The Cloth Diapering Expert Series: How do Cloth Diapers Work?

The Cloth Diapering Expert Series: How do Cloth Diapers Work?

The Cloth Diapering Expert Series: How do Cloth Diapers Work?

How do Cloth Diapers Work?

Mother ease Expert Series Issue 4

Welcome back to the Cloth Diapering Expert Series! Today I'll explain how cloth diapers really work and why every component is important. 

How does a cloth diaper work?

Last time, I told you cloth diapering is easy, and it is, as long as you know what you're looking for in a quality diaper. To make an effective cloth diaper, there are two building blocks: the absorbent diaper and the waterproof cover. All diapers need these two elements which are important for reliable, leak-free diapering. Today, I'm going to show you how a cloth diaper works by detailing the specifics of each component.

The Diaper Cover

Your diaper cover plays a crucial role in how well your diapering system will work and how leak-proof it will be. It usually gets very little attention but is imperative to the success of your diaper system. 

In a cloth diaper, it is the diaper cover that provides the waterproof barrier between the absorbent diaper and the baby's clothing. There are two components in the diaper cover that are crucial, the laminate and the water repellent: 

The Laminate

Most diaper covers are made from polyurethane laminated polyester (aka PUL) and are lightweight, easy to use and launder. 

The laminate is a waterproof film, similar to saran wrap that is fused to one side of the polyester to create a waterproof barrier. It is visible and depending on the diaper design, you can usually see the laminate on the cover of your cloth diaper. Without the laminate, the lightweight polyester would soak up wetness from the absorbent diaper. 

The Water Repellent

The second, equally important component that a diaper cover must have is a water repellent. The water repellent is a "finish" applied to the outside of the lightweight polyester, the side that has the cute prints or colour. It prevents the urine from wicking out from the absorbent diaper, through the cover's stitching or edges to the outside of the cover and prevents your baby's clothing from getting wet. 

A diaper cover without a water repellent is not leak-proof. Diaper systems that use a diaper cover without a water repellent require very frequent diaper changes in order to minimize leakage. Many companies do not use a water repellent on their covers because it adds a significant cost. Parents don't know it's needed so diaper makers try to get away without it. When parents complain about leaky diapers their supplier will tell them to add more absorbency - which is not the problem!

The Absorbent Diaper

The absorbent diaper has two tasks, to hold an onslaught of urine quickly and to contain the poop. This is achieved with the use of natural or synthetic fabrics and elastics!

A few years ago, all absorbent diapers were made from natural fiber fabrics, like cotton, hemp, or bamboo. Natural fabrics continue to be a top choice in diapers because they are naturally absorbent, move urine quickly and have the ability to hold liquid so it doesn't squish out. The absorbent component of your diaper needs to be able to handle an onslaught of urine and move it quickly to the rest of the diaper or it will run right out. It also needs to contain the poop.

Manufacturers have recently ventured into the use of high tech synthetics to achieve better results than natural fibers. These have the ability to hold more liquid, move it away quicker and hold it without squishing out. These fabrics rinse and launder easily, are quick to dry and are incredibly durable. When the right microfibers are used, polyester diapers are highly effective and will outperform natural fiber diapers. 

Also, relatively new to the cloth diaper scene are stay dry fabrics. Some companies offer diapers with a highly effective moisture pulling dry layer. This layer quickly pulls the liquid into the absorbent layers beneath, keeping baby's skin dry to the touch. This is helpful in preventing diaper rash and promoting healthy skin.


Although only an absorbent component and a waterproof cover are required, they are much more reliable when quality elastics are added. Elastics are a huge help in providing containment. They also make for a cute fit and allow one size diapers to fit from birth to potty training. 

Quality elastics will gently hug your baby to ensure the poop stays inside the diaper. They will also help close a one size style diaper on an 8lb baby and adjust to fit a 35lb baby. The elastic on your absorbent diaper or cover cannot wear out - especially if you are considering a one size cloth diaper that will be worn for 2 1/2 years!

Lifetime warranties on elastics are a must for any cloth diaper or diaper cover.

Absorbent Boosters

Absorbent liners boost the absorbency of cloth diapers when used for a longer period of time such as long car rides, night time, naps, etc. Absorbent liners are not necessary for daytime use as most diapers are sufficiently absorbent already. 

Now that you have a handle on what makes a cloth diaper effective, you're ready to start considering which cloth diapers will work best for you. In our next issue, I will talk about the five diapering categories you can choose from and give you the pros and cons of each. Click here to subscribe to our blog notifications and get it sent right to your inbox!

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