Written by Stacey Kelleher. Reviewed by cleaning expert Sean Busch.
If you're trying to choose cloth diapers for your little one, you know there are so many options. It can be pretty confusing. There's really no "one-size-fits-all" approach, so we recommend experimenting until you find what works best for you and your family.
Our article walks you through all of the different types, how to choose them, and the best laundry detergent and stain remover for diapers.
How Many Cloth Diapers Do I Need?
We recommend starting with at least a dozen cloth diapers, though two dozen is ideal because it leaves plenty of backups on laundry days.
To make cloth diapers a breeze, we recommend the following products:
- Puracy Natural Laundry Detergent: Our 99.4% free & clear, plant-based detergent is safe and gentle for baby’s skin – but tough on unmentionables. We firmly believe that this is the best detergent for cloth diapers.
- Natural Stain Remover For cloth diapers, nothing beats the 6 plant-based enzymes in this product.
- Bumkins Disposable Diaper Liners: Made out of 100% bamboo, these compostable liners fit into diaper pockets, making removing waste quick and easy.
- Thirsties Wet/Dry Bag: Perfect for storing messy diapers until you can get home, this waterproof bag clips onto strollers or diaper bags.
- Snappi Cloth Diaper Fasteners: Used with prefolds and flats, these clips are a great alternative to safety pins (that can poke and pinch babies’ skin).
- Skip Hop Nursery Style Steel Diaper Pail: We like this diaper pail because it offers a bit of storage for supplies. Plus, the steel interior resists odors.
- OsoCozy Flannel Baby Wipes: These super-soft, reusable wipes are made out of unbleached flannel – and can be washed and reused countless times.
- Caboo Bamboo Wipes: Sometimes, you just need a wet wipe. And these 99% naturally-derived options are especially designed for sensitive skin.
How Often Should I Wash Cloth Diapers?
Well, that really depends on how much time you have for laundry. Some parents try to throw a load in at least once a day. We wouldn’t recommend waiting more than 3-4 days to keep odors at a minimum (and to avoid running out of clean options).
How to Wash Cloth Diapers
Washing cloth diapers doesn’t have to be unpleasant, time-consuming, or complicated:
- After removing a soiled diaper, dispose of solid waste in the toilet.
- Pretreat stains with a Natural Stain Remover. Gently massage the area with a soft brush before letting it soak for anywhere from 30 minutes to 48+ hours (the longer you leave it, the more time it has to work).
- Because hot water will destroy the powerful, plant-based enzymes in Puracy products, wash soiled cloth diapers in warm water, follow with Follow the washing instructions on the bottle:
- We recommend our Natural Laundry Detergent. Its Free & Clear formula is gentle on sensitive skin and only takes ¼ of an ounce per load!
- Some diapers require air-drying while others can go in the dryer on medium-to-low heat. Be sure to check manufacturer recommendations.
Different Types of Cloth Diapers
Parents once had to fold small scraps of cotton or linen into rectangular shapes and fasten them to pants with safety pins. Today's options are softer, more absorbent, and more sanitary than ever before – how do you choose cloth diapers?
Flats aren't much more than large sections of cotton cloth that are folded in a number of ways. Use old t-shirts, burp cloths, and even old dish towels for a budget-friendly option. But they can shift and unfold as your baby moves, so flat diapers aren’t always the best option.
Prefold cloth diapers come pre-folded into three sections (the middle being the thickest). You shouldn't have to fold them more than once for decent absorbency. Prefolds are placed inside/fastened to an outer cover with safety pins or diaper clips.
Our recommendation: Thirsties Cloth Prefolds are soft and eco-friendly. They're also made of knitted hemp jersey which is 25% more absorbent than pure cotton.
Fitted Cloth Diapers
Made from cotton, bamboo, and fleece, these diapers are pre-folded to fit your baby, have snaps or velcro closures, and are generally used with a cloth diaper cover (a separate waterproof layer). When used with a cover, fitteds are extremely absorbent and ideal for night time.
Most similar to disposable diapers, pocket cloth diapers are user-friendly (excellent for grandparents and babysitters). With a pocket to place an insertable absorbent pad, pocket diapers are usually made from more water-resistant fabrics.
Our recommendation: Kanga Care Rumparooz Pocket Cloth Diapers adjust to four sizes and grow with your baby – and their personalized system provides the perfect fit.
Nearly the same as pocket cloth diapers, except there are openings on both ends of the pocket that allow you to pull the pad out when it’s dirty. Dispose of waste in the toilet, then throw the whole diaper in the laundry. The pad falls out in the wash and can be reinserted when dry.
Hybrids are a combination of cloth diapers and disposables. Most have a washable and reusable outer cover. You can insert a reusable fabric pad or a composable insert. They offer the best of both worlds, but can often be more costly than other options. Eco-friendly flushable inserts might work well for hybrid cloth diapers, too.
Our recommendation: GroVia Hybrid Diaper Shell come in a variety of cozy fabrics and work with both eco-friendly disposable pads and cloth prefolds.
All-in-one cloth diapers tend to be costlier because they're the most convenient. They are the most similar to disposable diapers in that there’s no folding, covers, or inserts. You can find them in different sizes to fit your growing baby. Because all-in-ones are thicker, they may take longer to dry.
Our recommendation: Nicki's Diapers: Soft fleece is super comfy and this product doesn’t require inserts or pads.
The Environmental Impact of Cloth Diapers
Disposable diapers require more raw materials to produce and take hundreds of years to decompose, so many parents choose cloth diapers to reduce their environmental impact.But cloth diapers have an impact on the environment, too.
Between harvesting the cotton, manufacturing the cloth, and the frequent washing and drying, reusable diapers require more resources than disposable alternatives. Parents can take steps to conserve and offset water usage:
- investing in low-flow showerheads and toilets
- running dishwashers and washing machines at full capacity
- Utilizing rainwater collection and greywater systems are other excellent ways
But the most eco-friendly method is purchasing hand-me-down cloth diapers and gifting them to others when your baby has outgrown them. Obviously, you'll have to wash them with a gentle laundry detergent before passing them along!
Cloth Diapers Aren’t Always the Only Option
Even if you’re committed to using reusable cloth diapers, you may have to go the single-use route sometimes:
- If you’re traveling and don’t have time or access to a washing machine.
- Your daycare doesn't accept cloth diapers
- Babysitters or grandparents prefer disposable diapers.
Our recommendation: Bambo Nature Eco Friendly Baby Diapers. These super-absorbent diapers are free of harsh chemicals and perfumes.
Count on the Best Detergent for Cloth Diapers
Our Free & Clear Laundry Detergent formula comes without questionable ingredients like sulfates, phosphates, petrochemicals, sulfates, dyes, perfumes, fragrances, chlorine, and allergens.
The best natural detergent for cloth diapers is gentle on skin, yet effective on smells and stains. We guarantee it!