Which Diaper System Should I Choose?

There are so many kinds of cloth diapers out there, it can be difficult to choose which system will work best for your family. You research and research and finally decide, Yes! I will cloth diaper my children. Then, you are faced with which diapers to buy! It can be overwhelming trying to figure out the pros and cons of each system, especially since you’ll be pulling from individual diaper reviews and diaper sites. I often get asked why I chose what I chose, why I like my diapers, and would I choose again the same way if I had to do it all over again. Well, here is an overview of different styles of cloth diapers and what I think is nice about them and what I think is awful about them.

Prefolds (or flats) & Covers

+ They are the cheapest system available.

+ They provide a level of excitement, providing the daily challenge of achieving that perfect fold.

+ Dry quickly.

– They are the most intimidating system, especially to husbands and child care providers.

– Pins or snappis are usually required. (I have a personal aversion to pins and snappis.)

– Can be difficult to get the absorbency just right.

– Often bulky.

– Can be difficult to get on a squirmy baby or toddler.

– Sizes are usually needed. (There are a few kinds that offer one size covers. Econobum is the main one that comes to mind.)

Fitteds and Covers


+ Cute and often trim.

+ Great for containing messes. (Really great fro holding in newborn poo!)

+ Very absorbent and usually require little “fiddling” to get absorbency right.

+ Easier to use.

+ Can easily use all natural fibers only.

+ Can make yourself or buy from a work at home mom.

+/- Can be the most expensive system or a very affordable system depending on your personal choices.

– The most addictive cloth diapering system. (Yes, cloth diapers can be addictive.)

– More difficult to adjust absorbency if the absorbency isn’t right for your little one from the start.

– Take more time to dry.

– Usually need various sizes. (There are a few brands that offer a One Size fitted diaper and you can find One Size covers.)

Pocket Diapers


+ Easy to use.

+ Most common type of One Size diapers.

+ Dry quickly.

+ Easy to adjust absorbency.

+ Only require one diaper “layer.” No extra cover is needed.

– Require “assembly” of diapers after each wash.

– Usually made of man made fibers.

– Can be expensive, depending on the diaper you choose.

All-In-One Diapers


+ Easy to use. Easy for you. Easy for husbands. Easy for child care providers.

+ No assembly required. Ready straight from the wash.

+ Only one diaper “layer” is needed. No extra cover necessary.

– Can take quite a while to dry.

– More difficult to adjust absorbency if you need to.

– Can be quite expensive.

All-In-Two Diapers


+ Fairly easy to use.

+ Dry faster than all-in-ones.

+ Theoretically, you can reuse the outer cover, meaning you’ll have less diaper laundry and less cost.

– Not a good system for babies with loose poo. (The poo contaminates the cover, eliminating the chance of reusing it.)

– Require “assembly” before use.

What to do with all this information?

Well, I looked at everything and narrowed down the most important for me. I knew I would be drying my diapers in my dryer, so I’d want something that dried quickly. I knew I needed something that would work immediately without a lot of trial and error. The Pastor was barely on board with cloth diapering, so I needed it to work and be easy for him. I wanted a one size solution, since I have multiple children in diapers at one time, I didn’t want to have to separate and keep several different sizes out all the time. I just needed one stash for all the children I was diapering (except newborns). I did not want to use snappis or pins.

So, with all that information, I chose to buy one size pocket diapers. They worked without any playing around with them. They were easy to use. The only real downside for my family is that I have to assemble them when they come out of the dryer and that takes time.

I have since used every other system, except prefolds. I can say, I can find things I like and don’t like about them all. If I had to do it over again, I would have bought less variety and tried to stick with one brand. (Having a bazillion brands makes it difficult when you are assembling your diapers. It also makes it difficult on care providers to switch from one brand to another, when they aren’t really comfortable with my diapers to begin with.) I love fitteds and covers for the newborn stage! I really dislike all-in-twos.

So, what should I choose?

That is up to you. You shouldn’t feel like you have to choose just one system. I knew that in the beginning, it would make it easier for The Pastor if I only had one system. But many families use on system at home and one system while out. Or one system during the day and another at night. Choosing an easier system at first will make your transition into cloth easier. (Some people find prefolds very frustrating and quit cloth diapering because of these frustrations.) It is up to you!

