Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cloth Diapering 101: Diaper types

Several weeks ago I told you all about the reasons behind our decision to cloth diaper. I had no idea where to start when I decided to cloth diaper, and assumed that it would be a very easy and smooth decision. What I didn't count on was how complicated the cloth diapering world has become! Now that there are so many options, it can become easy to be overwhelmed with all the choices and all the differing opinions about what is the best option for different babies. Not to mention all the acronyms everyone uses to describe all these options.

I am going to give you guys a quick introduction to cloth diapering with a post to follow on our experience so far with cloth diapering our newborn. I have learned a lot about what I like and don't like in these last few weeks, and hopefully I can simplify this cloth diapering world for all of you who are thinking about venturing into it. While this list will be a quick intro, it is by no means complete. If you'd like to know more, check out the additional resources I listed at the bottom.

There are many types of cloth diapers, but we will start with the most basic and move to the most complex. This won't always be true, but as a general rule of thumb, the diapers are presented as least to most expensive

This is what grandma used (and pretty much all women before that). A simple large square of fabric, usually cotton, which you can fold into a diaper which is then pinned onto the baby. The flat absorbs the urine and poop, but it is not waterproof. You need to put a waterproof cover over it, so it is a two-step system. These are very cheap and affordable, and many people swear by them, as they dry very quickly and wash well. THIS SITE even hosts a flats challenge every year to get more people to discover them.

The more modern version of the flat, you may have seen these being used as burp cloths in more recent years. Essentially it is a square of fabric smaller than a flat with some extra fabric layers in the center for absorbancy. It takes less folding than a flat but still requires pins and a cover for waterproofing. Again, these are very affordable, but do require some extra steps for baby to wear them.
This is an example of what a prefold looks like folded, and the white thing you see there is a modern version of a diaper pin, called a snappi. You can also use a snappi to fasten a flat closed.

Prefolds can also be folded into thirds and laid inside of a waterproof cover for quick diapering (See below).

Fitted diapers are contoured like a disposable diaper, but are not waterproof. They have absorbancy built into them. They might have fasteners attached to them (this one has snaps, but they can also have velcro) or they might require the use of a snappi to fasten them. These are often used as nighttime diapers, as they are very absorbent.

The above three types of diapers require waterproof covers on them. Waterproof covers can be made from many different materials (some people swear by wool covers, especially for nighttime).

Here is an example of what a waterproof cover looks like (This is a Thirsties brand)

Ok so now I'm going to move into the diapers which do not require covers or separate fasteners. They can either have snap or velco (aplix/hook-and-loop) closures

These are probably the most popular type of diaper, although most people own a variety of types. Pockets are built to look like a disposable, and are easy to attach. They will either have snaps or velcro (called hook-and-loop or aplix in "cloth diaper linguo") closures, and are very easy to use. They will have a waterproof outside and often a stay-dry inside with a pocket where you stuff absorbent inserts into the diaper (you can see the insert sticking out of pocket in the photo above).
Hemp insert (Left) and microfiber insert (Right)
Inserts can either be made of natural fibers (hemp or bamboo are common for their extra absorbency) or microfiber. You can also stuff pocket diapers with prefolds or flats. Extra inserts can be added for extra absorbency

All-in-two (AI2)
These diapers are becoming more and more popular. They consist of a waterproof outside that can either be used as a cover with an absorbent insert laying inside of it OR it can be stuffed like a pocket diaper. Many people like the versatility of this diaper.

All-in-one (AIO)
 Just like it sounds, this diaper is as close to the convenience of a disposable diaper as you can get. The insert, or absorbent part of the diaper is attached to the waterproof cover itself. No stuffing of the insert required, this is literally a "put on the baby and go" diaper.

Each type of diaper has its pros and cons, whether it is expense (flats being the cheapest, AIOs and AI2s generally being the most expensive), ease (flats and prefolds taking more time, with AIOs being the quickest), or drying time (flats taking a matter of an hour or two to dry and AIOs taking considerably longer). Not every type of diaper will work for each person or baby. I have been somewhat surprised at the diapers I have ended up liking the most, and the ones I have quickly resold because they didn't work for Victoria.

One other aspect of cloth diapers which is important to note is the sizing options. Diapers are either sized (as in small, medium, etc), or are one-size, which means they can usually fit a weight range. Sized diapers are not very common, as they require a greater investment. You would have to buy a diaper stash in every size.

One-size diapers are very common. They have snaps that allow you to make the diaper smaller or larger. Most will begin fitting babies around 8-9 pounds and will go up until 35-40 pounds (Depending on the diaper).

This is a one-size pocket diaper in the smallest setting. This fit my daughter from 9 pounds. The snaps on top are for closing the diaper and allow for smaller or larger waists.
This is the same diaper unsnapped to the largest setting. This would fit a larger toddler. 

Here are some great resources for learning more about cloth diapers: is a sit by a cloth diapering mama. She has lots of informative posts and lots of diaper reviews where she talks about different brands. is similar to the site above, but she also does review videos of different diapers.
-Kelly's closet is an online cloth diaper store (a great one because it is easy to get free diapers with your orders), and they have an entire section of their site called "Cloth 101".
-Confessions of a Cloth Diaper Convert: A Simple, Comprehensive Guide to Using Cloth Diapers is a kindle book which has lots of information on diaper types with photos. It addresses cloth diaper issues, washing routines, etc. I read it as my first intro to cloth diapering, and I enjoyed it. But it is written from a woman's point of view so I suggest using it as one of many uses.
-Facebook group called "Cloth diaper support group" has lots of great information and points of view from group members

1 comment:

  1. This is a really comprehensive overview! I'm looking forward to the follow-up post, because I'm really interested in what works for you. We're using flats for now and like it a lot, but we don't pin them in place; instead we use a tie nappy to tie them together. When we go out we put waterproof pants over it all, but at home we don't bother at all. The moisture comes through, of course, but at least we know immediately when the diaper is really wet and should be changed. My daughter is a heavy spitter, so the clothes she wears are in the washer constantly as it is, so we don't worry about moisture getting through the diapers.


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