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Cloth Diapering 101: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started with Cloth Diapers

Thinking about cloth diapering, but don’t know where to begin? Overwhelmed by all the information and various posts out there?

Cloth diapers have came a long way from the “rags” and safety pins days. Modern designs have made it easier (and cuter) than ever to use cloth on your baby. And, while there is a small learning curve with cloth, you’ll soon be hooked on all the benefits that cloth diapers have to offer. 

Below, is everything you need to know to get started with cloth, all in one post. We cover 5 reasons to consider cloth, the different types of cloth diapers and cloth diaper accessories, how to put on a cloth diaper, and how to wash your cloth diapers. 

**Just so you know, Tales of a Messy Mom may collect a share of sales from purchases made through the affiliate links on this page. See the full disclosure here.

Five Reasons to Consider Cloth 

1. Saves money: Cloth diapers may cost more up front, but in the long run they save SO much money. Especially if you plan to use cloth on your next little ones. Plus, cloth diapers have resale value; can’t get that with disposables.

2. Better for the environment: It’s a no-brainer that plastic is harmful to our environment. In fact, it takes about 450 years for disposable diapers to degrade. Sadly, our earth is becoming huge piles of plastic bags, Keurig cups, and disposable diapers.  Just another reason to reuse and recycle. 

3. Less chemicals on baby’s bum: Disposable diapers are extremely convenient; however, they often contain chemicals, such as dioxins, which are linked to long-term health conditions. No, thank you. 

4. Less blowouts (seriously, barely any!): The contoured shape and elastic around baby’s bum and legs are great for containing blowouts. I seriously can’t express enough how much I love that I don’t have to deal with blowouts.

5. They are super duper cute: Diaper changes are actually fun with all those adorable prints to choose from. Plus, your baby’s bum will look stylish for any occasion!

What are the Different Types of Cloth Diapers? 

The first step is to cloth diapering is to start building your stash. When searching for cloth diapers, you’ll quickly find out that there are so many options out there, as well as some new terminology to learn. So, let me break it down for you and explain the different types of cloth diapers: 

AIO “All in One”  These diapers are exactly what it sounds like. All in ones have absorbent material sewn right into the diaper cover. They are the easiest to use. No covers and no stuffing required. They are great for the busy parents and perfect for the sitter.

AI2  “All in Two” – All in two diapers have a detachable insert that is either snapped in or just laid inside the waterproof shell. The shell can usually be reused for more than one diaper change, simply by changing out the soiled insert with a clean one.

Pockets – Pocket diapers have an opening between the waterproof shell and the inner layer that touches baby’s skin. The pocket opening is where you stuff the inserts. Pocket diapers are nice because you can change the absorbency of them by changing the type or number of inserts you put in them. Which also makes them great for nighttime diapers.


Prefolds & Flats – Prefolds and flats are the most affordable & most durable cloth diapering options.  These are the “old-fashioned” diapers. Flats are nice and trim, but only have one or two layers of material and need to be changed often. Prefolds are much more absorbent, as they have multiple absorbency layers.

Both require a waterproof cover used over them. The cover can usually be reused a few times before throwing it in with the dirties. If folding prefolds or flats seems intimidating to you, don’t worry! You can always just fold it like a pad. Baby’s don’t pee out of their hips. 😉

We did tri-folds secured with a snappi when our little one was a newborn, but then she got super chunky and we started doing pad-folds from there on out.

Fitted – Fitteds are shaped just like any regular ol’ diaper, but are solely made of absorbent material. They require a waterproof cover used over them. 

Covers – Covers are waterproof shells that are put over prefolds, flats, and fitted diapers.

Cloth diapers close with hooks and loops (Velcro) or snaps. Most cloth diaper mamas prefer snaps, as they are more durable and make it more difficult for baby to get their diaper off. But, Velcro diapers can certainly make life easier for sitters and grandparents.

Which Brand Should I Buy?

I recommend purchasing a variety of types and brands because different brands fit each baby different, and each brand will fit baby different at different times as they grow. That being said, some of our favorite brands have been Best Bottoms, Smart Bottoms, and Nicki’s

Sites like Nicki’s Diapers and Diaper Junction are nice because they carry multiple brands & styles. Plus, they have other baby necessities and customer rewards. And, if you ever have any issues with any of their products, their customer service is AMAZING. 

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How Many Cloth Diapers Do I Need? 

How many cloth diapers you need will depend on how much money you want to spend and how often you want to do diaper laundry. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want at least 24-36 cloth diapers. I’d lean more towards the side of 36 if you’re planning to cloth diaper your newborn.

What Else Do I Need for Cloth Diapering? 

