Cloth diaper 101- Types of cloth diapers

Posted by Anne Apostolides on

     Cloth 101

 The basic anatomy of a diaper is pretty simple. You need something to absorb liquid paired with a material that acts as a barrier for the soiled absorbing layer. This can be achieved in a number of ways. In a disposable diaper, the absorbing layer is a mixture of treated cotton and wood-pulp fibers paired with a gel compound that expands as it absorbs moisture and the barrier layer is a thin plastic-coated paper. The resulting diaper is trim and will hold a lot of liquid, but with the addition of chemicals, reputation for leaks or rashes and of course, the ongoing cost of having to buy disposable diapers until your child potty trains.

 Cloth diapers come in a variety of styles and textiles, all having their own unique list of pros and cons. This post will cover different cloth diapering systems, closure options, and the different fiber options you can choose from. This information will help you choose the most effective diapering solution for your family.

Types of Cloth Diapers

 

All-in-One (AIO)

 The "easiest" cloth diaper. As the name would suggest, an AIO diaper is an all inclusive system. The absorbing layer is built into the diaper, and is attached to the water resistant cover that acts as the barrier. This style of diaper is favored by newbies because it so closely resembles a disposable diaper system.

  • Sewn-in insert- This type of AIO had the absorbing layer completely attached to the cover. This is the most common type of AIO diaper. While this style is great for convenience, you may find that the drying time for this type of diaper is longer.
  • This type of AIO has its insert(s) semi-attached to the cover, with the ability to fold out, which makes their drying time faster than the traditional sewn-in AIO.

flat lay photo of two "All-in-one" diapers. (left) Flap AIO (Right) sewn-in insert AIO

[LEFT: Nerdy Mommas OS AIO with flap-style inserts / RIGHT: Happy Flute OS AIO with sewn-in style insert]

 In addition to the longer drying time associated with sewn-in AIO, all-in-one diapers can sometimes be more costly than other styles and when the diaper is soiled, you must change the whole diaper. This is an important factor for when you estimate what size stash to best fit your needs. AIO's are available with many different types of insert fibers, so this is another key factor to be mindful of when making your decision.

     A similar style to mention is the "All-in-Two" or AI2 diaper. This type of diaper is very similar to the AIO because the insert attaches to the cover, but it is also removable. This is usually done with a small snap on the insert that corresponds to a snap inside the cover. This feature allows you to sometimes re-use the cover for another diaper change without having to change the whole diaper. 

flatlay photo of a "hybrid/AI2" cloth diaper. removeable insert attaches to waterproofed cover via snaps

[AI2 diaper insert attaches to outer shell and is removable]

Pocket Diapers

 With this style of diaper, the insert and the cover are not attached. Instead, the absorbing layer is placed into the diaper via an opening at one or either end of the diaper. The "pocket" that the insert is put into is created by the water resistant cover and a moisture-wicking lining. This lining helps to keep your baby feeling dry because it pulls excess moisture away from the skin.

  • Pocket openings- Some pocket diapers will have a single opening at one end of the diaper, usually the back. The opening may be encased elastic, or have a flap of lining fabric over it to hide the opening. Another common variation of pocket diaper is one that has an opening at both ends of the diaper. This "sleeve" style is supposed to make stuffing and un-stuffing your pocket diapers easier. A pocket diaper with 2 openings may use elastic, a flap or a combination of these for the openings. 
  • Lining materials- The most common wicking materials used for lining a pocket diaper are suede-cloth and fleece. Both of these materials will pull moisture away from your babys skin to be absorbed by the insert. Fleece tends to be softer to the touch. Both of these materials are 100% polyester, but many babies who experience irritation with suedecloth do not have the same issue with fleece. Be mindful when making your selections of what lining materials are used so you can make the best choice for your individual needs.

Team Mystic pocket diaper opening

[Back opening of a pocket diaper]

flatlay photo of a pocket diaper with two openings

[OS Glowbug pocket diaper with a front and back opening]

diaper linnings suede cloth, fleece, and jersey mesh

[commonly found lining options]

     The price of pocket diapers can vary depending on the brand, but in general, they are cheaper than AIO diapers. This style of diaper is also very versatile. You can use inserts or pad folded prefolds/flats as your absorbing layer and you can add more inserts to increase the overall absorbency of the diaper. Extra inserts are useful to have on-hand for this purpose. The biggest drawback to pocket diapers is the time needed to stuff and un-stuff them. 

 

Pocket diapers typically come with a microfiber (MF) insert. This insert is okay to use underneath the lining, but should not be placed directly against your baby's skin as it can cause irritation. Many people find that MF inserts do not keep up with their needs and quickly retire them for cotton/bamboo/hemp inserts. Be sure to check and see if your preferred brand of diaper offers different insert options. 

