Diapers Etc. :: Frequently Asked Qustions about Cloth Diapers

Frequently Asked Qustions about Cloth Diapers

I am new to cloth diapers, what do I need to get started?


There is a variety of factors that can go into answering this question.   It depends how many children you have, how often you do laundry, and how old your children are.   The best way to begin using cloth diapers is to buy four to six of different diaper styles to see what will work best for you and your family.   There are five different cloth diaper styles to choose from.   All In One Diapers, Contour Diapers, Fitted Diapers, Pocket Diapers, and Prefold Diapers. Your cloth diapering system can consist of one of these diaper types or a combination of them. Reading the diaper description section can also help you make decision on what type of diapers would be best for you.


Once you have decided what type of diapers work best for you here is a recommendation of how many of each item you need.


2 to 5 dozen cloth diapers (depending how often you will launder)

4 to 6 cloth diaper covers

1 or 2 fleece or wool covers for overnight (optional)

2 to 3 dozen cloth diaper wipes (or you can choose flushable biodegradable wipes)

1 to 2 dozen doublers or liners

1 to 3 wet bags (for when you are traveling or on the go)

1 diaper pail


If you decide to use prefold diapers be sure to get diaper pins or fasteners. Prefold, fitted, and contour diapers will also require waterproof diaper covers.  


It may seem like this is a lot of inventory but remember a newborn baby will need changed 10 to 15 times per day and infants will need changed 8 to 10 times per day.   The initial investment may also seem high but when you calculate the amount of money you would spend on disposable diapers over 2 years, assuming your child is potty trained at two, you can see the savings.   You can use this calculator to see the savings over the first 18 months of your baby's life.   

What other accessories do I need to use cloth diapers?


The most important accessories that you need for cloth diapering are listed under what I need to get started.   By purchasing a diaper pail, wet bags, cloth wipes or flushable biodegradable wipes, your diapering system is well on its way.  


You will need liners for your diaper pail.  The most eco-friendly liners are reusable and washable. You can gather your dirty diapers from the diaper pail in the cotton bag and take it right to the laundry with your diapers. The cotton bag is often easier to use and less messy, but if you would rather use plastic liners it would be best to use eco-friendly trash bags.


A wipe warmer can be used with cloth wipes but it is not necessary.   Cloth wipes can be dampened with plain warm water and tossed in the diaper pail with the dirty diapers.   You can also make your own wipe solution with no harsh chemicals or alcohol.  Check out a variety of recipes for your own wipe solution    

I want to use fitted diapers, what size should I buy?


Determining the proper size is important to get a great fit, which ensures maximum protection.   A baby’s weight alone cannot be used to determine the proper fit.   A long thin baby may weigh 20 pounds but will not fit in the same size fitted diaper as a shorter chunkier baby weighing 20 pounds. It is recommended that the waist, thigh, and rise be measured to get the best fit possible. Once these measurements are made, you can select diaper size for your child. Each brand has different dimensions, so be sure and pay attention to each size chart when purchasing your cloth diapers and covers.  


How do I choose a diaper cover?


There are three popular diaper covers to choose from: wraps, side snaps, and pull-ons.   Wraps have wings, reminiscent of disposable diapers, and are adjustable and flexible.   They hold the cloth diaper in place inside the cover.   When the wrap is opened, the cloth diaper can be changed and the wrap diaper can be reused.  


Side snaps simply snap on the sides and often do not provide as snug of a fit as wraps, so a Snappi or diaper is necessary on the diaper under the cover.


Likewise, pull-ons do not fit as snugly, but they are super simple to use.   Just pull them up and sown over the cloth diaper like underwear.


Diaper covers also come in a variety of fabrics: cotton, fleece, and wool.   Cotton covers are lightweight, and breathable, they are great for daytime use.   They are not recommended for overnight use, when leaking is more likely to occur.   Cotton is a great choice for babies with sensitive skin.   


Fleece covers are a soft, durable, and breathable fabric. Fleece is often a less expensive choice of diaper cover.   They are great for daytime use because they are thin enough to wear under almost any type of clothing.   Some parents also use them for extra protection at night.   Fleece diaper covers can also be tossed in the washer with your diapers.   Fleece, however is not as breathable as natural fabrics.     


