Cloth Diapering 101 & free printable supply checklist

​Cloth diapering has come a long way over the years. I remember watching my mother rinse Gerber diaper squares into the toilet, pinning dry squares together over my younger sisters’ bottoms, and covering them all with plastic pants. Cloth diapering was definitely not glamorous! This type of cloth diapering is what many people imagine still- but that couldn’t be farther from the modern cloth diapering truth.

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These days, cloth diapering actually does verge on the glamorous (at least, glamorous in the homesteading mama world!). The diapers boast patterns, bright colors, even monograms! 

It’s really not a difficult process to manage. In this post, I’ll​ touch on the major types of cloth diapers, which ones I like, and what additional items you’ll need to be successful. ​ ​I describe the simple steps for being a successful cloth diapering family, and answer some of the most common questions I get about the process. If you have any additional questions, I’ll be happy to help!

What are the most common types of cloth diapers?

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  • Hybrid diapers are a combination of a waterproof cover with either disposable or washable inserts. After a soiled diaper, the dirty insert is removed and either thrown away or washed, and a clean insert is attached or set into the same waterproof cover.

  • Pocket diapers are essentially a lined, waterproof cover with washable inserts. The entire diaper, cover and all, is washed when soiled. Then a fresh cover with fresh inserts is worn. These diapers are highly customizable, as different types (and absorbencies) of inserts can be purchased for daytime or nighttime use. They are typically less expensive than all-in-one diapers.

  • All in One diapers are a lined, waterproof cover with attached absorbent material. The all-in-one diaper it is a one-piece diaper. A disposable diaper is also a one-piece diaper.  As with pocket diapers, the entire diaper is washed each time it is soiled. Additional inserts can be purchased to fold into the diaper to increase its absorbency (for example, for nighttime use).

How to decide between cloth diaper types or brands?

If you end up with multiple types or brands that you are interested in, consider purchasing a few of each and use them with your baby. Within a few days you will know which diapers you prefer, and why. Then you can make a larger purchase of a full “diaper stash”.

Parents who cloth diaper usually have tried more than one type or brand of cloth diaper before settling on one or two. These parents generally also have strong preferences as to the type of diaper(s) they use. If you can, ask other parents for their experience with the specific diaper you are interested in using.

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Are newborn-sized diapers needed?

It depends partially on the size range of the diapers you choose, the size of your newborn, and the price and availability of newborn cloth diapers.

My honest advice is this: The first few weeks of a newborn’s life are busy and exhausting. You can still be a successful cloth diapering mama if you occasionally use disposables. I actually recommend using newborn sized disposables for the first week or two. Adding newborn cloth diapering laundry to the mix of new life is a big added stressor!

​Standard ​​​BumGenius AIO (my diaper of choice) start at 8 lbs, which was a bit bigger than my newborn. That was a factor in my decision to use disposables for about 10 days after my first child. But it wasn’t the only factor, as a friend gave me a set of G Diaper Newborn for a baby shower gift.

The real reason I used disposable for a short period of time after each of my babies were born was it was helpful. Newborns go through a lot of diapers, and I was so tired and overwhelmed. I bought a large pack of disposable diapers, and used them until the box was empty. Then we switched to cloth.

When my second child came, 14-month old big sister Giggle was still in cloth diapers. Even though I did regular laundry for Giggle’s diapers, I still used disposables with my newborn for about a week.

How many diapers are needed?

This is a function of how frequently you want to wash, whether you are willing to use a dryer to dry the diapers, and how many children in diapers you have.

In general, 12-18 cloth diapers is enough for one child in diapers full time and will give you a bit of washing and drying flexibility.

If you are planning to wash every other day, you should target 18 diapers, and once daily washers (with access to a clothes dryer for diapering emergencies) would be fine with 12.

What is the washing and drying process?

​When I had two kids in cloth diapers full time, I washed the diapers daily or almost daily. I let them line dry most of the time, although there were a few times when I was forced to use the dryer (on low). I’ll describe my daily process in case it’s helpful to you moms with the same situation!

First, do a prerinse cycle. Some washers have a setting that will add this cycle automatically to your wash cycle – mine did not. When I first rose in the morning, I put a load of diapers in the washer to pre-rinse. Don’t skip this cycle- it will help remove urine and “debris” from the diapers so that your detergent and wash cycle can clean the diapers well.

