Today, cloth diapers are no longer what they used to be. Many of you may still have the picture of a thick muslin cloth wrapped around a child in your head. In fact, a lot has happened on the cloth diaper market over the years. When we started to inform ourselves about cloth diapers we were quite overwhelmed. It seemed like there are countless diaper systems, fits and materials. It took us quite a while to get to know what we needed to know.
Therefore we want to give you an overview of the most used cloth diaper systems. You can find our opinion in every last paragraph, if you don’t want to be influenced by it, just skip it. If you have had other experiences or have a different opinion, please let us and other readers know in the comments! Take a look at our packing list If you want to know which diapers we take with us on our travels. If you prefer to read this article in German klick here.
Material, Fastener and Sizes
Before we introduce the systems it’s important to give you an overview over the the materials, the fastener and the sizing system.
Snaps or Velcro fastener (or Pull-up)
Modern cloth diapers are closed either with snaps or with velcro. Both fasteners have their advantages and disadvantages. Velcro fasteners can become gray or weaker over time. To prevent that it’s always important to make sure that the fastener is closed when you wash the diaper. The advantage of velcro fasteners is its steplessly adjustability and easy to use. With velcro, cloth diapers are just as easy to close as disposable diapers.
Snaps are less easy to open and close. On the one hand, this may has the advantage that an older child may not be able to open the diaper alone, but also the disadvantage that someone who isn’t used to change diapers has his difficulties. Snaps are very durable and there is nothing else to consider when washing them. If you are planning on using your diapers for multiple children or sell them again, then snaps are probably the better option.
There are also diapers without fastener just to pull up. The child can therefore easily slip in. These diaper pants are maybe not so common but very comfortable to wear. The disadvantage may is that they make the butt quite big. For the nights, however, pull-up diapers are very comfortable.
We have both snap and velcro diapers. It all depends on what you prefer. Since our son started to become mobile, Velcro has been an advantage because it is easy to close and adjust.
PUL or Wool
PUL stands for polyurethane laminate. This material is made waterproof by laminating. However, it doesn’t lose its breathability! It’s easy to clean and prevents the clothes from getting wet.
Wool has the advantage of being a natural product. Wool diapers are not leakproof from the beginning on and you have to put them into a woolfat bath. This maybe sounds like a lot of work, but it isn’t. Wool diapers can be used for a long time and only need to be washed and greased again after they have become dirty or leaky. Due to its self-cleansing attributes odours are neutralized. If your child is not allergic to wool, it’s a very cosy material, even in summer its amazing because it’s temperature-balancing.
One-Size or Multi-Size
These terms refer to the size of the diaper. So-called one-size diapers should fit from birth to potty. The diaper is usually adjustable by snaps on the front.
Multi-Size diapers are produced in different sizes. Depending on the brand, usually 3-4 different sizes are necessary over the entire time your child needs diapers.
Both again have advantages and disadvantages. When you snap down a one-size diaper the diaper gets a bit thicker due to the fold. Also one-size diapers may not always sit as well as multi-size diapers. Multi-size diapers often fit better, but you’ll have to buy new ones in the next size when your child has outgrown the smaller size.
It could be that the one-size diaper does not fit from birth to potty. That’s why there’s also an extra newborn size and you may have to change to a large multi-size diaper for heavier or bigger children.
The cloth diaper systems at a glance
Now to the numerous fabric diaper systems. It’s important to know that you don’t have to choose one system. You can combine them according to your preference:
As the name suggests, covers are worn over absorbent material. Covers are used to keep clothes dry, they are available in PUL or wool. Depending on your preference, inserts, muslin cloths, prefolds, fitted diapers or other absorbent material is placed in the cover. The cover cloth diaper system is very inexpensive. Usually 5 to 8 covers and 25-30 inserts are enough. You don’t have to wash the covers after every usage, just swap them and use them alternately.
We use covers and inserts mostly at home because it’s fast and easy. Also it doesn’t produce a lot of laundry. That’s why this system is also the system we are traveling with.
The absorbent material is either simply placed in the cover or pushed into lugs. Depending on the manufacturer, one, two or no lugs are available. When your child gets mobile it can get a little difficult to diaper with covers and inserts as the inserts could fall out or slip away. An alternative would be the so-called Snap-In One (SIO) system. Here you can snap in the inlays. Like that you may have a little more work to do but you also have the advantage that nothing can slip.
Fitted diapers are completely made of absorbent material such as cotton, bamboo or hemp. They are designed to absorb a lot of urine and are therefore particularly suitable for the night. As they miss a waterproof layer you have to wear a cover above. They are very easy to use and there is nothing else to do besides putting the diaper around the child and a cover on top.
We use fitted diapers only during the nights. In this case six diapers are enough if you wash every 3 days. While traveling we don’t use them as they need a long time to dry. If you decide to use exclusively fitted diapers you will need about 25-30 of them plus covers. Usually their absorbency is too good though to use during the day.
Pockets or pocket diapers are equipped with a pocket. They have an outer layer of PUL and an inner layer of water-permeable material. These two layers are sewn together, but there are openings at the front and/or back. This creates a pocket in which you can stuff the absorbent material of your choice. Pocket diapers should be washed after each use, so you need between 25 and 30 diapers of this diaper system.
If you need diapers for someone who is not used to change diapers, then we would always recommend pocket diapers with velcro fasteners. Ready stuffed, nothing slips and nothing gets lost. The pocket diaper is then just like a disposable diaper and there’s absolutely no excuse to not use it ;). If we are on a day trip or just a little lazy we always take a pocket diaper.
The all-in-one diaper is a ready to use diaper. You can put it on the child just as it is, after a single use it will be washed and after drying it can be put on again. The advantage is that nothing else needs to be bought or prepared. The disadvantage is that you need a lot of them and that they are quite expensive. All-in-ones usually already make a thick diaper butt and cannot be boosted very well.
Often it’s advised to buy all-in-ones when the child goes to the daycare. From experience we cannot advise this. It depends on the type of AIOs but many brands have inserts that are only sewn on one side and the folding can cause difficulties. For babysitters or the daycare we would therefore always recommend pocket diapers.
Hybrids or 3 in 1
This cloth diaper system consists of 3 separate parts. An outer shell, a waterproof pouch and inserts. This system is comparatively inexpensive, as you usually only have to wash the inserts and pouches. If you decide to use this system, 5-8 inner pouches, 3-4 outer covers and approx. 25-30 inserts should be sufficient.
Each cloth diapers system has advantages and disadvantages and is suitable for other situations. Also every brand and every child is different. There are cloth diaper consultants where you can attend workshops or go to a shop near you to get a feeling for the diapers. There’s usually also the possibility to rent a package if you’re not sure which system or brand you should go for.
It’s important to know that you don’t have to choose only one system. At home we mostly use covers with inserts or pocket diapers. We also have a few all-in-ones and 3 in 1 in use and at night we use fitted diapers. We use PUL as well as wool covers with snaps as well as with velcro. It’s a colorful mix that can be perfectly adapted to our needs. Test yourself through at the beginning and don’t buy full equipment from just one system or one brand!