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Cloth Diaper Glossary

Posted by on Jan. 21, 2009 at 11:34 AM
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Fabric Guide:
Absorbent Fabrics, Waterproof or Water-resistant Fabrics
Diaper Fasteners Guide
Cloth Diaper Guide:
Common Types of Diapers, Common Types of Covers, Diaper/Cover Combinations, Cloth Diaper Accessories
Absorbent Fabrics  
Cotton is readily available and the most common diaper fabric you will find. It can be in the form of flannel, terry, jersey (T-shirt fabric), velour, sherpa, gauze, birdseye, denim, fleece (sweatshirt fabric), etc. Many people feel strongly about using organic cotton, which is grown without pesticides.

Hemp is not just for Cheech and Chong anymore, it is now all the rage in the diapering world. Hemp has been used for thousands of years to make fabric, rope, and hundreds of other useful products. It is more absorbent than cotton, is stronger and more durable than cotton, and is anti-microbial (resistant to bacteria, mold, fungus, etc). The hemp fabric used in diapering is usually about a 50/50 blend with cotton. Hemp fabric is harder to find than cotton since it is illegal to grow in the U.S., but hemp diapers are sold in many online diaper stores. For more information about hemp fabric, read The Amazing Hemp Plant or Is Hemp Really Better than Cotton?

Bamboo fabric, like hemp, is anti-microbial and more absorbent than cotton. The texture of the fabric is luxurious and silky soft. It is claimed that bamboo fabric will not hold odors, which is a plus for cloth diapers! At the moment, there are not many bamboo cloth diapers in the U.S., but you can find them in Europe. (Click here to see some examples.) Bamboo has started to spark some interest on this side of the globe; it won't be long before bamboo diapers are seen frequently in the U.S. UPDATE January 2007: There are now lots of bamboo cloth diapers out there. Try a google search and you should find plenty!
For more information, read About Bamboo Fabric, Bamboo Fabric Research, or this message in the Bamboo-Plantations Yahoo Group.
Microfiber Microfiber is sometimes called microterry. This is a super absorbent synthetic fabric. Microfiber towels are commonly used to stuff pocket diapers. They can also be sewn into the inner layer of a diaper, but many people complain that microfiber loses much of its absorbency with repeated uses and washings. For this reason, it is best to use it only as a pocket stuffer or a doubler that can be replaced every 6 months. If you use them as doublers, don't let the microfiber touch your baby's skin as it is super-absorbent and may cause dryness and rashes. Look for microfiber towels at places like Costco, Wal-Mart (in the automotive section), or the Dollar Tree.
Waterproof and Water-Resistant Fabrics PUL PUL stands for Polyurethane Laminate. It is fabric that is coated with a soft, flexible laminate. As a general rule, solid-color PUL is made from polyester fabric, and printed PUL is usually made with cotton. Most PUL has a slight stretch to the fabric, which makes it fit nicely over a diaper. It can be breathable or non-breathable (the non-breathable kind is more waterproof). PUL is usually the fabric of choice for non-bulky diaper covers. It is durable and can be washed and dried many times without losing its waterproof abilities.
Vinyl Vinyl is thin and non-stretchy. It is non-breathable and completely waterproof. Many cloth-diapering mothers tend to avoid it because it is so "plasticky".
Nylon Nylon is a common material for waterproof rain gear, and is also popular for cloth diaper covers. It has to be treated with some kind of durable water resistance treatment (DWR) in order to be waterproof. The degree of waterproofness and breathablity depends on the type and amount of waterproofing with which the fabric has been treated.
Polyester Fleece Polyester fleece is a soft, breathable, water-resistant fabric. This is a great choice for babies who suffer from diaper rash; the breathable nature of the fabric helps air circulate and keep the baby rash-free. Leaking or wicking may occur if the diaper is compressed (like in a car seat), or if the diaper is not changed as often as it should. A thinner layer of fleece, or microfleece, is typically used as a wicking layer against your baby's skin.

