Sunday, March 6, 2011

Cloth Diapers, the breakdown

There are certain things I am passionate about, and cloth diapering (CDing) is no exception. I didn't know what AIO, OS, prefold, pocket or fitted meant, and I certainly didn't know what options would work best for me and my family. So, I am going to break down the different options for diapering, and try to make it as easy as possible for anyone who may be interested in cloth diapering.

First I will explain sizing. Keep in mind all babies grow at different rates. Some babies are full in the waist and thighs, whereas others maintain a leaner, skinnier frame. When possible, try to measure your babies waist and thighs and/or go by weight. Some diaper companies use age as a way to measure, which may be less accurate. Here are some approximate weights vs size that I have averaged/compiled from various diapers.

x-small/newborn: 6-12lbs
small: 7-18lbs
medium: 15-27lbs
large: 22-30/40lbs
One-size (OS): This is a diaper that adjusts with 2-3 layers of additional snaps. The snaps make it possible to change the diaper from a size small to a size large, without buying multiple size diapers. Although these diapers usually cost more money, they last longer and can be used for more than one child in the event you have multiple children in diapers. This diaper should last you from birth (approx 8-35lbs) to potty learning.

Cloth Diaper options:


The above diaper is a newborn fitted from Hoothoot Baby.

Fitted diapers are a contoured or tailed fitted diaper that requires no folding like a traditional prefold diaper. It typically fits snugly against babies body and secures with snaps or velcro/aplix, although some fitted diapers come without snaps or velcro and close with either a snappi or pins. This gives a more customized fit. FITTEDS REQUIRE A DIAPER COVER. Fitted Diapers can be sized or one size.


  • Still Convenient yet less expensive than All In One diaper
  • Easy to use
  • Very absorbent - great when used as a nighttime cloth diaper


  • Requires a diaper cover/diaper wrap
  • Usually takes longer to dry then a Chinese prefold diaper but dries faster than an All In One diaper (AIO)

Prefolds(PF) and Flats

Prefold refers to a rectangle piece of cloth that has a thicker center for added absorbency. Most prefolds have a 4x8x4 measurement, with the first and last numbers referring to the number of layers on the right and left side of the prefold and 8 layers for the middle section. Prefolds can still work great with less layers, but often need a doubler (see below for more info) for added protection. Prefolds come in bleached (white) and unbleached (natural) fibers. Both work well, although the unbleached tend to last longer since the fibers have not been chemically weakened by the bleach. Organic fabrics are now commonly available at a higher cost, but for many people the benefits of organic fabrics out way the cost. Among organic cotton, hemp and bamboo are becoming more commonly used as a prefold fabric because of it's ability to absorb more wetness.

Chinese Prefolds vs. Indian Prefolds:

Chinese Prefolds are made in China and tend to be a bit sturdier and will last a bit longer. They are made with a slightly more durable fabric. Indian style is made in India or Pakistan. These are usually softer and a bit more absorbent, but will not hold up to as many washings. They also "quilt up" more when washed, although both styles will plump up and become softer when washed. The differences are subtle and no matter which you choose you can't go wrong as long as they are diaper service quality (DSQ). This means that they are made to stand up to industrial strength washing.

Flats simply refer to a prefold that has equal number of layers throughout, without a bulky middle section. Flats are usually less absorbent for this reason, but work great as "stuffers." PREFOLDS REQUIRE A DIAPER COVER.

Prefolds vs Flats

You're looking to go cheap on the cloth diaper journey and you've narrowed it down to flats or prefolds. But which is better? Which will be a good fit for you and your family?


  • Prefolds are fairly cheap. In fact, this is one of the cheapest ways to cloth diaper a baby right now.
  • Once you learn a few different folds, they're pretty easy to use. And honestly, they can be folded easily in three and laid into a wrap-style cover.
  • You can dye them different colors or even embellish them with embroidery to fancy them up.
  • They have a decent size range, which means you'll be able to use them for awhile before sizing up.
  • They wash clean very easily and don't often hold onto smell or detergent, at least in my experience.
  • Because of the simple design (no aplix, snaps, or elastic), prefolds last a long time.


  • Prep time can take awhile. You have to wash them a lot to get them ready for your baby to use.
  • While they can be easy to use, there is a learning curve if you're folding. It may take you awhile to get it down just right so that the fit is what you'd like it to be.
  • If you don't have wrap-style covers, you'll have to use a snappi or some pins-another learning curve to master.

Flats: A flat is a large square of a single layer of fabric, often bird's eye cotton; many cloth diapering parents also like to recycle flannel receiving blankets by using them as an inexpensive flat option. Like the prefold, it has no elastic or closures of any kind.


