Adventures in Cloth Diapering: The Good, The Not-So-Good and Everything in Between

About 10 months ago we welcomed our little Marlee into the world and had decided beforehand to go the cloth diapering route.  It seemed a natural choice for us since we had already chosen a midwife and were having our baby at home, that we would also choose diapers that were gentle and natural.  By that point we were used to all the criticisms and puzzled looks about our parenting decisions, and we knew we would be saving a lot of money with cloth diapers, so we just kind of smiled and shrugged off all the negative comments.  It helped tremendously that we knew a couple of families that had used cloth diapers with their babies and had really good experiences, and I think it is interesting that more people I know now are choosing or thinking about choosing cloth diapers for their babies.

unbleached prefold with snappi

What you’ll need

The world of cloth diapers can be a little overwhelming at first- even confusing.  It is definitely not the same as our grandmothers used, but I’d like to try and simplify it and encourage anyone thinking about using cloth diapers.  There are 3 basic kinds of cloth diapers: Prefolds, All-in-Ones (AIO), and Pocket.  Prefolds are like the kind your grandmother might have used, which require something to secure it closed and a waterproof cover.  AIO diapers are just like disposable diapers except you wash them instead of throw them away, and pocket diapers are similar to AIO except that you have a soaker pad that inserts in the diaper that you can take out with each change. (For a really extensive list on all types of cloth diapers and terms go here).

I found AIO and pocket diapers to be pretty expensive, especially since you’ll need anywhere from 18-30 diapers.  So at $15-$25 a pop that could really take a chunk out of your budget.  Unbleached Indian Prefolds ($1.90-$2.90 each) were what we chose because we didn’t want to spend a fortune, and actually we have been very happy with them!  A lot of people shy away from them because they think it will be complicated to fold it and secure it, but I have found that it really is very simple and the leakage protection is superb (compared to the AIO and disposable diapers that we have tried).  However a friend recommended Kushies brand AIO diapers to me and we liked those a lot too, and MUCH less expensive for a AIO.

Bulk pricing at the store we bought our prefolds at started at 25 diapers so we got 25 infant size (7-15lb) and 25 of the larger size (15-30 lb).  25 has been a good number because I don’t have to wash them every day but sometimes every other day.  You really don’t need more than 30 or so because then you end up washing them way too infrequently and trust me, that is NOT a good thing!  I wouldn’t wait more than 2 days before washing your cloth diapers.

The modern version of the safety pin is called Snappi.  They are great.  I’d get several though because I’ve already lost a few (probably ended up in the trash which is right next to the changing table.)  The other two must haves for cloth diapering are a waterproof wet bag (with a closure) to put your dirty diapers in and laundry detergent especially for cloth diapers (not the kinds you buy at the grocery store).  I really like Allens.  The 5lb powdered kind last several months, so even though its about $20 for one box, it lasts a really long time and a better value compared to the Allens liquid detergent.

Of course, you’ll also need some waterproof covers (if you’re going with prefolds) at least 2, but 3 or 4 is better.  You can reuse them, but if they have a particularly messy diaper (and sometimes they have more than 1 a day) you need to put it away to be washed with the diapers.  I have loved my Thirsties covers.  (Tip: Get the snaps- the Velcro closure on the covers tend to attract lint and hair and they all stick together in the dryer!)

wearing her Thirsties striped cover

Newborns and Nighttime

Marlee was almost 7lb when she was born and even though the infant size diapers were for babies starting at 7 lb they still swallowed her whole.  It wasn’t until a few weeks later that we could even attempt to put them on and have them fit OK (they were still big!)  That being said we did use disposable diapers at first, and I think it was a good thing because those first few days and weeks are challenging (to say the least) and I think it would have been hard adding in a cumbersome prefold and washing responsibilities.  Eventually she settled into them nicely.  She grew and it was after many episodes of leaks and struggling to fit them around her that I realized she was ready to move up to the next size, including new sized covers.

At first, we were up all day and night with her and changing her diaper frequently, but once she began to grow and sleep for longer periods of time through the night we noticed the cloth diapers were just not cutting it as far as absorption goes.  Cloth diapers don’t do well for babies who can sleep all night long or close to it, at least that is what we have found with the prefolds.  If you find yourself there you can do a couple things: double-up on the prefolds or use a prefold and a soaker pad in the middle OR use disposables at night.  We just decided to use disposables at night.  Cloth diapers need to be changed frequently because they lack the wicking properties of the technologically advanced disposable diapers.

