Cloth Diapering with Prefolds: Everything You Need to Know
You know what really hurts me? Deep down to the core? Putting a fresh disposable diaper on my baby and thirty seconds later hearing it fill with a big, juicy […]
You know what really hurts me? Deep down to the core?
Putting a fresh disposable diaper on my baby and thirty seconds later hearing it fill with a big, juicy poop.
I’d say it’s just money down the toilet, but it really isn’t advisable to flush diapers.
That’s one of the top reasons we started cloth diapering! My baby fills a brand new cloth diaper with poop and I go, “CHA-CHING!”
But saving money isn’t the only reason to cloth diaper. There are other benefits, too!
In this post, I’m going to share with you a few reasons why you may want to consider cloth diapers, our cloth diapering system and routine (with links to all of my favorite items!), along with how I care for our cloth diapering supplies.
Why Use Cloth Diapers?
With such a beautiful, modern convenience as the disposable diaper, you might be wondering… Why even bother with a dark-age practice like cloth diapering??
Here are a few reasons why you should still consider cloth diapering!
Cloth diapering saves a ton of money
One of the biggest reasons to cloth diaper–in my opinion–is how much money you will save. Yes, there’s a steeper start-up cost at the front end, but in reality you would spend the same on just 4-6 weeks worth of disposable diapers (if you use a similar system and products to what I’ll be covering in this post).
Cloth diapering creates less waste
While I’m not someone who will likely ever aspire to go “zero waste,” I do want to be a good steward of the earth God created and so try to be conscious of the amount of trash I generate.
Cloth diapering cuts down thousands of diapers you would otherwise be sending to a landfill. I mean, seriously, just think about how much trash even a few families create in diapers alone (12+ diapers per day per baby, plus wipes).
Cloth diapers are safer
Good golly, do you have any idea how much toxic nonsense goes into disposable diapers?? While some are certainly superior to others, most disposables contain plastics, fragrances, and harmful chemicals that are quickly absorbed through your baby’s delicate skin and into their bloodstream. And do you realize that the vast majority of disposable diapers are bleached with chlorine?
Good quality cloth diapers are a much more natural and non-toxic alternative, and honestly the number one reason why we decided to cloth diaper to begin with.
Cloth diapering aids in potty training and elimination communication
Here’s an aspect you might never have even thought of: cloth diapering can make it easier to potty train!
One of the great benefits of modern disposable diapers is how effectively they wick moisture away from baby’s skin. However, it’s also one of the great downfalls because your baby loses the connection between feeling the need to eliminate, and the subsequent wetness of their diaper. A cloth diaper on the other hand, while very absorbent, will still feel wet to your baby.
And if you haven’t heard of elimination communication, be sure to check out the video I’ve embedded below:
Pros and Cons of Cloth Diapering
Pros of cloth diapering
Saves you money
Healthier and more natural for baby
Makes potty training easier
Reduces landfill waste
Does not have to be an all-or-nothing commitment
Lots of modern cloth diapering options
Less messes/blowouts/leaks than disposables (in my experience)
Cons of cloth diapering
Less convenient – more frequent changes, more time-consuming, may be challenging on the go
One obvious downside to cloth diapering is undeniable: it’s less convenient than just whipping off a disposable diaper to toss in the trash.
Because they don’t wick as much moisture, you will likely have to change your baby more frequently, changing diapers may take a few seconds longer, and it can be challenging to maintain on the go.
Requires extra laundry
Cloth diapering also means more laundry (although you may be able to find cloth diaper laundering services in your area).
Because you need a solid stash of cloth diapers up front, you will have to spend a little more in the beginning. But you have to remember that the supplies you purchase will last you a long time–even through multiple children! Only a month or two of cloth diapering will easily pay for itself.
The Cloth Diapering System We Use
Since one of our top objectives is to save money, our family uses a combination of prefolds and waterproof covers. There are lots of options for cloth diapering, like pocket diapers with inserts, or all-in-ones, but they are considerably more pricey.
