Cloth diapers are a great way to go green as well as save on costs when raising children. They meet my top 3 criteria for investments: Versatility, Reusability, and Longevity. If well taken care of cloth diapers can last you through each consecutive child, and when it is time for them to retire you can recycle them or resell them.
There certainly is nothing wrong with using previously loved cloth diapers. Give them a good wash, use a small bit of bleach if desired, rinse well, and you’re good (more on cleaning and care later). If you are buying all of these for the first time and don’t know what to do or where to start ask yourself these questions:
Who is the primary diaper changer?
Is travel or babysitting going to be a problem?
How much effort are you willing to put in to changes?
How often are you willing to do laundry?
It’s true with cloth diapers that you cannot let baby sit as long without changes as you can with disposables. They simply are not THAT absorbent. Frankly, baby shouldn’t sit very long in wetness regardless of reusable or disposable diapers; the difference is cloth diapers will certainly tell you immediately when it’s time to change while disposables will give you that extra time if you cannot drop everything and attend to a mess. Cloth really keeps you on your toes and the idea can be overwhelming for a first time cloth-parent.
First things first. What KIND of cloth diaper to use? I did so much research on these when I first got started and what is right for you will really depend on how you answered the questions above. For me: my husband and I were primary changers, travel and babysitting was not a problem (as I stay home), I don’t mind a little extra effort (it’s part of the bonding for me), and laundry a few extra times a week does not bother me.
For simplicity sake I will mostly cover Chinese cotton prefolds in my 101 series as these are the ones I primarily use (other options include hemp, Indian cotton, bamboo, and birdseye to name a few). A lot of this information (throughout the cloth diapering series) can be used across the board though. Adapt it as you need and always do as much research as you can on your specific needs.
So here are your cloth options:
All in Ones (AIO)
|Prefolds||AIOs/AI2s||Pocket Diapers||Fitted Diapers|
|Requires a wrap or a cover||Does not requires a wrap or a cover – this feature is built in.||Does not requires a wrap or a cover – this feature is built in.||Requires a wrap or a cover|
|May require a fastener such as pins or a snappi||Usually fastens with snaps or hook and loop (velcro)||Usually fastens with snaps or hook and loop (velcro)||Usually fastens with snaps or hook and loop (velcro), sometimes a snappi or pins may be used.|
|Usually made of cotton, gauze, Birdseye flannel, hemp, or velour.||Outer layer is waterproof…usually made with PUL, Procare, fleece, or wool.||Outer layer is waterproof…usually made with PUL, Procare, fleece, or wool.||Outer and inner layers are not waterproof and may consist of many different fabrics types.|
|A doubler will increase absorbency. A separate stuffer or doubler lays inside an AI2.||Requires and absorbent stuffer material to be placed in the pocket before use.||A doubler will increase absorbency.|
|Usually has elastic and legs and back area.||Usually has elastic and legs and back area.||Usually has elastic and legs and back area.|
|More Prefold Diaper Information||More AIO (All-in-One) Information||More Pocket Diaper Information||More Fitted Diaper Information|
(From Diaper Jungle.)
For me prefolds were the way to go. The only difference is I did not use any pins or snappies (I HATED the snappies). Our diaper covers were bought for us and we were also given pockets. Pockets look like long thin pads and act as inserts to the AIO and if used as such will be worn once and then washed. I did not use them like this, I used them as extra padding for night and nap time (more on that later). These are, however, a great compromise to babysitting grandparents/friends who do not want to deal with prefolds–you will just need a ton more suitable covers.
The nice thing about the cloth diaper movement is with it becoming more mainstream again there are plenty of do it yourself ways around the expensive start up. One thing I did was made my own reusable flannel wipes (more on that in Startup Costs). Something else to do is make your own diaper covers. At local craft stores you can now buy patterns and PUL fabric in a variety of colors or even try online if your stores don’t carry these materials. PUL fabric ranges from $10-11 a yard and can produce about 4-6 covers in that yard, depending on the pattern and the width of material (54″+ the ideal), and they can be easily lined with microfiber or fleece. The scraps from the microfiber/fleece can easily be used as a liner-barrier for diaper rash cream as well.