A note about one size diapers: I often find that I would have probably liked sized diapers, too. There are several brands of one size diapers that require internal adjustment of either the diaper or the insert, that defeat my “one stash” goal. Also, diapers don’t last forever, so with one size diapers now on their third bum, I find they get very worn out. It might have been just the same to buy the various sizes and end up with more diapers, lasting longer. As it is, I must replace my diapers when they’ve had enough. I once thought one size diapers would save me money, and if I had one child, they would. But since I’ve now cloth diapered 3, I find that I would have spent the same, either way.

Happy Diapering!!! (You can check out my reviews of each of my diapers in the “Off The Bum” category.)

How I Wash Diapers

A very frequent question I get is how do I wash my cloth diapers. First, you should start with the most simple washing routine for your diapers (always avoiding the no-no items of bleach and fabric softners). If you start complicated, your wash routine will always be complicated. If you start simple, you may find that simple is more than enough for you. In which case, you’ve made your life infinitely easier. Second, the real trick to washing cloth diapers is using just enough detergent to get your diapers clean, and then using enough water to thoroughly rinse the detergent out. Seems simple, right? Well, the 1/4th a capful rule makes many people wary of using too much detergent and they end up with ammonia build up. Don’t be scared. If you use too much detergent, you can always rinse it out. You won’t ruin your diapers by using a little more detergent. Lastly, take into account your load size. A very small load of diapers (10 or so) will need very little detergent. If you are cloth diapering 3 and your load is 30 diapers, you’ll clearly need more detergent. Also, if you have a load size setting on your machine, always over estimate your load size, rather than underestimate it. You need water to clean your diapers!

One of my first questions when I was beginning to cloth diaper was, “What on earth is a diaper pail?” I couldn’t think if people were using Diaper Genies or what. You can use a Diaper Champ or something similar, but the easiest is using a kitchen trash can with a lid. You can see mine have liners. I made them from some extra home decor fabric I had lying around. I made two, so while one is in the wash, the other is in the pail. But it isn’t even waterproof?! I realize that. You can make a waterproof liner, but I don’t see the need. When I remove my liner and throw it in with my diapers, I spray my pail with Lysol. I let it sit and dry, then put a new liner in. In over a year of doing this, I have no problems with it.

The inside of my diaper pail has the following instructions:

Dump any solids! (That means, put poop in the toilet.)

Remove insert (if any). (Clearly, some of my diapers do not require this step. However, anyone not in the know about how to put my diapers in the pail is also not in the know about the Smartipants and TweedleBugs being exempt from this requirement. And clearly fitteds, all in ones, and covers don’t have inserts.)

If velcro, secure velcro to laundry tabs.

My laundry routine:

1. Once all soiled diapers, wipes, and the diaper pail liner are in the machine- I run one cold rinse. (This rinses out any poop that wasn’t dumpable – think breastfed baby- and keeps most poop stains from setting in.)

2. Add 1/2 capful of detergent (I know, you’ve heard to use a forth of what you’d normally use. I did that, it did not get my diapers clean enough. So, now I use half a capful  to 3/4 a capful!) and turn washer on for a hot wash with warm rinse.

3. Turn washer back on (without adding more detergent) for another hot wash and warm rinse. (My machine does have an “extra rinse cycle” button that you can push, however, I found that a wash and two rinses just wasn’t enough. So, now I essentially have a wash and 3 rinses.)

4. Put all diapers, wipes, inserts, and pail liner into the dryer and dry one cycle on low. Take out all covers (this includes the outer portion of pocket diapers) and dry on high heat. (There is something wrong with my dryer. It takes the full two cycles to dry all my stuff. It doesn’t take me that many at my mom’s since her dryer is not incapable of actually drying. At her house, I remove all the covers, then leave my inserts in for a 15 minute high heat  blast in the dryer for germ killing reasons, not drying reasons.)

That concludes my wash routine!

What detergent should I use?

