Cloth Diapering How To/Demo

Tips for Switching from Disposable to Cloth Diapers

Switching from disposable to #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers

I’ve cloth diapered 2 of my 3 children, and have used hundreds of diapers in my nearly 4 5 years of cloth diapering. However, it wasn’t that long ago that I was making the switch from disposables!

Here’s some information you should have as you make the switch.

How do I know which diapers are the best? – If you are fortunate enough to have a friend who uses cloth, and is willing to allow you to try theirs, awesome! Not only did I know exactly 0 people using cloth, but I didn’t have a shop anywhere near me. That was a big reason why my cloth diaper reviews are so photo heavy! Try different brands, styles and fabrics. Some babies are sensitive to wetness and do better with “stay dry” diapers. Others are sensitive to synthetic fabric and do better with all natural diapers. I don’t recommend putting all your eggs in one basket so to speak, even if you do find a diaper/brand you love. Sometimes fit etc. can change as your baby grows, and a varied stash is a happy stash!

Cloth Diaper Trials – Several cloth diaper stores offer cloth diaper trials, either by sending you a package to try (keep what you like, return what you don’t), allowing you to return diapers after use, or by essentially allowing you to “rent” them for a small fee. This is a great way to find what you like without spending lots of money but please pay careful attention to their return polices, who pays shipping and the required condition of diapers you return (see my notes on diaper cream below.)

Buying used – I don’t recommend buying your first cloth diapers used. Once you’re in the cloth groove, have a good idea of what you’re looking for, what’s normal/what’s not and what fair prices are, you can boost your stash this way if you like. It’s also not a bad idea to make your first used diaper purchase through a reputable retailer who buys/sells gently used diapers (many sell their trial diapers.)

Managing the cost – If you have the money to buy your whole cloth stash at once, that’s great! (Just be sure to vary that stash!) If you need to buy diapers more slowly, consider purchasing 2 or 3 covers, and using flour sack towels or receiving blankets as soakers. It sounds crazy & difficult, but I promise it isn’t. Fold into a square (usually in half & in half again, adjustments made for oddly shaped items) then fold into thirds. You’ll be left with a rectangle that looks almost like a maxi pad. Just lay that in the cover and swap them out when wet. Air out the cover & use again. If it’s soiled (likely with a breastfed baby and pad folding) you can just quickly handwash and hang to dry. If you’re not spending 25 cents (or more) on each disposable diaper change, you’ll be able to afford your dream cloth diaper stash before you know it. Or, you might find that this frugal diapering isn’t so bad!

Embrace the fluff – The big cloth booty looks odd at first, but you’ll get used to it. After you have been cloth diapering for a while, it will feel weird to hold a baby wearing a disposable diaper!

Mind the fit – A common cause of leaks when someone not used to cloth changes one, is not getting the legs snug. There should be no gap between the diaper & baby’s leg. You don’t want to cut off their circulation of course, but you may need to pull the diaper up, or ensure it is settled in the right location (where underwear would sit) and not caught on any cute baby thigh chub!

How do I tell if they’re wet? – My oldest child was disposable diapered, and it wasn’t until much later that I realized some diapers had a line on the front to indicate when the diaper was wet. I typically changed her whenever the diaper had any kind of “squish” and no longer had that crumply, dry feeling. There’s really no super easy way to tell if a cloth diaper is wet without removing it, since generally by the time the back of the diaper/soaker is wet to the touch, baby is overdue for a change (although some super-soaker babies can go from dry to 100% soaked with 1 wetting!) I suggest changing baby every 2 hours initially; there are plenty of diapers and/or inserts that will last far longer, even for quick/heavy wetters, but 2 hours is a good goal whether you use cloth or disposables (except it doesn’t cost you much of anything to change a cloth diaper that’s barely damp!)

What about night time? – It can sometimes take time to find the right night time option for your child. If this is true for you, don’t fret. It’s OK to do disposables at night if you need to (we won’t kick you out of the fluffy club.) I like a hemp prefold inside a pocket, but I went through many expensive options first. Learn from me; start with the cheapest idea first! Ex: double your inserts, try a hemp insert under the microfiber, double it etc. Even a family whose child would cause a nighttime disposable to literally burst, was able to find a night option.

