A Beginner’s Guide to Cloth Diapering

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Two weeks ago we discussed the pros and cons of cloth vs disposable diapers. While cloth diapers are (usually) more economical and (definitely) environmentally friendly, there’s something very intimidating about making the switch. If you don’t have a spouse on board or friends who already use cloth diapers, the transition can be even more confusing.

Cloth diapers have a come a long way since our grandmothers used them (although this kind is still available today). There are many different options to choose from that make cloth diapering easier than ever. Throw in the adorable patterns, ruffles, and designs and cloth diapers might just be more chic than you think.

This guide was created because I was very interested in cloth diapering, but quickly became overwhelmed by the many different options available. Although excited, it was also very intimidating. From the hours of research that went into the decision to give cloth diapering a try, the following guide was created to help make the decision of which kind to try a lot easier.

If you are on the fence about cloth diapers or just want a greater understanding of the options available, our detailed cloth diaper guide (below) will give you some basic terms and definitions that will help you to choose the cloth diaper that is best for you and your baby.

*STP Note – Keep in mind that cloth diapers can be reused over and over until it’s worn out. When we say a diaper has a “one-time use” we mean for that day – not for the life of the diaper. Once the diaper has been cleaned, it can be used again and again.

Flat Diapers

– Also called “flats”, these are the diapers you probably thought of the first time someone used the word “cloth diaper”. It is a square piece of absorbent fabric that can be folded in different ways to accommodate any sized baby. It is technically a one-size diaper. The diaper is secured with pins or fasteners. While your grandmother probably didn’t use a “shell” on the outside of these, to prevent leakage and risks of blowouts, it is in your best interest to consider investing in a few outer covering shells if using flats.

Cost: Flat diapers are very cost-effective. Since there aren’t any bells and whistles with these, you can expect to save the most money using this kind of cloth diaper.

Use: Flat diapers are a one-time use diaper. When it’s time to change the baby, the pins or fasteners need to be removed, the diaper may need to be wiped out, and then placed in the laundry bag.

How many flat diapers are needed for a newborn?

Newborns require diaper changes 10 – 12 times a day. When using flats, you would want to have at least 24 flat diapers on hand, but preferably 30 flat diapers. This would be enough to wash the diapers every other day and still have some on hand for the third day.

All-in-One Diapers

– All-in-one diapers (AIO) are the equivalent of a cloth “disposable-like” diaper. It is composed of an absorbent inside and waterproof exterior shell. These diapers come either sized (S, M, L, etc.) where you would need to go up in size as your baby grows or one-sized where you adjust the size of the diaper to fit your growing baby. This is usually accomplished by folding the diaper over and securing with the attached snaps. Pins are not required because the diapers will include some form of attached closure – usually either snaps or a hook and loop.

Cost: There are many factors that go into the cost of the all-in-one diapers. These are going to be more expensive than flats, but are still significantly less expensive than disposables. One of the biggest factors in regards to price is deciding which brand to go with. If price is the biggest factor, there are several overseas suppliers that charge substantially less than the domestic counterparts. There are also many SAHMs who make and sell these diapers on websites (such as Etsy). Without being able to try the diapers first, make sure that you read the reviews and return policies thoroughly so you can increase your chances of being satisfied with the purchase.

Use: All-in-One cloth diapers are a one-time use diaper. When it’s time to change the baby, the diaper may need to be wiped out, and then placed in the laundry bag.

How many all-in-one diapers are needed for a newborn?

As with the flat diapers, you would want to have at least 24 all-in-one diapers on hand, but preferably 30 all-in-one diapers. This would be enough to wash the diapers every other day and still have some on hand for the third day. If you are using one-sized diapers, this would be the total investment. If using sized diapers, you will need more initially, but then as the baby gets older and diaper changes decrease, you should not need as many in the larger sizes.

