laundry, etc. into my routine. I wonder if the homemade detergent is safe to use on cloth diapers? I have “friended” a company called that i'm interested in trying, but I bet they're more expensive. I'll have to wait for a sale or promo. Anyway thanks for taking time to document this. :) <3 you!

  2. Here's my two cents from a cloth diaper mama vet (3 babies so far). The Prorap Classic Covers are also really great ( although I've never bought them from amazon. They are bit less cool than the thirsties, but much cheaper. They also have a special newborn one that has a gap for the belly button (love that)! I always started out with 3 diaper covers in each size, so I always had at least one on hand. I never had a big problem w/ runny leaks. The key is in a good soaker! I sewed my own out of old towels. I have a small diaper pail so that I'm forced to wash diapers no less than every 3rd day. Hmm..what else? I think hard water KILLS my prefolds. This is my second time in Texas and after 3 kids, the prefolds really have seen better days. We haven't bought new ones yet, b/c they still get the job done for now. I don't find it hard to fold my prefolds and neither does hubby – we're so used to it and I like the extra absorbency the folded cloth gives. I'm not a big fan of snaps. I have a couple of one size fits all covers with snaps, but find they don't stay snapped and leave bigger gaps around the legs when the kiddo is little. All my covers are velcro. You just have to make sure you close the velcro in the wash and occasionally pull a few fabrics out to keep it velcro-y.

    I'm in love w/ my wool covers by GentlyMade. Will blog about those sometime.

    Anywhoo – people are so afraid of cloth diapering! Just try it and be flexible at first and then before you know it, you will love it!

  3. Elisa – You like velcro better? Do your boys not rip off their diapers in about 2 seconds flat and leave you little surprises around every corner? I've always found that the snaps fit really well too, theres so many snaps on those things that I don't thing I'll ever have a problem. I guess its all a matter of prefrence! Also, I totally agree with you on the hard water….it seems that no matter how many times I strip my diapers they still smell a little bit “fishy” and I'm sure our super hard water is to blame. I'll look into those wool covers, I've never used a wool before, and if you need new prefolds look into the workhorse ones…I LOVE them. LOVE.

  4. This is so helpful! Thanks so much for sharing this! I have been wondering about cloth diapers and have been wondering if I should try them out with my next. It sounds like it would save a lot of money! I am a new follower here!

  5. Haha, no, I've never had the taking off velcro diapers problem. Maybe Isaiah did it once, but since then I always put little shorts over their diaper covers. When they are older, potty training, I teach them to take it off when they have to go potty and come get me to put it back on again. That's getting annoying though (Luke's taking forever to night-time potty train), so I'm sewing a cloth pull-up. Yeah, those workhorses do look awesome. Anything that green mountain has is good stuff. They're my fav. site.

  6. Elisa,
    I use cloth, and have always wondered about the wool covers. Ummm, I guess I just don't understand how they work? I read you have to do some sort of prep with them before you ever use them. How do you wash them? Do you use them with multiple diaper changes, or are they one and done?

  7. Hey Abby, in short, yes, you do have to lanolize them first. I will have to blog about how I do it soon, because I keep getting questions about it. Here's the website to the gentlymade store & their instructions.
    It's very easy. I have to lanolize mine again, so I'll probably make a video & post it on my blog, along with my fav. links. I was so afraid of lanolizing them at first, but it's really easy! Wool is so great for baby. Next to wearing nothing, it's the best thing!

  8. Here's my little blog post about how I wash my wool covers.

  9. Thank you thank you thank you, for the informative post. My daughter is having her first child in a few months, and I have be trying to sing the praises of cloth diapers. But, she is not buying it!!! Times have changed so much I knew that i was not giving her good, updated information. Thank you so much for all the information, and pictures. I will pass this on to her. If nothing else, I hope that the cost analysis at the end will win her over!

  10. shaunna says:

    Wow! I’d love to cloth diaper but I’m overwhelmed by all the different products I need to get started. I wish there was a “starter kit” type of thing I could buy to try it out and see if it’s for me. This is baby #6 and the last, so i don’t want to spend a fortune.

  11. I love your site! I have three kids 15, 3, and 1. When I had my first child I was young and dumb! Didn’t know about new and improved diapering even back then. When I met my second Husband he wanted more children so I caved! It wasn’t that hard! A friend of mine had started using cloth diapers and introduced me to them! For my 3 year old the only one that worked for him were FuzziBunz with the snaps! The One Size diapers still fits him well! With my 1 year old, she wears both but does better in the velco! Shaunna as gross as it sounds find someone you know that has cloth diapers and try them on your baby, see how they fit. I was so glad that I did this to see first how they were going to work with each child. By the time the second one came around I had several different types to test out on her! And listen to Ashley, buy a sprayer or use one from an old sink with a sprayer. That’s what I have, an old kitchen sink sprayer! My dad’s a plumber, easy as pie!

