Cloth Diaper Tutorial, Part 1

July 13th, 2007 by MamaBear

I use cloth diapers on my baby. I often encounter people who are interested in using cloth for their babies but for some reason feel intimidated by it, so they continue with disposables. I created this picture tutorial to help those unfamiliar with cloth diapers to see that they are really very easy.

With either disposable or cloth diapers, you will have to clean the baby’s butt when it’s poopy. No getting around that. Disposable diapers don’t make that problem go away, so in that regard, disposables and cloth are almost identical. It’s important to point that out because a lot of people would have you think differently, like cloth is somehow more gross and involved and that disposables are more hygienic and sanitary. Don’t fall for the marketing hype created by Proctor & Gamble (maker of Pampers and Luvs) and perpetuated by Kimberly-Clark (maker of Huggies). Like paper plates and plastic utensils, it’s nice to have them available sometimes, but why use them every day when the real thing is so much better?

First item on the tutorial agenda: wipes.

Most, if not all, disposable wipes contain water as the main ingredient, and then a bunch of other ingredients intended as preservatives so that mold doesn’t grow on the moist wipes, maybe some moisturizing agents (like aloe vera or aloe vera plus some other junk you can’t really pronounce), surfactants for a soapy feel, and other questionable ingredients to help convince you that you “need” the disposable ones. (Hint: you don’t need them.)

There’s nothing magical about disposable wipes. They don’t disinfect the diaper area (that might do more harm than good, actually). They don’t clean any better than a washcloth would (their flimsy paper makes a messier clean-up job and uses up more disposable wipes than if you were to just use cloth). Also, and this is most important of all, disposable wipes leave a chemical residue on your baby’s sensitive skin. This residue could cause allergies, exacerbate skin conditions like eczema, and exposes the baby to chemicals that may cause problems in the future. For something that’s supposed to get you clean, disposable wipes don’t seem to do a very good job of it.

Cloth wipes, however, can get your baby truly clean without any questionable chemicals. You can use baby wash cloths, regular wash cloths, flannel cut up into large squares, old-fashioned flatfold diapers… Just about anything you can think of to wipe off a baby butt with can be used as a cloth wipe. And water. That’s right, plain old water. Some moms like to use a little natural soap mixed with water on one cloth wipe and then do a wipe-rinse with water on another wipe before drying the baby off and putting a fresh diaper on, but plain old water on a cloth wipe will do the trick just as well. Here are some examples of cloth wipes:

cloth wipes

The above cloth wipes have been used for dozens of poopy diaper changes, yet none of them are stained or dirty. I never use bleach to wash my diapers or wipes either. The photo is unretouched. The little spot you see to the right of the blue washcloth is a piece of stubborn lint, which you can find in pretty much anything made of cloth you already own.

Okay, so how do you clean a baby’s butt with a cloth wipe? The same way you do with a disposable one, except that when you’re done, you throw the cloth wipe along with the dirty diaper in the diaper pail and not in the garbage.

What is a diaper pail? Here is one of those scary, intimidating terms that gets some people running for the hills. I’m going to break it down in a way that will hopefully demystify the term forever: a diaper pail is simply any container where you put your dirty diapers and wipes in. A lot of people find that a regular garbage can with a step-on lid works really, really well as a diaper pail. Like this one:

stainless steel diaper pail

The above step-on garbage can cost about $30 at Wal-Mart. It’s stainless steel, but you can use a cheaper plastic one as well.

It is important to line your diaper pail, the same way you would line your garbage can with a plastic bag, lest you throw your dirty diapers directly into the can and create a whole lotta mess for yourself. I like to line mine with a washable Bummis bag. I own two of them. That way one can be in the pail while the other is in the wash. I do not recommend using a disposable plastic garbage bag for this as it is very flimsy and would actually make things harder (and possibly more expensive) in the long run. However, if you choose to use disposable plastic bags to line your diaper pail while using cloth diapers instead of disposables, it’s probably still a lot less wasteful than if you were to use disposables.

(There are two types of diaper pails: dry and wet. I prefer, use, and recommend the dry. A dry diaper pail is essentially just a container to hold the dirty diapers. Period. A wet pail is a container into which you’ve put a small amount of water and maybe baking soda or vinegar (but not both together because they’ll react with each other and create salt and water). I do not recommend using a wet pail because it creates a drowning danger for small children, plus it may break down the fibers in your cloth diapers before their time.)

We made the error of buying Bummis bags that were too short for our diaper pail, so we had to improvise and place a platform inside the pail to support the bag so that it wouldn’t fall in with the weight of the diapers. You may not have to do this if you buy the right size bag for your pail, but I’ll show you a picture of what the inside of our diaper pail looks like anyway just in case you make the same mistake. For our platform we used a big block of styrofoam we would have otherwise thrown away. It was part of the packaging from something we bought, so it’s what we had. We’re keeping it out of the landfill for now, so it’s recycling at its best:

platform inside diaper pail

This is what the diaper pail looks like with a Bummis liner in place:

diaper pail with liner

Now it is ready to receive the poopiest, smelliest diapers and cloth wipes any baby could ever produce. As long as the lid is closed, you can’t smell anything. No perfumes, bleach, disinfectant sprays, Febreze (the bane of my existence), dryer sheets, deodorizing tablets or sprays are necessary, though many companies would have you think otherwise. Just a simple step-lid garbage can with a washable Bummis bag is all you need to get started in your cloth diaper endeavor.

Cloth Diaper Tutorial, Part II.

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7 Responses to “Cloth Diaper Tutorial, Part 1”

  1. stephanie Says:

    Great article! I really appreciate how you laid it all out in terms anyone (i.e. me) can understand! When can we expect Part 2? :)

  2. MamaBear Says:

    It is on the way. Thanks for commenting! :)

  3. Cloth Nappies tutorials « Half Pint Pixie Says:

    […] Cloth Diaper Tutorial, Part 1 : Reuseable wipes, diaper pail […]

  4. Merissa Says:

    Extremely helpfull, especially for me who is very new to this cloth diapering experience !

  5. MamaBear Says:


    Glad I could be of service. :)

    Anything else you’d like to know about cloth diapers, just ask! I’ll do my best to answer either here or by creating a new post.

  6. Julie Says:

    I have just bought a couple of cloth diapers to start the process of switching, and I have to say this is a fabulous tutorial. I am a very visual learner, and you just made this so much easier for me! I wish every craft tutorial (or whatever kind!) was this easy to understand. Thanks again! (Oh and now I know I can try the Seventh Generation detergent I just bought too!)

  7. MamaBear Says:

    Thanks so much for your comment and your compliments, Julie. Best wishes with your cloth diapering. It really is a lot of fun. Once you really get into it and know what cloth diapers work best for your baby, there’s no turning back! :D

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