Is it Too Late to Start Cloth Diapering my Toddler?

By April Duffy •  Updated: 05/27/24 •  7 min read

Recently, I’ve been getting some questions on the Cloth Diapers for Beginners Facebook group from moms interested in switching their toddler to cloth diapers.

They’re tired of spending so much on disposable diapers, having constant blowouts (the term for when poo literally explodes out of disposable diapers), and thinking about the toxic chemicals that are in disposables, but they are worried they missed their chance.

Is it crazy to start cloth diapers late? Likely not, but maybe. That’s vague, I know, but while it’s definitely not too late for your baby, it might be too late for your wallet if this is your last planned baby and/or potty training is right around the corner.

So before you make a final decision, you may need to ask yourself three important questions:

1. Are you Switching Mostly for the Money, or for the Environmental and Health Benefits?

If you’re wanting to change to cloth diapers for environmental and health benefits, then really, the answers is yes and you should switch as soon as possible. The health and environmental benefits of using cloth are almost immediate. The less time baby spends in disposable diapers, is the less exposure to chemicals on their sensitive genital area, and the less diapers you’ll be throwing away, so I say switch ASAP!

If however, you’re considering cloth diapers for the cost savings you’ll want to consider two things, potty training and family planning, which I discuss next.

2. Is Your Toddler Close to Potty Training?

If your child’s close to potty training, meaning they are staying dry for at least two hour stretches and they are showing interest in the potty, then maybe cloth trainers and bedwetting pants for at night are a better switch for you. This will still save you the crazy cost of pull-ups, which are essentially disposable diapers with stretchy sides, but you won’t be spending on diapers that will only get used for a short time.

The nice thing about cloth training pants is that they can still wear daytime trainers as underwear even after they’re done potty training so they’re going to be used for their size lifespan. Bedwetting pants are also a sound investment as they will be needed for a while. Night training is a whole different ballgame that’s completely dependent on their body being able to wake them up when they need to go, so it usually takes much longer than daytime training.

For daytime training pants, I currently (2022) recommend Thirsties training pants (read my Thirsties training pants review here), and for night time I HIGHLY recommend Mother Ease Bedwetting pants (read my Mother Ease bedwetting pants review here).

If your baby is not showing signs of potty readiness, cloth diapers may be the way to go because daytime trainers are not absorbent enough for full wettings, and they are easier to change (nothing is worse than poo in a daytime pull-up style trainer).

If you do switch to cloth, be it diapers or trainers, you may find that cloth speeds training up because your child will actually be able to feel when they wet, as opposed to plastic diapers that chemically hide the wet feeling. This let’s them register when they are going, and puts the idea of potty time in their minds. This is why cloth trainers are so superior to pull-ups, which still have that stay dry concoction in them that stunts your child’s understanding of when they are going to the bathroom.

3. Are you Planning on Having more Children Later On?

If you’re planning on having more children in the future, whether or not your kiddo is close to potty training doesn’t really matter because the cloth diapers you buy for this child can always be used on the next.

The more kids you have, the more those very same cloth diapers will save you in the long run.

If however, you plan on your toddler being your last baby, then the cost savings will only be for however long this child uses them minus what you can re-sell the diapers for, but the market is fairly saturated and re-sale values have been low for a while. If this is you, carefully considering the potty training and money vs. health/environment questions are going to be more meaningful for you.

What Are the Struggles to Cloth Diapering a Toddler?

If after considering everything above you decide that cloth diapers are for you and your toddler, there are some friction points to be aware of.

First off, is the normal learning curve for you, choosing the style of diapers you want to try and learning how to use and wash them. While they aren’t that hard at the end of the day, they are something new for you too, so plan for some time for yourself to get used to the idea.

For your little one, as I’m sure you know toddlers can sometimes be set in their ways, and so making a transition to cloth diapers may be a bit strange for them as well. Cloth diapers do feel different, especially at first so if your child is very resistant to change, prepare for that resistance until they realize that cloth is actually more comfortable to wear (give cloth pads a try to feel the difference yourself, I recommend these ones).

Tips for Cloth Diapering a Toddler

If you’re cloth diapering a toddler for the first time, my best two pieces of advice are: get all the absorbency, and make it fun.

For absorbency, realize that toddlers pee a lot! While early-to-cloth diaper parents get to start with standard inserts and slowly add a bit more and more over time, you’re going to have to start with a lot of absorbency. This means a puffy bum, and some extra expense for doublers and extra inserts.

I’ve seen many who start cloth diapering at the toddler stage think the absorbency that comes with a standard diaper will be enough for a toddler, but it never is. Plan on adding a lot of absorbency into your diapers.

For night time, I really urge toddler parents to consider using fitted diapers under cloth diaper covers right off the bat. While new parents of tiny babies can get through the first bit with a standard all-in-one, or a prefold, or a pocket diaper with an extra insert, by the time baby is technically a toddler, they are usually looking for something more absorbent, especially at night. Start with a good nighttime combo, and save yourself time washing dirty sheets and pajamas.

As for adding in the fun, this is my tip for you and your little one. Making the switch to cloth is a sound choice, but it’s also a change, and with any change comes stress for both of you, so making it fun can make all the difference between a good experience with cloth and a bad one.

Good ways to bring the fun in are to start by picking out some fun prints that you love or are meaningful to you. Cloth diapers can be are colorful, cute, funny, geeky, or beautiful, it’s just a matter of finding the prints you love.

You can share that fun by letting your toddler pick what print to wear next, which will not only make it enjoyable, but will give them that sense of control over the switch, which will make them less likely to get upset by it.

Finally, making the switch be about growth can also help.

“Oh, look, you get to wear big kid diapers. That’s one step closer to big kid underwear! Pretty soon, you’ll be going potty!”

By making the change about growing up (which it may very well be since as we discussed earlier, cloth diapers help in potty-readiness) can help your toddler accept the change, and again make it something fun and positive.

At the end of the day, switching to cloth should be a positive change for both of you; and if the circumstances are right for you and your family, it most definitely will be.

What’s Next?

If you’re ready to jump into cloth diapers, I recommend heading to our beginners 101 page to get a good handle on the many types of cloth diapers available, and how to care for them.

April Duffy

April is the founder of Cloth Diapers for Beginners and author of The Cloth Diaper Wash & Care Handbook. Since 2015, April has helped well over 75,000 parents and caregivers cloth diaper their children through this website, her book, her YouTube Channel, and the Cloth Diapers for Beginners Facebook Group.