When our babies are first born, we don’t even bother with cloth diapers for the first few days. For one thing, newborns are so small that the bulky cloth diapers just don’t fit that well or comfortably. For another, our priority is recovering and bonding with baby, not changing a cloth diaper every 5 minutes (because that’s about how often a newborn poops). Then, once we’re ready…
We use a hybrid system for diapering. During the day, we cloth diaper pretty much exclusively.
However, we do use disposable diapers overnight. As long as baby doesn’t poop, a decent disposable should last you the whole night, which allows everyone a better night’s rest.
We also use disposables when traveling, and on some outings.
If I’m only leaving the house for a short time, or I’m going somewhere that I can easily change my baby’s cloth diapers, then I’ll just stick with cloth diapers. But if I know I’m going to be out for a while, doing lots of errands or what-have-you and don’t want to fool with cloth diapers, then I don’t! I’ll just use disposables for that occasion. (We can get away with buying only one “club size” box for an entire month– a little more than $20 vs. $80+).
The great thing is cloth diapering does not have to be all or nothing! You can find whatever system works for you based on your goals and priorities.
So here’s exactly what we use in our diaper stash.
Cloth Diapering Essentials to Start Your Diaper Stash
Prefolds (18-24 each size)
For a newborn (up to 15 lbs), we opted for this super-soft blend of unbleached organic cotton and bamboo.
Then for 15 lbs and up, we have 100% unbleached organic Indian cotton.
Waterproof covers (6-9 in rotation)
Buttons: Fits 9-35lbs. We were able to use them with our 8 lb newborn. Very sturdy and high quality. I especially like more contoured fit in the front of the waistband. While they are supposed to fit up to 35 lbs, I am not sure they will continue to fit over the larger size 2 prefolds as our baby grows. They are great if you use the prefolds like inserts (laying them flat in the bottom of the cover), but if you cloth diaper in the more traditional way, they may not work as long.
Thirsties: Size one fits 6-18lbs. Size two fits 18-40lbs. The material isn’t as heavy-duty feeling as Buttons, but seems to allow more freedom of movement, and is less bulky. We don’t have any size 2 Thirsties yet, but I’ll be ordering some soon to replace the large ones we have from Baby Tooshy.
Baby Tooshy (no longer available): These are supposed to be one-size-fits-all, but they are definitely on the large side. They work well over size 2 prefolds, but are not up to par with the Buttons and Thirsties covers we have. Will be replacing them soon with size 2 Thirsties.
Snappi: Great news, Mom Friend– no need for safety pins!!
A diaper pail: I use a super high-end plastic bucket. Okay, actually it cost less than $2 at Walmart. (you can add a reusable diaper pail liner if you want).
Wet bags: Great to keep in the diaper bag for dirty diapers and soiled clothes
Reusable wipes: Obviously, reusable wipes are totally optional, but they don’t require any extra work if you’re laundering cloth diapers anyway. I’ll get into the details of my super simple reusable wipe system later in the post.
Disposable diapers for nighttime
Hello Bello: I very much appreciate that Hello Bello diapers are plant-based, manufactured with 100% chlorine free processing from sustainably harvested wood pulp, and made without lotion, fragrance, or phthalates. And…they’re cheaper than even Pampers and Huggies.
How many cloth diapers do you need?
I recommend 18-24 prefolds. 18 minimum, but 24 would be better so that you have a little bit of a buffer while you’re doing the laundry (they can take a while to dry!)
How many diaper covers do you need?
I recommend 6 or more, but if your budget is very tight, you could probably get away with less to begin with and add to your stash as you’re able. As long as the cover doesn’t get poopy, you can keep reusing it.
Are there different sizes for cloth diapers?
The short answer is yes.
Some diapers come one-size-fits-all, but you have to consider… how well will a diaper that fits a 35 lb toddler fit your 7 lb newborn?
