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All About Cloth Diapering

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All About Cloth Diapering


If you’re just starting your cloth diapering journey, you may be surprised by the degree of passion people feel about their choice to cover their baby’s booty in cloth. If you ask a zealot why you should cloth diaper, they may talk to you for an hour. We’ll try to be more concise.

Better for Baby: Disposable diapers contain dioxin, a highly-toxic carcinogen and Tibutyl-tin (TBT), a toxic pollutant and hormonal disruptor. Disposables are so absorbent because they contain sodium polyacrylate, which was used in tampons until the early 1980’s when it was linked to toxic shock syndrome. If you’ve ever changed a baby’s disposable diaper and noticed little blue beads of gel on their bottom, that was sodium polyacrylate. Since skin is your baby’s largest organ, it goes without saying you’d rather not cover it in toxic chemicals like these.

Better for the Planet: All those chemicals that don’t absorb into your baby’s bloodstream will be dumped into a landfill and eventually reach your water source when using disposable diapers. The same is true for the feces, which is meant to be dumped in the toilet even when using disposables, but almost never is. We can’t know for sure, but the estimate is that a single-use diaper takes between 250-500 years to decompose, and more than 27 billion disposable diapers are used every year in the US. And finally, over 300 pounds of wood, 50 pounds of petroleum and 20 pounds of chlorine are used to produce the disposable diapers ONE baby needs for ONE YEAR Generic Banner

Better for Your Pocketbook: The savings you will get out of cloth diapering vary depending on which type of diapers you use and the capacity and efficiency of your washing system. But overall, you can spend between $2000-3000 to put disposable diapers on a baby from newborn to potty-learning (depending on the brand you buy). Your costs for a babyhood of cloth will range from around $300 for the most economical system to about $700 for a premium system (and those numbers include water and energy costs). So even if we round that premium system up to $1000, you’re saving at least $1000 per child. Add to THAT the fact that you can reuse those diapers for your next child, and your savings simply multiply.

And Just Plain Cute: Okay, this one is not as compelling as the others. But there’s no denying that a poofy, cloth-clad booty is far cuter than its crinkly, paper-clad equivalent.

(For lots of great statistics and information on environmental impact, costs, etc. with formal annotation, check out the website of the non-profit Real Diaper Association at


  • Prefolds and Covers: The most economical system, a prefold (or flat) diaper is folded in the style of your choice, usually pinned or snappied into place, and then enclosed with a waterproof cover.

  • Fitteds and Covers: Slightly more money and less learning curve than a prefold and cover, a fitted and cover system requires an absorbent fitted diaper which usually snaps or velcros closed, and is then enclosed with a waterproof cover.

  • Pockets and Inserts: A popular choice for convenience, a pocket diaper must be stuffed with the inserts of your choice, but requires no cover and keeps the moisture away from your baby’s skin.

  • One-size Diapers: One-size diapers may be fitteds that require a cover, pockets that require inserts, or covers that require an absorbent layer inside. Whichever style you get, one-size diapers snap up or down to fit an infant or a toddler, and eliminate the need to buy different sizes as your baby grows.

  • All-in-Ones: All-in-ones include the waterproof outer and absorbent inner in one simple diaper that requires no assembly. They are the most like disposable diapers when it comes to putting them on the baby. On the downside, they can take a long time to dry.


Probably not as hard as you think. On the one hand, it’s not as simple as disposable diapering, though most cloth diaper converts think the benefits far outweigh the bit of effort. And there are even some that say it’s easier, since the number of poopy blowouts you will see with cloth is usually far fewer than with disposables. But here are a few answers to burning questions:

How often do I change cloth diapers?
More often than disposable diapers. Because they are not loaded with the lovely absorbent chemicals we mentioned before, cloth diapers simply don’t have the capacity of disposable diapers. Ideally, they need to be changed every two hours or so, but this depends on your baby and your diaper system (ie, a pocket diaper that keeps the moisture away from the baby’s skin can be left on longer, particularly if it is stuffed with a lot of absorbent material).

How many do I need?
For a newborn, you’ll want to have 10-12 diapers per day, so if you’re planning to wash every other day you should shoot for around 24 diapers (but remember you’ll need fewer covers). When they hit around 5-6 months, you’ll generally need 6-8 diapers per day.

