This is part three of a comprehensive three-part series that I wrote for parents who are brand new to cloth diapering. I have put a lot of time, research, and love into this series, and I truly hope that it helps you on your cloth diapering journey. I appreciate any and all feedback. Please don’t ever hesitate to contact me with questions on cloth diapering, I will be happy to help! I hope you find this series helpful, and discover a love for cloth diapering! 🙂
Cloth Diapering 101 — Part 2 — Types of Cloth diapers:
The three most basics types: Diaper Covers, Prefolds, and Flats:
These are a lot like the cloth diapers your moms and grandmoms used, but much improved. I know what you’re thinking. “I’m NOT doing pins, so forget it. What else ya got?” Pins and Prefolds have scared enough people away that some very creative people out there have come up with some pretty easy (albeit, more expensive) alternatives, which are explained below. BUT, if you are looking for an economical way to cloth diaper your baby (as opposed to just wanting to “go green” at any expense) the prefold or flats system is worth considering. Once you understand them, prefolds and flats are actually two of the easiest, most inexpensive, and well-trusted systems to use — lots of moms swear by them. AND they’ve been improved and modernized. Read: NO PINS REQUIRED!
- These are just that: covers. They are made from waterproof material (usually a material called PUL, but wool and fleece covers are also a popular option) and come in a variety of colors and cute prints. They are used to cover the absorbent diaper, usually a prefold, flat, insert, or fitted diaper (see below), and keep your baby’s clothes dry.
- They look like disposable diapers and go on your baby in much the same way as a disposable, but must always be paired with a prefold or other absorbent diaper, as they do not contain any absorbent materials.
- They are secured on the sides with snaps or velcro, like a disposable diaper. (Some people with squirmy babies prefer the kind that velcro, because it’s a little easier and faster to attach. Others can’t stand the velcro because it can get funky in the wash and/or their kids pull the velcro off and/or the velcro can rub against a sensitive baby’s skin. (I thought I would hate snaps but have found them pretty easy, even with my squirmy 1-year-old.)
- Some brands sell diaper covers in one size, that adjust with snaps to fit a newborn through to potty training. Other brands sell them in several different sizes according to how much the baby weighs.
- While you will need to buy 12-36+ absorbent cloth diapers (depending on how often your baby needs a change and how often you want to do the laundry) you only need to buy a few diaper covers, as the same cover can be wiped down and reused with fresh cloth diapers more than once throughout the day.
- Paired with diaper covers, prefolds (and/or flats) are one of the most inexpensive cloth diapering systems available.
- Prefolds are shaped like rectangles and are made of several layers of 100% cotton that are thickest in the middle and can be tri-folded and placed lengthwise in a waterproof diaper cover, or folded the old-fashioned way around your baby and secured — pin-less! — with an elastic device called a “snappi” and a diaper cover.
- They come in several different sizes, so you must purchase some in every size to cover your baby from infant to potty training, BUT they are very inexpensive (about $2 each), and the smaller sizes can be used to “double up” in your older baby’s diapers later on if they are a “heavy wetter” or need a little extra absorbency overnight. (You can also “double up” by adding an “insert” or “doubler” on top of a prefold — see below.)
- Most stores sell 2 kinds of prefolds: “Chinese prefolds” and “Indian prefolds”. They are essentially the same, but the name denotes where they were made. Everybody has their opinion on which is better, but Indian prefolds are said to be softer. Indian prefolds are becoming more common of the two.
- You can buy them “bleached” or “natural”. The natural is said to hide staining better. Bleached are said to be softer. You can also purchase them in organic cotton, if that’s your thing.
- You MUST prewash and dry prefolds at least 3 times before using them for the first time, or they won’t be fully absorbent. The retailer you purchase them from will give you directions, but generally, prefolds must be prewashed and dried 3-7 times in hot water, or they won’t absorb correctly. Some moms skip this step by boiling their prefolds and then washing and drying them once. It’s thought that the hotter the water, the more the natural oils of the cotton that inhibit maximum absorbency are drawn out. After prewashing, the prefolds will fluff up (aka “quilt up”) a little, shrink a little, and get a little softer. With each wash, they will become softer and more absorbent.
- At $1-2 a piece, prefolds are the simplest, most economical cloth diapering system. They are among the most durable of diapers, and will last through all of your children. And, when you’re done having children, they make fabulous cleaning rags!