  • Flats are the cheapest cloth diapering option available.
  • They wash up really well, thanks to the one layer of fabric.
  • Because they are one layer thick, they dry extremely fast. So fast in fact, that you can often skip the dryer completely and save a little more money on that bill.
  • While learning to fold them is very tricky, they can be pad-folded into a wrap-style cover and used effectively that way.
  • Flats are pretty much "one size fits most."


  • Unless you're pad-folding, you'll have to master the fine art of folding a flat. This is definitely not always an easy feat, but it can be done.

As with the prefolds, you'll have to learn to use a snappi and/or pins to close these diapers.
Until you get the hang of folding, you may not get a great fit.


Pocket diapers are a contoured diaper that usually consist of three layers. An outer waterproof shell, an inner fleece (or similar material) that touches babies skin and a stuffer or doubler that goes inside the pocket between the outer and inner layers. Since pockets are waterproof, they do not require any additional cover. Since the inner stuffing is removed for washing, the diaper tends to dry quicker than other diaper options.

A pocket diaper is any cloth diaper that has a pocket opening. I focused on PUL shells (what is PUL?) with a lining and opening, but they are not limited to just that. There are fleece, wool, and even fitted (non waterproof) varieties as well. Still, the PUL shell with a stay dry lining is the most popular, like bumGenius! 4.0 and Fuzzibunz.

The pocket diaper can have an opening at the back (most common), front, or even in the middle.

Openings can be “hidden,” meaning there is a flap over the opening (bumGenius! 4.0/3.0), completely open at the back (Happy Heiny’s), or the envelope style where they tuck in (Tiny Tush Elite), or they can simply have a slit opening.

Linings include:

Stay Dry- Microfleece or suedecloth.

Non Stay Dry- Cotton velour, bamboo velour, hemp/cotton, bamboo looped terry, cotton looped terry, bamboo fleece.

Pockets are popular because they are customizable and dry quicker than All-in-Ones but remain convenient. They are also less expensive than most All-in-Ones.

Most pocket diapers come with microfiber inserts, the same material used commonly for towels to clean cars or mop pads. It is cheap and absorbent. You can also find pockets that come with hemp, cotton, bamboo, zorb, and more.

There are many styles of pockets. Middle closing with velcro or snaps, side snapping, one size, sized, and even dual size.

A “Sleeve” cloth diaper is basically a pocket diaper but with an opening at the front and back of the diaper. In the best situation this means the insert should agitate out during the wash cycle.

All-in-Ones (AIO's) and All-in-Two's (AI2's)

Grovia is a good example of AIO and AI2's because they offer both :)

AIO's are diapers that consist of an outer waterproof shell, and a number of inner, absorbent layers. There usually is no need to stuff like a pocket diaper, unless you have a heavy wetter and need added protection. AIO's are the closest thing to a disposable diaper and are typically the easiest cloth diaper to use. AI2's are similar to AIO's, but have a removable insert much like a pocket, making it easier to dry. An AIO, or All-In-One, is exactly what it sounds like. What you get is what you need. It is a type of diaper that functions completely on its own without the need for extra accessories. It does not require separate soaker material to absorb nor a separate diaper cover to contain leaks. All of the features are neatly packaged into one diaper. Many parents find this type of diaper to be the height of convenience since all they need is in one place. It also saves on space when traveling.

Advantages of AIO Cloth Diapers:

  • Functions like a disposable, except you don't throw it away!
  • No separate cover required
  • No separate soaker or doubler required
  • Easy to use
  • Available in lots of cute colors and prints
  • Perferred by childcare givers

Disadvantages of AIO Cloth Diapers:

  • Longer drying times
  • Harder to clean effectively

If you like the sound of an AIO but worry about the longer drying and cleaning times, you may want to try an AI2. These diapers are All in Ones that allow for the removal of the inner soaker material, the part that absorbs. This makes cleaning and drying much faster. When the two separate parts are paired, they form one diaper.

Advantages of AI2 Cloth Diapers:

  • No separate cover required
  • Great for transitioning from disposables to cloth - easy to use
  • Available in lots of cute colors and prints
  • You can always get a new soaker or doubler if the original needs to be replaced

Disadvantages of AI2 Cloth Diapers:

  • Keeping soakers or doublers together with the rest of the diaper
  • Usually more expensive than other cloth diapering methods

Hybrid diapers are an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional disposable diapers. They come with a cover which can be used multiple times during the day unless soiled and is washable. Covers can be used with cloth inserts or biodegradable inserts.