Wool is a traditional fabric that your grandmother probably used to diaper her children. Wool is like no other fabric because it is breathable, water repellant, and water absorbent all at the same time. The natural lanolin that occurs in wool makes it water repellent. The lanolin is also antibacterial, thus neutralizing the urine smell in a diaper cover. That is why you can use a wool cover, let it air out, and then use it again and again. A disadvantage of wool covers is that they tend to be more bulky than PUL or vinyl covers (no tight jeans for baby). Wool covers do need special care, but they only need to be washed once or twice a month. See our Laundry Tips for directions on caring for wool. For more information about wool diaper covers, read Why Wool is Cool at the Diaper Hyena, Why Use Wool for Diaper Covers? at Cut of Cloth, and The Story Behind Woolen Diaper Covers at Danish Woolen Delight.

Diaper Fasteners  
Diaper Pins
Pins are the traditional diaper fasteners. Be sure to get quality diaper pins (skip the dollar store, these pins will not pierce the fabric). If you have trouble getting the pins through the thick fabric, try running the pins through your hair, or stick them in a bar of soap. Diaper pins can be a challenge with wiggly toddlers. Be careful not to stick your baby!

Snappis (and similar brands) are a great alternative to pins. They have little gripper teeth that grab the fabric. The arms of the Snappi stretch to hold the diaper tight. The teeth will not grip all fabrics, but they will grab diaper gauze (flat diapers), prefolds, terry, and many others. This is a quick and easy way to fasten a diaper! You will probably not find Snappis at your local market, but you will find them on many online diaper stores.

Hook and Loop
Hook and Loop includes Velcro, Aplix, Touch Tape, etc. This is the quickest and easiest way to fasten a diaper. The difficult part is that you need to be careful that the scratchy hook side or the sharp edges on the loop side do not scratch or irritate your baby's skin. Hook and Loop does not last forever; eventually it will not stick anymore. The higher the quality of the product, the longer it will last. These closures also need special attention in the wash, see our Laundry Tips for more information.

Plastic snaps are the standard for most fitted diapers and covers. Diapers will usually have several snap settings so that you can adjust them to fit your child. Snaps are durable and easily washed. If you plan on using your diapers for more than one or two children, snaps will outlive hook and loop. Snaps differ in quality from brand to brand; check with your diaper vendor to see if the snaps have a lifetime guarantee. Metal snaps are not used often because they are more expensive and they may have a bad reaction with urine.

Common Types of Diapers  
Flat Diaper
This is the traditional diaper that your grandma probably used. It is a large rectangle of cotton fabric that can be folded to a specific size or style. (Click here to learn the nifty origami diaper fold.) These are generally one-size-fits-all, and can be doubled up for more absorbency. They need separate fasteners or a well-fitting wrap. You can find Gerber flat diapers at many stores in the baby section.
For more information and folding styles, visit the authoritative flat diaper website:

Prefold Diaper
This is the standard diaper that your mother probably used on you. It is a flat rectangle with thicker padding in the center section of the diaper. You can find Gerber prefolds at many stores, but higher quality prefolds are available online. Look for Chinese Prefolds or DSQ (Diaper Service Quality) Prefolds for more absorbency. Read reviews of different prefold diapers at the Diaper Pin. Like flat diapers, you will need either fasteners or a well-fitting wrap. You will also need folding skills. Try these links to learn some folding techniques: Baby Cotton Bottoms Cloth Diaper Folding or Angel Fire Diaper Folds. A regular-size prefold diaper is rather bulky on newborns; most prefolds come in a smaller size for tiny babies.

Contour Diaper
These diapers are cut to your baby's shape so you can avoid any complicated folding. They may or may not come with fasteners. You will probably need these diapers in two or three different sizes to fit your baby from birth until potty training. Many types of countour cloth diapers are available online, but you probably won't find them in a regular store. Read some reviews of contour diapers at the Diaper Pin.