 

Flats and Pre-folds

 Flats and prefolds are two similar types of absorbing layers that are used with a water-resistant diaper cover. These are "old-school" diapers. Both flats and prefolds require the use of a cover to keep moisture inside the diaper. You can also secure both with a safety pin or a more modernized version called a "snappi"

  •  Flat- A large, single layered piece of woven cloth that you fold in thirds or quarters to create a multi-layered pad. In addition to simple pad folding, flats can be folded into a variety of origami-like ways to achieve a diaper-like shape that can then be secured around the baby's bottom. These variations of folding all cater to different absorbency needs (by adding more layers where it is needed most) or for optimized fit.
  • A pre-fold- It's more or less a flat that has been folded over to create 3 panels of 2-3 layers of cloth. Pre-folds can be used in a simple pad fold. There are also several methods of folding the pre-fold to also have a diaper-like shape. Because a pre-fold is already layered, they can sometimes be a faster alternative to a flat, while still being low in cost.

flat diaper insert

[example of a diaper "flat"]

Cloth-eez prefold

[Cloth-eez prefold]

 If changing a diaper while using a flat/prefold system, you can re-use your outer shell and replace just your soiled flat/pre-fold with a new one. The diaper cover does not usually have a lining, which means you can easily wipe away any debris that may be on the cover and continue using it for several changes. It is good to have 2-5 covers on hand for any given day. When a cover is too soiled to be used for another change, simply place it into your laundry pail to await cleaning. Flats and pre-folds are available in a variety of fibers and sizes. 

Flats and pre-folds also make GREAT dusting rags! So they are easy to re-purpose after your diapering days are finished

 

Fitted Diapers

 At first glance, a fitted diaper may be a little confusing. It is essentially an absorbing layer that is shaped like a diaper with elastic bands for around the legs and waist. Some fitted diapers will have snaps on the front and wings to secure it closed, others may utilize the help of a pin or snappi to stay closed. When using a fitted diaper, you will need to place a diaper cover over the fitted, just like a flat/pre-fold. Fitted diapers are extremely absorbent, because the entire diaper is the absorbing layer. Fitted diapers can be expensive and they take longer to dry than other diapering options. Fitted diapers can be made from any combination of natural or synthetic materials, some have snap- in options for more absorbency.

fitted diaper

[Green Mountain Workhorse Fitted Diaper]

fitted diaper close up

[Close-up of inside of fitted]

Fitted diapers can be bulky. If using a cover with your fitted, you may consider finding fitted diapers that do not have front snaps, to cut down on the bulk of layering the cover over these snaps. You can also use wool covers with no snaps in lieu of a PUL/TPU diaper cover. 

 

Cover and Closure Options

PUL/TPU

  • PUL- Stands for "Polyurethane Laminate", which is a laminated fabric that is water resistant. 
  • TPU-  Stands for "Thermoplastic Polyurethane", which is a type of heat-reactive plastic that is water resistant. TPU is NOT a fabric, but a very thin and stretchy plastic made into a fabric-like layer. 

cloth diaper cover

[OS Happy Flute Cover]

Wool

 A very popular alternative to PUL/TPU covers is wool. The wool fibers repel moisture, which prevents your diaper from leaking and instead re-directs the moisture back into the absorbing layer. Wool covers are expensive, but are a highly praised diapering system non-the-less. To use wool covers, you have to lanolize the fibers to unlock their secret moisture-repelling powers. There are also wool-specific cleaning and care instructions that must be followed to keep your wool in good condition. 

 

Snaps/Hook&Loop

 Both of these options are used to close the diaper at the waist, taking the place of those little tape tabs on the wings of a disposable diaper.

  •      Snaps- These are plastic and can come in a variety of colors. Simply fit your male end into the corresponding female end and apply pressure to close. Plastic snaps are seen on both the diaper tabs, as well as on the front of size-adjusting covers and fitteds. (see below) The snaps require more strength to close as well as open, which means that little hands will find it harder to free themselves of their nappies, but this also means that older caregivers or those who are not as dexterous with their hands may find these to have a learning curve.
  • Aplix/Hook&Loop- Good ole' fashion VELCRO! One side is grippy and one side is fuzzy, and they stick to each-other. These closure options are quick and easy, but just like anything with velcro, they are prone to collecting lint and other rogue fuzzies which will lessen the efficacy of the velcro over time. These closures are also more easily opened by your little ones, so they may not be the best option for an exceptionally curious toddler.

