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Cloth diapers have come a long way in the past few generations. Modern diapers make it easier than ever to use cloth, whether you pay a service to clean the dirty diapers or wash them yourself.
While cloth diapering can save money in the long run, it does require an investment in supplies up front. Some companies rent out cloth diapers (especially the newborn-sized ones that babies outgrow quickly), so you may be able to save further by renting instead of buying.
Here's a look at some of the options available today.
Cloth diapering options
A diaper cover over a cloth diaper
Diaper covers come in different shapes, sizes, and colors. They use different types of closures, like snaps or Velcro, and some simply pull on. Diaper covers are often made of wool, fleece, or PUL (polyurethane laminate).
The cloth diaper used under a diaper cover can be a prefold or a flat diaper that you fold yourself, or it can be a contour or fitted diaper that doesn't require folding.
The prefold diaper is a rectangular cloth with a thick, padded center section. It needs folding before you put it on your baby. So does the flat diaper, which is a large square cloth that's equally thick throughout.
Contour diapers are shaped like an hourglass. They usually need to be secured with fasteners or pins, though there are a few variations available with built-in snaps or elastic. Fitted diapers are the most like disposables in their design (except that they require a cover). They're shaped like an hourglass, have elastic around the legs and waist, and fasten with built-in snaps or tabs.
Most cloth diapers used with a separate cover need to be secured with diaper pins or another fastener (Snappi and Boingo are popular brands). Some parents prefer to forgo a fastener, instead letting the snug cover hold the cloth in place. But to avoid accidents, keep your baby comfortable, and protect the cover from getting dirty, it's usually a good idea to use pins or a fastener.
An "All in One" diaper, or AIO
This diaper consists of a waterproof outer layer, an absorbent "soaker," and an inner layer. It fastens with snaps or tabs and has elastic around the legs and waist, similar to a disposable diaper.
AIO diapers come in two forms – either with all the pieces sewn together as one complete unit or with pieces that partially detach with snaps (for faster drying). An AIO is used once, then washed.
An "All in Two" diaper, or AI2
An AI2 diaper consists of an outer waterproof shell (similar to a diaper cover) and an insert that gets put into the shell and lies directly against your baby's skin. Some inserts attach with snaps or Velcro, and some get tucked under flaps in the cover.
The shell has elastic around the legs and waist and fastens with snaps or tabs. The insert is made of absorbent material. Some inserts are topped with a stay-dry fabric for your baby's comfort.
When your baby needs a diaper change, you can just swap out the insert and keep the same shell (unless the shell got soiled, in which case you change that too).
A hybrid is similar to an AI2 diaper, with two parts making up the whole. The difference is that a hybrid diaper's insert can be either cloth or disposable.
A pocket diaper consists of a waterproof outer layer and an inner layer of fabric that has a pocket opening. An insert is stuffed into the pocket opening before wearing and then taken out for washing. Pocket diapers' absorbency can be adjusted by using more or fewer absorbent inserts.
The inner layer of fabric is sometimes made with stay-dry material to keep your baby comfortable. Pocket diapers have elastic around the legs and waist and fasten with snaps or tabs.
Because the insert and pocket will both get dirty when your baby pees or poops, pocket diapers are used once, then washed.
Pocket diaper tip: When removing your baby's dirty diaper, you may want to pull out the insert before dumping both the insert and diaper into the diaper pail. That way you won't have to deal with pulling it out on washday.
Cloth diapering extras
No matter which type of diaper you choose, you may want to stock up on some liners. A liner wicks moisture away from your baby's skin and into the diaper to help keep your baby comfortable. Liners are often made of paper, fleece, or other fabric.
Liners can also help in other ways. Disposable liners protect the diaper from creams or lotions, for example. And they make it easier to deal with poop: If the liner is flushable, you can lift out the liner with the poop on it and flush the whole thing down the toilet. If the liner's not flushable, throw it away after dumping the poop in the toilet.
Cloth liners also protect diapers from creams or lotions. When creams or lotions are used, cloth liners need to be washed separately from the diapers, since they can reduce diapers' absorbency (unless they're specifically formulated for use with cloth diapers).
An insert (also called a booster or doubler) helps a baby's diaper absorb moisture. Some inserts are topped with a stay-dry fabric that helps keep your baby comfortable.
Some of the diapers described above include inserts. For other types of cloth diapers, it's an optional addition that improves the diaper's absorbency.
Inserts can be made of any absorbent material, such as terry cloth, bamboo, hemp, or cotton.
Disposable or cloth wipes
Disposable wipes are widely available, and flushable and biodegradable versions are on the market now too.
Cloth wipes are fabric versions of disposable wipes. Washcloths and baby cloths can also be used. Simply wet any of these cloths with warm water or a homemade mixture – you can find recipes online (most use water, a little liquid soap, and sometimes a drop or two of essential oil).
Diaper pails come in a variety of sizes and shapes. If you want, you can even use a regular garbage can.
Line your pail with either a special liner designed for that pail or a regular plastic garbage bag. Some of these liners are disposable, while others can be washed along with the diapers. Make sure the pail you use has a lid, especially if you have other children or pets in the house.
Some diaper pails have touch-top lids, and some have swing lids. Others can be opened with a foot pedal, and some even have a motion detector. Domed lids allow air to circulate in the pail and seem to reduce odor. Some pails have air filters to reduce odors.
Note: If you use the wet pail method for your diapers (where you fill the pail with water), you won't need a liner. Choose a small, strong pail that has a comfortable handle for carrying (it'll be heavy) and a spout for easy pouring. You'll need to store it safely away from young children and pets.
These waterproof bags are an alternative to diaper pails. They can be hung on a doorknob or hook and are used to hold dirty cloth diapers, covers, wipes, or clothes. Wetbags come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are big enough to hold a couple of days' worth of diapers, and others are small enough to carry in your diaper bag for changes on the go.
A diaper sprayer is used to help rinse poop from a diaper into the toilet. It's similar to a kitchen sink sprayer, hooks up to the toilet's water supply line via a hose, and typically hangs on the side of the toilet tank.
A diaper sprayer isn't necessary, but it does make rinsing a poopy diaper easier. (The alternative is to swish the dirty diaper in a clean toilet bowl.) If you have an aversion to putting your hands in the toilet, even when it's clean, you may appreciate a diaper sprayer.
When it's time to rinse your diaper, pick up the nozzle and spray. Some sprayers have options like anti-drip technology and safety locks (a good idea if you have small children in the house).
Not all plumbing can accommodate a sprayer, so it's a good idea to check the directions before purchase.
A bonus: Diaper sprayers can also be used to rinse out potty chairs.
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