Sunday, March 6, 2011

Cloth Diapers, the breakdown

There are certain things I am passionate about, and cloth diapering (CDing) is no exception. I didn't know what AIO, OS, prefold, pocket or fitted meant, and I certainly didn't know what options would work best for me and my family. So, I am going to break down the different options for diapering, and try to make it as easy as possible for anyone who may be interested in cloth diapering.

First I will explain sizing. Keep in mind all babies grow at different rates. Some babies are full in the waist and thighs, whereas others maintain a leaner, skinnier frame. When possible, try to measure your babies waist and thighs and/or go by weight. Some diaper companies use age as a way to measure, which may be less accurate. Here are some approximate weights vs size that I have averaged/compiled from various diapers.

x-small/newborn: 6-12lbs
small: 7-18lbs
medium: 15-27lbs
large: 22-30/40lbs
One-size (OS): This is a diaper that adjusts with 2-3 layers of additional snaps. The snaps make it possible to change the diaper from a size small to a size large, without buying multiple size diapers. Although these diapers usually cost more money, they last longer and can be used for more than one child in the event you have multiple children in diapers. This diaper should last you from birth (approx 8-35lbs) to potty learning.

Cloth Diaper options:


The above diaper is a newborn fitted from Hoothoot Baby.

Fitted diapers are a contoured or tailed fitted diaper that requires no folding like a traditional prefold diaper. It typically fits snugly against babies body and secures with snaps or velcro/aplix, although some fitted diapers come without snaps or velcro and close with either a snappi or pins. This gives a more customized fit. FITTEDS REQUIRE A DIAPER COVER. Fitted Diapers can be sized or one size.


  • Still Convenient yet less expensive than All In One diaper
  • Easy to use
  • Very absorbent - great when used as a nighttime cloth diaper


  • Requires a diaper cover/diaper wrap
  • Usually takes longer to dry then a Chinese prefold diaper but dries faster than an All In One diaper (AIO)

Prefolds(PF) and Flats

Prefold refers to a rectangle piece of cloth that has a thicker center for added absorbency. Most prefolds have a 4x8x4 measurement, with the first and last numbers referring to the number of layers on the right and left side of the prefold and 8 layers for the middle section. Prefolds can still work great with less layers, but often need a doubler (see below for more info) for added protection. Prefolds come in bleached (white) and unbleached (natural) fibers. Both work well, although the unbleached tend to last longer since the fibers have not been chemically weakened by the bleach. Organic fabrics are now commonly available at a higher cost, but for many people the benefits of organic fabrics out way the cost. Among organic cotton, hemp and bamboo are becoming more commonly used as a prefold fabric because of it's ability to absorb more wetness.

Chinese Prefolds vs. Indian Prefolds:

Chinese Prefolds are made in China and tend to be a bit sturdier and will last a bit longer. They are made with a slightly more durable fabric. Indian style is made in India or Pakistan. These are usually softer and a bit more absorbent, but will not hold up to as many washings. They also "quilt up" more when washed, although both styles will plump up and become softer when washed. The differences are subtle and no matter which you choose you can't go wrong as long as they are diaper service quality (DSQ). This means that they are made to stand up to industrial strength washing.

Flats simply refer to a prefold that has equal number of layers throughout, without a bulky middle section. Flats are usually less absorbent for this reason, but work great as "stuffers." PREFOLDS REQUIRE A DIAPER COVER.

Prefolds vs Flats

You're looking to go cheap on the cloth diaper journey and you've narrowed it down to flats or prefolds. But which is better? Which will be a good fit for you and your family?


  • Prefolds are fairly cheap. In fact, this is one of the cheapest ways to cloth diaper a baby right now.
  • Once you learn a few different folds, they're pretty easy to use. And honestly, they can be folded easily in three and laid into a wrap-style cover.
  • You can dye them different colors or even embellish them with embroidery to fancy them up.
  • They have a decent size range, which means you'll be able to use them for awhile before sizing up.
  • They wash clean very easily and don't often hold onto smell or detergent, at least in my experience.
  • Because of the simple design (no aplix, snaps, or elastic), prefolds last a long time.


  • Prep time can take awhile. You have to wash them a lot to get them ready for your baby to use.
  • While they can be easy to use, there is a learning curve if you're folding. It may take you awhile to get it down just right so that the fit is what you'd like it to be.
  • If you don't have wrap-style covers, you'll have to use a snappi or some pins-another learning curve to master.

Flats: A flat is a large square of a single layer of fabric, often bird's eye cotton; many cloth diapering parents also like to recycle flannel receiving blankets by using them as an inexpensive flat option. Like the prefold, it has no elastic or closures of any kind.


  • Flats are the cheapest cloth diapering option available.
  • They wash up really well, thanks to the one layer of fabric.
  • Because they are one layer thick, they dry extremely fast. So fast in fact, that you can often skip the dryer completely and save a little more money on that bill.
  • While learning to fold them is very tricky, they can be pad-folded into a wrap-style cover and used effectively that way.
  • Flats are pretty much "one size fits most."


