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Purchase the "Do It Yourself" Cloth Diapering Handbook: The most complete and comprehensive introduction to cloth diapering today! Endorsed by Natural Family Online.

Cloth Diapering: Simple and Sweet!

By Elizabeth Pantley

Cloth diapering actually can be very simple. There are several different ways to diaper a baby in cloth and several different reasons why you should consider using cloth diapers.

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Why use cloth?
Cloth diapers are gentler on the environment than disposables. A baby can use more than 5,000 disposable diapers from birth through potty training, which makes these the third largest single product in the waste stream after newspapers and beverage containers. This is certainly something to consider when you’re making a diapering decision.

Another benefit of cloth diapers is that they can save your family money, especially when the diapers are passed on from one child to another. Depending on which kind of diapers and accessories you purchase, you could save hundreds of dollars.

Cloth diapers also can be beneficial for children who are sensitive to chemicals and other substances or who are prone to diaper rash (although some sensitive-bottomed babies do as well with moisture-wicking disposables). Another feature of cloth diapers is that with older babies they can ease potty learning because the child can tell when he is wet.

The bottom line (excuse the pun) with choosing which kind of diapers your family uses is that it’s a personal choice, and cloth diapers are a good choice for many families.

How to cloth diaper your baby
The methods used in cloth diapering are as unique as children being diapered. Below is an outline of the types of cloth diapers and diaper covers most commonly available, with the benefits and drawbacks of each. Space doesn’t permit a discussion of every type here, but you’ll find many more kinds on the Internet or through diaper distributors if you like one feature of a diaper but not another.

Flat diapers
These are essentially big pieces of fabric (about the size of a dish towel, or slightly larger) that you fold down to fit your baby.

Benefits of flat diapers Very inexpensive; can be made easily at home; can be folded differently as baby grows; can be passed down to siblings of any size
Drawbacks of flat diapers Have to be folded before use; need pins, diaper covers, or other product to secure diaper to baby

Cloth Diaper Prefolds
Prefolded diapers are just what they sound like: diapers that are already folded. Diaper service quality diapers are rectangular and have extra layers sewn down their middle thirds. They generally come in newborn, regular and toddler sizes. (Often called chinese prefolds, hemp prefolds or indian prefolds.)

Benefits of Prefolds Already folded and ready for use; very durable; fit most babies very well
Drawbacks of Prefolds Slightly more expensive than flat diapers; fit only a certain size range; need pins, diaper covers or other product to secure diaper to baby

Fitted diapers
These are already sewn to fit the baby. They typically have snaps or Velcro to secure them and have extra layers of fabric sewn down the middle for absorbency.

Benefits of fitted cloth diapers Very convenient; easy to use; no pins involved
Drawbacks of fitted diapers More expensive; may take longer to dry; may not provide as custom a fit as flat or prefolded diapers

All-In-Ones (AIO's)
These fitted diapers already have a diaper cover sewn onto their outside.

Benefits of All in One Cloth Diapers Most convenient; easiest to use; no pins involved
Drawbacks of AIO Diapers Most expensive; can be bulky; may take longer to dry

All of these diapers can be passed on to younger siblings or resold if still in good condition. All except for the all-in-ones require a cover to contain leaks.

A look at diaper covers

Pull-on plastic pants
These are what most people of my generation were covered with. They’re plastic, pull-on covers just big enough to cover the diaper area.

Benefits of plastic baby pants Inexpensive; easy to use; easy to launder
Drawbacks of diapers and plastic pants Often poor quality; don’t last very long; not breathable

Wrap-style covers
These wrap around the baby and are secured in front with Velcro or snaps. They can be made out of plastic, nylon, nylon/taffeta or even wool (see below).

Benefits Can be inexpensive; very easy to use; easy to launder; usually last a very long time; some have “vents” so baby’s bottom gets air
Drawbacks Slightly more expensive than plastic pants

Other types
Less popular (but becoming more widely used) are wool diaper covers, fleece and some other unusual styles. Untreated wool is naturally waterproof, breathes well and is not scratchy like a wool sweater. Wool covers come in wrap or pull-on styles and usually require special laundering ¾ but they’re worth it, since they don’t need to be washed very often. Fleece diaper covers are usually wrap-style, warm and good for heavy wetters.

What to buy

You’ll probably need two to three dozen of whatever type of diaper you choose, as well as six to eight covers to go with them. Your baby may need to wear two diapers at night if he is a heavy wetter, so you may want to invest in one or two larger covers as well.

How do I care for my cloth diapers?
Unless you have a special type of diaper cover (like wool), you’ll be able to wash the diapers and covers together. Get a diaper pail or garbage can with a lid, and toss the diapers in there as they’re dirtied. With a breastfed baby, you won’t have much worry about smell; before your breastfed baby start solids, you won’t need to rinse dirty ones, either. After the baby starts solids, dump the solid part of his bowel movement in the toilet first. You don’t need any water in your pail. BE AWARE: A diaper pail of water is a drowning hazard.

When wash time comes, use a gentle detergent - but no bleach! It ruins diapers and is bad for baby’s skin. Do one cold wash or rinse, and then a hot wash to kill the germs. Do an extra rinse if your baby has sensitive skin. Most covers can be dried with your diapers, though they’ll last longer if they’re hung to dry. If you want to get any stains out, hang your diapers out in the sun for a few hours.

© Elizabeth Pantley; excerpted from Gentle Baby Care

Parenting educator Elizabeth Pantley is the author of numerous parenting books, including the widely cited The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night. Buy her books at She is a regular radio show guest and is quoted frequently on the web and in national family and women’s publications. Elizabeth lives in Washington state with her husband, their four children and her mother. Visit her at

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