Wool is a natural fiber that stays cool in the summer and warm in the winter.   It is an excellent choice for diaper covers.   The natural lanolin in wool provides a waterproof barricade but is still very breathable. Lanolin makes wool practically waterproof.   Wool can absorb up to 30 percent of its weight without feeling wet. Synthetic fabrics become very smelly, unlike wool. The lanolin will need to be restored because the lanolin on the diaper cover gets used up by the urine as the cover dries. Wool covers can be more bulky than the other fabrics but they are the best for overnight leak protection.   Wool diaper covers can be worn several times between washes, as long as they do not get soiled.  


All cloth diapers, no matter what style or fabric you choose, prove a waterproof barrier.   It is often a matter of preference on what type of cover you like best.  


Should I use Chinese or Indian prefolds?


Chinese prefolds are made in China and are the more popular prefold diaper.   They are the most durable as a result of the sturdy fibers used to make them and the strong thread used to bind the edges. They are made of 100% Chinese cotton and three panels of different thicknesses. The outer two panels have two to four layers of thickness. The center panel, which is where the most absorbency is needed, can have six to eight layers. Some complain Chinese prefolds pill more quickly than Indian prefolds and these need to be washed more before they are usable and reach their full absorbency. In addition, they seem to shrink less than their counterpart.


Indian prefolds are generally made in Pakistan and are softer in comparison to the Chinese prefolds. These prefolds tend to get softer and fluffier with each wash. The softer texture makes them easier to pin when fastening, but they may not last as long as the Chinese prefolds. Indian prefolds will shrink five to ten percent.   


Prefolds can be purchased from your local store from companies such as Gerber or Playtex.   These diapers have less absorbency and do not with stand the washing and during you have to do with your cloth diapers. Purchasing prefold diapers individually allows you to try both Chinese and Indian prefolds and decide which size is best for your child.  


Should I use bleached or unbleached diapers?


Bleached diapers are white while unbleached are natural in color since they have not been exposed to chemicals, but both are used in the exact same way.   Unbleached cotton diapers need to be washed more times before uses (four or more times) to remove any waxes that may be coating the diaper. Your unbleached diapers will not reach full absorbency until the natural oils in the cotton fibers have been washed out. Unbleached diapers are often noted as softer and heavier once they are ready to use, and may hide stains better than bleached diapers. These are a better choice for the environment because bleached diapers produce a toxic byproduct, dioxin. However, because unbleached diapers are less processed they tend to pile.   Small balls of fibers will shed from unbleached diapers for about the first month of use. This is normal and does not mean the diapers are not as sturdy.  


Some parents prefer the cleaner look of bleached diapers and they are often a good choice for first time cloth diaper users. They are easier to set up and need to be washed only three or four times before use. Although bleached diapers will fluff up and become fully absorbent a few washes, they may never be as soft as unbleached cotton diapers.   Choosing bleached or unbleached diapers is often based on preference of the parents.    
What is PUL?
PUL is also known as Polyurethane Laminate and is a knit fabric that has been laminated in a thin coating of Polyurethane. This laminated fabric adds a waterproof barrier to your cloth diapers and diaper covers. Although PUL fabric is non-biodegradable, it is a strong fabric that allows us to re-use our diapers from child to child.


How do disposable diapers affect the environment?


Disposable diapers are full of chemicals. They are made of many ingredients that are hard to even pronounce. Anyone trying to go green or be more environmentally friendly should be aware that whether you are looking at diapers, cleaning products or food, you should not buy products that contain ingredients that you cannot pronounce. These are often harsh chemicals that can be dangerous to you and your family.


For example, according to the 2006 September/October issue of Archives of Environmental Health childhood respiratory problems, including asthma may be linked to inhaling the mixture of chemicals in disposable diapers.  The researchers used mice because of their general similarity to humans.  In the past decade asthma in children has increased dramatically.   Disposable diapers have a direct effect on this increase. The mice had “a decrease in the ability of the animal to move air during exhalation”. The researchers also tested new cloth diapers and found “they produced very little respiratory effect and appeared to be the least toxic choice for the consumer”.


Disposable diapers are used so frequently today and are quickly clogging our landfills.   According to an article in Mothering Magazine by Jane McConnell, 18 billion disposable diapers are thrown into landfills each year. These diapers can take up to 500 years to decompose; while a cloth diaper that is thrown in a landfill will decompose in less than six months.  Disposable diapers are 1/3 of solid waste in today’s landfills. Using cloth diapers saves over one tone of waste entering the solid waste system per year.


