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Getting started with cloth diapers
Use our step-by-step guide to learn how to change one basic type of cloth diaper: an interior diaper with a separate waterproof cover that goes over it. You can follow these directions for the many other types of cloth diapers, too – just substitute your diaper of choice.
There's no one right way to change a cloth diaper, of course. In time, you may develop your own method – which you'll be able to do in a darkened room while half-asleep.
Before you begin, check our list of diapering supplies to make sure you have everything you need.
Step 1. Set the stage
Set up a warm, clean changing area. If you're not using a changing table, consider laying a blanket, towel, or changing mat on the floor or bed.
Lay out the clean diaper. (Some types of cloth diapers need to be folded first.)
Safety note: If your changing station is on an elevated surface such as a changing table, keep one hand on your baby at all times. Don't leave your baby unattended for even a second, even strapped in.
Step 2. Peel back the layers
Unfasten the diaper cover your baby's wearing and bring down the front part of the cover.
Step 3. Take precautions
Unfasten the dirty diaper and pull down the front half. If your baby is a boy, you can cover his penis with a clean cloth or another diaper so he doesn't pee on himself or you.
Step 4. Contain the mess
If there's poop in the diaper, use the front half of the diaper to wipe the bulk of it off your baby's bottom.
Step 5. Protect the changing surface
Fold the dirty diaper in half under your baby, clean side up. (This provides a layer of protection between the clean changing surface and your baby's unclean bottom.) To do this, lift your baby's bottom off the table by grasping both ankles with one hand and gently lifting upward.
Step 6. Wipe from front to back
Clean your baby's front with a wet cloth or wipe. If your baby's a girl, wipe from front to back (toward her bottom). This helps keep bacteria from causing an infection.
Step 7. Mind the creases
If your baby's diaper is poopy, grab another wipe and clean his bottom. You can either lift his legs or roll him gently to one side and then the other. Be sure to clean in the creases of his thighs and buttocks, too.
Step 8. Take time to dry
Let your baby's skin air dry for a few moments or pat it dry with a clean cloth. To help treat or prevent diaper rash, you may want to apply a diaper cream that's compatible with cloth diapers. (Standard rash creams and jellies can be difficult to wash out of cloth diapers and may ruin them.)
Step 9. Place dirties out of reach
Remove the dirty diaper and, if soiled, the diaper cover. Set them aside and out of reach. Your baby will be wiggling and grabbing before you know it, so don’t skip this step if you want to avoid an even bigger mess.
Step 10. Find the proper alignment
Place the clean diaper underneath your baby so that the back edge is in line with your baby's waist.
Step 11. Minimize leaks
Pull the front half up to your baby's tummy. If your child is a boy, point his penis down so he's less likely to pee over the top of the diaper.
Step 12. Newborn precautions
If your baby is a newborn, avoid covering the umbilical cord stump until it has dried and fallen off. Many newborn diapers and diaper covers have a snap- or fold-down area for the cord.
Step 13. Fit for comfort
Make sure that the part of the diaper between your baby's legs is spread as wide as seems comfortable. Too much bunching in that area can cause chafing and discomfort.
Step 14. Fasten up
Fasten the cloth diaper. Some come with built-in snaps or tabs. Prefold and flat diapers, which you fold yourself, require fasteners or pins. Be sure the diaper is snug but not so tight that it pinches.
Step 15. Add the final layer
Once the clean diaper is on, place the outer cover over it. (You'll either reuse the cover your baby was wearing before or replace it with a clean one.) Fasten the cover with its tabs or snaps.
Step 16. Success
Step 17. Keep your baby safe
Dress your baby and put him in a safe place – like on the floor with a toy or in his crib – while you clean up the diaper changing area.
Step 18. Dispose with care
Dump as much of the poop from the diaper and cloth wipes or washcloths into the toilet as you can.
Poop from formula or solids isn't water soluble and won't rinse away in the washing machine. Poop from an exclusively breastfed baby, on the other hand, is water soluble and doesn't require rinsing.
A diaper sprayer – similar to a kitchen sink sprayer that attaches to the toilet – is a useful tool for getting as much poop into the toilet as possible. You can also swish the diaper and cloths in a clean toilet bowl.
Put the dirty diaper and wipes – and dirty cover, if there is one – in your diaper pail or hanging wet bag.
Step 19. Wash your hands
Wash your hands thoroughly or use hand sanitizer if you can't get to a sink. That's it – you're done!