Beginner, How to Cloth Diaper

Getting Started With Cloth Diapers – What To Expect As A Beginner

Most families probably researched and considered using cloth diapers for months before they actually started using them, whether that be because they were pregnant when making the decision, or because they were currently using disposables and not sure when/if they wanted to make the switch.

Sometimes, all the planning and researching can be a lot of fun, and you feel very prepared…until it’s time to get started! Then all of a sudden you’re second guessing if you know how to do this, if you can actually keep on top of the laundry, if you can even get them clean at all, and if they will really work or if they will just leak all over your house.

First of all…take a deep breath. Sometimes getting started on a cloth diaper routine that works for your family involves some trial and error. That’s perfectly okay.

It’s okay if you don’t get it right immediately! You will figure it out.
If you don’t even know where to start with cloth diapering, I recommend you check out my Cloth Diapering 101 series. That will introduce you to all the basics and point you in the right direction.

However, if you have been researching cloth diapers a bit already and have a general idea of what you need to do, then you will find this post helpful. Here I will give you the encouragement you need to get started and help you to know what to expect the first couple weeks of using cloth diapers.

Here are some things to do and consider right before you get started:

1. Have Your Materials Ready To Go

getting-started-with-cloth-diapersMake sure you have all your diapers and accessories ready to go. Know where they are and have them prepped. Here is a quick checklist of what you need to get started:

  • 18-24 diapers
  • Wipes (cloth or disposable–up to you!)
  • Diaper Pail and/or Wet Bags
  • Pail liner (if using a diaper pail–you can just use wet bags if you choose, but pails hold more which is nice for home use)
  • A good laundry detergent recommended for cloth diapers
  • Access to a Washing Machine

If you have the above things, you have everything you need to get started.

2. Make A Plan For When You Want To Start

starting-newborns-on-cloth-diapersIf you are currently pregnant and planning on using one-size diapers in your stash, you will need to decide if you want to cloth diaper right from the start, or use disposables right away until the baby is big enough to fit the one-size. Here is a post that might help you with that decision.

There is no right or wrong answer there, and the answer will depend a lot on your budget and the style of diapers you want to use on your baby.

If you plan to just stock up on one-size diapers, then you will need to have some newborn and/or size one disposable diapers on hand for when the baby is born and you get home from the hospital. Plan to use disposables until your baby is at least 10 pounds, if not 12 pounds.

Unless you have newborn-sized cloth diapers, you will find cloth diapers INCREDIBLY frustrating to use if you try to force one-size diapers to work too early. The last thing you want to do after you invested a good amount of money and emotional energy/commitment into your diaper stash is create a bad experience for yourself.

There is nothing wrong with trying out your one-size cloth diapers earlier than 10-12 lbs if really want to see if they work yet. Just have reasonable expectations when you try them. Many people that give up on their cloth diapers do so because they first tried them on their baby when he/she was too small, had issues with them not fitting properly and leaking, and then they think they don’t work. Even if you do wait until 10 lbs and have issues when you try them, your baby may just need to put on a bit more weight to make them work.

One-size diapers are awesome budget savers and are very practical, but they are very difficult to fit on newborns. If you go into it understanding that, you will have much more success overall!

If you do plan to use newborn cloth diapers, just make sure you have them all prepped and ready to go. Assuming they have a dip on the front to accommodate the umbilical stump, you can get using them right away! If they don’t have that dip or they are rubbing on the stump, you will want to wait until it falls off to start using the cloth diapers. Here is a post that will help guide you to some newborn diaper selections.

3. Make A Plan For Overnight

overnight-cloth-diaperingOvernight clothing diapering can be frustrating. You will most likely need to look into some options for more absorbency at night. If your baby is waking up to eat a few times per night, you can just plan on changing him/her at that time. However, some people do not want to do diaper changes at night at all–depending on how good the baby sleeps, they worry about waking them up too much with a diaper change.

So make your plan! Here are some options:

Option 1: Change your baby each time they wake up, and don’t do anything different for diapering at night for right now (this may not be the best option if you have a fabulous sleeper for a baby…they will go too long without a change and out-wet their diaper).

Option 2: Try some more absorbent inserts for nighttime use (this will work for pockets or all-in-twos. Some all-in-ones have the ability to add an insert, too).

Option 3: Look into specific overnight diaper options.

Option 4: Use disposables at night.

