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Cloth II: Types of Cloth Diapers

August 24, 2009

This was probably the thing that overwhelmed me the most while we were doing our cloth diaper research, I had no idea there would be so many choices!  When my mother cloth diapered me (Yes, she did!), she had one choice:  prefolds and pins and rubber pants.  Oh My!  Unfortunately, I think this vision of folding and pinning and swishing is the  picture most people still have in their minds when thinking of cloth diapering today.  Many people are completely unaware of all the lovely cloth diapering options there are; I know I was!

One of the goals of this site is to shed some light on cloth diapering.  For part II of our series, I’ll present the different types of cloth diapers and how to use them.  Remember all parts of the Oh Baby O cloth diapering series can be found together on my Cloth page (click or scroll to top of page for tab).

Flats and Prefolds:
Flats are just a rectangular piece of cloth the same thickness throughout.  They require folding, pinning (or a Snappi), and a cover.  Prefolds also required folding, pinning (or a snappi), and a cover.  Prefolds differ from flats because they have three panels, with the center panel being thicker for more absorbency.  We have not used flats for Baby O, but we have used prefolds.  While they are not at the top of our favorites list, prefolds really are no big deal to use!  We actually found experimenting with different ways of folding them to be rather fun!  (My favorite for Baby O is the “twist“.)  Now, as far as pins go, just forget about ’em!  We use Snappis for Baby O and they work fabulously, no poking or bleeding involved!
Prefolds generally come in these varieties:  chinese or indian, bleached or unbleached.  They are usually made of cotton.  They can be found in organic cotton, or even hemp.  Baby O uses unbleached indian prefolds.  They are thick and squishy and quite soft.  When you purchase your prefolds they must be washed and dried several times before use to wash off the natural oils and reach maximum absorbency.  It is suggested that you do not do this in the same wash/drying cycles as your other cloth diapers so they do not attract the oils.  I *think* we washed Baby O’s prefolds 5x before the first use. 
Prefolds are also nice because you can use them for other things:  a doubler, a burp cloth, or even a super absorbent dust rag!
I’m always sure to change Baby O’s diaper every couple of hours, but with a prefold I’m extra diligent because they do not wick moisture away his skin the way other styles of cloth diapers do, such as pocket diapers.  For this reason, we do not use prefolds at night.  You certainly can use a prefold at night; it just isn’t our preference.
Prefolds are often the least expensive way to cloth diaper your child.
Just as a side note:  I would avoid purchasing prepackaged prefolds altogether.  They aren’t as thick and lovely and I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed.

The first time I read about fitted cloth diapers, I wondered why spend so much more money on something that needs a cover when I could just use a prefold?  I’ll tell you why:  they fit!  We’ve only recently started using fitteds and I have to tell you, we’re quite taken with them! 
(Review & Give-Away of Thirsties Fab Fitteds Coming Soon!)
Like a prefold, a fitted cloth diaper needs a cover.  Unlike like a prefold, fitteds do not usually need to be pinned (or snappied).  A fitted cloth diaper will usually have velcro for fastening.  Also unlike a prefold, fitteds come in a variety of adorable prints and fun fun fun colors!  Fitteds are to me a combination of the best parts of a prefold and a pocket diaper put together.  Like a prefold, the absorbent part of the diaper is separate from the cover allowing you to just get a new fitted and reuse the same cover with a diaper change, unless the cover has become soiled.  Like a pocket diaper, the part touching your baby’s skin will be probably be made of fleece or a similar material meant to wick moisture away from your baby’s skin preventing discomfort and diaper rash.
Without a cover, a fitted cloth diaper is quite breathable.  You can allow baby to just rock a fitted without a cover for a while to allow baby’s bum to breathe a bit while having some protection (though not totally water-proof).

Diaper Covers:
Diaper covers are necessary for both prefolds and fitteds.  They are made from a variety of materials ranging from polyurethane laminate AKA PUL (probably the most popular) to organic wool (Mm!).  Covers usually have velcro or snaps for fastening and leg gussets to catch leaks.  Depending on what you are looking for, the price of a diaper cover varies.  The least expensive white pull-on covers can be as inexpensive as $3.  Organic wool covers can be as much as $35.  What’s with the price difference you ask?  Wool diaper covers have some amazing benefits!  Wool is naturally breathable, soft, antimicrobial, is great for wicking moisture away from baby’s skin, and is naturally waterproof (though not as waterproof as synthetic materials).  Wool does require some special care that we will get to in another post, but I promise it’s worth it!
One of the best things about using a cloth diapering system with a cover is that you do not need one cover for every single prefold/fitted (though you certainly can have a one to one ratio if you want to).  One cover per every couple of prefolds/fitteds will be just fine.  Your covers can be used a couple of times in between washings so long as they are not soiled or smelly.
*Please note that not all wool covers will run you quite $35.  There are many options including some lovely WAHM items that can be found for less.

Pocket Diapers:
The majority of our cloth diaper “stash” is made up of pocket diapers.  Generally speaking, pocket diapers will have a PUL outer with a fleece lining and a pocket cut in the back for stuffing.  They are fastened with snaps or velcro.  Pocket diapers are easy to use as they do not require any folding or pinning.  Moisture is wicked away from your baby’s skin and absorbed by an insert.  Most pocket diapers come with a cotton insert and they usually work well, but I find hemp to be the most absorbent.  You stuff the diaper with the insert before use and pull the insert out after use.  We pull our inserts out while changing the diaper and then just drop the diaper, insert, and cloth wipe all in the wet bag for washing.  Easy as that!  This two part system also helps cut down on washing and drying time.
You can find pocket diapers and their inserts in a variety of materials (including organic wool) and the price will vary from as low as $12 to $35 depending on materials you choose. 
Even the most expensive pocket diapers will probably cost you less in the long run than disposables, especially if you plan to cloth diaper more than one child.  Besides, they are definitely a healthier, more luxurious option for your baby!
I would say pocket diapers are the most popular option of cloth diapering systems because of ease of use and affordability.
(Review & Give-Away of Happy Heinys One-Size Pocket Diaper Coming Very Soon!)

All in ones are the cloth diaper option that most resemble disposables in ease of use.  They are a one piece system that you put on your baby with snaps or velcro.  After use you just remove the diaper and throw the whole thing in your wet bag!  The only draw back I’ve heard about all-in-one cloth diapers is that they require a bit more drying time than other options.
Honestly, Baby O has yet to try an AIO, but it’s on his to do list!

Some other cloth diapering options not mentioned in detail here include:
Contour Diaper:  between a prefold and a fitted.  The diaper has a contoured shape but requires a snappi for fastening.
A-I-2 Diaper:  a PUL outter with snaps on the inside to snap in a soaker (insert).
One Size Diaper:  usually a pocket diaper adjusted as your baby grows.  Most can be worn from birth to potty training.

Next in our Cloth Diapering series:  How to Care for Your Cloth!



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