Myth vs. Truth: Cloth Diapering at Night


Cloth Diapering at night: Myth vs Truth Waking up to wet sheets is my least favorite thing to do. So is changing outfits on a cranky baby, potentially having to change my own clothes, oh and changing the sheets or sleeping on a lumpy towel until morning.  Finding the right combination to last your baby from the time they go to sleep to the time you both wake in the morning is challenging.  At some point, parents will stop changing the diapers at night even when a child wakes to eat.  This is totally normal and it is ok as long as your child isn’t getting a rash, isn’t uncomfortable, and hasn’t pooped. Only you can decide when that day comes, or you will have the decision made for you when your baby starts sleeping through the night.

Myth: Stay Dry Diapers are the best option for overnights Truth: Diapers with a stay dry layer such as suedecloth or microfleece are far more prone to leaks than a diaper with natural fibers.  Why?  The synthetic material has a delay in soaking the urine past the stay dry layer and into the absorbent core.  They are also more prone to repelling, and even the smallest amount of build-up can cause a longer delay in absorption that gives the urine time to find an escape route through the stomach, back, or around the legs.  When your baby is standing or sitting this isn’t a huge problem, but when they are laying down it might be why your diapers are leaking.  Plus, the speed of output is important- the faster your baby pees and the more they pee at one time, the more likely your diaper will leak at night with a pocket diaper.  Natural fibers like hemp, cotton, and bamboo will immediately absorb liquids giving the urine no time to leave the diaper.  My video on fitteds has an excellent comparison between stay dry diapers and natural fibers for definitive proof on this.

Myth: My baby will wake up if they feel wetness. Truth: OK, yes some kids don’t like feeling wetness but for the most part, kids will sleep with a natural fiber diaper.  Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but the disposable diaper market likes to tell us that having a dry feeling diaper is the only way a child will ever sleep all night and as parents this makes sense to us.  Pampers even had an awful and full of lies FAQ on their website a few years ago that said babies would catch a COLD from being in a wet cloth diaper.  Not all babies are cut out for wearing diapers overnight that are wet to the touch (some might get a rash or some might just not like it) but if you are having troubles with leaks using your pockets or other stay dry diapers consider trying a fitted, prefold, or even flats to solve your nighttime woes.  You can try using a stay dry fleece liner at night, it will keep the center parts feeling dry while giving a perimeter inside of the diaper of natural fibers to catch the liquids before it runs out. Myth: There is no way a cloth diaper can work for us overnight.  My baby is too heavy of a wetter. Truth: I know many parents struggle with finding a cloth diaper combination for nights that works as well as a disposable does.  Even though it is very tempting to use disposables at night (no one blames you if you do) there are combinations that can work.  A few of my favorites for super wetters are the Sustainable Babyish Snapless and a wool cover, Tots Bots Bamboozle and a cover, flats and a cover (yes really!  We used flats or prefolds the most at night for Everett),  or a good WAHM made fitted like Orange Diaper Co. and a wool or PUL cover.  My favorite PUL cover is the Applecheeks Envelope cover for nights.  If you can’t afford wool fleece covers are also an option, they work much the same as wool does as a breathable cover but are cheaper and require less special washing.  (Here is a post on how fleece covers work on Zephyrhillblog).  Using a more absorbant material like hemp, or the new craze, bamboo fleece, will mean less bulk overall.  If you insist on using pockets at night try stuffing with a natural fiber insert- a favorite is the Loopy-Doo– and don’t overstuff.  More inserts≠better.  Overstuffing leads to leaks too, by creating gaps in the fit around the stomach and back.  See my post on troubleshooting cloth diaper leaks for more on why they leak and how to fix it.   Other Challenges: Other than absorbency, the challenge with overnight diapering can be ammonia or rashes.  Ammonia is when urine has built up in the diapers over time.  You will know if you have ammonia in your diapers because they will stink!  The smell will burn the hairs in your nose.  It is natural- a diaper that has been sitting in your diaper pail for 1-2 days will start to smell like ammonia.  However, a diaper that is being taken off your baby in the morning shouldn’t smell very strong of ammonia, if any at all.  If so then you have a problem and need to remove that buil-up before you start to see rashes on your baby.  Removing ammonia can be tricky- I do think bleach is best but check the warranty on your diapers before using it.  1/4 cup will be enough, use it in your wash, and do several hot washes with no detergent.  This is called “stripping.”  Sunning your diapers can also help to naturally “bleach” your diapers and kill germs so try that if you can.  More information on stripping and washing diapers in this post.

Rashes, if your baby is prone to them due to being next to moisture, or from ammonia, are another challenge you may face.  If it is an ammonia burn then removing the ammonia from your diapers will fix that (easier said than done, I know.)  Rashes caused by being in a diaper and being wet can either be solved by using a stay dry liner, even a fleece one that lays in the diaper, or a diaper with a layer of stay dry material built in.  If you have to change them once or twice a night when they wake up to prevent rashes then it has to be done. Cloth diapering doesn’t have to be hard or complicated and by reading some forums you would think that overnight diapering takes a degree in “Cloth Diaper Science.”   There are very simple ways to diaper at night, like flats, or you can get more complicated by layering inserts are materials like crazy.  I like to keep it simple in my stash, my wash routine, and in my diapering choices.

