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Cloth Diapering Basics: 10 Things You'll Use Every Day

Kierstin is a mom to two little girls and host of the satirical podcast Really Good Advice for New Moms.


From the convenience of never having to make a diaper run to the environmental impact of going through a dozen disposable diapers every single day, you probably have at least a few solid reasons you're considering cloth diapering - and even more reasons you're pretty terrified to invest that much money and time into cloth diapering in the first place.

If I can put your mind at ease, cloth diapering was a lot less disgusting and much easier than I thought it would be. Still, there's some stuff I wish I would've known before I got started, like that there's a handful of items you'll need to have if you're serious about going the CD route and that I probably should have registered for them instead of all of those noisy toys. Oh well, learn from me - here's what you'll need to get started with cloth diapers:

What You'll Need to Cloth Diaper

  • A cloth diaper safe detergent
  • Washable pail liners
  • Folding drying rack
  • Stainless steel trashcan
  • Wet bags
  • A cloth diaper safe rash cream
  • Diaper sprayer or utility sink
  • Odor absorbing air freshener
  • Something to store your clean diapers
  • Cloth diapers (obviously!)

1. A Cloth Diaper Safe Detergent

Do your own research and decide what detergent works best for your family, your diaper brand, washing machine, and day-to-day budget and lifestyle. But don't let the know-it-alls get to you. While many will claim you have to buy a fancy $15 bag of unscented, powdered diaper detergent, you'll do just as well with a classic gallon of Tide. Remember what it is that you're trying to wash the diapers of...

A cardinal rule of cloth diapering you should never break though is staying away from fabric softeners and detergents that contain them because they can ruin the absorbency of your diapers. And I wouldn't go for anything heavily scented either (try a "pure" formula by your favorite detergent brand).

2. Washable Pail Liners

A washable pail liner is just a big ol' drawstring trash bag made out of fabric. Pick a liner that will fit your pail. GroVia Pail Liners (which can be found at various retailers including Amazon) fit a 13 gallon trash can perfectly. You just pull the whole thing out of the can and throw it in the wash with your diaps. Easy. Register for two or more, so you can rotate while you're washing.

3. Foldable Drying Rack

Although some brands will tell you that it's okay to throw their diapers in the dryer, it degrades the diaper's absorbency, plus it can get expensive if you're drying diapers every day. Instead, put one or two of these drying racks on your registry and use them next to the heater vent in the wintertime and on the back porch in the summer. Just fold 'em up when you're not using them and it's like there were never soggy diapers hanging out in your living room.

4. Stainless Steel Trash Can

With a lid to keep that stink where it belongs! And size does matter. 13 gallons will hold a little more than 2 days worth of diapers.

5. A Few Good Wet Bags

Besides the cuteness factor they lend to your diaper bag, wet bags are essential for storing dirty diapers when you're going out. And like the washable pail liners, you just throw these in the wash with the diapers and hang them to dry. Register for a size medium or higher. They're also great for stashing soiled baby clothes!

6. A Cloth Diaper Safe Rash Cream

As if cloth diapering doesn't sound complicated enough (and it is at first and then it gets really easy, I promise) there are some diaper creams that will ruin your cloth diapers. So what can you use? When my first daughter was two weeks old, a family friend gifted me a jar of Burt's Bees Baby Multipurpose Ointment and I used this all over my babies, including their diaper area. It's safe to use with cloth diapers since it doesn't contain any petroleum and it smells really sweet and soft too!

7. Diaper Sprayer

If you don't have a utility sink where you can spray poop (yup) off the diaps before you throw them in the wash, treat yourself to a handy dandy diaper sprayer. These things just hook right up to the toilet so you can spray that crap where it belongs.

8. Solid, Odor Absorbing Air Freshener

Babies are awesome but their poop stinks, and even with a covered lid, sometimes the laundry room can get a little stinky. Keep it fresh with a solid air freshener that both absorbs and combats odors.

I also, personally like to spray a spritz of Lysol or Citrus Magic air freshener after a diaper change to clear the air. Phew!