Beside diapers, you will also need:

  • Cloth wipes: If you’re using cloth diapers, it only makes sense to use cloth for wipes as well. About 2-3 dozen wipes should suffice. GroVia wipes have been our favorite. 
  • A place to store the dirty diapers: Wet bags or a diaper pail with a liner work great for storing dirty diapers until wash day. 
  • Cloth-friendly rash cream:  Some diaper creams can actually cause repelling issues, so be sure to use cloth diaper friendly ones, like Maty’s All Natural Baby Ointment and Bordeaux’s All Natural Butt Paste. Plain ole’ coconut oil also works wonders! 
  • Cloth-friendly laundry detergent:   Check out Fluff Love University’s detergent index to make sure your laundry detergent is compatible with cloth diapers.  
  • A diaper sprayer: If your baby is formula fed or starting solids, you’ll want to be sure to spray the poop off before throwing it in the wash. A diaper sprayer that hooks right up to your toilet makes this task super easy and less messy. 

Here is our cloth diaper set up:

cabinet with cloth diapers and accessories

In this cabinet of the dresser, we keep our diapers, cloth wipes, snappi diaper closures, a spray bottle filled with water, hand sanitizer, coconut oil, and Grandma Els diaper rash cream (which is safe for natural fibers, like cotton, hemp, and bamboo). This is only about half of our stash. We have somewhere around 30 diapers and three dozen wipes.

 We used to use the spray bottle to wet down the wipes when our little was a newborn, but when we were able to carry her around with one arm, we just started wetting them down in the sink. We just use coconut oil most of the time for diaper rashes, but we’ll get Grandma Els out for those stubborn rashes. 

drawer with prefolds & liners

In this drawer, we have all of our prefolds, best bottom inserts, fleece liners, a pail liner, wool covers, and a container of disposable wipes for emergencies.

The fleece liners are super nice for when baby starts solid food. It makes the poop more “plopable,” and it helps wick moisture away from baby’s skin.  If the poop is really just that bad, you can always just throw the liner away 😉 We just bought some $2.50 microfleece blankets from Walmart and cut up about 35-40 liners per blanket. Super cheap & convenient!

Wet Bags

We also have two medium wet bags for the daily travels, and one large wet bag for longer travels. The larger one works great for when we go to the in-laws for the weekend. 

Dirty diaper pail

For storing the dirty diapers between washing, we have two pail liners that we use inside of just a tall trash can. We did buy a trash can with a lid, but then we realized that the more air equals less stink, so we leave it open now. Those stand up laundry baskets with holes on the side also work well for storing dirty diapers.

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What Do You Do With the Poop?!?

If your baby is exclusively breastfed (EBF), you do not need to worry about spraying the poop off before throwing it in the washing machine, as EBF poop is water soluble. Just make sure you do a rinse and spin or short wash cycle before your main wash.

If your baby is on formula or solids, you will need to spray the poop off before throwing it in the wash. Our cloth diaper sprayer has been a lifesaver for us. It hooks right up to the toilet, so you can just spray the poop directly into the potty. When your littles are mainly on solid food, it will be easy enough to just “plop” the poop into the toilet. It’s really not too bad!

How Do You Put On a Cloth Diaper?

My husband and I spent a good portion of my pregnancy watching cloth diaper tutorials on YouTube and practicing on stuffed animals. We quickly became pros….until baby started moving. Then it becomes a little more challenging, as you have to work on your baby wrangling skills. LOL. 

Here is a how a cloth diaper should fit:

front of cloth diaper

You should be able to fit fingers between your baby’s tummy and the diaper. A gap here is OKAY. However, I have found it helpful to make sure this gap is much more minimal with my baby boy.

diaper with rise snaps adjustedFold the rise down. Fingers up, not down.

The “rise” refers to the snaps going vertically. Adjust the rise to reflect baby’s height and leg thickness.

diaper with no gaps around the legs

No gaps around the legs. This is key.

Baby crawling away with cloth diaper on

Baby is good to go!

Try to change diapers about every two hours during the day to avoid diaper rash. For newborns, change before or after every feeding. We would change before feedings because our little one had reflux, and we needed to keep her upright for 20-30 minutes after feedings, but do what works best for you and your baby. 

How Do You Wash Cloth Diapers? dirty diapers in the washer

Everyone’s cloth diaper wash routine is going to vary because it will depend on the type of washer and dryer you have, how hard/soft your water is, and what kind of detergent you prefer. Experiment and try to keep it simple.