4. Don’t Freak Out Over Your First Load Of Diaper Laundry

getting-started-with-cloth-diapersAfter a couple days of using cloth diapers, it’s time to do your first load of diaper laundry. Here is some advice: 1) don’t overthink it, and 2) don’t give up if what you tried to do for washing them didn’t work–just try again!

Write down what you did for a laundry routine each time while you are getting it down so that if you have any issues, you know exactly what might have caused them. After you have successfully washed your diapers without any issues a couple times, you will know what routine works best for you and your specific washing machine and detergent type and you will no longer need to write anything down.

Start with a simple routine and tweak if necessary. Starting with something overly complicated is probably overkill and will make it harder to troubleshoot if something goes wrong. I recommend:

1) Pre-rinse or Pre-wash with a little bit of detergent (This gets the bulk of the nastiness out so that the diapers aren’t swishing around in dirty water during the main wash. I do a light wash with up to line 1 of Tide Original powder detergent)

2) Main Wash- full amount of detergent (use what is recommended by the manufacturer for a soiled load your size–for example, I use my regular wash setting and between line 2 and 3 of Tide Original powder for about 2-3 days worth of diapers. You should adjust the amount based on your load size).

3) Extra rinse at the end–this is optional. My washer has a setting I can turn on to do an extra rinse, so I like to do it to make sure all the detergent residue is gone. If it involved me going to mess with the washing machine a third time for one load of laundry, I’d probably skip… or if water conservation is a concern, you can go without. It’s up to you. It’s not a big deal for me to add it, so I do.

**These recommendations are for regular top-loading washing machines. If you are using an HE machine, make sure you look into some guidelines for your specific machine. Fluff Love University has a good resource on this.

5. Don’t Freak Out Over The Poop

newborn-diapersIf you have just started cloth diapers and your baby is on breast milk alone (or formula alone–most of the time, formula poops will also completely rinse away), you do not need to do remove the poop from the diapers before washing. I know that may seem gross to some of you, but assuming you have enough agitation in your load of laundry (less of an issue for top-loaders, but can be harder for front-loaders sometimes if your load is too small and/or you’re using too much water) the poop will rinse away.

Some people feel more comfortable rinsing all poop off right from the start. If you want to do that, have at it. But just know you don’t need to.

You also do not need to soak dirty diapers in a wet pail in between washings. Not only do you not need to do this, you shouldn’t do this. It is unsanitary (that bucket is just breeding bacteria) and it is hard on the elastics to soak for so long. This used to be common practice for cloth diapers back before disposables took over, but it is no longer recommended.

Just store dirty diapers in a dry pail or wet bag and wash every 2-3 days.

You Will Do Great!

You will do great cloth diapering your child. Most likely, you won’t have any troubles at all. If you do, they will probably just be little hiccups that you will fix and move on from. If not, there are so many amazing resources out there (Rocking the Cloth included! ;)) that can help you troubleshoot.

There are so many awesome reasons to choose cloth diapers. Just know you are doing a great thing for your family, regardless of your main motivation for doing it.

If you haven’t started cloth diapering yet, do you have a plan to get started? How confident do you feel? Cloth diaper veterans–what advice would you add? Let me know in the comments.

Holly Lee

I'm Holly and I'm the mom of two awesome young boys. We have been cloth diapering for 5 years. My family and I live in Minnesota with our dog, Ruby, and cat, Gherkin. Outside of Rocking the Cloth, I am also a middle school teacher. Thank you for visiting Rocking the Cloth--feel free to email me at holly@rockingthecloth.com if you have any questions or concerns. I'd love to help!

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16 Comments

  1. Michael says:

    While I don’t have babies yet, I have thought about using cloth diapers verses the regular disposable ones. I really like the checklist you made, and it seems it will come in very handy for when I do have kids.

    A couple questions real quick though.

    How much money do you think you save by doing this? And secondly about how long does a cloth diaper usually last until you needn’t to throw it away and replace it?

    Thanks again for these great tips. 🙂

    1. Holly Lee says:

      Hi Michael! Great questions! Here is a post that will help shed some light on cost savings. Cloth Diapering Vs Disposable Diapers – Let’s Look At The Facts

      Cloth diapers can potentially last for years. I am still using the same cloth diapers I bought 5 years ago for my first born on my youngest kid (plus some new ones I’ve bought over the years). But if you get quality brands and take care of them, they can definitely diaper multiple kids through potty training. Hope this helps!