Covers are typically used over prefolds or fitteds, since neither is waterproof. There are many different styles of diaper covers, including wool, fleece and PUL. Some PUL covers can simply be wiped cleaned between uses and can often be found as a OS, which will work from birth to potty learning. Wool Soaker/Cover, A wool soaker is basically a diaper cover made exclusively of wool. Due to its high lanolin content, wool works very well as a cloth diaper cover. It can hold up to 40% of its weight in moisture.

Contoured Diaper

A contoured diaper does not have elastic at the legs or waist. The wings need to be fastened with pins or a Snappi or the diaper should be used in conjunction with a hook and loop style diaper cover. Contoured diapers are generally most appropriate for day-time diapering and always require a diaper cover of some type.

Washing Cloth Diapers

Washing Cloth Diapers

Always, always, always wash brand new diapers before use. A lot of diapers have pre-use washing instructions but some easy guidelines to go by are:

  • Wash covers, pockets, aio's and microfiber inserts at least once with a little detergent.

  • To reach their full absorbency, unbleached Chinese prefolds and hemp products should be washed 5-8 times(drying between each wash, so wash-dry-wash-dry, etc) with very hot water and approximately 2 tablespoons of detergent in each load. This removes oils and waxes from the cotton and hemp (normally removed during the bleaching process) that prevent liquids from absorbing into the diaper. White prefolds only need to be washed(and dried like above) 3-5 times before use.

Basic Washing Routine:

  1. Wash the entire load on cold. Washing once on cold water is important to remove leftover "yuck" from your diapers.

  2. Wash the entire load again on warm or hot with detergent.

  3. Do a second wash/rinse without detergent.

  4. I recommend that you line dry/rack dry your diaper covers, pocket diapers and anything made with hook & loop closures. Virtually everything else can be tumble tried on medium.

If you're having problems with diapers that stink after washing:

  1. Try an extra rinse. Sometimes detergent residue can cause diapers to smell.
  2. Wash once with liquid Dawn (the blue formula). Use 1 teaspoon in a front loader and 1 tablespoon in a top loader. Rinse well.
  3. If the previous solutions don't work, A company called Rockin Green just came out with an all natural ammonia and residue remover called Funk Rock, I have yet to try it.
If you are still having issues, I have many other with ammonia smell or stink, I have many other solutions/suggestions and would love to troubleshoot with you. Please use the contact me button for questions and concerns :)
What detergent should I use when washing my cloth diapers?

Choosing the right detergent for your diapers is essential! You may download a list of detergent recommendations here( ) However, they are missing a few others. You can also buy cloth detergent online or make your own(email me for the recipe) But a few detergents I like are Rockin Green, Eco-nuts(these are rather cool and are actually fruit, not nuts, for those with nut allergies) and one of my favorites is Ruby Moon Natural Laundry Wash, I know, a long name, but she makes the most delicious smells and I love her detergent!

What detergents should I avoid?

Do not use detergents containing pure soap, enzymes, fabric whiteners, fabric brighteners, fabric softeners or anything scented.

Do I have to sanitize the washing machine after washing my cloth diapers?

Absolutely not. If the diapers are clean, the washing machine is clean.

How do I use baking soda or vinegar when washing my diapers?

Water, detergent, and the sun is plenty to get your diapers clean and stain free. There are a lot of this and thats, yes and no's when is comes to baking soda or vinegar in your wash with diapers. I feel that baking soda is far safer than washing soda in homemade detergents for cloth diapers. I, however, feel that vinegar is less harsh to your diapers than bleach, but that is this momma's opinion. I use a ¼ cup of vinegar in my cold prewash to help keep the stinkies away(I put in the rinse cycle)

My diapers are stained. Now what?

The best stain remover is the sun and boy do we have a lot of it here! Wash your diapers and then lay them out wet on the lawn(on a towel or drying rack of course) with the stain facing the sun. It usually only takes a few hours before the stains are gone! If some remnants of the stain still linger, rinse the load again and repeat the process.

My diapers smell like ammonia after being worn. What should I do to fix this problem?

The chief culprit for an ammonia smell is detergent scent or detergent residue. Make sure that you are using an extra rinse when washing your diapers and that you are using a detergent that does not contain any perfumes. A warm wash with a squirt of liquid blue Dawn (the dish detergent), rinsed well, does a great job removing stinky residue from diapers. Using 1/4 cup of vinegar may be occasionally necessary to kill odor causing bacteria in the diapers. Also, Rockin Green has come out with a product called Funk Rock which is an all natural ammonia bouncer. I have had great results with all of these solutions and I have had some eye watering ammonia issues.

