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Cloth Diaper 101: The Basics

Cloth Diaper 101

A lot of people ask me, “What are the basics?  How does cloth diapering work and what does a diaper consist of?  Which are the easiest?”

Okay, so here are some basics:
1. You will need something to absorb (sometimes this is an attached or lay in soaker that you see inside the diaper and sometimes this is built into the diaper (all in one diapers).
2. You will need something waterproof (or at least water retardant) to keep everything inside the diaper and not on baby’s clothes, bedding, or the person holding baby.
There are a few main types of diaper systems that do those basic things:

* a flat / prefold with a cover – this is the most economical system. You have a rectangular fabric that will absorb/ soak and you have a water proof cover that will contain. The rectangular fabric can be folded around the baby, or folded into thirds and lain into a cover and will basically lay between the baby’s legs. People on a major budged (as I was when I first began to cloth diaper) can be very creative with this method. They can place virtually any soft, absorbent cotton material inside the cover including receiving blankets, burp rags, etc. This system is very easy to wash, staining is minimal since the absorbent materials are usually only 1-3 layers, and the covers can be rinsed and dried between uses that do not contain poo.
* fitted diapers/ ai2 (all in two)/ hybrid diapers/ contours – these are diapers that are shaped like a disposable diaper so they are easy to put on. Some secure with diaper pins/ snappis while others use velcro or snaps (what I use unless a customized otherwise). Snaps last the longest, while velcro gets lint over time and eventually needs replacement. These diapers need a cover as they are not water proof, however hybrid diapers (what I make) are water retardant and can be worn coverless at home or while potty training.
* pocket diaper – this is basically a cover with a layer of fabric inside. There is a hole somewhere in the diaper that allows you to put in your absorbency in between the outer and inner layers.
*all in one (ai1) – These diapers are most like disposable diapers. They do not need any extra parts or pieces.
The pros: they are easiest to use.
Cons: they are a little harder to wash and dry since they have many layers that germs can get trapped into. This can cause stench over time. They are the most expensive system, and the least customizable as far as absorbency.

Diaper cover basics:
There are three main materials: PUL, polyester fleece, wool.
PUL- is a breathable waterproof synthetic material. It is economical and lasts about 1-3 years of use depending on care. This is what all in one diapers use on the outside.
Polyester fleece- Breathable synthetic material that is water retardant, but not waterproof. Some parents choose this if their children are allergic to the other options (very rare) or because it is by far the cheapest. With correct absorbency, this can be almost as good as PUL.
Wool- The best material. When treated with lanolin, they are totally waterproof, naturally microbial, antibacterial, etc. These covers have the longest life but are by far the most expensive.  Interestingly, wool is the coolest material followed by fleece and lastly PUL.  This has to do with the breathe-ability of each respective fabric.

A few things to consider when buying cloth and some personal recommendations regardless of where you buy:
*Look for companies that are CPSIA compliant. This ensures that your diapers are compliant and free from lead and other harmful chemicals often found in imported fabrics.
*Never buy diapers made from vinyl. Vinyl is not breathable and can cause overheating of the reproductive organs as well as diaper rashes.
*Never buy the cheap Chinese diapers. They are not ethically produced (often made in child sweat shops) and are not compliant for chemical content. .
* Always look at the snap usage/ positions on WAHM diapers. Some WAHMs try to save a little money and use male snaps (the ones that stick out) in places where the female snaps should go. They do this because in our production, we use way more female snaps on a diaper and they try to balance out their raw materials instead of buying more of the appropriate snap piece. Why does this matter? If the top row of diaper snaps are sticking out, or if the panel on the crotch is made up of male snaps, these can dig into baby’s delicate skin.

(Originally posted July 1, 2015 on my old site)

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