Thinking of making the switch to cloth diapers? Well, you’re not alone. Whether they’re looking to save money or the planet, parents everywhere are ditching their disposables for reusable cloth diapers.
For a newbie, the dizzying array of choices available in this growing consumer market can be overwhelming.
If you’re having trouble picking the kind that’s right for you and your child, here’s a detailed breakdown of all the types of cloth diapers.
6 Types of Cloth Diapers
The first type of cloth diaper we are going to discuss is the flat fold diapers. Flat-fold diapers are essentially just a large piece of cloth that you can fold around your baby.
Even though a variety of new kinds have emerged in recent years, these simple no-frills diapers continue to be one of the most popular types of cloth diapers. There are a lot of reasons for this.
For starters, they’re the least expensive option. Flats will run you about $2 each for a single, and you can buy packs of 10 for under $10 online. For extra savings, you can even make them yourself out of flour sack towels.
They’re also a one-size-fits-all solution. Flat-fold diapers can be adjusted and worn by babies of all shapes and sizes, from newborns to toddlers making the transition to using a toilet.
Traditionally made from a single layer of highly absorbent and comfortable birdseye cotton, flats are easy to clean.
They can be washed and rinsed quickly and don’t take long to dry whether you use a machine or a clothesline.
At the same time, flats have to be folded and secured properly using pins and a diaper cover to be 100% waterproof.
While it’s not hard to learn to properly fold a flat, it does add a little extra time to your daily diaper change routine, and it might be inconvenient for someone who is accustomed to disposables.
Invented in 1950, prefolds were the only kind of commercial diapers before disposables came along a decade later, and they’re the most popular kind of cloth diaper in the United States today.
These are similar to flats but they are pre-folded and sewn together into three panels, with one or more layers added to the center panel to give it a little more absorbing power.
On average, pre-fold diapers tend to cost slightly more than flat-fold diapers but they’re still relatively inexpensive and are one of the most economical cloth diaper options out there.
They also have many of the same advantages as flats. They’re just as easy to clean, for example.
Even though pre-fold diapers offer some more layers of absorbent material, they are not totally waterproof by themselves, either.
Like you have to do with flats, you still need to use a separate diaper cover along with your prefolds in order to guard against any leaks.
Relative to flats, prefolds do have one major disadvantage. With flat fold diapers, you can customize the fold to your baby’s size, but you’ll have to buy new sets of pre-fold diapers as your child grows.
Made from a single piece of absorbent material, fitted cloth diapers do not have to be folded at all. For this reason, they are a good choice if you rely a lot on babysitters and relatives.
They will not need to learn the ins and outs of folding a flat or prefold.
Shaped like a standard diaper, they are equipped with elastic bands around the waist and legs so they fit more snugly to your baby’s body.
Some have additional features like snaps or Velcro to create a tighter fit.
While flats and prefolds tend to be made mostly from birdseye cotton or hemp, fitteds come in a wider range of materials and you can buy them with all sorts of cute styles and patterns.
This makes them a popular choice among fashion-minded parents.
Whereas prefolds have a section that is reinforced, the absorbent layer of a fitted diaper covers the whole surface, so they offer greater all-over absorbency.
However, they still require a separate diaper cover like the others.
The biggest downside of fitted diapers is that the little add-ons tend to make them more expensive than flats or prefolds.
Also, their extra absorbency is a two-edged sword because it means they also take longer to dry.
Tonsidered by many to be the best of all the types of cloth diapers, the selling point of hybrid diapers is that they are the best of both worlds. They’re designed to give you the convenience of disposables when you need it without the waste or cost.
The basic hybrid setup consists of a waterproof outer cover coupled with an insert made of cloth or disposable materials.
The cloth inserts used in hybrids are rectangular strips of fabric made from hemp, cotton, microfiber, or other absorbent materials.
When it is not convenient to use inserts, you can opt for the single-use ones. These are generally inexpensive. A box or a roll of 100 can be bought online for less than $10.
With a disposable option, hybrids provide a lot of flexibility for busy parents. You can use the cloth insert at home then switch to disposable kind when you are on a road trip or you’re out and about running errands.
The specific designs and features of hybrids vary from brand to brand. Some are sized, which means you’ll have to buy new ones when your baby gets bigger.
Others are one-size-fits-all. Some hybrids are contoured and feature elastic, like fitted diapers. Others do not.
Pockets and Sleeves
Like hybrids, pocket diapers have a two-piece setup, with an absorbent insert that goes into the pocket of a cloth cover.
The outer cover is made out of a water-resistant material lined with a moisture-wicking fabric that pulls the moisture off your baby’s skin.
This helps your baby feel dry while preventing rashes and irritation of your child’s delicate skin.
The most commonly used linings in a pocket diaper are fleece and suede-cloth, both of which are synthetic materials with moisture-wicking properties.
Fleece is softer and less likely to cause irritation, so if your baby has sensitive skin, you might want to choose that over suede-cloth covers.