Thirsties diaper covers are about $11.50-$12.50 each. However they are fabulous covers (I use them as well as Bububibi for $5.50 each) and can be used as all-in-ones (even though I do not use them that way).
Some downfalls to cloth diapers are:
1) The upkeep. They require really mindful care or you might end up ruining your investment (such as washing too many in one load, using fabric softener, using chlorine bleach, etc).
2) They may cause diaper rash. Apparently they are not as “breathable” as disposables, yet I never personally had a diaper rash problem while using cloth. If they are changed quickly and you use a nourishing wipe solution (found in StartUp Costs) as well as a cloth-friendly barrier protector (such as coconut oil) you will probably not see much in the way of rashes.
3) The more “convenient” the diaper the more expensive the diaper. If you want AIO systems you’re going to spend a whole lot more than if you buy some nice prefolds and simple covers.
4) Their butts are really fluffy. But you’ll get used to that.
5) Trips and outings are a bit more difficult to plan out. Always pack more than you need and invest in a wet-bag to house those soiled nappies while on the go.
6) Prewashing. When babies diets change prewash will be a must. Grab some latex gloves, an old spatula and take to the bathroom. You know what must be done.
Ultimately all downfalls can be reduced and avoided with some planning and research. There really is no reason to not go cloth.
Say you just found out you’re expecting your first. Cloth diapers seem to be the way you want to go. You do your research and think about it for the first trimester and then decide to make the investment to use prefolds. You can budget yourself or of course put them on your registry, but say these are an expense you are taking on yourself. To get all of this done the cheapest way possible with a monthly budget of $50 is not impossible. You have time, after all.
Assuming the average newborn makes up to 10 messy diapers in a 24 hour period and you plan to do laundry every third day you are looking at ideally 30 individual prefolds and some change, but 24 will do just fine as well.
If Chinese Cotton Prefolds are your cup of tea as they are for me, and you are lucky enough to have Amazon Prime, you can purchase probably all of the infant sized prefolds you need for $28, giving you 24 diapers (of course more is always better, but if you’re on top of everything, not necessary). That will diaper your baby for 2-3 days and give you a few changes while you launder your soiled prefolds. With the $50/mon diaper budget you can knock that expense off at 12 weeks with some change left over.
Month 3 \\ Money spent: $28 \\ Items: 24 Infant prefolds \\ Change: $22
Depending on how big baby is and how fast baby grows will determine when you need to upgrade your diapers. Since I like to get the most bang for my buck I am ok with paying a bit more for a larger sized diaper that will last me longer. Either way, the 2x5x2 and the 4x6x4 should last from 15-30 lbs. Baby’s bowel movements will change with their age and diet, but I still use the newborn rule when purchasing diapers (cause you never know if they will have good days or bad days). Expect to spend about $46 for 2 dozen 2x5x2 and $58 for 2 dozen 4x6x4. By month 4 you should be able to be stocked on all the diapers you will need plus have about $14 left over for making your wipes.
Month 4 \\ Money spent: $86 \\ Items bought: 24 Infant prefolds, 24 Regular prefolds \\ Change: $14
You can purchase 36 simple washcloths for less than $10, specially made flannel wipes for $24+ (which might not be as large as washcloths or what you could make on your own), or if you’re not afraid of a sewingmachine you can make your own wipes (and trust me, disposable wipes are a HUGE expense when it comes to babies–it will be worth your while to get reusable). 42″ wide 100% cotton flannel will be between $3 and $6 a yard. Depending if you hunt the bargain bins, get coupons, or wait for sales or not will determine your end price. Assuming you’re paying the full $6, cutting wipes at 10.5″ long and 9″ wide, you can comfortably cut 16 wipes from 1 yard of fabric. No measuring tape is really even required; just fold the fabric in half and cut twice both directions.
If you average 2 wipes per diaper change (depending how bad it is), with 24 diapers, you could make 48 wipes–but when you get good at changing, only the messiest diapers will need 2 wipes. You could probably get 3 yards of fabric and be comfortable with 48 wipes in your arsenal (being that you only use the wipes for nappy messes and not burp cloths, right?).
