When I first started researching cloth diapers, one of the most confusing things to me was all of the different types of diapers. I put this together in case anyone else is interested in cloth diapering, or in case you're curious about the types of cloth diapers available.
Types of diapers:
Flat diapers are what most people envision when they think of cloth diapers. They are large, square shaped pieces of fabric, usually made from a single layer of cotton (birdseye or muslin weaves are most common). Flats are folded around the baby, and then they are pinned or snappi'd (a type of closure device) into place. They require the use of a cover (explained below). To see how to fold and and secure a flat diaper, go here.
A prefold is a rectangular piece of fabric, with extra absorbent layers sewn into the middle section. To use these, you can either tri-fold them and lay them inside of a cover, or you can fold them and hold them closed with a pin or a snapi. Prefolds also require the use of a cover. A prefold's absorbency will usually be identified as 4x8x4 (or similar). These numbers refer to how many layers are in each section (left, middle, right).
Most prefolds are made from cotton, but they can also be made from hemp or bamboo. The cotton prefolds are available in Chinese (often abbreviated as CPF) or Indian styles. Indian styles are slightly softer and less pilly than a CPF. Both styles are available in white (bleached) or unbleached. Because prefolds are made from cotton, they will need to be prepped (meaning they will be stripped of their natural oils) by washing them multiple times on hot. You can also prep them by boiling them with a squirt of Dawn. Cotton prefolds will shrink and quilt up when fully prepped.
Two of the most popular brands of prefolds are Green Mountain and Little Lions. Green Mountain prefolds are unique in that they are "sized," meaning they are cut and serged in order to fit babies without as much extra bulk. When buying a prefold, it is important to get a Diaper Service Quality (DSQ) grade prefold. Unfortunately, most of the big store brands of prefold diapers are not DSQ, and will not be as absorbent. Those types are better suited towards use as a burp cloth.
To see how to fold a prefold, go here.
Fitted diapers are a step up from prefolds and flats. These diapers are contoured to fit around the baby, and they have elastic on the legs and back for a more secure fit. They fasten with a built-in snap system or aplix/touchtape/velcro closure. These diapers resemble the fit of a disposable diaper when they are worn. Fitted diapers come in a variety of materials such as cotton, bamboo, and hemp. They can be solid or they can come in a variety of colors and prints. If you choose to have a print, it's basically for your own pleasure, as fitted diapers still require the use of a cover. There are a ton of different brands of fitted diapers available.
A contour diaper is similar to a fitted, except that they usually do not contain elastic on the back or on the legs. These diapers must be pulled to fit around the baby, and then pinned or snappi'd into place. They also require the use of a cover.
Covers are required when using any of the above diaper systems. They are often fitted and provide a waterproof barrier around the diaper. There are several different types of covers available:
- Polyurethane Laminated (PUL) - A specially designed fabric that has been heat laminated to a layer of polyurethane. PUL is waterproof and able to withstand multiple washings.
- Fleece - Fleece is a great alternative to PUL, as it is a breathable, waterproof fabric. Because fleece is made from 1005 polyester, it allows the air around the diaper to circulate. Fleece covers are sometimes referred to as "soakers." They dry quickly and can withstand heavy washing.
- Wool - Wool is a naturally waterproof fabric that can also be utilized as a diaper cover. These covers can be knitted together (often called shorties, longies, or woolies), or they can be fitted. Many cloth diaper users prefer to use wool, as it is natural fiber and is breathable in any climate. Wool is highly absorbent, yet stays dry to the touch. Wool cannot be dried in the dryer, or it will shrink.
Bottom: Imse Vimse Organic Cotton Velour
Pocket diapers consist of an outer waterproof layer, and an inner stay-dry layer (usually microfleece or suedecloth), which is designed to wick moisture away from the baby's skin. The diaper is called a pocket because a pocket exists between the two layers that allows you to "stuff" inserts into in order to provide a customizable absorbency. Popular brands include BumGenius, Fuzzi Bunz, and Blueberry.
A Blueberry Minky Cow Print Diaper:
And a close up of the pocket. I left the insert out a bit so you can see how to stuff it. To use the diaper, obviously, you would have to have the insert in the pocket or you risk it wicking onto clothes:
All In One (AIO):
Are similar to pockets, except for the fact that that extra absorbency is built into the diaper and is not removable. These diapers have either snaps or hook-and loop (velcro/aplix) closures. These are the cloth diapers that most resemble a disposable diaper in design and appearance when worn. They do not require pinning, snappi, or covers, and as a result, are one of the most user friendly systems available. The disadvantage to these diapers is that they are often more expensive than the other options, and they often require longer drying times.
All In 2 (AI2):
Very similar to the AIO, except that the absorbent layers snap into the outer diaper shell. The shell can be reused as long as it is not soiled. AI2's will usually dry faster than an AIO because they have the ability to be taken apart and dried separately.