Getting Familiar with Cloth Diapers

If you’re new to the world of cloth diapers, you might be surprised to learn that there’s not only more than one type of cloth diaper, but there are all sorts of different types of inserts, styles, and more! Between raising two kids in cloth diapers and running Pumpkin’s, we’ve gotten pretty familiar with the ins and outs of cloth diapering, and are happy to share some of that knowledge with you today. There really are multiple types of and terms for cloth diapers, so I thought that I would try to break them all down for you in one spot, while also including a few other helpful links and resources along the way – so let’s get started!

Breaking Down a Cloth Diaper

With any cloth diaper, there are two main components: the lining, and the insert.

PUL (Polyurethane laminate) – The water-resistant fabric that comprises the outermost layer of all diapers (except fitted) and one-size covers.  If the inner components of the diaper are saturated with wetness, the PUL fabric will become damp.

Different Types of Inserts

  • Microfiber – An inexpensive synthetic material that is fast absorbing, but prone to compression leaks. Microfiber should also never be directly against baby’s skin as it can be extremely drying and irritating.
  • Cotton – The very first diaper material used by our grandmothers. Makes for great flats or prefolds (see below). Cotton is more absorbent than microfiber, but less so than bamboo or hemp.
  • Bamboo – A heavily-processed fabric made from natural raw materials. This is an excellent material for increasing absorbency, although it absorbs at a slower rate than microfiber. Very soft to the touch.
  • Hemp – The ‘big guns’ of absorbency, and a natural fibre, to boot! This is my all-time favorite material for boosting diaper absorbency. The only downside is that hemp can become stiff and rough to the touch with usage.


Cloth Diaper Styles 

  • All-In-One (AIO) – This style of diaper has all of the components sewn together. The inserts are usually attached to the inner liner as a flap. Super easy to use as there are no extra parts, but they do generally take longer to dry. Example: TotsBots or BumGenius Freetimes.

  • All-In-Two (AI2) or Hybrid – These diapers are designed as a two-part system with a reusable cover-and-snap, or lay-in inserts. Example: Bestbottom or Grovia systems.

  • Pocket diaper – This term is pretty straight-forward. These diapers are designed with a pocket opening to stuff inserts into. This style gives a great deal of customization with regard to absorbency, as you can add multiple inserts and different fabrics to try to find your perfect combination! Example: Applecheeks.

  • Fitted diaper – A diaper that does not have a water-resistant outer layer. Essentially, all layers and areas of this diaper are absorbent. Fitted diapers are the most common style of nighttime diaper, due to the added absorbency.  These diapers DO require a cover. Example: Sloomb, Motherease, Lily & Frank.

  • Flats or Prefolds – Simple squares of fabric that are folded – either into pads, or around baby and secured with a Snappi – inside of a cover.  These can also be used as inserts or boosters in other diaper styles, but will likely contribute to overall diaper bulk. Example: Birdseye flats, flour sack towels.

  • Covers – Can be made of PUL, fleece or wool. To be used over flats, prefolds, and fitted diapers. PUL and fleece are low maintenance, with wool requiring handwashing and occasional lanolizing to maintain water resistance.
  • Boosters – Smaller in size than a typical diaper insert. Used to add absorbency.
  • One-size – Refers to a ‘grow with baby’ style that has adjustable rise snaps to achieve different sizes.  Most one-size systems do not generally start to fit well until 8-10+ pounds.

No matter which diapering style you choose to go with, the most important component is FIT! All elastics need to be snug (especially in the legs) in order to prevent leaks, and the water-resistant layer must be covering all absorbent parts in order to prevent wicking. A simple way to double-check for leg gaps is to place baby’s legs into a froggy position while they lay on their back. One things to be sure to note is that yes, cloth-diapered babes do need to be changed more frequently than disposable-wearing babies. The general rule of thumb is to change cloth diapers every 2 hours, to keep baby feeling fresh, dry, and comfy!

Now that you’ve got a good grasp on the different types of cloth diapers out there, I thought it might be nice to include a few tips and tricks for washing cloth diapers at home in the Calgary area! A lot has changed in the diapering world over the past 5 years, and you might be surprised to learn that there are no longer special requirements for washing cloth diapers.

For these tips and tricks, we’ve got some great links from The Monarch Mommy, a local SAHM and friend of Pumpkin’s! She’s got some great advice on choosing a cloth diaper detergent, and some helpful tips when it comes to washing diapers in hard water. One thing we’ll point out is that once you have chosen your detergent of choice, it is very important to test your home’s water hardness. The specific ppm of the water that comes out of your taps will determine if you need to add a water softener (Borax in Canada) to your diaper laundry. It’s generally not recommended to just go by your community’s average water hardness value, as contributing factors such as the age of your water pipes and hot water tank can greatly affect the hardness in your own home’s water compared to that of your neighbours! Additionally, the amount of water softener needed is not necessarily the same for all detergents – plant-based or ‘free and clear’ varieties often require more softening than a synthetic powdered detergent.

Finally, The Monarch Mommy also has some great tips on how to safely bleach cloth diapers, in order to thoroughly disinfect them when it’s necessary to do so. If you are purchasing pre-loved diapers (which can be a huge cost savings, so why not?!?), it’s very important that you do a bleach soak in order to ensure the new-to-you diapers are disinfected before they go anywhere near baby! Lastly, I want to highlight one important detail: your bleach must specify that it is a disinfecting product, or list a sodium hypochlorite concentration of greater than 5% in order for it to be effective.

Confused yet?? Give us a call at Pumpkin’s Diaper Delivery Service – we’re always happy to chat about finding the best diapers and cleaning techniques for your baby. Or, better yet, sign up for our handy cloth diaper service, and let us worry about which detergents to use and how to handle the wash – all you have to do is give us a call once you bring baby home!