In the past few months, I have had several friends ask about cloth diapering. I have been cloth diapering off and on for about the last two years, so I’m no expert, but with all the crazy cloth diapering websites out there, it may be helpful to at least one of my 24 pregnant friends (yes! 24!) to read about cloth diapering in plain old English.
The first question to ask when thinking about cloth is:
Which type of diaper is right for me?
This is different for everyone. Cloth diapering has come a long, LONG way since our mothers cloth diapered us with diaper pins and rubber pants. Today, the options are adorable, easy, and so soft! Today I’ll talk about four main types of cloth.*
This is exactly what you think. It actually looks like a regular disposable except made of an outer layer of soft waterproof material (PUL), several inner layers of absorbent microfiber, and a layer of super soft microfleece or suedecloth (which is a polyester fabric that feels like a very fine fleece) – this inner layer is designed to keep baby’s skin dry. Instead of a sticky tab like disposables have to fasten, these use either snaps or hook & loop (like Velcro, but softer). Newer versions of AIOs are a bit easier to clean with absorbent layers that flip out but are still attached (like BumGenius Elemental, shown at right).
- Ease of use (as easy as disposables)
- Quick on and off
- Daddy and babysitter friendly
- No stuffing or folding
- One of the more expensive options
- Harder to get inner layers clean (lots and lots of rinsing required!)
- May retain smells
- Outer layer of PUL can “delaminate” (become less waterproof) over a long period of use (not really a huge concern for most people)
- Long drying time
V’s first day in cloth at two months old. This is a one-size pocket diaper snapped to the smallest setting.
Pocket diapers look like AIOs at first glance, but they are actually just the outer waterproof layer and the stay-dry inner (microfleece, suedecloth, or velour) with a pocket for stuffing absorbent material. These also use hook & loop or snaps as fasteners.
- Ease of use
- Can adjust absorbancy
- Daddy and babysitter friendly
- Easier to get clean than AIOs because of removable absorbent layers
- Dry fairly quickly
- Can stuff with microfiber or natural cotton flat or prefold diapers
- Can replace inner absorbent material when it gets worn out or retains too many smells
- Can be nearly as expensive as AIOs
- Outer layer can delaminate over a long period of use
Many pocket diapers and AIOs are “one-size” meaning they are advertised to fit your baby from birth until potty training. I find that they don’t quite fit right at birth for my babies when they have those skinny chicken legs. They started fitting well at about two months through potty training.
Fitted diapers are diapers that are shaped the same as disposables, except they are only the absorbent material and need a waterproof cover (see below). Many people use fitteds full time or just for overnights because they are very very absorbent.
- Extremely absorbent
- Great for overnight use
- Still pretty easy to use if they have snaps or hook & loop
- Pretty affordable
- Bulky, hard to fit under jeans or tight fitting clothes
- Slow drying time
- Can build up smells over time
- Require a waterproof cover
Prefold, Flat, and Contour Diapers
Prefold, flat, and contour diapers all look different from one another, but they all work in mostly the same way.
Prefold diapers are usually either Indian or Chinese cotton (read about the difference between these two here). This type of diaper is also sold as a “burp cloth” and is a rectangle with more layers in the center third and fewer layers on the outer thirds. Prefold diapers must be used with a waterproof cover (see below) and can be trifolded and laid in a tight cover or pinned or “snappied” on. So what is a Snappi? See below for more information.
Flat diapers are large squares of Indian or Chinese cotton that can be folded in several different ways to achieve optimal absorbancy where your baby needs it. Because they are only one layer of cotton, they dry quickly.
Contour diapers are shaped like a disposable except they don’t have elastic or snaps or hook & loop and are also not as fluffy as fitteds. They can be laid in a tight waterproof cover or pinned or snappied on with a waterproof cover over top.
- All natural fibers are good for babies with sensitive skin
- Line dry time is extremely quick for flat diapers
- Last forever
- Can use flats from birth until potty training
- Most affordable option
- Requires a waterproof cover and pins or snappies in some cases
- Requires some folding (flats and prefolds)
- More difficult for those unfamiliar with cloth
- Takes a bit longer – a bit harder for wiggly toddlers
Covers and Accessories
Waterproof diaper covers are necessary when using fitteds, prefolds, flats, or contour diapers. There are several very reliable brands such as Bummis, Flip, and Woolybottoms. They come in all sorts of super cute fabrics and patterns, so you can use the diaper as part of your child’s outfit. You can also reuse them throughout the day as long as they don’t get too soiled by changing the inner absorbent diaper.
Diaper covers must be waterproof, and there are several options in materials for waterproof covers. A very common material for covers is polyurethane laminated fabric (PUL) which is a soft fabric with a laminated waterproof backing. The only drawback to this type of fabric is that after years of use (maybe through one or more children) they can “delaminate” — when the waterproof backing starts to deteriorate and the diaper cover is no longer waterproof. You can prevent delamination by line drying pocket and plain diaper covers and only drying them in the dryer occasionally (sometimes the dryer can melt the polyurethane back together a little bit too).
Another material for diaper covers is wool. I know you are thinking of the scratchy wool sweater you had when you were a kid, but these soft wool covers are amazingly breathable and perfect for summer months in the heat. Many wool covers are made to put in the washing machine, but they don’t need to be washed unless they get really dirty. Read more about wool here.
Fleece is also a good option for summer months because it’s breathable. Both wool and fleece tend to be MORE waterproof than PUL because PUL just keeps the moisture in while wool and fleece absorb moisture too. I only have a few diapers with fleece, but they are overnight diapers when PUL won’t cut it.
Diaper covers can be the pull-on style (pull on like underwear) or wrap style (like disposables) that use snaps or hook & loop (aka Velcro) to fasten.
The Snappi is THE modern day alternative to diaper pins. It’s a flexible plastic fastener with three arms that have little teeth on the end to grip the diaper. They won’t poke baby’s skin and are very easy to use. See the picture at right. Read more about the Snappi here.
The wet bag is a must have for cloth diapering moms. If you are cloth diapering on the go, you will want a wet bag for your diaper bag so the soiled diaper doesn’t get everything wet and stink up your bag.
I also use a large wet bag at home. It contains the smells and is a great place to keep wet diapers between washes.
This is not a necessity, but I’m sure it’d be nice to have, especially as your baby gets older. This is a sprayer that attaches to your toilet and sprays a strong stream of water to get excess poo off your cloth diaper so you don’t have to swish it in the toilet. We don’t actually have one of these, but like I said, it’d be nice!
I hope this was a good introduction to cloth diapering. It all seemed overwhelming to me at first. Once I got started, it was not as bad as it sounds. I’ll be discussing laundry routines, expenses, terms used in cloth diapering, and other frequently asked questions about cloth diapers in future posts over the next couple weeks. Stay tuned.
Moms who already cloth diaper their children: what info am I forgetting? What else should I be sure to include in future posts?
Moms thinking about cloth diapering: what questions do you have?
*Please note: The pros and cons are all my own personal opinion or experiences. A lot of people purchase several different types of diapers and see what works best for their baby.