Cloth Diapering For Dummies: How to Ditch Disposables

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was determined to cloth diaper. I didn’t know the first thing about it, so started to research and quickly became overwhelmed, faced with a million different brands and ways to do it. Not knowing where to start, I accumulated a range of styles of cloth diapers from a baby store and hand-me-downs from a local parent group.

But no matter what style I tried, I always had a problem with leaking, rashes, smell, washing, and generally found it a big hassle. The plastic-lined covers weren’t leak-proof enough; the all-in-one-fleece diapers were also not leak-proof, and the fleece became smelly. I was always running out of either covers or all-in-ones as I had to wash them after each use. As for dry night-time cloth diapering, well that seemed an impossible feat.

Despite these problems, I was stubbornly committed and determined to continue with cloth for environmental and economic reasons. I couldn’t bear the thought of all the waste that disposables produce, but also the cost of disposables really adds up. When my daughter was 8 months, I was told about a method I’d never heard of before, that totally changed how I cloth diapered: wool covers.

Vanessa Judy Photography

Here are six reasons why I found wool so good for cloth diapering:

Temperature regulation

Contrary to what we might assume, wool regulates your body temperature, just as it does for sheep. It releases heat when your body is too hot and keeps it in when your body is cold. This is why wool is known to make great duvet fillers and blankets. Synthetic materials that are plastic-based, like fleece, are not breathable and can cause the baby to get uncomfortably warm.

No Rash

Wool, being a natural, soft and breathable material, means that it doesn’t irritate the baby’s skin, and there is nothing rough to rub against it. Suddenly, there were no more chafed thighs on my daughter.

Almost No Leaking

Wool is absorbent, and adding extra lanoline makes it super waterproof. The only time I have experienced leaking from a wool cover is if some of the pre-fold is exposed, or the wool hasn’t been lanolized enough.

Less Washing

The inside of the wool covers can get a little damp but can be air-dried, so you don’t have to re-wash and re-lanolize them for about 2-3 weeks. If a part of them is soiled by poop, it can be spot cleaned under running water with a cloth. There is no need to clean the whole thing.

They Don’t Smell

It might sound strange to not wash them after use, but wool doesn’t retain odors, so you won’t get that stale pee smell!

Better for the Environment

Unlike other diaper covers, many wool covers are not made from new materials but are upcycled from old sweaters. If you are a skilled sewer, you could make your own. If like me, you aren’t, you can find some really cute ones on Etsy.

How To Do It

Woolen diaper cover (they range from soakers and leggings, which can both be used as a piece of clothing, or woolen wraps. The wraps are my preference as they are held together through snappers, which can be adjustable, meaning they can fit a wider size range and last for your child’s entire diapering years).

Pre-folds (you can easily save yourself some money and pick these up second hand).

Snappy (a great contraption that holds the pre-fold together) or two safety pins.


Castile Soap.

Fleece blanket cut up into strips approximately 4” x 8” (these will act as your liners).

A receiving blanket, cut into squares, approximately 4” x 4” (these will act as your wipes).

Spray bottle or jar.

Digestible oil in liquid form, such as almond or olive oil (optional).

Wet bag (one large for at home, and one small for when you go out).

Mesh laundry bag.

How to lanolize

When you first get your woolen covers, you need to wash them. Do this in lukewarm water, in a bathtub or basin, depending on how many you have, with a little castile soap. Squeeze the water out – do not to wring them.

Next, re-run the tub with some clean lukewarm water. Whilst it is running, prepare what is known as lanolin milk. Pour some boiling water in a cup and add a pea-size ball of lanolin for each diaper cover that you are lanolizing. Squirt in some castile soap and mix until the lanoline has melted and it looks like milk. Pour it into the water in the tub and swish it all around.

Place the covers into the lanoline water, swish them around, and leave to soak for at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight.

When you are ready to take the covers out of the water, squeeze them into a ball to get all the water out, again, without wringing them, and roll them up in a towel to dry them off as much as possible. Flat dry them on a drying rack. It usually takes about 12 – 24 hours for them to dry, depending on the thickness of the wool.

Non-disposable wipes

Mix some a cup of water, 1/4 cup castile soap, and 1/8 cup oil into a spray bottle. To clean your baby’s bum, spray the liquid onto a square of cut up fabric, and use it to wipe. If you don’t have a spray bottle you can just put the liquid into a jar, shake it up, and dip in the fabric.

Assembling the diaper on the baby

Fold-down the top edge of the pre-fold by about an inch or two, then fold in the outer sides to form a strip in the middle. Place one of the liners made from cut-up fleece on top of the middle strip. This will help for those moments when you have newly changed the diaper, and your baby immediately poops! You will just need to switch out the liner, rather than change the whole diaper again.

Put your baby onto the folded diaper and fold the middle strip up between your baby’s legs, to its belly button. Fold each flap of the diaper on the outer sides into the middle and secure it together with the snappy. If you don’t have a snappy, you can do it the old-fashioned way and use safety pins.

If using a woolen wrap, lift your baby’s bum up and place the wrap underneath, and snap it into place, so that it fits snuggly. For a soaker or leggings, just pull them on up. Make sure there are no parts of the pre-fold sticking out, or it will cause leaking.

Cleaning the pre-folds, wipes, and liners

Place the mesh laundry bag into the wet bag. When you are changing the diaper, dump the dirty pre-fold, liner and wipe into the bag ensemble and zip it up to keep in the smell. Once the wet bag is full and you are ready to wash them, simply pull out the mesh bag and put it into the washing machine. Wash on a cold cycle was with a simple detergent.

Pre-folds are best to be airdried. Whilst the dryer makes them soft, it uses up a lot of energy (the equivalent energy that it takes to make disposables!) and also shrinks them. The summer is an ideal time to cloth diaper, as they can be line-dried which gets out any smells and discoloration. In winter, we hang dry them inside, which takes a bit longer.


  • I find that four wool covers are enough to have a rotation system so that you always have one whilst some air dry and others are re-washed.
  • Some wool covers and soakers come with extra padding. It is worth having one of your four like this and using it for nighttime.
  • If you do experience leaks, it is a sign that the cover needs to be re-lanolized. You might have to do this more frequently at the beginning, as the more it is lanolized, the more waterproof the wool becomes.

Happy wool diapering, people!

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