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How Do Cloth Diapers Work

There are many types of cloth diapers, and which one you use depends on the needs of your family and your baby. You may wonder how the diapers actually work, and why you would choose one style over another. Of course, the purpose of the cloth diaper is to catch the baby’s solid or liquid waste and hold or absorb it. The key to a leak proof system is a diaper and/or cover that is snug and well-fitting, and absorbency that will hold the output. Let’s take a quick look at the different fibers that make up the different fabrics:
  • Natural fibers: cotton, bamboo, hemp, and wool.
  • Man made fibers, or microfibers: polyester, rayon, and nylon (swim diapers).
A laminate is added to TPU or PUL covers, pocket diapers, AIO diapers, and some types of inserts for waterproofing. Some fibers are used by themselves, or in a blend. A blend joins the positive attributes of different fibers. Example: A hemp/cotton blend provides the strength and absorbency of the hemp, with the softness and absorbency of the cotton, such as our Duo Hemp Prefold. In a nutshell, this is how cloth diapers work:
  1. Fabric absorbs liquid.
  2. Waterproofing keeps moisture in.
There are man-made fiber and natural fiber options. Our Duo Diaper, Duo Fab Fitted diaper, and Stay-Dry Duo Insert are Thirsties stay-dry products. A stay-dry diaper will have microfleece on the top layer. Microfleece is made of polyester, and is not absorbent. The microfleece is soft on the skin and keeps the skin dry. The liquid will pass through the fabric, to the absorbent layers underneath.
inside of diaper
Typically, a microfiber diaper has a microterry insert. A microterry insert or soaker is made of polyester, and is very absorbent. Microterry is a quick absorber, but can have compression leaking if to wet (baby sits down and liquid squishes out). Note: Never put microterry next to the skin! Microterry combined with a natural fiber underneath will resolve this problem, as natural fibers are stable absorbers. This means that the fiber will hold the moisture in until it reaches the maximum capacity. An example of this technique is our Stay-Dry Duo Insert, or our Duo Diaper insert.
inside of diaper
The microfleece allows the liquid to pass through, the microterry absorbs a lot very quickly, and the hemp/cotton insert soaks up the extra liquid and holds it. The waterproofing on the cover keeps any moisture from escaping to the outside. Adding a Hemp Insert into our Duo Fab Fitted also provides the same absorbency process. A natural fiber insert or soaker may also be used in a stay-dry diaper with a fleece top. Our Duo Hemp Prefold and Hemp Inserts are our 100% natural fiber products. Our Doublers and Duo Fab Fitted also have natural fiber content. A natural fiber diaper will absorb liquid more readily than a microfiber, and is also easier to clean. When using a natural fiber diaper, you will most likely have wetness next to the skin. This does not typically cause diaper rash unless the wet diaper is left on too long.
inside of diaper
inside of diaper
An insert may be added inside, or in between the diaper and the cover if additional absorbency is needed.
inside of diaper
inside of diaper
inside of diaper
  1. The natural fiber will absorb the liquid very quickly and hold the moisture in to maximum capacity.
  2. The waterproofing on the cover keeps any moisture from escaping to the outside.
So what diaper works the best? I know you want an easy answer, but what works the best is determined by your baby’s output, size, shape, and your lifestyle. Keep in mind, if the diaper is not absorbent enough, no cover will be able to keep the moisture inside. You will want to make sure to choose a diaper with enough absorbency for your baby’s weight and age. There are many different diapering options, but a fitted diaper with a cover is our #1 choice for leak protection. Why is that?
  • The fabric lies close to the skin, allowing the diaper to absorb the liquid quickly.
  • The fitted diaper provides full coverage.
  • The fitted diaper provides an extra “barrier” via the leg elastic.
  • The cover then provides another barrier with the leg gussets.
No matter what system you choose, you will be sure to find a Thirsties product that will work for you!

Written by Sonya Choron 11/29/11

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  • I am so glad I found this post! I was wondering how cloth diaper work! I am totally going to start CDing now! I was considering it, but I am now convinced!

    Ashley Kling on
  • Thanks for this clear explanation !

    Laura on
  • This clears up a lot of my questions and i didnt even have to ask any haha! thanks!

    Tara Ruble on
  • Thank you for explaining all the “micro-” terms. I’ve always been confused about these. I know that you are not supposed to layer one on top of the other because they will not absorb fast enough and might repel liquid if there is a fast stream. However, I’m not totally sure which fabrics this principle refers to. Someday I will get it all straightened out!

    Brooke on

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