Getting Started with Cloth Diapers – Part 2, by ADC

(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)

Cloth Diapering when TSHTF

It is important to remember that SHTF is a spectrum. The S is H-ing TF right now everywhere and H-ing extra hard in several places. I, for one, have broken the seal on my SHTF ammunition reserve. Yet, the electricity and the plumbing still work. We can continue diapering as normal, and don’t have to hope that the shelves aren’t stripped of diapers, and that the store hasn’t shut down because of the pandemic, and that rioters haven’t burned the store down. Detergent is the only diaper supply that we have to purchase on a regular basis. We could lay in months worth of detergent, and it would take up far less space and cost far less money than months worth of disposables.

In a TEOTWAWKI situation, cloth will rapidly become the only option for diapering. If your baby is already in cloth diapers, simply continue using the supplies you already have. If you do not already cloth diaper your baby, or you need to help with someone else’s baby, flats will come in handy.

As discussed in the “Gear” section in Part 1, the prefolds that we have been working with are actually flats that have been permanently stitched into a specific size and shape. A flat in its native state is a single-layer square sheet of fabric, preferably somewhat coarse cotton, about 28 inches on a side. This size can be adapted to diaper a child from birth up through the completion of potty training.

The simplest flat diaper fold is a variation on the ever-versatile triangle bandage. Fold the flat into a right triangle (1), then fold that right triangle into another, smaller right triangle (2), place the long edge behind your baby (3), fold the right-angle corner up the groin (4), fold the tips under to adjust size, (5), then fold together and secure with a Snappi (6).



The winter camo bandana that Edward is wearing is a bit smaller than the proper size, but Edward is also a bit smaller than a typical full-term newborn.

When your baby gets too big for a double-folded flat, simply use two layers of single-folded flats. There are also numerous other flat folds, but I have no experience with them.

Improvising Diapers

A flat diaper can be improvised from many different items, but there are a few pointers to keep in mind. First, microfiber is so absorbent that it will suck away the natural moisture and oils that your baby’s skin needs. It can be used as supplemental layer for extra absorbency, but it should never go directly against your baby’s skin. Synthetic fleece is not absorbent at all: it will wick moisture away from your baby and into a puddle in the cover. Fleece can be used to make covers, however. I have never heard of anyone improvising a diaper out of wool, probably because wool is relatively less common and more expensive than cotton, and it is a good material for covers. Terrycloth towels are plenty absorbent, but many of them are so thick that they’re impractical for diaper material. In general, any fabric presented as waterproof or moisture-wicking would make a poor diaper, but might make a good diaper cover. Fabrics with high thread counts of very fine threads (such as bed sheets) can be made to work, but are not ideal.

If necessary, a cloth diaper can be used without a closure device (such as a Snappi), but doing so is much more likely to get the cover dirty. Two standard-size safety pins can be used (carefully!) to keep a cloth diaper shut, as can a pair of clasps from an ACE bandage. Both of these should be used with caution, as they are quite small and pose a choking hazard. You could also wrap the diaper with an ACE bandage or Koban, but this presents a strangulation hazard and would be a single-use affair unless you can get it clean.

Improvising Diaper Covers

While diapers themselves are easy enough to improvise, diaper covers would be more difficult. Cutting a piece of poncho or tarp into the correct size and shape, and then securing with duct tape, would be simple, but getting a leak-proof fit around the waist and thighs would be a challenge, and it would be even more difficult to get it to stay on a rambunctious toddler. Eventually, this would also consume a lot of duct tape.

The snap covers that we have been working with would not be impossible to construct, but with the numerous snaps and elastics, they would be complex. It may be helpful to say that diapers are like vegetables and covers are like canning jars and lids. In a TEOTWAWKI situation, vegetables and fabric for flat diapers would be fairly easy to get, but lids, jars, and diaper covers would not. A few diaper covers might be a good item to lay in as barter material (laying in PUL fabric would be a more economical and versatile, variation on this). This is not without precedent: I have it on good authority that, even now, Similac formula is as good as cash in some communities.

Cloth wipes can be cut from old t-shirts, and adults can use them, too. Toilet paper shortage? What toilet paper shortage?

