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Intro to Cloth Diapers

Beyold ... a new generation of cloth diapers!


Thinking of cloth diapering your little one? Heard a lot of buzz but worried about how much work it will be?

Don’t be scared – it’s not the sharp diaper pins and diaper pails full of water that previous generations used. In fact, reusable diapers today are so convenient, they should be in a whole new category!

For example, check out the Fuzzi Bunz one size diaper pictured on the left.

It’s not made of the soggy, heavy cotton of the last century but is soft, breathable AND waterproof.

Yay for science!

There's no folding required and it's adjustable all over the place (around the waist, around the legs, even the height of the diaper) so you only ever need to buy one set (fit from 7-35 lbs).

How easy is that?!

QUICK SUMMARY:

Not looking for a ton of information and just want the bottom line on the differences among all the kinds of cloth diapers? Here it is:

  • prefold diapers (flat, layered pieces of fabric with waterproof cover): most affordable and durable but has the steepest learning curve / most intimidating.
     
  • 2-piece diapers (a fitted cloth diaper inside and a waterproof cover): great middle-of-the-road option because is less expensive and more durable than pocket diapers (and usually dry faster) but not as convenient as an all-in-one (nothing beats a pocket when diapering a squirmy todder!).
     
  • Pocket and all-in-one diapers: super convenient, come in stylish colours and can have just one size from birth to 35 lbs but are also the most expensive and least durable (i.e. have to wash the whole diaper every time instead of just the prefold or fitted part, more wear on each diaper if using the one-size kind).

 



CLOTH DIAPERS EXPLAINED

First, why even  use cloth diapers?

Everyone knows cloth diapers are eco-friendly (maybe a little too hippy for some people, in fact) but that disposable are super convenient and absorbant. So why use cloth? Well, there are actually lots of reasons to at least try them and everyone has a different one that’s most important to them.

We can’t know what best works for you but here are a few that make sense to us:

  1. Cost: You don’t have to be a crunchy mama to appreciate the benefit reusables have for your bank account. If you do the math, it’s almost always cheaper to use cloth, especially if you buy “prefolds” or some of the more affordable options. You get the most bang for your buck if you buy them for the first child and use them for subsequent kids as well, but it actually works out to be cheaper if you buy them for your only/last child (believe us, we did the math!).

  2. Environment: Probably the most obvious reason, this one is a clear winner: using cloth diapers means you don’t contribute thousands of plastic disposables to landfill. The “carbon footprint” doesn’t stop there, either though. Using cloth helps limit the amount of natural resources (e.g. crude oil and trees) needed to make and transport all those diapers. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, though; if you’re having trouble with cloth (e.g. daycares or grandparents sometimes get scared off), even using cloth part-time helps make a difference.
     
  3. Health: Using cloth diapers and cloth diaper detergent reduces your baby's exposure to chemicals (i.e. "environmental toxins") which is always a good thing. For those with sensitive skin, the mix of chemicals used in disposable diapers and wipes can actually cause nasty rashes, even from those products labelled “Sensitive” or “Natural.” You don't have to have sensitive skin yourself to have a wee one like this, either: our little girl would get a bum so red it looked burned if you used regular wipes. Kinda makes you think maybe we shouldn't be using these products on any of our kids, actually.

    Not all the health risks of using disposables are fully known yet either. A 2000 German study of 48 boys found that those who wore disposable diapers had higher scrotum temperatures than those in cloth diapers which raises a theoretical risk of lower sperm count (fewer grandchildren for you!) but needs to be replicated before drawing any real conclusions. 

    If you do end up using disposables, look for ones labelled "chlorine-free", which cut down on toxic dioxin, a by-product of using chlorine to cleach disposables white.  


Types

New to the world of reusables and confused by all the jargon? Don’t worry … we were too but have since learned a lot and can help break it down for you. One important thing to understand is that the design of cloth diapers is always changing so categories aren't as clear cut now as they once were. The main differences include:

  1. 1 piece or two
  2. To stuff or not to stuff
  3. Convenience: 

Keep in mind, there are trade-offs between each kind, in terms of convenience, cost and style. Also, diapers can vary in how they fit (e.g. more “trim” than another brand) and fabrics they use (e.g. liners made of layers of either microfleece, hemp, cotton terry or a combination of any of those). It is difficult to know what you'll need in these areas ahead of time which is why we recommend getting a couple different kinds so you try them out and also to have options for when they’re in different stages (e.g. skinny growth spurt vs chub-up stage!).

Here are the basics, from easiest to hardest:

  • All in One (AIO): All-in-One’s (AIO’s): The most convenient of all the cloth diaper styles, all-in-ones most resemble disposable diapers in ease of use. As their name suggests, they’re one piece that is fitted and secured with velcro or snaps. The interior is super absorbent and the exterior is made from a breathable waterproof shell.

    Increasingly rare to find true AIO’s anymore though since almost all fitted diapers like this now have a place to add/remove liners, which means they’re called “Pocket” diapers (see above). Examples include Bum Genius Freetime Cloth Diapers.
    • Pros: Super convenient especially for babysitters, daycare or family members who want a diaper that’s really easy to change, very absorbent (e.g. good for nighttime). 
    • Cons: Longest drying time, due to the thick layers (e.g. can take 2 dryer cycles!), less durable than 2-piece systems.
  • Pocket: Our bestselling style, pocket diapers combine the convenience of an all-in-one with the easy cleaning of a 2-piece system. Usually designed with a waterproof, breathable fabric on the outside and a wicking, absorbing layer on the inside, they also have a handy sleeve ("pocket") inside you can stuff with an insert for different levels of absorbency. When baby is done wearing the diaper, you pull out the insert before throwing in your diaper pail or wetbag and it takes less time to dry. 

