“I would never cloth diaper,” A friend of mine scoffed beside me.
We sat awkwardly at a small table, attending a baby shower of an acquaintance.
“It’s just gross,” she stuck out her tongue and made a face. I was slightly taken aback at the judgmental tone in her voice. She continued, “They are kind of like that anyway; all earth-friendly and whatever. You know the type?”
I nodded silently, my eyes distant and falling on the mother to be; off in a corner, chatting happily with another gal. I imagined her folding a large square thin sheet of some organic cotton material, diaper pins everywhere, handling poop and a screaming baby. Yuck.
Fast forward three years and I am sitting at a computer desk, a few months pregnant, and my gift registry on the screen in front of me. Concentrated, I sifted through endless blogs, reviews and lists for what to add. I was obsessed and my main obsession was cloth diapering. I was shocked that my preconceived notions and snap judgements couldn’t be more wrong. I would save thousands? It’s not that hard? There’s cute colors?
I read through countless blogs: Cloth Diapering 101, Cloth Diapering for Beginners, Everything You Need to Know About Cloth Diapering etc. etc.; every Pinterest blog and article I could find. I watched hour long videos on all the different types in my spare time, I started a few Google docs on my game plan and took notes. Finally, I added a few to my registry.
I was told: “I’ll give you two weeks and you’ll give that up.” “Yeah right, my friend tried that and it didn’t work out. She did the research too.” “You’re not cloth diapering while I’m there visiting!”
In the end, cloth diapering was a piece of cake. I truly believe if more people knew how to cloth diaper, than most would do it!
Cloth Diapers 101, The Complete Guide For Beginners
While I was researching, I was frustrated that everything wasn’t in one place. Here, I want to change that. We’re going to go over the basics: Cloth Diapering 101. I’ll also let you know what system worked for me and why I recommend it.
The 5 types of cloth diaper “systems”
1. DIAPER COVERS (Shell)
Popular Brands: Blueberry, Thirsties, Flip, Alva, Rumparooz
Notes: Diaper covers are a “shell” with what is called “PUL”: water resistant fabric. Diaper covers require any one of the cloth diaper “guts” from the section below and are a two piece system.
My Preference: Blueberry Capri & Alva. This system is my absolute preference because it’s the least expensive and most flexible. I have tried out all the popular diaper cover brands and Blueberry was the best (hands down) when I used fitted diapers (and the cover over them). I never had a leak! As Mae got older and started eating solids, I switched out of fitteds and into prefolds used as an insert. I was surprised that with this method, I actually preferred the $3.80 Alva Baby Diaper cover compared to the $19.95 Blueberry cover!
2. POCKET DIAPERS
Popular Brands: Rumparooz, Alva Baby, BumGenious, Thirsties
Notes: Pocket diapers usually come with an insert you slide in. But you can buy your own inserts or prefolds to stuff inside. A pocket diaper works like a pillowcase: there is an opening on one end and you stuff the insert inside.
My Preference: Alva Baby. I use pocket diapers exclusively for night time. I like the flexibility of being able to stuff extra padding in there because at three months old, Mae was sleeping through the night twelve hours plus! The Alva Baby diapers do come with their own inserts but most people buy their own because theirs are a little on the flimsy side. For night time, I use Blueberry Bamboo + a Blueberry Capri insert. Pocket diapers seem to be one of the most popular diaper systems. I decided to do covers + prefolds as an insert rather than pockets because pockets are like an AIO where you’d have to buy as many pocket diapers as diaper changes (24 +) for 2- 3 days (if you launder every other day). With covers, I just have to buy 8 covers and 24 inserts and I’m good to go.
3. ALL IN ONE (AIO)
Popular Brands: BumGenious, Blueberry, Thirsties
Notes: All in ones or AIOs are the premium diaper. There are absolutely no steps: no stuffing or inserts. AIOS are one piece just like disposables. They are usually more expensive than other cloth diaper systems (but still cheaper than disposables!) and take longer to dry. This system can be really nice for babysitters, relatives and your significant other who wants a quick diaper change without any other step with the diaper.