With a prefold + cover system, we’ve found a stash with two sizes works well.
We have prefolds that fit 7-15 lbs, and prefolds 15-30 lbs. (my 2.5 year old still isn’t 30 lbs, so hopefully you won’t need any larger!).
Some covers, like Thirsties, come in multiple sizes. Size 1 will get you up to 18 lbs. or 9 months, whichever comes first. Size 2 will take you up to 40 lbs.
Other covers, like Buttons, are one-size fits all (9-35lbs). They did pretty much fit our 8 lb. second baby, and of course, she grew into them comfortably in no time flat. (They also offer a smaller newborn size, and a “super” size that goes up to 40 lbs).
Personally, if I was starting my stash from scratch, I’d get size 1 and size 2 Thirsties covers rather than “one-size” covers.
How much does cloth diapering cost?
Obviously, prices will vary based on what supplies you purchase and in what quantities, but here’s a breakdown of what you might spend.
*Prices are USD from Amazon at the time this post was written in April 2021– Note that disposable diaper prices are expected to rise significantly by Fall of 2021.
**Breakdown assumes you choose to purchase two sizes of diaper covers, so bear that in mind if you’d prefer one-size-fits-all covers.
***I’m linking the exact items I have and use, so feel free to shop around for different supplies if you need.
18 Organic cotton size 1 prefold diapers – $8.87 per 6 pack (3 packs) : Total $26.91 (for size 1, I purchased bamboo/cotton blend prefolds from the same company, which cost more, but are worthwhile in my opinion)
6 size one diaper covers and 6 size two diaper covers – $15 each : $180 (you can always opt for one-size-fits all covers like these if you’re really on a shoe-string budget; you can also start with fewer and add to your stash as needed)
Wet bags (optional) – 2 pack : $9.59
Cloth wipes (optional) – 15 pack : $9.99
Glass Spray bottle for wipe solution (optional) – 2 pack : $19.89 (you can always use a spray bottle you already have, or opt for a plastic one if money is tight)
Dr. Bronner Baby Soap for wipe solution (optional) : $7.49
Bare minimum to start (size 1 prefolds, size 1 covers, Snappis, wet bags) : $136.45 (subtract wet bags if not needed)
Adding size 2 diapers and size 2 covers: $131.76
Cloth wipe supplies : $37.37
How much money does cloth diapering save?
*Prices are USD from Amazon at the time this post was written in April 2021– Note that disposable diaper prices are expected to rise significantly by Fall of 2021.
In comparison to the cost of cloth diapers:
198 Huggies Little Snugglers (size 1) : $46.70
198 Pampers Swaddlers (size 1) : $44.72
198 Pampers Pure (size 1) : $59.99
84 Huggies Special Delivery (size 1) : $30.49
160 Honest Company diapers (size 1) : $51.98
Keep in mind, babies use 12+ diapers per day, meaning you will need a minimum of 360 diapers every 30 days. (Personally, I think newborns easily go through more because they poop SO MUCH.)
You will need around 4,320 disposable diapers per year. That’s easily over $1000 per year in disposable diapers!!
Diapers also get more expensive each time you size up, and you get fewer per box.
Are prefold cloth diapers hard to use?
You might be worried about having to do origami around a wiggling baby with every diaper change, but not to fear!
While you can certainly get fancy with your folds, there are lots of very basic folds you can use, and even safety pins are a thing of the past! You can even just fold your prefold into a flat pad, lay it in the diaper cover, and close that around your baby (although it’s a little messier, it’s daddy friendly!).
Here’s a super helpful video from Youtube with 5 easy ways to fold a prefold diaper:
Do cloth diapers leak?
While it depends on how you choose to fold/fasten your cloth prefolds, in my experience, they leak far less than disposables!!
What other accessories do you need to cloth diaper?
My favorite accessory is the Snappi, which completely replaces safety pins. You also may want wet bags if you cloth diaper on the go, and a simple pail for storing dirty diapers in the nursery or bathroom.
