Prefolds Cloth Diapering 101

If you've been curious about prefold diapers, you'll enjoy this article that covers everything you need to know to get started.

What is a Prefold?

A prefold is a rectangle fabric that has multiple layers of either cotton, flannel, bamboo, or hemp and is used with a waterproof diaper cover.

Why Would I Use Prefolds and Covers?

One main reason is that it’s very economical. A prefold is about $3-5 each and then when you buy more, you usually also save more ($2.00 each). And a diaper cover is about $12-$14 and sometimes less. So, with a prefolds and cover diapering system, you can cloth diaper full time for under $150. Disposables cost about $40 for a large box. In just about three months, you’d have broken even if you use prefolds and covers and the remaining months that you cloth diaper are just more and more savings! 


 Another reason that parents choose prefolds and covers is that you have natural fibers on your baby’s bottom. And also that because baby feels the wetness, it will be easier to potty train her later on.

How Many Prefolds to I Need?


To wash every 2-3 days, you’ll need 24-36 prefolds and 6 covers. For a toddler, you can use 14-18 prefolds and 4 covers. If you are wondering why you don’t need more covers, it’s because you can reuse the covers throughout the day. Usually you only wash the covers if they’ve been soiled. So, in a given day, you use 2 covers, rotating between changes. Some mothers will also quickly hand wash their covers at the end of the day and so you get even more use from your covers.



How Do I Use Prefolds and Covers?

The simplest fold is a tri-fold. Basically you just fold the prefold into itself lengthwise and then place that on the cover. The prefold and the cover go on your baby’s bum.

  • Start with the diaper over the cover and fold the bottom into itself. If you have a larger size prefold, then you may need to fold the bottom first, as shown in picture number two above).
  • Next step is to fold the bottom upwards and over your baby.
  • And the final step is to bring the top corners over the front.
  • At this point you’d fold up the cover and snap/velcro it closed or you could first put on a Snappi or pin the diaper closed before putting the cover on. If you pin/snappi, the diaper will stay in place much better.


What Else Do I Need When Using Prefolds and Covers?

Besides your prefolds and covers, you’ll need wipes (usually as many as your prefolds, so between 24-36) and a diaper pail (a large garbage can will work just fine) and pail liner. Those are the basics. For extras, you could get a wipe solution and also Snappis. But, the basic prefolds and covers diapering systems consists of your prefolds, diapers, and a diaper pail, as well as wipes.


What are the Cons of Prefolds?

While prefolds are the most economical diapering system and also has the pro of having natural fibers on your baby’s bum, it takes just a little longer to put on your baby than a pocket or all-in-one (AIO) cloth diaper. If you have a wiggly baby, then you may prefer something fast like a pocket diaper.

Another downside of using prefolds is that your baby’s skin does not stay dry after he goes potty, so you need to change more often. Also, some parents are usually not very excited about using prefolds and covers and at first glance find them complicated. For those parents, pocket cloth diapers are more likely to get them to use cloth diapers. Despite these downsides, the benefits of using prefolds certainly outweigh the cons.

How to Wash Prefolds and Covers?

Every 2-3 days it will be time to wash your cloth diapers. Place all the diapers and covers in the washing machine. Be sure to first unfold the cloth diapers fully. Then do a cold rinse, a hot wash and then an extra rinse. Use the recommended amount if it's a cloth diapering detergent or about 3/4 of the recommended amount if it's regular detergent. 


grovia cloth diapers


 Not all detergents are good with cloth diapers! We highly recommend a cloth diapering detergent (Country Save, Grovia, BumGenius are various brands) to wash cloth diapers. Avoid all fabric softeners.

Using too much detergent or using the wrong detergent will create a build-up in your cloth diapers and you’ll find yourself having to strip your diapers. You can dry the prefolds in the dryer or line dry them out in the sun (sun is great for removing stains). Covers should be air dried.

How About the Diaper Pail? Wet or Dry?

A wet pail is when you place water in your diaper pail and then the dirty diapers go in there until it’s time to wash. But, having cloth diapered for 5 years now, let me give you this little bit of advice — make your life easier and use a dry pail! With a dry pail, you don’t put water in first. Instead, you just place your dirty diapers in there and come wash day, you put the cloth diapers in your washing machine and quickly wipe clean the diaper pail.

What About Poopy Diapers When Using Prefolds?

If you have a breastfeed (not yet on solids) baby, then simply toss the poopy diapers in the diaper pail. You don’t need to rinse breastfeeding baby poop, since it washes off really easily in the first rinse. If you have a baby on formula or your baby is eating solids, then there are a couple of ways to handle the poopy cloth diapers. One way is to take the diaper and shake off the poopy over the toilet and then put on some gloves (or not) and dunk and swish the cloth diaper in your toilet and then toss it in your diaper pail. If that grosses you out, then you can use a diaper sprayer to rinse off the poopy that sticks to the diaper.


Thrive Market


Another method is to keep a spatula near your toilet and scrape of the poopy from the diaper and then toss it in your diaper pail. Whatever remains will wash off during the first rinse you do when washing your cloth diapers. Some parents prefer to wet pail it with poopy diapers, so one method used is to have a small wet pail that you use for just poopy diapers and after you’ve shaken off the poopy, you then toss the diaper in the wet pail. 

And finally, another method is to use liners (either disposable or reusable) and that way your liner gets most of the poopy, making the whole process a little easier to handle. If you’re thinking “Hey, I’ll just use disposables then I don’t have to deal with poopy diapers” think again! Written on every disposable diaper packaging is small text telling you that you are supposed to dump the poopy first before throwing the diaper in the trash. In other words, with or without cloth diapers, poop still happens and needs to be dumped in the toilet.

How Do I Store Prefolds and Covers?

If you have a changing table, you can just lay them flat on top of each other on one of the changing table shelves. And the covers can be place one on top of the other next to the prefolds. You don’t need to fold them to store them. Laying them flat is just as well. If you do decide to fold, the folding them trifold will save you a step when putting them one. If you don’t have a changing table, then a drawer is a great place to store your prefolds or a basket that you move about the house for diaper changes is another option.

What About When I'm All Done with Diapering?

You can save them for your next child (assuming you are having more) or gift/sell them to a friend or new mom. But, the cool thing about prefolds is that years after you are done cloth diapering you can still continue using your prefolds as dust cloths, cleaning cloth, kitchen towels, etc. Reuse, reuse, reuse.


Giselle Baumet
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Giselle Baumet

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