As the word disposable implies, your child will use multiple diapers per day. It takes 82,000 tons of plastic and a quarter million trees to cover 90 percent of the babies born each year   in the United States alone.   If you consider that you can use 36 cloth diapers over and over again, possibly for more than one child compared to the 6000 upwards to 7000 disposable diapers per child during their estimated diapering period, two and a half years, the numbers are astonishing.   Each child that wears disposable diapers creates one ton of garbage per year in diapers alone.


Saving out environment might seem a futile cause, but this is one way you can make a difference. Don’t simply contribute to the world’s environmental problems; do what you know you can to help. Choose cloth diapers and know you are leading by example. Raising your children in a green environment can teach them how to make a real difference in environmental issues that will impact all future generations.


Are Cloth diapers better for my baby’s health?  


According to Deirdre Imus, the author of Green This, “Children are like sponges, absorbing both everything good and bad, in the environment around them. They’re smaller than adults and are constantly growing. They breathe faster, taking in more air–and more chemicals–relative to their weight than we do”. Rapid growth in children allows dangerous cells to mutate and multiply faster than they do in adults. This is especially true in newborns.   Their skin is very delicate. It has an outer layer that is underdeveloped, therefore it absorbs chemicals quickly. These chemical exposures can have lifelong consequences.


One of the most harmful chemicals of concern in disposable diapers is dioxin.  According to a Mothering Magazine article, entitled The Joy of Cloth Diapering, "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." Dioxin is one of the most toxic chemicals ever made by humans.

A list of ingredients in disposable diapers can be obtained from the specific manufacturers or your pediatrician. Talking with your pediatrician can help you decide which diapering system is best for you.  

My child is in daycare, can/will they use cloth diapers?

Child care providers and daycare centers across the county are becoming more acceptable to the cloth diapering system. They are trying to improve the environment in their home or center and the environmental effects the children are exposed too.   Most daycare providers are more willing to use cloth diapers if you have all-in-one’s for them to use. All-in-one’s are more expensive cloth diapers but after the initial investment, remember you will not have to continue buying more and more diapers. These diapers are easier for other people to use who are not used to cloth diapering.   You can always choose to use a cheaper cloth diaper when your child is not at daycare and only have a supply of all-in-one diapers for your daycare provider. The providers may also ask you to provide a diaper pail to put the dirty diapers in and require you to take them home each night to wash them.  


Another thing to keep in mind is that your daycare center may be governed by state regulations.   When looking for a daycare provider you should have questions ready to discuss and perhaps educate yourself on your state’s laws.   Private daycare providers or home-based providers may be more willing to work with you on your diapering system.   Having all-in-ones for them to use may be your best bargaining tool.   When most people think of cloth diapers, they think of only pre-fold diapers with diaper pins and diaper covers.   If you demonstrate to your provider the ease of using these all-in-one diapers and they understand the importance of cloth diapers to you, they will be more willing to work with the parents wants and needs for their child.


What do I do with the poop?


This question is often the most popular question among parents who are considering cloth diapers. This subject is often what may keep parents from choosing cloth diapers.   Today there are washable liners and flushable liners that make cleaning cloth diapers easier.  


Newborn babies who are breast-fed have water soluble poop. Their diapers or liners can simply be thrown in the washer and do not need to be rinsed out before washed, the poop will just wash out in the washer.  Once your baby starts adding cereal and baby food to their meals the poop will become thicker in consistency.   This is also true for babies who are on formula and not breast milk. Thicker poop, it is also easy to dispose of.   You can simply rinse your washable liner out in the toilet, removing as much as the poop as you can before putting it in your washing machine. If you use flushable liners these are just tossed in the toilet and flushed, just like toilet paper.  


When your child begins eating solid food their poop will also become solid. This is often the easiest poop to dispose of.   You simply plop it in the toilet before washing the diaper or liner.   Now that you know getting rid of the poop is not as gross and disgusting as you may have thought, the decision to use cloth diapers has just became a little easier to make.  


Will my house smell like a dirty diaper?


A diaper pail can become stinky, but there are many things you can do to prevent your diaper pail from smelling up your home. The most important thing you can do is wash your diapers as often as you can. The longer they set in the diaper pail, the smellier they will be. The diapers will also be easier to clean if you can wash them this frequently.   Leaving them in the diaper pail can also cause bacteria growth, along with the smell. Try and wash your diapers at least every other day. Putting a small amount of baking soda in the bottom of the pail can help contain the odor in the pail. There are also non-toxic deodorizers that can be placed in your diaper pail that have a nice smell to them. These do a great job of helping with the smell of dirty diapers. If you do not use a washable liner with your diaper pail, change your disposable liner every time you wash your diapers.   Simply keeping the lid on your diaper pail and making sure it is closed will keep the smell from entering your entire home.  


