At first, I looked into cloth diapering because it would leave the environment and the inside of my family’s wallet greener. Not having to wrap chemical-laden plastic over my baby’s butt and avoiding diaper rash seemed like grand ideas as well.

I felt like a responsible and conscientious human being for even thinking about it. The idea of cleaning the diapers made me nervous because I can barely keep up with my family’s regular laundry, but the benefits outweighed the potential stress of additional housework, and I decided to give it a shot.

What I didn’t expect was to enjoy it. What I found amazing was how quickly cloth diapering grew on me and that I came to love it.

Maybe it’s the adorable prints available, or the adventure of experimenting with different types of diapers and covers, or the challenge of figuring out what worked best for my baby, but I love cloth diapering. I don’t even mind the laundry — there’s something inexplicably satisfying about freshly laundered dipes (and other cloth diapering mamas I’ve talked to can back me up on this).

So if you’ve got a babe in diapers, or one on the way, why not give it a shot? Getting started can be overwhelming, so here is a breakdown of the possibilities. 

• Prefold: The least expensive option, these are considered the basics of today’s cloth diapering. They are a more convenient version of the flat fold, which is the original cloth diaper our grandparents used (bulky, beach towel-esque). Prefolds are rectangular pieces of cloth divided into thirds by two seams. These diapers require a separate diaper cover. You can fold a prefold into thirds and lay it in the cover, or utilize a variety of folding methods and secure the diaper with a pin or Snappi (which is a three-sided plastic piece that holds the diaper in place). I would recommend mastering one or several folds, because in my experience simply laying the diaper in the cover can lead to leaks.

• Fitted: A fitted looks like a disposable, except it is made of cloth and requires a separate cover. These diapers usually fasten with snaps; sometimes they require a Snappi. Fitteds are thicker than prefolds and much more absorbent.

• All-in-one: This is exactly what it sounds like. An all-in-one is just like a disposable, except it’s made of cloth and secures either with Velcro or snaps. With a cloth interior and water-resistant exterior, the absorbent layers are sewn in between. These are the most convenient (especially for reluctant daddies), the most expensive, and take a really long time to dry in the laundry.

• All-in-two: This is like an all-in-one except that the absorbent inner layers snap into the waterproof exterior, creating one extra step but a shorter drying time.

• Pocket: A pocket is another variation of the all-in-one. The difference here is that the center of the diaper, the part between the waterproof exterior and the inner layer that touches the baby’s skin, is open, creating a pocket where you stuff removable absorbent layers (called inserts). In my experience these are the quickest drying diapers of the lot.

• Covers: The two main options here are PUL and wool. PUL is a type of water-resistant fabric. Wool, when lanolized properly, is antimicrobial, water resistant, and breathable — meaning your baby is less likely to get diaper rash when coupled with a prefold or fitted also made of breathable fibers. (If you’re thinking, but wait, I have a wool sweater, isn’t wool itchy? Well, it can be, but there are several varieties, and not all are itchy. My favorite is wool interlock.)  

The best way to proceed is to just dive right in, get a couple of each or an introductory package, and see what works for you. Most cloth diapers are available only online, but they are easily found through Google and there are many, many online shops that sell either the popular mass-produced brands (Thirsties and FuzziBunz, for example) or work-at-home-mom brands (I recommend either Hyenacart or Etsy to find these).

You can have all of the benefits of cloth diapers, such as a cleaner environment and no harsh chemicals on your baby, if you use a local diaper service. You just toss the cloth diapers in a diaper pail and they drop by your house (usually three times weekly) to drop off and pick up. 

If you don’t know any other cloth-diapering mamas, join an online group. You will find other mamas (and a few papas as well) to be welcoming and passionate about the world of cloth, and they will gladly direct you around and explain any unfamiliar lingo. Most important, have fun! I did.

MNN homepage photo: dlinca/iStockphoto

Cloth diapers hardly a pain in the you-know-what
Here's everything you need to know to get started with cloth diapers. You might even enjoy it.