The Modern Mom's Guide to Cloth Diapering

Ditching disposables is easier than you might think! If you're considering cloth diapers, check out our need-to-know guide.

cloth diapers Katarzyna Wojtasik/

If you're like most moms-to-be, you may have uttered the following words at some point: "I really want to try cloth diapers, but... it seems like too much work." Or: "It's a lot of money to spend up-front." Or: "I can't deal with scraping poop into a toilet." Or: "I heard they're just as bad for the environment as disposables."

The fact is, cloth diapers do require more work than simply tossing a disposable into the trash, and they aren't the right choice for every family. But thanks to progress in modern tush-covering technology, they may make more sense for yours than you realize. Read our modern mom's primer for cloth diapering -- and you might be inspired to give an old-fashioned choice a new look.

Fresh Options

Cloth diapers have come a looongg way, baby. These days, there are nearly a dozen types of cloth diapers, from the more traditional flat and prefolded squares of absorbent material that lay inside a diaper cover to hybrid diapers with washable outer covers and disposable inserts.

"There are so many options -- no matter your baby's body type or activity level, there's a style on the market that will work for him or her," says mom blogger Erin Odom, author of Confessions of a Cloth Diaper Convert: A Simple, Comprehensive Guide to Using Cloth Diapers.

Three modern (i.e., no bulky, ugly plastic covers) options to consider:

Pocket Diapers. Pocket diapers resemble a basic diaper cover with snap or Velcro closures, but have an inner pocket that you stuff with an absorbent, reusable insert. (Popular brands include bumGenius, Kawaii, and FuzziBunz). They're the cloth diaper of choice for Odom, because they dry quickly, aren't too bulky beneath clothes, are more affordable some other options, and you can control the absorbency by how you stuff them.

One-Size. Believe it or not, there are "one-size" diapers that grow with your baby, "so you can potentially use the exact same diaper on your eight-pound newborn as you will when she is ready to potty train," Odom says. Snap or Velcro closures let you adjust for size, and progressively larger inserts accommodate changing absorbency needs. (A poplar one-size diaper: bumGenius One-size Cloth Diapers, which include a miniature insert for newborns and a larger insert for growing babies.)

All-in-Ones. No stuffing inserts here; with AIOs the absorbent insert is sewn right in to the diaper cover, so you can diaper your baby as normal, then toss the whole thing in the laundry when it gets soiled. As a result, AIOs are exceptionally daddy/daycare/babysitter/grandparent-friendly, Odom says. (She likes the GroVia One-Size All in One.)

One thing all of these options have in common: a wide array of bright colors and adorable designs, from punk rock skull-and-crossbones to fire trucks and mustaches. They're also, admittedly, on the pricier side, ranging from about $18-$30 for higher-end mainstream brands.

    Getting Started

    Before you invest a big chunk of change in a particular brand, try a variety of different brands and styles to see what works best for your babe. Borrow from friends, try consignment stores or online diaper swap sites, or visit the Facebook and Twitter pages of various brands, as companies sometimes issue calls for testers. You can also join a trial program, like Diaper Lab's $35, two-week "Experiment to Own" option, which is basically like leasing a car, only with nappies instead of a Nissan ( Jillian's Drawers ( is another option.

    Once you're ready to build your stash, you'll need a two to three dozen diapers or diaper-plus-insert sets for a newborn, according to Shannon Griffith, owner of Green Diaper Babies cloth diaper service in Chicago. (You'll need fewer as your baby gets older.) Cloth diapering is easier if you invest in some accessories: a diaper pail for storing the dirties before washing, a waterproof "wet bag" for stashing soiled diapers when you're on the go, disposable diaper liners, and a diaper sprayer for rinsing solid waste off diapers and into the toilet.

    Cloth diaper-safe detergent is a must, too: In order to help maintain the diaper's absorbency, you'll want to choose a product free from fabric softeners, stain guards, and oils.

      Debunking the Misconceptions

      "But It Seems like Too Much Work"
      Here's a little secret: You don't need to be a hardcore, all-or-nothing cloth diaper user. Some parents use disposables in the first few weeks after their child is born, then switch to cloth. Others use cloth at home but travel with disposables. Still others go the hybrid-diaper route, which combines the best of both worlds: a washable cover that never really comes in contact with any bodily fluids, save the occasional blowout, plus a flushable, biodegradable insert that won't hang around the planet for as long as a disposable diaper.

      As for all that laundry, take a cue from San Clemente, California mom Kate Mudge, who simply ran a load at bedtime every night (or every other night as her kids grew), then moved the clean diapers to the dryer at midnight feedings. "I'd fold and stuff diapers while watching TV at night, so it never felt like a huge chore," she says, "and once they were waiting in the drawer, they were just as easy to use as disposables."

      "But It's A Lot of Money Up-Front"
      True, you can drop about $500-$600 to set your nursery up for cloth diapers, especially if you're buying brand-new pocket, one-size, or AIO styles. But Odom estimates the average cost of disposable diapers for two years at more than $1,400 -- and that figure is higher if your child potty trains later than age 2, or if you buy premium-priced, eco-friendly diapers.

      Cloth diapers also have an excellent resale value. "You could realistically earn back much of the cost by selling your diapers after your child outgrows them or potty trains," Odom says.

      Another way to save: Buy mint-condition used cloth diapers on Craigslist. Moms-to-be often stock up on one brand while pregnant, only to discover they prefer a different brand once baby arrives. Then there are moms who sell perfectly good diapers in order to upgrade to the newest designs. Save money by buying their cast-offs.

      "But I Don't Want to Deal with Scraping Poop into a Toilet"
      Who does, mama? But disposable liners, which come in a toilet paper-like roll and can be placed on the diaper next to your baby's skin, make that chore easier. Pop a liner in baby's diaper, then just gather up any solid mess and flush it before placing the diaper in the laundry. Easy-peasy!

      "But I Heard They're Just as Bad for the Environment as Disposables"
      Disposable diapers clog up landfills -- nobody's arguing that they don't. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average baby uses 8,000 diapers, creating a staggering (and stinky!) 3.6 million tons of municipal solid waste every year.

      Cloth diapers aren't perfect, either: Laundering requires energy and water and introduces chemical detergents into the environment. And while cloth diaper delivery services that pick up your dirties and drop off clean ones use less water than home washings by operating in bulk, they require gas-driven cars, contributing to air pollution. From an environmental perspective, neither option is perfect; go with the one that feels best to you.

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