When you’re investigating all the different styles of cloth diapers, like all-in-ones, pockets, etc., one thing you’ll hear is that diaper covers can be reused, which sounds great (and it is!) but it can also be confusing when considering pocket diapers. After all, pocket diapers have covers as well.
So, do you have to wash pocket diapers after every use, or can you reuse the cover? Unfortunately, you will need to wash all pieces of each pocket diaper every time you change it.
The reason is the pocket part of the diaper. Let’s take a look at the inside of a traditional diaper cover and a pocket diaper cover:
As you can see in the picture, the inside of a traditional diaper cover is just the backside of the PUL material. PUL material is essentially laminated polyester. The shiny, smooth, laminated side is on the inside of the diaper. You just lay inserts on top of the cover, or you can wrap your insert around your baby and then wrap the cover around that.
The inside of the pocket diaper is much different. Pocket diapers have a piece of either fleece or microsuede sewn on top of a traditional diaper cover. Inserts are stuffed inside of the “pocket” that’s created between the sewn-in lining and the PUL.
Thinking about when baby wets, when you remove a traditional cover, the only part with any moisture on it will be the water-resistant PUL; mostly the shiny part of the PUL. Since this is essentially plastic, it can be wiped clean easily.
A pocket diaper, on the other hand, will have wet fabric attached to it, which of course can only be cleaned by laundering it. Even though the pocket diaper lining is usually considered a “stay dry layer,” you can tell it is wet by touch.
What About if I Lay the Inserts on Top of the Pocket Diaper Lining?
I’m often asked if having to wash pocket diaper covers every time can be avoided by laying the inserts on top of the lining rather than placing them inside the pocket.
It’s often not likely. Usually, if baby wets or soils the diaper, it will soak through the insert right down to the microsuede. This means it will still be soaked in urine anyhow. Sometimes, when baby is VERY young they may not soak the whole insert, but as baby grows and eliminates in bigger quantities, everything will usually become soaked pretty quick.
Even if the insert is not completely soaked, if your pocket diaper is like the one pictured above, where the lining covers the entire inside of the diaper and wrapping around the elastics, it’s most likely that at least the sides/elastics will become wet with urine anyhow.
Urine of course should not be kept on baby’s skin for a long period of time, both because of simple moisture rashes (rashes that develop when skin is kept wet for long periods of time) and because it will allow bacteria growth, possibly yeast growth.
As Healthline points out in this article about yeast rashes, “Yeast can be present on the skin and in other parts of the body with no symptoms or negative effects. However, if the yeast overgrows, it can cause an infection in the area. Overgrowth often happens in warm, moist areas or where a regular diaper rash already exists.”
What About if I Dry the Pocket Diaper Cover Before Reusing It?
It’s not often, but I have heard of some parents attempting to dry pocket diaper covers with urine on them in order to reuse them without washing. The argument here is that it will increase the longevity of the diaper by reducing the number of times it’s washed, and of course it will save on laundering costs.
This can actually be worse than reusing a freshly wet cover. Without even mentioning the bacteria growth that would take place on the diaper as it sits in the air and drys, a more immediate risk is ammonia. It takes about 24 hours for urea to turn into ammonia (source). That is just about how long that diaper will take to dry.
Once that diaper is replaced on baby and becomes wet again, that baby will essentially have ammonia pressed up against their privates. Ammonia is highly toxic and when ammonia enters the body as a result of breathing, swallowing or skin contact, it reacts with water to produce ammonium hydroxide. This chemical is very corrosive and damages cells in the body on contact (source). This means a very quick and painful rash.
Once a diaper becomes wet with urine, it MUST be washed before reusing it, always!
What if I Cut Out the Lining of the Pocket Diaper? Can I Convert a Pocket Diaper into A Diaper Cover?
Of all the ways to make a pocket diaper usable several times before washing, this is the safest, but not always perfect.
Cutting out the lining of the pocket diaper will essentially make it a diaper cover, except if that lining wraps around the elastic. If the elastic of your pocket diaper is covered with the lining material, and not pul, or just plain elastic, chances are it will become wet and hold urine in it. Again, this would mean that urine would still be against a baby’s skin for some time, which is not desirable.
With that said, if your pocket diaper has elastics that are bare, or wrapped in PUL, and you’re willing to sacrifice the resale value of your pocket cover, cut away!
Most of the time, you can only use a pocket diaper once before washing. Unlike PUL diaper covers, which can be wiped off clean again when not soiled, pocket diapers are designed in such a way that they hold onto urine in such a way that it must be laundered to be clean.
In the end, if you want to have a reusable cover, I truly suggest buying a traditional diaper cover.
It is very common for cloth diaper beginners to become enamored with the versatility that pocket diapers offer, only to realize that they aren’t as versatile as diaper cover-based systems, and want to make a switch. If this describes you, consider selling your pocket diapers and investing in traditional diaper covers. After all, with the reusability they offer, you only need a few each day, making the investment cost very low (compared to a whole stash of pocket diapers).
More Information About Pocket Diapers
If you want more information about pocket diapers, you can check out my post about how to stuff a pocket diaper here.