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How Do Cloth Diapers Work?

How Do Cloth Diapers Work?

Cloth diapers can feel intimidating—there’s the old-school origami-style folding, the prospect of having to, um, deal with the contents inside, and the fact that there are over a dozen different types. But the truth is they’re not all that complicated. (Don’t forget we live in the age of the NoseFrida—today’s cloth diapers aren’t your Grandma’s.) Read this primer to decide if they’re worth a shot for your family.

The Options:

  • Flat or Prefolds  Traditional and super cheap (just a few bucks each), these diapers essentially look like a dish rag that you fold and secure with a clip, then place a waterproof cover over. You toss them in the wash after each and every use—so depending on the hydration levels of your little, you might need a solid stack to get through the day.
  • Fitted  These cloth diapers have the look of a disposable (no folding required), and use Velcro or snaps to stay snug at the waist. They’re not waterproof, though, so they require a cover to prevent leaks.
  • Pocket  Absorbent inserts are stuffed into this diaper and then replaced (either disposed of or washed) after your little is wet. A stay-dry lining means you don’t need an extra waterproof cover.
  • All-In-Ones  By far the most popular option today, these one-piece diapers work like a disposable—there are no liners or covers to remove, and the whole thing goes into the wash at once. (But because they’re bulky, they can take a while to dry.)

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The Perks

While the upfront cost of cloth diapering might be more (you’ll need around 24 diapers to avoid daily laundry, and some of the all-in-one options can cost upwards of $20 a pop), there’s no question that cloth diapering saves money in the long-run, especially if you’re planning on having multiple kids. They’re eco-friendly, free of questionable chemicals, and if your baby has sensitive skin, you can find a super soft cloth diaper that feels great against their tush.

The Pitfalls

Unless you’re using all-in-ones, cloth diapers usually require an extra step (whether it’s pulling out a dirty insert, or removing a waterproof cover)—and if you’re short on time, the cleanup (dumping disposable liners or solid poops into the toilet), along with laundry and drying time could take a toll. (There are cleaning services that will pick up your dirty diapers and return them to you clean for a fee.) Because babies will feel more wetness with a cloth diaper, they require more frequent changes, and if you’re heading out of the house, you’ll have to pack a wet bag to bring home the dirty diapers.

Food for Thought

Still interested in cloth diapering but not sure if you’re ready to fully commit? You can always buy a cloth diaper or two for a trial run. Another option: try cloth diapers part time—say, when you guys are just at home hanging during the day—and save disposables for overnights, errands out of the house, or evenings with a sitter.

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