Cloth Diapering 101 Not as weird as it seems.

By Abby K. Cannon, JD, RD, CDN

Are you interested in cloth diapering but need help with where to start? We’ve got you. Exploring the different options for reusable diapers can be overwhelming. Still, fortunately, when we boil it down, there are only a few choices you need to make to set yourself up for cloth diapering success.

Benefits of Cloth Diapering

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s talk about the benefits. Cloth diapers are good for babe, the environment, and your wallet. Most disposable diapers are made of plastics, which likely contain harmful chemicals. Disposable diapers have been found to have dioxin, a toxic carcinogen, and also Tributyl-tin, a known endocrine disruptor. The chemicals in plastics don’t just stay in the diaper; they can migrate to babies’ skin and be absorbed into their little bodies. This is why we want to be picky about what touches our precious babies’ skin. The best cloth diapers, on the other hand, are made out of cotton. This means that only cotton contacts the baby’s skin.

In terms of the environmental impact, it’s estimated that 20 billion disposable diapers enter landfill each ear and that it takes 250-500 years for them to break down. That’s a lot of waste! Using cloth diapers means that you’re not contributing to that landfill waste!

And, although there’s an upfront cost to cloth diapers, there’s a robust secondhand market for affordable cloth diapers, and you only need to purchase them once. They’ll last for all your children, and then you can donate or sell them once your children are potty trained. You can save thousands of dollars by using cloth. Plus, cloth-diapered babies potty train earlier. If you’ve ever tried to wrangle a toddler to change their diaper, you know how wonderful it is to potty train earlier!

Now that you know the benefits, let’s cover the two primary choices when using cloth diapers: 1. Will you use a service or wash them yourself? and 2. What kind of cloth diaper will you use?

To use a service or not to use a service.

If you don’t want to launder the diapers every 2-3 days and/or you don’t have easy access to a laundry machine, it’s worth checking out a cloth diaper service. This is the easiest way to succeed with cloth diapers and makes using cloth diapers as convenient as disposables. The service will set you up with all the diapers and wipes you need, pick up the dirty diapers, and deliver fresh, clean diapers every week.

If there isn’t a diaper service in your area or you want to save on the cost of a service, I’m here to tell you that it’s doable to wash the diapers on your own. Wherever you purchase your cloth diapers from will provide specific laundering instructions. Esembly and Green Mountain Diapers are great for diapering systems and information.

Types of Cloth Diapers

Once you’ve decided whether to use a service or not, then it’s time to choose which type of cloth diaper to use. If using a service, the service will provide you with the choices available. If you’re not using a service, you have more options.

There are flats, prefolds, fitteds, pockets, all-in-ones, all-in-twos, and hybrids. Flats and prefolds are fabric you fold and fasten to fit your baby. These are the least expensive options. Fitted diapers have their closures, so there’s no need to fold and secure them with an additional clip. Flats, prefolds, and fitteds require an outer waterproof cover. Pocket diapers have two parts- the waterproof outer and an absorbent insert that fits into the pocket. All-in-ones are the most like disposable diapers because they are one piece. All-in-twos have an outer waterproof shell and absorbent insert that touches the baby’s skin (as opposed to the pocket diaper where the insert goes inside the pocket). Finally, hybrid diapers have an outer cover and either a cloth or disposable insert.

While there are quite a few choices, they’re similar at the end of the day. And, before you know it, you’ll be diapering easily and without much thought. I like fitteds with the outer cover and think that Esembly makes it foolproof to get set up with cloth diapers.

Washing Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapers or no cloth diapers, you’ll do a lot of laundry when you have a baby. But, when it comes to cloth diapering without using a cloth diaper laundry service, expect to wash the cloth diapers every other day for newborns and every three days for older babies. The Esembly diaper system has foolproof instructions on washing diapers and what detergent to use. First, you do a short cycle with warm water, detergent, and agitators (small balls you throw into the washing machine). This cycle gets the surface soil off. Then, for the second cycle, you use super hot water, more detergent, and a longer process for the deep clean. Finally, you dry them either in the dryer or hang them dry. I’ve found this 2-step cleaning method very effective! The diapers come out looking almost brand new after every single wash.

What about wipes?

Don’t let clever marketing claims get you! A simple cloth with water is all you need to clean a baby. Some parents pre-make cloth wipes by soaking the clean wipes in water and storing them in a container. I take a clean cloth and spray it with water for each diaper change, and it works beautifully. The dirty cloths go right into the laundry with the dirty diapers, so there’s no need for extra laundry.


Cloth diapers are a fantastic option for you, your baby, and the environment. Remember that you can always start with a few cloth diapers and see how you and your baby like them. And you can always use a combination of cloth and disposable diapers. There’s a lot of flexibility and no right way to diaper your baby. Overall, cloth diapering can be overwhelming initially, but once you’ve made the basic choices, you’ll never look back!

Abby K. Cannon is an attorney turned dietitian who lives a very eco-friendly lifestyle. She created Abby’s Food Court to make a healthy, low-waste life approachable, doable, and FUN. Mama to two boys, Abby is passionate about helping you upgrade your health (and life) with hacks that are low-impact on your lifestyle and high-impact on the planet!