Do you have to use clothespins with prefold cloth diapers?
Nope! You can if you want to, but you may prefer to opt for alternatives like the Snapi or Boingo.
What do you use overnight?
While plenty of cloth diaperers do have a system for cloth diapering overnight, our family chooses to just use a disposable diaper (we like Hello Bello).
Can you use cloth diapers for outings and travel?
You definitely can, but keep in mind that they may need to be changed more frequently than disposable diapers, and you will need a way to wash them if you are traveling for more than a day or two.
How to Use Cloth Wipes
Since I’m laundering cloth diapers anyway, it’s a no brainer for me to also use cloth wipes!
I do so primarily to have a non-toxic option for cleaning my baby, but it certainly saves a lot of money as well.
And my system is about as simple as it gets!
I have THESE flannel cloth wipes, and I keep them–dry–in a basket next to the changing pad.
When I need to wipe baby’s bottom, I spritz the wipe right then and there so that it’s not sitting around in water for days (and I don’t have to worry about including an antifungal, or wringing out the extra water).
The spray is super basic: just a couple tablespoons of Dr. Bronner’s baby soap (which is all organic oils) and then I fill the rest of the 16 oz. spray bottle with water.
I actually think it’s quicker to spritz a cloth than try to shake a disposable wipe out of the package with one hand (you know what I’m talking about!?).
Initially I started with reusable baby wipes primarily so that I would know exactly what was going on my baby’s skin, but it turns out I really prefer them!
They’re so much more effective than packaged wipes.
I do keep disposable wipes in our diaper bag, but eventually I’d like to put a travel size spritzer bottle of my wipe solution and cloth wipes in our bag.
Cloth wipe supplies list
Dr. Bronner’s Baby Soap
Unbleached flannel wipe
How to Clean and Care for Soiled Cloth Diapers
For the first zero to six months, caring for your cloth diapers is as easy as it gets. After your baby starts eating solids, you may need to add an extra step, but it’s really not too much of a hassle.
What do you do with the dirty cloth diapers?
Your cloth diapers go from your baby’s bum into a pail (yes, even the poopy ones), and then you can dump the pail straight into your washer.
I’ve seen some people keep a wet pail for poopy diapers (meaning they pre-soak them before washing), but the brand of diapers I chose specifically says that they don’t need to be soaked.
How do you wash and dry cloth diapers?
I wash the prefolds and covers together on warm with a vinegar rinse cycle.
You can use a baby detergent or natural detergent if you want, but you can use your normal detergent (unless the prefolds you buy say otherwise). I’d suggest at least choosing an unscented free-and-clear detergent.
Before I added the vinegar rinse, I felt like the prefolds held a little bit of an odor, but the vinegar seems to have fixed that. (NEVER use fabric softener because it can build up in the diapers. Besides, if you have quality diapers, they will be super soft on their own.)
I hang-dry the waterproof covers, and dry the prefolds in the dryer on low (sometimes I need to add more time at the end if they are still a tad damp).
How do you care for waterproof diaper covers?
Like I said, I warm-wash my diaper covers right along with the prefolds.
Most that I’ve seen say you can dry them in the dryer on low, but I choose to air dry them.
They dry really quickly on their own, and I feel like it helps them to last way longer.
I have not had any damage from wear and tear to date– the covers are all still pristine, and I really do think its from hang-drying them.
Do you need to rinse the poop off of cloth diapers?
As long as your baby is exclusively milk-fed (breast or formula), the poop is water-soluble and can easily be handled by your washing machine (no, it does not leave poop in your washer, don’t worry!)
Once your baby begins eating solids, their poop will become more solid, and you don’t want to put solid poops in your washer. However, you should easily be able to shake them off into the toilet. If you didn’t notice that your little one pooped, and it winds up getting all smeared around the diaper, you can use the sprayer on your shower head to help clean off the diaper, and/or you may also want to soak it before washing it in your machine.
