First of all, I recommend you first choose what your favorite style(s) are regardless of cost. To have the most positive experience cloth diapering, you want to have a product that best fits your family’s needs. I always say if there’s a will there’s a way and if you budget is tight, consider purchasing used or making your own!
I recommend buying a variety of diaper styles regardless of which you decide to have as your main style. There will always be a time, place or age of your child where another style or option may make life a little easier. For example, I sold some of my velcro diapers to a friend to fund the purchase of more snap diapers years ago, but my daughter went through multiple phases where I needed to grab the velcro diapers I had for a quick diaper change on a very squirmy baby. I have since added some more velcro diapers to my stash of diapers and they are also the ones I typically set out for babysitters to use.
Prefolds are the most economical method of cloth diapering. The most common material used is cotton, available in Chinese or Indian varieties, bleached or unbleached. Indian cotton is slightly softer. Bamboo and hemp are becoming more popular, because of their antimicrobial properties and absorption power although they have a slightly higher price tag than cotton.
Prefolds need to be pre-washed 2-4 times before use (to get out natural oils) and get more absorbent the more they are washed. Prefolds will also shrink and “fluff-up” after they are pre-washed. Prefolds do not have lining to wick moisture away from baby’s bottom, but separate liners may be purchased and set on top.
Liners are available in microfleece or disposable varieties. You may also purchase microfleece by-the-yard and easily make your own liners to use with prefolds, fitted and contour diapers. Liners are also perfect to use to make cleaning up solids easier or when using diaper rash cremes, so you don’t get build up on the diaper itself. Remember liners are different from inserts or doublers, which are thicker and used stuffed inside the pocket of a diaper.
Fitted & Contour
Fitted and contour diapers require a cover. The difference between the two is that contoured diapers do not have elastic or closure. Contours are like a prefold, but in an hourglass shape to contour better around baby’s bottom. Contours are cheaper, but less convenient. They also tend to have a larger size range. Fitted diapers are like AIOs without a built-in cover and are made entirely of absorbent materials. So the advantage is more absorption and the disadvantage is that you need a separate diaper cover.
All-in-one diapers are the most convenient and similar to disposals of all the different styles, but can take a little longer to dry. The cover and the soaker are all sewn together, so no stuffing and un-stuffing is necessary at laundry time. These are available in both sized and one size, so can more economical than they have ever been, but the sized diapers will be a bit more of an investment. I like to have some AIO diapers on hand because they are trimmer and don’t require stuffing or un-stuffing like their pocket counter-parts. Cloth-friendly daycare facilities often require this style of diaper. If you choose to go the AIO route, you may want to make sure they have this additional pocket feature so you can adjust the absorbency when necessary at nap time or if they are a heavy wetter.
All-in-two diapers (AI2) mean that an insert snaps or sets in the cover and the cover can be reused as long as it is not soiled. These are a more economical choice for an all-in-one style diaper, but do take a little extra step, although it may not be as involved as stuffing a pocket diapers. Inserts may snap in, set in with support or just set on top. The advantage over AIO diapers is that drying time may be reduced since the insert is removable and you can save money, however, BMs can be messier to clean up as they get stuck in the crevices of the insert or between the insert and cover.
Pocket & Sleeve
Pockets are like AIOs, but the soaker is not sewn in. The pockets need to be stuffed before use and un-stuffed when putting them in the diaper pail/laundry. The advantage is they dry quicker and you can add extra absorption for your specific needs. Many AIO diapers are starting to have a pocket feature to add doublers/extra absorption and pockets are also available in some fitted diapers. These are sold in sizes like the AIOs, but One Size diapers typically use the pocket style as well.
Sleeve diapers are pocket diapers that have a pocket in the front and back creating a sleeve through which the inserts can agitate out in the wash. This eliminates the un-stuffing step for pocket diapers, making them more user-friendly and less messy.
One Size diapers are the most economical choice. For a few more dollars per diaper you only have to buy diapers once rather than two, three or even four sizes of diapers. These diapers heighten and widen, so they grow with your baby. Some one size diapers fold over to expose additional velcro or snaps or use three or four rows of snaps in the front of the diaper to heighten or lower the rise. Diapers such as the Fuzzi Bunz One Size and Softbums use adjustable leg elastic to tighten and loosen the rise of the diaper.
One size diapers are available in all of the different styles of diapers these days, which allows users to save money in the style of diaper they prefer. All in all, one size diapers are going to be bulkier on newborns and young infants and it will be a slightly larger investment at first, however, you do not need to buy additional sizes as your child grows. This will save you hundreds of dollars compared to buying multiple sizes of fitted diapers during your child’s diapering years.
Two Size diapers are a cross between a sized and a one size diaper. They can make the diaper a little trimmer by splitting the size range into two diapers (i.e. 7-19lbs. and 18-35lbs. or they can offer a wider size range up to 40 lbs.). Many, like the Thirsties, even have snaps to adjust the rise or others have a fixed rise. The advantage of two size diapers is they can be trimmer, offer a more customized fit or larger size range. They can also save you from having to buy additional large diapers if you have a chunky baby that outgrows typical one size systems (like my chunky monkey babies).
Covers are used over prefolds, contoured or fitted diapers. They are available in PUL, fleece, and wool. Covers can have snap or aplix (velcro) closures. Wool is the most expensive option, but is popular for its breathability, antibacterial properties and ability to contain moisture. They also only need to be cleaned and re-lanolized every few weeks and they are the natural choice for your little one. Prices for covers range from $7-$30+. I recommend spending at least $11 or $12 on a cover, since you get what you pay for more or less and you don’t want any leaky messes!
Another alternative or option for covers are fleece or wool longies, shorties and soakers. You can also sew or knit your own by buying a pattern or coming up with your own. Don’t knit? Try recycling a wool sweater. Patterns to make covers (even PUL covers like those listed above) can be easily found online or check out my list of Cloth Diaper Sewing Patterns and Tutorials.
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