Friday, September 25, 2015

Everything you need to know to cloth diaper from newborn to toddler

Am I a genius who knows everything? I know you will be shocked to find out that I am not. But I have been cloth diapering successfully for over 15 months and have helped 4 friends begin cloth diapering their collective 6 children. I have learned a thing or two from all of that and want to give anyone thinking of starting cloth a realistic and informative page to allow them to cloth diaper successfully.

Again, this is not comprehensive, but I can at least point you in the right direction to find out the things you should know to be successful at cloth diapering.

There are many different types of cloth diapers!
You can learn about them all at my post HERE or at one of my favorite diaper sites Dirty Diaper Laundry

What type and how many diapers should I buy?
I advocate for a variety of diapers so that cloth diapering can be easy no matter what situation you are in. Are we at home enjoying some play time? I put a bumgenius freetime on her. Are we going to run errands and I need it to hold extra long? I put on a bumgenius 4.0 with extra hemp insert or Blueberry simplex. Are we going to take a nap? Green Mountain Diaper fitted with Blueberry coverall over it. Going to the church nursery or someone else is going to change her? I send along a Rumparooz velcro pocket with extra hemp insert. I have several types of diapers and they all serve different purposes. Your baby will also have evolving needs as he/she grows, so it is good to have a variety of options to grow with your baby. At

What type of diaper you prefer will also depend on what you are looking to get out of cloth diapering. My next post will include examples of my ideal diaper stash for different price points, so it might be a good place to start understanding what you'd need to cloth diaper. But in general, you'll want at least 25-30 diapers. This ensures you don't have to wash every day (every 2nd or 3rd day is perfectly acceptable) and helps protect your diapers from getting too well-used too quickly. I have around 40 diapers and that works well for me because I can wash every 2 days and allow my diapers to air dry, ensuring they have a long life. 

I suggest you check our Dirty Diaper Laundry to see her review of many different types of diapers.

Where do I buy diapers?
You may have a local cloth diaper shop, in which case I highly recommend you go there and check it out. Usually owners of those shops are extremely informative and helpful. Online I suggest you buy from specialty cloth diaper shops such as Diaper JunctionNicki's Diapers, or Kelly's Closet. They are great sites to browse for reviews on different diapers as well. 

How do I deal with poop?
The big question. I think people have this idea that you have to enjoy dealing with poop in order to cloth diaper. But honestly, I probably deal even less with poop because I cloth diaper simply because Victoria almost never blows out the way she does when I have her in a disposable.

If your child is exclusively breastfed (abbreviated EBF in cloth diaper terms), then that means his/her poop is water soluble. That means you can literally take a poopy diaper off the baby, put it into your diaper pail until wash day, and then just put it right into the washer on wash day. Your washing machine will not get poopy or smell, I promise.

If your child is not exclusively breastfed, is formula fed, or eats any solids, you have to remove poop from the diaper before putting it into the wash. For this I highly recommend a diaper sprayer.
Aquaus Diaper Sprayer $49.95
I have one now that we live in a house, but I didn't have one when we were in the apartment. This diaper sprayer has made my life SO much easier and more pleasant! Essentially, you take the soiled diaper off of baby and take it to the toilet that has the diaper sprayer attached to it. You hold the diaper down into the bowl of the toilet and spray off the poop. It is very quick, and my sprayer does an amazing job at getting everything off. Then you flush and put the diaper into your diaper pail until wash day.

So what is the process of cloth diapering?
So let's go through it a step at a time. You put the diaper on your baby. You can learn more about cloth diaper types and how to put on each type HERE. Don't assume you are putting them on correctly. Most leaks are caused by improper fit.

Once baby has the diaper on, you wait for them to "do their thing" in it. Some parents keep disposable diapers on their children for a long time between changes, and that is not how it is supposed to be. It is good practice to change your baby's diaper at least every 2 hours (more often for a newborn) or as you notice soiling, whether you cloth diaper or not.

When it comes time to change baby, you do it just like you would with a disposable (for the most part). You pull the diaper off and remove any poop into the toilet if necessary (see previous section on dealing with poop). Then you put the diaper into a diaper pail to store until wash day.