Here is our wash routine:

  1. Pre-rinse with cold water and half a cap of detergent.
    ***Be sure to do a pre-rinse or short wash cycle before the main wash, otherwise you will just be washing your diapers in urine water. 
  2. Fluff up the diapers and get them unstuck from the sides of the washer.
  3. Wash on heavy with hot water (need to use hot water with plant-based detergents), 1 and 1/2 caps of detergent, and one rinse.
  4. Dry on low or hang dry. Wait until your diapers cool until taking them out of the dryer, so the elastic won’t get stretched out. If your hang drying, be sure to lay the diapers “hot-dog style”, so the elastic won’t get worn out.

What about stains? SUN those diapers! Leave your diapers outside in the sun or sit them in the window to naturally bleach those stains out. You can also use a Buncha Farmers Stain Stick if needed. 

What kind of laundry detergent should you use? We use Seventh Generation Ultra Power Plus for laundry detergent. Here are some other recommended laundry detergents:

Synthetic: Tide Powder, Gain, Foca, Purex

Plant-Based: Amway Legacy of Clean SA8, Boulder, Kirkland Environmentally Friendly/Responsible, Ecover

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When Should I Start Cloth Diapering?

This is totally up to you. There are some people that start right away, even in the hospital, while some wait a few months until baby fits into the one size diapers. We started at about 5 weeks old with our first. Our little was only 5 lbs when she was born, so she didn’t even fit into the newborn diapers yet. And being first time parents, it was also nice to just give ourselves time to get adjusted without having to worry about extra laundry.

We did choose to buy a newborn stash, and I am really glad we did. They were only worn for a few months, but it sure did save us money. We were able to use them on our second kiddo and will be able to use them again if we decide to have anymore children. And if we don’t, there is always resale value.

What About You? 

Are you ready to start your cloth diaper journey? Are you already a pro at cloth diapering and would love to share some of your tips? Comment below and let us know your cloth diaper secrets. Be sure to share this post with your expecting mom friends.

Happy Cloth Diapering!

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References

“Detergent Index.” Fluff Love University. 2014-2016. http://www.fluffloveuniversity.com/how-to-wash-cloth-diapers/detergent-index. 19 Mar 2017.

Nicki’s Diapers. 2003-2017. http://www.nickisdiapers.com. 18 Mar 2017.

U.S. National Park Service; Mote Marine Laboratory. “Time it Takes for Garbage to Decompose in the Environment.” New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. 2017. http://des.nh.gov/organization/divisions/ water/wmb/coastal/trash/documents/marine_debris.pdf. 19 Mar 2017. 

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11 Comments

  1. Chelsea on May 15, 2017 at 9:26 pm

    This was such a good read. I learned so much that I wish I had known with my son. If we ever have another kid, we will be using cloth diapers!

    • Messy Mom Nicolle on May 15, 2017 at 10:04 pm

      That’s awesome that you use cloth Chelsea! So glad you could learn something new from my post. Thanks for the kind words!

  2. Jamie on May 12, 2017 at 8:52 pm

    Thanks for all the info- such a great post ❤️ Not sure I’m ready to make the cloth diapering dive but you’ve given me a lot to consider!

    • Messy Mom Nicolle on May 12, 2017 at 9:45 pm

      Thank you for the kind words Jamie! I’m glad I have given you things to consider. Cloth diapering really isn’t that hard once you get started. But, every family is different, and I am sure you will figure out what fits your family best.

  3. Nakeya on May 8, 2017 at 3:03 pm

    My baby #3 is 8 months old. The other “babies” are 19 and 11 years old. My mom clothe diapered me 39 years ago. I remember hearing the stories about the pins and such. But wow… how times have changed. These new diapers look awesome. I will concern clothe diapers now. I’ll come back and let you know if we do it. LOL

    • Messy Mom Nicolle on May 10, 2017 at 9:51 pm

      Yes, keep me posted Nakeya! It will be nice not having to buy diapers every week or two, plus there is resale value with cloth!

  4. Tammy on April 29, 2017 at 10:37 am

    I’m sorry to say, I never used cloth diapers. Now, as many years have passed, I wish I had done so. Thanks for this wonderful post and I will be sharing it with someone I know who will be having a baby soon.

    • Messy Mom Nicolle on May 1, 2017 at 10:08 pm

      Thank you for the kind words and sharing Tammy! Cloth diapers have changed so much just in the past 10 years. I feel like they are much more user friendly now.

  5. Jennifer on April 25, 2017 at 11:10 am

    Really nice post. We cloth diaper part time and I learned some things here thank you! I love how cute these modern day cloth diapers are. Much better than the old cloth with pins and rubber cover from back in the day.

    • Messy Mom Nicolle on May 1, 2017 at 10:09 pm

      Thank you for the kind words Jennifer! I’m so glad you could take away something new!

  6. Emily | Crunchy Mama Science on April 25, 2017 at 10:30 am

    It’s great to have all the information here in one post!

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