Getting Started with Cloth Diapers – Part 1, by ADC


People who are interested in preparedness are naturally drawn to cloth diapering, because cloth diapers provide a degree of independence and resiliency that cannot be had with disposable diapers. Toilet paper shortages in the time of COVID have gotten a great deal of attention, but there have also been shortages of disposable diapers. Cloth diapers might even be the ideal prep: it is simple, affordable, and socially acceptable to choose to diaper your baby right now in the same way as you would have to diaper you baby post-TEOTWAWKI. The easier it is to practice a prep, the more likely you are to become good at it. Unfortunately, cloth diapers look like much more work than disposables, and the last thing a new parent wants is more work. This is doubly true for new parents with little childcare experience. It is extremely tempting to press the “easy button” of disposable diapers.

I know this very well. The first diaper that I ever put on a human being was the diaper that went on my daughter seconds after my wife delivered her. Until that moment, I had been terrified of the thought of diapering. This is no accident. A common way for movies and television shows characterize a man as an idiot is to show him struggling with diapers or creating some kind of diaper catastrophe, and movies and television shows feature a lot of idiotic men. This is uncalled-for and unrealistic.

In this article, I will not be presenting an exhaustive manual on cloth diapering. Nor will I be covering the same cloth diapering topics that have already been covered in SurvivalBlog. Those articles, while very worthwhile, touch on cloth diapering only briefly, or delve immediately into advanced topics. Rather, I will be providing an introduction to cloth diapering basics (with an eye to preparedness) that should be enough to get a new parent, especially a new father, started. I mention fathers specifically because the vast majority of cloth diapering books and articles are written by mothers. For whatever reason, mommies and daddies think about such topics differently. One is not superior to the other – they are simply different. I will also focus almost exclusively on cloth diapering babies from birth to about four months of age. This is the extent of my experience, but I think it will be valuable. Getting started with a new prep is always the hardest part, and, once started, it is much easier to build new knowledge atop a well-laid foundation

As a final note of introduction, Edward, the vintage Cabbage Patch doll, will be modeling for us.


Much like growing your own vegetables or handloading your own ammunition, the startup costs of cloth diapers are higher than disposables, but they pay for themselves in the long run.

Actually, the long run is not very long at all. Amazon lists an 84-count pack of Huggies Little Snugglers newborn diapers for $24.27, giving a cost of $0.28 per diaper. Amazon also lists a six-pack of OsoKozy newborn prefold cloth diapers for $8.87. You will also need diaper covers: Amazon lists Thirsties snap diaper covers for $12.50 each. A good starting point is three dozen cloth diapers and a half-dozen covers, for a total startup cost of $128.22. If your baby consumes ten diapers per day (a realistic estimate for a newborn), it would take just forty-six days to consume as much in disposables as that initial outlay for cloth diapers. The difference is, you can continue using those cloth diapers and covers (and you now have effectively free diapers) until your baby is ready for the next size up, at about four months of age. At this point, you can turn the diapers into shop rags, donate them and their covers, or (best of all) save them for your next child and have free diapers from day one.

You can also have free diapers from day one by getting them as shower gifts. Covers, being the most high-value item in the cloth-diapering arsenal, make great shower gifts. You want these more than you want a lot of baby products.


The first thing you will need to cloth diaper your baby is appropriate laundry facilities, whether on-grid or off. If you have your own quality laundry setup, you’re good to go. If you use a laundromat or the communal laundry of an apartment building, you may have a problem. Some of these facilities specifically ban the washing of cloth diapers, or ban the use of bleach, which will be necessary on occasion. The cost of running extra loads will also add up quickly. In this situation, a cloth diaper service may be your only option. Such services pick up your dirty diapers and exchange them for freshly washed ones. I have no experience with these services, but I have been told that they quickly eat into the cost savings of cloth diapers vs. disposables, and they are not available everywhere.

Barring laundry difficulties, there are three core items that you will need: the diapers themselves (1), diaper covers (2), and a closure device (3).




There are three types of cloth diapers: flats, prefolds, and fitteds. A flat is a large, single-layer sheet of fabric. These will be discussed in more detail in the section “Cloth Diapering when SHTF,” below.

