Simplifying Cloth Diapers: 11 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Started

image by Amy Selleck

By Joanna Rodriguez, Contributing Writer

There is definitely a learning curve to cloth diapers. There are tons of different kinds, different ways of washing, and different accessories. I’m hoping these tips will help you avoid some of the hassles I’ve encountered during my 3+ years of cloth diapering!

1. Gerber Prefolds are Really Just Burp Cloths

When I started diapering my son, I thought I’d go simple with prefolds and covers. I put some Gerber prefolds on my baby registry since they are the only kind carried by places like Target. Bad idea. Gerber prefolds are thin, wimpy, and wear out quickly. They make great burp cloths and cleaning cloths, but they’re not really diapers. We often doubled them up to get the necessary absorbency, which was a pain. If you’re doing prefolds, go for the good stuff!

2. Snaps Are More Durable than Velcro

While velcro is nice for quickly getting a diaper on a wiggly baby, the durability of snaps has won me over. Those extra couple seconds of fastening are worth diapers last a lot longer! Velcro requires fastening tabs for laundering, which inevitably gets forgotten sometimes. Then the velcro all sticks to each other in the wash and fills up with fuzz and lint. None of that hassle with snaps!

3. You Really Can Stick to the Basics

Diaper sprayers are kind of nice, but beware of overspray. Personally, I’d rather just dump & swish. Liners are convenient for dumping poop, but wasteful since most diapers are just pee anyway. Fancy wipes may be soft and cute, but cut up t-shirts or extra baby washcloths work just fine. Pail liners make it easier to carry the diapers to the laundry, but I’ve been disappointed at how fast they wear out (nowadays we just keep a small step-on garbage can in each bathroom and empty it into a bigger pail near the laundry every day).

You don’t need everything. If you are on a tight budget, don’t worry about fancy accessories. Just get diapers, covers if you’re using prefolds or fitteds, and a travel wet bag or two.

4. Microfiber and Hard Water Don’t Get Along

Microfiber is appealing because it is very absorbent but not as bulky as natural fibers. Most pocket diapers (see #5) have microfiber inserts. One problem with microfiber is that it is very difficult to get all those tiny fibers completely clean. If they don’t get completely clean, they stink and can also repel moisture, causing leaks.

This is especially a problem if you have hard water. Hard water has a lot of minerals in it, that make it more difficult for detergents to work efficiently. Combine this with microfiber and you will very likely end up with stinky, leaky diapers, no matter how much you try to strip them (see #7).

5. Pockets are More Prone to Leaks

In addition to microfiber inserts being prone to build-up and leaks, the fleece lining of popular pockets like BumGenius and FuzziBunz is also prone to build-up. Whether it’s minerals, detergent residue, or from diaper rash cream, anything that doesn’t rinse off of that fleece properly will cause leaks. You can try stripping (see #7), but after many failed attempts I gave up and said good-bye to most of my pocket diapers. One exception is these Kawaii bamboo pockets. I haven’t had any trouble with leaks or build up or stink with those! (But newborn poop stains them like the dickens.)

Note from Kate: I sew my own pockets with Alova suedecloth on the inside.  My babies seem to prefer the feel of this fabric to a fleece-type fabric, and they also don’t leak or get any build up.  So, it depends on what is inside the diaper, as well as what you wash with.  Even my diapers that are four years old with not-so-great elastic don’t leak.

6. Fitted Diapers are Not Prone to Leaks

My favorite diapers are fitted diapers. They are easier to put on than a prefold (great for grandparents or babysitters), super soft, and require no post-wash assembly. No parts to match! Just grab and go! They require a cover, but I’d rather do a little more work at diaper changing time than having to stuff a bunch of pockets. Some people have found that they make a great nighttime diaper (with an insert in between the diaper and the cover), but it depends how sensitive your little one is to feeling wet in the night. The best part is that they very rarely leak, unless you…uhh… forget to change your baby’s diaper. :)

7. Stripping Diapers is Par for the Course

I thought I must be doing something wrong if my diapers got stinky or started leaking. Turns out it happens to pretty much everyone, and having to “strip” every couple months or so is completely normal. Things that can cause build up include detergent residue, residual fabric softener in your dryer, rash creams, and minerals from hard water.