- Flats are the old-fashioned cloth diaper. They are very similar to prefolds, but they consist of only one, large square layer of the same thickness all the way around, and must be folded many times to create an absorbent diaper. Flats can be folded into the size and shape of prefolds, then used like prefolds, or they can be folded in many different ways and secured with pins or a snappi to fit your baby just right. A quick search on You Tube will bring up dozens of videos that can show you how to fold flat diapers.
- They are the original “one size fits all” diaper. Some companies sell them in different sizes, but the standard size flat is 27×27 inches, and can be folded to fit a newborn, or folded differently to fit an infant or a toddler.
- They are generally available in two different materials: birdseye (bleached or unbleached) or muslin. Birdseye is more common, and said to be trimmer, while muslin is said to be slightly more absorbent and “quilty”. Some moms have been known to use old flannel receiving blankets as flats (they can be found for super cheap in stores like Ross and Marshalls). Flats can really be made out of any large square material that you can imagine!
- Many cloth diapering moms fall in love with flats after trying all the fancy new cloth diapering options, because they are simple, inexpensive, durable, long-lasting, easy to care for, and completely customizable.
- They are known to be the easiest diapers to clean and the fastest to dry, making them popular with moms who line dry or frequently travel.
- At around $15 per dozen, flat diapers are truly the most economical cloth diapering system available. For under $100, you could buy 24 flats and 4 covers to cloth diaper a newborn full-time!
- Fitteds are more convenient than flats and prefolds, because they eliminate the need for folding and pinning. They are essentially pre-shaped prefolds, with elastic sewn at the legs and back.
- They are shaped more like disposable diapers, instead of just a flat piece of material, and come in various sizes and in a variety of materials.
- “Prefitteds” is a term referring to prefolds that have been sewn and turned into fitteds. Other fitteds can be made from a variety of materials, including flannel, bamboo, and hemp. Hemp is a very absorbent, popular material for use with “heavy wetting” babies, and is also an option for “inserts” and “doublers” (see below). Many “WAHMS” or work-at-home-moms make fitted diapers in cute prints, and they become sort of a collectible item.
- Fitteds are available for as little as around $6 each, or for as much as $26+. As explained above, the least expensive fitteds are sometimes called “prefitteds”, and are essentially prefolds that have been cut to the shape of a diaper and had elastic sewn at the legs. More expensive fitteds come in a variety of cute prints and colors, as well as a variety of materials like bamboo and hemp, and have snaps or velcro added for easy, snappi-less attaching.
- Like flats and prefolds, fitteds require a diaper cover.
- Like prefolds, they must be purchased in several sizes to fit a baby from newborn to potty training. (Though some companies make fitteds in a “one size fits all”.)
- Unlike prefolds, however, fitteds can’t really be reused once your baby grows out of them. Newborn sized prefolds and small flats, on the other hand, make great “doublers” to add extra absorbency to an older baby’s diaper for overnight. The trade-off is that fitteds are much more convenient and need no folding or pinning/snappi-ing, and they are famous for their ability to contain “blowouts”.
- Pocket diapers are slightly more convenient than fitteds, flats, and prefolds, because they have the waterproof diaper cover built in, and an absorbent fleece or suede-cloth lining on the inside that is meant to wick away moisture from your baby’s skin, keeping them feeling dry.
- Pocket diapers are basically diaper covers with a fleece or suede-cloth lining on the inside. Behind the lining is an opening, the “pocket”, which can be stuffed with various “inserts” to make the diapers absorbent.
- They are sold in various sizes, or in an adjustable, one-size-fits-all.
- Inserts are available in a variety of materials, such as cotton, organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, flannel, microfleece, etc. If you are looking to find just the right absorbency for your baby while avoiding “bowling butt” (ie, keeping the diaper trim looking) pocket diapers provide all kinds of options.
- Parents who have issues with rashes often try these because of the lining, which is supposed to help wick away moisture and keep baby’s bum dry. Other parents like pocket diapers because they are easier for dad, grandma, and the babysitter to put on!
- The great thing about pocket diapers is that they are flexible for the absorbency needs of your baby. If you have a “heavy wetter” or want extra absorbency for overnight, pocket diapers can be stuffed with as many extra layers of inserts as you need. If you don’t need extra absorbency and want a trimmer diaper, you can just use one insert, or one prefold diaper, or other “stuffer” in the pocket.
- The drawback with pocket diapers is that, because of the attached lining, they can’t be re-used like diaper covers can. So you will have to buy as many pocket diapers as you will inserts, increasing your cost. This is where you have to weigh cost vs. convenience and see which is more important to you.
