Maybe you’re interested in cloth diapering but worry you’ll have to fumble with pins and plastic pants. Maybe you’ve done a little research and are overwhelmed by all the thousands of brand, style, fabric, closure, and sizing options.I’ve cloth diapered Boo-Boo since he was born and worked in a baby boutique that sells cloth for the past nine months. I spent hours reading about diapers online as a crazy pregnant lady. I’ve tried all the styles and many, many brands. Of course, I talk about cloth a ton at work–with customers and co-workers. So here goes my attempt at breaking it down for those who are interested in cloth diapering their babes. First I’ll focus on materials and the different styles, then I’ll talk a little bit about fit and other options. (Because this is such a massive topic, I’ll be posting some follow-up pieces in the coming weeks.)I also want to give a BIG thank-you to my employer for letting me borrow pretty diapers for some of the photos.

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Materials:

Cloth diapers are made up of two components: the absorbent layer and the waterproof layer. For the absorbent layer, you can choose natural fibers like cotton, bamboo or hemp. But many diapers are also made with synthetics like microfiber and micro fleece.
The choice—like all the others you’ll make—is entirely personal. Some babies have very sensitive skin and need organic, natural cloth only. Some parents don’t want their babies to feel wet so they opt for a stay-dry layer like fleece. Different types of cloth will have different absorbency rates and capacities. Natural fibers will have to be washed several times before they become sufficiently absorbent.

For most diapers, the waterproof layer is a synthetic PUL. However, the thickness and texture vary by brand. Some have a cotton layer on the outside, but they still have the waterproof PUL to keep the diaper’s wetness from leaking. There is a natural option for the waterproof layer and it’s wool. I’ll talk more about wool in the first style below.

Here’s a good glossary to the different fabrics commonly used in cloth diapers. It is from a company that sells fabric to people who are interested (also brave and crafty) in making their own diapers!

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There are four basic styles of cloth diaper. Of course there are ways to mix things up, but this is just to get you started.
Styles:


Type One: Absorbent Layer Plus Cover
This is what many may think of as the more old-school type of diaper. Flats are really just a broad, absorbent cloth that has to be folded and secured around the baby. The advantage to using flats is that they dry quite quickly, however there is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to the folding.
Prefolds (PF) are thicker and require less folding than flats. Like flats, they are usually made from natural fibers and cost less than some of the other options. They still need to be secured with a Snappi, Boingo or pins (Snappi and pins shown below).
Fitteds do not require any folding and usually come with sewn-in aplix or snaps. Many fitted diapers have extra absorbency and can be useful for overnight.
Whether you choose a flat, prefold or fitted, you will need to add the waterproof layer—it’s not built in. This means that you don’t need nearly as many covers as absorbent parts. Covers don’t need to be washed unless they are soiled–and they usually aren’t. Usually people start with 5-6 covers and at least 24 flats/prefolds or fitteds.
Many people choose PUL covers, but wool is another option. Wool is a natural fiber that can be soaked in lanolin to make it water resistant. There’s a lot to talk about with wool and I don’t want to overwhelm you. Basically just know it’s natural so that means it’s more breathable. Many people use it over a flat/prefold or fitted, but it can also be worn over any other type as an extra leak guard. It also requires a little bit of special care and washing.

Type Two: All in Two
If you understand the basics of the first style I talked about, All in Twos (AI2) are easy to understand. They are simply a package deal of the absorbent layer plus waterproof layer. Different brands make a cover (often called a “shell”) and a special absorbent piece that either fits inside or can be snapped in. (The examples I have in the photos are from GroVia, but brand examples are Flip and gDiapers.)
AI2s usually have natural or synthetic, stay-dry options. Many offer package deals with a few shells and a whole set of inserts. Just like using a cover, AI2 shells don’t need to be washed after every use, so you need only 5-6. Most AI2 brands may also refer to their diapers as “hybrid” systems. This means that they make disposable liners that can lay inside the cover and be discarded after one use. This is a really nice option for travel or other away-from-home situations.


Type Three: Pockets
Pocket diapers usually have a stay-dry fleece layer sewn to the waterproof outer layer and a pocket that needs to be stuffed with the absorbent piece. For wet diapers, some people un-stuff and let the diaper air dry before using it again while others wash after every use. If you do not re-use the pocket, you will need to have at least 24 diapers.
Most pockets need to be unstuffed before wash and re-stuffed before wearing. This extra step is off-putting to some, but it does allow you to customize the amount of absorbency quite easily. It is also one of the fastest-drying diaper styles available.


Type Four: All in One
All in Ones (AIO) are exactly what they seem. They are a cloth version of a disposable diaper. You use it for one diaper change and then wash it. They are the simplest to use in that there is only one piece—no covers, no stuffing. However, because the whole thing has to be washed every time they are usually a more expensive option. They can take a little longer to dry, but many brands are now designing them so that more air can get to the absorbent layer. Many people use these for daycare or have just a few for convenience. Some opt to have an entire stash made up of AIOs.


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Sizing:
So now that you understand the styles of diaper, let’s talk about size. You can find either sized or one-size-fits-all (OS) in any style of diaper that you want. Some brands have exclusively OS and others make both sized and OS. A few brands have a 2-size option while most have small/medium/large. The newborn size is also available. (See above photo; these are terribly cute!) Newborn is the smallest available and will only fit for a short period of time.
Each brand will have their own weight and age recommendations for whatever sizes they offer. Be aware that this is just an estimate. If your baby in proportionate, the weight will most likely be accurate. If you baby is larger or skinnier in the bottom and thighs, you will have to take this into consideration. Some brands are known to fit well on chunkier or slimmer babies.

Many people prefer the OS option because you theoretically only need that one set of diapers that will last through potty learning. In OS diapers the rise can usually be snapped down to make it smaller and left open to make it larger. They usually have more snaps in general than sized diapers. Some have adjustable elastics for additional fit. It’s important to remember that OS diapers will be bulkier on newborns and small babies and could possibly stop fitting if you have a toddler who’s on the larger side. 

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Velcro vs. Snaps
Most brands make diapers with snaps or Velcro (also called aplix or hook and loop). Everyone has a personal preference as to which is better. Velcro tends to be a little easier for groggy, late-night diaper changes. Some say Velcro can give a better fit because you aren’t limited by snap placement. The drawback is that it can wear out over time and can stick to other items in the wash (yes there are laundry tabs and yes they can still come undone!)
One thing worth noting about snaps is the side-snap style. (The AIO diaper pictured above is an example of a side snap.) Diapers that snap on the size have a nice flat-front appearance and can be great for babies with either bigger or smaller thighs. Not many brands have the side-snap, but it’s definitely an option out there.
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So now you know more than you possibly ever wanted to know about diapers. I’ll follow up with information about which diapers we’ve used and talk about washing them (it’s really NOT that bad, I promise!)
But for now… any questions?

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