If you’ve been thinking about using cloth diapers, you’re probably feeling a little overwhelmed. I mean, where does one begin? With the sheer number of brands, and the different types of diapers within each of those brands, a decision doesn’t exactly stare you in the face.
You don’t need to cloth diaper from day one – in fact, I only started with Miss Q when she was 19 months old. And my neighbour, who’s on baby No. 3 just made the switch last month, too. I’d been using disposables for years when Charlie Banana’s Canadian distributor got in touch with me to review a new swim diaper. We got chatting, and I mentioned I was interested in testing cloth diapers, so the team sent me Charlie Banana’s exceedingly popular One-Size as well as Sized diapers.
I instantly envisioned a comparison chart that would help those of you in the research phase, and I also reached out to several other cloth diaper companies to try as many brands and styles as possible.
As it turns out, there’s no easy answer, and without a try-before-you-buy opportunity, you could very well buy hundreds of dollars worth of diapers that just don’t suit your baby or your lifestyle.
After you get over the initial investment, you will quickly notice the very clear cost-savings with minimal impact on convenience. Plus, no more lugging home massive boxes of diapers from the grocery store or cutting coupons.
Your garbage pile will be significantly smaller from week to week, but if you’re considering cloth diapers solely because you think they’re ultra-environmentally friendly, please read my latest Huffington Post piece.
I’ve been testing dozens of cloth diapers for about three months, and what follows is something I hope you feel useful yourself or share with someone you know who might benefit. Please note that I’ve only included the best of the bunch here, the diapers that performed the best in terms of leak protection, ease-of-use and fit. Should I get any additional brands/styles that measure up to these, I’ll be sure to add them.
There’s only one diaper that didn’t make it on the list that I want to give a shout-out and that’s the GroVia AIOs (“all-in-ones”) – these would be ideal for long, lean babies. I don’t make babies like these, so I found them too narrow for Miss Q in every which way. But they have a lovely, stretchy waistband and an organic cotton liner and are so easy to use – they’re simply best suited for skinny babies.
OK, let’s get down to business.
First, let’s talk terminology
- Pre-folds: If you’re 30-something or older, chances are that your mother used pre-folds on you as a baby. Mine did. They’re essentially a swatch of fabric that when folded in a certain way (and fastened with any myriad fastening system available today), create an old-school cloth diaper. You still need a diaper cover for leak protection, though. These just seemed like far too much work to me, so I didn’t test any
- AIOs: An “all-in-one” cloth diaper is one that requires no assembly, no stuffing, no snapping – and, when it’s time for washing, no disassembly, unstuffing and unsnapping. The liner is sewn into the waterproof shell and is one complete piece that can not be separated
- AI2s / AI3s: This simply means “all-in-twos” or “all-in-threes,” and that’s the number of components involved in your cloth diaper system. The GroVia Hybrid/AI2, for example is essentially a GroVia Shell Snap Closure diaper sold with a Stay Dry Soaker Pad. Two pieces. Three pieces, like the diapers from funky fluff, and you have an AI3 – it’s as simple as that
- Pocket diapers: This kind of diaper has, quite fittingly, a pocket in which you stuff a diaper liner; in most cases, this liner needs to be removed prior to washing
- Hybrids: These are the chameleons of the cloth diapering world. They’re designed to be whatever you need them to be – a purely cloth diaper with an outer waterproof shell and a cloth liner of some kind, or cloth on the outside and disposable on the inside (which means you’re still buying a disposable component)
- One-size vs. sized: One-size diapers outsell their sized cousins by 20:1 in some cases because they can take you from birth (unless you have a really, really tiny baby) through 30 to 35 pounds. That said, I haven’t found a one-size cloth diaper yet that I find fits Miss Q as well as sized diapers. One-size diapers probably work very well long-term for average-sized babies, but if you have Viking-sized babies like me, know that by the time your baby is around 18 months old, one-size diapers are going to look like itsy-bitsy bikini bottoms
How many do you need?
This depends on a few factors. First time moms and those with infants will probably change baby’s diaper more often – up to eight or more times in a 24-hour period. Older babies and toddlers tend to need fewer diaper changes, so you could get away with fewer diapers.
I don’t find that I change Miss Q’s diapers any more often with cloth than I did with disposables. She still goes through about four on an average day. For testing purposes, I had Miss Q in all of the cloth diapers at night, too (with extra liners), but I found that while two brands came close, none offered the same leak protection as an overnight disposable. If your child sleeps for 12 to 14 hours solid all night, you may run into the same issue. I’m not going to cloth diaper 24/7 at the cost of a dry baby each morning.
You also need to be realistic about how often you can or want to launder your cloth diapers. Although I do at least a load of laundry a night, I don’t want to run a partly full hot wash nightly – so I’m the kind of person who needs to own more diapers. On average, you probably want a bare minimum of 16 diapers, which give you two full days of six total diaper changes plus a few extras. You’ll wash them every two days at this rate. I prefer to own closer to the 20 to 24 mark, which means I’m not forced to launder them for at least three days – and it means I have a pretty full load, too
- DO prep your AIO cloth diapers or diaper liners before using them for maximum absorption. Some brands suggest five washes (with detergent) while others suggest 10. I personally did only one wash of each before using them and I did notice better absorption as I washed them over time
- DO buy two wet bags: one large one for your baby’s room or laundry room and one small one for your diaper bag. It’s of paramount importance that your big wet bag zips closed or whichever room it’s in will reek of pee. Your small wet bag should have two zippered enclosures (one to store clean diapers, which doesn’t need a waterproof lining; and one to store soiled diapers, which needs a waterproof lining) and preferably have a snap-open handle to attach to your diaper bag. After trying three different brands of wet bags, I’m confident telling you that Planet Wise makes the best one. Down the road, when diapers are a thing of the past, wet bags are still useful. Trish, the owner of Kawartha Cloth, has some great suggestions: for wet swimsuits and towels, and to protect books in a kid’s backpack
- DO wash your wet bags every time you launder your cloth diapers!
