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The History of Diapers (and The Future of Cloth Diapers)

Baby in cloth diaper and sun hat

Have you ever thought about the history of diapers?

What did they do before disposables?

What did they do before cloth diapers?

Read on my cloth curious friends.

If you're in a hurry, check out the podcast we did about the history of cloth diapers here!

The History of Diapers - The Word

Cloth Diaper On baby outside

The history of diapers begins with the Middle English word diaper which originally referred to a type of cloth rather than its use; it was a term for a pattern of repetitive, rhombic shapes that later became a term for white cotton or linen fabric of this pattern.

Today, a diaper (or nappy) is a type of underwear that allows the wearer to relieve themselves, by absorbing and containing waste.

The History of Diapers - Ancient Times

Wool Fibers

Parents of babies born during these days had to be resourceful to make do with what they had. Milkweed leaf covers, animal skins, and other natural materials may have been included.

In certain European cultures, babies were wrapped in swaddling bands.

These "swaddling bands" were made up of strips of linen or wool that were bound closely around each leg before being wrapped crosswise around the neck.

The History of Diapers - The 1800s

Diaper Pin

Safety pins were used to keep a square or rectangle of linen, cotton flannel, or stockinet folded into a rectangular form.

Holding babies over bowls or a potty was also a common method of infant potty training.

Notable Events:

  • In 1849 Walter Hunt invented the safety pin.
  • In 1887 Naria Allen Invented the first mass-produced diaper

The History of Diapers - The Early 1900s

Cloth diapers were, for the most part, the only choice.

Diaper services became more popular during World War II.

In 1942, the first removable absorbent pad used as a diaper was manufactured from unbleached creped cellulose tissue (held in rubber pants).

Of course, cotton was still used, and in 1946, Marion Donovan patented the "Boater," a protective covering for cloth diapers.

Her first disposable diaper design was a traditional cotton diaper put into shower curtain plastic.

Notable Events:

  • In 1910 Rubber Baby pants are made and poorer families used flour sacks as cloth diapers
  • In the 1930’s the popularity of hand-knit wool soakers grew
  • In 1935 Diaper Services grew in popularity
  • In 1950 the prefold cloth diaper is invented

The History of Diapers - The Mid to Late 1900s

prefold cloth diaper on baby

The disposable diaper developed at a rapid pace in this section of the history of diapers.

In place of tissue, a pulp mill was built. Using cellulose fibers instead of paper increased the diaper's efficiency.

Disposable diapers have had several "improvements" in recent years. However, in the early 1990s, cloth diaper consumers were confronted with ethical concerns about the use of disposable diapers.

Cloth diapers have begun to make a strong comeback.

Notable Events:

  • In 1982 Super Absorbent Polymers are added to disposable diapers
  • In 1987, the Snappi, a diaper faster is invented by Henni Vissner in South Africa

The History of Diapers - The 2000s

Modern Cloth Diaper Music Design

Fuzzi Bunz first opened its doors in the year 2000. During this time, the word hyena was invented to describe moms who pursue the more desirable cloth diaper styles.

In the cloth diapering culture, there was also an explosion of development. A slew of small cloth diaper sewing and retail companies sprouted up.

Notable Events:

  • In 2003, Nicki’s Diapers began in Nicki’s Basement.
  • In 2008, Kim Ormsby creates her “All in Two” diaper, GroBaby (now known as GroVia), and creates a new diaper category
  • In 2011, the first Great Cloth Diaper Change took place. 5,026 babies set the first record.

The History of Diapers - The Now

Modern cloth diaper in a field

Many cotton diapers are now fastened with hook and loop or snaps. Modern cloth diapers come in a variety of sizes, including preformed cloth diapers, all-in-one diapers with waterproof exteriors, fitted diapers with covers, and pocket or "stuffable" diapers, which comprise of a water-resistant outer shell sewn with an area for inserting absorbent content inserts.

Many new cloth diaper style characteristics have directly followed from advances first introduced in disposable diapers, such as the usage of the hour glass form, fabrics to isolate moisture from skin, and the use of double gussets, or an inner elastic band for improved fit and waste containment.

Conclusion-The History of Diapers and The Future

Succulent Design Cloth Diaper

I would like to think that with my infinite wisdom of all things cloth diapers that I’d be able to predict the next big thing.

Sure, subtle new design ideas pop into my head, but how can we really go up from here?

As far as the engineering goes - I’m not sure!

The cloth diaper user in me hopes to continue to see more organic options, more overnight solutions that aren’t bulky or cost an arm and leg, and absorbent budget-friendly options that don’t lead into the gray market diapers or less absorbent options such as flour sack towels.

One of the newer styles of cloth diapers are the All in One Cloth diapers which are available in everything from stay dry synthetics to plush bamboo.

Click HERE to shop the most modern cloth diapers today!

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