There are so many options for diaper pails: an extra-large wet bag hung near your changing table, a "regular" diaper pail with a wet bag on the inside, etc. You are essentially wanting to store your diapers until wash day in a water-proof and launderable bag. I use a diaper dekor pail (I have 2, one for garbage and one for cloth) and their cloth diaper liner. My friend uses her old diaper genie with a wet bag from etsy. Some people are of the opinion that cloth diapers should be stored in open pails to reduce bacteria growth. I'm not a fan of the idea, but some may find this the best system for them.

But what about leaving the house?
Some people choose to only cloth diaper at home. That is your perogative, but I have learned the hard way that if you keep disposables around, you will use them. So I don't keep disposables around unless we are going to be traveling somewhere for an extended stay.

Leaving the house in cloth is super easy. All you need is to add a wet bag to your diaper bag. I use the Skip-hop wet/dry wet bag for this purpose
I got 2 of these with a Target giftcard before Victoria arrived and they are still wearing very well. The front mesh section is where you put a few clean diapers, and after you change your little one, you put the dirty one into the water-proof section at the top and zip it shut. It really is so easy. Planet Wise also makes a really nice wet/dry bag. Sometimes when I am going out, I only bring the wet bag with me, with just a few diapers and a small pack of wipes in the front mesh part.

How so I cloth diaper a newborn?
Newborns range greatly in size, from micro-preemies to chunky 13 pounders. If you have a very large newborn, you may be able to jump right into one-size diapers (Which are meant to fit babies in a specified size range. Bumgenius, for example, advertises that they fit 8-35 pounds). However, even if your baby fits into that range, a one-size diaper may seem quite bulky on a 10 pound baby.

For this reason I think it is a great idea to invest in newborn diapers. they are not 100% necessary, but they really do help you get a good fit around skinny newborn thighs. Victoria was 9 lbs when she was born, and I used newborn diapers on her for the first 2 months. Some babies stay in their newborn diapers until 6 months or beyond. You can see a review of some of the newborn diapers I used HERE. I highly recommend Thirsties Size 1 pocket or all-in-ones (they don't make these anymore, but they are still out there if you can find them. They have a new Thirsties newborn diaper I haven't tried), Blueberry Simplex newborn all-in-ones (these tend to fit longer than most newborn diapers. I believe until 16lbs), and Tots Bots Teeny Fit for the newborn period.
5 days old in her Blueberry Simplex Newborn AIO
Because newborn diapers are used for such a short time, you can buy them second-hand in great condition usually. Many people also recommend newborn-size prefolds and covers for the newborn period.

How do I cloth diaper for naps and overnight?
Many people say the first few months of cloth diapering go great, and then they all of a sudden start noticing leaks at night! AH! I was there too. My daughter did great in Bumgenius Freetimes at night from birth, but then one day she learned to roll over in her sleep and she started leaking quite a bit. This is when many people switch to using disposables for sleep, and that is an option if you choose. But it is perfectly possible to cloth diaper successfully at night and during naps if you have the right tools.

I tried several options before finally giving in and buying some fitted diapers for naps and night-time, and I was so mad at myself for waiting so long to get them! They are totally worth the investment.

For naps, we use Green Mountain Diaper's workhorse fitteds with a Blueberry Coverall cover on top of it and we have never ever had a leak. These diapers have an amazing resale value of nearly 1:1 so you don't have to worry about investing in them (although they aren't very expensive to begin with). I have 6 of them and that is plenty for our napping needs. I have 5 blueberry coveralls and use them for naps and night-time. Because they are waterproof, they can be wiped out after you use them and reused before they need to be washed.
Blueberry coverall on the left with a Large GMD Workhorse fitted= Victoria's naptime uniform
For nighttime, we use a variety of nighttime fitteds and Blueberry Coveralls. The fitted I am showing here is a Sustainablebabyish Overnight Bamboo Fitted. They really do work great and we pretty much never have night-time leaks with this combo. We have 4 nighttime diapers and that is plenty because they can go in the dryer.
Blueberry Coverall on the left with a Large Sustainablebabyish Unicorn OBF= Victoria's nighttime uniform

There is a new type of diaper that was recently released that can also be used at night successfully. My good friend cloth diapers her 2 and 1 year olds, and she has been raving about the new Grovia O.N.E. for night time and naps
 I have yet to try these but know that my friend and I have similar issues at night time and this diaper has been getting rave reviews for its ability to make it through the night even for a toddler tummy sleeper. The price is great for these as well and only $21.95 each.