How often do I wash cloth diapers?
This depends partly on how many cloth diapers you have in your stash, and how often you change them (ie, if you have a frequent pooper or heavy wetter). With a small stash, you might wash every day, but even with a large stash, every other day is ideal. You don’t want to let them sit for too long before washing. While every other day may sound like a lot, it probably takes a grand total of five minutes to throw diapers in the washer and transfer them to the dryer. Calculate more time if you’re hanging them up to line dry, or stuffing pocket diapers when they’re done.


The best advice is to try a variety of things when you’re first starting out. Pockets may appeal to you, but you may find you hate stuffing them and prefer AIO’s. You may think folding prefolds sounds intimidating, and it turns out you love them. Even the best brands don’t fit every single baby, depending on how your little guy is proportioned. So don’t go out and buy 24 of one brand and one size.

GranolaBabies offers diaper packages designed to let you try a variety of different diapers at one go. Or just put together a hodge podge of what appeals to you. Try them out and order more when you know what you and your baby likes. (And also be aware that may change as your baby grows and their elimination needs change.)


Laundry routines are as varied and personal as cloth diaper systems, and you will have to figure out what works for you, your diapers, and your washing machine. But here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • All detergents are NOT created equally. Never use a diaper detergent with fragrances, dyes, enzymes or brighteners. Some detergents that are popular in the cloth-diapering world are Allen’s Naturally, Charlie’s Soap, Country Save, and Sport-Wash. Some people have good luck with “free and clear” brands and others don’t.

  • It seems counter-intuitive, but you want to use less detergent on diapers than you would on clothes, or you will get a stinky build-up. Generally, use about half the recommended amount of detergent in a top loader and a quarter of the recommended amount in a front-loader.

  • You will find what works for you, but some variation on a cold pre-wash, hot/cold wash, and extra cold rinse is common when laundering cloth diapers. Line drying is great for the planet, but any diapers with a PUL layer need to have a hot dryer cycle from time to time to seal up the waterproof barrier.

  • Baking soda and vinegar are popular (and economical) additions to cloth diaper laundry routines, when troubleshooting stink and build-up.

  • Wet pails (soaking soiled diapers until washing time) used to be the norm, but they are used with less and less frequency. Most people keep soiled diapers in a dry pail (and a bit of breathing room actually helps control the stink) until they are ready to be washed. The stink many people associate with diapers today actually comes from the reaction between urine and the chemicals in disposables. You will likely be surprised by how little you smell the dirty diapers.

  • Setting diapers out in the sun makes a world of difference in removing stains.


Prefolds and fitted cloth diapers, require a diaper cover. Most often parents use either a wool or a polyurethane laminated (PUL) diaper cover.

With a wool diaper cover, you only need to wash it every 3-4 weeks. In between changes, you simply air dry the cover. If it’s soiled, you can spot clean it between washes.  Wool does not retain smell and it’s a natural fiber that is breathable. When properly lanolized, it will work just like a waterproof cover. Lanolizing means soaking your wool cover with lanolin mixed in water, which then creates a waterproof layer on your wool cover.

To wash a wool diaper cover, use a wool wash and warm water to wash by hand or on machine cycle that is gentle enough for washing wool. After rinsing, squeeze the diaper cover in your hands to remove the excess water. And then finish removing the water by laying the cover between a towel and pressing the water out. Finally, air dry flat.

To lanolize a wool diaper cover, wash first and then in a bowl or sink, add warm water and mix in about a 1 teaspoon of lanolin. Then place the wool cover in the water for about 15 minutes. After that time, with the cover in your hands, press as much water out of the wool diaper as possible and then continue to remove the water by pressing it between a towel. Air dry flat. Now your cover is lanolized and  doesn’t need to be done again until it wears out. You’ll know when that happens if the cover starts to get too moist when in use. I like to lanolize after every other washing, since I wash my wool covers with wool wash that already has some lanolin in it.

A waterproof cover is made from Polyurethane laminated (PUL) fabric. You can rotate a PUL covers between changes, unless it’s soiled. At the end of the day, the covers you used that day go in your diaper pail for the next washing.

Happy Cloth Diapering!!!

Used with permission by and written by Granola Babies.

Click here to read more about cloth diapers from GranolaBabies

Hanna Andersson

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  1. Bethy___Boo says:

    Great article! Very informative and covered everything well without being overwhelming!


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