The inserts are made from a range of natural and synthetic materials with absorbent properties, including microfiber, hemp, cotton, and wool.
Because they are inexpensive to manufacture, microfiber inserts are the most common type you will find in pocket diapers.
However, many parents get better results with other kinds, like bamboo or hemp, so when shopping for a pocket diaper, you should check to see what options each brand offers.
While pocket diapers are generally great for the overall comfort of your baby and they allow you to customize the absorbency, they also have some disadvantages that you should consider.
Relative to other kinds of diapers, they can be somewhat bulky and ill-fitting. Another major disadvantage of pocket diapers is having to reach into the pocket to remove the soiled insert. It can be somewhat gross.
Sleeve diapers are a variation on the pocket diaper that addresses this issue. Instead of having a pocket, sleeve diapers have openings on two ends, so you don’t have to reach in and pull out the insert every time.
With sleeve diapers, you can just toss the whole thing into the laundry, and the insert will shake itself loose over the course of the wash cycle.
Most cloth diapers require two or more parts to get the same absorbency and waterproofing as a disposable. Flats, prefolds, and fitteds need to have a separate diaper cover. Hybrids and pockets have inserts that have to be changed out.
As the name implies, the all-in-one cloth diaper simplifies things with a one-piece all-inclusive design.
With an all-in-one diaper, the absorbent layer is sewn right into a water-resistant cover.
It looks and functions just like a cloth version of a disposable diaper, so they fit great and folks making the transition will have an easier time adjusting.
It also means that relatives and other caregivers don’t have to learn any new tricks.
Without any inserts, all-in-ones are simpler to clean compared to some other options, like pocket diapers.
On the flip side, they also take longer to dry because the absorbent layer is sewn in. You also have to use a new one with each change.
All-in-ones are an excellent choice if you don’t mind the extra cost. They’re the most expensive type of cloth diapers.
According to the highest estimates, using all-in-ones could cost you upwards of $900 from birth to toilet training, which is roughly twice what you’ll spend on flats.
How Much Can I Save by Switching to Cloth Diapers?
The different kinds of cloth diapers vary in cost significantly, so the exact amount you’ll save depends on what type you use. Still, you’ll see enormous cost savings with cloth diapers regardless.
On average, a child uses 6,000 diapers in the first two years of his or her life. With disposable diapers, that totals out to about $70 a month and $840 a year.
With flats, the most economical kind of cloth diapers, you can expect to pay between $300 to $400 for one child altogether. At the highest end, all-in-ones will cost you $900 total.
Also, since cloth diapers are reusable, these cost savings will compound with each additional child you have.
How Many Cloth Diapers Do I Need?
It varies at different phases of a child’s development. Newborns and infants use 10 to 12 diapers daily while toddlers require six to eight. Once you get to toilet training, it drops down to about four.
For newborns, that translates to about two or three dozen individual flats, prefolds, fitteds or all-in-ones or that many sets of covers and inserts if you use pockets or hybrids.
If you’re using one-size diapers like flats, then those will be all you ever need. But for other kinds, you’ll need to buy new ones as your child grows.
How Do I Clean Cloth Diapers?
Cleaning a cloth diaper isn’t that much different from doing normal laundry, but there are a few extra steps you should take.
After changing, shake out any solid waste into the toilet, then rinse the diaper under cold water and put it in a pail lined with plastic.
You can also put diapers in a bucket full of water to pre-soak them before washing. If your diapers have inserts, you’ll want to remove them before starting a load.
You’ll first run them through a cold rinse cycle with no detergent followed by a normal hot wash cycle with a quarter cup of detergent.
Afterward, cold rinse them a second time to completely remove any residue that might irritate your baby’s delicate skin.
Dry diapers on high heat. If you’re not in a rush, sun-drying is also a good option because it can help get rid of any stains.
Are Cloth Diapers Better for the Environment?
Cloth diapers significantly cut down on waste. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 20 billion disposable diapers are dumped into U.S. landfills every year.
That equals about 3.5 million tons of waste. And it’s going to be sitting there for a while since disposable diapers take about 500 years to biodegrade.
It also takes about 200,000 trees in the United States alone to produce disposable diapers.
And as diapers decompose, they release the greenhouse gas methane into the air as well as toxic organic chemicals like toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, and dipentene that have proven to be harmful to humans.
At the same time, cloth diapers do have their own environmental impacts to consider. The frequent laundering that cloth diapers require increases water and electricity usage.
However, this can be reduced with a few practices, like always drying your diapers on a clothesline instead of a dryer.
Choosing the right kind of cloth diaper might seem like a trivial decision to some people, but to a new parent, it has serious consequences.
The right choice could make your life easier while saving you time and money. The wrong one could add to your hassle in a stress-filled time.
When making a decision, you should consider the relative advantages of the different types of cloth diapers in terms of how easy they are to use and clean as well as costs and of course, the comfort of your little one.
If you have something to share about your experience or your favorite cloth diaper, leave a comment below.