Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cloth Diapering 101: Part 1, The Diapers

When I started this blog, it was primarily so that a few people could follow my cloth diapering adventures.  In the beginning, I stayed somewhat on topic and a majority of the posts were about cloth diapering and what I was learning.  However, I recently realized that I never went over the basics of cloth diapering!  After talking a few friends through the first stages of cloth I have decided I might as well cover it all here.  I'm going to break it all down so that it's not overwhelming (hopefully).  Today's topic:  The Diapers.  What is needed & what kinds are there.

In order for cloth diapers to do their job, you need three basic things:
1.  Something absorbent
2.  Something waterproof
3.  Something to keep it closed

There are many variations on all of these, and that is probably why the most overwhelming part of cloth diapering is making sense of it all.  Once you understand which part does what, it's easiest to make decisions about what your preferences would be.

BumGenius newborn AIO
The most basic, easiest to use and understand type of diaper is the All-In-One (AIO).  Like the name says, all three requirements are in one piece.  Nothing to stuff, nothing to adjust, you use it exactly like you would a disposable diaper except you wash & reuse it instead of toss it away.  These are great for newborns, while you're getting used to cloth diapering, and for baby-sitters and other reluctant-to-cloth caregivers.  The downfall is that these diapers are usually sized and you will need to upgrade your stash (read: spend more money) when your little one outgrows each size.  Also, since nothing comes apart they take a while to dry.  I am seeing these "true AIO" diapers less and less, and mostly only in newborn sizes.  However BumGenius recently came out with what they are calling a FreeTime AIO diaper, and this seems to be a new version of an AIO but the layers of absorbancy are exposed & I imagine they take less time to dry than other AIO's since it is open.  I have not yet tried these myself, but they do seem like they would be really easy to use.  The variations on the AIO's are usually just with how they fasten, and these are the same for most other diapers as well - either aplix (velcro) or snaps, and some offer the umbilical snap-down for newborns.  Aplix is really easy to use, especially for newborns, however some people encounter problems with it wearing out over time.  If you are only getting the newborn AIO's, you'll probably be fine, and if you're handy with a sewing machine you can easily replace the aplix.  Besides CottonBabies, other brands of AIO's are:  Rumparooz Lil' Joey's and Swaddlebees.

The Pocket Diaper in a Nutshell
The next type of diaper is often times referred to as an AIO, however there are two parts to it.  This is the pocket diaper.  It's probably the most popular type of diaper out there.  They are easy to use, you can customize absorbancy by changing what you stuff it with, and they are often a one-size-fits-all (OS) which is very appealing to the wallet!  The outside shell of the diaper is your "something waterproof" (usually PUL - polyurethane laminated fabric) and "something to keep it closed".  Most of them come with the "something absorbent" and you can pick & choose what you want to use or buy additional inserts.  Basically you have the outside shell of the diaper and there is an opening (pocket), usually in the back where you can add your absorbent layers, called inserts or soakers.  Many of these are made out of microfiber materials, however you can also stuff them with other types of inserts, including cottons and wools, and most of them can accommodate prefolds as well (we'll get to those later).
Tweedle Bugs OS Pocket Diaper

As I mentioned before, many of these are OS and there are a few ways to achieve this.  Most brands use the snap-down method - They will have several rows of snaps on the front of the diaper where the size of the diaper is adjusted by folding the top row of snaps down and snapping it into place on one of the designated rows.  This is probably the most popular method and is offered with BumGenius, Rumparooz, Tweedle Bugs and GroVia.  Others have adjustable elastic hidden in the legs of the diapers like FuzziBunz, and others have Slide2Size like SoftBums, which is a toggle & drawstring system hidden in the legs & front panel of the diaper so you can custom fit the diaper to your baby instead of move between pre-designated sizes.  But not all pocket diapers are OS; there are quite a few sized pocket diapers out there if you don't want to deal with snapping and unsnapping every time you use a diaper.  Happy Heinys and FuzziBunz offer sized pocket diapers, and Thirsties bridges the gap and offers two sizes that each adjust using snaps.

The only downside that I have found while using these OS diapers is that they can be a bit bulkier on smaller babies, and too big for some newborns.  They claim to be ideal for babies as small as 8 lbs, but I think it's more like 10-12 lbs.  While I think that OS pocket diapers are definitely the way to go for all of your cloth diapering needs, I do think that newborn sized diapers should be used in those first few weeks/months/however long they fit depending on how big your baby is.  The good news is that these diapers got me through potty training with my daughter and she wore them until she was 2 and a half years old, and I kept one of the newborn sizes around for playing with dolls as she gets older :)

Here's where things start to get a little blurry and confusing.  AI2's, covers, prefolds.  Sometimes there's not much of a difference between an AI2 and a diaper cover.  Sometimes they are interchangeable and can be used with many types of inserts, sometimes they are brand specific.