Note from Kate: I almost never strip.  Maybe once a year.  I do not use microfiber; I stuff with cotton prefolds.  And I use soap nuts, which do not build up on the diapers.  If I use other detergents, no matter how natural, I have to strip after a month or two like everyone else.  So…I don’t. :)

8. More Water = More Detergent

I found out after scouring the Eco-Sprout website that the more water you use to wash your diapers, the more detergent you need because it gets watered down. That makes sense to me, but there is a lot of advice out there to use very little detergent and the highest water level. If you have hard water, that method will not clean your diapers thoroughly! I’m currently doing a “medium” load with 3-4 T. of Eco-Sprout. Make sure you use a detergent intended for cloth diapers and follow their advice for how much detergent to use, depending on your water type and the size of the load.

9. Vinegar Can Cause Build-Up

It’s often recommended to put some vinegar in the rinse cycle to help your diapers rinse thoroughly. However, vinegar can react with the minerals in hard water and cause build-up. It might be okay with soft water, but my advice to you is to stay away from vinegar if you have hard water!

10. Beware of Rash Creams, Even “Cloth Safe” Ones!

I found that rubbing anything on my baby’s bum, even “cloth diaper safe” diaper rash creams, caused build-up on my diapers, resulting in leaking and needed to be stripped more often. Now the only thing I use is coconut oil, rubbed in well so that none is being absorbed into the diaper. If your baby gets a bad rash, it might be worth using disposables with rash cream until it clears up, or using fleece liners that you don’t care about to keep it from getting on the diaper. (You can easily cut your own fleece liners from a piece of fleece.) You may want to wash them separately, too, to be extra careful.

11. You’re Not A Bad Mother if You Use Disposables at Night

We tried and tried to find a good nighttime solution for our son. Pockets were leaking like crazy (see #5) and giving him diaper rash because when a diaper is on that long some of the urine turns into ammonia. Fitteds, though they didn’t leak, were not keeping his bottom dry and he was waking more frequently. Finally, we gave up and started using disposables. We usually got “eco-friendly” ones since we didn’t want nasty chemicals against his skin all night long. We figured that good sleep and no more diaper rash was worth the small amount of money and waste caused by using one disposable per day. Ideal? No. Saving us a lot of hassle? Absolutely. (Have a great nighttime solution? Share it below!)

If you cloth diaper, what do you wish you had known before you started?

Comments

    • Tracy Lange says

      We use the Kawaii Good Night Heavy wetters as well and double stuff with hemp insert closest to the outside part of the diaper – so the insert that came with the diaper is the first to get wet and the hemp soaks up the pee. He is 9 1/2 mths and has rarely leaked at night – I use Charlies Soap to wash and have never stripped the diapers. Anyway that is what we do at night as well – works great!!

  1. Deb says

    Only used flats and rubber/vinyl pants for all my kids. Never, ever stripped diapers adn they cleaned, worked just fine. that’s probably 6+ yrs. of using the same 4 doz. flats. Used reg. detergent from the store and had well water which some places was unsoftened. Had a few stains on them from when kids were older but no biggie. Wish they had these neat cloth diapers when I was doing it.

  2. Melissa says

    Love all this! Encouraging me to do cloth again but I keep thinking of our last experience. Our diapers at first were great but about 3 mo in we had to strip but I really had to do it 1 time a week. Which got costly since we don’t have our own washer and dryer and it’s a 1.50 to wash and 1.50 dry in our complex. but end up adding about 3 more quarters so it really is 2.25 to dry. We would have to do about 3 to 4 washes to where I felt they were completely clean and striped. We have front loading washers but not very maintained and musty smelling and clogged all the time. Plus with tenants using different detergents and fabric softeners it would get left over and yeah well it was getting frustrating and expensive. Now we have twins on the way so its double the blessing and double the diapers :) I shudder at the cost and hassle. Any tips?