My Preference: BumGenious Freetime. I loved the idea of the AIO but they take a day to dry which means more diapers need to be purchased and they are very pricey! I purchased the Freetime and felt like it was a beautiful, fancy diaper that I didn’t want to get dirty!
4. HYBRID // ALL IN TWO (AI2)
Popular Brands: GroVia, SoftBums, Flip
Notes: All in twos or AI2s are like lined diaper covers with a snap in insert. I was not attracted to this system because I did not like the idea of having to buy the specific brand’s inserts for the diaper to work. But recently I saw an entire AI2 SoftBums diaper system at a thrift store for a dollar a piece in brand new condition! Someone snagged an entire system up for $20! It’s definitely worth it if you find a deal like that.
My Preference: I don’t have a preference with this system because I never used it, though it’s the closest to the system I use: covers + inserts. The only difference is that I buy other inserts that are not specific to the diaper cover brand. Some people do classify covers + inserts as an AI2 system like the Flip.
5. WOOL COVERS
Popular Brands: Woolybottoms hybrid soaker, Disana Woolen Overpants, Imse Vimse Wool Cover, Aristocrats Diaper Cover, Sustainablebabyish Knit Wool Cover, Etsy Wool Covers
Notes: Wool covers are outside covers and are used with any one of the “guts” below (like the fitteds). They are a more breathable natural fiber that reduced rashes and adjusts to baby’s body temperature in summer and winter. Wool holds three times it’s weight in urine before feeling wet and contains anti-bacterial lanolin which means it is self cleaning. You only have to wash when soiled with poo. Crazy, huh?! Wool covers usually do not come “lanolinized” and you need buy lanolin (and lanoln enriched eucalan) to soak and prep the wool covers. Wool diaper covers are classified as “longies” when they are pants style, “shorties” when they are a shorts length style and “covers” when they are regular diaper length.
My Preference: I have done a ton of reading on wool covers and saved a few super cute Etsy ones. I also love the idea of longies in the winter. I haven’t pulled the trigger on wool covers because the system we have now is working great, and we are on a budget (we are very selective about purchasing stuff we don’t absolutely need). I have been so, so close to buying these!
(Click here to visit Nicki’s Diapers)
The 4 types of cloth diaper “guts” (all require a cover)
Popular Brands: Osocozy, Nikki’s Flats
Notes: Flats are large square pieces of fabric that can be folded in a variety of ways. This is your basic, old-school way of cloth diapering. You will need a clothes pin, or a Snappi (these are amazing!) to close them together as well as a cover or shell. There are a variety of fold types you can try as well.
My Preference: I haven’t used flats because, to me, there are much quicker, simpler and modern ways of cloth diapering BUT there are many moms who love them! If you are new to cloth diapering, I would advice buying a different system and trying these on the side because they do require a few extra steps that might not be for you (especially with a squirming baby or when you are exhausted and trying to figure out the fold!).
Popular Brands: Osocozy, Nikki’s Diapers, Green Mountain Diapers Prefolds
Notes: Prefolds are very similar to flats, except they are doubled up with an additional layer sewn down the middle. You need a diaper cover or pocket diaper over them. These are a more modern version of the old school flat. Prefolds can be folded in half (colored seam to colored seam for girls) or trifolded (for boys) as an extremely effective and cost effective insert with a diaper cover or pocket diaper. Like flats, you can also fold them up over your baby old-school-like (a very popular fold is the jelly roll fold and angel fold) and snap them together with a clothes pin or Snappi.
My Preference: Nicki’s GreatFit Prefolds – Bamboo 6 packs x4. I purchased the small size and even practiced my folds on a stuffed bunny before Mae was born. Haha. I had it down! But then she was born a little over 5 Ibs. and was too small for the small size prefolds (I needed to buy the newborn size)! Plus, I found the folding way too much work and fuss, especially with the lack of sleep! I switched to fitted diapers with a cover and actually came back to prefolds once Mae started eating solids. Though this time, I used the prefold as and insert and folded them in half. Mae is almost 10 months old and the small size fits perfectly into the Alva Baby cover. This turned out to be my favorite system.
