Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cloth Diapers 101, as promised

Okay, so please understand that I'm writing this for those of you who have already decided to cloth diaper. I'm not going to spend any time trying to convince you that cloth diapers are better for the environment, better for the baby, better for you, etc. You already know this.

In this post, I hope to cover some basic definitions for the types of cloth diapers and covers that are available as well as some places to purchase them and some online resources for more information. Please let me know if there are any glaring omissions, or if you'd like to add something. I plan to lay out a basic outline and then fill in the slots as I have time, so if it looks half-written, that's because it is. Please be patient with me. I have two children and work part time, so this is going to have to be piecemeal.

aplix (velcro)
prefold belts

These are your grandma's cloth diapers. Literally. They are cotton squares of birdseye, muslin, or flannel that have either finished edges or pinked edges. They come in bleached, unbleached, dyed, tie-dyed, embellished, you name it. They are inexpensive, wash well and dry easily. They do, however, require folding to use. The folding can be as easy as making a multilayered rectangle or as complicated as an origami sculpture. It all depends on what sort of performance you want out of them. They can be folded specifically for boys or girls, doubled for toddlers or left singly for newborns. You can add a doubler (multilayered single-unit sewn piece) to add absorbancy exactly where you need it. They must be closed with either pins or a snappi or a tight-fitting wrap-style cover. These can truly be a one-sized diaper that you use from birth to potty.

Flats are sold singly for approximately $1.25 each or in dozens for $15 or so.

Prefolds are similar to flats in that they are generally comprised of a cotton birdseye. The name prefold comes from the fact that prefolds are sewn to resemble one of the most basic flat-diaper folding techniques, thus saving the parent the time they would need to fold a flat. The are rectangular and have usually 2-4 layers on the outside edges and 6-8 layers in a strip down the center. This provides absorbancy where you need it and less bulk at the hips where you don't need it.

Prefolds come in:
  • bleached cotton
  • unbleached cotton
  • hemp
  • bamboo
  • dyed
  • tie-dyed
Prefolds come in the following traditional sizes and also additional "gourmet" sizes that are more square than rectangular:
  • preemie
  • infant
  • regular
  • premium
  • toddler
You will have to buy several sizes as your baby grows, but at around $20 for a dozen, it's still a very affordable diaper. You will also find many other uses for prefolds both while your babies are young and afterwards. They are truly a useful item to have on-hand.

Prefolds can be folded further by methods such as: (links to come later)
  • diva fold
  • newspaper fold
  • angel fold
  • jelly roll
  • bikini twist
Prefolds are usually fastened with either pins or a snappi, but can be trifolded and lain in a tight-fitting wrap-style cover to hold them in place.


Preflats are very similar to prefolds. They are rectangular hemmed fabric with a thicker strip down the center. The main difference between preflats and prefolds is the material they are made of. Prefolds are made from cotton and preflats are usually rayon made from bamboo. Because bamboo fabrics are more absorbant than cotton, the preflat usually has fewer layers both on the edges and in the center than a standard prefold does. The use of prefolds is generally identical to that of prefolds.

Because bamboo rayon is a more expensive fabric to purchase, preflats are usually about $15-20 per diaper. Examples of preflats include PB&E, Cake, and Buckaww.

Contoured diapers are similar to fitted diapers except that they do not have elastic at the waist or leg openings. They are generally pinned or snappied to fit and worn under a cover. Contours are usually made of cotton. Contures are usually priced in the $6-10 range.

Kissaluvs brand makes contour diapers.

Fitted diapers are much like a reusable version of a disposable diaper. They are shaped to fit your baby with elastic at the waist and leg openings and usually have some sort of closure system built in. Closures are usually aplix (velcro) or snaps but can sometimes be ties, buckles, or some other system. Some fitteds are without closures to allow the parent to use pins or a snappi for a perfect fit.

Fitted diapers can be made from:
  • cotton
  • hemp
  • rayon from bamboo

and may include other types of man-made fibers as soakers (absorbancy boosters.)
The inner layer of some fitted diapers is microfleece or suedecloth to create a layer that allows water to pass through to the absorbant materials but not feel wet on the baby's bottom. This is a nice feature, but introduces non-organic fibers, which some parents do not care for. Also, some babies have shown a sensitivity to suedecloth.

The outer layer of fitteds is usually a printed fabric. Some mothers become collectors of a particular brand of fitteds and try to own all of the prints available. A stack of fitted diapers on a shelf can be quite colorful, if you have an eye for prints, and some mothers use them as decor in the child's room. For this and other reasons, fitted diapers can be the most expensive type to build your stash with. Fitted diapers generally range from $10-$40 per diaper when purchased new.

