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Cloth Diaper 101

What are all these types of diapers?

My assessment of the diaper marketplace is that there are four main diapering "systems":

Option A, prefolds, is the most economical way to go. And really, every cloth diaperer should have at least some prefolds - they provide a foundation to build on, plus they can be used as inserts for pocket diapers, as doublers in any kind of diaper, and as burp cloths. Prefolds are the most durable diapers - as long as you get Diaper Service Quality prefolds, they will last through 8 children plus make good dish towels for another 10 years! Also, covers have come a long way from 20-30 years ago, so you no longer have to use pins with your prefolds, just lay in the cover and velcro closed. Or you can fasten with a Snappi and they will work in any type of cover.

Option B, fitted diapers, is one step up from prefolds and covers.  I think they tend to be the most comfortable for baby, and provide the best protection against leaks and blowouts, if they fit well and are put on correctly. You can find fairly economical options for fitted diapers, or you can spend huge amounts of money for designer diapers.

Option C, pocket diapers, is, in my opinion, the biggest innovation in cloth diapering in the last 20 years. Pocket diapers will be responsible for a major resurgence in using cloth once the general public discovers them! They consist of an outer layer of waterproof material and an inner layer of microfleece or suedecloth, which keeps baby feeling dry and helps prevent diaper rash. In between those layers you stuff whatever material you wish, to customize the level of absorbency you need. They're so easy to use, and easy to wash! AND they're generally adorable. It is more expensive to use pocket diapers exclusively, so some people use a combination of systems, reserving their pocket diapers for going out, or for daddy, grandparents, babysitters, etc.

Option D, all-in-ones, is the most convenient to use.  They also tend to be the most expensive.  Most people just have a few on hand for outings, daycare, grandparents, etc. 


How do I choose?

What will work best for you depends on your priorities.

Are you using cloth diapers primarily as a way to save money? Then prefolds and covers are your best bet. Many people have asked if the diapers available at Walmart will work just as well. Based on the experience of everyone I know who has tried both, it will be worth your money many times over to get good quality diapers and covers. Yes, Thirsties covers cost more than plastic pants. They also last much longer and are much more comfortable for your child. When looking at prefold diapers, the most important thing to watch out for is anything that says "polyester padding" - the biggest farce in the diapering world. It makes your diapers look like diapers, but they absorb, well, like fishnet.

If you want to be kind to the environment and your child, but still primarily want convenience and quick diaper changes, go with All-in-Ones or Pocket Diapers. Pockets are a little more complex than a true All-in-one diaper, but in my opinion that is more than made up for in that they rinse easier and dry much faster.

If you don't mind a longer drying time and having two pieces to put on at each diaper change, but you want to absolutely minimize blow outs, then go for fitted diapers and covers.

If you are committed to using all natural fabrics, you'll be happiest with fitteds (or prefolds) and wool covers.

Many people use a combination of the different systems, because of the fun factor (and the addiction factor). But I hope this gives you an idea of where you want to start!

So what do I recommend? What do most people do?

  • Use fitteds or prefolds (depending on budget) with covers for the small size, when you change diapers fairly often. Also have 6 or more pocket diapers for night, outings, and babysitters. This also gives you a chance to try out different types of diapers, so when you go to buy the next size, you'll know what you like best.
  • For mediums and larges, most people use pocket diapers. They make diaper changes quick while your child is squirmy. I even do a sizable percentage of diaper changes with my son standing up, catching him "mid-run." And since kids wear these sizes for a longer time, you will be money ahead over disposable diapers with just one child.

How many will I need?

These numbers depend on how often you plan to wash diapers. A few people wash every day, most wash every 2 or 3 days. Keep in mind, diapers should not go more than 3 days without washing, otherwise you will end up with smelly, stained diapers.

Option A: Prefolds and Covers

Option B: Fitteds and Covers

  • 2-3 dozen fitted diapers
  • 3-4 covers (because these diapers hold in messes better, you can reuse your covers more times before washing)
  • 12-18 fleece liners (optional but recommended)
  • 1-2 dozen cloth wipes (optional but recommended)

Option C: Pockets and Inserts

  • For newborns & infants, 20-30 pockets and for toddlers 15-22 pockets. These numbers are if you plan on using pocket diapers exclusively. Otherwise I recommend 6-10 pockets to be used in combination with other systems.
  • As many inserts as you have pockets (prefolds also work but are more bulky)
  • 1-2 dozen cloth wipes (optional but recommended)

Option D: All-in-Ones (AIOs)

  • For newborns & infants, 20-30 diapers and for toddlers 15-22 diapers. These numbers are if you plan on using AIOs exclusively. Otherwise you may want 2-4 AIOs for convenience.
  • 1-2 dozen cloth wipes (optional but recommended)

 


Can I really save money?

To truly compare costs, take a look at not only what you will spend, but when you will need to spend it. The chart below shows month by month, what you would expect to spend using various types of diapers. These figures do not include accessories, like wipes and a diaper pail, that you would need with either cloth or disposables. You can save even more money by using washable wipes and wet bags. The chart covers 2.5 years in diapers, which is about average or even optimistic. (NOTE: Cloth-diapered babies statistically potty train up to 1 year earlier than disposable-diapered babies.)

  • Disposables Low End $ refers to purchasing store brand diapers in bulk at a members-only warehouse.
  • Disposables High End $ refers to purchasing brand-name diapers each week at a grocery store and changing more often.
  • Cloth Low End $ refers to prefolds and covers (Option A above), washing every other day.
  • Cloth High End $ refers to a mix of pocket diapers, fitted diapers and covers, and all-in-ones.

Month

Disposables
Low End $

Cloth
Low End $

Disposables
High End $

Cloth
High End $

1

$30

$85

$65

$400

2

$30

-

$65

-

3

$30

-

$65

-

4

$30

-

$65

-

5

$30

$40

$65

$400

6

$30

-

$65

-

7

$40

-

$75

-

8

$40

-

$75

-

9

$40

-

$75

-

10

$40

-

$75

-

11

$40

-

$75

-

12

$40

-

$75

-

13

$40

-

$75

-

14

$40

-

$75

-

15

$40

-

$75

$400

16

$40

-

$75

-

17

$40

-

$75

-

18

$40

$100

$75

-

19

$30

-

$65

-

20

$30

-

$65

-

21

$30

-

$65

-

22

$30

-

$65

-

23

$30

-

$65

-

24

$30

-

$65

-

25

$30

-

$65

-

26

$30

-

$65

-

27

$30

-

$65

-

28

$30

-

$65

-

29

$30

-

$65

-

30

$30

-

$65

-

         

Total Cost – 1st child

$1020

$225

$2070

$1200

Total Cost – 2nd child

$1020

$0

$2070

$0

Overall Total for a family of 2 children

$2040

$225

$4140

$1200

If both cost and convenience are factors, use the Low End diapers for the small size, then invest in more expensive diapers for the medium and large sizes, which they will wear for longer. As you can see, cloth diapers will save you money on one child, and if you have multiple children, the cost savings are even greater! Or, if the diapers still have useful life in them after your family is complete, you will probably be able to recoup some of your cost be reselling your used diapers. But remember, cost is only one reason to use cloth diapers. They’re better for the environment, and above all, better for your baby.

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