Fitted Diaper
Fitted diapers come with stretchy elastic in the legs and in the back. They are excellent at containing leaks. These diapers usually come with hook and loop or snap closures. They are the best-fitting, easiest diaper to use. The disadvantage is that you will need different sizes as your baby grows. Depending on the style or brand, you could need anywyhere from two to five different sizes. Some fitted diapers come in one-size-fits-all, but they are rather bulky on newborns. It is smart to sample different brands as there are so many kinds of fitted diapers. Every baby is shaped differently, and you may find that some brands fit you baby better than others. Read the Diaper Pin reviews of fitted diapers.
Common Types of Covers  
Pull-On Cover
This is a waterproof, pull-on diaper cover. It has elastic in the legs and waist to contain leaks. The most common pull-on covers are the Gerber Vinyl Pants. You can find them in places like Babies'R'Us or The Burlington Coat Factory. They are very inexpensive at about $2.00/pair, and they come in small, medium, and large sizes. There are also other brands out there, such as the Alexis Featherlite Covers. Pull-on covers are typically made of nylon or non-breatheable vinyl, though theoretically they could be made from any waterproof or water-resistant fabric. A disadvantage is that they are not very adjustable. If your baby is not a "standard" size, the leg holes could be too big and the waist too small, or vice-versa. Even if they fit well, the elastic tends to leave red marks on you baby's skin. Another complaint is that they tend to be poofy and not very cute (this is highly subjective).
Read reviews of Gerber Vinyl Pants or Alexis Featherlite Covers.

A wrap-style diaper cover is typically more adjustable than a pull-on cover. They have elastic in the legs and back waist band. They also typically have snaps or hook and loop closures, though it is possible to use diaper pins on wool or fleece wraps. Most of them are adjustable to fit a variety of babies. A wrap is usually less messy to remove when your child has had a blow-out. Wraps are available in all kinds of fabric: PUL, vinyl, nylon, fleece, and wool. They can be stretchy or non-stretchy. There are so many different styles and brands out there. What works for one baby may not work for another (the same with any fitted diaper or cover). Try sampling different kinds before you make any large purchases.
Read the Diaper Pin reviews of covers, fleece covers, and wool covers.

Wool Soaker
Hand-knit wool soakers were probably used on your grandparents when they were babies. My first exposure to wool soakers was in an old 1940's knitting pattern book that my mother had. I thought that a soaker was just an extra layer to soak up the pee. Gross. I later learned why wool makes an excellent diaper cover. Mothers moved away from using wool soakers when plastic and rubber pants became popular, but the trend now is to get back to natural, organic diapering methods. Wool soakers are back in style, baby. Most wool soakers have a draw-string waist and knitted ribbing around the leg holes. You can buy hand-knit wool soakers from various online vendors. Or have your grandma pull out her old knitting patterns and make some for you. Another trend is to make wool soakers out of old sweaters. You can find these "recycled" soakers online as well, like Fern and Faerie's Bum Fuzzies. A common complaint about wool soakers is that they leak, but they shouldn't leak if you keep them well lanolized. (This is true for any diaper cover made out of wool.) See our Laundry Tips for instructions.

Wool Longies
Wool longies or wool pants are simply a full-length version af a wool soaker. They can have a draw string or an elastic waist band. Think of longies as a diaper cover and a pair of pants in one. If you use wool longies, remember that you need to remove them and let them air out every time you change a diaper. I like to have two or three pairs that I rotate all day long; that gives one pair time to air out while the other is being used. Longies are also an excellent choice for overnight use; we have never experienced a leak in longies. Besides beautiful hand-knit longies, you can also find longies that are made out of recycled wool sweaters. You can buy these at and many other online stores.
There's just nothing cuter than a baby in a pair of wool longies!
Diaper/Cover Combinations  
An all-in-one (or AIO) cloth diaper is just what the name implies: everything a cloth diaper needs in one neat little package. It is basically a fitted cloth diaper with a waterproof cover sewn on the outside. They are the easiest to use because you will not need a separate cover. The most common types of AIOs use PUL or polyester fleece for the waterproof layer. I have also seen them made with wool (these are sometimes called a "wool-in-one"). An AIO is a good diaper to leave with a babysitter; it is the easiest option for someone with a cloth-diaper phobia or lack of skills. These diapers will be a more expensive option, especially if you use them exclusively. Since it does not have a removable cover, the waterproof layer of an AIO has to be washed every time it is used (because it is permanently attached). This increases the wear and tear of the diaper in general. Another disadvantage is that these cloth diapers take a long time to dry.