cloth diaper with snap closure

[Cloth diaper with snap closures]

aplix/hook and loop/velcro closure

[Cloth diaper with Hook&loop/velcro/Aplix closure]

 

Diaper Size

  • Newborn- The tiniest diaper size. These diapers can fit babies in the weight range of 6lbs-10lbs, some may go as high at 15lbs. Newborn diapers usually have a snap that lowers the front of the waistband to avoid the delicate umbilical stump until it is fully healed.
  • Sized diapers- This is usually 2-3 different sizes(ex. Small, Medium, Large) of diapers, each having their own weight range. 
  • One Size diapers- One Size (OS) diapers have all the sizes included in one diaper. By using a set of snaps on the front of the diaper, you can easily change its size to grow with your baby. OS diapers usually have a weight range of 8lbs-35lbs. Most people find that diapers with a 3x3 (three rows of 3 snaps) rise snap setting get the best fit starting at around 10lbs-13lbs. Diapers that have a 4x3 ( four rows of 3 snaps) will size down smaller to better accommodate a newborn baby without having to invest in newborn sized diapers that will quickly be grown out of. 

One size diaper versus Newborn size diaper

[ LEFT Nerdy Mommas OS diaper / RIGHT Happy Flute newborn diaper]

 

Types of Fibers

     Cloth diapers utilize a variety of textile fibers to replace the wood pulp and gel that a disposable diaper uses to absorb liquid. 

  • Microfiber- Microfiber can absorb liquid quickly and is very thick and fluffy. They are prone to compression leaks (Like squeezing a wet sponge) and it is not a safe material to be near babys skin. So be sure to use it only inside of a pocket or with a liner over top.
  • Cotton- A natural fiber that both absorbs quickly and has a larger capacity for absorption than microfiber. Cotton is a very common material for flats and pre-folds. Cotton has a denser feel than microfiber, but is not rigid.
  • Bamboo- Bamboo inserts can hold more liquid than cotton, but at a slower rate. Bamboo rayon is a common woven fabric used for inserts. Bamboo terry is another type of bamboo fabric that can be used for materials. It is very soft, cushy and floppy with more weight or drape than cotton. 
  • Charcoal Bamboo- Also shortened to CB, these inserts are a woven material made from a bamboo fabric that has been embedded with nanoparicles of charcoaled bamboo. This type of material is extremely impressive in that it has both anti microbial and anti bacterial properties, which help it to cut down on odor. This type of insert is very thin and very floppy. Many companies market "Charcoal bamboo inserts" that are layers of microfiber surrounded by a layer of a grey fleece. These do not share the odor fighting properties of real CB inserts.
  • Hemp- Hemp is a natural fiber that also has anti microbial properties. It is much denser than cotton or bamboo, but it is very trim, and will absorb the most amount of liquid, but at the slowest rate. Hemp is usually blended with cotton to aid in the absorbency time. 

insert materials

[Common insert materials]

 When choosing your inserts, it is important to consider both the fiber content and the number of layers. For more absorbency, you want a material with a larger absorbing capacity and more layers. If you are having leak issues, its always best to first check to see that your little one is not peeing more than their diaper can hold at a time.

 When combining inserts or fibers, be sure to always keep microfiber away from directly contacting the skin to avoid irritation. It is best to stack the fastest absorbing fiber on top, and your slowest at the bottom,( Fiber absorbency speed from fastest to slowest is microfiber, cotton, bamboo, hemp) This will ensure that liquid is being absorbed quickly at the source while the bottom absorbing material takes on any excess moisture from your top material.

No pins required.

 While there are many ways to safely and successfully secure flats and prefolds with a diaper safety pin, there are a few new options that eliminate the need for one. "Snappis" is a type of cosure device similar to those used to secure an ace bandage. The snappi is a Y shape, with tiny hook like fingers on the ends that grab onto the fibers of the flat/prefold to hold the diaper closed securely. There are other similar products that differ on size and shape, but still follow the same basic concept.

[Clarry Harry stretchy flat, closed with a "snappi"]

 

How to choose

 With so many different options for cloth diapering, it can seem overwhelming to pick just one. Each style has its own unique way of addressing certain issues that other styles may not. Because of this, different people will have different opinions on what works best for them, and some may find that using multiple styles interchangeably works even better than sticking to just one type. All-in-one and pocket diapers are very user friendly and low or no-prep, but flats and prefolds offer a variety of way to customize absorbency and are much easier to hand wash. It's important to consider your own individual situation when making your cloth diapering decisions, because in the end, YOU are the one who has to use them! Choose wisely, and choose confidently!!!

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