I've cloth diapered 4 kids over 8 years. In that time I've seen (and learned) a lot of stuff. And since hindsight is 20/20, here's my 20/20 list of the things you should REALLY look for when considering what cloth diapers to buy.
1. Drying Time
You are going to have a boat load of laundry to do when that little one comes - as well as a host of other new parental duties. The last thing you want to be doing is spending hours trying to get your laundry to dry. So look for diapers that have layers that can easily be removed or separated like pocket diapers, all-in-twos (AI2s), fitted cloth diapers with snap-in boosters, flats and prefolds. These diaper types will allow air to get in between the layers and help them dry faster.
Tip: Look for diapers with removable layers to reduce drying time.
2. Ease of Use
When your little one gets here, you will perform a whopping 12 to 15 diaper changes a day. A few of those will occur at night. And (fingers crossed) a few of those will be done by another caregiver. This means you will need a diaper that is super easy to put on and take off when you're fumbling around and groggy at 3 AM, or when your little one is getting a diaper change without your supervision. So try to make part of your stash super, duper easy to use. Consider cloth diapers with velcro tabs since these resemble disposable diapers the most and are easy to figure out even at 3 AM. Also, consider diapers that don't require a lot of folding or adjustments. Those are fine for daytime use when you have time (and the sensibility) to do them, but at night or in a daycare, you're just asking for trouble if you have to kite fold a flat diaper and add an insert.
Tip: Buy a few diapers with velcro tabs for nighttime use and daycare.
Just because cloth diapers are reusable, doesn't mean they're indestructible. PUL is simply plastic that's heated and then used to coat a piece of fabric. Multiple hot washes and extended time in the dryer will eventually cause the plastic to peel away. And once the plastic is gone it can't be replaced.
Avoid stocking up on a ton of AIO and pocket diapers. Instead buy more diapers that require a separate cover purchase.
On average, you can expect PUL diapers and diaper covers to last 2 - 3 years with moderate use and heated drying. Less, if they're used heavily. So I recommend a few things:
- AIR DRY: It takes a PUL cover about 10 minutes to air dry. Not long at all, and well worth it if it means your cover will last longer.
- WIPE CLEAN: If your diaper cover gets wet, but not dirty with poo, simply wipe it clean with a baby wipe or cloth wipe and let it air dry in between uses.
- BUY SEPARATE COVERS: All-in-one (AIO) diapers and pocket diapers have to be washed after every use which means the PUL in them goes through a lot of wear and tear. If longevity is the most important thing on your wish list of cloth diapers I recommend making the bulk of your stash out of diapers that require a separate cover - this includes flats, prefolds, contours and fitteds.
- GO WOOL: Avoid the drama of fading PUL by just purchasing wool diaper covers (also called soakers or longies). These covers are made from a super soft, and breathable merino wool fabric. They never breakdown no matter how much you use them or wash them. A word of caution though, wool covers must be hand-washed. You can find out more info on that in this article.
Once you start your baby on solids, you'll want to rinse that poop off your cloth diapers before tossing them in the diaper pail. Rinsing will help to keep the odors down in your diaper pail and well help to keep stains from setting in. And since you'll get anywhere from 1 to 5 poopie diapers a day, you'll want to make sure that rinsing that poop off isn't a pain. The good news is that after about 6 months or so, your baby will stop pooping during the night. Lucky enough, this is usually around the time your baby switches to solid foods. This means you only need to worry about the rinse-ability of your daytime diapers. So I recommend looking for diapers where only one layer of fabric touches baby's skin. For example, in pocket diapers, the absorbent layers are all inside of the diaper and only one layer touches baby's skin. This means there are no folds that poop can hide inside of and it makes them super easy to get clean. A bad example of this is an all-in-one (AIO) diaper where the insert is sewn to the diaper and it sits on top. If baby has a really big poop, that poop is going on top of the insert and underneath it.
Tip: Avoid diapers with multiple layers or folds on top near baby's bum.
Now I love a fluffy cloth diaper just as much as the next person, but I find it frustrating when I have to go up a size on a onesie just to get it to fit over a diaper. Right now, my tiny 9 month old is still wearing 3 to 6 month clothes, so going up a size on her to fit her diaper, means the rest of the outfit looks big and sloppy and is falling off her shoulders. So if that bothers you, then look for diapers made with hemp and bamboo fabrics. This means you'll get the absorbency you need without a lot of bulk. Generally speaking, most pocket diapers come with microfiber inserts which are bulkier and not very absorbent. In contrast, hemp and bamboo inserts are super absorbent and super trim. So if you purchase a pocket diaper, be prepared to purchase additional hemp or bamboo inserts to go with them.
Tip: Purchase additional hemp or bamboo inserts to boost the absorbency in your diapers without adding bulk.
I am all about keeping poop where it belongs, and double-leg gussets (or DLGs as I like to call them) do just that. You can find a picture of a double-leg gusset here, here, and here. DLGs are little miracle walls of elastic that keep poop from escaping a diaper, and like American Express, I never leave home without them. The first layer of leg elastic hugs the leg to keep poop in, but should something slide past it, it gets caught by the second layer. Another benefit of DLGs is a good fit. You never have to worry about there being a gap between the leg and the diaper - which can happen if the diaper is too bulky, ultimately leading to leaks. But not all diapers offer this, so a good "substitute" is to make sure your cloth diaper "system"as a whole has two layers of elastic in the leg areas. For example, if you're using a contour diaper, use one with elastic in the leg area, then use that with a cover with elastic in the leg area. This gives you 2 "walls" of elastic. If you're using prefolds or flats, consider adding elastic to them as well. You can find a short video on how to do that here.
Tip: Buy diaper covers with double-leg gussets.
I put this one last for a reason. Price is important when purchasing cloth diapers, but shouldn't be your most important factor. You will use your diapers daily, for years, and a cheap diaper that fails on these other factors will actually cost you more in the long run. With that said, I don't believe you have to spend an arm and leg to cloth diaper either. Once you decide on the diapers you want, check out FST (for sale or trade) Facebook pages to find some gently used diapers to fit your budget. As a generally rule, you can't go wrong purchasing flat, prefold or fitted cloth diapers used. Since they don't have PUL, even under extensive use, they're still a really good buy. I do recommend being careful with purchasing pocket and all-in-one (AIO) diapers though. PUL can break down with over usage so I personally recommend only purchasing pockets and AIOs from parents that didn't give them a lot of use. One way to determine this is by asking the seller how many diapers were in their rotation. You want someone who had a diaper stash of about 45+ diapers.
Tip: Save money by buying gently used items on FB, eBay or online sites.