All You Need to Know About Cloth Diapers

Before you start using something new, you have questions. Between what your grandma and Facebook mom friends have shared, you probably have a lot of questions and/or concerns about cloth diapers. Read on for almost everything you need to know—in a simple Q&A format—to get started using cloth diapers.


Are cloth diapers really the cheaper diapering option?

Yes! Generic disposable diapers can cost more than $1,400 for 2.5 years of use. If you choose an eco-friendly disposable, you’ll pay more like $2,500. You can get a full-time cloth diapering system for as low as $300, or you may spend $500-600 depending on the types of cloth diapers you choose. So while the upfront costs are more, cloth diapers are cheaper over your child’s diapering days.

Are cloth diapers really better for the environment?

Kids who wear cloth diapers only need about 20-40, while kids who wear disposables will use around 7,000 before they’re potty trained. Those 7,000 diapers will sit in a landfill for almost 500 years before they decompose.

Cloth diapers are reused and reduce waste—but a common comeback is what about all the water you use to wash your cloth diapers? Yes, most cloth diapers need to be washed after each use. But if you’re similar to the average American household, washing cloth diapers only accounts for about 5% of your total water usage. It takes about 9 gallons of water to make one disposable diaper. Multiply 9 gallons times the thousands of disposables your child will need, and you can rightly say cloth diapers are better for the environment.

What kinds of cloth diapers are there?

The 5 major styles of cloth diapers are:


  • All-in-Ones: AIOs offer flexible convenience and everything you need—inner soaker and waterproof outer shell—in one diaper. There’s no folding or stuffing. It’s the most similar in form and ease of use to disposables.
  • Hybrids: This all-in-two style diaper is made up of a waterproof shell and your choice of inner absorbency (cloth or disposable) that you lay or snap into the diaper. When the absorbency is wet, remove and replace it. You can keep the shell on your baby until it gets wet or your baby poops.
  • Pocket: A pocket diaper has a simple waterproof outer shell and a pocket sewn into the inside of the cover. You stuff the pocket of the diaper with an absorbent pad or a prefold diaper.
  • Fitted: Fitted cloth diapers don’t have a waterproof layer. They are highly absorbent because they contain numerous absorbency layers, but you have to get a waterproof cover to go over them.
  • Prefolds: These flat rectangular-shaped cloths are considered the first cloth diapers. They need a waterproof cover and fasteners.

How many cloth diapers do you need to get started?

It’s good to start out with 2-3 days’ worth of cloth diapers. The exact amount you need will depend on 3 things: your baby’s age, your laundry habits, and what types of cloth diapers you use, but the recommended minimums are 36 cloth diapers for newborns, 24 for infants (6-12 months old), and 20 for toddlers (12-24 months old).

Can you use diaper rash creams?

Yes, but you should only use cloth diaper-safe rash creams. Don’t use diaper rash creams that contain petroleum jelly because it can cause repelling on your cloth diapers. You can use a cloth diaper liner to better protect the diaper’s fabric when using diaper rash cream.

How do you store dirty diapers?

The two basic storage methods are dry pail or wet pail. With the dry pail method, cloth diapers are stored dry in a reusable bag or plastic diaper pail after removing the solid waste into the toilet. There’s no pre-soaking necessary, you can throw the cloth diapers into your washer from the bag or diaper pail. There are hanging cloth dry bags that you can hang on hangers, hooks, or door knobs. There are also zippered wet bags that come in a variety of sizes and are great for traveling or traditional diaper pails that typically require a plastic liner.

The wet pail method is where you soak cloth diapers in water inside a sealed pail. The water pre-treats the diapers to help reduces stains and odors. Most modern cloth diapers don’t recommend the wet pail method, and some parents don’t like this method because you have to change the water out each day.

How do you prep cloth diapers?

When it says your cloth diapers require prepping, that just means they need to be washed before used. Most need to be washed 5-6 times in a hot water cycle with detergent, partially drying in between each wash. If you’ve washed your cloth diapers 5 times and notice leaking, toss them back into your washer for a couple more rounds of prepping. It may take 10 rounds before the diapers are fully absorbent.

What are the do’s and don’ts of washing cloth diapers?


  • Wash every 2-3 days
  • Wash separately from your other laundry
  • Use warm or hot water
  • Use the right amount of laundry detergent
  • Choose a wash cycle that goes for at least 45 minutes
  • Put them through an extra rinse cycle
  • Follow your cloth diaper’s care label



  • Use fabric softeners
  • Use detergents with fragrance or additives
  • Have too little or too much water

How do you remove stains and stinky smells?

If you notice stains, lay your damp cloth diapers in the sunlight after washing for about two hours. Even if it’s an overcast day, laying your diapers in front of a window will help reduce stains.

If your cloth diapers smell dirty or musty after you’ve washed them, you may need to try a different detergent or use more detergent. Always use the recommended amount of detergent on the package directions, but if you have hard water, you can increase your detergent.

Can you travel with cloth diapers?

Yes. To make traveling easier, keep it simple. Bring cloth diapers that are easy to use and that you’re used to using. Bring disposable absorbency pads or liners that make cleaning up a breeze. Bring a wet bag and detergent so you can store and wash diapers if needed. How many cloth diapers you should bring depends on how long you’ll be gone and how much packing room you have. But most cloth diaper users will tell you to travel with a minimum 2-3 day stash. If you have space, bring more than you think you’ll need—you never know what could happen!


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