The Various Cloth Diaper Options, Compared

The Various Cloth Diaper Options, Compared

When you first begin your cloth diapering journey, you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the numerous available. You may wonder about the differences between various types of diapers, and the pros and cons of each. After all, this information would be helpful to have when deciding which kind of diaper will work best for your family.

In this article we will be discussing the various types of diapers and the reasons a person might choose one over the other.

— Flats—

The most basic of the diaper options, flat diapers are also the most versatile. They are a simple, square piece of fabric that can be folded in a number of different ways in order to improve absorbency in places you need it the most. These diapers can be unfolded into a single layer for easy, thorough cleaning.

Flat diapers can be worn alone and fastened with a diaper pin or a nifty little gadget called a Snappi. However, because flat diapers do not have elastic or built-in covers, it’s usually a better idea to wear them with a cover of some sort—which we will cover later in the article—in order to avoid leakage.

Pros: versatile; easy to clean well; inexpensive
Cons: generally require a cover on top; require folding before use

— Pre-Folds —

Pre-folds are also fairly basic, but instead of coming as one flat piece of fabric, they are a bit thicker, with extra layers in the middle section to help improve absorbency. Many people prefer pre-folds over flats because of these extra layers.

Like flat diapers, pre-folds can also be folded and used in a variety of ways, and can be pinned into place or used with a cover. Also like flats, pre-folds do not have elastic or any kind of waterproof covering, so it’s recommended that pre-folds be used with a cover, especially if you will be going out.

Pros: versatile; extra absorbent in the middle section; inexpensive
Cons: generally require a cover on top; require folding before use

— Fitted —

Yet another diaper that requires a separate cover (unless you want to risk leaks), fitteds look the most like a disposable diaper, and include leg elastic and sometimes even fasteners on the front. These are very straightforward and easy to learn to use, but they are also the most expensive of the diapers requiring covers. Fitteds are very absorbent though, and the best option by far for heavy wetters and nighttime diapers.

Pros: easy to use; absorbent
Cons: more expensive; generally require a cover on top

— PUL (Polyurethane Laminate) Covers —

Covers that are used over flat or pre-fold diapers. PUL covers are made from fabric covered in a thin layer of polyurethane. This makes the fabric waterproof, while still retaining its original flexibility.

Unfortunately, high temperatures can cause the waterproof layer to melt away, leaving the covers unusable. These covers include elastic in the legs and often at the waist of the diaper to help contain messes, and come with hook-and-loop or snap fasteners for ease of use.

Pros: can be inexpensive; contain messes well; hook-and-loop fasteners are simple to adjust; snap fasteners last for ages; can be reused after pee-only diaper changes
Cons: delamination can occur and cause leaks; leg elastic can be too tight and cause irritation

—  Wool Covers —

Just like PUL covers, wool covers are used to cover pre-fold and flat diapers and help contain messes. However, these covers are made with wool instead of polyurethane laminate.

While wool is much more difficult to care for properly, it is more breathable and less likely to cause irritation. These covers come in a variety of styles including pants, shorts, pull-up covers, wraps, and even skirts. With wool covers, you really don't even need to put additional bottoms on your baby.

Pros: great at keeping baby dry; breathable
Cons: more expensive; difficult to care for

— Pocket Diapers —

Perhaps the most popular cloth diaper design out there, pocket diapers offer the most balanced blend of customizability, ease of use, and affordability.

Pocket diapers are made up of two parts: a shell—which is essentially a PUL cover with a pocket on the inside—and absorbent inserts. The shell takes care of containing messes with a waterproof fabric, leg elastic, and fasteners. Meanwhile, the inserts take charge in the absorbency department. Inserts can be made out of a variety of materials including (but not limited to) bamboo and microfiber, and can be doubled or tripled up for extra absorbency depending on your baby’s needs.

Pros: easy to use; customizable for better absorbency; relatively inexpensive

Cons: requires prepping before use; shell can delaminate

— All-in-One Diapers —

All-in-one diapers are by far the simplest cloth diapers to use. These are ideal to send to daycare or hand over to hesitant grandparents, due to their ease of use.

All-in-ones look almost identical to disposable diapers. They include a built-in absorbency layer, waterproof PUL shell, leg and waist elastic, and snap or hook-and-loop fasteners on the front. However, these are also the most expensive diapers on the market, and can often be difficult to clean thoroughly due to the many layers involved and the inability to deconstruct the diaper.

Pros: easy to use; everything in one piece

Cons: much more expensive; can be more difficult to clean; shell can delaminate

While this is not a complete list of every available cloth diaper, it does include the most popular options out there. Some of the options not included on this list are contoured diapers, “all-in-two” diapers, and hybrid diapers.

Be sure to research all of your options and try a few different diapers before making an investment in a full cloth diaper stash. You’ll be glad you did!

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  • Kevin Thill