There is a lot to consider when you are choosing a cloth diaper system, just like there is a lot to consider when choosing the fibers you will use in your system and how they will work together. This information comes in handy when you are considering how to add inserts, boosters or doublers to your main source of absorbency and when deciding in which order to place them.
Although all cloth diapering families will have a different method of layering absorbency, we’re going to talk about cloth diaper fibers in terms of which fibers absorb faster than others. In this article, we’ll discuss the types of cloth diaper fibers and their differing levels of absorbency.
In general, this is the order of fibers from fastest absorbing to slowest absorbing:
Microfiber is a synthetic fiber, meaning it is made from man made fibers. This is the only fiber that can’t be put up against baby’s skin as it can cause rashes. Microfiber is the fastest absorbing fiber and is best put on the top layer of your pocket diapers. This is a great fiber to have in your cloth diaper arsenal of absorbency.
However, microfiber is notoriously slightly difficult to clean as the synthetic fibers trap ammonia particles resulting in stink. It’s not that microfiber can’t be cleaned, you just have to pay close attention to your wash routine.
Want to use microfiber but don’t like pockets? Look for a synthetic All In One or an insert with a stay dry layer like the Thirsties Stay Dry Duo Insert. Although this insert contains microfiber, its microfiber layer is on the underside of a stay dry fleece layer, making it safe to use against baby’s skin. The other benefit of this insert is that the stay dry fleece layer pulls moisture away from baby’s skin, leaving them feeling comfortable and dry. Because who needs one more reason for your baby to wake up? Not. Me.
#Protip When cleaning microfiber, make sure you are washing on hot. It will help release the ammonia particles in your microfiber as your inserts agitate throughout the wash.
Cotton is the next fastest absorbing fiber after microfiber and can often be a very trim option as well. Organic cotton is more dense than microfiber making it trimmer and more easily worn by small babies. You will find that you love cotton in All In Ones like the GroVia Organic Cotton AIO and in boosters like the GroVia Organic Cotton Booster. They can also be layered easily underneath microfiber with a stay dry layer like the Thirsties Stay Dry Duo insert.
Besides your main source of absorbency and layering, cotton can also be used in other ways as a blend with another fiber to increase absorbency. The Thirsties Hemp Inserts are an organic cotton/hemp blend insert and very absorbent (due to the hemp) but also very trim (due to the organic cotton).
Because natural fibers naturally come clean more easily, washing cotton is quick and easy. However, don’t worry if you have stains on your cotton absorbency. A little time out in the sun will help remove stains and freshen up your diapers.
Not loving inserts? Cotton prefolds or cotton blend prefolds are an excellent way to get a fast absorbing fiber in your baby’s diaper without having to use a lay-in insert. Cotton prefolds are easy to use, easy to clean and can even be used for other things like burp rags or mattress protectors (because let’s be honest, no one likes to wake up covered in breastmilk and cleaning the sheets is the actual worst.)
#ProTip When layering your absorbency, you always want the fastest absorbing fiber on top and the slowest absorbing fiber on the bottom. This way, your diaper will pull moisture away from baby’s skin quickly and still be very absorbent.
Bamboo is the next slowest absorber, but is also highly absorbent. You will most often see bamboo in blends like the GroVia Bamboo Prefolds where it is the main source of absorbency. GroVia’s Bamboo Prefolds are actually 55% bamboo and 45% organic cotton, another instance where the blending of fibers can be beneficial.
Like the other natural fibers, bamboo is going to be easy to clean and easy to sun. To layer bamboo, place it underneath faster absorbing fibers like cotton and microfiber but above hemp boosters or prefolds.
Not loving prefolds? Bamboo boosters are a great way to increase absorbency in your cloth diapers without adding a lot of bulk. Remember to layer your boosters in order of absorbency from fastest to slowest and pay attention to both the bulk of your diaper and the total absorbency too.
#ProTip If you need extra absorbency with your prefolds, consider adding an organic cotton booster to put closest to baby’s skin as it will absorb faster and provide the extra absorbency you need.
Hemp is for sure the slowest absorber, but it’s also the most absorbent fiber. This means that while you may not want to use it for your top level of absorbency, you will love it for nighttime and naptime. Hemp is also a trim option, so it pairs well in blended fabrics, inserts or diapers. Choose hemp for heavy wetters and/or nighttime diapers.
Hemp is a natural fiber just like cotton and bamboo, so it will clean easily. You can also sun hemp just like you can the other fibers and watch your stains disappear. Hemp does have a tendency to stain, but don’t worry. You can sun out almost all stains fairly easily.
There are plenty of hemp blend options and they are all great for lots of absorbency. Thirsties Natural Newborn and One Size All In Ones are both made from a hemp/organic cotton blend. They are ultra trim, super customizable with 2 soaker pads and because they are also AIOs, they are very simple to use. These are one of our favorite systems to recommend to our clients as it solves so many problems while being so user friendly.
Another option is the Thirsties Duo Hemp Prefolds which are 25% more absorbent and durable than regular cotton. Not only are hemp prefolds more absorbent than cotton prefolds, they are also much trimmer, resulting in a better fit. The better your fit, the less likely you are to encounter leaks and end up with soaked clothes.
#ProTip Hemp is one of those fibers that absolutely needs to be thoroughly prepped. We recommend 4-6 wash and dry cycles for natural fibers like hemp. If you think you’ve prepped your diapers and they still don’t seem absorbent enough, keep washing. A fully prepped hemp insert or prefold should be one of the most absorbent things in your cloth diaper collection.
Remember that there are so many different ways to cloth diaper and none of them are necessarily ‘better’ than the others. The key is to find what works for your family best and go with it. That includes choosing which fibers you will use for absorbency. If what you are doing is currently working for your family, then that’s the ‘right’ way to cloth diaper for you.
Personally, I love the Thirsties hemp/organic cotton blend inserts. They are extremely absorbent and thin enough to use two in baby’s diaper if needed. Although they are slower absorbers, my two and a half year old could sleep all night in just two of these inserts and still wake up leak free. They are just that absorbent.
If I had to choose a second favorite, it would be GroVia bamboo/organic cotton prefolds. They are super trim but very absorbent and so easy to clean. I also love that I can continue to use them beyond our cloth diapering days!
Which fiber is your favorite? Leave us a comment telling us your favorite fiber combos! For more natural parenting tips and tricks, LIKE us on Facebook, FOLLOW us on Instagram at @ArcticBabyBottoms or join our community on Facebook at the Arctic Baby Bottoms Fan Group!