3. FITTED DIAPER
Popular Brands: Cloth-eez Workhorse, sustainablebabyish, THX
Notes: Fitted diapers are like a disposable and even come with velcro tabs! Though you do need a cover. You can buy fitteds without snaps and use a Snappi to close them for a more adjustable fit or velcro (though velcro becomes less tacky with time and erodes).
My Preference: Cloth-eez Workhorse x20 newborn (orange stitching) and small (yellow stitching). I LOVED these and got tons of compliments with how they worked. Newborn poo is runny and becomes more solid when switching to solid food at about six months. Because of the runny poo, many moms battle “blowout” diapers and leaks, especially when there is poo + urine that makes it extra runny. (I know, kinda gross). During this stage, I tried ALL KINDS of cloth diapers, even the systems where I read moms saying they never had a blowout or leak! But ALL leaked at least a little. For me, fitteds NEVER leaked. They were the absolute best!!! These can be kind of pricey, so if this is a limiting factor for you, see the “shop discounts” section below. I used the newborn fitteds and the small fitteds, then I switched to prefolds as an insert + covers after Mae started eating solids.
Popular Brands: Naturally Natures, Blueberry Capri Inserts, Blueberry Bamboo Insert
Notes: Inserts are used with a cover or pocket diaper. Most cloth diaper companies who make covers or pockets, also make their own brand of inserts.
My Preference: Blueberry Capri Inserts. When looking at which type of insert to buy, I felt a little overwhelmed because there are so many choices. Blueberry Capri Inserts are very expensive but when looking through other blogs and testimonials, I found this brand to be the most absorbent. When Mae was 0-6 months, for night-time, I would use the Workhorse fitted + Blueberry Newborn Cover and a Blueberry Capri Insert for night-time. Now, after six months, I use an Alva Baby pocket diaper + Blueberry Capri Insert + Blueberry Bamboo Insert. Sometimes, at night, I exchange the Blueberry Capri Insert for a Naturally Natures insert (when I was lazy with laundry).
Types of materials/fabrics common to cloth diapers
When looking at inserts and other “guts” of cloth diapers, there are usually different fabric selections:
Microfiber is a synthetic material and a little scratchy to the touch. Microfiber is the fastest drying and least expensive type of cloth diaper material and it doesn’t need to be prepped when purchased. It is also the shortest lasting material of all the cloth diaper fabrics: about one year. Due to the type of material, microfiber also holds onto smells more than the others. Lastly and most importantly, when using this material for your baby, you must have a liner between the microfiber and your baby’s skin. Microfiber sucks out moister so well that it will dry out your little baby’s bum and create rashes.
Hemp is a natural fiber and holds two and a half times more liquid than microfiber. It is thinner, softer, extremely durable and becomes more soft and absorbent with each wash. Some inserts will be a hemp/cotton blend because hemp alone is a slow absorber, so most hemp inserts alone, are better underneath another insert or stuffed into a pocket diaper. Hemp inserts need to be prepped and washed a few times to remove the natural oils and increase their absorbency.
Bamboo is also a highly absorbable natural fiber that becomes more soft and absorbent after each wash. You may see rayon/bamboo mixes because rayon is actually made from bamboo and is extremely similar. Just like hemp, you have to thoroughly prep bamboo (at least three times) to remove the natural oils and increase the liner’s absorbency. I have read that natural fibers like hemp and bamboo start reaching their fullest potential of absorbency when they are washed about ten times, though washing them three times before use is the best way to start.
Cotton is another natural fiber and the most common type of cloth diaper material. It is comfortable, relatively low-cost and absorbent, though not as absorbent as bamboo or hemp. Regular cotton is grown using harsh chemicals, while organic cotton is grown without. So when choosing cotton based cloth diaper products, it is best to stick with organic cotton. Cotton is less absorbent than the other natural fibers used in cloth diapering but it is by far the most durable.
PREPPING (before use)
Every type of cloth diaper has instructions on how to pre-wash. It is best to stick with what the brand recommends. Also, remember to keep natural fibers separated from synthetics (at first). The natural fibers have oils on them that take a few washes to get out.