Pocket Diapers

– Pocket diapers are similar to an all-in-one cloth diaper, but with an additional absorbent insert. This insert can be made of different fabrics and is used to soak up additional moisture. There is a pocket in the diaper where the insert is placed before placing the diaper on your baby. This can be helpful for keeping your baby dry and trapping additional moisture, specifically at nighttime. Pocket diapers can be purchased sized or one-sized.

Cost: Pocket diapers are comparably priced to all-in-one diapers. The first “pocket insert” is usually included as well as the shell, but additional inserts can be purchased if needed.

Use: Pocket diapers are a one-time use diaper. When it’s time to change the baby, the diaper may need to be wiped out, and then placed in the laundry bag. When washing, you will want to remove the insert so it gets extra clean as well and pay special attention that detergent residue doesn’t get built up in the pocket.

How many pocket diapers are needed for a newborn?

As with the flat diapers and all-in-one diapers, you would want to have at least 24 pocket diapers on hand, but preferably 30 pocket diapers. This would be enough to wash the diapers every other day and still have some on hand for the third day. If you are using one-sized diapers, this would be the total investment. If using sized diapers, you will need more initially, but then as the baby gets older and diaper changes decrease, you should not need as many in the larger sizes.

You may also decide to buy additional inserts for the pocket diapers. While this increases your cost, it might just save you a few changes by being able to absorb more.

All-in-Two / Hybrid Diapers

– An all-in-two diaper or hybrid diaper are very similar to pocket diapers. The biggest difference is that rather than the additional insert being placed in the “pocket” of the cloth diaper, it is attached to (or simply laid in) the lining of the diaper. The shell of this kind of diaper is waterproof so no other outside cover is required. The inserts can be made of cloth and washed with the shell or disposable. Generally, if using disposable inserts with cloth diapers, parents will opt for the biodegradable kind.

Cost: Two-in-one or hybrid diapers are comparably priced to all-in-one and pocket diapers if you are using cloth inserts. If you choose to exclusively use biodegradable disposable inserts, this will cost you significantly more, but it is the closest alternative to disposable diapers that still has a minimal impact to the environment.

Some parents choose to use cloth inserts normally and then bring a few disposable inserts when traveling or visiting the grandparents.

Use: The shell of a two-in-one or hybrid diaper can be used 2 – 3 times before needing to be washed.

If using a cloth insert, when your baby needs to be changed, you simply throw the insert in the laundry bag (assuming it is only wet) and use a new dry insert in its place. If dirty, the liner may need to be wiped off before putting it in the laundry bag. That way you can reuse the shell until it gets dirty or wet.

If using a biodegradable insert in the shell, when your baby needs to be changed, you just flush or toss out (depending on the directions of the brand you are using) the dirty disposable liner and replace it with a clean one.

How many all-in-two or hybrid diapers are needed for a newborn?

Using an all-in-two or hybrid diaper is different from the other kinds because less shells are needed, but more inserts are needed. At a minimum, you would want to have 8 – 10 shells or covers on hand. If using cloth inserts, you would want to have between 24 and 30. If using disposable inserts, you would want to have the same amount, but these are purchased in bundles similarly to disposable diapers. This will allow you to wash the diapers every other day and still have some clean ones on hand for the third day.

One more thing…

Another option that can be used with any of the cloth diapers are biodegradable liners. These thin liners lay flat on the inside of the diaper. If moist, it simply soaks through to the diaper or insert. If dirty, it can capture some or all of the mess meaning less for you to wipe out of the actual diaper. These liners are usually flushed or thrown away.

*STP Tip – If you are on a septic tank, be mindful about flushing anything down the toilet – biodegradable or not. The last thing you need is to have to get your septic pumped because the “biodegradable” liners have backed it up.

As a new mommy-to-be, I am excited about all of the options that are available (I know, it’s a little weird to be this enthusiastic about cloth diapering). When we start to collect our stash, I will let you know what we try as well as what ends up working out for us.

I hope this guide will help you with making your own decision on whether to cloth or dispose. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to let us know below! We’d love to know what kind of cloth diaper you like to use, how many diapers are really needed, and what was the main reason you decided to use cloth diapers.

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