As children get older, their urine becomes more concentrated and you may begin to notice an ammonia smell when they wake up in the morning. This isn't necessary cause for alarm if you don't smell ammonia in your regular daytime diapers and if your baby isn't showing signs of ammonia burn (an all-over red rash). To prevent ammonia build-up in your night time diapers, you will want to soak them in the morning once your baby is over a year. I usually just toss ours in the hall toilet to soak for an hour or two before wringing it out (I keep a pair of kitchen gloves in the bathroom for this purpose) and putting it into the diaper pail. I also occasionally run an RLR strip for just my night diapers to keep them clear. (see more on this in the section below on stripping)

Can I buy cloth diapers second-hand?
You can buy cloth diapers second hand. Before the idea grosses you out, just thing: once your own child uses a diapers once, it is officially a used diaper! Buying second-hand is a great way to get diapers for less. You can buy them on Facebook in buy/sell/trade groups. There are groups that are general "cloth diaper swaps" where you will see any brand and type, or you can search for brand-name specific swap groups. There are also a few cloth diaper swap websites, and you can find great deals on eBay and Craigslist.

If you buy second hand, make sure you pay with paypal so that your purchase is covered and you can get your money back if you are scammed. Also, be sure to ask lots of questions and see lots of pictures of the insides of diapers. Look at the diapers elastic and ensure you are getting one that doesn't need a lot of work. Exchanging elastic in a diaper isn't a huge deal, but make sure you get the diaper for cheap if it needs that work done.

When you get a used diaper, you need to strip it..... see section below on stripping.

Washing cloth diapers
Believe it or not, there are some really hard-core groups of thought on how to wash a cloth diaper. I had lots of issues when I first started cloth diapering. I was finally able to fix my issues because I joined a group on facebook called Cloth Diaper Tech Support - CD Love and Advice. They helped correct some issues caused by the advice I got from another group. I highly suggest you join the cloth diaper tech support group, where you can get customized advice. 

Finding the right wash routine can be a bit tricky, but once you have it down, you will be able to continue like a well-oiled machine. The first thing you will want to know is what type of water you have. I highly suggest testing your water with a water hardness test strip. This will help you decide what type of wash routine you will need.

A basic wash routine looks something like this:
1) Dump diapers into the washing machine. If you have an old fashioned machine, adjust the load size to allow diapers to both move around in the water and be packed tight enough to scrub against each other. If you have a water saving machine you may want to try to adjust the water levels if possible by adding a towel or something to the load to trick it into adding more water, but this may not be necessary.

2) Run a warm rinse or short wash with no detergent. This is for removing any soil left on the diapers.

3) Run the longest and hottest wash your machine offers with detergent. The type of detergent you use is important. Do not use a home-made or other soap-based detergent because it can cause build-up issues. If you use home-made detergent for your other laundry, that is fine, but you might need to buy something else for your diapers. A high quality detergent is essential! Regular powder Tide is very popular for cloth diapers, as are some of the more natural detergents like Charlie's Soap and Rockin Green. Keep in mind that if you use a more natural detergent and also have hard water, you may need to add a water softener to the loads such as Calgon to ensure you diapers get clean. Use the amount of soap recommended for a regular-heavy load (between lines 1-2 on the Tide scoop is common).
 ***Beware! There are some cloth diaper people who advocate using huge amounts of detergent while washing diapers. Not only is it unnecessary, but it can cause ammonia issues.

4) Run an extra rinse at the end.

I recommend hanging your diapers to dry and only using the dryer for inserts and night-time diapers/fitteds/prefolds/flats. The waterproof layers on your diapers can become damaged by the heat of the dryer, but you can dry them on low if you want.