Fitted diapers can have either internal soakers or external soakers, meaning that sometimes the soaker materials are sew into the layers of the diaper and sometimes they are attached to the body of the diaper by snaps or stitches. Diapers with internal soakers can be easier to put on a baby, especially in the night, but diapers with external soakers dry faster after laundering. A third, less common, style is the pocket fitted. A pocket fitted has an opening at the back edge of the diaper for the parent to insert whatever absorbant pieces they choose.

Fitted diapers do not have a waterproof layer and must be used with a cover or wool/fleece pants.

Examples of fitted diapers include Goodmamas, Sandys (by Motherease), and Bagshot Row Bamboo diapers.

All-in-ones, or AIOs as they are referred to, are the closest to a disposable diaper that you can come without actually disposing of anything but solid waste during the cleaning process. They are shaped like a fitted with elastic and a closure system, but also have a waterproof outer layer to hold the contents and moisture in.

The absorbant layers are permanently attached to the waterproof layer and the whole diaper is washed after a single use. Most AIOs have internally sewn soakers but a few have external, flappy soakers to aid it drying time. AIOs tend to take the longest to dry as the waterproof layer also prevents the warm air in the dryer from blowing through the absorbant layers and drying them.

AIOs are often a good choice for newborns, grandparents, babysitters, and daycares as they require the least amount of thinking and preparation for use.

AIOs range in price from $15-$30 per diaper.

All-in-two, or AI2s as they are called, are very similar to AIOs except that the absorbant layers are removable. There are two advantages to an AI2 system over an AIO:

  • the waterproof shell can be reused multiple times if it does not get pooped on. You simply snap in a new soaker and reuse the shell.
  • the AI2 soakers often dry faster than an AIO as the lack of a waterproof/windprood barrier allows the warm air to do its work more quickly.
The first of these advantages my be negated when diapering a very tiny baby as the poop of a breast-fed baby is often both liquid and explosively expelled. This means that chances are very good that the baby will poop on the shell with every use, not allowing you to simply snap a wet soaker out of a clean shell.

AI2s generally cost $20-25 for one shell and one soaker, with additional soakers costing $6-$15 each. An example of an AI2 diaper is Grobaby.

Pocket diapers are very similar to AI2s and AIOs. They involve a waterproof outer later and usually a stay-dry inner layer, elastic, and closures. However, instead of snapping soakers in or having a sewn-in absorbant soaker, pocket diapers have an opening along the back or front edge that allows the parent to insert absorbant materials. After use, the insert is removed and washed along with the pocket. After drying, the inserts must be repacked for the next use, much like an AI2.

Pockets have the advantages of being quick to dry and easy to put on as a single piece diaper. The disadvantage is mainly in the initial prep-time.

Pocket diapers are usually $15-$20 per diaper and often come with an insert. The most common insert materials are:
  • microfiber
  • hemp
  • bamboo
  • cotton prefold diapers, tri-folded
Examples of pocket diapers include Fuzzi Bunz, Rocky Mountain Diapers, BumGenius, and Knickernappies.

With most cloth diapers, you will need some sort of waterproof barrier to keep your baby's clothes and your lap dry. There are many more options today than there were 30 years ago when my parents were diapering me. Thankfully, there are so many good ones that it's difficult to pick just one favorite style!

pull on nylon taffeta:
Nylon taffeta pull-on pants are the style of cover that most closely resembles what our parents used on us. They are a simple shower cap style pant with elastic at the legs and waist. They pull on and off like undies.

The advantages to these covers are:

  • inexpensive
  • easy to use (no confusing closures)
  • difficult for toddlers to remove
  • compress easily under clothing
They are inexpensive ($2.50-$6 per cover) and are available from a number of companies. They are usually sold in white but can easily be dyed by soaking them in unsweetened Kool Aid. Companies that sell these types of covers include Dappi, Bummis and Basic Connection.

pouf-style pull-on, snap-off:
This style of cover, often called POSO, is a hybrid of the pull-on cover and the wrap style cover. It can be either pulled on and off or snapped on and off, or any combination of the two. This comes in handy when the baby poops and you'd rather not slide the slimy cover down their legs.

These covers are more expensive than pull-on styles and are comparable in price to wrap style covers. Prices are typically $12-15. Examples of POSOs are Mother-Ease Airflow (MEAF) and Blue Penguin POSO.

wrap style (snap or aplix)
gussets and why you might like them
WAHM style
wool (wraps, soakers, shorties, capris, longies, skirties)

STORES that I can personally recommend:


1 comment:

Jen said...

Very nice! Did you ever post the continuation with more kinds of covers and such?