9. Something Cute to Stash Clean Diapers In

Okay, this isn't essential but a cute laundry hamper, basket, or fabric storage bin keeps things organized and that's how you stay sane when you're a new parent.

10. Cloth Diapers, Duh!

The choices in cloth diapers can be overwhelming, but once you see what's actually out there it's pretty basic.

So what kind of cloth diapers do you need? Check out BabyCenter's article Cloth Diapers: A Quick Guide to Your Choices for cloth diaper types and help deciding which type is the best fit for your family (or try a few!)

If you're expecting, you can register in the usual places, like Target and Amazon or you can register with a site like TheGreenNursery.com for extra discounts.

How Many Cloth Diapers Do You Really Need?

That depends on when you decide to start cloth diapering. If you want to begin from birth you will need to purchase newborn sized cloth diapers. One-size-fits all won't actually fit a newborn! And you'll need a ton. I probably changed around 16-20 diapers a day in that first month of newborn babyhood. That's why I decided to go ahead with disposables until I felt like things slowed down (plus, you're pretty exhausted after the work of physically having the baby).

I started my daughter on cloth diapers around four months old with a stash considered small by most mom's standards - about 16. My cloth diapering days are behind me as both of my children are now potty-trained, but I remember being glad for the modest number of diapers because it's gross to let those diapers sit more than 48 hours. Keeping your stash small at first allows you to invest in quality made diapers and keeps you pulling them through the laundry. However, were I to do it all over again, I would have been fine to start with 16 diapers but I probably would have bought like one or two new diapers every few months to keep them rotating.

After two kids and just as many years of using the same 16 diapers they did start to wear out. I think that considering how much use they received we did great, but if you want your stash to last, add just a couple new diapers every so often to keep from overuse.

What Do You Do With Your Baby's Poop if You're Using Cloth Diapers?

In the beginning, your babe's bowel movements will be thin and watery just like their formula or milk. This means that you can easily rinse the poop off of your diapers either in a utility sink under warm water or with a diaper sprayer attached to your toilet.

Once your little one's poops get bigger you can just shake it off into the toilet.

What Should You Use to Wash Cloth Diapers?

You don't need a special detergent to wash your diapers. I went down the path of purchasing "cloth diaper safe" detergent in the first couple of months I was using them, but not only did it defeat the purpose of saving money (that stuff was expensive!) it also was not properly cleaning my diapers, something I didn't realize until my poor baby ended up with an ammonia burn from the under-sanitized diapers. Once I wised-up I started using my usual detergent brand, unscented, and without any kind of fabric softener in it.

I never used fabric softener of any kind, I do believe this would jeopardize the integrity of the fabric and absorption and you don't necessarily need the fragrances up against baby's bottom.

How Do You Wash Cloth Diapers?

When my babies were brand new and their poop was more liquid than substance, I did remove the insert from the diaper and quickly rinse both with a sprayer before throwing them in the diaper pail, otherwise they will get stained.

Once they got older, I'd simply shake the fun into the toilet and throw the diaper into the wash. The agitation from the machine moves the insert out of the diapers and get them all nice and clean.

As far as actual washing goes you should:

  1. Dump all of your diapers, along with your soiled wetbag(s) into your washing machine
  2. Pour the appropriate amount (there's no science--just eyeball based on how big of a load you have) in
  3. Wash on hot
  4. Do one more spin in plain ol' cold water just to make sure all of the soap is out so it doesn't irritate your baby's skin. When a load was particularly horrific, I'd do a normal detergent wash, but instead of finishing up with cold water I did a bleach cycle (after the initial detergent wash, not before because urine = ammonia and ammonia + bleach is dangerous) and then one more rinse in plain water to make sure the bleach is all rinsed out.
  5. Afterward, I'd hang the actual diapers to dry and machine-dry the inserts because they're thicker and take on a smell if they don't dry all of the way through. I've been known a time or two to throw the diaper in the dryer too, though I wouldn't make a habit of it.

