Overwhelmed? Cloth Diapers 101

I love the story my pastor tells about Vince Lombardi.  After the Packers had lost 3 or 4 games in a row, Vince meets with his players in the locker room, holds up the football and says, “This is a football.”

Mamas, I’m starting at the basics today.  I have been guilty of getting side-tracked by the oncoming players (too many choices), teeth shattering tackles (rashes and stink issues), and an over-sized defensive line (growth spurts and finding the right fit).

All of those issues matter, but it’s when I lose focus of the main thing that I get overwhelmed.  They’re poop-catchers for crying out loud!  Yet, I’ve dreamed of the ultimate stash, buying the next hottest cloth diaper, or designing the next big hit in cloth diapering!

So, breathe.  It isn’t as hard as it looks. Here are the Cliff Notes for Cloth Diapers 101.

* Why Cloth Diaper? Cost, Health, Environment.

Yes, you can save thousands of dollars cloth diapering, even when you factor in washing.  Don’t overthink it.  Buy inexpensive prefolds and covers,  a few snappis, and a pail.  Stick to the basics and you won’t spend much.

Disposables contain very harmful chemicals that allow them to absorb massive amounts of pee.  Sodium Polyacrylate is super absorbent and can also cause health problems to your little one.  Also, Dioxin, used to bleach the cotton, is a known possible carcinogen.

Disposables= huge landfills, millions of trees destroyed, huge waste of non-renewable resources.  It’s really a no-brainer that disposable diapers are bad for the environment.

* Cloth Diapering Systems: Prefolds/Flats, Fitteds, Pockets, All-In-Ones

Flats are a square piece of material with the same absorbency across the whole diaper.  Most are a single layer, some are double.  Flats wash easy and dry fast (great for hand washing and hang drying).  Pins are simple to use with flats but a snappi will work as well.  Flats are very trim but have to be changed often.

Prefolds are also a square piece of material but have a center strip of extra absorbency.  You may see 4-8-4 or 2-6-2 indicators by different prefolds.  This refers to the layers in each “section”.  On each of the outer sides would be 4 layers and in the middle would be 8, for example.  Prefolds can be fastened with pins, snappi or trifolded and laid in a cover.  They also are easy to handwash and dry.  Cost is very low.  New, high quality prefolds can be purchased for around $2.00 each.  Prefolds are very versatile in that you can also use them as pocket stuffers.

Fitteds are a cloth diaper that also requires a cover but has elastic and fasteners on the diaper.  Fitteds come in every material and cover imaginable.  They can be fastened with snaps or aplix (velcro).  The most common questioned asked by new cloth diaper parents is “why spend money on a cute fitted when it just has to be covered?”  Valid question that I myself asked.  It can be answered in a couple of ways: 1) we all like pretty underwear ;) 2) you can let your little one go coverless and change them often.  Fitteds are “easy” to make (easy meaning you can use materials you have in your house) and are therefore the biggest category of diaper made by WAHMs.  Fitteds take longer to dry and need  to be thoroughly washed and rinsed to prevent buildup.

Pockets are a simple 2 layer diaper.  The outer layer is waterproof and the inner is a soft material for next to baby.  A pocket is left at the top of the diaper for you to put in the absorbency between the outer and inner layers.  You are free to adjust the thickness depending on your baby’s needs.  Prefolds cause more bulk but are absorbent, whereas microfiber is super trim.  The choices for inserts is limitless.  You could even use a towel or receiving blanket if your left in a pinch. Pockets can also be used as covers or swim diapers.  They dry fast and for the most part wash up easy.  Buildup can occur on the inner layer and “material” can get trapped inside the pocket when washing.

All In Ones are the cloth diaper most similar to a disposable.  Everything you need is there in the diaper- no stuffing, no cover required.  All In Ones look very different across different brands.  Some have the soaker sewn in, others have it partially attached outside the diaper to allow for quick-drying (you will see this referred to as QD).  All In Ones can be very trim but others are quite bulky.  AIO are easy to use for anyone (daycares, babysitters, dads!) but do have some washing drawbacks.  They take longer to dry and can trap detergent and urine smells inside the soaker if not rinsed very well.

* How do you wash cloth diapers?

Ask any cloth diaper parent and they’ll give you a different answer.  You will have to experiment because it does vary depending on what system you are using, what kind of water you have (hard or soft), if your little one has sensitivities, etc.  I always recommend that you start of SIMPLE.  Wash the diapers just like you do normal laundry.  If you being to sense problems, ie. stink, rash, repelling, then start tweeking your routine.

There are many more details that need to be discussed.  If you have more questions (like nighttime cloth diapering, cloth diapering a newborn, or covers) check out my ebook Ultimate Guide to Cloth Diapers.  Combine that information with the posts on my blog and you’ll be a cloth diapering expert in no time.


