Back to Blog

The Beginner’s Guide to Cloth Diapers

The Beginner’s Guide to Cloth Diapers

beginners guide to cloth diapers

If you’ve got a bundle on the way, you’ve no doubt considered food, sleep and play, but have you given any thought to how you’ll diaper your little one? Most of us accept the hundreds of disposable diapers we receive as shower gifts and take full advantage of their convenience, especially in the first weeks after bringing baby home. Cloth diapering sounds like a great idea, but adding extra stress during this already confusing, new journey is simply not in the cards. But, in reality, alternative diaper options don’t always complicate things.

What many people don’t realize is that cloth diapers have come a long way since the time we ourselves were in diapers. In fact, some of the biggest advancements in cloth diapering debuted within the past 20 years. For some, cloth diapers may even be a better option than typical disposable ones. You may ultimately decide not to cloth diaper or find that a combo of cloth and disposable diapers is best for your lifestyle. The important thing is that you plan for baby in a way that allows you to enjoy him or her to the fullest with little stress!

baby in bright orange cloth diaper

Here, we’ll cover everything you need to know about cloth diapering, including the benefits, different types, laundering options and more, to help you determine whether or not it’s a good option for you and your new bundle.

What Are Cloth Diapers?

cloth divider

Though they come in many different varieties, the thing that makes a cloth diaper a cloth diaper is that it’s, well…cloth. This very simple feature makes them machine-washable dozens of times over, which in turn means they are also reusable, equating to a more affordable, eco-friendly diapering option. Cloth diapers may be made of cotton (especially birdseye cotton, which is what we think of as traditional diaper cloth), gauze, bamboo, hemp, wool, microfiber or other manmade materials such as polyester.

If it seems like a strange thought to have to define cloth diapering, consider that by 1990, more than 70 percent of babies in America wore disposable diapers and today, that number is closer to 95 percent. The truth is that, despite the fact that they’re improving every day, it’s not

particularly common to cloth diaper. But as you’ll learn below, there are some great reasons to cloth diaper that may sway you to take the diapering road less traveled.

Why Use Cloth Diapers?

cloth divider

The three primary reasons to use cloth diapers come down to saving money, saving the planet and keeping baby safe. It doesn’t hurt that cloth diapers are incredibly cute, too! Take a look at our cloth diapers for girls and boys to see what we mean! Here are some reasons why it might make sense for you to use cloth diapers exclusively or alongside regular single-use kinds.

various colored cloth diapers

  • They’re More AffordableBudget-focused parents love cloth diapers because they are by and large the more affordable option. In fact, reusable diapers can save parents over $1,000 over the course of two years, with cloth diapers averaging between $800 and $1,000 for two years compared with disposable diapers, which cost families between $2,000 and $3,000 over a two-year span. The only cost-related con of cloth diapers is that you will probably have a slightly higher up-front spend but, since you won’t have to buy diapers in perpetuity, you’ll wind up spending less in the big picture.
  • They’re More Earth-FriendlyAccording to the Real Diaper Association, over 92 percent of all single-use diapers end up in a landfill. The association also points out that, despite the instructions on packaging recommending that waste should be disposed of in the toilet, less than .5 percent of all waste from diapers actually goes into the sewer system. Our landfills aren’t designed to treat human waste, and improper disposal of waste could wind up contaminating waterways and our ecosystem with bacteria and viruses.
  • They May Be HealthierDisposable diapers contain potentially toxic byproducts and chemicals, including dyes, perfumes and traces of cancer-causing dioxins. While there are no indications that disposable diapers are actually dangerous—dioxins are everywhere, and there are more in our foods than in our diapers—the simple fact is that you have more control over materials with cloth diapers. That means you will be able to tailor your baby’s diaper material to his or her skin sensitivities and potentially reduce allergic reactions and diaper rash.

primary reasons to use cloth diapers graphic

Cloth Diapering 101: Getting Started

cloth divider

The most important thing you need before embarking on your cloth diapering journey is knowledge. Understanding which cloth diapers are best for your unique needs, how to properly launder them so they stay in great shape for hundreds of uses and more will help you decide whether or not going cloth is a viable option for your busy lifestyle.

Types of Cloth Diapers

cloth divider

  • All-in-One Cloth DiapersThe best choice for beginners, all-in-one cloth diapers (like our It’s a Snap! All-In-One Cloth Diapers) eliminate many of the steps associated with cloth diapering—there’s no need for inserts (though you can add inserts for extra absorbency), no stuffing, no pins and no covers. All-in-one diapers are totally machine washable, so you can toss the entire thing into the wash as needed. We recommend this type of diaper for parents who are committed to continuing the cloth diapering at daycare since they’re easy and straightforward enough for cloth diapering newbies.

  • Our It’s a Snap! cloth diapers have built-in pockets for inserts and are adjustable and one-size, so they also fall into the category of what are called pocket diapers and one-size cloth diapers. For more information on how these cloth diapers work, watch our video below.

