Beginner, How to Cloth Diaper

Tips for Using Cloth Diapers – Getting Started with Cloth

There is so much conflicting information floating around about cloth diapers out there that it can completely overwhelm people that look into using cloth. Some info makes cloth diapers (CDs) out to seem like a huge hassle. Using CDs isn’t difficult or hard, but there are a few things you can do to get yourself started on the right foot to help make sure you avoid problems. These tips for using cloth diapers will help you avoid some of the most common issues surrounding CDs.

1. Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

tips-for-using-cloth-diapersIt may be really tempting to try to hit up a good sale on Black Friday or other times of the year and preemptively make your diaper stash decisions while you’re still pregnant and before you have ever even used a cloth diaper. Maybe you’ve read a lot about a certain brand and you know you just want to use their diapers for whatever reason.

Just as clothes fit different people differently, the same can be said for diapers. It would be awful for you to spend $300 on a stash of a particular kind of diaper you think you’re going to like, only to find out you can’t get a good fit with them on your baby!

I wouldn’t worry about this extensively, though. I think some people get carried away with the notion that certain diapers won’t fit certain babies. It’s definitely possible (my first kid was skinny and had chicken legs–I definitely know what it’s like not to get a good fit!), but most brands and styles of cloth will fit most babies. There are ways to tweak most diapers to fit almost all babies if needed, so do not get paralyzed by the idea that they won’t fit your baby’s body shape. Just know it’s a possibility, which means spending a large sum of money on one type of diaper might backfire.

What I worry about more than a particular style of diaper not fitting is someone thinking they’re going to love one style of diaper, but then find it impractical for their lifestyle. I think this happens way more than the fit issue. Pocket diapers is one style of cloth diaper that I think this happens with often. People invest in a lot of pockets for all sorts of reasons (there are lots of great reasons to choose pockets, but they’re not for everyone), and then they find that they loathe stuffing them and try to avoid using them at all costs. You want to love your stash, and the only way to know if you will love a diaper is to actually use the diaper!

Now, I definitely think it’s fine to get some deals on diapers when you’re pregnant and do some stocking up, but what you think using a certain style of diaper will be like compared to what it’s actually like may be very different!

My top recommendation in this area is to get enough diapers to get you started with cloth (about 12 diapers) and make sure you try a few different styles. You will have to do laundry more frequently while you’re in this “trying them out” stage, but it won’t be a big deal in the long run if it means you truly love your chosen diapers.

You don’t have to try EVERY style, but you should try at least 2-3 to make sure you really like them. Once you know your favorites, you can purchase some more to make those the bulk of your stash!

2. Get a Tried and True Detergent

tips-for-using-cloth-diapersSome of the worst cloth diaper advice floating around is related to detergent usage.

The best detergents for washing cloth diapers are detergents that contain no fabric softeners. Natural plant-based detergents generally don’t work as well for soiled laundry as we would like, but there are a few green detergents that work better than others. If you want to go for a more natural detergent, go for one of these tried and true choices.

If having a green detergent is not important to you, Tide is one of the most popular choices for cloth diapers (just make sure it’s regular Tide and doesn’t include Downy). Gain, All, and Purex are also popular choices. Almost all regular detergents are probably fine for cloth diapers as long as they don’t contain fabric softeners (fabric softeners can negatively impact absorbency).

The next detergent issue has to do with the amount of detergent. Some people believe it’s critical to hardly use any detergent. If any source tells you to just use one to two tablespoons of detergent for your diaper load, run away from that source!

The best thing you can do in the area of laundry detergent is to use common sense. If you were doing a load of soiled laundry (maybe it’s bedding your kid got sick in, or blankets your dog had an accident on) would you just put a spoonful of detergent in and think that it perfectly cleaned up the bedding your dog had diarrhea on? Probably not. Why? Because it’s soiled laundry. You are probably using more than a spoonful of soap on your regular clothes. Why would you use LESS detergent on soiled loads (like diapers) than regular loads?

It doesn’t make sense. So don’t do it!

Many sources that say you should only use a spoonful of detergent also have you doing a very complicated wash routine, often involving a lot of cycles and water waste.

The best thing you can do is use a simple wash routine following common sense procedures, and use a normal amount of detergent for a soiled load of laundry, referring to the instructions on your particular detergent for soiled clothes. Here is a post outlining a simple wash routine.

3. Know Your Washing Situation

tips-for-using-cloth-diapersMake a plan for how you are going to wash diapers before baby comes. Do some research into your type of washer to see if you need to do anything special to wash your diapers. This is more likely to be a concern if you have an HE washer (you can totally wash diapers in an HE washer! You just might need to tweak your routine a bit).

If you don’t have your own washer, make a plan for how you will wash them because it’s very likely you will need to be doing laundry more often than you currently are. Will you go to the laundromat? Will you invest in a low-cost portable washing machine to keep in your home? Would you be willing to hand wash?

What about drying? Do you want to hang dry? Where will you do that? If you want to use your dryer, do you have an option for low heat?

It’s good to think through your washing situation ahead of time so you know what you need to do to get the diapers as clean as possible and keep them in good working condition instead of just winging it and hoping for the best.

4. Don’t Put Your Newborn in OS Diapers

tips-for-using-cloth-diapersHave a plan for the newborn stage.

If you plan to use cloth diapers with a newborn, do yourself a favor and get diapers meant specifically for newborns.

Despite what the one-size diapers say, the odds of them fitting your newborn well are slim to none. These diapers may say they fit from birth to potty training, but I find that the 10-12 lb mark is when they truly start to fit. Unless you have a large baby, you won’t be ready to get into one-size cloth right away.