Cloth Diapers and Clothes

As you can imagine, cloth diapers are bulkier than disposable diapers, so you’ll need to keep that in mind when buying all those adorable outfits you know you must have.  It helps to have clothes in a size up from where they are at, but really truly every baby is different so this may not even apply.  Some babies are very petite and some are chunky monkeys!  Marlee is a little chunker and has been wearing 12 month clothes for a while now, but I’m so glad she’s a girl because I can just put a dress on her and not have to worry about her bulky cloth diaper at all!  Cold winter days have proved to be difficult though because it’s so hard getting pants to fit her!  In that case we’ll just use a disposable.  We try to be flexible.

Onesies that snap at the bottom can be challenging as well since it might not fit around her and the cloth diaper, or it might be tight.  We had received a whole bunch of plain white onesies (we didn’t know if she was a boy or girl) and when she was little and the cloth diapers were still so big on her, I just cut off straight across at the bottom of the onesie to get rid of the snaps.  Then she ended up having a bunch of little white t-shirts.  This helped a lot!  


Breastfed babies are a joy in so many ways!  One of which is that their diapers don’t smell as much as non-breastfed babies.  Also the mess on their dirty diapers does not have to be “pre-cleaned” before you wash it.  Just do one cycle in your washing machine of a cold rinse (no soap) and then when its done turn it to hot and add your cloth diaper detergent.  No pre-soaking in a wet bag and no swishing around in the toilet!  Just another great thing about breastfeeding!

Is it worth it?

I would say yes, it is.  We sort of use both disposable and cloth and I know we could save even more by only using cloth, but you kind of have to keep your sanity too.  There are days though, when she goes through so many diapers and I am SO glad I don’t have to run out and buy another big box of diapers.  It really is nice.  And as far as the “ew” factor- it’s not a big deal.  Your husband will most likely say otherwise, but as a Mama, it’s nothing.  

If you are considering cloth diapering, I hope this has helped you in some way!  And we are still learning!  If you have any great advice about cloth diapering, feel free to comment and let me know!

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Booksphotographsandartwork
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 16:55:43

    Good for you! When I heard that it takes 500 years for a disposable diaper to break down in the landfill I was saddened by having added to that. I tired the old fashioned diapers when my daughter wash young but after I had stopped breast feeding. It was an awful nightmare. So when my daughter in law said she was going to do it I almost told her she was crazy.

    She uses a fitted overdiaper that her mom made. She made a ton of them. It has elastic sides and then she used inserts. And she is still breastfeeding at 5 five months so it’s much easier.

    When I was a young mother we were taught to swish the diaper around in the toilet and let it soak in a bucket. Trust me that was the worst thing ever to deal with and after awhile I didn’t.


    • thegentlehome
      Jan 10, 2012 @ 18:46:44

      Thanks! I’m sorry you didn’t have the greatest experience, but that’s good you gave it a try. It’s so amazing all the stuff they have now, and you definitely don’t have to swish it around in the toilet anymore! Breastfeeding makes life easy- I wish every mother would commit wholeheartedly to it! But even when they are on solids or formula, they have these awesome things you can use- bioliners. The liners go inside the cloth diaper and so when they poop you just take out the liner and flush it down the toilet! No swishing, no soaking- so easy! When Marlee gets to that point I think I will be using those.


  2. Booksphotographsandartwork
    Jan 14, 2012 @ 23:28:30

    As an encouragement to other mothers who might have a difficult time breastfeeding, my daughter and I both had huge challenges to overcome. She didn’t have enough milk so she had to pump. It seemed as if that was all she ever did. But eventually it paid off and she started producing enough milk.

    I was very very sick with asthma and taking many meds. I breastfeed anyway. I have even breastfed on a gurney in the emergency room and in a hospital room. If you really want to do it bad enough you will find a way. So I would like to encourage every new mom to try anything it takes to make it work. It is so worth it.


    • thegentlehome
      Jan 15, 2012 @ 01:37:08

      Wow what great encouragement! That is amazing what you did! Thanks for sharing. It makes me so sad to hear when women just give up and say, “well I guess I just can’t breastfeed…”


  3. Ariel Havanah
    Jan 16, 2012 @ 03:34:47

    Thank you for sharing! All of this is very informative. I’ve considered doing cloth diapers as well. So it’s good to know I have somewhere to look when that time comes 😀


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