    • Prefold Cloth DiapersFeaturing three folds with one super absorbent section or pad, prefold cloth diapers are some of the most stereotypical, in part because they must be fastened at the sides with pins or clips. These kinds of cloth diapers are simple to launder (so long as you choose machine washable and dryable styles) but aren’t as easy to put on baby as all-in-ones with built-in fasteners. You’ll need to purchase diaper covers to go with prefolds. Bonus points for the fact that prefold diapers tend to be relatively affordable and therefore have a lower up-front investment. Pick prefold diapers made of easy-care 100 percent cotton, gauze or organic birdseye fabric.
    • Flatfold or Flat Cloth DiapersFlat cloth diapers, such as our Flatfold Birdseye Diapers, are some of the most basic kinds of cloth diapers out there, as they feature only one large square of single-layer fabric that isn’t prefolded. While you’ll need all the extras with this kind of diaper, you may prefer it because it’s amazingly versatile and can be used as a burp cloth, clean-up cloth and more in addition to a diaper. These cloths are also popular for having on hand as a backup in the diaper bag.
    • Hybrid Cloth DiapersAnother good choice for cloth diapering beginners or those who aren’t quite ready to make the shift to 100 percent reusable, hybrid cloth diapers are a fusion of eco-friendly cloth and convenient disposable materials. Typically, these diapers have a washable cloth cover and a disposable insert that is sold in economical rolls. The primary downfalls associated with hybrids is that they’re somewhat pricy up-front (and there are ongoing costs due to the inserts) and that they aren’t as eco-friendly as some other types. With that being said, they’re great for diapering on the go!

    adjustable cloth diaper closeup

    • Fitted Cloth DiapersThis type of cloth diaper isn’t as popular as the others, but it still brings its own set of benefits. Fitted cloth diapers are like all-in-ones in that they have built-in snaps or hook-and-loop closures, but they don’t have the waterproof outer layer and therefore must be used with a cover. What’s more, fitted diapers tend to be sized rather than one-size, so you must purchase different sizes as baby grows. With that said, there are some benefits to this style, with the main one being that they’re easy to put on baby thanks to the fasteners, they tend to be very absorbent and they provide a snug fit for babies and toddlers who move and play all day.  
    • Pocket Cloth DiapersPocket diapers came onto the cloth diapering scene relatively recently—first versions debuted in the early 1990s, but popularity really soared around the turn of the new millennium—and were seen as a major innovation in modern diapering. They’re called pocket diapers because they have built-in pockets for absorbent, removable and washable diaper inserts. Naturally, the insert makes these diapers significantly easier to wash and improves absorbency. You can think of all-in-one diapers as deluxe, (usually) more absorbent versions of pocket cloth diapers.

    What About Wipes?

    cloth divider

    Cloth diapering doesn’t eliminate the need for wipes, but as we all know, wipes are also liable to end up in the landfill and may irritate baby’s skin. For this reason, many parents add reusable baby wipes to their cloth diapering strategy. We recommend choosing 100 percent cotton flannel wipes for the softest feel on baby’s skin. These kinds of wipes are also incredibly easy to machine wash at home. Just toss them in the laundry with your cloth diapers for a cost-effective, eco-friendly wipe option.

    mom doing laundry with baby

    Laundering Basics: How to Wash Cloth Diapers

    cloth divider

    You probably already know that there are various options available with regard to cleaning cloth diapers, with the two primary categories being: cloth diaper laundering services and washing cloth diapers at home. While using a laundering service is preferable for some purely due to the convenience factor, it does cost significantly more, so budget is usually the main consideration for home laundering versus a laundry service.

    • Washing at HomeBecause most of today’s reusable diapers are designed for easy care, washing them really comes down to simply tossing them in the washing machine and tumbling dry. Before you wash, be sure to dump any solid waste into the toilet. The washing process is easy—just rinse the diapers in warm water and then machine wash and dry them according to the instructions on the packaging using fragrance-free detergent. The cost is however much you value your time plus the cost of water and detergent.
    • Washing with a ServiceYou may also opt to have a diaper laundering service come to your home each week to do the dirty work for you. The diaper pros come to your home, pick up your dirty diapers and return them fresh and clean. Some diaper services even provide you with the diapers so you don’t have to buy them yourself. Naturally, this option comes at a high cost, with some services ringing up for a couple hundred dollars per month, so it isn’t the best choice for those who choose cloth as a budgetary measure.

    Gerber Cloth Diapers: The Best Option for Baby

    cloth divider

    If you’re in the market for the best cloth diapers for beginners and pros alike, then you can’t go wrong with Gerber Childrenswear. We take great care to ensure that our cloth diapers provide a soft feel and a comfortable fit for baby from the very first days at home until they’re ready to potty train. On top of that, our high-quality cloth diapers are made for ease of use for parents, and we always strive to improve our products so they make your life easier.

    Choosing which way to diaper is a personal decision, and neither option is right for all parents. Luckily, you know there are options you can trust if you decide to go the cloth diapering route, and we’re always here to help guide your journey!

    cloth diapering quote