Wash: I always turned the wash cycle on after the baby’s 9 am feeding.

  • Always use hot water.

  • Use a cloth-diaper approved detergent. I have read that homemade detergents and some soaps can leave a residue on the diapers, requiring eventual “stripping”. I always used C​harlie's Soap and have never once had an issue with buildup. Also, this residue can cause absorbency issues.

  • Extra rinse (at the end): I always did the short extra rinse option at the end of the cycle. I felt like it ensured all detergent residues were gone, and that was important to me. If using this much water is a concern for you, you could test washing without this rinse.

  • Twice a month, I used Charlie’s powdered non-chlorine bleach in the wash cycle. I liked to do this on the 1st and the 15th of the month, just to make it easy to remember.

​​​​Dry: I tried to hang the diapers to dry while my kids were resting after lunch so that the washer would be free to run a load or two of clothing laundry. No rest for a mama, right?! I hung them on a sturdy ​drying rack given to me by my in-laws. If you don’t have a ​drying rack already, and you plan to cloth diaper, you’ll need to invest in one.

When you hang the diapers to dry, make sure to hang them with the waterproof cover side down and the absorbent side up, so the water can properly evaporate.

If you hang the diapers around lunchtime, most of the time they will be fully dry before the next morning. If it’s damp in the area where you dry the diapers, it may take longer. Try to find a place where it’s sunny/dry -you want them to dry as quickly as possible so that they don’t develop a funky smell.

​What do you do with a dirty diaper before washing it?

First, if the diaper contains poop that you can lift or push off, use a flushable wipe or toilet paper to remove and dispose of it in the toilet. The less solid waste you run through your washer, the better! I have seen a sprayer that you can attach to your toilet to help clean the diapers off, but I never felt it necessary to buy and use one.

Then, place the wet diaper in your chosen diaper holding area until your regular washing day.  I recommend using a waterproof, washable “wet bag” liner inside of a lidded trash can.

You will need two of these bags - one will go into the wash with your diapers and one will be in use. I also have ​two small zippered wet bags to store and transport used diapers when we are not at home.

Some women do soak their diapers – I find the idea of reaching into and emptying a bucket full of marinating diaper water unsanitary. I didn’t want to keep a bucket like this in my bathroom and then remove soaked diapers for transport to my laundry room. Conversely, I didn’t want to keep a bucket in my laundry room and then transport the bucket to the bathroom for emptying. I could think of no reasonable process and my diapers were cleaning very well without the bucket method. If you are scraping poop into the toilet and you are using correct washing procedures, there is no reason to soak the diapers in advance of washing.

​What about diaper rash and diaper rash cream?

We rarely had diaper rash. I changed my babies frequently (every 2-3 hours during the day). Plus, cloth diapers are very gentle on skin. On the rare occasion that we did experience some rashiness, I first bathed my baby in clear water and gentle baby wash. Then, I applied diaper rash cream along with (IMPORTANT) a diaper liner.

You need to use a diaper liner with your cloth diapers because the cream can affect the absorbency of the diaper. It’s difficult to wash out of the diaper fabric. It’s very “clingy” and can form a barrier on the fabric.

I used small strips and squares of flannel cloth laid on top of the diaper, right next to baby’s bottom.  It worked very well. You could easily make your own by just cutting up one of your baby’s receiving blankets.

When it comes time for washing, just wash the liners along with the diapers. That may seem counterintuitive, but I have never experienced an absorbency issue after combining these items for washing. However, feel free to separate the liners and wash them separately if you are concerned.

What about stripping the diapers?

In my experience cloth diapering three children, using the same diapers for all of them, I have not major issues with bad-smelling diapers or filmy coating, and I have never needed to strip the diapers. Here are my tips for keeping your diapers in top condition:

  • Be careful not to let the diaper get coated with diaper cream (by using a thin cloth as a liner, see above.)

  • Wash the diapers at least every other day using hot water and a pre- and post-rinse, (see above).

  • Twice a month, use Charlie’s powdered non-chlorine bleach in the wash cycle.


