Modern Cloth Diapers – Not Your Grandma’s Cloth!

Times have changed.  Once upon a time, everyone used cloth diapers.  Then disposable diapers became more affordable; they became an “always use” thing instead of a “sometimes use” thing.  In the time when people mostly stopped using cloth diapers, things changed.  Modern cloth diapers came along.  And with modern cloth diapers, modern cloth diaper advice came.

Modern Cloth Diapers - Not Your Grandma's Cloth!

Grandma’s Cloth Diapers


Grandma’s cloth diapers were exceptionally simple: cotton flats that you’d fold and then pin on the baby.  Diaper pins were essentially giant safety pins; conventional wisdom of the time was to store the pins by pushing them in a bar of soap.  That would make the pins slide through the cotton easier and prevent them from being lost.

Here’s the great thing about cloth diapering “back in the day” – Everyone’s diapers were the same.  They were made of the same materials, and those materials were cheap and plentiful.  When they wore out, it was no big deal because they may be re-purposed for dust cloths until they were too threadbare for that purpose.  Because they were fairly uniform in composition and type (usually Birdseye cotton), there wasn’t a lot of controversy in terms of cloth diaper laundry.  Diapers were thrown in a wet pail, maybe with some vinegar to combat smells.  Your grandmother (or maybe even your great grandmother) may not have had a top loading washing machine like you grew up with.  She might have had a very old style front loader… or even used the old fashioned wringing rollers.  It’s possible that she used bleach as a whitening agent, or she may have decided that bleach wore out her diapers too fast and opted to use a bluing agent for whitening.

Modern Cloth Diapers

Modern cloth diapers is an entirely different matter.  With modern cloth diapers, you have a lot of variables.  You’ll find diapers made of different fabrics by different companies in different countries.  Washing machines now are more varied and complex than they were 75 years ago.  Then, of course, there’s why moms are cloth diapering.

Your modern cloth diapers can be made of synthetic fabrics like microfiber and zorb, or natural fibers like hemp, bamboo, cotton, or a blend of any of these.  They can be a thin sheet of fabric that is folded like your grandmother folded her diapers, or they can be a thick and cushy hybrid fitted diaper with a multitude of layers.  It may be some place in between.  And there’s also the waterproofing materials, PUL (polyurethane laminate) and TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane).  There are elastics to help the diaper fit the shape of your baby.

Modern cloth diapers are a more complicated beast than what our grandparents used.  Sure, they’re a lot prettier, more fun, and easier to use, but these variations in diapering leads to some fun things.

1.) All fabrics cannot be treated the same.  Sure, you can boil the heck out of cotton flats or prefolds, or you can bleach them until kingdom come if that’s what you like to do.  But if you do those same things to a custom hybrid fitted diaper, you’ll run the risk of damaging the diaper.  You may fade the print, wreck the elastics, damage the snaps, or some other consideration that I haven’t thought of.

2.) Not all people use cloth for the same reasons.  You’re okay with bleaching and using an industrial grade detergent for your diapers; you’re in it because it’s cheap and you buy the cheapest diapers and absorbency options available.  That’s awesome!  But someone else may be in it because of sensitivities to disposable diapers or other chemicals, or perhaps for environmental reasons.  That means that she’s probably not going to be okay with using a mainstream detergent or bleach; she’s going to probably want to use a “cloth diaper safe” detergent and bleach alternatives for whitening or disinfecting.  And that’s okay!

This was a high end and fancy machine in the 1950's.

This was a high end and fancy machine in the 1950’s.

3.) Not all people use the same washing machine or water types.  Your great grandmother didn’t have a whole lot of washing machine options.  If she was lucky enough to have an electric machine, there wasn’t a whole lot of options to choose from.  The only real variable was the water type available.  Now?  Sure, folks have hard water in some areas, but how hard is still varying… but your washing machine may be an old top loader that’s been around since the 1970’s or it may be a fancy, top of the line front loading machine with weight sensors, santization, bulk cycle, and so many options that the only thing it doesn’t do at the end is fold it for you.  Or it may be somewhere in between.  But with all of these different variables in place, what works amazingly well with one machine will not necessarily work with the other.

We don’t all cloth the same way, and that’s okay.  Love your babies and love your fluff.

Image credits:
diaper stack – Suzi Satterfield, all rights reserved
flats n pins – Wikipedia, used under Wiki Commons license
washing machine – Wikipedia, used under Wiki Commons license

About Suzi

Suzi is an American ex-pat living in British Columbia. She's a cloth diaper addict, wife, mom of three, and President of the Prince George chapter of Cloth for a Cause.


  1. Great points Suzi. Sometimes I think people make it more difficult than it should be. I know I did with my first because I kept changing things based on what I saw/heard someone else do. Now, I just do what works for us.
    Melanie S recently posted…WHAM Love: Cuddlepants ClothMy Profile

  2. I love the logic in this article and couldn’t agree more…we definitely don’t all do dloth diapers the same way.
    Celeste recently posted…Bummis Overnight Cloth Diaper – The Dimple FittedMy Profile

  3. Love it! (Also, LOVE the diapers in your graphic at the top! All those purples . . . so pretty!) 🙂
    Carolyn Allen Russell recently posted…Quick Tip – Cloth Diapering Doesn’t Have To Be All Or NothingMy Profile

  4. I think the new cloth diapers are so adorable. I wish that I would have looked into them with my youngest son. I had no clue how much they had changed over the years. I do remember my grandmother using cloth diapers on some of the kids that she used to baby sit. She had to have those plastic covers and big safety pins.

  5. I need help. I have a HE washer with hard water. I constantly have leak issues. I use Tide Free and Clear. What am I doing wrong? I was with a full cap of Tide and 1/2 cup of Borax on Heavy Duty, Heavy with warm water. After that is done, I do another wash with 1/2 cup Borax on the same settings without Tide.

    Also, my son is getting more interested in potty training. Would a FST be fine for an insert? I have AIO pockets currently with microfiber inserts.

    • Leaks are usually caused by one of 3 things: Fit, absorbency, or repelling. (In that order.) If it’s a laundry issue, it’s usually also with a smell. Are your inserts wet?

      Yes, FST is fine for inserts. Having him feel the wetness may encourage him to potty train faster.

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