It always seems that the most basic questions are the most difficult to ask, especially when it comes to parenting and caring for your babies and toddlers. Many parents and caregivers who come to our boutique for cloth diapering help are often hesitant to ask, ‘what is a cloth diaper?’
With a plethora of cloth diaper information available on the Internet, some of it good, some of it bad, we thought it best to start simply. In this article, we’ll be covering the components of a cloth diaper, how cloth diapering systems work and how common elements of sizing work, which will help to answer many frequently asked questions about cloth diapers.
Components of a Cloth Diaper
Regardless of the brand or style you choose, a cloth diaper is a reusable, washable diaper that is comprised of two parts: absorbency and waterproofing.
These two components may look very different, depending on the style of diaper you choose, but in a basic sense, every diapering system will need a way to hold liquids and solids (absorbency) and a way to prevent leaks (waterproofing). Each brand and style will accomplish these two goals in a different way, but the components will be almost identical: an absorbent cloth fiber and a waterproofing material.
Does this mean all cloth diapers look exactly the same?
All cloth diapers are absolutely not the same, which is why understanding how a cloth diaper functions can require a bit of explanation.
In general, a cloth diaper functions in a similar way as a disposable diaper does. Liquids are absorbed by the cloth fibers and solids remain on top, while the waterproof layer prevents leaks.
However, rather than throw your diaper away once it has been used, you can wash, dry and reuse a cloth diaper, saving you money along the way.
Cloth Diapering Systems
There are several ways that an absorbent layer and a waterproof layer can work together. Each of these diapering options details the pieces needed to complete one diaper change: covers and prefolds (or inserts), fitteds and wool covers, or an all in one, all in two, or pocket diaper.
This, of course, is not meant to be an all encompassing list, but will help you understand how the two components of absorbency and waterproofing work together to function correctly.Covers and prefolds (or inserts) – Covers provide the leak protection for your cloth diaper, and are also largely responsible for the fit.
Covers are usually made from a waterproof fabric called PUL (the PolyUrethane Laminate comprised of a fabric layer and a waterproof layer that are bonded together to create a waterproof fabric) and have either a snap or hook and loop (the cloth diaper industry’s term for non-branded Velcro) closure.
Some covers are sized, while others are one size, but they have no absorbent layer and serve as the waterproof component only. Covers function together with a prefold or insert, the absorbent material may be wiped and used again for the next change with a new prefold, or replaced every change as the caregiver sees fit.
Prefolds are rectangular pieces of fabric with several layers that can be folded in various ways and placed against baby’s skin, inside the cover. Prefolds may be secured with a diaper pin or snappi or used without either. Usually, prefolds are sized according to baby’s weight.
Fitteds and wool covers – Fitted diapers serve the same function as a prefold, but rather than being folded, they are the size and shape of a diaper. Fitteds contain only absorbent material, like prefolds and inserts, so they need an additional waterproof later as well. Fitted diapers can be used in conjunction with either PUL covers or wool covers.
Wool covers are different from PUL covers in that they are a natural fiber and do not have snap or hook and loop closures. Wool covers are sized and can be waterproofed using a process called lanolizing that keeps fitted diapers from leaking.
All In One Diapers – All In One style cloth diapers (commonly referred to as AIOs) are just that, a diaper that’s waterproof layer is connected to the absorbent layers and does not require any additional pieces. The entire diaper goes on baby and the entire diaper comes off, ready for the washer! These diapers are often preferred by busy parents, or parents who are new to cloth diapering.
All In Two Diapers - All in two systems may have soaker pads or inserts that snap into the waterproof shell and may be sold together or separately, but once snapped together, create a complete diapering system. Many parents appreciate that these systems can be added to easily by purchasing one extra set of inserts or soaker pads or one extra shell at a time.
Pocket Diapers – Pocket diapers have a waterproof shell and removable, absorbent inserts, which are often sold together as one complete package. The inserts are placed into the pocket shell and can be replaced, doubled up or switched out for a different fiber as needed. This system is often thought to be one of the most customizable as baby grows.
Although each of these styles function differently, they all use an absorbency component and a waterproof component together to create a complete cloth diaper! Which system you choose is best determined by your lifestyle and your preferences.
Cloth Diaper Fit
When choosing which cloth diaper will most likely fit your baby, the most important piece of information to have is baby’s weight. The weight of your baby will give you a fairly good idea of where to start.
Cloth diapers and covers can be sized or ‘one size’, meaning that they can be altered slightly to fit baby from birth to potty training.
Sized cloth diapers often offer a weight guideline that will help you determine which size your baby would need. Sizes may be listed as numbers or categories such as newborn, small, medium, etc.
It is important to remember when choosing a size that, as your baby grows and changes, snaps or hook and loop closures on the waist and/or front of your diaper will help you to adjust your diaper to get an ideal fit. The newborn category is a great sized diaper option for new parents because it allows for a more exact fit in smaller babies and often helps parents feel more comfortable in their cloth diapering journey.
One size cloth diapers (sometimes abbreviated as OS) are usually made to fit a wide range of ages and weights. They often include rise snaps, snaps on the front of the diaper that can be snapped down to make the diaper smaller, and are a popular choice for many parents who want to get ample use out of their cloth diaper budget. One size diapers can often be used from birth through potty learning (or potty training) and are also popular with families diapering multiple children simultaneously.
No matter which style or size of cloth diapers you choose, we encourage all the families who come to us for cloth diapering help to ask questions! The more you understand about the basics of cloth diapering, the easier it will be to choose the perfect system for your family and the greater success you will have in your cloth diapering journey.
For more information and details, you can find a complete list of the styles and diapers mentioned in this post by clicking here.
This section is easily broken down by the systems and styles discussed here such as cloth diaper covers, AIO diapers, pockets, fitteds, wool and more so that you can quickly and easily compare diapers, brands and styles.
Remember, you can always ask questions by visiting us on Facebook and sending us a message!