Fitteds are cloth diapers in a shape that resembles a disposable, with elastic for a snug fit around the thighs and possibly build-in snaps for closure. These are handy for overnight use, as they have a tongue or pocket which provides an extra layer of absorbency. I don’t care for them: they are the most expensive option, we have had more trouble getting them snug around our daughter’s waist than we have had with prefolds, and they are not as useful for other purposes. Worst of all, they lock you into one shape of diaper. If your baby doesn’t do well with that particular shape, you’re stuck using disposables until you find a cloth diaper that works. There are many variations of fitteds, some of which don’t have snaps, and some that have pockets for extra-absorbent liners, and some that have built-in covers. I have absolutely no experience with these.

Most of our discussion will concern prefolds, which are flats that have been folded into a smaller rectangle and then stitched together to make a solid piece. Of the three types of cloth diapers, prefolds offer the best balance of affordability, versatility, and ease of use. Edward and I will be demonstrating with an OsoKozi Bettr Fit Unbleached Prefold, Diaper-Service Quality.

There are several options for keeping a cloth diaper closed once placed on your baby. The old-style diaper pins are still available, but there are new options that are much easier and safer. Edward and I will be demonstrating Snappis, rubberized plastic straps with small hooks that grip the diaper in three places, similar to ACE bandage clasps.

Once on and secured, a cloth diaper must have a cover. The diaper’s job is to absorb the mess, and the cover’s job is to keep the mess in the diaper. The most effective and user-friendly covers are made from polyurethane laminate, which is lightweight, breathable, and strongly water-resistant. We will be demonstrating with a Thirsties Snap Diaper Cover.


The four most popular ways to put a prefold on a baby are the bikini twist, the jellyroll, the newspaper fold, and the trifold. (Yes, you have to fold a prefold. The nomenclature isn’t great.)

The simplest of these for general use is the bikini twist. Place the prefold diaper flat under your baby with the stitched edges towards the feet and head (1). Grasp the bottom stitched edge, twist it 180 degrees (2), and fold upwards (3). Lay this section directly against your baby’s skin, then bring the corners of the top section over it, and secure it with the long section of the Snappi across the waist and the short section down to the groin (4). The diaper should be even along the top and ride below your baby’s navel (this is especially important if your newborn’s umbilical cord has not fallen off yet). If the top edge of the diaper is uneven, reposition the unfolded diaper. If there is excess material, fold enough of the top-stitched edge (the one behind your baby’s back) into the inside of the diaper so that the diaper is even all around when you put it on. Folding into the diaper is critical when dealing with extra material. If you have ever used a tarp as the ground cloth of a tent, you know that you fold excess tarp material underneath the working portion of the tarp, so as not to create a bathtub effect inside the tent. Here, you want to use that bathtub effect to keep the mess inside your baby’s diaper.



Please note that the orientation of the stitching, the position of the Snappi, the even top, and how to deal with excess material will be the same for all of the other cloth diapering techniques.

Another popular method for putting on a cloth diaper is the newspaper fold. Starting with the diaper under your baby (1), fold the left and right bottom edges one over the other, so that they are in even thirds (2), then fold the folded section up (3), unfurl as much as is necessary to get coverage (4), bring the back section forward as with the bikini twist, and secure.



The jellyroll is similar to the newspaper fold, but the left and right edges of the diaper are rolled up evenly until only the middle third of the bottom edge is left open. Then fold up, unfurl, and close as with the newspaper fold.

To make the trifold, simply fold the diaper in thirds long ways, place under your baby, and fold the bottom section up. A diaper folded in this way is never used by itself, rather, it is used to in combination with a newspaper fold or jellyroll to double-up for extra absorbency. You might say it replicates the functionality of the “tongue” of a fitted diaper. If you have extra material to deal with, it may be best to fold under the front, rather than the back: this will be a very thick wad of fabric, and your baby may find it uncomfortable to lie with it in the small of his back.

(If you think the trifold looks more like a folded newspaper than the newspaper fold, so do I. Again, the nomenclature isn’t great.)