Stripping, Barnyard, and Ammonia
Sometimes you may need to strip your diapers. This means bringing your diapers back to their "new" state after ammonia issues, stink issues, you get used diapers, etc. If your wash routine isn't working, you'll need to strip your diapers to get them back to their new state before trying a new routine.

Barnyard and Ammonia describe two potential issues you could be having with your diapers: --Barnyard is a "not clean" smell that makes you wonder if your diapers got clean. If you are smelling an earthy, musty, poopy smell, then you have barnyard stink. Barnyard is caused by your diapers not getting clean enough. You probably are using the wrong detergent, not enough detergent, and not enough agitation during the wash cycle.

--Ammonia is a burning smell that stings your eyes and nose when you smell it. Believe me, you know when you smell it! Ammonia can be very common with toddler pee, which is very highly concentrated, and it isn't necessarily an issue if you aren't seeing ammonia burn (a red, all-over rash) on your toddler after a night in one diaper. But if you are smelling ammonia on every diaper, and are seeing ammonia burn, you have an issue. Ammonia is caused by bacteria growing and thriving in your diapers. Some people believe the only way to solve this is to bleach, but that will only solve the bacteria issue, not why the bacteria was trapped there in the first place.

Ammonia is usually caused by one of these 3 issues:
1) Too much detergent that has result in a "clogged" diaper that is holding on to bacteria. This is by far the most common cause of ammonia issues. You can tell if this is your issue by putting your diapers into the wash and running a warm rinse cycle. If you see lots of suds (not just bubbles caused by water moving around) then you know you have detergent build-up. You solve this by running warm water rinse cycles until the water runs mostly clean (this can take multiple rinses). Then you decrease the amount of detergent you use in the future.

2) Mineral build-up from extremely hard water exposure. If you have well water you may see ammonia issues from this. You will want to do a long, hot wash with a packet of RLR on already cleaned diapers and perhaps add a water softener such as Calgon to future loads. Rockin Green Hard Rock is also a great detergent choice if you have extremely hard water.

3) Toddler urine is very concentrated and you may notice a strong ammonia smell in your toddler's night diapers. If the smell is only on the night diapers and is not causing a rash, then simply continue using them and rinse the diapers every morning after use (I allow mine to soak in the hall toilet for a bit, or you can just run it through a short rinse cycle in your washing machine). If you notice ammonia burn or want to just make sure you keep the ammonia in check, do periodic long, hot washes with RLR on already cleaned diapers.

Some people may tell you there is no such thing as detergent build-up, and I promise you there is based on my own experience. Some may also tell you that you have to use bleach with ammonia issues. That is just not true. Bleach is almost always unnecessary in cloth diaper laundry, and should really only be necessary in a situation where you are sanitizing your diapers after a yeast rash.

If you are stripping diapers that were pre-owned, a long hot wash in RLR should do the trick, but I would also run a wash rinse first to make sure there is no detergent build-up in them.

If you are STILL having issues, please join the Cloth Diaper Tech Support page on facebook or email me at and I'll do what I can to help!

As far as I know, I think this is it! WHEW! What a long post! I am open to answering any of your questions. Simply post them in a comment below and I will do my best to help you find an answer!

I am also posting another post about my ideal diaper stashes at 3 different price points. I think it will be a good post to help you see this information in action


  1. Wow! What a great post. I'm sure this info will help someone thinking about cloth diapering. :)

  2. Excellent! This is perhaps the best guide to cloth diapering I've seen! You've gotten me to reconsider trying to find a cloth diapering solution for going out and sleep. (My oldest is a heavy wetter and we've avoided public or sleeping wetness by using disposables, which isn't our ideal). Thank you so much for this post!

    p.s. Could you write in detail your wash routine. I follow the instructions by the manufacturer for our BumGenius diapers. However, we always know when we're getting close to bleach time because we'll start to have a stink issue. Not pleasant. hah. Thanks!

  3. Very informative post. Thanks for sharing.


I love to fellowship with others and hear what they have to say. I would ask, however, that you be mindful of what you write and try to be uplifting and respectful. Thank you for sharing!