Cloth Diapering Basics

Did Michelle’s post inspire anyone? While cloth diapering isn’t for everyone, there are some serious perks, as she mentioned. The $avings alone is worth it – but your little one’s bum will thank you, too.

If you’re having visions of a white cloth nipped at the sides with large safety pins, covered with stiff plastic pants – fear not. Cloth diapering has had a huge face lift, and you may be surprised at just how cute your little one’s bum can be.

But with the modernization comes choices. Lots of choices. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re in good company. When pregnant, it took me a month to understand the difference between a soaker, a prefold, and a wool longie. So, we’ve put together a Cloth Diapering Glossary to demystify the world of washable diapers.


The Anatomy of a Cloth Diaper

Cover. The external part of a diaper that prevents wetness from soaking baby’s clothes (or mama’s lap). It should fit snugly around the infant’s legs and waist to contain leaks.

Inner. This may be a folded cloth, a cloth that has been pre-folded and sewn so that it has extra absorbency in the middle (a prefold), or several pieces of absorbent material sewn together to double a diaper’s capacity (soakers or doublers).

Fastener. These gadgets hold the cloth or prefold securely in place. They are only ever used with prefolds and covers. Luckily, the old-fashioned safety pins are not necessary these days, as prefolds can often be laid into a cover and stay in place without much movement. For those who want a more traditional diaper look, or to ensure maximum coverage, snappies, rubbery prongs with teeth, are the most common fasteners on the market today.


Cover Love

● Wool. I loved my wool diaper covers. We used them exclusively during Anabella’s first year. This naturally antibacterial and breathable fabric keeps your babe’s skin cool and dry. If you don’t have major poop blowouts (and if you’re practicing EC, you’ll likely have fewer), wool covers are low maintenance. Lanolin, a wax naturally excreted by sheep, coats wool fibers, making your wool diaper cover water repellent. Some moms re-lanolize – or add lanolin to the cover to keep its water repellent properties – every few weeks. We went for months, because Anabella wasn’t soiling it much. Either way, wool covers do not need to be washed regularly. Wool can absorb up to 30% of its weight in water without feeling wet. Bonus: a high quality wool cover will feel soft against your babe’s skin, not scratchy like a cheap sweater.

We like: Disana Wool Diaper Cover and  Little Beetle Wool Diaper Cover

● PUL. Polyurethane Laminate, or PUL, can be said “P-U-L” or “pull.” PUL is a weave of polyester or cotton treated with polyurethane, making it waterproof and mildew resistant. However, these covers aren’t very breathable, which means that if your babe has moisture down under, wearing a PUL cover can lead to rashes or bacterial infections. Though it’s difficult to pinpoint specific evidence as to whether or not PUL is toxic, some moms notice their babes react poorly, and prefer to avoid it altogether. Since there are so many great alternatives these days, you can avoid PUL if you choose.


From the Inside Out

● Prefolds. Though you’ll experience the steepest learning curve with these flat cloth diapers, they are tried-and-true. Generations have been using prefolds and some sort of absorbent or water repellent cover over them. Gone are the days of rubber pants, but you will need to scout out your favorite cover, and possibly a fastener as well.

We like: Bummi’s Organic Cotton Prefolds

 Fitted. Fitted diapers come in a variety of sizes, styles, and fabrics. They’re glorified prefolds, and need a cover to keep from leaking. You can find fitteds that fasten with snaps or velcro. Moms choose fitteds because they are often a snugger fit than prefolds and a cover, but less expensive than all-in-ones. If you’re looking for just a little bit of protection, you can use fitted diapers as training pants, as well.

We like: BabyKicks Organic Fitted


Let’s See What You’re Made Of

● Bamboo. Bamboo diapers are relatively new to the cloth diapering scene. They are super absorbent, fast-drying, soft to the touch, easy to clean and tend not to retain odors. On the other hand, the FTC now requires most fabrics made from bamboo to be labelled as “rayon made from bamboo” because, while the pulp originates from a bamboo plant (rayon is always produced from plant-based cellulose), “the rayon manufacturing process, which involves dissolving the plant source in harsh chemicals, eliminates any such natural properties of the bamboo plant.”  Manufacturers claim that these diapers are naturally antimicrobial, but according to the FTC, these benefits disappear in the vat of chemicals. In order to keep up with growing demand for their “eco-friendly” product, bamboo companies are clearing vast tracts of land for bamboo production. This has contributed to deforestation, leaving a mono-culture at the expense of biodiversity.

Good news: there is a healthy way to transform bamboo stalks into fabric. This alternative manufacturing process uses a non-toxic solvent and is very costly. Its products do maintain the bamboo plant’s antimicrobial qualities and are called organic bamboo velour, or organic bamboo.

We like: Good Mama bamboo diapers

● Fleece. Fleece is 100% polyester. Polyester is essentially a plastic. Diapers made with polyester fleece are lightweight, breathable, hardy, and fast-drying, making the material a popular fabric choice for cloth dipes. Fleece wicks away moisture, keeping baby feeling dry. Some babies are sensitive to fleece and develop rashes or skin irritation due to the synthetic fibers. (There is no such thing as organic polyester.) Fleece is sometimes used as a diaper cover, as well. As anyone who owns a fleece jacket can confirm, though, it can get hot in the warmer months. I tried it once or twice with Anabella and found she was very sweaty!

● Hemp. Most hemp diapers are made using 55% hemp, 45% cotton. The cotton helps make the hemp more supple. Just like cotton, hemp can be grown organically. Hemp is absorbent and anti-bacterial.

We like: Little Beetles hemp fitted diapers and training pants

● Cotton. Cotton is a natural fiber that has been used for centuries of cloth diapering in the United States. It’s easy to wash, easy to use, and doesn’t repel water, causing leaks, as some synthetic materials are known to do. Because your little one’s delicate skin will be in contact with the material, we recommend organic cotton, which has not been treated with any pesticides or fungicides. It may be pricier, but you can always pick up used diapers. Anabella wore organic cotton prefolds almost exclusively. They were the most economical option, and were easy to make a quick change.


The whole Shebang!

All-in-ones (AIOs). Probably the easiest cloth diapering option, all-in-ones contain everything you need to diaper your babe. No extra soaker pads or covers required. Some parents prefer to have a complete stash of all-in-ones, but others buy a few for babysitters, grandparents, and others who may be unfamiliar with cloth diapers. We just had three Dream-Eze AIOs, for Nana and Daddy. They are often considerably more expensive than prefolds and covers. Miriam used mostly Totsbots AIOs with Dalia, and loved them.

We like: Dream-Eze organic cotton AIOs and  Totsbots All-in-ones

● Pocket diapers. These are a popular option as well, but require a bit more work as you have to stuff and unstuff soakers into the diaper cover. They’re fast drying and trimmer than prefolds, but they can get stinky, and some moms grow tired of stuffing and unstuffing for each change. Personally, neither of us have had much success with pocket diapers, and find they leak often. Some moms swear by them, though.


What are your favorite diapers? Tell us in the comments!

Stay tuned for our next post: a tutorial on washing cloth diapers!

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