Cloth diaper inserts are the single most important facet about the cloth diaper itself. Forget the cute design, or the soft microfleece liner, or the PUL: it’s all about the inserts. If you’re having cloth diaper leaks, chances are it’s because your absorbency is off. The “stuffing” of the diaper can easily determine whether or not you have a good or a horrible cloth diapering experience, and whether or not you continue to use cloth diapers at all.
As part of every cloth diaper class and consultation I do for HineyTales, I thoroughly review all the different insert choices. I let each mom and dad touch them, explain how each one works, and review the pros/cons of each type. The great thing about using cloth is that you can mix and match your inserts to adjust to your baby’s absorbancy needs! Below you’ll find everything you need to know about cloth diaper inserts.
- Microfiber – This is a synthetic (i.e. man-made) material. It’s made of a polyester/polyamide blend which makes it light and fast-drying. You’ll know when something is microfiber (MF) because the fabric looks ribbed due to the way it’s woven. Take note, MF is irritating and should NOT be put directly against baby’s delicate skin. It should only be used inside of a pocket diaper or with a barrier fabric on top of it (like a fleece liner or the flab of an AIO). Also note that compression leaks can happen with MF. When pressure is applied to a soaked MF, liquid will escape and leak out.
- Minky – Minky inserts are also a synthetic material. The absorbancy is equal to a MF, but the outside of the diaper is soft to the touch and able to be put directly against baby’s skin. They also are supposed to repel stains better and be less bulky, but I haven’t found that to be the case. If all things are the same and you have to choose between the same size minky or microfiber insert, I would choose the minky solely on the fact that it can be used alone with a diaper cover, whereas MF cannot and needs a barrier fabric.
- Cotton – Cotton is the most-common fabric used for cloth diapering worldwide. It’s affordable, absorbent, durable, and available almost everywhere. I know families with 20 year old children who are still using their cotton prefolds as dish or dust rags around the house! Cotton prefolds have stood the test of time and will not disappoint, as long as you’re OK with diapers that are a bit bulky. Cotton can be placed directly against baby’s skin, folded and laid into a diaper cover, “newspaper” folded around baby and secured with a snappi, stuffed into a pocket diaper, or laid underneath the flap of an AIO. I am a firm believer that every cloth diapering family should have a set of prefolds laying around! They’re incredibly versatile and, did I mention cheap?!
- Bamboo/Rayon – Bamboo inserts are a bit confusing because it’s sounds like they would be a natural fiber, right? Not so much. Common bamboo inserts that you’d find with Alva’s or other Chinese brands are completely man-made. They begin using a natural input (bamboo) but the processing is anything but natural. While it’s being made. the fiber is intertwined with rayon (we all know how characteristically un-breathable rayon is) to increase absorbancy. These inserts are best more absorbant than MF or minky; however, they are slower to absorb so they must have a MF or minky layered on top to prevent fast-flow leaks.
- Charcoal/Bamboo – Charcoal is another tricky misnomer and not a lot of people understand what it really is. Charcoal is made during the process of making rayon. When you heat up a natural fiber (like bamboo), it creates charcoal and that charcoal is ground into a very fine dust. They then sprinkle this dust into the manufactured fiber (like MF or Bamboo/Rayon) to increase its absorbancy and apply a great amount of pressure to the fabric to make it all coalesce. This makes “Charcoal MF” or “Charcoal Bamboo”. It does hold more liquid than a regular MF or minky; however, I’m not a huge fan of the idea of nanoparticles of charcoal being a part of my cloth diapers. It doesn’t resonate as very environmentally-friendly or very friendly to baby’s skin.
- Hemp – When you have a heavy-wetter, hemp is your answer! This material is usually a blend of hemp and cotton and can absorb an amazing amount of liquid! These thirsty inserts are a great addition to your cloth diaper stash if you want to make every diaper stretch for hours and hours. They’re perfect for overnight or for trips to the zoo when you don’t have access to (or don’t want to bother with) changing facilities regularly. Hemp inserts are not very soft and they are prone to fast-flow leaks because they absorb slowly, so pair them with a minky or prefold. You’ll be sacrificing slimness for absorbancy, but it’s definitely worth it.
- Disposable Inserts – Disposable inserts are perfect when you’re on-the-go or on vacation but you still want to use your cloth diapers. They are a one-time-use, biodegradable product that can be thrown away after they’ve been soiled. Then you can wipe-down the used diaper cover (as long as it was only soiled with urine) and reuse it with another disposable insert.
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Molly, founder of HineyTales, has been cloth diapering for 3 years. Working 4 days a week and with 2 kids under 3 years old in cloth diapers, she tries to remember that parenting is an adventure with plenty of room for mistakes, short-cuts, and imperfections. Her inspiration for starting HineyTales is to spread the #crazyforcloth message to working mamas. With only a little help needed to get started, it’s one of the best decisions a family can make.