About Autumn Beck

Autumn is a wife, mother, homeschool teacher, friend and most important a follower of Christ. She began cloth diapering in 2005 and has experienced many joys and trials throughout the years. You can read more from Autumn over at https://www.facebook.com/beautifullyblessedlashes.

View all posts by Autumn Beck

11 Responses to “Overwhelmed? Cloth Diapers 101”

  1. Kristin Says:

    So I’m interested in cloth diapering but it is overwhelming. I am pregnant with my second child,I have been using disposables for my first child and now she’s 21months, do you think its a good idea to switch her to cloth diapers too? If so where should I begin with her shes 22-23lbs. I change her diaper about 5-7 times a day. Thanks in advance. Oh yeah if you have any advice on newborn diapers that would be great as well


  2. Taisha Says:

    Hi Autumn, I am currently 26 weeks pregnant with my first baby (a boy) and my husband and I are really interested in using cloth diapers. As first time parents who know absolutely no one who uses cloth diapers, we are feeling a little overwhelmed with all the information out there. I have read many favorable reviews of Bum Genius one size diapers and we were thinking of going with those. However, I have also read many reviews where parents say they’ve had a lot of problems with the microfiber inserts smelling bad. Have you had any trouble with this? I suppose the solution would b e to try the Bum Genius organics which I’ve read that you love but those are also higher price4d and might not fit our budget. We also have some concerns about pocket diapers in general. Obviously many people love them and this might sound stupid, but my husband and I feel it might be a little yucky to pull out the insert from the pocket once the diaper is soiled. Is that usually a problem? The other type of diaper we thought we might consider is fitted diapers but those don’t seem to be as affordable, although I noticed the Pooters ones are not so expensive and you highly recommend them. We want to keep everything as simple as possible to ensure that we stick to cloth and do not become overwhelmed as new parents therefore, I don’t think we will do pre-folds as they seem more complicated. We have also discussed EnviBums because they look so cute and the WAHM behind the company is so generous in helping others and we have discussed Flip because they might be more convenient on vacations. I have read your reccomendations page but I am still confused as to how to start building our stash. We are on a budget so we do not want to buy a little of everything now and then decide we only like one kind better and have to buy a stash of those. We would also like to stick to one size so we don’t have to continue buying different sizes. What do you recommend for us?


    • Autumn Beck Says:

      Taisha, congratulations on your 1st baby! 1) Yes, microfiber can get the stinkies. 2) Yes, it is gross pulling inserts out of poopy diapers. 3) Bum Genius Organic AIO are worth the price…to me. My good friend cannot use BG organic aio without her son developing huge sores. Puzzling. So like with every diaper I never suggest buying an entire stash of them unless you know they will work.

      I recommend checking out the different diaper trial programs available. Off the top of my head, I believe Kelly’s Closet, Jillian’s Drawers, Sweetbottoms Baby Boutique and Diaper Wagon have these programs. Forgive me if I’ve remembered wrong on a couple of them.


    • Caitlin Says:

      Just an FYI:
      There are certain brands of cloth diapers where the insert comes out on it’s own in the wash and you never have to touch the pee. One such brand that I am in absolute LOVE with is the Rumparooz one size pocket diaper. They are pricy, but if you try you can find them on ebay, cloth diaper trader, and diaper swappers at half price or even cheaper. Hope this helps!


  3. Jackie L Says:

    I use mostly PUL covers with prefolds, but I get confused whenever I hear the term “pocket diaper.” It sounds just like a PUL diaper cover (with a pocket, of course) that you can stuff with a prefold. ?? Is it just the fact that each brand of pocket diaper can come with its own special insert that makes it different than a regular PUL diaper cover?


    • Autumn Beck Says:

      Jackie, a pocket diaper is similar to a PUL cover in that it has PUL. A pocket is 2 layers of material: PUL or a heavy fleece with an inner layer of suedecloth, microfleece, microchamois, bamboo or cotton. Every brand of pocket diaper has its own customizations, they’re all different. Most pocket diapers come with a microfiber insert made by that brand. Not always is an insert included in the purchase of a pocket diaper. I used to use Happy Heiney’s with my first son and stuffed them with prefolds.


  4. Angel Says:

    Autumn, how do you recommend washing used diapers? I’d think you’d have to use bleach cuz you never know what the baby before yours might’ve had but I’m scared that it might ruin my cute pre-loved dipes (they’re really gorg)! I’d love to hear your advice. Oh, and I have a FL if that makes a difference. Thanks in advance!


  5. Frankie Says:

    thanks for the blog. i love it!!!! happy new year!


  6. Maria Says:

    AWESOME post……. I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of this and don’t feel as intimidated as I did before. We’ll see in 6 weeks when my little one comes how I do!


  7. Kelly Says:

    It really is a good point to get back to basics sometimes. I try to keep it really simple, and I will never regularly use disposables again. I have never tried anything but pockets, but next time I have a newborn (hopefully sooner rather than later!!) I will probably try some fitted diapers.


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