    Pocket diapers are great in that you control how absorbant they are by varying the number and type (hemp, microfiber, bamboo, ect) of inserts to use with them (e.g. double or triple stuff them for night). When it’s time to wash this kind of diaper, you pull the insert out, which helps with drying time.

    Variations: these diapers come in one-size-fits-all (e.g. Fuzzi Bunz One Size) or sized (e.g. sizes 1 and 2 or small, medium, large) for a more custom fit, especially for newborns and toddlers.
    • Pros: Easy to use compared to prefolds, cute patterns. Have a shorter drying time than AIOs because you take the bulk absorbant part out to dry them.
    • Cons: One of the most expensive styles. Have to stuff the diapers with inserts, which gets annoying. With some, the inserts agitate out in the wash (e.g. Thirsties) but with others (e.g. Fuzzi Bunz), you have to stick your hand in the pocket to pull the soiled insert out.
    • Examples: Fuzzi Bunz, Bum Genius, Thirsties, Bummis Tot Bots
       
  • Fitteds: A great middle-of-the-road approach, these are cloth diapers that have elastic at the legs and waist and do up on their own with snaps or velcro. Come in an array of sizes and absorbencies to match your baby’s needs. They look like a pocket or all-in-one but don’t have a waterproof outer layer – you use a cover with these, too.
    • Pros: Easier to use than prefolds, more affordable than all-in-ones. 
    • Cons: A bit less absorbent and durable than prefolds, has two pieces instead of one compared to the all-in-ones.
  • Prefolds: These cotton rectangle are the most similar to old-fashioned flat cloth diapers but have three panels of varying layers of absorbency (e.g. diapers listed as 4x6x4 have 4 layers of cotton gauze on the side panels with 6 layers in the middle).

    To use, you fold them into thirds and put them inside a cover to fasten them on. You can also use pins or snappis to make them more fitted inside the cover.
    • Pros: Most affordable option, most durable, very absorbent, dries fairy quickly. 
    • Cons: Have a longer learning curve than all-in-ones, especially for those who don’t do it all the time (e.g. grandparents, babysitters), take an extra second to put on (which can make a difference with a squirmy toddler), can be a little bulky.
 
ACCESSORIES:
  • Covers and Wraps: This is what you put around your fitted and pre-fold diapers for the waterproof layer. They are usually made from a polyester knit fabric laminated with a Polyurethane Laminate (PUL) but wool and fleece covers are also used (typically for breathability). Features to look for are lightweight vs heavyweight and leg gussets (nice to have for skinny legs or as extra protection against ”blowouts”). For more information, see Bummis’ Wrap Comparison Chart.

  • Liners: These are strips of cloth or disposable paper (like toilet paper) that you lay on top of the inside of the cloth diaper. People use these to make cleanup easier (just dump the disposable ones in the toilet), to protect the diaper from diaper cream (which can reduce a diaper's absorbancy) or help to wick away moisture more quickly (if their little one is having problems with wetness rash). Examples include Bummis Bio-Soft Disposable Liners and Bummis Washable Fleece Liners.

  • Inserts and Doublers: these are cloths (usually designed to fit in the pocket of a pocket diaper) that you can add to your current diaper to bump up its absorbancy (and bulk!) for heavy-wetting situations (e.g. overnight) instead of having to buy a different kind of diaper specifically for those times. They come in many different kinds of fabric (and combinations of fabrics), depending on your needs and preferences. Hemp and bamboo are super-absorbers while fleece, terry are best for wicking. Example includes Apple Cheeks Bamboo Insert.

  • Cloth wipes: 

  

NOW THAT YOU'RE AN EXPERT ...

  • Fabrics: Once you feel comfortable with the wide world of "prefolds" versus "AIO’s", you can start exploring the difference of using different fabrics. For example, you can find liners in cotton, organic cotton, fleece, terry, bamboo-terry, wool, flannel, hemp and bamboo! The best diapers usually feature a combination of a wicking layer directly against the skin and then an ultra-absorbent inner layer (e.g. Bummis Easy Fit as an example). Try experimenting with these to get the combination that's perfect for your little wetter.


A QUICK WORD ON LAUNDRY
Laundry routines are as varied and personal as cloth diaper systems, and you will have to figure out what works for you, your diapers, and your washing machine. But here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • To get the full value of your cloth diapers, you'll want to use a detergent that has been formulated for this purpase (i.e. doesn't feel a residual build-up that will eventually cause your diapers to have a sticky build-up and/or leak). Examples of great cloth-diaper detergent is Rockin Green. 
  • Surprisingly, you should use less detergent on diapers than you would on clothes. Generally, use about half the recommended amount of detergent in a top loader and a quarter of the recommended amount in a front-loader.
  • You will find what works for you, but some variation on a cold pre-wash, hot/cold wash, and extra cold rinse is common when laundering cloth diapers. Line drying is great for the planet, but any diapers with a PUL layer need to have a hot dryer cycle from time to time to seal up the waterproof barrier.
  • Baking soda and vinegar are popular (and economical) additions to cloth diaper laundry routines, when troubleshooting odour and/or build-up.
  • Wet pails (soaking soiled diapers until washing time) used to be the norm, but they are used with less and less frequency. Most people keep soiled diapers in a dry laundry pail or bag until they are ready to be washed. 
  • Hanging diapers out in the sun makes a world of difference in removing stains!
     

RESOURCES

We know it’s a lot of info but hope all this helps you find the diapering system that works best for you and your family. If you want more hands-on information, including How-To's, check out our favourite Cloth Diapering website, the Diaper Pin.