Diaper rash – If you’re currently using disposables, you may be used to smearing Desitin on at every change. Cloth diapers alone may make the rash better, but chances are, you may still find the need to use rash cream, especially at first. Most traditional/commercial rash creams contain zinc oxide, petroleum and other ingredients that can cause your diapers to repel, stain and to void the warranty and/or return policy. It is typically recommended to use a liner with any rash cream however, they’re not necessarily fool proof, and a bunching or shifting liner could spell disaster if you’re using traditional creams. Your best bet is to go with a “cloth diaper safe” rash cream and use a liner for good measure. Most cloth safe creams will wash out of diapers if applied very sparingly, but there’s another learning curve to get used to using the tiniest bit of cream vs. a thick layer like you’re probably used to, and the liners are just added insurance.

Washing – Don’t let super complex cloth diaper wash routines scare you, and don’t give up if the first detergent you use doesn’t work for you. Keep in mind what you are washing out of these diapers! You wouldn’t use a Tablespoon of detergent to wash your other laundry; it’s not going to get your diapers clean either. You’ll quickly find that washing, detergent and/or additives are a hot topic in the cloth diapering world, and people are very, very opinionated. Be cautious and follow your manufacturer & retailer’s washing suggestions. However, if you are having no success, trying something “outside the box” is better than giving up on cloth entirely, particularly if there’s no warranty or return policy in play.

Get support – Shop local by making your purchases from a local cloth diaper store if possible, or find a reputable online cloth diaper retailer. Often, “big box stores” sell products at very similar prices (if at all of course) but the support isn’t there. Find a local group, websites like this one, and participate in my cloth diaper support page on Facebook!

Don’t give up! There is a learning curve, but cloth diapering will be second nature before you know it.

Count your savings – After you’ve made the switch to cloth diapers, consider taking your previous disposable diaper budget and setting it aside. Save it to spend on cloth diapers you like or spend it on something fun. You’d be surprised by how addictive cloth diapers are and how easy it can be to go overboard buying cute diapers!

No baby yet/just planning? Whether you are TTC/adopt/foster, expecting, or just planning ahead, think about calculating baby expenses now (including the cost of disposable diapers) and put that money in savings each week/month. By the time your baby is on the way or in your arms, you will have nice nest egg to buy cloth diapers, and the change a baby brings to your budget won’t be as shocking.

Are you just starting out? Browse my cloth diaper reviews, check out my post highlights page to read articles like my Cloth 101 series, enter to win some free cloth diapers in my giveaway roundup, read other readers’ questions on Mailbox Mondays, and subscribe for more great information!

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Maria Moser
Maria is the mother of 3, writing about cloth diapers & going green. You'll often find her juggling her preschooler and typing 1-handed in between sips of cold coffee. Maria works with many companies within the cloth diaper industry and beyond, providing social media management, product development and other services.
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  • Emily C
    April 8, 2015 at 6:37 am

    Expecting my third and have been wanting to try cloth diapers this time around. Thanks for the tips!

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  • Sondra
    August 12, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    I’m expecting my 2nd and considering the switch to cloth diapers. How long should I wait before the baby is born to buy them and how many should I have stockpiled? I don’t want to run out in the middle of the day and realize I don’t have any more diapers to put on my baby. Is it easier to just have disposables around and use a few cloth diapers throughout the day to get used to it?

    • Sarah
      August 12, 2013 at 5:19 pm

      I just switched to cloth with my second, she is now 3 months old. We did disposable for the first three weeks and then switched. I started with 12 and would wash every other day, using disposables while washing/drying. I have now bought a few more and have 18. Still washing every other day but now have dry time and diapers still to use. She will be starting daycare soon, so I’m looking to get about 6 more to be safe. Good luck!

    • August 12, 2013 at 5:46 pm

      I felt most relaxed when I had 24 diapers so I didn’t have to rush to wash & get them ready. You might consider using covers & prefolds in the newborn stage since they are the least expensive newborn diaper, and “one-size” don’t usually fit until 8+ pounds. Some families decide to just go with disposables for the newborn stage and ease into cloth!

      When I switched, I did part disposables, part cloth, but my son’s rashes were so bad with disposables and so much better with cloth, I ditched the disposables and washed diapers constantly to save $ for more cloth!

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