It is best to experiment with each of these techniques and determine which works best for you and your baby. My wife prefers the jellyroll, which I do not have the patience for. I started out with the bikini twist but abandoned it in favor of the newspaper fold. In general, the bikini twist only works for girls.

No matter how you put on the diaper, putting on the cover is the same, and mostly self-explanatory. Place it on your baby and adjust the size by choosing the appropriate snaps. Make sure that the edges around the waist and the thighs cover the diaper completely, or it WILL leak!


Please note that in this section, Edward was oriented with his feet towards the camera so that you could see our workspace clearly. Many changing tables are oriented with the baby’s feet to one side, rather than straight towards you. This means that when (not if, when) your baby poops during a diaper change, you are not directly downrange. This also keeps you from being directly downrange of pee with girls; for boys peeing, all bets are off. Orienting the baby with feet to the side really cuts down on this.


Before a natural-fiber cloth diaper can enter service, it must be washed and dried three times with your choice of cloth diaper detergent in cold water. This is to remove any residuals oils that may inhibit the absorption of moisture, and to fluff up the fibers to increase absorbency. These loads should only contain the diapers that you are preparing for service.

Covers can be used until soaked with pee, soiled with poop, or stinky. You must wash diapers between each use. If your baby is exclusively breastfed, her normal stool will resemble slightly thick adult diarrhea with a seedy texture, and her diapers can be thrown into the pail without any additional steps. If your newborn is formula-fed, or your older child has started on solid food, you will see solid or semi-solid turds in his diapers. They should simply roll off (though they may require some encouragement) into the toilet, after which the diaper can be thrown into the pail.

Cloth diapers, covers, wipes, and diaper pail bags can be laundered together. It is best to start with a cold water, normal wash cycle without detergent. Then, without unloading, run them in a hot-water, heavy-duty wash cycle with detergent and an extra rinse cycle. You will need to use a detergent that is rated for use with cloth diapers. We use Rockin’ Green Platinum Dirty Diaper Detergent. Do not use fabric softener, and if your machine has a fabric softener setting, disable it. Use the maximum volume of water that your machine will allow. After washing, anything made of water-resistant synthetic (such as covers or bags) should be line-dried. Diapers can be line-dried, too, but they can also be machine dried. You want them absolutely dry, and high dryer temperatures will not hurt them. Do not use dryer sheets. You might also consider washing your clothes with diaper detergent. This would simplify the logistics of laying in a good supply of detergent, and it removes any risk of buildup that might reduce the absorbency of your diapers.

Snappis can be used until they break (probably hundreds, if not thousands of times) and just need to be spot-cleaned as needed.

Dealing with Diaper Rash

The vast majority of babies, no matter how diligent their parents are, will get diaper rash at some point. There are two types of diaper rash: one is simply irritated skin, and the other is a yeast infection. If your baby gets diaper rash (especially if it is known to be the yeast infection), you will need to immediately bleach all of your cloth diapers and covers with a half-cup of bleach in the wash load, in addition to your regular diaper detergent. Until this is done, use disposables or a ready reserve of cloth diapers. Your pediatrician will most likely prescribe one or two creams: Desitin to provide a moisture barrier for both types of rash, and Nystatin to treat the yeast infection. Both are safe and effective medicines, but they can hinder the ability of a cloth diaper to absorb moisture. You will need to either strip the diapers, or preferably use a liner specifically designed to contain creams. The liner simply sits directly against your baby’s skin, and the creams, inside the diaper.

Earth Mama also makes a diaper balm with calendula and St. John’s wort which does not require stripping diapers afterward. Oatmeal baths, with a half-cup of oatmeal in about three gallons of bathwater, are also very helpful. When our daughter got diaper rash, we treated it with the prescribed Desitin and Nystatin until it was fully resolved, using an OsoKozi diaper liner, as demonstrated by Edward, below. We knocked down the beginnings of a subsequent case with calendula balm and oatmeal baths, and have had felt no need to resort to the prescription creams again.

Assorted Notes on Living with Cloth Diapers

A baby in a disposable diaper will take up substantially less room in a car seat than the same baby in a cloth diaper. If you normally diaper your baby with cloth, but happen to have her in a disposable for a car trip, you will probably need to tighten the car seat’s straps. If you’ve seen the public service announcements about car seats and winter coats, it’s the same effect.