  12. Brittany Kennedy says:

    I am thinking about it, only cause I KNOW it will be cheaper overall, but who changes a 3 year old 8 times a day? Math is a bit off for savings on 1 child. Granted you can use these for every child so you “save more” the more kids you have. I figured 8 times a day for the first 6 months, then drop it to 6, then to 5 for the terrible twos and finally 4 times a day age 3 while they are potty training and using the bathroom not their diaper. Total comes to about 1,168 for disposable. SO, for one child not really a savings… just my two pennies don’t attack me ;^) I am considering because I am pregnant with twins. I don’t PLAN to have more (already have a son) but not gonna prevent it either. My friend is a GIANT advocate for them, but I’m not fond of the poo handling area. And all I can imagine is spraying a poo diaper in the toilet and poo spray water going EVERYWHERE, splatters on my floor, up in my face… GROSS. Enlighten me someone. I would like to know more about that specific matter. Thanks.

    • I figured eight times a day as the average for newborn to potty training because I changed newborn diapers 12 times a day, and the numbers slowly go down from there. Now that my boys wear disposables a lot more (cause I’m tired, lazy, and constantly forget to wash diapers) I realize that you can get away with changing disposable diapers WAY less often. I’ts really nice actually. So that’s where my numbers were coming from, and I know now that my numbers may be a little off. As far as the poo handling…you right. It’s disgusting. It was fine with breastmilk poo, but toddler poo makes me want to vomit every time. I goes everywhere, it stinks and I started putting my older son in disposables when I knew he was going to poo because I didn’t want to mess with it. There a lot of really nice things about cloth diapers, but in your situation, already having a kids, having twins and most likely being done….I would probably stick with disposables. I bet you weren’t expecting that!

    • Brittany, I have used cloth and disposables with both of my kids! I have a sprayer attached to my toilet and the water pressure is super strong. I have never had an issue with poo splattering everywhere. You may have it splatter the first couple of times until you get use to how it sprays. I hate Poo too! I just got use to it after a while. I use cloth diapers now after my daughters bowel movement! It is just easier. I also use cloth for my son while he is potty training. He wears them at night only so that I don’t waste extra money on pull ups and he can’t have them around for an excuse to wear them! Just make sure to keep a pale full of vinegar water to soak them. As far as Saving Money, I don’t feel like I have saved a bunch of money. It has just helped me at times when I’m low on money until next payday and don’t want to waste 12.00 to 30.00 dollars on diapers!

  13. You change your baby’s diaper 8 times a day? If I changed 16 diapers a day (I have 2 in diapers) I would do cloth diapers too! I did the math for the 3-4 diapers I change each day (per child) and it’s about even or a little less than cloth for one child, and if you’re figuring for 2 at one time, then you would either need to spend more in diapers (to keep the washing schedule) or spend more in water/time to have enough diapers. I do agree with you about Costco diapers though. They rock.

    • When they are in cloth diapers, yes, I change diapers constantly. I thought it was normal until I got burned out and started putting them in disposables more often and discovered that I can go longer between diaper changes. Not that the disposables can hold liquid necessarily…but in the cloth I can smell the pee and it drives me nuts. Even is disposables I probably change six diapers per kid per day…both my boys poo twice a day and suck down water like it’s their job, lol.

  14. My kids are way older and one has 2 kids of her own now! But back in “My Day”–doesn’t THAT make me sound ancient?? Sigh. We used cloth because there really WASN’T anything else. The first disposables were–huge. Ungainly–the poor kids legs would stick so far out I worried about hip problems. And they did NOT contain nursing baby poo! At all! I can remember putting covers OVER the disposables to keep that stuff CONTAINED!

    For the hard water issue–there are rinses that allegedly get rid of this but plain old WHITE VINEGAR is the answer. Add it to your RINSE WATER and done. You will have to ‘speriment to see how much your water needs. I am not sure about the newer fabric or wool covers with this—we only ever had nylon covers–which I looked for for our friends who were doing cloth more recently and had a hard time finding. These were made with thin elastic on the leg parts and waist and snaps or just a pull on and were thin–way thinner than you would think would work—and were very flexible unlike “rubber” or “plastic”. Wish someone would make these —-would make your lives soooo much easier!

    The other “trick”is to get some “Snap Tape”—this comes in yards or rolls and you SEW it onto whatever part of the diaper or cover you want to make more snug and secure. Easy to hand or machine sew.

    One thing I LOVED but also am not sure if they are made any more were DIAPER CLIPS. These were something like a binder clip and went over the edge of the cloth diaper and you just snapped down a little tab. Held like a vice! But super easy to get on and off. And kids had a HARD TIME getting that lil tab pried UP to take them off and decorate! Heck in desperation I am pretty sure I WOULD have grabbed a binder clip–I use ’em for everything ELSE!!!!

    After the pierced with a diaper pin finger infection ER visit–I am SURE I would have used a binder clip===staple gun–duct tape.

    Wish I had had the diaper spray back then!

  15. how many of each size of diaper do you recommend…..newborn, small, med, etc…. this is overwhelming.

  16. also are the covers one size fits all?? how many covers do you have for your two children? this post is very helpful in helping narrow down types/styles of diapers….just wondered how many of everything you recommend.

  17. Courtney says:

    Awesome and informative post! I’ve done a little research into cloth diapers, and by that i mean read a few sites, so it’s great when i come across simple explanations and recommendations in blog posts like this.

Thank you for your comments!

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