An all-in-two (or AI2) cloth diaper is similar to an all-in-one, but has a separate soaker attached with snaps. The soaker can be removed during washing and drying; this helps to get the diaper cleaned thouroughly, and it greatly speeds up the the drying time.
Read reviews of different All-in-Ones and All-in-Twos at the Diaper Pin.

Pocket Diaper
A pocket diaper consists of two layers: an outer waterproof layer (usually PUL) and an inside wicking layer, usually polyester microfleece (the inside layer doesn't have to be a wicking layer, some just use cotton). There is an opening or "pocket" for you to stuff absorbent material between the two layers. The opening is usually at the back waist band. Sometimes pocket diapers are called other names like "envelope" diapers or "stuffable" diapers, etc. Pocket diapers are commonly stuffed with microfiber towels, but anything absorbent will work. Hemp inserts are also very common, or you can use flat or prefold diapers as stuffing. Pocket diapers are great because you can adjust the thickness of the diaper according to your needs (use one insert for daytime use, two inserts for night-time, etc.). They have the convenience of an AIO cloth diaper; you can stuff the diapers as they come out of the laundry, then throw some in the diaper bag or leave some for the sitter. They are also fast and easy to wash and dry: just remove the inserts before you wash.
Read some reviews of different pocket diapers at the Diaper Pin.
Cloth Diaper Accessories  
Diaper doublers are also known as liners, inserts, or soakers (not to be confused with wool soakers). They are made of absorbent fabric. Their purpose is to increase the absorbency of any diaper that you use. Some doublers come with the diaper and can be snapped in place. Others are partially sewn in and flip out when being washed. They can also come separately and be used in any diaper. Some doublers are a contour shape for a better fit. Many doublers are topped with polyester fleece, which provides a wicking layer to keep the baby dry. You can even use a piece of fleece as a liner, if you wish. The fleece layer also makes the doubler easier to clean when it is time for a dreaded dunk in the toilet. Some people avoid polyester fleece because they do not want synthetic fibers touching their baby's skin.
Cloth Wipes
Cloth wipes are nothing special, they are simply wash cloths to wipe your baby's bum. You can buy a pack of wash cloths from any store. Or you can cut up old towels to make your own wipes. If you want to get fancy, you can purchase special hemp or organic cotton velour wipes, etc. Cloth wipes are so easy to use if you are already using cloth diapers, just toss them in the pail to be washed with the diapers. You will find that cloth wipes perform MUCH better than their expensive disposable couterparts. Keep a squeeze bottle full of water or special wipe solution (recipes here) on your changing table, then use that to moisten your wipes as you use them. You may also keep moistened cloth wipes in a covered container. Many parents like to keep moistened wipes in a wipe warmer to keep them nice and warm.

Definitions of Common Acronymns and Other Terms

AIO: All-in-One Diaper
AI2: All-in-Two Diaper
CD: Cloth Diaper
HB: HoneyBoy Diaper
Hyena Diaper: Refers to any popular, sought-after (and usually overpriced) cloth diaper that is avaialable on the Hyena Cart
DWR: Durable Water Resistance, can used to treat nylon or PUL to increase or recharge its waterproofing. Some people avoid it because they fear using unnatural chemicals on their baby.
EC: Elimination Communication, referring to a potty-training method that begins as early as birth. The parents will leave the baby naked often and begin to learn their patterns of when they usually need to use the bathroom.
FB: Fuzzi-Bunz Diaper
FOE: Fold Over Elastic, a stretchy binding used to bind the edges of some diapers and covers.
MM: Malden Mills Fleece, a high-quality brand of polyester fleece used commonly in diapers.
PF: Prefold Diaper
PUL: Polyurethane Laminate, a fabric that has been coated with a water-proof lamination, used on the outside of diapers.
T&T: Turned & Topstitched, refers to a sewing method when the diaper is sewed inside-out, then turned and stitched around the edges to give a finished look
VB: Very Baby Diaper
WHAM: Work at Home Mom, usually referring to one that sells cloth diapers to earn extra income for her family.

by on Jan. 21, 2009 at 11:34 AM
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