A Beginner's Guide to Prefold Cloth Diapers: Information about why to use them, how to use them, and what our changing and wash routines are like! On the fence about whether prefolds might be for you? Get more information about how they can work for you and your family here!

A Beginner’s Guide to Prefold Cloth Diapers

A Beginner's Guide to Prefold Cloth Diapers: Information about why to use them, how to use them, and what our changing and wash routines are like! On the fence about whether prefolds might be for you? Get more information about how they can work for you and your family here!

Before our son was born, my husband and I got into the idea of cloth diapers even though most of our friends and family put it down. Maybe you are here because you are intimidated like we were. You like the idea of using cloth diapers and are interested in finding out more about how they work, but don’t know if it is for you. That’s okay! Neither did we. We were pretty clueless, but after almost three years of experience with prefolds, pockets, all in ones, fitteds, hybrids, and yes, even disposables, I feel pretty confident in saying…


It is one of the least expensive and most effective ways to diaper a baby. The fact that you have to do some folding is what turns some people off, but it honestly is a pretty quick system once you get it down.  We’re both pretty fast, but Mark can change a diaper in under 30 seconds.  He’s like a diaper wizard.

Here’s why WE love using prefolds:


Here’s a cost breakdown of the items we bought over two years for our son (contains affiliate links):

Prefolds – $111.80


Covers – $102.44


Accessories – $150.80


Total True Cost: $365.04

Cost after gift cards: +/-$95

I could probably have gotten this cost down too had I known what was going to work the best for us, but even “splurging” a bit, I’ve still saved around $2000 versus disposables.

I got fantastic deals at the outset by making an Amazon Baby Registry and using a lot of gift cards. This was a great option because my friends and family who weren’t interested in cloth diapers could still give me gift cards, and I got a completion discount on remaining registry items. Create your own Amazon Baby Registry HERE.


In the early days when Little Man nursed exclusively, he had those infamous, explosive mustard poops.  He was in newborn disposables until he was 3 weeks old, and that was the ONLY time we ever had an issue with “blowouts”.  I’d heard this term from friends before and figured it was a normal part of having a baby.  Those poops where it goes up the back and gets all in their hair and all over the bed?  Yeah, we never had those in prefolds.

The problem with disposables, and the problem I have with pockets and other AIO style cloth diapers, is that it’s only a one-step containment method.  If the fit isn’t nice and tight around the legs and waist, there WILL be leaks of all kinds.  With prefolds, if the poop breeches the cloth portion it still has a chance to be caught by the cover.  That isn’t to say that you’ll NEVER have a blowout (Little Man has had exactly one, but that was a 500 year poop flood), but your chances are significantly less.


Prefolds are sturdy, so they can take abuse in the wash that more complicated diapers can’t.  The wash routine can therefore also be very simple.  Check out our washing routing here!


A stack of about 24 prefolds, a tub of cloth wipes, the covers, and the wet bags take up less space than the same amount of pocket or AIO diapers.  It’s also nice that they can fold up small in a diaper bag.  I have a fairly trim Skip Hop diaper bag that bulks out with pocket diapers in tow. If you’re scared of using them while out of the house, fear not! Check out our daily travel routine to take some of the mystery out of it.


You can use doublers, extra inserts, and more to get the fit and absorbency you need. Check out our nighttime cloth diaper solutions to see how we keep a heavy wetting toddler dry all night long!


What do I need to get started using prefolds?

Surprisingly little.  You may get “extras” over time, like doublers, fleece liners, etc., but all you really need is:

24-36 prefolds (to get through a 2-3 day laundry cycle)

Bin of prefolds
Bin of prefolds

3-6 covers (covers can be reused if they aren’t soiled…I might use 2 in a day where I let one air out while using the other)

Three weeks old in Size 1 Thirsties Duo Wrap
Three weeks old in Size 1 Thirsties Duo Wrap

Fasteners of choice (I use Snappis but there are also little fasteners called Boingos, and some still prefer to use pins)

Good to have:

A wetbag or two for your diaper bag (if you use cloth while going out of the house…it’s really easy to do it so you might as well)

Planetwise Medium Wetbag in Owl

Laundry containment:  Can use hanging wet bags, diaper pail with reusable liners, laundry bags, etc.


If you need a diaper cream, I have been a big fan of coconut oil.  We used California Baby off and on and a few “safe” commercial creams, but when it came down to it the only thing that got rid of rash was plain coconut oil. I also had great success making this all purpose cream that worked not only for diaper rash, but for chapped hands, lips, flyaway hairs, and more. Get the recipe here.

What is the basic routine?

At a changing:

1. Remove soiled diaper from the baby.  If it has poop on it, you can dump it in the toilet (for solids) or just put it in the pail as is (for breastfed poop only).

2. Clean the baby’s bottom using a cloth wipe (I keep mine pre-moistened in an old wipes container, but others prefer to keep a spray bottle of water and simply spray the dry wipes right before use…your choice here!).  Put wipe in the pail.

3. Fold a clean prefold around the baby in the style of your choosing.  I prefer to fold mine this way (with a little help from Doggie):

Note: You see me fold down the front/back because it’s a little big on both Doggie and on Little Man right now.  When baby is smaller, you can fold both the front/back, then gradually decrease one or the other until it’s not folded at all.

4. Fasten to the baby with fastener of choice (if you just lay a tri-folded diaper in the cover, you don’t need a fastener…I’m not a huge tri-folding fan though so I stick with my Snappis).

5. Put the cover on over the prefold.  Make sure the cloth is completely tucked in to the cover to avoid leaks.


At laundry time:

Keep it simple and don’t be afraid to play around with your routine to find the right fit for you and your machine. Check out what we do at laundry time here.


Once you get a routine down, it’s really pretty easy.  I’d never want to do anything else!  Those few times I had to stare at the wall of disposables wondering what the heck to buy, cost per diaper, what size to get, etc. it was really annoying and nerve-wracking.  So much easier to just have prefolds on hand and never have to wonder if the fit is right or if I have enough.  No emergency trips to the store for more diapers!

Ready to dig into the world of cloth diapers and prefolds?  Check out how we set up an easy changing station with furniture we already had, or check out other types of cloth diapers to find out what might be best for you.

Still on the fence? No problem! Read more about why we chose cloth here.

If you need any help getting started, troubleshooting, etc. leave a message below, send an email, or catch me on Facebook and Twitter!

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  1. KD
    July 20, 2016

    I’very been doping the “angel fold” and fastening with a snappi. How do I keep the diaper up higher on her thighs? It ends up so low that very few covers fit. I must be doing something wrong!

    1. Emily
      July 20, 2016

      Hmmm…without seeing it, it’s hard to tell. If the diaper is too big/long it may need to be folded up in the front and/or back (if you aren’t already). You could try folding the back of the diaper in more of a triangle shape to get the fabric off the backs of the thighs (see the Ooey Fold here: http://theecofriendlyfamily.com/2009/08/prefold-picture-tutorial/). I also tend to pull the “wings” on the front of the diaper up along the sides of the hip bones (sounds silly, but think like those high-cut 90’s swimsuits) rather than straight across the waist, which can help. Also, If there’s a lot of fabric hanging out of the leg holes from the thighs, you can try rolling that part of the diaper in along the legs as you fasten it with the Snappi. I never had the thigh issue with my son because he has a long build, but my sister-in-law had this issue with my niece. It may end up being that you need to try a different fold all together (Ooey, Jelly Roll, or Bikini Twist might work better) or just play with it a little until you create a fold that works for you. Every baby is built so differently! Good luck!

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