Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Cloth Diaper - Types & Tips

I wished I had found a good cloth diaper introduction online, because I spent days wandering the web looking for something that would just explain the basics already.  As I mentioned in the last diaper blog, I didn't find what I was looking for until I ordered a free DVD from The Diaper Ladies of Canada.  They go over the different types, have demos, and discuss the pros & cons of each.  Again, I have never used and don't endorse the product they are ultimately selling, but if you look past the pitch, this is a great place to start.

I also just discovered this Diaper Jungle Page, which offers a lot of great beginner advice on acronyms, washing, cloth diaper folding, etc!

Cloth Diaper Types

From what I can tell, there are two basic types of cloth diapers:
  1. Separate Shell + Inner Absorbent Layer - An inner cloth layer that does the heavy-lifting, with an outer, waterproof layer that can slip on over your more traditional cloth diapers
  2. All-in-ones - What it sounds like - a combined waterproof shell with inner cloth layers
For each of these types, there are one-size-fits-all or sizes that grow with your kids.  The nice thing about all of them are that there are plenty of organic options available at reasonable prices and you know you're not constantly throwing something out that will stick around for generations.

Absorbent Cloth Layer Types

Flat - This is what you probably think of when you think of cloth diapers: the square piece of fabric folded to fit your baby and secured with safety pins.

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Prefolds - Like flat diapers, but with extra layering in the center.  I think this diagram on how to create your own prefolds from Handmade-Adelaide-Baby, illustrates the difference best:

Contoured - Like prefolds, but shaped to "contour" to the shape of your baby.
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Fitted - Like contoured, but with elastic around the edges to help it cling to your baby.
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Outer, Waterproof Shell

All four of the above diaper types need an outer, waterproof layer.  You can get them with velcro, snaps, and in a variety of materials including plastic, nylon, wool, fleece, and polyester.

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The nice thing about the shell-inner-fabric-layer-combo is that, while you'll probably want 24-36 inner layers, if the shell is not soiled, you can wipe it off and use it a few times before you need to wash it.  That cuts down on laundry and washing expenses.  Most of the time they are less bulky than the all-in-ones as well.  Unfortunately, some daycare centers don't like to deal with these, so you'll have to check whether your child care provider will use them.


Just like it sounds, these diapers include the shell and inner layer.  There are two basic types of these:

Attached Inner Layer - Shell with its inner layer(s) sewn in.
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Pocket Diapers - Cloth diapers with an inner pocket where you can add the absorbent or an extra absorbent layer.
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It seems many moms find these more convenient and some daycare centers that don't accept the shell+inner layer diapers, will use these.  However, you do end up washing the whole diaper every time and some people find stuffing the pocket diapers annoying.


You'll also see hybrid cloth/conventional diapers on the market.  These are usually reusable outer shells, with disposable inner layers.  Might be a good compromise if you aren't quite sold on cloth or for when you're traveling.  Since you're still throwing away half of the diaper each time, I didn't consider these types of diapers while shopping around.

General Tips

Regardless of the type you choose, I'm told that it's best to add another insert (smaller piece of cloth/fleece or another diaper) for overnight use (lots of moms just cut up some absorbent fabric for this to save money).  I hear a lot of parents say they prefer diapers with snaps instead of velcro for two reasons: velcro can wear out eventually and older children are able to get velcro diapers off more easily.

Whatever style you find works best, there's an organic cloth equivalent for it!
Search for organic cloth diapers

You also have the option to make cloth diapers yourself, further increasing your savings and, if you can find locally-made fabrics, decreasing your diapers' carbon footprints!

What I'll Try

From countless hours reading cloth diaper information on sites and forums like this one on BabyCenter, I've decided I need to try out a few brands and styles to figure out what works best for me before buying my entire stock.  In the end, I plan to get at least 36 cloth diapers, which should have me doing full loads of laundry once every three days.

I'm really sold on the shell+inner layer idea.  I love the fact that you're not washing the entire diaper each time and also the flexibility it gives me to choose my inner layer style.  I also like the idea of the adjustable one-size-fits-all diaper, which I believe will save me some money as my child grows.

Here are the brands I decided to try.  Let me preface this by saying, since I haven't used these yet, I can't endorse them, but I will be sure to write a review on each one once I've had enough experience with them.

Gro Baby Shell Set - Gro Baby sells combinations of one organic shell and two organic soakers (one pad and one booster for overnight) that snap into the shell to stay in place.  It's one-size fits all.  I plan to start out with two of the shell/soaker sets to see how well they work.

Flip with Stay Dry Insert - BumGenius just came out with a new organic shell+inner layer set like Gro Baby called Flip.  I also plan to buy a couple of these to try them out.

Note that for Gro Baby and Flip, you don't have to use the soakers they come with.  I plan to get a few organic prefolds to cheaply increase my diaper stash.

Thirsties Diaper Cover - Thirsties is a brand of waterproof cover that is not one-size-fits-all and doesn't come as part of a diaper system.  You buy whatever inner layer you like and can use that with it.  I also plan to get a couple of their smaller sizes to try out right away.

bumGenius One-Size Cloth Diaper - BumGenius sells an all-in-one diaper system that online reviews seem to rave about.  It is one-size-fits all and uses the pocket technique for extra absorbency.  While I'm not sold yet on all-in-ones, I decided to try a couple of these simply because the reviews are so good.

I'm excited about the prospect of cloth diapering and think it'll be well-worth my extra time.  Can't wait to try these out (ok, maybe I can...).


  1. When we use cloth, we use the bumGenius-style ones (we have some brand-name ones and some knock-offs D got on Craigslist somewhere). I can't stand the smell of stale pee so it's hard for me NOT to wash the entire diaper every time anyway... Glad to hear you have a plan!

  2. Good to know! It sounds like BumGenius is definitely worth trying out!