absorbancy, wipe

Why use cloth wipes? If you have ever changed a messy cloth diaper using disposable wipes, you know the dilemma that you then face. What to do with a wad of soiled trash? With no disposable diaper to wrap it in, you have two choices: throw the wad into your trash (ewww!) or wrap it in a plastic bag first and then put it in the trash. If you are like me, one of the reasons for cloth diapering is to reduce the amount of non-biodegradable trash I add to the landfills. So throwing a plastic bag of messy wipes in the trash every time my child soils is not appealing, not to mention the cost and waste of the disposable wipes and their packaging! I also prefer not to use any chemical formula on sensitive areas of my child. Commercial wipes can cause or aggravate a diaper rash, especially for babies with sensitive skin. The solution? For me, cloth wipes are the answer! They carry all the same benefits that cloth diapers do: better for baby, better for the environment, better for your budget and you can make them yourself!

What is a cloth wipe? Basically a washcloth. If you have ever read the packages of disposable wipes, they normally say, "cleans like a wash cloth.” That’s because cloth cleans better!

Cloth wipes can be as simple as buying an economy pack of terry wash cloths or baby wash cloths,

simple serged or zigzagged flannel squares (a great way to use those receiving blankets when you don't need them anymore),

or as fancy as embellished hand sewn wipes made from bamboo or other specialty fabrics.

You can make them in fun colors and prints, or keep it simple. It is up to you! If using washcloths, I recommend buying a certain color, or dyeing them, to make it easy to keep them separate from your regular face cloths. 

What’s needed to make them? You’ll want absorbent natural fiber fabric that will clean well and feel soft and gentle to your baby's tender skin. Good choices are flannel, soft cotton or bamboo terry, cotton or bamboo knits or very soft corduroy, among others. My personal favorite, after making several styles, is a two-layer wipe using jersey knit (up-cycled T-shirts work great) and baby terry knit.

This gives you a “grabby” side for messes and a smooth side for gentle final clean up. The double layers means the mess is not going to seep through onto your hands. The size I prefer are 8"x8" square wipes. I find this size is plenty big enough to do the job and keep my hands clean, and it fits nicely in a commercial wipes box when folded in half. 

To make my wipes, I straight stitch 1/4" from the edge all around, then use a wide medium-width zigzag to finish the edges. The knits are not prone to fraying so this works well. If you are lucky enough to have a serger, it would be even easier.

Flannel is easy to find, easy to sew, comes in many cute prints and works well for wipes.  It can be made one-layer or two, serged, zigzagged or turned and topstitched. Turn and topstitched wipes are sewn together with the pretty sides of the fabric facing, leaving an unstitched opening on one edge for turning. Turn inside out so the seam edges are inside and topstitch all around 1/8" in from the edge, making sure to stitch the opening closed. 

Flannel is more prone to fraying, so the zigzagged ones may not look as pretty after a while, but they are certainly functional. I have found a single layer flannel cloth also works wonderfully for reusable tissues. My kids protest if I try to use a paper one on them, saying they want a "real" tissue. The softness of cloth is great for avoiding raw noses!

You’ll want to wet the wipe before you use it on baby. Basically, dampen the wipe and use it as you would any baby wipe. There are several ways to accomplish this. Which you choose will depend on how often you are using the wipes and your personal preference. You can pre-moisten a day or two's worth of wipes using water or a homemade or purchased wipes solution and keep them in a container or wipes warmer.

Because reusable cloth wipes don't have chemical preservatives in them like commercial wipes, they will get musty or mildew if you leave them wet for long periods of time. When using pre-moistened cloth wipes, I like to make a few more than I think I will use between one diaper wash load and the next. When I put the diapers in the wash, I will toss in any leftover unused wipes, wash my storage container and make up a new batch.

Most homemade wipe solutions contain a combination of water, baby soap (just a few drops), and essential oils or other oils for scent or moisturizing. You’ll find lots of “recipes” on the internet for homemade wipe solutions.

Another method is to keep the wipes dry, put water or a wipes solution in a small spray bottle and just dampen the wipe before you use it.

This avoids the possibility of mildew on wipes and is especially useful when baby gets older and does not need wipes as often. You can keep a bottle at the changing table and a small bottle in your diaper bag. Simplest of all and my favorite for toddlers who may only need wipes for a day or less, is to just wet wipes as needed with warm water in your sink. This is also great when the weather is cold and baby hates cold wipes.

Once you have used your cloth wipes, they go into the diaper pail with the cloth diapers and are washed along with the rest. You may choose to rinse a particularly messy wipe, but most of the time I have found it really isn't necessary. How many wipes you need depends on the age of the child, how often they need wipes, and how often you wash. For older babies, 18-24 wipes are plenty. You may want a larger stash for newborns and babies who mess their diaper frequently.

Cloth wipes can be used anywhere and anytime you would use a cloth diaper. Some moms choose to carry disposable wipes in their diaper bag, but cloth can easily be used instead. You can put a zip-lock baggy or pouch of pre-moistened wipes in your bag, or carry a small spray bottle for moistening wipes before use.

If you carry pre-moistened cloth wipes, be sure to change them out frequently. I don't usually think about my diaper bag unless I am going out, and I have been known to forget about wipes until they are moldy. OOPS! That is why I prefer to carry dry wipes and wet them as needed.

Cloth wipes are a convenient, money saving, eco and baby friendly way to clean your little one's bottom. They are gentler to the skin than commercial wipes and help avoid unnecessary chemicals on your baby. They are fun and easy to make, and a great introduction to sewing for an older child who want to “help” Mommy!

Meet the author

I am a full time mom of 6 who loves to care for my family. My other interests are mostly an extension of that, including gardening, homeschooling, raising as much of our...Read more


27 October 2014

Thanks for taking the time to write this article! Thinking about using cloth wipes for baby #2. I have a million receiving blankets from the first one so this is a great way to save money!

Sneha Gupta
13 September 2014

Nice article on wipes and diapers.

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