Washing Wool Diaper Covers

Washing Wool Covers
To wash a wool cover, simply handwash in cold water using the wool wash of your choice. It is important that the wool wash contains lanolin. If you need to lanolize your cover between washings, try dissolving one tablespoon of lanolin in a cup of very hot water. Cool the water to the point that it feels warm and then press the cover into the water. Swish it around gently. Drain the water and roll the cover in a towel to remove excess water (do not rinse). Lay the cover flat to dry.

Dealing with Poopy Messes
Sometimes baby poo will get on the wool cover. If this happens, just rinse that part of the cover under cold water until the stain is gone, pat and then hang to dry. If an odor remains, follow the directions above for washing the cover.

When is it time to wash?
If your wool diaper cover smells like urine or like poo, its time to wash. A wool wash with a high lanolin content and high quality felted wool will increase the amount of time between washings.

Cloth Diapering FAQ

Cloth Diaper FAQ's

My baby is in a daycare center. Will I be able to cloth diaper?

More and more daycare centers are open to the idea of using cloth diapers. Most daycares that allow cloth diapers will only allow all-in-one cloth diapers. They will require that you provide a place to store used diapers and that you take your diapers home with you each night for washing. Be aware that your daycare center may be governed by state regulations related to diapering. You may find that initial discussion with the daycare more successful if you take the time to educate yourself about laws in your state first. Home-based or private daycare providers are probably going to be more willing to cloth diaper your child. Remember that ease of use is going to be an essential bargaining chip! Because public perception of cloth diapering still revolves primarily around flat diapers, vinyl diaper covers and pins, it may help to have one diaper from the system of your choice on hand that you can use to demonstrate the ease of use.

What about overnight diapering?

I've found that the best overnight solutions are either All-in-ones with a doubler or pocket diaper stuffed with a couple stay dry liners and a double(which is what I use). It may be a little bulky, but it lasts for my heavy wetter 10+ hours.

What do I do about the poop?

Good question! It is important to note that it is EASY! Modern inventions (like flushable liners and the diaper sprayer) have taken the grossness factor out of this issue.

First of all, your baby will go through different stages as they grow. Poop tends to change as your baby grows.

  1. Breastfed baby poop is water soluble. You do not need to remove breastfeed baby poop before washing.

  2. Around 4-6 months of age, many babies start solids through cereal. At this point, stools transition to a thicker "peanut butter" consistency. For best results, this should be removed (as much as possible) from your diapers prior to washing.

  3. Formula fed and older babies typically have firmer stools. This should also be removed from your diapers prior to washing.

The solutions below are what are commonly recommend to families.

  1. Flushable diaper liners: Laid inside the diaper allow the poop to be easily removed from the diaper. Just peel the biodegradable liner out of the diaper and flush the mess away.

  2. Diaper sprayers are another fantastic solution. This handy little device attaches to the plumbing behind your toilet and allows you to easily spray the mess off. The small holes and concentrated spray allows the Minishower to do a better job cleaning diapers off than any other sprayer available. The Minishower does double duty during potty training as it cleans out potty chairs. The adjustable spray can also be used for feminine hygiene during the postpartum period.

  3. It is easy to shake firmer stools off of the diaper into the toilet (no spray or liner required).

  4. In a pinch, good old fashioned dunking will get the job done.

Will my house smell like a diaper pail?

You shouldn't have anymore odor that you experience with disposable diapers. Many cloth diapering parents actually claim to smell less diaper pail odor when using cloth diapers simply because their cloth diapers aren't full of perfumes (like disposables).

Deo-disks are an inexpensive way to deal with diaper pail odor. These non-toxic deodorizers smell like citrus and do a great job cutting down on diaper pail odor. These deodorizing disks are used and recommended by diaper services. There are a variety of pail powders out there, and a few instructions on how to make your own, which is really rather easy(email me for recipe). The best way to combat diaper pail odor is to wash cloth diapers frequently, at least every other day. Finally, be sure that your diaper pail has a lid on it and keep it closed.

More About Diaper Fasteners

You have many choices when looking into diaper fasteners. Use this table to help you decide which one is right for you!

Diaper pins - Usually made of metal and having a plastic or metal head, a diaper pin has a sharp end that is used to pierce through two layers of fabric to secure them together.
Pro - Tried and true. This was what your mom probably used. Doesn't wear out often.
Con - Risk of poking baby. Sometimes its difficult to push a pin through the fabric. Tough to use when diapering a wiggly toddler or baby.

Velcro®/Aplix® - Hook and loop fabric usually sewn onto the diaper or diaper cover.
Pro - Very fast and easy to use.
Con - Wears out eventually and can cause snags on other items when being washed.