Are cloth diapers only for exclusively breastfed babies?
Nope! As long as your baby is on a milk-only diet, the poopy diapers can still go straight to the washer. If the poop is more solid, you can shake it off into the toilet first. However, both breastmilk poop and formula-fed poop is water-soluble, meaning your washing machine can handle it no-problemo.
Can I still cloth diaper once my baby starts eating solids?
Yes! However, your laundering routine will have to adjust slightly. Once your baby starts on solids, their poop will start to become more solid and will need to be shaken out of the diaper into the toilet first.
But here’s a cool story. I can count on one hand the number of poopy diapers I had to deal with between when our first baby started eating solids (and having solid poops) and when she was potty trained. We very loosely practice elimination communication (which is a fancy name for paying attention to our baby’s potty signals). By the time she started having solid poops, we could very easily recognize her pooping face and put her on her plastic potty. We only had a couple of misses ever! I know that might sound weird and super crunchy, but it was way easier than you’re probably thinking and seriously, it kept me from having to fool with cleaning poop out of the diapers.
Other Cloth Diapering Tips for Success
Don’t cheap out!
This was the biggest mistake I made the first time around; I thought if my goal was to save money that I should save as much money as humanly possible.
I didn’t do much research, just picked up the prefolds I thought would be the cheapest. They were bleached, scratchy, and didn’t absorb very much. And it turns out…they actually didn’t cost much less than just buying good quality ones! Ouch.
It’s 100% worth getting good quality cloth diapers. After all, your baby will be living in them for the first 1-2+ years.
Pre-wash and dry your prefolds
Make sure you check the instructions for the prefolds you choose. Some come pre-washed and ready to go, and others, like the ones I’ve linked, will need to be washed and dried 2-3 times before using for maximum absorbency.
Size up clothing and choose pieces with easy closures
Cloth diapers are definitely a little bulky, so opt for clothing 1-2 sizes bigger than you would otherwise need.
Cute little multi-piece outfits are great for photos and showing baby off in public, but they won’t be very practical around the house, especially pants.
In warm weather, you can go with simple onesies, or just let them lounge around the house in just the cloth diapers. In cooler weather, I recommend single piece jammies, whether footed or foot-less. One piece jammies that either snap or can be unzipped from the feet are best because then you don’t have to strip baby down completely for the frequent diaper changes.
Make it easy on yourself and make it work for you
With my personality, I tend to approach things with an all-or-nothing mentality. Maybe you’re the same, and you’re feeling like you’ve got to launch into cloth diapering all-in 24-7 from day one through the rest of forever.
My number one tip for cloth diapering success is to find an approach that works for your family with your lifestyle. I’ve seen some people just cloth diaper in the warm/summer months. Some cloth diaper part of the day, and some really do go all-in and exclusively cloth diaper.
You need to remember that there are no cloth diaper police coming to get you if you don’t do it “right.”
Are Cloth Diapers Worth the Hassle?
In my opinion, the benefits of cloth diapers definitely outweigh any inconveniences.
Can they be a pain in the butt sometimes? …yeah.
But the great thing is, cloth diapering doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Sometimes I forget to put them in the wash before bed. Sometimes I’m having a rough day and just need to take cloth diapering off my plate. Keeping a backup stash of disposable diapers makes cloth diapering more sustainable for us!
I love that cloth diapering is safer and more natural on my baby’s skin, and I especially love that when my baby poops 3.7 seconds after I’ve put a brand new diaper on her bum, it doesn’t cost me anything.
In addition, I’m creating way less garbage, and it helps with my longer-term goal of ‘early’ potty learning.
Now I want to hear from you!
Are you giving cloth diapers a try? Is there anything you’ve learned about cloth diapers that really surprised you?
And if I missed anything, shoot me an email with your question at [email protected] and I’ll answer you ASAP!
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