The laundry burden of cloth diapers is not nearly as bad as you might think. It doesn’t have to be sorted and the folding takes a tiny fraction of the time required to fold a load of shirts and socks. We wash diapers about every other day.

If you are doing cloth diapers, you can also do cloth wipes. These are simply cloth rectangles about 7×9,” which are moistened with water and staged for use. Moisten about what you will need daily, and they won’t get musty. We use Charlie’s Banana wipes, which we keep moistened in a zipper pouch in the changing table, and in a hard plastic case in the diaper bag.

To store dirty diapers awaiting the wash, you will need a diaper pail and two diaper pail bags: one bag in use, and one bag either on standby or in the wash. We use Dekor-brand pail and bags.

In the diaper bag, you will need a wet/dry bag, since you can’t simply throw away the dirty diapers when you’re out and about. We have one which has a small pocket for clean diapers, and a large pocket for dirty diapers.

Meconium, the tar-like first few stools that a newborn passes, will stain cloth diapers. You can use disposables or a diaper liner until the mature stool emerges, stain-treat the diapers afterward, or just not worry about the stains.

Clean prefolds make better burp rags than most purpose-made burp rags.

(To be concluded tomorrow in Part 2.)


  1. ADC!
    This was a fun article with lots of useful information and a delightful sense of humor too. Looking forward to Part 2!

    I would add a couple thoughts to the conversation…

    First! Zinc oxide cream, a healing ointment, should be in everyone’s preps. Cloth diapers are also great as part of the stash whether or not babies are anticipated or there are young children in the group!

    Second! A little bit more serious, but a note related to diapering generally and cloth diapers vs. disposables as these subjects are relevant to the more serious subject of early childhood neurological development.

    The brain of a baby is growing and changing rapidly (in utero and in early life after birth). We think a lot about how best to stimulate that development in good and wholesome ways with audio-visuals, but we don’t always consider touch sensation as fully as we should.

    A critical part of this is how babies experience physical contact, and of course, this includes skin contact with diapers and the messes deposited within those diapers. For older children and adults, this sort of mess might be experienced as a terribly undesirable nuisance and an embarrassment — one to be avoided at nearly all cost. For a baby, skin contact with a diaper mess may be experienced in much different and distressing ways simply by virtue of the early formation of the brain.

    Babies cannot tell us directly, but there is a whole lot of evidence available from other sources including people who struggle with sensory defensiveness disorders. In these cases, the brain is atypically formed for some reason (too great a topic for this response), and the person experiences touch sensation very differently from those of us without the same developmental neurological concern.

    It’s not a big leap from an understanding the consequences of atypical development to understanding what might also be experienced in infancy related to the early and rapid development development of the human brain.

    What is the take home? Keep your babies diaper zones clean and dry and comfortable. The implications are, in all seriousness, more significant than generally imagined. It’s not that people haven’t survived for many thousands of years without disposables — an argument that would be silly, even ridiculous. This is about giving the tiny new person entrusted to you every developmental support and advantage available. The consequences for those early choices we make as parents last a lifetime.

  2. Memories… I had 4 babies in 7 years and used cloth diapers. I was able to have a diaper service in the very beginning with baby #1 because my mother gave that as a gift. Back then, you got 100 diapers delivered every week and the dirties picked up. I was never able to get my diapers as clean and bright as the laundry service did.

    As I could afford it, I bought my own cloth diapers until I had enough. I recall trying to wash diapers in the tub when my washing machine conked out. Which is what you’d have to do without electricity. It can be done (rubber gloves necessary). I would hang the diapers on a laundry line in the garden because the sun would not only dry them, but disinfect them again.

    One note: front loading washing machines, “energy efficient” washing machines, washing machines that limit water usage, are all horrible for washing diapers. I heard on Wranglerstar’s YouTube channel, that they sought out the Speed Queen brand of washers, which doesn’t limit the amount of water, and are built to last. If I have to buy machines again, I will definitely seek that brand out. In the states like California, they limit water, and they charge a fortune for water, so I can see why moms/dads would use disposables. I have this vision that all the pipes in California will become gummed up and stopped up due to the lack of water rushing through them. LOL.

