My ultimate guide: The WHY and the HOW of cloth diapering a newborn

For all the moms and dads who successfully cloth diapered, the ones that might with future kiddos and all the others who decided not to, I hope this will be an interesting post!

When you decide to use cloth or reusable diapers for your baby, the first thing people will say to you is how hard it is going to be. How much work you’ll have washing them. How they’d never do it. How brave you are. Most of the folks telling you this have either never attempted to cloth diaper their kids OR are the kind of people that think bringing bags to the grocery store is lots of work. I took it with a grain of salt.

The eco-community, on the other hand, sang a different tune and was a great inspiration to me before I even had my cloth diaper baby. Blogger Meredith simply said “You need to find a way to use them, wash them and dry them”. Great advice as it turned out. (Read her take on diapering here.)

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Brand new baby – brand new diaper

There are many reasons to go with reusable diapers such as saving money, that they’re so darn cute and the fact that they’re easier on the environment than disposables are. As an environmentalist you may think the third reason was my biggest motivator to do this (and more on why it is eco-better later in the post!), but the truth is, it was “all of the above” as well as the “do to others what you’d want done to yourself” thing. I cannot, I swear to god, think of anything worse than for two (or more) years straight wear petroluem-based, toxic, sweaty, itchy, disposable undergarments.

Buying ’em

Now, we went with all made in USA diapers and wipes for eco-baby (more brands here) because made right here is my thing!

We’ve been using Thirstes’ all-in-one natural diapers (easy, organic and stylish) and Blueberry Simplex (super absorbent) all-in-one. I’ve gotten pretty much everything I needed at Nicki’s Diapers, but there are plenty of websites.

PRO TIP: Buy a few diapers you believe in, in advance, try them on baby when she gets here and then order more of the brand/style that works for you. (We needed the newborn sizing for our baby, because he was small, not all babies do.)

I knew I wasn’t comfortable buying diapers second hand for my son, but I did feel comfortable accepting hand-me-dows from a friend who’s daughter had used cloth for about a year. It might be silly, but it felt different when I knew who’d been washing and using the diapers. So, I have a stash of BumGenius pocket diapers (made in USA of imported parts) in a larger size for later.

You’ll need about 22-25 diapers to comfortably maintain a routine of washing every other day. An organic, made in USA diaper costs about $20, though there are sales, bundles and tons of other, imported, cheaper options out there.

PRO TIP: If your budget requires you to later sell your diapers, to get some of that cash back, know that baby poo can stain natural materials like cotton and hemp (even though diaper is clean!) whereas synthetics wash completely clean and white again (without bleach).

Using ’em

How to use diapers might seem self-explanatory to some, but it’s not for a new parent looking into cloth. Here’s the deal; there are lots of options for diaper styles. All-in-one, pocket diapers, wraps. I read this blog post from Homegrown Heaven and found it helpful.

You’ll need wipes and inserts too. Inserts, or boosters, help with absorbency and you’ll need them for night time. Again, organic cotton works great.

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Doesn’t this picture make it look so simple?

PRO TIP: For a simple wipes-solution, use 1.5 cups filtered water, 2 tablespoons of coconut oil (liquid) and a splash of organic baby soap for scent. Moisten wipes and keep in an airtight container. Keep coconut oil around for dry skin and rashes too.

You’ll also need a wet bag or some sort of container for keeping wet diapers until your next laundry day. For us, two large wet bags from Planet Wise work great. We fill one, empty it into the washer (no touch!) and fill the other while the first one is drying.

PRO TIP: Cloth diapers add inches to the length of your baby’s torso (fluffy butt!) meaning she’ll grow out of those onesies faster than her buddies in disposables will. Look for long and lean instead of short and wide clothes.

Washing ’em

Before I started doing this, I read a lot online about washing diapers. Everyone seemed to make it a big deal; you need to “strip them”, have them out in the sun to dry, yada yada yada. No, it’s simple. First, cold rinse cycle to get all the junk out. Second, hot wash with detergent and an extra rinse (to make sure all suds from detergent is gone!). Third, throw them in the dryer on low heat or hang try. DONE!

You do need a detergent without any type of softener in it. Softeners will make the diapers less absorbent, which we don’t want. I have been using Allen’s Naturally in my Samsung, front loaded, HE washer, and occasionally I add their special “Stink Out” liquid to make sure the diapers don’t smell. Apparently, regular, powder Tide works great for diapers too (a good choice if you don’t obsess about biodegradable detergents). Don’t go cheap on the amount of detergent, use plenty, get them clean, extra rinse.

PRO TIP: Don’t wait to start cloth diapering. The washing routine will NEVER be simpler than when baby only eats milk and poo is water-soluble and doesn’t need flushing in the toilet. 

All-in-one diapers have lots of layers and fabric, so they do need an hour at least in my dryer. We have a few (less eco-friendly) synthetic ones that dry super fast.

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Love the different designs from Thirsties!

Diapers and the environment

Some parents may feel judged because they didn’t do the eco-thing and use reusables but they shouldn’t. Our society promotes a use and toss lifestyle so don’t feel bad about using disposables if your kids are done with diapers already. Some other parents may feel defensive and tell you that the water used in the wash is WORSE for Mother Earth than filling landfill with their kids’ poopy diapers. This is simply not true.