  2. Hugo says:

    I liked your article on the use of cloth diapers; I think that it promotes an environmentally friendly message.  Even though I did not see any specific reference to the environment, there is the very clear message that promotes a healthy economy.  Once the initial expenses for key materials are done, the cost of maintenance seems to be minimal, and easily incorporated with the rest of household expenses.  I liked the suggestions you make for planning and for ongoing maintenance (washing and stuff).  Also, the encouragement you give is done in good taste.  When my own kids were babies, cloth diapers was the norm, but going through your article made me wish that I’d seen your suggestions then.

    Thanks for the article.

    1. Holly Lee says:

      Thanks so much, Hugo!

  3. Dave M. says:

    Wow, what a fantastic article for new mothers! My daughter just had her first, but she is not using cloth diapers at this time. I never used them either on my kids because I just assumed it was going to be too hard. Reading your article leads me to believe that it is not that big of a deal once you get rolling, and I loved your advice on using disposables until the baby is 10-12 lbs.I think you are right on the money by saying it is probably why a lot of people fail at this!

    Did your Mother use cloth diapers? I wonder how many I wore as a baby?

    1. Holly Lee says:

      Hi Dave! My mother did not use cloth diapers with me, though I believe she did with my older sister. We are 13 years apart, so it was almost like different parenting generations between us.

      You’re right on the money with it not being a big deal once you get rolling. It can definitely be a few kinks to work out in the first couple weeks, but after that most people do just fine.

  4. Sylvia says:

    This is a great article because everything is detailed out and easy to follow.

    I wish I had this information, back then, in the 80’s when I had my kids.

    I started out using disposable diapers and when my first born was 6 months old a friend of mine had started using cloth diapers for her daughter.

    I was, at first, skeptical but did jump on the wagon to try it out and so far liked it. I have to say that this happen in the old country (Germany) and, we had only two sizes of diapers, which really needed some getting use to and how to use them properly. 🙂

    I used them for almost a year but came to the conclusion, soon my son started walking, these cloth diapers weren’t as adaptable as disposable diapers.

    I am sure that nowadays they are much better for every age and daytime use.

    The other thing I really liked was the “diaper service” in our town. This company was collecting the dirty cloth diapers to clean them and bring them back. I really was happy about this.

    1. Holly Lee says:

      Hi Sylvia! They definitely are much more adaptable nowadays.

      Diaper services can be a great option for many families looking to simplify their laundry.

  5. Babsie Wagner says:

    I have been talking to my daughter about cloth diapers.  She sometimes struggles financially, and I used the cloth diapers back in the day for all my kids.  I am super excited about the variety of patterns and products that are now being offered for cloth diapers, it’s pretty amazing.  Things have really improved.

    Your site makes my job of transitioning her to this option so much easier.  I can’t thank you enough.

    1. Holly Lee says:

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Babsie!

  6. Nuttanee says:

    I remembered when I was little in Thailand, not every household can afford to buy diapers. Diapers were so expensive in the 80s, my parents just used cloths on all of us daily and when we go out for parties or any other occasions they will use the fancy diapers since it was easy for them. Lol love how you say do not freak out ober the poop or the pee lol I remember when I was holding my little sister if I feel wet then I was doomed it’s the pee. Eventually, we all can do this. It’s better to reduce the trash from our planet. Go cloths!!!

    1. Holly Lee says:

      Glad you enjoyed the article!

  7. Wow this is a great site about cloth diapers.  Back when I had kids I used disposible and they are very expensive.  These will certainly come in handy when the grandkids start coming along.  I do have one daugther who is interested in having a baby.  I will definitely be telling her about this as she will need to save money by using cloth diapers.  Hopefully she will be able to figure it all out.

    1. Holly Lee says:

      Glad you found it helpful, Andy!

  8. grisel says:

    hi! question on newborn size diapers… if we do decide to get some, will i need 18-24 of those too? or a little less will do? just trying to understand how much to prep for. currently with my toddler i have just about 24 and working up to 30. i was planning on getting about 10 newborn size and a month or two in, get another 10 one size, as i will have two babies in cloth diapers…. am i being too optimistic? i just don’t want to end up with too many newborn size that will be outgrown quickly, if that makes sense. TIA!!!

    1. Hi Grisel! It just depends on how often you’re willing to do laundry. You could get by with less if you’re willing to wash every day. That’s what I did since my biggest motivator to try cloth (at first) was saving money. To get the load of laundry full enough to agitate well with a smaller load, you can add baby clothes (or whatever) until you’re at least 1/2 to 2/3 full. You can always have a few disposables on hand just in case you get behind on laundry or just to help give you a little more time between loads of laundry, too. Hope this helps!

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