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The Basics on Cloth Diapering

Updated on October 21, 2009
Image from PrettyPrinted on Etsy
Image from PrettyPrinted on Etsy

If you're planning to cloth diaper your baby for the first time, you may find it overwhelming with all the new terms and diaper systems.  What does it all mean?  This article is intended to be a brief overview on cloth diapering.

When cloth diapering there are three parts to be aware of:

  1. Diaper Cover - These are generally waterproof and protect against leaks and spills.
  2. Diaper - these contain the urine and faeces.
  3. Diaper inserts - these are pieces of fabric usually made of hemp, microfiber, or cotton.  Usually some super-absorbent material extra absorbency so the diaper can be worn for a longer period of time.

Then there are also some diaper terms to take note of:

  • All-in-one (AIO) - These are cloth diapers that have everything in one - diaper cover that acts as a diaper and usually come with an insert.  They function exactly like a disposable diaper except that they can be washed and reused.
  • Pocket Diapers - These are cloth diapers that contain a waterproof outer covering, an inner "dry" layer, and a pocket between the inner dry layer and the waterproof outer covering where the insert goes.  They function similarly to AIOs but have the advantage of being quick drying because the insert can be removed.
  • Fitted Diapers - These are cloth diapers that look essentially like a disposable diaper (as opposed to the squares of cloth that have to be folded and pinned into place).  They are usually not leak proof and require a diaper cover.  A diaper insert can also be added to increase absorbency.

There are also a range of cloth diaper materials used:

  • PUL (polyurethane laminate) - This is a polyester interlock knit fabric that has been laminated to a thin film of polyurethane.  It is often used as the outer covering for pocket diapers and AIOs.  It provides the waterproof layer.
  • Cotton flannel
  • Bamboo fleece
  • Microfiber
  • Wool
  • Fleece

Cloth diapers also come with different systems for sizing:

  • One-size-fits-all - these are designed to fit newborns all the way to potty-trained toddler.  At least that is what they should do.  Some people have found that there is too much bulk or bunching on the newborn for these to be practical on smaller babies.
  • Regular sizes - which are pretty much like the disposable diapers (S, M, L).
  • 2-in-1 - i.e. S/M, M/L.  These are in between the individual sizes and the one-size-fits-all.  They usually have adjustable snaps or velcro to alter the diaper size to fit a smaller or larger baby.

How many diapers required to cloth diaper?

It all depends on how often you want to do your washing and the type of diaper system you use.  For instance, pocket diapers dry faster, but AIOs being bulky will take longer to dry.  You can also opt to wash everyday or every other day which will affect the quantity of diapers you need to have on hand.  Whether you decide to fully cloth diaper or partially cloth diaper will also affect how many sets of diapers you require.

The basic recommendation is at least 10-12 diapers if you start diapering full time from birth.  It also means you have to wash them everyday.  A more comfortable quantity would be about 20-24 diapers for full time cloth diapering from birth.

As your baby grows older, you won't require quite as many.  Twigandvine have an excellent article on Cloth Diapering 101 which recommend the following quantities as a minimum guide to full time cloth diapering:

  • Newborns - 18 diapers and 5 -6 covers if using the fitted diaper/cover system. Newborns go through 10-12 diapers a day because of their liquid diet.
  • 6-18 months old - 14 diapers and 4 diaper covers.  These babies generally use about 6-8 diapers a day.
  • 18 months+ - 12 diapers and 4 diaper covers.  Toddlers at this age will use about 6 diapers a day.

What about cleaning and convenience?  Idyllic Youth offers some great advice in her post "Go Cloth Diapers":

"What about convenience? Personally, I think its convenient to not have to worry about going out to the store just for diapers or wipes. I think its easier to have one basket in the nursery that I have come to eyeball as when I need to start a load, than it is to keep a count of disposables in the house. Worst comes to worst, if I run out; an hour later I have 30 clean diapers ready to go. When I'm traveling or out and about, the convenience doesn't change. I keep plastic Publix bags in my diaper bag, throw the dirty diapers in there and back in the diaper bag to go home. When I am ready to do a load I just empty the bag directly into the washer. I don't even touch the diapers. Making matters better, I keep a small bin by the washer for used Publix bags that I just bring to the recycle bin at Publix. They don't care that the bags got dirty, they get melted down. When I travel to visit people, there is always a washer anywhere I go. Hotels, family, wherever. I just bring a Tupperware of detergent and go about my life."

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