If you already cloth-diaper your baby, the biggest change to your diaper routine that you would have to endure in a grid-down situation would be how you wash the diapers. Off-grid laundry setups have been discussed on SurvivalBlog and elsewhere. Post-TEOTWAWKI, community laundry facilities would be a high-priority “utility” to get up and running. Clean clothing is a powerful tool for preventing skin conditions that could be debilitating or fatal in a world without modern medicine. James Howard Kunstler describes this in some detail in his World Made by Hand series of novels. It would be fairly straightforward to adapt the aforementioned cloth diaper washing techniques to these setups. It is worth mentioning that, being only a single-layer, flats dry much more quickly than prefolds or fitteds. If you are on the move or have a slim supply of diapers, this might make a difference.

To prevent and treat diaper rash post-TEOTWAWKI, it may be prudent to bleach on a regular basis. My mother-in-law bleached diapers weekly, and recalls that her children only got diaper rash when they were in disposables. Beach is cheap and useful for other purposes, such as purifying drinking water, so many of us probably have some laid in already. Many of us have probably also laid in a good stash of oatmeal, which will be useful for oatmeal baths. Though I have no experience with making my own diaper balm, calendula and St. John’s wort are staples of medicinal herbology, and there are many resources for learning to make your own salves.


In summary, you can get started cloth diapering your baby with the following:

  • 36 prefold cloth diapers
  • 6 diaper covers
  • 6 Snappis
  • 36 cloth wipes
  • a diaper pail
  • 2 diaper pail bags
  • 2 bags or cases for storing moistened wipes
  • a travel wet/dry bag
  • appropriate laundry facilities
  • cloth diaper detergent
  • bleach (in quantity)
  • oatmeal
  • cloth diaper-safe diaper rash salve
  • medication-proof diaper liners
  • diaper bag
  • changing table

Most cloth diaper experts will tell you to not build out a full stash before your baby is born. Baked into this advice is the assumption that you will be using fitteds. We bucked that advice by using prefolds. Prefolds are more adaptable than fitteds, and most parents can find a fold that works for their baby. It is also worth mentioning that you will need most of this gear no matter what kind of cloth diaper you end up using.

Diapering is not a thrilling topic, as it is not a fun activity, and no one would ever dream of taking up diapering as a hobby. But, resilient diapering is one of the most useful preps you can make. It has already helped my family to endure the obnoxious dumpster fire that is the year of our Lord 2020.

Further Reading

Confessions of a Cloth Diaper Convert, by Erin Odom

Cloth Diaper Revival


    1. I did the same. And my kids were toilet trained earlier than kids in disposable diapers. I’ve had other parents who used cloth diapers say the same thing. I think it is because the cloth diapers allow a child to be more aware of what their body is doing.

  1. I do suggest large well made diaper safety pins because the snaps will fail on those snappies AND there is many uses for safety pins when things get weird (SHTF).

    Diaper pins and a sewing kit are often something Preppers don’t think about. Might give you options as to adapting old clothing to your growing baby.

  2. Here’s a bit of trivia that could prove to be helpful. If you use actual diaper pins or safety pins to anchor the diapers, they can sometimes resist being pushed through the layers of fabric. If you stroke the end of the pin through your hair before pushing it through the fabric, it will slide through like a hot knife through butter. Apparently just the wee bit of oil that gets deposited on the pin is enough to prevent you from stabbing yourself or the baby by using excessive force on the pin.

    1. That is a helpful tip, MaG. At my advanced age, I know a ffew folks older than me who are wearing “adult diapers”. I’m curious how the article might apply to folks at the other end of the age spectrum.

      Carry on

  3. Regarding detergent: I stock up on Ivory soap bars, along with a couple other brands. Bar soap can be made into liquid detergent, or grated to be used as flakes. There are lots of recipes on the Interwebs. The bars are compact and store easily in every available nook and cranny as opposed to storing large gallon liquid detergent containers. One thing you can do to make the bars have a longer shelf life, is to unwrap them entirely. They will harden and last longer. If you like good smelling soap, be aware it may irritate a baby’s skin, so save the smelly soaps for adult detergent. I have a supply of Dove (sensitive skin), Zote soap and Fels-Naptha. You can search for these particular soaps’ special qualities. I haven’t tried it, but supposedly Zote soap makes a great catfish bait. Walmart has good prices on bars of soap online.