    • says

      Props to you for even trying without your own washer and dryer! I’m guessing all the stripping was due to detergent residue in the shared washers/dryers. What kind of diapers were you using? I’d say prefolds and covers would be your best bet if you are paying to wash. Since they are all cotton they don’t trap residue as easily, and they dry fast. Good luck!

  3. Amanda says

    Great article! We use Bummis pre-folds during the day with either Flip or Blueberry one-size covers. At night we use Mother-ease fitted diapers & Mother-ease snap covers (with a Bummis inside for added absorbency) – this has never failed, while doubling up disposables has. We wash with well water and Nature Clean soap and haven’t had to strip them yet! We love our cloth diapers!

  4. Shan says

    I’ve found the Kawaii GNHWs to be the best thing for nighttime. The extra absorbent inserts pull the moisture away from my little one’s butt and they have a heavier PUL. No leaking and dryiness everywhere that should be since we started using them.

  5. Cortney says

    Great advice!

    I will say, we did get Gerber and Garanimal prefolds and then I was gifted some hemp prefolds and the Garanimals were hands down my favs. I also never had to strip my diapers, so I will count that is lucky on both accounts.

    All we have ever used are Thirsties Duo wraps and have been very happy! We did not get all the gadgets and everything has worked out just fine. My 19 month old still wears them sometime but he is mostly using the potty now. And I know it sounds weird but when he is completely done, I will sort of miss going CD laundry. I am so glad me and my hubby were educated about cloth diapers and have had a great experience!

    • Katie says

      Soap nuts are nuts from the saponin tree. They have very low suds and are all natural, obviously, since they are harvested from a tree. :) I read some stuff that Kate wrote about soap nuts on her blog, and finally tried them out recently. We have been super happy with them for the first about 3 weeks! We are going to switch to cloth diapers soon, so I can only say on that score that I have heard LOTS of good things about CD and soap nuts from other people, and am confident that we’ll love it too! I bought our soap nuts from Amazon. So far, it is extremely cost effective and much cheaper than detergent.

  6. Amy S says

    4. Microfiber is not necessarily trimmer than natural fibers. I love hemp inserts and stuff my pockets with them instead of microfiber. I like Thirsties and Geffenbaby hemp inserts because they are soft like a tshirt, absorbent and much trimmer than microfiber.

    11. It took me 21 months to find a pocket diaper that would not leak overnight. Unfortunately my guy is so tall (off the growth charts tall) that OS pockets just do not have enough rise for him in the front. I still like my Rumparooz but at 24 months my son does not always wake up dry in them anymore. I had to buy some XL hybrid fitteds from a WAHM for nighttime.

    • Joy P says

      When you say Rumparooz do you mean their pockets or their Ecoposh fitteds?
      I’ve heard nothing but good things about their Ecoposh fitted so far. Most people say after 12 hours of sleeping at night they open the cover to a DRY (on the outside) diaper when they use Ecoposh fitted. I was thinking of splurging on them since my son has wet through an overnight disposable! (and not the eco-friendly kind)

  7. says

    I have to put in a good work for Gerber Prefolds! I agree that the regular “birdseye” 3-ply diapers don’t work very well, but their 6-ply “overnight” prefolds are great! That’s all I’ve used for my three kids, and I love them! I almost never have leaks (only when I’ve gone too long between changes), they are so easy to care for (I’ve never had to strip diapers), and they are great quality (they’ve almost gone through three kids and are still holding up great!). I think they’re a great inexpensive prefold option!

  8. Diane says

    I wish someone had told me that natural fibers do not have to be striped because there is no risk of buildup. I would have started with prefolds or fitteds three kids ago! The pockets are just adorable so that’s what I used for the first two kids. Now, I’m all about fitteds and either covers or wool longies and shorties I love it!!!