Did You Cloth Diaper Your Baby?

Leave a comment below with your best tricks, favorite brands and any clothie lessons you had to learn the hard way.

Leave a comment below with your best tricks, favorite brands and any clothie lessons you had to learn the hard way.

Questions & Answers

Question: Can you use diaper rash cream with cloth diapers?

Answer: Yes, you can, but it'll probably leave a stain. While some cloth diaper experts will tell you to use an all-natural rash cream (like coconut oil) with your cloth diapers this is bad advice because if your baby has a rash, it needs to be treated properly and ASAP to avoid infection.

My best advice for dealing with a diaper rash and cloth diapers is to set the cloth diapers aside, grab a package of disposables, a dusting powder and a strong, effective barrier cream like Desitin Maximum Strength and treat your baby's sweet little bottom until the rash is gone. Meanwhile, make sure that dirty cloth diapers aren't the cause of your baby's rash. Unfortunately, when I was cloth diapering my oldest, she would sometimes get ammonia burns from the diapers! I was new to these and didn't realize this is what was happening until it happened more than once. When this happens, it means that the diapers are NOT cleansed of your baby's pee and poop and they need to be properly stripped to be safe for your baby's skin again.

By the way, if you just can't go disposable while treating the rash, you should at least get liners for your cloth diapers and use those along with the Desitin until your baby's skin is healed.

Question: Will cloth diapers leak?

Answer: They do, especially if they get too much pee in them, but they still hold up better to leaks than disposable diapers. If you decide to go the cloth diaper route, you need to find a brand and style that fits around your baby’s legs well so nothing is squirting out.

Likewise, when it comes to nasty, poopy blowouts, I’ve had many of them with disposable diapers while my cloth diapers did a much better job of containing everything.

Question: Why do my cloth diapers smell like fish?

Answer: Your cloth diapers smell like fish because there are bacteria in there that aren't being properly washed out. If your diapers smell like the ocean even after washing them, it's time to strip them.

Question: Are cloth diapers gross?

Answer: I mean, they’re not pleasant. A lot of mommy bloggers and enthusiasts are going to tell you that cloth diapers aren’t any more disgusting than disposable diapers but that’s not quite the truth.

I’ve done both, and the thing about cloth diapers is that you have to dump the poop in the toilet before you wash them. You don’t do that with disposable diapers. You also have to store the dirty cloth diapers before you wash them and no matter how well you store them (I used a washable cloth bag inside of a stainless steel trash can) that smell is still going to get around, you know? It’s not like with a disposable diaper where you can bag up the poopy diaper and walk it straight around the side of your house to the dumpster, never to smell it again.

The other thing is that with newborn diapers or particularly messy older-baby diapers, you need to spray them down if you can’t get the poop into the toilet with just a little shake. So you’ll need a diaper sprayer for that (it attaches to your toilet).

If you choose to cloth diaper while you’re out and about, you’ll also have to tote those dirty diapers around with you until you get home to wash them.

Then again, it’s trite, but it’s true, for some reason, your kids’ poop just isn’t as gross as you think it’s going to be, whether it’s in a cloth diaper or a disposable one. You just kind of love it, because you love them.

© 2014 Kierstin Gunsberg


Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on June 18, 2020:

If it was poop then yes, I'd change my babes in the bathroom so I could flush the solids. I brought disposable diapers with me if I was leaving the house.

Kendall on June 18, 2020:

Great info - thanks! So are people changing their baby’s diapers in the bathroom so they can flush the solids down? Trying to figure out what the whole process would be.

Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on August 12, 2017:

Lara, I've heard great things about Alva diapers! I'm *almost* out of the diaper phase but I'm going to miss all of the cuteness of diaper fluff. Thanks for reading!

Lara Dutta on August 10, 2017:

Nice article on cloth diapers. There are many types of cloth diapers that are available in the market today but I prefer AlvaBaby. Those are washable, waterproof and breathable. Last week I had bought some pieces at a very affordable price. Keep blogging.