Snaps - Plastic or metal snaps are usually used in either the diaper or the cover.
Pro - Very simple to use and snaps rarely wear out.
Con - Not as adjustable as hook and loop. Snaps take more time to 'snap' which can be an issue when diapering a wiggly toddler or baby.

Snappi - T-shaped plastic device with plastic hooks on each end used to grab and hold the material.
Pro - Very fast and convenient to use.
Con - Must be replaced every six months.

Cloth vs. Disposable

Cloth diapers vs Disposable diapers

Environmental Reasons to Use Cloth Diapers

Many parents look at cloth diapering for environmental reasons -- and with good cause!

  • Disposable diapers are the third most common consumer product in landfills today.

  • A disposable diaper may take up to 500 years to decompose.

  • One baby in disposable diapers will contribute at least 1 ton of waste to your local landfill.

Landfill issues are very important. This is a very interesting dilemma facing in Hawaii right now as many of our landfills are either closing or set to close very soon. There have been many articles in the newspaper that discuss this issue. Honolulu has one landfill remaining. Kauai’s only landfill has reached capacity in 2009. Hawaii is running out of places to put its trash and many parents there are turning to cloth diapers in an effort to reduce waste. Looking at waste on the mainland, There was a report published by the Environmental Protection Agency. This report shows the Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste in the United States and gives an interesting view of the waste situation in the United States ten years ago. It says, "An estimated 3.1 million tons of disposable diapers were generated in 1997, or 1.4 percent of total MSW generation. (This tonnage includes an adjustment for the urine and feces contained within the discarded diapers.) The materials portion of the diapers includes wood pulp, plastics (including the super-absorbent materials now present in most diapers), and tissue paper. No significant recycling or composting of disposable diapers was identified in 1997." The same report, published in 2005 (Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2005 Facts and Figures) showed that disposable diapers accounted for 3.6 million tons of waste and 1.5% of the total waste generation for that year. Once again, the report specifically mentioned that no significant recyling or composting of disposable diapers was identified in 2006.

Economic Reasons to Cloth Diaper

A majority of parents use disposable diapers for their convenience, but have you ever actually thought about the cost of using disposables? The average baby is in diapers between two to three years and uses between 8,000-10,000 diapers. How much does this equal for the average parent? On average, each diaper will cost you about 35 cents. How did I come to that conclusion? The prices of diapers range between .19 (for the newborn size) to .46 (for the toddler size). So I based the price of .35 on an average of all of these prices combined, because no baby stays in a single size forever. So by calculating the cost of an average diaper by the number of diapers the baby will use, you will spend between $2,800.00 (for 8,000 diaper changes) and $3,500.00 (for about 10,000 changes). This estimate does not include applicable sales tax or even the gas used to drive to store for those late-night runs for diapers. I know, washing cloth diapers costs money too. And they do, just not nearly as much as you think. Washing a load of cloth diapers two to three times per week equals the same amount of water that a young child uses to flush the toilet five times a day. And as far as the energy used to wash AND dry your diapers, you are looking at spending a $1.25 each time you wash cloth diapers (including detergent, a rinse cycle, and drying the diapers). You'll save even more money by drying your diapers on a clothesline.

How much will you need to spend on a complete cloth diapering layette? For a stash of pocket diapers to cloth diaper full time, would be a one time price of about 500 dollars(but don't let this scare you! These diapers can last over 2-3 children!) But this is what I suggest to my fellow Dollar Stretcher's and new comers: use diaper covers and diaper prefolds. The benefit to using diaper prefolds AND diaper covers is that you'll be able to reuse them with the next baby or donate them to another mom to use. All In One and pocket diapers are also very popular for their convenience, but they are a more expensive choice (although still less expensive than using disposables). There are dozens of great products available; you just have to find them. There is a company out there called Cotton Babies that makes an affordable product called Econobums, of which you can full time cloth diaper your child for a 100 dollars. You get 6 one size covers and 24 prefold dipers, which is enough to do laundry every other day. I started out with these and I love them in combination to with my Flip covers(another cotton babies product)

Health Considerations when Choosing Diapers

A baby can be sensitive to the ingredients used in diapers. An issue frequently brought up in cloth diapering circles is dioxin exposure. According to a Mothering Magazine article, entitled “The Joy of Cloth Diapers”, "Dioxin, which in various forms has been shown to cause cancer, birth defects, liver damage, and skin diseases, is a by-product of the paper-bleaching process used in manufacturing disposable diapers, and trace quantities may exist in the diapers themselves."