  • Unless you're pad-folding, you'll have to master the fine art of folding a flat. This is definitely not always an easy feat, but it can be done.

As with the prefolds, you'll have to learn to use a snappi and/or pins to close these diapers.
Until you get the hang of folding, you may not get a great fit.


Pocket diapers are a contoured diaper that usually consist of three layers. An outer waterproof shell, an inner fleece (or similar material) that touches babies skin and a stuffer or doubler that goes inside the pocket between the outer and inner layers. Since pockets are waterproof, they do not require any additional cover. Since the inner stuffing is removed for washing, the diaper tends to dry quicker than other diaper options.

A pocket diaper is any cloth diaper that has a pocket opening. I focused on PUL shells (what is PUL?) with a lining and opening, but they are not limited to just that. There are fleece, wool, and even fitted (non waterproof) varieties as well. Still, the PUL shell with a stay dry lining is the most popular, like bumGenius! 4.0 and Fuzzibunz.

The pocket diaper can have an opening at the back (most common), front, or even in the middle.

Openings can be “hidden,” meaning there is a flap over the opening (bumGenius! 4.0/3.0), completely open at the back (Happy Heiny’s), or the envelope style where they tuck in (Tiny Tush Elite), or they can simply have a slit opening.

Linings include:

Stay Dry- Microfleece or suedecloth.

Non Stay Dry- Cotton velour, bamboo velour, hemp/cotton, bamboo looped terry, cotton looped terry, bamboo fleece.

Pockets are popular because they are customizable and dry quicker than All-in-Ones but remain convenient. They are also less expensive than most All-in-Ones.

Most pocket diapers come with microfiber inserts, the same material used commonly for towels to clean cars or mop pads. It is cheap and absorbent. You can also find pockets that come with hemp, cotton, bamboo, zorb, and more.

There are many styles of pockets. Middle closing with velcro or snaps, side snapping, one size, sized, and even dual size.

A “Sleeve” cloth diaper is basically a pocket diaper but with an opening at the front and back of the diaper. In the best situation this means the insert should agitate out during the wash cycle.

All-in-Ones (AIO's) and All-in-Two's (AI2's)

Grovia is a good example of AIO and AI2's because they offer both :)

AIO's are diapers that consist of an outer waterproof shell, and a number of inner, absorbent layers. There usually is no need to stuff like a pocket diaper, unless you have a heavy wetter and need added protection. AIO's are the closest thing to a disposable diaper and are typically the easiest cloth diaper to use. AI2's are similar to AIO's, but have a removable insert much like a pocket, making it easier to dry. An AIO, or All-In-One, is exactly what it sounds like. What you get is what you need. It is a type of diaper that functions completely on its own without the need for extra accessories. It does not require separate soaker material to absorb nor a separate diaper cover to contain leaks. All of the features are neatly packaged into one diaper. Many parents find this type of diaper to be the height of convenience since all they need is in one place. It also saves on space when traveling.

Advantages of AIO Cloth Diapers:

  • Functions like a disposable, except you don't throw it away!
  • No separate cover required
  • No separate soaker or doubler required
  • Easy to use
  • Available in lots of cute colors and prints
  • Perferred by childcare givers

Disadvantages of AIO Cloth Diapers:

  • Longer drying times
  • Harder to clean effectively

If you like the sound of an AIO but worry about the longer drying and cleaning times, you may want to try an AI2. These diapers are All in Ones that allow for the removal of the inner soaker material, the part that absorbs. This makes cleaning and drying much faster. When the two separate parts are paired, they form one diaper.

Advantages of AI2 Cloth Diapers:

  • No separate cover required
  • Great for transitioning from disposables to cloth - easy to use
  • Available in lots of cute colors and prints
  • You can always get a new soaker or doubler if the original needs to be replaced

Disadvantages of AI2 Cloth Diapers:

  • Keeping soakers or doublers together with the rest of the diaper
  • Usually more expensive than other cloth diapering methods

Hybrid diapers are an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional disposable diapers. They come with a cover which can be used multiple times during the day unless soiled and is washable. Covers can be used with cloth inserts or biodegradable inserts.


Covers are typically used over prefolds or fitteds, since neither is waterproof. There are many different styles of diaper covers, including wool, fleece and PUL. Some PUL covers can simply be wiped cleaned between uses and can often be found as a OS, which will work from birth to potty learning. Wool Soaker/Cover, A wool soaker is basically a diaper cover made exclusively of wool. Due to its high lanolin content, wool works very well as a cloth diaper cover. It can hold up to 40% of its weight in moisture.

Contoured Diaper

A contoured diaper does not have elastic at the legs or waist. The wings need to be fastened with pins or a Snappi or the diaper should be used in conjunction with a hook and loop style diaper cover. Contoured diapers are generally most appropriate for day-time diapering and always require a diaper cover of some type.

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