  3. ahhh the ole flush n drag
    Good article:
    Something that was actually discussed during the lockdown as diapers and wipes were in serious shortage for the Grands.

  4. That’s why we love SB so much, you just never know what the surprise article of the day is going to be!

    I watched The Rock last night with Nicholas Cage and when his girlfriend tells him she’s pregnant in the opening scene, my mind flashed back to that scene in The Family Man where he’s changing the diaper. It must have been a premonition about today’s feature. 🙂 That scene where the baby boy is on his back and the urine geyser erupts was real pee, the baby timed it just right, Cage kept a straight face, and it made the final cut.

    ADC, great article. Cloth diapers have come a long way since I was changing them a few decades ago and this is going to be another steep learning curve for modern parents when the SHTF. Like you said, people should try this out in their prepping to get a better idea of how to prepare.

    A few thoughts and warnings. The proteins in urine break down into urea and after a while urea breaks down into ammonia. This is one of the causes of diaper rash, but it takes a while for ammonia to form so the quicker you can change a messy diaper, the less chance of diaper rash.

    Second, urea breaks down to form ammonia in a diaper bucket. Most people know not to mix bleach and ammonia when cleaning but in a basic top-loading washing machine where bleach is added by hand, it can also mix with the ammonia and form a very toxic gas called chloramine. My wife had a very bad reaction to it once and then changed when she added the beach.

    Have you ever wondered in photos why all the younger kids in Africa and South East Asia are always wearing a shirt but no bottoms? They don’t use diapers but when they touch the baby in the front and back excrement exit points it stimulates the baby to cut loose. That could be a huge convenience in a TEOTWAWKI situation and something worth researching. I’ve seen it in South East Asia but didn’t speak any of the languages to be able to ask questions. I don’t know if the baby grunts or gives some indication it needs to go or if its just touched every so often. But I’m sure even American babies could be trained to the technique.

    1. Those were the days. I remember laying in the back of the station wagon with the dog and the tailgate window open. If I was a kid nowadays, I’d be in a booster seat until seventh grade. I was a short skinny kid.

      1. Yes, they were. The 60s & early 70s had their issues, but compared to today??
        Most of the mom & pops generation back then were war vets that had lived thru the great depression, and they knew what to do to get by……on a shoestring, if necessary.

  5. I guess I get to be the one to mention that if you sew your own diapers from flannel receiving blankets from the thrift store, your start up cost is virtually zero.

  6. I used cloth diapers for many years until our 5th child. I then decided I needed to simplify and use disposables as I was already doing a lot if laundry. For 5 years I did my laundry at a laundry mat as we hauled water. I pre rinsed the diapers in a 5 gallon bucket before going to the laundry mat. I lined the diapers with bounty paper towels that had been cut in half. This took care of the poop issue. I found that soaking the unwashed diapers with some vinegar in the water helped reduce the smell. After we moved to a home with running water and a washing machine I would spin out the diapers then run them through the rinse cycle. I then washed them in hot water. Usually I dried them in the dryer but if it was sunny I sometimes hung them out to dry in the sun and disinfect them. I’m sure the prefolded diapers are handy but actually the large rectangular diapers could be folded to fit the shape of your childs bottom and could be adjusted as they grew. Also they dried much quicker. I would say that the plastic covers are the most important item to have and then the diaper pins. You can always make diapers out of any absorbent material. I did this while working in an orphanage in Mexico.

  7. We used cloth diapers for all 4 of our boys. We only used disposables for traveling. We used Bummies for both diapers and water proof covers. I would recommend a diaper service for those just testing the waters. They provide the diapers, covers, bin and pickup/delivery. This gives you an idea if you are up for the flushing, fitting and use of the diapers with very little invested. Once you decide you are up for it you can purchase the needed supplies and transition from the service. Looking back we wouldn’t have done it any other way. By the way we had one of the first HE front loafers and it had a “sanitize” cycle that took the water temp up to 180 degrees. The diapers never came out bright white but the were pretty close. Our oldest is now expecting their first baby (our first grand baby). We’ve already signed them up for 6 months of diaper service.

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