Cloth Diapering 101
Welcome to the modern age of cloth diapering!
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Cloth Diaper Systems Explained!
An AIO is generally viewed as a diaper that needs nothing else and is very similar to a disposable. The soaker is either sewn internally or externally (referred to as a quick dry soaker) and can close with snaps or Velcro (Velcro is a trademark but there are two other similar products: aplix (softer, long life, doesn’t roll in like touchtape can) or touchtape (stronger stick and available in a variety of colors) ).
An AIO does not require a cover. An AIO with an internal soaker will have a longer drying time because the air cannot circulate around the hidden material.
An external soaker, referred to as a Quick Dry (QD) soaker, allows for air to circulate around the soaker when drying, therefore quicker dry time. The addition of a pocket to an AIO makes it a Stuffable AIO.
An AI2 has a snap in or lay in soaker . The name All in Two arose from the ability to get two uses out of each diaper. When your child pees, theoretically you can remove the soaker and replace it with another if the shell did not get wet. AI2s also have a much faster drying time because the soaker is external.
A pocket diaper usually does not require a cover. The exception would be a fitted that has a pocket. A pocket can be made with a PUL (polyurethane laminate) or fleece outer.
The outer can also be any material backed or lined in PUL. Minky is lusciously soft and many makers offer this fabric for their pocket diapers.
The inner material choices for a pocket include: microfleece, suedecloth, velour, athletic wicking material, minky, cotton or bamboo. Different materials will feel different on the baby when wet. Of the fabrics listed above, microfleece, suedecloth and athletic wicking material are considered “stay dry”. This means baby feels dry after a pee.
A pocket diaper is 2 layers of material sewn together on 3 sides leaving an opening for you to insert the amount of absorbent material you desire. The insert can range from a very trim microfiber towel to a bulkier infant prefold. Another popular insert material is hemp. Hemp is a natural fiber that is antimicrobial and extremely absorbent as well. Infant prefolds do double duty as an insert as well. Simply trifold the prefold and stuff the pocket. For added absorbency wrap the prefold around one of the above inserts.
A fitted diaper is a diaper that contains no waterproof layer therefore requires a cover. Fitted diapers are the easiest to make on your own because they can be made from any material you have laying around your house.
Fitted diapers can be made from cotton, hemp, fleece, velour, bamboo, knits, various types of terry cloth, kitchen towels, old t-shirts, sweatshirts and many other scrap fabrics you may have laying around. Fitteds are kind of like quiche…toss in any leftovers and out comes a great product!
Without a cover the pee will soak through and get you or the furniture wet. If you are just hanging out at the house for the day a cover isn’t necessary. Just make sure to consistently change the diaper before a leak occurs.
You will undoubtedly stumble upon fitted cloth diapers and ask yourself the same question everyone asks at one time or another, “why are fitteds so expensive and cute when you just have to cover them up?” Many factors go into the answer but just think of it like a good wine or expensive pair of shoes…you often get what you pay for.
Prefolds are an absolute staple that every mother should have in her basket. They are amazingly durable and versatile. A prefold diaper is a rectangular piece of cloth divided into 3 sections. The outside layers contain 4 layers of fabric and the middle contains either 6 or 8 layers. The middle layer is the absorbent layer. You will see the prefolds described as 4x8x4 or 4x6x4. This describes the number of layers in the sections. It does not always mean the 4x8x4 are more absorbent. It is the weight of the fabric that indicates absorbency.
You will find some variations to the number of layers especially if you are purchasing specialized prefolds made with bamboo or velour. In some cases there may be 2 layers of bamboo with an extra layer of hemp in the middle.
Bamboo is a highly absorbent material, therefore needing fewer layers than cotton prefolds. This allows for a trimmer fit as well. It comes down to what you want to pay and how soft a fabric you desire.
Prefolds generally come in three sizes-
Infant (newborn to 15 pounds) &
Premium/Toddler (15 - 30 pounds)
There is also the choice of bleached or unbleached. Bleached prefolds are not whitened with bleach but rather with peroxide. Unbleached are in a natural cream colored state. Unbleached do require extra prep time to remove the natural oils in the fibers.
Prefolds can be pinned or snappied on your baby or you can fold it in 3 (trifold) and lay it in a cover. If you choose to use a different system prefolds can still be used as pocket stuffers or doublers. They are an investment worth making.
Flat diapers are large squares of single-layer material; typically made from Birdseye weave cotton. They can be folded a number of ways in order to fit your baby and require fastening with either pins or a Snappi. Check this out for a few of my favorite posts on flats.
Choose a system! (answering yes to the questions indicates that you would like that system)
Pockets: Do you want to stuff diapers before use? Do you want the versatility to make it a nighttime diaper?
All In Ones (AIO): Do you want the diaper ready to go straight out of the dryer? Do you mind having a diaper that most likely will not work at night? Will you line dry? Do you mind a diaper that takes a bit longer to dry?
Prefolds or Flats and covers: Do you want a simple, no snaps, no elastic system? Do you need to save money and go the cheapest route? Will you travel a lot? Will you be in a foreign country? Will you be without a washer and/or dryer? Do you prefer an all natural fiber system?
Hybrids: Do you want the option of using cloth and disposable inserts interchangeably?
All In Twos (AI2): Do you want to change just the snap-in insert every change? Do you travel or camp often? Do you need to save space?
Evaluate the size and shape of your baby and compare your choices to Best Cloth Diaper for Your Baby’s Body.
One size or sized:
One size: Do you want a diaper to last from 10-35lbs (estimate)? Do you plan on diapering more than one child at the same time?
Sized: Do you want a snug fit? Do you prefer not to see rows of snaps? (many os have internal adjustments)
Choose Dirty Diaper Storage
Wet pail: Do you like the idea of soaking diapers before washing? Are you okay with the potential risk it poses?