You can use the special diaper detergents, but to start off that way goes against my “keep it simple” rule. So, I decided simple would be buying only one kind of laundry detergent for my entire household. I have used original Tide, regular All, All Small & Mighty, Arm & Hammer with Oxi Clean, and some super cheap kind at my Mom’s house. My favorite is Arm & Hammer with Oxi Clean. It is cheap and works well. (And it smells really nice!) Trying to decide on a detergent? Avoid “free & clear” varieties. Avoid anything with added fabric softner, water softner, or bleach. I also think the liquid kind rinses easier from cloth diapers.

What about stripping?

I every other week to every week wash once using plain blue Dawn instead of my detergent. It seems to keep build up problems at bay to routinely Dawn your diapers, though it is far from necessary. Need a deep clean but don’t want to use Dawn? Use more of your detergent (and you can add a scoop or two of Oxi Clean) and add a couple more rinse cycles to the end of your wash. It is amazing what a really good rinse will do.

What about using baking soda or vinegar?

Once again, to start with, keep it simple. Baking soda added to the initial rinse can help with detergent build up. Vinegar added to you end rinse cycles can sometimes help with ammonia build up. Sometimes vinegar will make your problem worse. Baking soda can make ammonia problems worse. So, jump these hurdles if they come, don’t start out using either.

How do I know if I have ammonia build up or detergent build up?

We often automatically assume it is the dreaded detergent when we have issues. Detergent build up will show up by your diapers not absorbing as much as they should. You’ll begin having unexplained leaks that are not caused by improper size or infrequent changes. Your baby could get a rash on their bum, but it usually doesn’t make your diapers smell. If your baby has a rash and your diapers have a smell (sometimes out of the dryer, sometimes when peed on) but are not leaking, ammonia is probably the culprit.

What do I do for detergent build up?

More rinsing! A Dawn strip can help you get your diapers back on track. If you are using “free & clear” detergent, find something else to use. “Free & Clear” detergents are a common culprit in detergent build up. Don’t cut down on the amount of detergent you use, you’ll only give yourself an ammonia problem that way. Add more rinsing to your routine! (And you may want to switch detergents. The more basic the detergent, the better.)

What do I do for ammonia build up?

A Dawn strip may help you quickly get your situation under control. Increase the amount of detergent you are using, because you are clearly not using enough detergent to get your diapers clean (thus the build up). You may need to increase you rinsing to make sure you rinse the increased amount of detergent out.

If you can, once a week add an extra rinse cycle or two to your normal load. I call this a “mini-strip” and usually do mine with Oxi-Clean or Dawn instead of my usual detergent.

What do I do if I’m still not sure if my problem is detergent or ammonia?

Easy. Do the most simple thing. Increase your detergent and add an extra rinse or two. To keep it from recurring, you can increase both your detergent and rinsing permanently. A strip or “mini-strip” would help both!

How many rinse cycles must I do?

Typically, one extra rinse is enough. ( rinse + wash + rinse + rinse) If you find that isn’t enough, you can increase your rinsing in one of two ways. You can add on rinses to the end *rinse + wash + rinse + rinse + rinse) or you can increase your load size on your washer, so each rinse uses more water, thus rinsing a little better. (small load to medium load) In my experience, water is the key to clean diapers!

Isn’t machine drying rough on your diapers?

Yes. I never dry my PUL on anything but low heat. I am not very easy on my diapers (should give you a little more confidence in my reviews). You can line dry your diapers, I just find very little time for such things.

How often do you wash diapers?

I wash mine daily. Some people wash every other day. Some only wash twice (or once!) a week. I have too many diapers to wash anything other than daily. My diaper pail is completely full by the end of the day! Also, Aidan pees acid. If his diapers sit longer than 36 hours, they must be washed twice to get all the ammonia out.

Doesn’t washing diapers take a lot of time?

Well, I’m not washing them by hand! You quickly settle into a nice washing routine. If I start my diapers when the kids are getting baths, I can have them in the dryer before bedtime. (I take them out when I get up in the morning, unless I just can’t sleep & do it after the kids are in bed.)

Still have questions? Feel free to ask!