    1. Same here! I can make a half gallon of liquid soap from one bar of Ivory. Was chuckling the other day because I got in an altercation with an online ordering system, and LOST of course, and instead of one package I had 34 bars arrive! (Do the algorithms now know I’m a prepper?) Not what I had intended, but of course they’ll keep, and I’ll be glad to have them.

      1. Ivory soap bars can also be unwrapped and air-dried (preferably for several weeks) and then “shaved” with a carrot grater, and the gratings used in place of laundry detergent in an automatic clothes washer. A good thing for folks to remember, if they ever run out of liquid laundry detergent.

      2. At one time, I actually made my own dry laundry detergent using grated ivory soap bars, some washing soda, and borax. It was time consuming (at the time I was working crazy hours), and then there were complaints, lol, from the household on how their laundry didn’t smell as good. Actually, for the boys, it didn’t quite get the smell out. LOL. I intend now to start making it again, only this time the liquid version since everyone is up and out of the house doing laundry for their little ones.

    2. i bought a few 50 lb bags of lye (sodium hydroxide) and have been making my own soap for a while now. far superior to anything i can buy in the store and i know it’s got no hidden ingredients in it. just oil, lye, water, and a pinch of salt (and a lot of stirring until it thickens!) i make a roughly 30 pound batch of soap (thats what fits in two fillings of the really big pot) , i made a big mold out of some scrap plywood , basically a big tray whose sides i can remove, after about 2 weeks the slab is solid enough to cut into chunks, and then let it cure for another month or two before using. one can get fancy adding some aromatic oils etc, or just leave it plain. plain has the other advantage of being neutral for all the other uses in the house – dishwashing and laundry particularly. real soap rinses right off from dishes, for example, whereas those liquid detergent mixtures they sell in the store i always found took two or three times the rinsing to feel clean enough to eat off of.. been using real soap now for about 15 years, make the switch and you wont regret it. its a few hours of work a year and some space in a corner of the cellar, and it will be better and cheaper than anything store bought.

  4. It’s been awhile for me too, but used cloth diapers exclusively on four kids. Old dish towels and bath towels come in handy as spares and for extra heavy wetters. Old wash clothes do a fine job of cleaning a baby’s bottom with no irritating chemicals. So diapers and rags, wash clothes, and a pail and you’re good to go. Sticking the diaper pin in a bar of soap next to the changing area also helps the pin to work well. The little one will be well aware of being soiled and should be easy to train by a year to a year and a half.

  5. Excellent article. I was delighted to see this topic addressed here. In this case, “the little things” definitely are the big things!

    Oatmeal baths are indeed great for diaper rash or any other skin irritation too–just be sure to not rinse! Pat the skin dry gently so the oatmeal stays on. There are commercial packets of colloidal oatmeal available (Aveeno, etc) or you could powder it up in a food processor.

    We have found most success with the Burt’s Bees brand of zinc oxide cream, though it’s getting harder to find. Diaper cream may be one of the few items NOT to heavily stock before the baby is born — suppose his/her skin turns out to be sensitive to the kind you’ve stacked 27 tubes of? *face-palm*
    My MiL tells me that when they lived in Germany in the 70s, the ladies there would make baby powder by toasting flour in a skillet. I have never tried that one.

    We have been using cloth wipes for awhile now. My husband sacrificed some old undershirts for the cause and I bought several PLASTIC boxes full of commercial wipes to use once emptied. Those were harder to find too–mostly now it is the plastic wrappers. I mix a little castile soap with some essential oils (found recipe online) and pour it over the folded cloth wipes in the box. Using a spray bottle works well too; just moisten the ones you need a few at a time.

    I wish we had been able to use cloth diapers. That had been our intention, but when firstborn arrived early and not having a clue how to eat, our prefold supply was quickly relegated to burp cloths; laundry (and everything else) went by the wayside as I struggled round the clock for weeks to keep him from being hospitalized on an NG tube. (Plus cloth diapers aren’t really made in sizes for 5-8year olds, and I would have chickened out of them anyway once I learnt that insurance paid for diapers with their diagnoses!)

  6. Having been an intermittent lurker here at SurvivalBlog, this is my first comment and that was my first article. Thank you to our host, and to everyone who commented on both parts for their kind words and insightful feedback.

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