May 23, 2011

Cloth Diaper Primer: An introduction to today's modern diapers

Okay, I am going to geek out on you guys here so bear with me. Six years ago, I set out on a quest to cloth diaper my kiddos after a girl in a pregnancy forum mentioned Fuzzi Bunz and I started looking into the modern cloth diaper. Fuzzi Bunz are a type of diaper called a "pocket diaper". Rubber pants are a thing of the past and now most cloth diapers can be sorted into four categories:

  • AIO, or All in One
  • Pockets
  • Covers
  • Hybrid or All in Two

Let me go deeper into the difference. All the diapers mentioned above are just the main part of the diaper, and what make them waterproof. I will explain to you the difference between each one and discuss the pros, and cons.

All in One
The simplest of all cloth diapers to put on the baby and to prepare, these diapers are often called dad/babysitter/daycare friendly. This is because they truly are wash & go. These diapers have improved in the last five years and now are easier for to get cleaner in the wash and dry faster than the older AIO choices. Most now have an absorbent pad that either lays on top of the diaper, agitates out on the wash, or many other creative solutions. The older style had the absorbent layers sewn in, without any way to add extra layers for long car trips, sleep, or a heavy wetter. They also did not dry as fast, or get as clean. Manufacturers are listening and have come up with some wonderful creative solutions to solve the problems the older all-in-one diapers had. At $18-27 per diaper, AIOs tend to be the most expensive cloth solution.

Also dad/babysitter/grandparent friendly are pocket diapers. That is because with a little more prep work than the AIO, the diaper can simply be snapped or hooked on with aplix or touchtape (think velcro-like). These diapers are what they sound like, a pocket. The layer closest to the baby is usually made up of suedecloth, fleece, or other stay dry material, like the outer layer is made of polyurethane laminate (PUL). The difference between a AIO and pocket, is that the pocket diaper alone has no absorbent properties. The second step to these diapers is then to stuff them with an insert, or a long, thin pad that pulls the moisture away from the baby and holds it until the baby is changed. Some of these inserts are made of microterry, hemp, cotton, or other similar material. Pocket diapers usually include some sort of insert, but many moms will chose to buy more to either add absorbancy, or upgrade the quality of washability/antimicrobial properties. The disadvantage of this diaper is that the opposite of stuffing, is unstuffing; the peed/pooped on insert must (usually) be removed from the diaper before they are washed. Some diapers have openings on both sides of the diaper, allowing the insert to agitate out in the wash. Depending on the quality of diaper, and if you chose to upgrade inserts, pocket diapers can run between $10-24.

Covers are the most economical and most versatile diaper of the three, however, it also has steepest learning curve of the three. Covers can be made of PUL, wool, or fleece. They can either enclose with snaps, hook & loop, or pull on. However, they cannot be used alone. The diaper must have something underneath it to catch the mess, these can include fitteds, which are made of bamboo, cotton, hemp, and snap or hook and loop onto the baby, with the cover then placed over the top. Another option is to use a prefold diaper, either hooked together with pins, or a Snappi (T shaped stretchy object, with small hooks that grip to the diaper and hold it closed), or folded and laid flat into the cover. The cheapest option is to use flats, or a large single layer of material, folded in various styles to improve absorbancy, and like the prefold, then laid into a cover, or closed with pins or a Snappi. The other advantage to a cover, is that they can be used for multiple changes, as long as the diaper is changed and the cover is not soiled. Some can be wiped dry, or like wool, can be worn many times before washing. If you use wool or fleece, the other advantage is breathability.

  • Covers or wraps are usually made of PUL are the most common of the types of covers, the easiest to find commercially, and can be wiped out with a cloth wipe and re-used, unless soiled. PUL covers usually run around $10-18.
  • Fleece either comes with pull on options, or fasten on like PUL covers. They can also be sewn as pants, shorts, or skirts. Like PUL covers, there is no need to wash these after a single use, they can be hung to dry an used until the end of the day, until soiled, or until stinky. Fleece also breathes better than PUL, and if you can sew can be made for the cost of materials. However, very few commercial manufacturers make fleece covers, so to get fleece your best option is etsy, or Hyenacart. Prices run from around $7-18.
  • Wool covers are probably the most expensive of the three options to buy, but if you want to avoid man made products, wool is the very best choice. Like fleece, wool can come in covers that pull on, or wraps that button, and can come in pants, shorts, covers, or skirts. If you can knit, crochet, or know how to upcycle sweaters, wool can be inexpensive, however commercially made wool diapers can run from $30-90, and SAHM made can run from $10-50+. Wool also needs to be prepped once every 1-2 weeks by soaking in a solution of lanolin, baby shampoo, and water, and then laid flat to air dry. Wool must be hand washed, but with its antimicrobial properties does not need to be washed often and does not immediately get stinky.

Hybrid or All in Two
Similar to PUL wraps, hybrids are simply put a cloth/disposable option. Instead of putting a cloth diaper/insert into the hybrid (or just occasionally) hybrids can house a disposable option. A eco friendly soaker, that will either break down in a landfill, compost, or flush (depending on the manufacturer's instructions) is placed into the cover, and when it is wet or soiled it is disposed of and a new disposable insert is put in. Some parents prefer this option when traveling, or when at daycare, and then use prefolds or inserts in them when not on the go. The advantage of this type of system is you are not carrying waste with you when you travel, the disadvantage is that even after the initial investment, the cost can keep accumulating. The cost is around $14-18 for the cover only, and disposable inserts run between $5-10 for 20.

Up front, diapers may seem like a big investment, but they will pay for themselves before the baby is born, even when you use the most expensive diapers. According to Diaper Decisions the cost of cloth is between 6 and 23 cents per diaper change, including the cost of washing. Where the cost of disposables is about 36 cents per diaper for the most common brand. That doesn't even count the extra washes of clothing from blowouts. 30 to 13 cents may not seem like a lot, until you figure that if your child potty trains at 2 1/2, you will have changed 7200. At a minimum, you are saving between $1,000 to $2,200, now imagine how much more you would save if you re-used those same diapers on another child, or sold them when you were done to recoup between 50-75% of your original purchase price.

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