That will cost you about $23 at most ($10 at best) to make all the wipes you will ever need for your baby including tax and assuming you already have thread. To sew it is simple: fold the edges down 1/4th inch and zigzag it down to prevent fraying. You’ll end up with wipes that are 10″x8.5″, large enough for daddy hands and certainly big enough to cover a messy bottom. 5 months along and you have your prefolds AND wipes ready to go.
At $11.50 a pop, you will want to get good at keeping those Thirsties diaper covers as clean and dry as possible. Quick and frequent changes will help with that, as will using thin, yet absorbent, liners for extra protection. A good rule of thumb is the have 1 cover for every 3 diapers, 12 being the most, 6 being the least. That’s about 12 covers in 6-18 lb size and 12 for 18-40 lbs, totalling nearly $280 for Thirsties (IF you think you can manage not having any emergency extras) or 15 Bububibi’s for about $66 (not including shipping which could be as much as $130).
Quality wise, I prefer Thirsties. However, as I do sew, there is no reason why I should have to endure those prices when I can make some myself, and customize them as I like!
A pattern will run you $7-10 and give you size options of 6-35 lbs. Using 1.5 yards of 56″ wide PUL fabric you can manage 6 covers (in one size) for about $15 (not including shipping if you can’t find it in stores), with the fleece liner for about $7-10 (about $13 if you have to order online), 6 diapers will run you about $25, or $4 per diaper, adjusting for tax, elastic, and velcro used for each.
If you make 6 of size small, and 6 of M-XL without a fleece liner you will spend a total of roughly $70, taking 7 yards to get all your covers made. These purchases of course can all be split up, saving parts of the yardage from sizes M-XL batches for the next sizes up or can all be done at once and never fussed over again. You can have your most immediate necessities of 6 size small covers now for $15 and have a project later on as baby grows to save immediate startup costs.
Of course, if you’re going for the DIY route (thankfully the cheapest), I have tutorials for both covers and wipes.
Month 5 \\ Money spent: $144 \\ Items: 24 Infant prefolds, 24 Regular prefolds, 48 wipes, 6 small covers \\ Change: $6
There are plenty of ways to store your wipes. You can store them dry and use a squirt/spray bottle with wipe solution or plain water (something to consider while out and about, certainly) or keep them moist in a container; you can use a plastic bag (for wet or dry storage), leave them dry and out at the ready, old tupperware container you already own, or you can use a plastic wipe container. Maybe someone already has one that they can give you or you can buy one for about $20. A plastic container is perfect for storing wet wipes. We initially bought a refillable container from the grocery store that came with disposable wipes. We used the wipes and kept the container for our cloths. I think it might have been $10.
Ultimately a wipe container is a luxury and not necessary. It is up to you, your resources, and your budget if you will get one.
What You Need
3 yards 42″ wide 100% cotton flannel
- Fold your fabric in half long ways, at the crease that was made for the fabric to fit on the bolt (“hotdog” fold) and cut at the fold.
- Long ways, fold the fabric just as you did before and cut. You should have 4 3 yard long strips that are 10.5″ wide.
- You can measure 9″ from one end, cut, and use that as a template to cut your way down the length, or fold it in half (opposite way as before or “hamburger” fold), cut, and repeat about 4 times.
- At your machine you can do a tight zigzag stitch right at the edges all the way around so the thread just catches the fabric, or you can fold it over about 1/4″ and zigzag the loose end down to the wipe. If you’re lucky enough to have an overlock machine this would be wonderful too.
There are several recipes online for solutions. These are two that I used, plus their prices.
Wipe Solution #1
- 2 cups hot water
- 1 bag chamomile tea ($6)
- 1 tsp, eyeballed, liquid baby soap ($10)
- 1 tsp, eyeballed, baby oil ($9)
Steep the tea in the hot water for 5 minutes. Remove the teabag and add the soap and oil. Mix well. Add folded wipes to bath, press down, and then turn over. Cover.
Lasts: 9-14 months before needing to restock ingredients.
Costs: $26 startup for every 14 months (assuming solution is made 4 times a month), averaging less than $4 a month.