SoftBums Echo AI2 Diaper
Let's start with the All-In-Two (AI2).  Like a pocket diaper, the outside shell of the diaper is your "something waterproof" (PUL) and "something to keep it closed".  The difference is that the "something absorbent" either snaps into place or gets tucked into flaps without being covered by a pocket.  The aim of these diapers is to re-use the outer shell for multiple diaper changes and only have to replace the soiled insert.  The most popular brands of these are SoftBums, gDiapers, and the Flip System.  The downside to these is if the shell is lined with any kind of soft material it will get wet with the insert and I am not personally comfortable reusing a wet shell, so I just use those diapers once and am done with them until they are washed.  Both the Flip System & gDiapers offer disposable inserts as well as cloth inserts.  I don't see the point of that too much, but I figured I should mention it. Some of these shells can be used as diaper covers for any number of absorbent layers, which brings us to yet another side of cloth diapering:  Prefolds.

Prefold with Diaper Pins
What are Prefolds?  Prefolds are probably what most people think of when they think of cloth diapers.  Old-school, white cotton diapers.   Prefolds are the "something absorbent" part of diapers and need to be coupled with "something waterproof" and "something to keep it closed".  Years ago, these diapers would be held together with diaper pins and then rubber pants would be put over them as a waterproofing layer.  Luckily, there have been many advancements in cloth diapering, and the pins & rubber pants aren't really necessary, thanks to diaper covers.

Prefold in a Thirsties Cover
Diaper covers are the updated version of rubber pants.  They are the "something waterproof" (PUL) and the "something to keep it closed" portions of the cloth diapering formula.  Both the Flip System & the SoftBums Omni are large enough to accommodate a prefold.  And like I mentioned earlier, most pocket diapers can be stuffed with prefolds for extra absorbency.  But for designated diaper covers, just fold the prefold in threes, lay in the center of the shell or diaper cover, and close the diaper cover around your baby as usual.  When the time comes to change the diaper, the shell or cover can be reused through multiple changes, just use a new prefold.  Prefolds & covers are probably the cheapest way to cloth diaper your babies.  Covers are made in all shapes and sizes, some are OS, some are sized, some are specifically for newborns, some are aplix, some are snapped.  My favorite covers are the Flip System, Econobum, and Thirsties Duo Wrap.  But be forewarned - the Duo Wrap runs very big, so the smaller size will last for quite a while.  Diaper covers don't have to be used with just prefolds either; you can use any kind of absorbent material that will fit into them.  Some people use old flannel sheets or t-shirts in lieu of prefolds. And there are plenty of stay-dry inserts out there that can be used in conjunction with covers as well.  And then there are fitted diapers.

Fitted diapers are sized diapers that have a closure on them (aplix or snaps), and look very similar to every other diaper we have talked about.  However, there is no waterproof layer to them so you would still need a diaper cover over these.  In my opinion, I'm not sure why these even exist anymore but they do, and you should be aware of them because they seem to have everything - just not the "something waterproof" part, which is SUPER important!  When buying your diapers make sure you know what you're getting.  If you want something waterproof, make sure the description includes a waterproof layer or PUL.

Have I confused you yet, or are you still with me?

The important thing is not to get overwhelmed.  Decide what kinds of diapers you want to use (pocket, AIO, covers & prefolds) and only price the brands that make what you're looking for.  You won't really know what works best for you and your baby until you start trying things out, so if you're not sure what you want to try, buy a few things and then only stock up on what you really like.  If you're starting with a newborn, I recommend getting a few newborn sized AIO's to start out with.  Then I would recommend getting a pocket diaper and a cover and some prefolds.  Prefolds will never go to waste.  Even if you don't use them as diapers, you can use them as burp rags, dish cloths, cleaning rags, etc.  And if anything is confusing or you're not sure how to use/fold it, try YouTube.  I am willing to guarantee that someone has posted a video answering your question. 

Good luck!

I have to take time here to thank my friend Julia for being my go-to cloth diapering guru.  If it wasn't for her, I probably would have freaked out too much to even try CD-ing.  She has some interesting things going on over at her blog, so check her out at Greenish Me :)


  1. Oh wow! Thanks for the shout out! I was just checking in, quite a comprehensive post, I like it! And the superman dipe is done....

    1. I couldn't post all of that and not show you some link love :) You have been a godsend through all of this!