Some people just use disposables for the first month or two because they don’t want to purchase a special newborn stash. The choice is yours! Either way, avoid trying to force the one-size diapers to work from the get-go. They most likely won’t and it will cause a lot of frustration, and maybe even make you think cloth diapers don’t work, when really it’s just that the baby needs to get a bit bigger.

5. Get A Cloth Safe Diaper Cream

You will most likely need to use a diaper cream at some point, so make sure you have a cream that is safe for cloth diapers on hand. If you use a cream that isn’t meant for cloth, you risk having it not wash off completely and it could make your diapers less absorbent.

6. Add Absorbency at Night Time

While you may get away with using the same kind of diapers you use during the day at night, you will most likely reach a point that you need more absorbency. Make sure you have a plan for what you will do when that happens–will you get some better inserts? Double stuff the diaper? Try a diaper that is specific to overnights? You will get frustrated if you aren’t prepared to fix the situation when it starts to happen.

Cloth Diapers Are the Best!

Hopefully you find these tips helpful and not overwhelming. Cloth diapers really are easy to use, but as with anything in life, sometimes getting a few tips can really be helpful to prepare you.

I know you will love using cloth. There are so many awesome benefits, and the only con is dependent upon how you feel about doing laundry. 😉

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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12 Comments

  1. Venus says:

    This is great advice.  It is important to know your baby before deciding on a specific kind of cloth diaper that will be a good fit, for you and your baby.Detergent is very important because you are washing something that will be against your baby’s skin for a long time between changes and you want to use something that works but is also gentle enough to wear close to the skin.

    1. Holly Lee says:

      Very true, Venus! Glad you found it helpful. 🙂

  2. Michel says:

    Really interesting, I never realized that you needed special cream that is made to use with cloth diapers. Do other types of cream damage the material?

    Apart from have vast amounts of laundry, cloth is obviously the better way to go as disposal nappies do create a huge drain on our environment. The only other problem is we have a drought here, so we have to watch our water usage.  

    The other advantage on using cloth is that you will save thousands, as we all know that disposables don’t come cheap. 

    1. Holly Lee says:

      Hi Michel! It doesn’t damage the material, but certain creams just don’t come out very well in the wash. If you use a lot of cream, what you end up running into is that it doesn’t wash out all the way, and it repels moisture and makes your diapers less absorbent. If it happens, it can be fixed with some scrubbing and such, but it’s definitely a time saver to use a cream that washes out all the way the first time! 🙂

      Yes–cloth diapering in a drought area is tricky. I have seen environmental organizations say that if you live in an drought area, disposables are the better choice during that time. If you don’t live where water is a concern, then cloth prevails! 🙂

  3. I grew up in an era when everyone was the cloth diapers for there kids. It was lovely to see them hanging out on clotheslines and blowing in the breeze. It was much harder then as they were not padded which makes it much harder to control the wetness. Today, it’s much easier. I would go for this kind of product at any time. I think it’s much safer for kids especially for those with allergies.

    1. I agree Delores–they’re great for kiddos with allergies and sensitivities!

  4. Christine says:

    Great tips given for first time parents/beginners. 

    I myself never did do cloth diapers although now many parents who have and they loved it. Personally the convinence of disposable diapers outweigh the cost. But it does get expensive. And then if you have a diaper genie you have to factor in the refills which aren’t cheap. 

    I commend parents who do cloth diapers though!

    Christine

    1. Holly Lee says:

      Disposables are more convenient at times (on-the go, for example), but not really that much more convenient when you’re at home. Washing diapers is as quick as putting them in the washer and throwing detergent in–not really a big deal or as time consuming as people think. 🙂

  5. Jag Randa says:

    When my kids were babies, we used cloth diapers. They were hard to clean up, but so worth it. We saved a lot of money as well the fear of not having diapers at home. 

    My children like the feel of the cloth next to their skin. Not only did it prevent rashes, but because they soaked faster than the plastic covered ones, the children were changed quite frequently as well. 

    Now my son has a baby, I hope he does the same with his baby. I will forward him this article. You are right about trying different brands, they all fit very differently. We learned that when our son was swaddled in one, and it was past his belly button. The same size diaper from a different band went below the button, a much better fit.

    1. Holly Lee says:

      Different brands do fit differently, it’s definitely good to try out a few! I hope your son finds this helpful!

  6. Matiss says:

    So, me and my wife – we fell into that first piece of advice you provided. Meaning we put all eggs in one basket few months before our first child was born. And we bought like a proper set of those and did spend quite a huge amount of cash on them. And ultimately it was to our demise as they turned out to be not the right ones for us as we just found them too difficult to use once the little one started to roll around, being really lively and ‘around moving’ (if that’s a term).

    So, the idea was to use these cloth diapers and in long term save some money, but as I implied, it wasn’t the case. We ended up buying a new set of different type of cloth diapers that worked for us much more eloquently. So, the best approach definitely is not the case of putting all eggs into one basket (if I’m not mistaken at the time we also got some incredible discounts on that first set, but it still didn’t work out financially).

    So, just wanted to share our experience with the topic. Nonetheless, thank you for all the other insights, I found great value in them, and I truly appreciate them!

    Cheers and have a Great One!

    Matiss

    1. Holly Lee says:

      Thanks for sharing Matiss! I agree, it can be a problem! If you want to use cloth to save money, then you need to be very careful about how you purchase them, or it could backfire.

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