Pros: Cheap and very hassle free. Soap and oil can be used for bath time and will likely be replenished frequently if you buy these products. Soap expenses are even cheaper if you opt to make your own. Recipe can be altered to be more green-friendly such as exchanging baby oil for coconut oil. Trusted family-name products. Hypoallergenic. Long shelf life.
Cons: Baby oil may cause wipes to get dingy or pill. Takes more effort to ensure ingredients are natural and green-friendly. Possible soap residue. Soap product may not contain natural antifungals or antiseptic ingredients. Always a possible recall on oil and soap products: you don’t know what all goes into it.
Wipe Solution #2
- 2 cups hot water
- 1 bag chamomile tea ($6)
- 5-10 drops clove essential oil ($13)
- 5-10 drops lavender essential oil ($20)
- 1 tsp coconut oil ($9)
Steep the tea in the hot water for 5 minutes. Remove the teabag and add the oils. Mix well. Add folded wipes to bath, press down, and then turn over. Cover.
Lasts: 1 year before needing to restock ingredients.
Costs: $48 per year (assuming solution is made 4 times a month), averaging $4 in costs a month.
Pros: All natural and as organic as you can find. You know exactly what you are putting into your recipe. Natural antifungal, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory according to sources. Gently cleans and moisturizes skin without possible soap residue. Coconut oil doubles as diaper rash prevention and mild treatment without pilling cloth diapers. Oils can be used for other personal and household needs.
Cons: Expensive and if oils are not properly diluted they can cause irritation. Oils require proper storage to prevent spoilage.
With 2 tbsp (or 6 tsp) per any oz of liquid in mind, the first recipe will last 1 year and 2 months, the chamomile lasting a good 20 months (for either recipe) and the coconut lasting 4 years at that rate of calculation. This is, of course, with calculations that these things will ONLY be used for this recipe. Both solutions have ingredients that you can use for multiple things, so nothing will ever go to waste. You will have to keep up making these every 3-6 days if this is the route you go. I personally enjoy the benefits of essential oils so that is my main recipe.
HOWEVER these, again, are luxuries and though very nice with health benefits and will help ward off a bad smell in your diaper hamper, are not necessary. All you need is tap water to clean up a dirty bottom.
The cheapest practices and absolute necessities of cloth diaper setup will run you about $200 to get started if you are TOTALLY starting from scratch and doing this by yourself. Mind you, this is from birth until about age 3 when they will likely get potty trained. Additionally these are good for any future children you have, so that $200 could possibly good for years and years to come. The only added expenses to this are laundering and replenishing the wipe solution. Cloth diapering is a great way to go green and save money over a couple years, even though the initial expenses are high. With a good budget you can overcome the overwhelming startup and watch your investment pay for itself within a couple months.
If you use one of the many homemade detergent recipes out there you’ll look to spend an additional $10-$20 a year on laundering, not including the cost of water. Best part is you don’t HAVE to dry them in the dryer either–they do just well to hang dry. It may be $40 a year to make the wipe solution and clean the diapers once your initial investment has been made.
These are indeed possible expenses you may have to handle yourself as cloth diapers are not always met with the utmost support–so if you want it done you may be on your own.
Kirkland Signature diapers (size 1-2) at 136 count costs $20. With an average of 10 messes a day that box will last maybe 2 weeks, costing $40 a month or so until baby is 15 lbs (maybe by 3 months of age, longer if they are smaller). That would be about $120. Size 3 diapers (16-28 lbs) might last a month if your baby only makes 8 messy diapers in a 24 hour period, being $40 a month until they are as young as possibly 12 months (depending on how big your baby is, longer if they are smaller). For the first 12 months that equates to possibly almost $500.
Additionally with wipes being $30 for 900 wipes (a decent deal), one package will last 10 days on average if you only use ONE wipe per changing. That box of wipes will ideally last 3 months at that rate. After one year (on that average which will likely not happen when you introduce solid foods) you can hope to spend a minimum of $120 just on wipes (which, let’s face it, probably will be a lot more than that). These prices are of course IF you have a Sam’s or Costco membership which is going to be your cheapest option when buying disposable diapers. You’re now approaching well over $600 in the first year and all of that money has literally been thrown away and into a landfill. You still have 2 more years to go at least or until baby is potty trained! This doesn’t help you if you have any more children too, mind you.
