When you think of cloth diapers, what is the first thing that pops into your head?
If you’re currently cloth diapering or familiar with cloth diapering, I’m sure it’s all the fun and beautiful prints, vibrant colors, and cute fluffy bottoms.
However, if cloth diapering is something new to you or something that you’re just considering, your picture might be very different.
I find that when I talk to someone unfamiliar with cloth diapering’s more modern options, the first thing they think of is nappies, pins, and crinkly plastic pants.
(I know that’s what was on my bum as a baby!) - the poop, the cleanup, the white squares flapping on the clotheslines in mother’s or grandmother’s old photos.
This is a reasonably outdated imagining, however.
As the years have passed, cloth diapers have evolved delightfully! You can now get styles of diapers that are as easy to put on baby as a disposable, and there are so SO many different kinds! But, these two “vintage” styles – flat diapers and prefold cloth diapers - are typically what people who are unfamiliar with cloth diapering are often picturing.
So, what does this mean for those old diaper styles?
Have they just long-forgotten ways of pampering our babies’ bums?
Are they only for those super “crunchy” cloth diapering mamas?
Not at all!!
Those very same diaper styles are still very relevant today within the cloth-diapering and sustainable-living communities.
Check out Nicki’s Facebook Group for Cloth Diaper Chatter! Let’s look into these two classic styles and see the many ways that they can still be utilized today.
What are Flat Diapers?
The oldest diaper style you might think of is called a flat diaper.
It’s just a plain square of fabric folded around the baby and “pinned” into place under a diaper cover.
These were typically made of bird’s eye cotton or muslin and were plain white, which was easiest for washing and hang-drying.
You can even find some that are fun colors! (Or dye them yourself! I’ve seen people tie-dye them! So fun!)
There are so many ways to make flat diapers work for you. Some prefer folds like a kite fold, pickman fold, or an origami fold (Which is my personal favorite!) These folds wrap around the baby and fasten in the front to provide you with a lot of coverage and protection.
Some prefer to just pad-fold the flat diaper into a long rectangle and add it to the diaper cover or pocket diaper as more of an insert. Check out this awesome how-to video for an origami fold.
If you are using a fold that wraps around your baby, you can tuck the “wings” or the fabric in the front to fasten. You could also use diaper pins or try a newer version of fastener like a Snappi or Boingo, which are silicone fasteners that use small hooks to grab the material and secure, making it much easier to fasten the flat diaper onto your wiggling baby before putting it on the diaper cover. (And without the fear of poking them or yourself!)
What are Prefold Cloth Diapers?
Then what are prefold cloth diapers? They’re just what they sound like! Prefold cloth diapers are flat diapers that have been pre-folded for you. They are a rectangle of fabric that has been split into thirds, having two thinner sides and a thick absorbent middle.
This makes diapering a bit quicker since you don’t need to fold the cloth into a particular shape before wrapping it around a baby. Some people will fold the prefold cloth diaper into thirds, fan out the back to create wings, and again, long-forgotten and secure around their baby.
Or, as with a flat, you can also pad-fold it into thirds, then add the long rectangle directly into the diaper cover or pocket diaper to create an amazingly absorbent core. Check out these Imagine Baby Products Bamboo Prefold Cloth Diapers.
Prefold Cloth Diapers or Flat Diapers - Which Is Better?
So, how do flat diapers and prefold cloth diapers compare? Is one better than the other? Well, that is entirely up to your preference.
For myself, I love how easily prefold cloth diapers fold into an insert to stuff my pocket diaper shells.
However, if I’m using a diaper cover, I love the trimness and fit that a folded flat can provide around those squishy baby thighs, and I regularly use both styles on my little ones!
When laundering, both wash up quickly and are easy to stain treatment when needed.
Flat diapers edge out prefold cloth diapers when it comes to drying time, long-forgotten though, as they are just one layer of material, but then they will need to be refolded afterward.
Flat diapers also provide a much more customizable fit because the different folds can give you different wing lengths for babies with skinny legs, chunky thighs, or wider hips.
They are also ideal for things like camping or emergencies when you might be without utilities, meaning you would need to hand wash your diapers.
If you live in an area prone to natural disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes,, or earthquakes and have emergency supplies for your family, a dozen flats and just a few diaper covers would be a great addition!
They would pack much more compactly than packs of disposables, not to mention, they could last you for so much longer if needed!
Because they are just one layer, they wash easily, are a quick hang-dry, and you’ll never have to worry about being stuck without diapers again!