Dry pail: Do you want to use an easy to open trash can with a pail liner?
Wet bag: Do you want a bag you can travel with or leave at home? Do you want something you can zip up? Do you want a cute, stylish print?
Is the detergent you are using safe for cloth diapers?
Prepping Cloth Diapers
Prepping is so important! This is because it is the process that allows your cloth diapers to reach their full absorbency. Prepping also rinses away residues from natural fibers that can deposit on other diapers and cause repelling (which means leaks). Oddly enough, most companies don’t include prepping instructions with new cloth diapers. A little work in the beginning results in better results from your cloth diapers in the long run. Check out our Recommendations Page to see some excellent detergent options for your cloth diapers.
Prepping Synthetic Fibers (Microfiber, Pocket Diapers or Shells with microfleece or suede cloth linings)
The official recommendation is to wash one time with detergent, dry and use. These can be washed with your other cloth diaper laundry as there are no natural oils that can be transferred. Unofficially, I don’t prep pocket diapers or shells. I just throw them on the bum. Some people like to wash all new stuff at least once, (which I guess I should to remove anything left over from the manufacturing process) but I just don’t bother with these.
Prepping Natural Fibers (Cotton, Hemp, Bamboo)
These should be washed separately from your other cloth diapers and other new diapers that aren’t natural fibers. This is because there is a natural residue or oil that these naturally grown fibers contain. If initially washed with other diapers the residue will deposit on them and possibly reduce absorbency. You should wash with a small amount of detergent at least 3 times separately. (This means no throwing any shells or synthetic fiber inserts in!)
While you can begin using natural fibered cloth diapers after the first 3 washes, they may not reach full absorbency until 6-8 wash and dry cycles. This is because the repeated washings basically fluff and pull apart the internal layers allow them to absorb more. Again, because I get impatient and I am excited to use my new stuff, I start using on the bum at this point. Because these more than likely haven’t reached their full absorbency yet I use them around the house during the day until they have gone through a few more wash cycles.
People always ask if you HAVE to dry between each washing. Yes and no. What I mean is that you probably don’t have to, but I think it helps increase absorbency faster. I dry between wash cycles, but you won’t ruin anything if you don’t. (edited: It just may take longer for everything, especially prefolds, to reach maximum absorbency).
This is not an exact science. You will not know the exact moment when all of your diapers have reached their maximum absorbency. If something is new and you use it and it leaks, just wash it a few more times. Chances are it just isn’t quite there yet. But if you have washed something more than 8-10 times and it still leaks, something else might be the cause. Check out this link to see if there is another solution for you.
You might be wondering what to do if you just have one or two things to prep. Simple! Just throw in your next wash of regular clothes. If you normally add fabric softeners, just skip it on that load. After you can either just start using them (remember it won’t be at full absorbency yet) or continue to wash in with the rest of your cloth diaper laundry.
Top 10 Tips For Washing Cloth Diapers!
1. Don’t be scared of washing cloth diapers. As a mom, you will soon realize there are many things that are FAR worse and WAY grosser than washing cloth diapers. I promise.
2. Take a minute and breathe. Do a little research. Read the user’s manual for your machine. It pretty much lays out the best way to clean stuff right there in black and white. If you don’t have yours anymore, just google the washer’s model number + manual. Take the info you find, use common sense and apply.
3. Try to keep your wash routine as simple as possible. Start with what ever detergent you are using on your clothing. If it turns out it’s not working on your cloth diapers you can always switch to something else. Simplicity is key when you are a parent.
4. Use a prerinse/wash that agitates, spins and drains. If it isn’t doing those things, it’s kind of a waste. The agitation helps to knock the big stuff off and gives your main wash a head start on cleaning. If you have issues with stink or rashes, try adding a bit of detergent to the prewash. I am a Tide user and add a scoop filled to the one line to a large load during the prewash. This is not something that is necessary for everyone but does work in some situations.
5. Use the LONGEST available HOT wash cycle. The longer agitation allows the detergent and machine time to do its job. This might be the heavy duty cycle for instance. If you have a heavily soiled option on your machine, use it. I think we can all agree if anything qualifies as heavily soiled…it’s cloth diapers!
6. Use an appropriate amount of water for the load size. The diapers need to rub against each other as part of the cleaning process. If you use too much water they are just going for a swim; too little water and they won’t be able to move and therefor won’t get clean. A wash cycle should look like a stew, not a soup.
7. Use an appropriate amount of detergent. Soft water requires a little less and hard water requires a little more. I recommend that you start with the same amount of detergent for cloth diapers that you would use for a same size load of heavily soiled clothing. One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to detergent amounts is not actually measuring. You could be using way less or way more than you think. Use the included scoop or lid and measure! If you have hard water and find that you are getting stink issues…try adding a little more detergent to the main wash cycle and see if it makes a difference before trying anything crazy. Sometimes the simplest solution is the right one.
8. Don’t overload your washing machine. Consult the manual if you have questions on how to load your machine (trust me, there is a right way) and also the max capacity. An overfilled washer will not clean properly.
9. Clean cloth diapers should NOT smell. If you smell anything yucky out of the washer, dryer or immediately after a child urinates, there is a problem. Check that you are doing the above tips. If you have further issues, reach out for help.
10. There is no ONE right way to clean cloth diapers. Clean cloth diapers are dependent on many different factors including water type, washing machine type, detergent, type of cloth diapers being washed and the wash routine itself. Because of this, there are MANY ways that will work even with the same exact machine. As with anything in life, you may have to research and experiment a little to find what will work best for you and your family.
For more information on washing diapers, go here.
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