MY WASH ROUTINE
There are various ways people wash their cloth diapers. A washing routine depends on personal preference and your washing machine.
1. Dump ALL diapers in, including the diaper liner. RINSE CYCLE WARM + 1/2 PUMP DETERGENT.
2. HEAVY CYCLE HOT + 1 PUMP DETERGENT. (My washer does a HOT/COLD: a hot wash and cold rinse)
3. RINSE COLD (add an additional rinse)
Shopping discount may not be for everyone but we were on a strict budget, so it was appealing to me. If you keep your eyes peeled and stay patient while you are preparing for baby in your pregnancy, you can find the most amazing deals. I’ve seen entire diaper systems from birth to potty trained for less than one hundred dollars. Of course they were AFTER I had Mae! But, I bought mine off of eBay and clothdiapertrader.com.
The best place to start looking is Craigslist, Facebook marketplace and Facebook baby resale groups in your area (This is where I have seen many whole systems!) Join these right when you find out you are expecting. If you are looking for a specific type of diaper trading group, just go to Facebook and type in the diaper name and b/s/t. There are many! Also, check out the diaper company’s website. They usually have a gently used section.
B/S/T Fluff and Stuff – Facebook
Cloth Cycle – Facebook
Cloth Diaper Addiction Swap – Facebook
Cloth Diaper Trader
Cloth Diaper Swap and Sell – Facebook
Blueberry B/S/T – Facebook Groups
20 Workhorse Newborn (orange stitching) fitteds
6 Blueberry newborn size 1 capri
4 Thirsties newborn fitteds (with velcro)
3 Thirsties newborn covers (with velcro)
2 packs Blueberry Capri size one liners (for night-time)
SIX MONTHS PLUS:
8 Alva Baby Diaper Covers
24 Nikki’s Size Small prefolds
1 pack Blueberry Bamboo Inserts (for night-time)
3 Alva Baby pocket diapers (for night-time)
2 packs Blueberry capri size 2 liners (for night-time)
Etsy Wipes (style: no preference)
Diaper Liners – I add these on top of every diaper & didn’t buy a diaper sprayer.
2 Planetwise diaper pail liners
2 Planetwise travel wetbags
Allen’s Naturally detergent (this stuff is amazing!)
Cloth Diaper Safe Diaper Balm
Wire Shelf -used for hanging the covers, pail liner & travel wet bags
Clothes Pins -used for hanging the covers, pail liner & travel wet bags
(Click here to visit Nicki’s Diapers)
Want to remember this post? Add this post: “Cloth Diapers 101, The Complete Guide For Beginners” to your favorite Pinterest board!
Hi there! I stumbled across your blog on Pinterest! I am cloth diapering for the second time around and this post is spot on! I’d DIE without diaper liners!
Hi Kristen! So glad this post was helpful. It’s so awesome you are on round two of CDing! Since you have so much experience, let me know if you have any tips for cloth diapering a second child. Cheers to a fellow cloth diapering mommy!!! (Oh and I would totally die without diaper liners as well! Haha!)
When using the diaper cover over fitteds do the covers get super dirty with each change? Do I need to buy as many diaper covers as diapers changes? Or can I use the same diaper cover all day with different inserts/fitteds?
Hi Presley! Great question. One of the absolute BEST thing about using covers as a CDing system is that you only need a handful of covers and you can definitely reuse them a few times until you run out of clean fitteds (if no poo gets on them – we usually have 2-3 poo diapers a day) and need to wash them again. I would recommend having 8-10 covers on hand for newborn and older. The other awesome thing about only having 8 or so covers is that when you go to do laundry, it is SO QUICK compared to the other systems! All you need to do after washing, is throw these 8 or so to hang dry along with the pail liner and throw all the rest into the dryer. Great question! Let me know if you have any others. 🙂
When using prefolds and a diaper cover, do you need to secure the prefolds at all? I’m concerned they will shift while my baby is crawling and walking around and cause leaks.