Prefold cloth diapers, on the other hand, might take a bit longer to dry, but are ready right from the dryer!
You’re one quick trifold away from a pocket or cover stuffed with a friendly, absorbent insert that can be quickly put on your baby’s bottom when out visiting or shopping, etc.
A prefold cloth diaper can easily hold enough for your babies that are still taking longer naps or that are starting to sleep longer stretches throughout the night.
My go-to nighttime solution for my kids was a large prefold pad folded with a small hemp doubler in a diaper cover. Fluffy, but effective! (and cute!)
I love to grab a load of flat diapers right from the dryer and sit to fold them all ahead of time, so they are simple to hold during a diaper change!
Or, I will fold my prefold cloth diapers in thirds and stuff them into my pocket diapers, so they are ready to grab and-go, just like any disposable diaper.
What About New Cloth Diaper Styles?
Again, this comes down to personal preference. I feel that both have their place. AIOs/AI2s are a one-stop-shop, so to speak. The inserts are either sewn in (all-in-one) or snapped in (all-in-two).
This means they are ready to go right on baby’s bum, just like a disposable. This makes them an excellent option for sending your child to daycare, for babysitters, or even for your own use when out-and-about for a quick grab.
These are the styles that I first researched and tried when starting my cloth diaper journey.
The problem, however, is that they offer fewer opportunities to customize absorbency and fit than flats and prefold cloth diapers do when paired with diaper covers or pocket diapers. AIOs and AI2s also tend to run a bit smaller in most brands than covers and pockets.
My first two kiddos had chunky thighs, and I needed the extra growing room that the different flat folds provided when paired with a cover. My third cloth diapered baby wasn’t as chunky, but I was amazed at how perfect of a fit I could get on her tiny frame by simply doing a different flat fold!
I’m not going to lie to you, though. Flat diapers and prefold cloth diapers seemed like a lot of work and were a bit intimidating for me! But after I had my second baby, I decided to give them a try, and I was in LOVE!
The versatility of options when adjusting absorbency was terrific! The trimness of a flat fold was fantastic when the baby needed to wear closer-fitting pants.
With flat diapers and prefold diapers, there are a ton more options when it comes to customization or absorbency and fit - making them perfect for any baby!
Also, the difference in the absorbency of a pad-folded flat or prefold rather than a microfiber insert in my pocket diapers was a definite game changer!
I love how quickly the cotton absorbs and just how much it can hold, especially the bamboo!
A large bamboo prefold cloth diaper with a small booster insert works for us even as a nighttime diapering option, and I’m always amazed at just how well they hold up during sleep.
An AIO or AI2 would never have been able to hold up to my kids’ nighttime flooding!
Both flat diapers and prefold cloth diapers are such workhorses!
Flat diapers and prefold cloth diapers are excellent choices for diapering your baby, but their versatility doesn’t stop there!
Especially when trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle, these diapers can be used in so many other ways!
Prefold cloth diapers have been used in a variety of ways around my house. They double as burp cloths or drool catchers.
They’re perfect for sopping up a big spill or as changing pads. Flat diapers are also great multi-taskers!
Some people use them as a replacement for single-use paper towels. They are thin and lightweight.
They’re great for tossing over the car seat or stroller to keep sun or rain off the baby in a pinch. They make great hair towels, baby towels, or even pet towels.
If you want to dig into their alternative uses, consider how they can be recycled!
Old flat diapers or prefold cloth diapers would make perfect dust rags or cleaning cloths even for really messy garage/car clean-up.
Prefold cloth diapers are wonderful for up-cycling into washable/reusable mama cloth with just a little imagination and a sewing machine.
Lastly, my personal favorite recycling use, prefold cloth diapers, make the best washable/reusable dry or wet Swiffer pads! Just think of all the single-use paper products you could save just by recycling your diapers that have seen better days.
And when they are just too beat up to continue using, the natural fibers are biodegradable, so you don’t have to worry about them sitting in a landfill forever. Not only good for the planet, but for your wallet also!
Now it’s YOUR turn!
So, have I convinced you yet? Are you ready to take the plunge and try out a new diaper style for your little one? It can be so fun to experiment with all of the different types and styles. I assure you, I have a number of each myself! (or way too many! Haha!)
But, every baby is different and different things will work best for each kid.
If you’re having absorbency or fit troubles, I encourage you, give flats or prefolds a try! You might just find the “holy grail” of cloth diapering that works for YOUR baby!
And hey, if not, no big deal!
Just upcycle them and think of it as a start to your sustainable home collection!
So, what long-forgotten are you waiting for?