Cloth Diapering 101: What You Need to Know

Cloth Diapering 101

April 7, 2020

Cloth Diapering 101

Cloth Diapering 101

Cloth diapers today aren’t like they used to be. Your grandmother’s pins and rubber pants have been replaced by easy-to-use all-in-ones with tons of prints and styles.

But as great as it is to have so many eco-friendly options, navigating the choices can get a little confusing. If deciding between prefolds and pockets is more than a little overwhelming, we can help you figure out your options.

What are the Types of Cloth Diapers?

There are four major types of cloth diapers to choose from. Which one is best for you depends on whether you’re looking for cost-effective, convenient or a blend of the two.

Prefolds/Flats and Covers

This diaper consists of two parts: an absorbent inner layer and a waterproof cover. The inner layer is usually either a “flat” or a “prefold”—flats are just one large, flat piece of cotton cloth, while prefolds come already sewn with a thicker, more absorbent area down the midde.

You’ll also need to decide what type of closure you want for the covers: hook-and-loop (just like velcro: easy to adjust, but also easy for bigger babies to pull of themselves), front snaps (very secure and long-lasting, but less flexibility in size), or side snap (secure, trim look that’s great for chunky babies).

Why We Love It

Even if you choose high-quality prefolds for your absorbent layer, this type of diaper is the least expensive, mostly because you can reuse covers for multiple changes. You’ll change the absorbent layer every time your baby wets, but you can keep using the waterproof covers for a day or two unless they’re smelly or visibly dirty. That means you can get by with only a few covers (4-6 is usually plenty) along with a good collection of prefolds or flats (24 is the minimum number for a newborn).

Want an even more cost effective solution? Create some DIY inner layers with material you already have—old T-shirts or hand towels will both work great as diapers in a pinch.

Keep in Mind

This is the most complicated cloth diapering method to learn. To use flats as a diaper, you’ll need to learn a little diaper-folding origami. Prefolds are already stitched up, but you’ll still need to fold them a little to shape them into a functional diaper.

Fitted

“Fitteds” are absorbent material shaped into a diaper, complete with closures (again, you can choose between hook-and-loop or snap). As with prefolds, you’ll need about 24 fitteds with 4-6 covers. “Contours” are essentially fitteds that don’t have any type of closure. They’re a piece of absorbent material sewn into a contoured shape that fits into a cover. You can place the contour in the cover and then put the entire diaper onto your baby in one piece.

Why We Love It

This system is just like prefolds, but without the complicated (and sometimes frustrating) folding. Fitteds and contours are simple options that are still great for saving money.

Keep in Mind

These shaped diapers are convenient, but can be quite bulky. Be sure you consider this as you prepare your diaper bag and your baby’s wardrobe, especially during warm summer months.

Pockets

Pocket diapers consist of two parts: a diaper (that includes both an inner wicking layer and a waterproof outer layer with a pocket opening between them) and an absorbent insert. To use a pocket diaper, stuff the insert into the pocket and then put the diaper on your baby.

Why We Love It

The pocket opening means you can easily adjust the absorbency of the diaper to fit your needs. Use a thin microfiber insert during the day for a trim look, and add a couple of hemp inserts for extra absorbency overnight. This type of cloth diaper is super convenient, especially if you’re used to disposable diapers; after you’ve stuffed the insert, putting a pocket on is exactly like putting on a disposable, with no folding or special knowledge required.

Keep in Mind

Unlike prefolds, pockets require you to wash the entire diaper (including the outer cover) at every change. This not only means more time spent washing, but you’ll also need to stock up on more diapers to use in between laundering.

All-in-Ones

Just as the name implies, all-in-ones include the entire diaper in a single piece. The waterproof layer, the absorbent layer, and the wicking layer are all sewn together.

Why We Love It

There’s no stuffing, no folding and no confusion—just put it on and take it off! This means that using an all-in-one is every bit as simple as using a disposable; the only difference is you throw it in the laundry pile (or wet bag) instead of in the trash.

Keep in Mind

These are the most expensive options for cloth diapering. And because you have to wash the entire diaper after every change, you’ll need a lot on hand—and that can add up. And because all the parts are already put together, it can be difficult to adjust levels of absorbency.

Cloth Diaper Materials

Once you’ve decided what kind of cloth diaper you want to use, it’s also important to figure out which materials you want the diapers to be made of and what goes on your baby’s skin.

For the Inner Layer

The inner layer can be wicking or absorbent. If you want your baby to feel comfortable and mostly dry between changes, go for a wicking material like micro fleece. If you want your baby to feel the wetness (a big advantage as you get close to potty training age), you may want a material that feels wet, like cotton or bamboo. You can also opt for minky, a super-soft type of material that toddlers love. If allergies run in your family, you may want to look for all-natural, organic materials like organic cotton and hemp.

For the Outer Layer

There are three major choices for your diaper’s outer layer: PUL, fleece, and wool.

  • PUL (polyurethane laminate)
    Best for trim coverage under clothes
    Made of a layer of cotton fabric and a layer of plastic that’s melted to the fabric. It’s very thin and breathable, and it can be made in a variety of colors and prints. However, because the manufacturing involves a chemical process, some families prefer to opt for more natural materials.

  • Polyester fleece
    Best for inexpensive breathability
    More breathable than PUL, so if your baby tends to get rashes, this might be your best option. Like PUL, it can be washed and dried in your machines along with the rest of your diaper laundry.

  • Wool
    Best for overnight and breathability with all-natural fibers
    A favorite choice for ultra-eco-friendly families. It’s naturally absorbent, and when treated with lanolin, it becomes incredibly waterproof. It’s also antibacterial and odor-resistent, so you can often reuse it longer than other types of covers. The only disadvantage is that it requires special care when cleaning: it’s best to wash by hand, re-lanolize regularly and lay flat to dry. It’s also more expensive than the other options, but you can find very affordable options on Etsy made from upcycled wool sweaters.

Choosing What’s Right for You

Cloth diapering might seem confusing at first compared to disposables. But armed with the right knowledge, it can be a smooth and easy process. As you consider different types of diapers and materials, it’s important to think about your own lifestyle—your budget, your laundry and washing situation and your environmental concerns. Plan ahead so you can select products and practice diapering techniques before baby arrives, especially if your chosen diaper involves some folding. Before you know it, your sweet little one will be here and you’ll have your fair share of (not so sweet) diaper changes to keep up with!

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