Once you make the decision to use cloth diapers, the next step is to ensure you have everything you need to get started. Fortunately, for our baby stretched budgets, there isn’t a long list of items you need to buy.
This list is for full-time diapering, but if you plan to use cloth part-time, you’ll still need the same items but you can reduce the number of diapers.
Here’s our list of what you need to get started with cloth diapers. You can find a printable checklist at the end of the article.
Cloth Diapers - What Do You NEED?
The must-haves for using cloth diapers are:
The number of diapers you need depends on the age of your baby and how often you plan to do laundry.
The numbers in this chart cover the diapers you will need plus a couple of spares. This covers the invariable times your little one seems to pee on their clean diaper while you’re changing them, pees more often than usual, or pees and poops within moments of landing in a clean diaper!
On average you’ll need:
If you are concerned about running out of clean, dry diapers, you can pick up two or three extras or even a pack of emergency disposables.
If you choose flat, pre-fold, or fitted diapers, you’ll need the same number of diapers plus:
- Six diaper wraps or covers.
- Three Snappies or similar diaper closures.
You do not need a cover for every diaper because you can change a cloth diaper and reuse an unsoiled cover.
A Hanging Wet Bag
You can use cloth diapers without a diaper pail if you use a large, hanging diaper bag. This style of bag hangs on the back of the door and doesn’t need to sit inside a container.
I use this hanging wet bag by Planet Wise because it has wet and dry compartments, I can wash it in the machine with my diapers, and it comes in a range of prints and patterns.
When you are using cloth diapers, you can use either disposable or reusable wipes. Both are equally effective, and the only difference is whether or not you throw them away.
If you choose to use cloth wipes, you‘ll have to stock up on a couple of dozen, at least. This may seem like a lot, but it’s not unusual to use two or more wipes per change. You don’t need any special diaper wipe wash either, body temperature or slightly warmer water is just fine.
Diaper Cream or Ointment
You do not need to use diaper cream at every change, but it’s important to have some at hand and use it at the first hint of a diaper rash. We’ve written elsewhere about diaper rash and cloth diapers in detail, but here’s a quick rundown.
Three Kinds of Diaper Rash Cream
There are three types of cream you might use in the diaper area - barrier, antifungal, and steroid.
Most diaper rash is caused by moisture and friction. Your baby’s delicate skin becomes moist, the diaper rubs against their skin, and Hey Presto - diaper rash. These rashes are usually evenly spread across the surface of your child’s diaper area, and the folds are less likely to become irritated.
To prevent and treat this type of diaper rash, you use a barrier cream.
Less commonly, you may experience a fungal diaper rash. This type of diaper rash, caused by yeast is thicker, and scalier and has a central area with secondary spots of rash spreading outward.
We all have yeast on our skin, but it becomes a problem when it goes into overdrive - like when it meets the perfect conditions to encourage growth. Because yeast flourishes in warm, damp areas, a yeast rash is more likely to be seen in the skin folds, where the legs meet the body.
To treat a yeast diaper rash, you use an anti-fungal cream. You can buy these over-the-counter, but if you suspect your baby’s diaper rash is caused by yeast, it’s best to check with a doctor first. Using anti-fungal creams when your baby doesn’t have a yeast infection can upset the delicate balance of their skin.
Steroid creams are prescription-only and used to treat extremely rare cases of psoriasis, eczema, or allergic rashes in the diaper area. Never use a steroid cream on your baby without first speaking to a medical professional. When misused, steroid creams can thin the skin and cause damage.
What Diaper Rash Cream do You Need?
You’ll read a great deal about cloth diaper-safe ointments and creams, much of which makes them seem complicated.
When you use cloth diapers and diaper cream, you have to remember:
Don’t use diaper creams and ointments with petroleum. They will coat the fibers of your cloth and cause them to repel fluids. Good for waterproofing your baby’s butt, so it’s not sitting in urine, but bad for diapers!
Diaper ointments or creams with zinc do not affect the absorbency of reusable diapers, but they will cause staining. If some grey marks on the inside of your diaper are not an issue for you, then options with a zinc base are fine.
If you use disposable diaper liners, any cream or ointment is ok.
- If you accidentally use a petroleum-based product, at a change or two, don’t panic; your diaper isn’t ruined. Put the affected diaper through the hot wash once or twice, and it should be fine.
A Portable Changing Pad
While you don’t need a fancy changing station for either cloth or disposable diapers, a changing pad is handy.
A simple folding pad will provide a soft surface for your baby to lay on during changes, PLUS, it’s a waterproof barrier that will protect your sofa, carpet, or bed when your baby pees mid-diaper change.
I use the Simple Being portable diaper changing pad because it’s lightweight and fits into my diaper bag. The surface our baby lays on is PUL, which is soft, washable, but not cold like other plastic alternatives.