When it comes to water, my HE (High Efficiency) front loaded washer from Samsung uses 13 gallons of water for a FULL load (two days worth of diapers are not exactly that but I do add a rinse cycle). If you wash diapers every other day for a year, that adds up to about 2,400 gallons of water. Basically the same amount of water is takes to produce cotton for one pair of jeans or produce one pound of steak. The water use with today’s washers is negligible in our water intensive society. A baby will go thru about 6000-8000 disposable diapers before he is potty trained, while 30-50 reusables will do the same job. How much water is used to produce 8000 disposable diapers? I have no idea, but I know the amount is nowhere near zero.

Some might argue that there are eco-friendly disposables (oxymoron!) now like Honest, Babyganics and Seventh Generation on the market and I agree they are a better choice than the leading big-box brands. However, even if these “eco-friendly diapers” use FSC stamped cellulose as the base material, they still contain oil based polypropylene, glues, polyester, polyurethane, ink and are packed in plastic wrap. Diapers are not recyclable because of their mix of materials and will always be landfilled.

Landfills are already full of diapers that won’t biodegrade (500+ years) and their contents (poo!) contaminates our lands and rivers. (Landfills are responsible for about 20% of our country’s methane emissions.)

What’s next?

When our baby starts childcare at six months, we will have to provide disposables for him to wear, simply because care centers in Texas won’t accept reusables. I will go with something plant-based, and I’m sure it will be just fine.

At that time, baby will also start eating solid foods, meaning poop will change (ugh!) and I’ll have to figure that situation out and write an update to this post! We do already have a (second hand) sprayer for getting contents into the toilet (oh my, this is getting serious!) we just haven’t used it yet.

Finally, let me say that any routine that involves reusables is a good routine. No time to wash that one day that got crazy? Use a disposable. Traveling and no washers at the hotel? Use a disposable. (This happened to us!) The world will not end, and we are not failures just because we can’t be 100% cloth. Every saved diaper counts!

That’s it. But please, read Meredith’s post too.

Now, hit me with ALL your questions!!

14 thoughts on “My ultimate guide: The WHY and the HOW of cloth diapering a newborn

  1. In a few (..?) years we might look back on disposable diapers as today on disposable kitchenware; something that is only very rarely used for special occasions or outings.
    I think more and more new parents are going in that direction when I listen around me. I even saw a cloth diaper today in the neighborhood hanging, drying out in the sun.
    I applaud you for making this effort and for educating us around you. Parents-to-be need to hear more positive stories and experiences from using cloth diapers!

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    1. Linda, I agree with you! I think disposables will become just what you say, at least I hope so :)
      I was happy to find out that three of the women in my close group of friends here had done part cloth too! Never thought they would have here in TX ;)

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  2. Great post. Do you know anything about the GlowBug brand? I’m trying to find gently used second hand and a lady is selling a huge lot of these but I’m wary to buy them because I won’t know how they fit until the little one arrives :S You’ve advised before to buy different kinds before committing but just wanted to know if you’ve heard anything about GlowBug brand. Thanks!

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    1. Thanks :) I was hoping you’d read it since you’re in your “planning phase”!
      Hmm, they’re made in China, so not for me. I guess second hand, it doesn’t matter though. Also they’re all polyester which makes them less eco-friendly (and bum-friendly).
      I wouldn’t buy a huge lot of any one brand, but maybe 3-4 diapers of 2-3 brands.
      Nicki’s diapers, where I have been shopping, had a gently used option and also newborn rentals! Might be worth a look if you’re looking to save :)

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    1. By weight. It will say in description when you buy. Typically each brand offers a newborn size and a “one size fits all”. Both are adjustable by buttons to go larger or smaller. Newborn ranges 6-15 lbs or so, so I knew they’d fit from day one, but I wasn’t sure baby would be big enough for the one-size (typically start at 8 lbs according to label). Our baby is about 13 lbs now and WAY too skinny for one-size still! So I don’t know what 8 lb baby can fit a one-size. He is almost grown out of newborn though…
      Hope that helps!

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  3. Anna! Thank you so much for including a link to my site in this post. Cloth diapering was such a catalyst for us to cut back on waste in other areas of our life so it will always be something I’m passionate about. I’m so glad you’re liking cloth diapering and thank you for sharing your experience and getting more parents talking! ~Meredith

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  4. I did cloth nappies (diapers) for both my boys although it took me a while with No 1 to find ones that worked for me and there was much less info on the web 15 years ago. My day care nursery was fabulous too and and allowed me to keep the boys in them. Both my boys came out of nappies very quickly once we started potty training and in fact No2 trained himself in a week, something that people say is because they can feel the wet in cloth nappies. They also saved me a fortune and I loved nothing more than a line of clean nappies bleaching white in the sunshine on my washing line. It is only what everyone did just a coupe of generations ago (and without washing machines in many cases) but sadly it is a hard battle to reverse convenience over saving the planet. #WasteLessWednesday

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