- DO stock up on extra baby wash cloths. I love being able to wash Miss Q’s bum with a warm wash cloth instead of disposable wipes so that I can just roll the dirty cloth up in the dirty diaper and throw them both into the laundry wet bag. (Unless of course we’re talking about a massive poo, in which case it’s disposables all the way)
- DO separate your shells and liners before you put them in your laundry wet bag – unless you have AIOs. I’ve often been too busy and just chuck the diaper as is into the wet bag; a day or two – and a dozen or more diapers – later, I curse myself as I half-barf my way through disassembling all of them so I can toss them into the wash. Mark my words: pee smells far, far worse after stewing for a couple of days
- DO run a pre-wash (with or without detergent didn’t seem to make a difference for me) before you run your hot laundry cycle, and be sure to do an extra rinse (or two). If you have a newer front-loader, you probably have the option to save a “favourite cycle,” which I’ve done to ensure this three-step wash happens every time. If you don’t do a pre-wash, you’re basically washing your cloth diapers in their own filth. Yum. Without a hot wash and the extra rinse, you’ll also find that your liners still have a faint pee stink
- DO consider using a cloth diaper shell in lieu of a swim diaper! Without a liner, you’ve got all the protection you really need to ensure your little one’s No. 2 doesn’t escape and cause a Code Brown at the local pool
- DON’T use zinc-based diaper creams, and don’t be fooled by the term “natural” on the label either – zinc is a natural ingredient but it’s so darn good that if it gets on your cloth diaper, it may permanently damage its internal permeability; you need to use a natural diaper cream that doesn’t contain zinc, such as EcoSprout Bottom Balm+ or Substance Nappy Rash Ointment (two of my faves). But what if your baby gets a diaper rash? As you know, zinc is your friend (and Skinfix’s Diaper Rash Paste is a 200-year-old formula that works) – so either switch to disposables until the rash is gone or use diaper liners to protect your cloth diaper. The ones from Charlie Banana are really thin, work effectively and aren’t too expensive
- DON’T use your big-brand laundry detergent. I’ve had a love affair with Tide for years, but to protect the efficacy of your cloth diapers, you need to look for an all-natural, enzyme-free detergent; EcoSprout’s Warm Vanilla Sugar smells amazing and Rockin’ Green has some clever names (like Smashing Watermelons and Motley Clean). No matter how big your load is, you never need more than a tablespoon of the Charlie Banana Laundry Soap. Method also makes an ultra-concentrated, natural baby detergent that the company swears is perfectly suitable for cloth diapers despite its “enzyme complex” listed in the ingredients; I assure you that I used a whole bottle and the performance of Miss Q’s cloth diapers didn’t suffer. And, if you’re looking for something really off-the-wall, check out Soap Nuts! I’ll be adding these to my covet list…
- DON’T use fabric softener – not the kind you pour into your washing machine and not the kind you spray or toss into your dryer. These don’t do your cloth diapers any favours, and if you want to know the why behind it, this site does a great job explaining. I’ve been using the same pair of Nellie’s Dryerballs for at least six years, but when they finally kick the bucket, I’m planning to try wool dryer balls
- DON’T worry if your four-year-old (or older!) “baby” still wets at night. The cloth option doesn’t end when potty training begins. Omaïki makes a padded daytime training pant that will help your child feel like a “big boy” and still help catch accidents. The K Man is still a heavy wetter at night despite being “day-trained” for nearly a year and a half, and – in stark contrast to Miss Q’s situation – we find that nighttime disposables don’t work as effectively anymore at his age, and we prefer the large cloth diapers intended for big kids
CLOTH DIAPER BRAND
PPD (price per diaper)
WHAT I LOVE
CLAIM TO FAME
|Charlie Banana Sized 2-in-1 hybrid pocket diaper||About $20 per diaper (comes with shell and two inserts)||Best overnight protection in infant/baby cloth category||The Cloth Diaper Shop|
|Kawartha Cloth one-size pocket diaper||$10 to $12 per diaper (comes with shell and two inserts)||Most generous & most customizable fit*||Kawartha Cloth|
|GroVia Snap Shells with Stay Dry Soakers– a hybrid 2-in-1 system||$18.95 for shell + $21.25 per 2-pack of soakers||Easiest non-AIO system||GroVia Canada|
|funky fluff Fusion bamboo 3-in-1s||$19.99 (includes shell, one small soaker and one large soaker)||Most versatile||funky fluff|
|AMP Stay-Dry AIOs (all-in-ones)||About $20 each||Easiest overall system||Find a store|
|Omaïki Night Time Panties (ages 2-8)||$34.99 (keep in mind you need far fewer nighttime cloth diapers!)||Best overnight protection for toddlers to preschoolers||Find a store|
|Super Undies nighttime diapers (ages 2-12)||$29.95-34.95 (depending on size)||Best overnight protection for bigger kids||Find a store|
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DISCLOSURE: Many – but not all – of the items tested to offer this comprehensive guide were provided by the companies listed above. I chose only the diapers, detergent and accessories I think are best-in-class, which is in no way determined by what was provided to me and what I purchased myself.