If you are using a wet diaper pail, one that has water in it. You can add a small amount of baking soda or vinegar to the water to help with the odor. A wet diaper pail is not necessary. A dry diaper pail is just as efficient and effective. You can use the techniques from above to keep the odor to a minimum in your dry diaper pail. Another suggestion for a dry diaper pail is a stainless steel trash can with a lid. Plastic absorbs odors very quickly. Washable or disposable liners can be used in the trash can the same way they would be used in a plastic diaper pail.


How do I  get my cloth diapers ready to use?


The pre-wash is very important because it makes the diaper absorbent, removes chemical or wax residue, and shrinks the diaper to the right size.   Also, the more you wash and dry cloth diapers, the softer and more comfortable they become for your child.


To get the maximum absorbency, bleached (white) diapers should be washed and dried three or four times before use. Unbleached materials should be washed and dried more than four times to remove the natural oils still in the cloth.  After the initial washes, your diapers will fluff up and become beautifully soft and absorbent.   Pocket diapers, all-in-one diapers and diaper covers only need 1-2 pre-washes to get ready for use.  


Cotton pocket diapers and all-in-one diapers usually only need one pre-wash before they are ready to use.   While diapers made of hemp may need eight to ten washes before they are ready to use.  


You can perform a simple test to see if any type of diaper is ready to wear.   Simply pour a little water onto your clean, dry diaper.   If the water is absorbed–the diaper is ready for use!   If the water sits on top of the diaper, it is not yet absorbent and will leak. Leaks are not common with cloth diapers, so if they are leaking, simply wash and dry your diaper until it absorbs water.


Can I use cloth diapers at night?


Many parents consider night time diapering a hassle. Cloth diaper combinations can often be the best choice for night time. All–In-One’s and prefolds with a doubler or liner and a diaper cover can last all night.   Parents can find that they can go the whole night without an unhappy, uncomfortable baby, or a wet bed.


If you do not use liners or doublers two prefold diapers work great at night.   Fold one of the diapers in half and place it in the center of the other diaper, just like a liner, and secure the diaper with a snug diaper cover. Two prefolds can also be used with a liner or doubler if you have a very heavy wetter.  


Choosing the right diaper cover will also help prevent leaks during the night.   Fleece or wool diaper covers are best for night time use. The natural lanolin in wool creates a waterproof barricade, yet is a very breathable fabric. Wool diaper covers are bulkier that other covers, but at night this does not really play a factor.   Fleece diaper covers are soft and durable.   Fleece takes the moisture away from your child’s skin and contains the moisture. These diaper covers are great for day and night because they are less bulky and prevent leaks.


Another great tip for night time diapering is using one-piece pajamas on your child.   Two piece pajamas often can cause leaks.   The elastic in the pants can rub the diaper cover and keep it from covering the entire diaper, therefore, causing your child’s pajamas and bed to get wet.  


Can I travel with cloth diapers?


Traveling with cloth diapers may seem like a hassle, but it is really very simple. Here is a basic list of items that will make traveling easier for you and your family.


Diapers: When deciding how many diapers you will need to bring think about how long you are going to be gone, how many diapers your child usually uses per day, and how often you will be able to launder the dirty diapers.


Diaper Covers: Using diaper covers like you would use at night are great for the car or plane.   They will give extra protection from leaks and may save you from having to change your child’s clothes or having a wet car seat.


Wipes: You can use your reusable wipes while traveling, just like you do at home.   If you do not want to have more laundry to worry about while traveling, you can choose to use biodegradable disposable wipes.  


Waterproof Tote and/or Wet Bags: Wet bags are great to take into a restroom with you.   They are small enough to fit in your diaper bag and will hold 5-8 wet diapers.   They are easy to close and keep the odor and wetness inside the bag.   A waterproof tote is also good to put soiled diapers in or your wet bags.   The tote can hold all your soiled diapers until you are at a place where you can do laundry.   You may also want to pack some plastic grocery bags or plastic zipper bags to put diapers into if you are not near a restroom.   You can use these bags to hold diapers with solid waste in them, until you can get to a restroom to properly dispose of solid waste.  


Miscellaneous: Don’t forget your laundry detergent, quarters if you will have to use a hotel laundry room, and any other baby accessories you use on a daily basis, like diaper pins, baby wash, or lotion.         


