What are Prefold Diapers?

By April Duffy •  Updated: 05/24/24 •  7 min read

When beginning to learn about cloth diapers, some of the terms and diaper style names are super weird and confusing, I get that!

So, what’s a prefold diaper? A prefold cloth diaper is a rectangular piece of layered fabric. It’s usually sewn into three sections lengthwise, with more layers of fabric in the center third than the outer two thirds.

It usually looks something like this:

The name “prefold” has to do with cloth diapering back in the day. Back then prefolds were fancy compared to the regular flat cloth diapers that had been used for a long time. Flat diapers are huge squares of single-layer fabric that require lots of folding to use.

Prefolds cut down on all that folding (though you still have to fold a prefold somewhat) by sewing together the many layers of fabric, with more layers sewn into the center for extra absorbency where it’s needed. To put it another way, prefolds are conveniently pre-folded (and sewn) flat diapers.

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How Do Prefolds Work?

Prefolds are meant to be folded up and either pinned (with pins, a Snappi or Boingo) onto baby or folded up and used as an insert. Here’s what that looks like:

Pinned with a Snappi
Pad folded in a cover

The great thing about prefold diapers are their versatility. By folding them in different ways, and you can learn how to fold a prefold diaper here, you can customize them to meet your specific needs. For example, you can fold them to be better at catching newborn poops, to fit well on babies with chunky thighs, to be better for boys or girls, and so on.

How Do You Use a Snappi with Prefolds?

While pad folding is pretty easy, you just fold it in three, folding a prefold diaper in order to hold it in place with pins or a Snappi can seem complicated at first, so here’s a quick video showing you how to do both folds:

Do Prefolds Need a Cover?

Yes. You must use a cover with prefold diapers no matter how you fold them as they are not waterproof.

How Many Diaper Covers Do I Need for Prefolds?

The really great thing about prefolds is that not only are they inexpensive, but if you’re using them with a regular diaper cover, my personal favorite is the Thirsties Duo wrap, you can reuse the diaper cover, so you don’t need a new one each time you change the prefold.

To explain, once baby wets, you simply open up the diaper, put the wet prefold in the laundry, wipe the inside of the diaper cover clean, put an new prefold on and go, using the same cover multiple times. Once baby soils it, or if you’ve been using the same cover for a day or so, you’ll want a fresh one, but you can usually get at least 3-4 uses out of one diaper cover, which makes diapering with prefolds an inexpensive option.

What are Prefolds Made Of?

Prefolds are most often made from cotton, but you can also find some, like these Thirsties ones, made from hemp, or even bamboo like these OsoCozy ones.

Most prefolds that are sewn into the typical three panels, will be labeled with a number somewhere that looks like 4-8-4. This indicates how many layers of fabric are in each panel of the diaper. So with a 4-8-4 prefold, the two outer thirds have 4 layers of fabric and the center has 8.

What’s the Difference? Bleached vs Unbleached Cotton Prefolds

There are a few differences between bleached and unbleached cotton prefolds.

Cotton is naturally an ivory or light brown color. Bleached prefold diapers are white because the cotton yarn was bleached in the factory before weaving. Bleaching not only turns the cotton fibers white, but it and also removes natural cotton oils in the fabric’s fibers.

Unbleached cotton prefolds can be slightly softer but do take a few more washes to reach full absorbency (though nothing like hemp for those of you familiar with the need to prep hemp multiple times).

Can I use a Prefold in a Pocket Diaper?

Absolutely. Unfortunately, because a pocket diaper has a sewn-in lining, you can’t reuse the cover like you can with a standard diaper cover, but if you already have pocket diapers, prefolds make excellent inserts, and are way more absorbent than the microfiber inserts that come with most discount pocket diapers. In this case, you would use them just as you would your other inserts, pad folding them and putting them in the pocket.

What Size of Prefold for Pocket Diapers?

If you’re buying prefolds for the specific purpose of putting them inside your pocket diapers, it’s always best to measure. Measuring the length of the inserts that came with your pocket diaper, and matching that number as best as possible to the length (larger measurement) of the prefold diaper will always provide you with the best fit.

If however, you don’t have a diaper in front of you to measure, buying the smallest infant size (one size above newborn size if your brand of prefolds makes it) is usually best.

Even if your prefold is a bit too long for your pocket diaper, you can simply fold it over, either in the front for boys, or the back for girls.

Are Prefolds Good for Heavy Wetters?

Absolutely. If you think you might have a heavy wetter on your hands, check out this post where I go over everything you need to know, including some of my best heavy-wetter hacks, like how to make a great nighttime diaper out of prefolds.

What are the Best Prefold Cloth Diapers?

For the typical cotton prefold, I most often recommend OsoCozy prefold diapers. OsoCozy actually has two types of prefolds available: “Traditional” and “Better Fit”.

Their traditional prefolds are best if you plan to try pinning them onto baby before placing a diaper cover over them. The better fit ones are perfect for pad folding.

Here’s how the two sizes look compared to one another:

Apart from size, you also have the choice between organic cotton (100% GOTS certified organic cotton), unbleached Indian cotton (cotton twill weave, that’s soft to the touch), and bamboo (70%Bamboo – 30%Organic, for high absorbency).

The best of those options for you may be different than someone else as it’s all a matter of taste. If organic and natural is important to you, go organic. If you worry about baby’s comfort above all else, but don’t care about the organic stamp, unbleached Indian should be top-notch as it’s very soft. If absorbency is key, or you have a heavy wetter, definitely consider the bamboo. From there, choose a fit option (traditional or better fit) based on if you want to try pinning or not, and you should have it narrowed down to one option, and all you have left is to choose the size that fits your baby best: infant (7-15 lbs) or Premium (15-30lbs).

Most of the OsoCozy prefolds are 4x8x4 absorbency. What this means is that each prefold has three panels length wise, the two outside panels have four layers each, and the center panel has eight. This is typical of most brands.

To have a look at the many sizes and material choices of OsoCozy prefolds available on Amazon, click here.

If you’re looking for something outside of cotton, there is of course the OsoCozy Bamboo, or as I mentioned earlier, Thirsties does have a very good hemp option, though it’s a bit more expensive.

You can get the Thirsties hemp prefold on Amazon here as well, or if you need sezzle they are over at Cloth Diaper Kids here as well (Canadian retailer so prices are in CDN, but ships to the US).

April Duffy

April is the founder of Cloth Diapers for Beginners and author of The Cloth Diaper Wash & Care Handbook. Since 2015, April has helped well over 75,000 parents and caregivers cloth diaper their children through this website, her book, her YouTube Channel, and the Cloth Diapers for Beginners Facebook Group.