Care and Washing
Pretreat (if needed) >> Rinse >> Wash >> Rinse >> Dry
- Do NOT use fabric softener!
- Do NOT wash more than 12 in one cycle (including wipes and covers so long as they are not wool).
- Do NOT use more than 1/2-1/4 the amount of detergent you would normally.
- Avoid detergent with bleach, color treatment, fragrance, fabric softener, and enzymes. Use a mild soap for sensitive skin.
- Wash prefolds a minimum of 3-5 times before use.
- Always double rinse.
Do not bleach your diapers unless it is absolutely necessary. Diapers do better to line dry than machine dry since it preserves their longevity and allows the sun to naturally bleach them rather than using chemicals and the hot wash should sanitize them just fine. The nice thing about reusable wipes is if you store them wet (as I do) you can fold them damp and put them straight back into their storage with your solution.
For first time use wash the prefolds a minimum of 3-5 times to maximize absorption. These are fine to machine dry. Stick to all the rules when pre-washing your new prefolds. They will shrink a bit during this process.
For washing used diapers:
The Washer. Even though you are not exceeding maybe 20 diapers per load, change your settings to Heavy.
Pre-treat. This will be far more important when baby’s diet changes to solid foods and will be a necessary step. Get an large old spoon, spatula, or dough scraper and remove the solid waste into the toilet.
First Rinse. Rinse in cold water. Some vinegar added to this step is an option for helping stains.
Hot Wash. Add your detergent and wash as normal. This will also include a rinse.
Second Rinse. Rinse in cold water. You can add another cup of vinegar here as a natural fabric softener that won’t ruin your diapers. An additional rinse helps get any detergent out.
Dry. Hang them in the sun to help stains (does not need to be direct, but it should not be filtered by a window) or somewhere indoors (to simply dry them). The faster they dry the stiffer they will be, but sometimes this is unavoidable. If you’re machine drying, a hard dryer ball, or tennis balls, will help “beat” the diapers soft. Dry these with a low heat setting.
And there you have it. A tad time consuming but over all very easy.
However… When There Is Buildup…
Every so often your diapers may obtain build up, either from hard water, improper cleaning, or ammonia. Properly cleaning and pre-rinsing can help but if it happens your baby can get a wicked diaper rash.
Simply bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add one diaper at a time. Boil up to 30 minutes, 10 if you are boiling PUL fabrics. You can also add 1 TBSP of hydrogen peroxide to help whiten and disinfect.
What You Need
1.5-7 yards Polyurethane Laminate fabric
1.5-7 yards fleece (optional)
3 or more spools of ribbon/bias tape (optional)
- Lay your pattern and cut it out. If you are only making one size you will only need about 1.5 yards to complete your project. If you are knocking all your sizes out at once as recommended in the StartUp Costs post, you will need 7 yards and be mindful or how many of each size you’re laying.
- Sew the leg wings into the legs as instructed in the pattern’s booklet.
- Sew in elastic around leg openings. Stretch the elastic from end to end and zigzag stitch all the way down on top of the elastic.
- Sew on the velcro (if not using snaps, otherwise apply snaps past and skip this step).
- If using lining, match both pieces together, right sides facing outward. Sew on the bias tape or ribbon as bias tape around the whole diaper and lining, then fold the tape over to hide the raw edge and sew down. Otherwise make a small doubled over fold around the whole diaper as a hem (for no lining) or sew inside out, leaving an opening at the top to top stitch down once you pull the diaper right side out again.
- Apply snaps.
How To Do It
Take off the previous diaper and make sure the cover is not wet or dirty. Put the diaper in the hamper as well as the cover if it is necessary.
Spray or wet the area and wipe (if using dry wipes), or just wipe.
Line a clean nappy up at the edge of the cover and slide under baby. Lay baby on top so the edge hits about where the belly button is.
Fold or twist the remaining cloth and bring up over the front (make sure little boys are pointed down!).
Make sure the diaper covers the baby and is snug. The cover itself should be snug without causing discomfort. If it is too loose you risk an accident, if it is too tight you risk hurting baby.
Tuck the front-side edges of the cover in behind the prefold and fasten.