How do I wash my cloth diapers?


There are various opinions on the right and wrong way to wash cloth diapers.   Here are some basic washing instructions to follow:

1. Wash the entire load on cold with detergent.   Cold water will help remove in soiled messes still on the diapers.

2 .   Wash the entire load again on warm or hot with detergent.   Use a second rinse cycle this wash, this will help remove any residue on the diapers.

3.   Dry the diapers in the dryer on low heat, almost everything cloth diaper related is able to be put in the dryer.   If you prefer you can line dry your diapers.   Line drying diapers can save electricity and the sun will naturally bleach your diapers.   Line drying can also preserve the life of your diapers and ensures continued waterproofing capabilities.


It is best to wash your diapers every 2-3 days while diapers are easier to clean.   This also helps keeps smells and bacteria growth to a minimum.   Try to wash your diapers in loads of two dozen or less.   You want to be sure there is plenty of room in your washer to get everything clean.


What type of detergent should I use when washing my cloth diapers?


According to Diaper Pin you should use a detergent that is “phosphate free or low (containing trace amounts) in Phosphate, Fragrance and Dye Free and does not contain Fabric Softeners”.   There are several detergents recommended by other cloth diapering parents: Allens Naturally Powdered & Liquid Laundry Detergents, Bio-O-Kleen Laundry Powder, Bio-O-Kleen Liquid Laundry Detergent, Charlie’s Soap, Country Save Liquid Laundry Detergent, EnviroRite Laundry Detergent, Maggie’s Soap Nuts, Mountain Green Free and Clear, Nellie’s Laundry Soda, Planet Ultra Powdered Laundry Detergent, and Sun and Earth Deep Cleaning Laundry Detergent.  


Natural detergents like the ones listed above can often be found at natural markets, co-op’s, and even major grocery store chains are stocking more natural products on their shelves. If you have trouble finding a natural detergent, one can always be purchased on the internet.

A quick detergent guide from Happy Heiny's can be found here. 


Are there any detergents I should avoid?


Do not use detergents which enzymes, whitening enzymes, fabric whiteners, fabric brighteners, or fabric softeners in them. These types of detergents can cause terrible diaper rash.   Enzymes often stay in cotton fibers even after they are washed, they are reactivated when the diaper becomes wet on your baby.   You should also avoid anything scented or bleach on your diapers.   Bleach breaks down cotton fibers and scented detergents or softeners can affect the absorbency of the diaper.   


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

The answer to this question is simple.   If your diapers are clean, the washing machine is clean.  It is just like washing very soiled clothes in your washing machine, you do not have to sanitize the machine after you wash these clothes.   You can run another rinse cycle after you wash your diapers if it makes you feel like your washer is cleaner... but this is not necessary.

How do I wash wool diaper covers?

Be sure to wash your wool covers, and everything new before using it on your baby.   Wool covers will often have to be lanolized before using, sometimes up to three times before the wool reaches its maximum potential.   Wool covers can be worn several times between washes, just let them air dry before using them again.   Washing is only necessary when the diaper cover is smelly when dry, or has been soiled.   Wool shrinks easily, so be careful not to shrink your diaper covers.  Use warm water, because water too hot or too cold can shock and shrink the wool. If your cover is very dirty soak it in the sink before washing it.   You can use wool bar soap and vinegar to soak your covers.   You can also spot treat with lanolin bar soap, ivory soap, or olive oil bar soap.  To dry your wool diaper covers, roll them in a towel and allow them to dry.   You can also air dry them on a sweater rack if you prefer. Do NOT put your diaper covers in the dryer. It is normal for wool to take 24 or more hours to dry.


To lanolize the wool use one quarter of a solid lanolin bar. Solid lanolin is more effective than liquid or lanolin sprays. Melt the solid lanolin with very hot water in a cup.   Fill your sink with room temperature water and add the liquid lanolin mixture. Drop your wool covers, turned inside out, into the sink and gently dunk or massage them so that the entire cover is lanolized.   Then let the cover set for at least 15 minutes. Then they can be rolled up and dried in a towel. Once the covers are dry you can test your lanolizing by splashing water on your diaper cover at the sink. If the water soaks right in the covers need to be lanolized again.   This is a good test to perform between washes too, it can help you determine when to lanolize your diaper covers again. Using wool covers sounds a lot more difficult than it is.   Caring for wool may be easier than other fabrics because they do not have to be washed so often.