Cloth diapers are an eco-friendly alternative to traditional diapers — here’s how to use them and what you need to buy

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Alicia Betz/Business Insider

How to use a cloth diaper

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Alicia Betz/Business Insider

  • I was intimidated when I first started learning how to cloth diaper, but after a few weeks, I became a pro.
  • There are five main types of cloth diapers to choose from, but they all work pretty similarly. I prefer pocket diapers because they’re the perfect mix of easy to use and affordable.
  • Perfecting your wash routine is a major component of having success with cloth diapers. Read more about how to use and wash diapers below.
  • Read more about the best cloth diapers in our buying guide.

Any time someone tells me I’m crazy or brave for using cloth diapers with my daughter Ellie, my response is that it’s really not that bad. Honestly, it isn’t. Yes, there was a learning curve at first, but once we got the kinks worked out, it’s been smooth sailing ever since. We calculated that we’ve already saved over $1,000, and Ellie is only 14 months old. Watching her run around with her fluffy cloth diapers on is pretty much the cutest thing ever, too.

Figuring out what diapers we wanted to use, how to use them, and how to wash them was overwhelming and intimidating at first. Thankfully, cloth diapers have come a long way from the ones my mom put me in in the 1980s. If you’re just starting this journey, welcome to the cloth diaper family.

Choosing the type of cloth diapers you want to use

  • Flats or prefolds with covers
  • Fitteds with covers
  • Pockets
  • All-in-twos
  • All-in-ones

How to use flats and prefolds with covers

Thirsties duo wrap cloth

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Amazon

For this type, you’ll have a flat piece of fabric, usually made of cotton, bamboo, or hemp. You’ll also have a water-resistant cover to go over the fabric.

  1. Fold the fabric into a rectangle to fit around your baby. If you fold around your baby, secure the fabric with a safety pin or Snappi diaper fastener.
  2. Put the water resistant cover over the fabric.
  3. If the diaper is wet, replace the fabric and reuse the cover. If the diaper is dirty, use a new cover as well.

How to use fitteds with covers

Cloth diaper covers

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Alicia Betz/Business Insider

Fitteds are similar to flats and prefolds, but the absorbent fabric layer has snaps and is shaped to easily fit around your baby. They still require a water-resistant cover.

  1. Snap the fitted diaper around your baby.
  2. Put the water resistant cover over the fitted fabric.
  3. If the diaper is wet, replace the fabric and reuse the cover. If the diaper is dirty, use a new cover as well.

How to use pocket diapers

ALVABABY charcoal inserts

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Amazon

Pocket diapers require a little bit more prep upfront, but are quicker and easier to put on during the actual diaper change. Pocket diapers are my favorite because they’re a little easier to use than fitteds, flats, and prefolds, and they’re cheaper than all-in-twos and all-in-ones.

For this type, you’ll have inserts typically made of microfiber or bamboo that fit into a water-resistant diaper.

  1. Stuff the insert into the pocket opening in the back of the diaper. Tip: If you’re having leak issues, you can wrap the insert in a flat before stuffing it into the diaper.
  2. Flatten out the insert if the diaper is lumpy.
  3. Snap the diaper on your baby.
  4. Pocket diapers cannot be reused since the diaper itself touches the baby’s skin, so you’ll need to wash the whole diaper for wet and dirty diapers.

How to use all-in-two diapers

Grovia diaper

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Amazon

All-in-two diapers have an insert and a waterproof cover as well, but the inserts snap onto the diaper and will be directly against your baby’s skin. Inserts can be reusable or disposable. All-in-two diapers are quicker to prep than pocket diapers.

  1. Snap the insert onto the diaper. With some versions, the insert tucks into a flap.
  2. Snap the diaper around your baby.
  3. If the diaper is wet, you can reuse the cover.

How to use all-in-one diapers

All-in-one diapers are most similar to disposable diapers. They don’t require any stuffing or special folding of fabric.

  1. Snap the diaper on your baby!
  2. All-in-ones can’t be reused – toss them in the wash whether wet or dirty.

How to get a good fit

cloth diapers

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Alicia Betz/Business Insider

Finding the sweet spot for your baby will take some trial and error and will obviously change as your baby grows.

  1. First, snap the “rise” if your baby is small. These are the snaps on the very front of the diaper. Snap the top rise row down, then push the fabric underneath up (shown in picture under “How to use fitteds with covers” ). As your baby grows, you’ll undo the rise snaps.
  2. Snap the leg and waist snaps to a snug but comfortable position for your baby. I find it easier to snap the legs before the waist.
  3. Make sure your baby doesn’t have a muffin top (if so, it’s too tight).
  4. Make sure there are no gaps around your baby’s legs (if so, it’s too loose).

How to wash cloth diapers

Washing cloth diapers takes some trial and error, and can vary depending on how many diapers you’re washing, what type of washing machine you have, what type of detergent you use, and other factors. These are general guidelines that will give you a good starting point.

  1. When you take off cloth diapers, store them in a wet bag.
  2. Wash diapers every one to three days.
  3. For exclusively breastfed babies, dirty diapers do not need to be rinsed. For formula-fed babies or for those eating solids, dirty diapers need to be sprayed before going into the wash. You can also use liners to dispose of poop.
  4. Wash diapers on a prewash or light setting with a small amount of detergent.
  5. Wash diapers again on a normal, regular, or heavy setting with the full amount of detergent recommended for the load size.
  6. Dry diapers in your dryer or hang to dry. If hanging to dry, hang diapers/covers sideways to put less stress on the elastic.

Bonus tips

Cloth diaper bonus points

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Alicia Betz/Business Insider

  • It might be easier to wait until your baby is a few weeks old to start cloth – they will be a little bit bigger and you’ll be settled into your new routine.
  • It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. We still use disposable diapers overnight and whenever we go somewhere, which is much more convenient.
  • At first, buy just a few of each kind you think you’ll like so you don’t spend a fortune on a type of diaper you don’t like. Once you’ve used them and know what you want to use, then you can buy more. Somewhere between 24 and 36 diapers is a good amount for most people.
  • You can cut receiving blankets into squares and use a spray bottle filled with water to create your own cloth wipes.
  • Lay diapers in the sun to fade stains.
  • Change cloth diapers at least every two hours to prevent leaks.