Thursday, May 2, 2013

Cloth Diapering Basics Part 1: Diaper Types

Are you interested in trying cloth diapers but are so confused about it all that you don't even know where to start?  Maybe you want to save money.  I can show you how to do that.  Maybe you want to save the landfills from another huge pile of disposable diapers.  I can help you find a way to do that. Maybe you want to keep your baby free of the chemicals used to make disposable diapers more absorbent.  Or perhaps you've heard that cloth can be better at containing the "explosions" that sometimes happen. In my experience, it's true.  I've found that if a cloth diaper leaks poop, a disposable would have leaked worse.  But if it leaks pee, it just needs an extra absorbent layer (such as overnight) or to be changed more often. Or maybe you've seen all the cute designs available and just want to have your very own fluffy butt. :)

Any diaper, whether cloth or disposable should be changed every time it is soiled and not wait until it is as full as possible.  There are parts of urine and feces that can literally cause chemical burns if left too long!  But we'll get to all that later.  Today, let's break down the types of cloth diapers available today.

First some jargon and abbreviations:
  • AIO = all in one diaper, everything you need is already there, simply put it on
  • AI2 = all in two; a blend of AIO and pocket diaper, the shell is somewhat absorbent and you simply lay in the absorbent insert.  I'm not addressing these below.
  • OS = one size; usually fits a wide range of weights, such as 8lbs to 35lbs.  This will get most kids from birth through potty training.  They tend to cost more per diaper than the sized, but you can use them each longer. Usually a one-size diaper has an adjustable rise, see below.
  • sized = preemie, newborn, small, medium, large, extra-large, and toddler sizes; or may be sized in numbers with preemie being 0, small is 1 and so on.  Each brand has it's own weight range for each size.
  • insert = absorbent rectangle of material used in pocket diapers; may also be used in other diapers as a doubler.
  • doubler = additional absorbent layer
  • prefold = a square or rectangle diaper with a thicker layer in the middle 1/3.  It is called a prefold in reference to flat diapers that were originally folded into this shape and pinned.  These come in a range of sizes from preemie to toddler, but many can be used as doublers for the next sizes up.
  • flat diaper = thin piece of cloth, usually birds eye or flannel that is folded in one of several ways to absorb soils
  • fitted diaper = an absorbent (but not waterproof) diaper that is cut to allow for leg curves; usually sized.
  • cover = waterproof or water-resistant layer that goes between the diaper and the baby's clothes; may be plastic, polyurethane laminate (PUL), wool, or other material.
  • wool "shorties" and "longies" = a cover made of wool that is waterproofed using lanolin. Shorties are short like hotpants and longies are knee-length or longer.  These require special care in laundering but are wonderful, especially for those with plastic sensitivities.
  • Snappi = a special diaper closure-alternative to pins.  Required for use with prefolds and wool covers and is convenient for use with fitted diapers and/or PUL covers. They come in baby size and toddler size and a variety of colors.
  • sposies = disposable and/or paper diapers
  • liner = a reusable or flushable strip of material that lines the diapers to make laundering easier
  • rise = the distance from the front of the diaper, through baby's legs to the back of the diaper.  A diaper with adjustable rise can fit a wider range of baby sizes.
  • "shake-off" = shake, dip, scrap, or spray the solid poop off the diaper into the toilet.  Some people have a dedicated spatula, toilet attachment sprayer, or rubber gloves for this purpose.  I just shake and dip, then place in the pail and wash my hands.
  • wet bag = waterproof bag for carrying soiled diapers.  There are a variety to choose from: zippered, drawstring, button closure, and double-sided (has two pockets: one for wet/dirty and one for dry and clean) all come to mind.  There are travel size (good for a day out) and pail size that can be used as a liner for your diaper pail or hung in your bathroom.  It's worth having a good wet bag or 4.  If you're just testing out, having a good supply of shopping bags is fine for when you're out, but you NEED some sort of large container to hold until wash day.

"This a'int your grandma's cloth diaper."

Today there are a variety of styles you can choose from.  Here's a basic breakdown of pros and cons and my recommendations.