Hi Emily, great question! I had absolutely ***zero problems*** with the prefolds until Mae started walking a lot (about 13 months old). And the problem that I had was that they bunched in the front but now that she was older, she ate and drank more so whatever insert I added to the diaper needed to hold a lot more! I found that although prefolds bunched when she walked a lot, they also absorbed the most. Once a baby/toddler starts walking, I would recommend the medium size prefold (the larges are just a little too big). The best insert besides a prefold, hands down (if you can spend the money, is the Blueberry Capri insert (size 2 for walkers). Hope that helps!
My question is, at 6 months+, why did you prefer the Alva brand compared to the Blueberry brand?
Hi Jessica, good question! I preferred the Blueberry brand up until Mae was almost year old, then I found myself grabbing the Alvas instead of the Blueberries – which worked great because buying a few extra low-cost Alvas wasn’t too big of a deal. The Blueberry was the best until she started crawling a lot and walking, then the Alvas seemed to fit better. Before then though, I hated the Alvas. Which is so funny that I then preferred them later! Since Alvas are so incredibly cost effective and Blueberries are like 4 and a half times more expensive, you could try mostly Alvas and then one or two Blueberries and see which you prefer for fit on your individual baby and preference. Hope that helps!
I’m still trying to get the hang of all the terminology and systems that go together. Let me see if I understand this right, Alva is a diaper cover so I would need to get some “guts”. I know the Alva covers come with some inserts on Amazon, but could I also use fitted diapers with the Alva cover instead of inserts? Or is the way it is built only for inserts? You said you used the fitted diapers with the Blueberry covers so I just want to see if I could do the same with the Alva.
Hi Oakley! Depends on what you are looking to do. Alva makes diaper covers AND pocket diapers. Alva diaper covers do not come with inserts. Alva pocket diapers do. If you go with Alva diaper covers, you could totally use the Workhorse Fitteds. I used Nicki’s prefolds and folded them in half to make an amazing insert. If you opt for Alva pocket diapers, these DO come with inserts, but they are extreeeemly thin and hold almost nothing, so I recommend buying Thirsties hemp inserts and laying those underneath the microfiber insert that comes with the Alva pocket diaper. Hope that helps!!!
This is great! Can you explain what to do with the dirty diaper? So the fitted and cover are on, the diaper is soiled, you go to change it, then what? What goes in the pail? Do you rinse anything? How does the inbetween work before it goes into the wash?
Hi Jenna! If your baby is eating solids, I would recommend adding a liner. That way when the diaper is pooped in, you just flush the liner. If your baby has not transitioned to solids yet, you are good to go. Just throw it in the pail (I recommend the trash can from Target with a pivot lid- this eliminates smell and a Planet Wise liner) and then wash every 2-3 days depending on how many diapers you have. That’s it! No washing, spraying or anything extra. You can buy a diaper sprayer but I have found liners work great.
I have been cloth diapering for six months now with my daughter, she was a preemie so we are just moving out of newborn size and into one size covers, I hated the alva newborns (which are all pockets) and got leaks with them like crazy. I found happy flute to have the best newborn covers for the price and loved them. Now that she is finally up to 10 lbs. and I an braking out my original stash that I purchased of alva covers. I have been using covers and bamboo inserts with her which work great at keeping everything in, but now that she is eating solids I have added in a liner. How do I keep the liner from shifting and bunching up as she squirms and scooches more and more each day?
Hi Caroline! This is a great question. There are some things, in general, that you can do to keep the liner and the inserts from bunching. You can also consider upgrading your Alva’s in a very low-cost way to help with this. Check out #3 here: https://asilverlinedlife.com/wish-knew-cloth-diapering/. It details much more help and info for troubleshooting this than I could write out here. Hope that helps!!!
And thank you so much for the Alva review for the newborn cloth diapers. I had always wondered since they cost less! I really liked the Workhorse + Blueberry Capri Cover combo for newborns – no leaks!