Diaper Safe Laundry Detergent
You do not need special “cloth diaper only” laundry detergent. Although some people choose to use “free and clear” or plant-based detergents for their baby’s clothes and diapers, it is not something you have to do.
However, you do need a detergent that is:
Strong enough to clean human waste.
Free from softeners that can coat the diaper fibers, causing them to lose absorbency.
We also recommend you do not use laundry pods with cloth diapers.
If you use Tide, Gain, or another mainstream laundry detergent for the rest of your laundry, it is ok to also use it on your diapers.
“Extras” to Make Life Easier
Now you know what you need for your basic “cloth diaper starter kit,” let’s take a look at the extras, which you don’t NEED, but that can make life a little easier.
With our “how many diapers do I need?” chart, you can calculate a comfortable number of diapers according to your child's age and how frequently you plan to do the laundry.
If you plan to do laundry every day or every other day, and you are in a position to buy extra cloth diapers, it’s an excellent way to give yourself wiggle room. With spare diapers, you can skip the laundry for a day and not have to worry about getting them in the washing machine ASAP.
Also, we’re suckers for coordinating diapers, so, again, if you are in a position to do so, extra diapers can be a fun way to brighten your day, even when you’re stuck at home alone.
An Extra Wet Bag
One hanging wet bag is a bare minimum, and having a second hanging wet bag can make life just that little bit easier.
With two bags, you can empty bag one into the washer, drop the bag in with the diapers and wash them together. In the meantime, you hang bag two, and you never have a moment where your diapers are hanging around while your wet bag washes.
Alternatively, you can ignore hanging wet bags and go for another storage option altogether - the diaper pail.
A Diaper Pail & Liners
You can find specialist cloth diaper pails with either washable or disposable liners, but a basic garbage can or laundry basket works just as well if you are cloth diapering on a budget.
You will still need a liner of some kind in your pail and either a drawstring liner that you can close at the top, or a lid. You can also use a basic garbage bag as your liner, but if you do, be sure to replace the garbage bag regularly; otherwise, you’ll experience odors.
Extra Changing Pads
You can manage with a single, foldable changing pad because you can throw it in your diaper bag and take it with you. However, a full-size, more generously cushioned changing pad is nice to have at home.
If you want to go all out, one changing pad upstairs, one downstairs, and a foldable option in your diaper bag is convenient, but beware. After the first few weeks, you are less likely to get much use out of multiple changing pads, and they can become more trouble than they’re worth.
A Diaper Bag
Realistically, any bag can be a diaper bag. For example, I used a basic backpack most of the time with our first child because it was most convenient.
However, specially designed diaper bags can have some advantages. Usually:
- Are lined with a waterproof or easily washed material which is important when you begin carrying around snacks and drinks.
- Have multiple compartments or pockets, which make organization much more straightforward.
- Come with larger or multiple straps, making it easier to hang on a stroller, carry on your shoulder, or wear as a backpack.
You’ll also want to consider how you’ll be using your bag, for example, will you:
- Be using the bag on transit where a backpack will leave your hands free?
- Have multiple people using the same diaper bag, in which case your stylistic choices might not suit other people.
- Need to transport formula and bottles or breast milk? In which case, an insulated pocket is helpful.
Travel Wet Bags
If you’re going back to work, plan to travel regularly, or simply enjoy going out for the day, a travel wet bag will keep your dirty diapers away from other items in your diaper bag, in addition to holding in any smells.
Even if you’re not using a diaper bag, a travel wet bag can be helpful. I discovered this on a road trip where we spent twelve hours, on and off, on a warm day, in a car that stank of pee because I thought putting the used diapers in a plastic grocery bag would be enough!
There are many ways of removing the poop from your dirty diapers before they go into your bag or pail. My personal preference is to use a toilet-mounted cloth diaper sprayer. These are simple to install and are easy to use once you get the hang of them.
You definitely don’t need cloth diaper liners, but they can make dealing with poop in cloth diapers a little easier.
- Make your own reusable liners by cutting strips of fleece to size.
- Buy reusable liners.
- Use disposable liners.
Wool Dryer Balls
Yes, you can put cloth diapers in the dryer, and using woolen dryer balls can reduce your drying time, and help to keep your diapers soft.
If you use dryer balls, ensure they are the all-natural, felted wool style of balls as they will not damage your diaper's PUL layer.
Did We Miss Anything?
I’ve been using cloth diapers for a while now, but there’s always something new to learn. So, do you have anything you would like to add to the list of cloth diapers essentials - or the “nice to have” items?
Let us know on Facebook or Instagram, and tag @SimpleBeingDiapers - we’d love to hear from you.