My guess is that if the diapers stink, or don’t seem as absorbent, perhaps there is something in the diaper washing process that needs adjusting. If they seem smelly, wash the diapers again using correct washing procedures (above) and add non-chorine bleach to the cycle. Be sure they are drying quickly enough – a damp drying room can contribute to a musty smell.  

Can you cloth diaper overnight?

Yes, this is absolutely possible. You will need to obtain extra, very absorbent inserts to place inside your cloth diaper. Hemp inserts/doublers are excellent in the bottom of the diaper overnight. ​

Fold the insert if necessary so that it fits completely inside the diaper. Also, be sure that you fasten the diaper tightly. Gaping at the leg openings, fabric sticking out will both cause leakage.

Can you be a cloth diapering mama and still use some disposables?

Of course! Give yourself a little grace, mama. Parenting is hard, and cloth diapering is a big commitment. There may be times when you use cloth all the time and times when you revert to disposables for a while. Or, you may use both on a regular basis. There is no right answer – only the answer that makes sense for you and your family.

I use Seventh Generation on occasion, but my preference by far is Bambo Nature.

How do you cloth diaper while traveling?

This really depends on where you are going and what your preferences are. You could do (and I have done) any of the following:

  • Take only cloth diapers: I did this while staying at a hotel in Florida for a week. Both girls were in diapers full time. I washed during naptimes and hung to dry in the room.

  • Take some cloth diapers and some disposables: My preference for weekend trips. The babies wore cloth for the first part of the weekend and disposables if/when the clean cloth diapers ran out. Then I washed the cloth diapers at home. Or, use both cloth and disposable the whole trip, according to your schedule.

  • Take only disposable diapers. Sounds like an easy idea, but packing enough disposable diapers can take up a lot of space, whereas just a few cloth diapers makes fairly light travel. My suggestion, if you are tight on space, would be to purchase the disposables when you arrive or even to buy them in advance on Amazon and have them delivered to you at your destination.

Here is my cloth diapering story:

In preparation for our first child, I bought six each of three different kinds of cloth diapers. We tried G Diaper brand brand hybrid (covers with disposable paper and/or cloth inserts), Gro Via hybrids with snap in inserts as well as Gro Via all-in-ones. I did not try any true pocket diapers. By far, our favorite diaper was the Bum Genius “Freetime” all-in-one diaper (with snaps) and we accumulated 36 diapers total (we had more than one child in diapers full time). 

Giggle was in cloth diapers full time until she was ready to potty train -a little before 2 years old. Then we switched to cloth training pants. She wore a diaper while she slept for some time more. When she ​was fully potty trained during the day and rejected diapers overnight, we tried a cloth pull-up style diaper for overnight, but it didn’t fit well and leaked. At that point we switched to Bambo Nature disposable ​training pants for overnight use only.

Wiggle was in cloth diapers full time until about 18 months, and daytime-only after that. She had many sleep issues, and around 18 months I thought perhaps a wet diaper was contributing to her sleep disruption. At that point, we made a nighttime-only switch to Bambo Nature disposable diapers. Unfortunately, it didn’t help (she didn’t sleep through the night until two weeks after my son was born). She remained in cloth diapers in the daytime until potty training, and then switched to cloth training pants. ​When she ​​was potty trained and rejected diapers overnight, we switched to Bambo Natur​e disposable training pants overnight.

Stomp wore cloth diapers during the day and Bambo Nature disposable diapers overnight right from the beginning. I transitioned him to full time disposable usage around 10 months old. The sole reason was that his diapers were very soiled and needed scraping m​ultiple times per day. I couldn’t scrape them all adequately clean with wipes and I was concerned about the increased volume of feces going into my new water-efficient clothes washer. After weighing my priorities, my situation and my options, I chose to move to Bambo Nature disposables with occasional cloth usage.

I consider myself a successful cloth-diapering parent overall, and I’m very glad to have done it for so long.

So.. is cloth diapering really worth it?

It’s absolutely worth doing! My husband and I both are so glad we made the decision to start cloth diapering. I encourage you to try it, even if you can only commit to part-time, or daytime, or something else.

To help get you started, I’ve created a handy printable checklist of cloth diapering supplies that will help you stock your changing table! Be sure to grab your copy absolutely free below.

About the Author Courtney

I'm a homesteading, homeschooling mama to three little ones. I'm passionate about helping other moms find ways to live the homesteading life of their dreams.

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