"All-in-one" (AIO) is exactly like a disposable diaper, except that you toss it in the wash instead of in the trash.  They tend to be a bit pricier to get started and can be "sized"  or one-size.  I prefer one-size (OS) because even if I have two in diapers I only have to carry a couple diapers when I go out and not a variety of sizes. I also don't have a huge pile of diapers we're not using because they're the wrong size for us now.  And I feel I get way more life out of them.  Some people prefer the "sized." Honestly, you'd have to talk to someone who prefers those to get the pros. ;)  I do like using the newborn sized diapers, though, so baby isn't wearing a HUGE diaper. Some AIOs have a pocket for adding absorbent layers as a child grows or for overnights. Technically, these are called "hybrids," but I still refer to them as AIOs.  I keep about 4 OS AIOs for babysitters and for ease of outings. I got my favorites from

Prefolds and covers are one of the most economical choices and are not difficult to learn.  A prefold is basically a few layers of absorbent material surged together, with a thicker layer in the middle 1/3.  In my opinion, there are only 3 types. 1) Gerber brand is utter garbage when it comes to using as a diaper.  The middle layer which is supposed to be absorbent is polyester, which is not absorbent at all! If you're looking for something to use as burp rags or cleaning cloths, they're fine. But if you want to actually use them as diapers, take a word from experience and try option 2 or 3. 2) Indian cotton or Chinese prefolds are the gold standard.  They cost a little more than Gerber, but they actually work!  And they last! 3) Homemade cost almost nothing and work really well, especially if you're just getting started and want to try them out.  You can make your diapers from flannel blankets, flannel shirts, old cotton t-shirts, etc. If you have a surger, they'll last a bit longer, but even still, my homemade diapers lasted 2 years before I had to start tossing them into the rag pile. I haven't counted my stash but I'd guess I have at least a dozen homemade tshirt prefolds and at least 3 dozen other high quality prefolds being used now with my 15 month old.  I also have newborn and toddler prefolds in my storage for the future.  This size of stash is not necessary for my one in diapers but makes it convenient when washing day doesn't go as planned and WAS necessary when I had two in diapers.

Since prefolds are absorbent and NOT waterproof, you'll need something to protect your clothes and floor and so on.  There are many choices here, too.  It basically winds down to using pins/snappi closures with wool shorties/longies or using a cover with snaps or velcro. Pins are simple, cheap, and effective, though you have to be careful not to stick the baby.  Snappi closures are nice, but I found I didn't need them, since I used my PUL covers.  Many people swear by either choice.  You really have to try it out to decide, but basically go with what you're comfortable with. Also, when you're not leaving the house, you can often get away with using just a prefold and snappi or pins and just change diapers as soon as they're soiled.

So back to choices about covers.  You can have wool, which is great, but requires some extra care in laundering.  You CANNOT put these in the washer/drier, unless you WANT them a size smaller.  Period.  You need to hand wash and re-lanolin-ize on occasion, which means you have to plan on about 24 hours of drying time, so you need to have at least 3 in your stash if you choose wool.  A bonus is that you can use the shorties or longies as pants!  As long as you're not using onesie shirts. ;)  You can knit your own woolies, make them from upcyled wool sweater, or buy them premade.  You can use PUL, which is basically a laminated fabric to make it waterproof. These work great, are fairly inexpensive, and last.  They can be laundered with your cloth diapers or with your regular laundry.  You should limit the amount of bleach and vinegar used in the wash with these as it eventually breaks down the laminate. Another option are the old school plastic vinyl covers.  These can work fine, but the elastic can be irritating to the skin and I found they just didn't fit right so they leaked more. Other people have had great success with them.  Another style is using minky, a very soft and absorbent material, or other fabric on the outside with PUL or other plastic on the interior where it doesn't contact your child's skin.  These are really nice, too. There are new materials coming out all the time that have pros and cons, but I think  you get the idea here. For my family, I bought 7 Econobum PUL OS covers and that worked well for a newborn and toddler in diapers, with my other newborn diapers and OS AIOs in rotation as well.

Flats and covers are the most economical way to cloth diaper.  They can easily be hand-washed and line-dried quickly in the sun or on a drying rack inside.  See how I did. Many people in various areas of the world with and without access to modern laundering facilities use flats with great success.  Flats use pins/snappis (or not) and covers just like prefolds. Flannel receiving blankets (like those purchased for baby showers) are perfect for using with toddlers and preschoolers.  You could probably cut them down or fold them smaller for smaller babies.  Flour sack towels are also excellent.  If you like to "upcycle," considering making t-shirt flats by cutting the front and back apart from a t-shirt and using that.

Edit: There's a new diaper fastener in town!  It's called the Boingo. Visit this website, to order one.  They look pretty great and easy to use without the worry of scratching baby's private parts with the snappi!

Did I miss anything?  Do you have questions I didn't answer here?  Do you have suggestions or points I didn't make already?

Next time: How to actually get them on

Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.  If you click them you will be directed to Amazon where I will make a small percentage of your purchase. I normally only post the images, but since money is definitely a deciding factor for many people, I felt it was important.

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