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These instructions show how to change a basic type of cloth diaper: an interior diaper, made of cloth, and a separate waterproof cover that goes over it. (There are many other types of cloth diapers, too. The same basic directions can be used for other cloth diapering options – just substitute your diaper of choice for what we describe here.)
While there's no one right way to change a cloth diaper, here are a suggested series of steps to get you started. In time, you may modify the steps and develop your own preferred method – which you'll be able to do in a darkened room while half-asleep.
Wash and dry your hands, or clean them with hand sanitizer or a baby wipe.
Set up a warm, clean area to change your baby. If you're not using a changing table, consider laying a blanket, towel, or changing mat on the floor or bed.
Assemble your supplies:
- Clean diaper
- Clean diaper cover, in case the one your baby's wearing got dirty
- Diaper fastener (Snappi and Boingo are popular brands) or safety pins
- Cloth wipes, baby washcloths, or disposable wipes for cleaning your baby. (Dampen the cloth or washcloth with warm water or a homemade solution of warm water and a little liquid soap.)
- Dry wipe or washcloth, to dry your baby if you won't be letting your baby air-dry
- Rash cream, if your baby is fighting a diaper rash. (Make sure to select a cream that works with cloth diapers, since standard rash creams and jellies are difficult to wash out of cloth diapers and may ruin them.)
- A cloth or disposable liner. Liners wick moisture away from your baby and into the diaper. Disposable liners make it easier to dispose of poop and also help protect cloth diapers from lotions and creams. Cloth liners can be used to protect diapers, too, in which case they should be washed separately from the diapers.
- An insert or booster, sometimes called a doubler, for added absorbency. (Some inserts are also topped with a stay-dry fabric.)
Safety note: If you change your baby on an elevated surface such as a changing table or bed, be sure to keep one hand on your baby at all times. Most changing tables have a strap you can use to secure your baby. Whether your baby is strapped in or not, don't leave your baby unattended for even a second. Babies of any age can squirm off the table unexpectedly.
- Lay out the clean diaper. (Some types of cloth diapers need to be folded first.)
- Unfasten the diaper cover your baby's wearing and bring down the front part of the cover.
- Unfasten the dirty diaper and pull down the front half. If your baby is a boy, you might want to cover his penis with a clean cloth or another diaper so he doesn't pee on either of you.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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) to help keep bacteria from causing an infection.
- If your baby pooped, grab another wipe and clean his bottom. You can either lift his legs or roll him gently to one side then the other. Be sure to clean in the creases of your baby's thighs and buttocks.
- If you have time, let your baby's skin air dry. Otherwise pat dry with a clean cloth. If necessary, apply a rash cream that works with cloth diapers.
- Remove the dirty diaper and, if it got soiled, the diaper cover. Set them aside.
- Place the clean diaper underneath your baby so that the back edge is in line with your baby's waist.
- Pull the front half up to your baby's tummy. If your child is a boy, be sure to point his penis down so he's less likely to pee over the top of the diaper.
- For newborns, position your baby so the back of the diaper is higher than the front: You don't want the fabric to irritate the umbilical cord stump. Many newborn diapers and diaper covers have a snap- or fold-down area for the cord.
- 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.
- 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.
- Once the clean diaper is on, place the outer cover over it. (You'll either reuse the cover your baby was wearing before or, if it got dirty, replace it with a clean one.) Fasten the cover with its tabs or snaps.
- All changed!
- Dress your baby and put him in a safe place, like on the floor with a toy or in his crib.
- 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.
- Wash your hands thoroughly or use hand sanitizer if you can't get to a sink. That's it – you're done!
Cloth diapering tips
- Change diapers frequently to avoid diaper rash. It's especially important to change poopy diapers as soon as possible, since they can cause diaper rash quickly.
- Learn about the difference between regular diaper rash and yeast diaper rash, since they need to be treated differently.
- Keep distractions handy. If your baby fusses during changes, hang an engaging mobile over the changing area, put up pictures or mirrors to look at, or give your baby a small toy to play with while you take care of business.
- Stock up on clean diapers or plan to wash them often enough that you won't run out. Newborns can wet as many as 14 cloth diapers a day. It's recommended that you purchase 18 diapers for a newborn, if you want to wash daily. If you want to wash every other or every second day, you'll need two or three dozen diapers.
- If you opt to use a diaper pail to store dirty diapers, you may want to use a liner to cut down on odors and keep ammonia from the diapers from leaching into the pail. Some parents use liquid in the diaper pail because they think it reduces odors and stains, but it's generally not recommended – it can create a drowning hazard for young children and cause deterioration of the diapers and setting of stains. Your best bet for avoiding stains is to soak diapers for an hour or two before washing.
- Have fun: Diaper changes offer a chance for some special one-on-one time. Talk and sing to your baby, pointing out the different parts of your baby's body and explaining what you're doing. Once your baby is cleaned up, try a few simple songs like "Itsy Bitsy Spider" or "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes." Play a bit of peekaboo or patty-cake, and share a kiss before you wrap up.
Cloth diapering on the go
When you're away from home, bring a wetbag to stash dirty diapers in until you get home. Wetbags are waterproof bags that help reduce odors.
You can bring one small bag, containing a clean diaper and a couple of wipes, for each diaper change. Each time you change your baby, simply exchange the clean items in the bag for the dirty ones.
Alternately, you can have one larger wetbag to put all the dirty diapers in. Another option is a wet/dry bag, which allows you to put clean things on the dry side and dirty things on the wet side.
For wipes, if you choose not to use disposable wipes on the go, you can bring pre-moistened cloth wipes in a small, clean wetbag. Or you can tote dry cloth wipes with a small spray bottle filled with a mild water-and-soap solution. (Simply spray the solution onto a wipe when you need one.)
If you're using diaper covers, remember to bring an extra diaper cover, too, in case the one your baby's wearing gets soiled.
For more advice on what to bring along, see our full list of diaper bag essentials.
- Talk to other parents about cloth diapering
- Baby poop: A visual guide
- Is it safe to use baby powder?