Thanks for putting this together…I had really been on the fence about cloth diapering but I think we’ll go for it. The fitteds sound like the way to go for 0-6 months. Your stash list has 20 newborn workhorse fitteds…did you also have to get 20 of the small and medium sizes to make it to 6 months? Thanks! Heidi
Hello Heidi! It depends on the size of your baby and your own preference. For our first, we DID get the next size up of the Workhorse fitteds and we used them. So we purchased 20 newborn and 20 small (she was born 5 pounds 13 ounces). We used THOSE and then moved up to Nikki’s Prefolds + Alva Baby Diaper Covers which was a super cheap transition. When she started walking AND running, we switched to Alva pocket diapers with a hemp liner added in below the Alva microfiber liner that comes with each diaper. For our SECOND, we used only the 20 Workhorse fitted smalls! Now we have just transitioned to the prefolds + cover (at around 6 months). Honestly, buy the Workhorse small (they may be just a tad big for your newborn but not terrible) and then you could buy Nikki’s prefolds (which are super cheap), fold those in half and just use those in place of the workhorse (at around 5/6 months – when introducing solids). When your little one is running around, any type of insert is going to bunch, so the best thing I’ve found is Alvas pocket diapers. Each diaper is about the cost of a cup of coffee – so that’s great! Just make sure to add a Thirsties hemp liner under the microfiber liner that comes with it. Hope that helps!
Helped me a lot, just what I was looking for : D.
I’m glad! : )
this is such great information!
I have a couple questions though as I have never cloth diapered before
we are mainly going with the “ALVABABY Baby Cloth Diapers One Size Adjustable Washable Reusable with Inserts” due to cost and also versatile sizing. we also took your recommendation to get additional liners (the grey bamboo ones seen above)
will this be enough to start of our baby from a new born? i know you mention in your stock that you have different ones for different month ranges.
Hi Nicole! Great question. Yay for Alva diapers! You’ll love them, especially with those awesome added inserts. I have a whole post on newborn diapering since you will likely need smaller diapers to start. https://capeandapron.com/newborn-cloth-diapers-101/ Hope that helps!
I’m new to cloth diapers and this post is seriously the most organized post. I never knew cloth diaper could be so complicated. Can someone point me into the right direction? I’m looking for something similar to an AIO but something I can use more than once in a day. Would that be the AI2? I’ve read there are some where you just replace the reusable liner and are able to use the diaper until they get soiled.
Hi Reyna! Your best bet is to purchase diaper covers (like blueberry capris – about 8-10) and then 24 prefold inserts. This allows you to use the cover over and over until soiled and just reuse the easy and very low cost (but extremely efficient) prefold. I’m not a fan of AIOs (which is a different type of diaper) because they are one piece, expensive, take FOR-ever to dry and you have to buy 24 of them (no reusing those). However, the BEST diapers we’ve used (especially for very mobile babies – like walkers) are Alva pocket diapers with a Thirsties hemp liner under the Alva microfiber liner. Hope that helps!
What a great post. We have just got a started set if three alva pocket diapers. Am I right in thinking after every wee or poo you have to change the whole thing. My baby is eight weeks old and we change about 10 nappies aday . He is breast fed.
Thanks so much
Hi Faye! Yes – for pocket diapers you do have to add the whole thing to the diaper pail (after removing the inserts for washing). If this is something you are apprehensive about doing (I was at first too), you can buy Alva basic covers (they are just covers and not pockets AND are SUPER cheap) and use a prefold like Niki’s (they are awesome) and fold it in half as an insert (I’ve found these work much better this way than liners). This is the low-cost and effective way. The BEST thing to put under a basic cover is a workhorse fitted diaper but those (even though awesome) are pricey. When your little one starts walking however, any inserts (except those awesome Workhorse fitteds) will bunch inside the cover – that’s why many people prefer pockets. Note that these diaper types fit best on a 4-6 month old.
For newborns, I highly suggest Workhorse fitteds + Blueberry “newborn” covers (we used those covers until our little one was 8 months old). The poop is super runny until solids are introduced and Workhorse fitteds are just the best for this, hands down – even better than disposables! As your little one grows out of the fitteds, buy a couple packs of Nikki’s prefolds (this is lowest-cost and most effective way to move up).
Hope that helps!