  9. katie says

    has anyone tried wool inserts for overnight? I saw a few posts somewhere about how it is supposed to be very absorbant but I haven’t tried it yet…

  10. Justen says

    For our nighttime solution we use a Flip Overnight prefold and a Thirsties Hemp prefold with a Flip cover. He can go a solid 9 hours in one. He starts out in a freetime and is changed about 10pm into his overnight. I found that if you rinse them out in the morning, they don’t smell when it comes to wash day. And they are both natural fibers!!

  11. Mary says

    Diapering can be a nightmare for a Dad who has trouble with cloth diapers, But he learned. We used disposibles at night. Caldesene powder for rashes. I made liners out of fleece. But didn’t like them. And when we used cloth on a regular basis we had quick toilet training. our sons 13mo. he was always in cloth, our#2 son 2 yrs we had switched a lot. But when we went to full time cloth during the day he quickly wanted to use the potty. Our daughter didn’t care wet, dry, soiled, clean, we had fits over the delay. she was almost 4 and we still have problems at 7, poo during the day, bed wetting at night. but we had her in pull ups never again! They are a mistake.

  12. says

    I love this article! I so rarely find someone else who feels that microfiber is a problem. Also, we use only prefolds and wool, and wash with homemade laundry detergent (washing soda, borax, grated bar soap, oxiclean and baking soda) and we almost never have to strip either.

  13. MrsWJAA says

    you can always buy suadecloth or microfleece and cut into liners that fit inside your fitteds.. then you have the great absorbancy paired with a stay-dry liner :) but our bamboo fitteds don’t cause a reaction with my daughter even after a 12+ hour night :)

  14. Mina says

    Hi there, just wanted to comment on number 10 regarding rash creams and coconut oil as an alternative: If you are dealing with any kind of diaper rash, I recommend cornstarch. Nothing more, nothing less. I also use it as an alternative to any kind of baby powder. For non related uses of corn starch, you can even drop a few drops of lavender Dottera essential oil into a batch and shake for a little bit of fragrance. When my son was about 6 months old, he had a horrid rash that worsened over the course of a week, I tried everything to remedy his discomfort. All of the products I used were all natural, organic, “safe” and nothing worked. I felt horrible. Then, an older southern woman told me never to use baby powder as it contains harmful fragrances to sensitive skin and to try CORNSTARCH instead. I tried it and the next day it was on its way to a full recovery!!! Cornstarch saved my little baby’s bum! And we always use coconut oil with a few drops of lavender essential oil as a moisturizer for the body and baby’s head to help with cradle cap. Works every time!

    • brittany says

      Corn starch does work great for rashes…I got a sweat rash from a sports bra at work yesterday and after my shower I grabbed the corn starch and rubbed it up under my boobs where the rash was and went to sleep…woke up rash free this morning!! So easy and is already in the cabinet

  15. says

    I had two dozen FLAT Gerber diapers given to me at a baby shower and although they are thin and flimsy, they were the ONLY ones I used when my daughter was born! She was a preemie and was just under 4lbs when we brought her home. Now I use two of them to stuff into pockets and they work amazingly well! I also set aside a few to use as Mama Cloth. The majority of my diapers are osocozy flats and prefolds though. I also have some cut up jersey fabric that I use as flats and inserts. Works great!

  16. says

    100% agree with all of this! Cloth diapers are so much easier than I ever imagined.

    I have never stripped (possibly because I only use prefolds?). I tried some pocket diapers at first, but after a few blowouts, decided that prefolds were the way to go. Ridiculously simple. I use Nellie’s laundry soap, Green Mountain unbleached prefolds, fleece liners, and Thirsties Duo Snap wraps. I’ve never had a blowout with these, and only a few “wet” leaks.

    I also use disposables overnight :) yay for cheating!

  17. Brenda Watt says

    I love my pockets. We use a couple mf but only 4 out of our huge insert collection. We mainly use FST and cotton prefolds. At night he wears a pocket with either 2 FST or a mf or prefold with a bamboo underneath. I only have 12 pockets, I think and 1 bummies flannel fitted that I never use.



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