As an experienced cloth diaper user I’ve tried just about every diaper and every kind of solution for nights.  I had far more leaks at nights with my pockets than I ever had with fitteds, prefolds, flats, or contours.  Take that for what it’s worth and good luck with your overnight diapering.  If you have a favorite solution for nights leave it in the comments, I’d love to hear it.

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  • Beth H

    I love Motherease Sandys bamboo or cotton with a hemp/bamboo booster and Woollybottoms interlock cover for night. I also have a WAHM fitted in my nighttime stash and a backup upcycled cover in my bedtime stash. A GMD prefold and hemp booster (I like Babykicks) works well under wool for my little guy. He’s prone to rashes if I use PUL at night.

  • Michelle

    We have a couple of night-time solutions. Our favorite is Lollidoo diapers — they work for overnight w/o a cover. Otherwise, we do a couple of CBI inserts or prefolds, or other combinations inside an econobum cover :).

  • NothingToSeeHere

    I liked the suggestions in this article, but I just have to point out that sunning will not sanitize diapers. That is a dangerous myth to perpetuate, especially with how popular it is to buy used diapers. Also, several washes without detergent is a horrible idea if you have hard water. Not only will it not do anything, but it will deposit minerals onto the fabric, which will cause even more problems.

    • Deana Tollerton

      Actually, UV light is an excellent disinfectant. I’m not sure where you got that it’s not.

      • Jacqui Rosa

        Its actually still used in operating rooms to sterilize equipment, uv light

      • Stina

        It is used as a disinfectant, but at much higher intensities. The sun alone cannot kill bacteria. I’m a microbiologist, for reference.

  • When I switched to cloth, I went ‘cold turkey’ on disposables. Since I’m on a tight budget we bought pocket diapers with bamboo & Hemp inserts. I layer them with microfiber- As long as I do that I don’t have leaks. I always put a little bit of herbal ointment (CD Safe) before bed to help prevent rashes.

    My biggest challenge is finding a diaper to fit my super chunk toddler.

    • LaKiesha Blake

      Look into softbums omni covers. They have adjustable leg elastic, pocket opening, or can have an insert snapped on. They have adjustable leg elastics and they accommodate all sizes of baby from just born to even 3 year olds.

  • Ashley Ross

    I love using the Kawaii Baby diaper with a Hemp Babies insert against my LO booty. I also put some diaper cream on her bum and a flushable liner over the hemp liner because we’ve had issues with slight diaper rash in the past. The Kawaii diapers are great for overnight because they have a higher rise in the front and back than other diapers I use during the day.

    • Megan

      Do you put the hemp insert or actually lay it right inside the diaper? How many inserts are you using?

      • kimrosas

        Hemp can be used either way but it does best beneath a faster absorbing layer. If paired with microfiber use it in the pocket and have the microfiber towards the baby for faster absorption. Hemp holds more but takes longer to soak it in.
        Please excuse typos and brevity. Sent from my iPhone

  • Anika May

    No luck here and would appreciate any help!! I use an organic bamboo fitted at night with merino wool cover. I thought I’d invested in the best here. I wake up in the morning to find her with a fully-wet-inside-and-out fitted, and a damp wool cover. By the third night in a row using that wool cover, it smells terrible and needs a wash. Please help. I really don’t feel good buying disposable diapers, but my fiance is so over the endless disappointments of my ongoing cloth diapering conundrums.

    • Stacy D.

      We use organic GMD workhorses with Disana wool pull on’s. We rotate between 2 wool pull on’s, so one is drying while the other is on the baby. So far at almost 10 months, we haven’t had any problems although our baby is a heavy wetter.

      • Allyson Crisostomo Pulido

        I use GMD prefolds during the day. I have been unsuccessful at nighttime diapering, because she gets rashes if it’s not stay dry. Do you use a stay dry liner with your workhorse for nights? Would appreciate any advice. Thanks!

      • Stacy D.

        No, I prefer cotton and hemp, instead of synthetic fabrics. It’s easier to wash and keep smelling fresh. We do use CJ’s BUTTer on him (front and bum) after baths and before bedtime, which has eliminated diaper rash altogether.

    • Jennifer H

      Is your cover fully lanolized? I had the same issue and needed to do a few extra lanolin washes before it was solved. My wool cover is still stinky and slightly damp on the outside and by the morning, but after airing all day it’s fresh and dry by the evening. For reference I use a blueberry cotton flat kite folded with a hemp liner (Geffen or Thirsties) inside and fleece on top to keep her dry.

    • Jennifer H

      Also you might want to add more absorbency, like a hemp insert on the *outside* of the fitted (because it absorbs more slowly than the bamboo).

    • Jennifer H

      Aaand I just noticed this was posted 9 months ago… 😉 hopefully it’s still helpful!

  • Shirley Yip

    I wish I read this years ago with my first baby! This time around I did tons of research and got myself ready with wool covers and Disana flats (to eliminate any fit issues around the legs). They work great, but there were times I fell behind on laundry and had to make shift and I realized a good prefold with any doubler with the wool works great too! I can’t believe I spent so much before on stay dry sleep fitted diapers that also didn’t fit my kid properly…

  • Katherine

    We have a newly adopted 14 year old daughter whom we have had now for 3 months,and we have her in the size 8 pampers cruisers diapers during the day time and then at bed time we put cloth diapers and rubberpants on her.I use the Dreft laundry detergent to wash the cloth diapers and rubberpants in and when i put them on her at bed time,i use Desitin diaper rash ointment with baby powder.