3. All-In-Ones (AIOs)
- Aka “AIO’s”, these are the most like disposables and therefore the most convenient cloth diapers of all.
- They are essentially permanently stuffed pocket diapers, with the absorbent layers, fleece linings, waterproof diaper cover, etc, all attached. You don’t need to add anything, just pop the AIO off and on like a disposable, and baby is good to go!
- They are sold in varying sizes, based on your baby’s weight.
- Many parents choose these because they are just as convenient as disposable diapers, and daycares, nurseries, and babysitters don’t have a problem with them. They’re great for travel too, because of their ease of use.
- Like pocket diapers, however, they must be washed after each use, so you will have to buy lots of them and re-buy them in new sizes as your baby grows. At around $20 each, this can add up big time.
4. Hybrids (AI2s)
- Hybrid diapers are a cross between cloth and disposables — they consist of a reusable diaper cover and a separate, biodegradable disposable “insert” or “liner”.
- Because the biodegradable inserts are designed to be thrown out instead of washed, hybrid diapers are a great option for eco-friendly parents who want the convenience of disposable diapers without the “500 years in a land fill” guilt that comes along with using disposable diapers. They are also great for traveling — not as much laundry!
- They are somewhat like pocket diapers, except that they don’t have any inside lining, just a place to attach or lay the absorbent insert. So, unlike with pocket diapers, you can throw away the inserts and use the covers more than once. In that sense, they’re more like diaper covers.
- Because you have to continually buy the disposable inserts, these are not really an option for those looking to save money with cloth diapering, but they are a great option for those who are considering cloth diapering their babies for the sake of the earth, and don’t want to deal with so much laundry.
- That being said, many hybrid diapers also offer reusable cloth inserts, making hybrids a great option for parents looking for something like the pocket diaper system, but with the more economical re-usability and flexibility of the separate diaper covers.
- Flips (by Cotton Babies) are a brand of hybrids that offer cloth inserts — these are one of my personal top choices for my kiddos, because of their ease, flexibility, and more economical price when compared to pocket diapers. The inserts are made of microfiber, and are almost as inexpensive as prefolds and flats, but slightly more convenient (and more trim looking) than prefolds. The thing I love about Flips is that the covers and inserts are “one size fits all”. So I can use them with both of my children and don’t have to buy more in the future as they grow. And I can play around with the different types of cloth inserts that are available (or even use inexpensive prefolds!) to get just the right amount of absorbency for my kids. They’re fully customizable!
- Wool covers are a popular alternative to PUL diaper covers, especially for babies prone to rashes who require a more breathable cover. Wool is also a popular overnight cover.
- Wool can absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture, as well as repel moisture with it’s natural lanolin-containing properties. It is extremely breathable, as well as anti-microbial.
- Wool is a more expensive option, but for many parents who struggle with diaper rashes, it’s well worth the price.
- Wool covers are available in a knit/crocheted version, or a washable interlock (5% spandex) version. They are also available in the form of knit “longies” (pants), “shorties” (shorts), and “skirties” (skirts with soakers attached). Since wool soakers can be more bulky looking than other diaper covers, longies etc are a popular choice among parents who use wool as a day-time diaper cover, as it combines clothes and diaper cover.
- Wool is easy to take care of and only needs to be hand washed every 1-2 weeks. There is a great tutorial on washing wool here: http://greenmountaindiapers.com/lanolize.htm
- There’s some great information on wool here: http://www.diaperpin.com/clothdiapers/article_wool.asp
Where to Buy Cloth Diapers/Well-Known Brands of Cloth Diapers:
(Note: This is definitely an incomplete list, but here are some links to some of the most popular and trusted brands in each category of cloth diapering. I have done a lot of research over the years that I am sharing with you — note that I do not endorse these companies or benefit in any way from you clicking on or purchasing from the links below.)
- Prefolds: Green Mountain Diapers (“GMDs”), Diaper Service Quality Prefolds (aka “DSQ Prefolds” — found in any cloth diaper store) Bummis, Diaper Rite Prefolds, Econobum system
- Flats: GMD, Little Lions (“LLs”), Imse Vimse muslins, Osocozy
- Fitteds: Sustainablebabyish (Sbish), Kissaluvs, Mother-ease, GMD workhorse, WAHM-made fitteds like Muttaquin Baby (Mutts), Nanas Bottoms, and Goodmamas
- Wool: Sustainablebabyish, Woolybottoms, Loveybums, Wild Child Woolies, Hyenacart