If you have sewing skills, cloth diapers can definitely be DIY’d and made by you, often inexpensively compared to higher-end diaper brands.
What Fabric Should I Use to Make Cloth Diapers?
Cloth diapers have two parts, and need two different types of fabric:
- Absorbent material inside, that soaks up all of the waste and holds it in place.
- Waterproof or water-resistant material outside, to keep all that mess from seeping out onto your lap, your furniture, baby’s clothes, etc.
So let’s not waste time and get to what materials will work well for each part:
Absorbent Cloth Diaper Layers
If you’ve been sewing for a while you’ll know polyester is just a catch-all term for any fabric made using polyester yarns or fibers. All polyester fabrics are synthetic, made from human-made polymers.
Microfiber is the polyester fabric most commonly used in the absorbent parts of diapers.
I’ve written a whole article about the pros and cons of using microfiber in diapers here, but suffice it to say that for most experienced cloth diaper parents, the cons far outweigh the pros.
Since it’s such a pain to work with and not the most effective diaper material, I don’t recommend using it if you’re sewing your own diapers. If you do use it, never use it as the layer that will be touching your baby’s skin as it can cause irritation and rashes.
Cotton is the most commonly used plant-based fiber on earth. Because of its incredible popularity and many uses, cotton production is a major industry, and not all cotton is created equal.
There are environmental, ethical, and chemical concerns around cotton, but certified organic cotton is a great choice for cloth diapers because it’s both gentle and very absorbent.
To find ecologically responsible and non-GMO cotton, you’ll want to check it’s organic certification. There are two independent organic certifications for organic cotton: Organic Content Standards (OCS), and Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). Here’s some information about the differences between them.
Bamboo is a very absorbent choice for cloth diapers, though any “natural” and eco-friendly labeling you see should be taken with a grain of salt.
As the Federal Trade Commission explains, “The soft textiles you see labeled ‘bamboo’ don’t contain any part of the bamboo plant. They are made from bamboo that has been processed into rayon using toxic chemicals.
“When bamboo is processed into rayon, no trace of the original plant is left… If a company claims its product is made with bamboo, it should have reliable scientific evidence to show it’s made with bamboo fiber.” (source)
All that said, bamboo is an excellent choice for cloth diaper fabric since it’s soft, very absorbent and bamboo can be grown grows quickly, and needs little to no pesticides.
Important note: If you’re buying inserts instead of sewing them, know that “bamboo-charcoal” inserts often don’t contain any bamboo fibers. They are most-often microfiber wrapped in fleece. Click here for more info.
A natural fiber, hemp fabrics are very thin and able to hold a lot (more than cotton or bamboo).
That said, hemp doesn’t absorb liquid quickly like cotton or microfiber can. This is why you’ll often see cloth diaper inserts made from hemp and cotton blends. If using an all-hemp fabric, consider layering it with another absorbent fiber, like cotton, for your cloth diapers.
It should be noted that hemp fabric needs to be washed multiple times to reach its maximum absorbency due to the natural oils left in the fabric even after processing. Washing and drying them a few times is usually sufficient, though they will get even more absorbent over time (source).
Zorb is a blended fabric made specifically for use in cloth diapers by Wazoodle Fabrics.
Though there were some commercial diapers, including overnight fitted diapers made with Zorb a few years ago, it’s now most often found in DIY diaper inserts, likely due to cost.
The original Zorb fabric is a non-woven interlining material made from tangled cellulose fibres from bamboo viscose, cotton, organic cotton, and polyester. It can absorb 10 times its weight in under two seconds and absorbs 10 times faster than other materials like bamboo, cotton or hemp knits.
There are now several types of Zorb available from Wazoodle. You can read more about Zorb here.
Which Absorbent Fabric Should you Choose for Your Cloth Diapers?
I’ve just thrown a lot of options at you when it comes to the absorbent layers of your cloth diapers, and you’re probably wondering which one is best. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Each one of these fabrics has an absorbency rate, and an absorbency limit that’s different. Hemp for example can absorb a lot, but it does so slowly, so slowly it’s most often mixed with hemp, or layered under hemp when used in cloth diapers.
Here’s a quick graphic to show you the different absorbency rates:
|Insert Type||Absorption Amount||Absorption Speed|
Waterproof/ Water-Resistant Cloth Diaper Cover Materials
Fleece (Polar or Arctic Fleece)
Polyester fleece comes in types and thicknesses. Thin microfleece can be used to make DIY cloth diaper liners (see below) whereas thicker “polar fleece”, or “arctic fleece” can be used to make a water-resistant diaper cover.
Fleece used in this way makes a great no-sew, DIY, breathable cover, but is less water-resistant than other types of covers and will also leak quickly when compressed (like when baby is strapped into car seats or booster seats).
Here’s a video from Jess is Blessed showing you how to whip one of these covers up:
These thicker fleeces can also be sewn into soakers, fitted diapers (changing their name to hybrid-fitteds), etc., as a way of adding some water-resistance to them while keeping some breathability.
Polyurethane laminate (PUL) is the most common fabric used in cloth diaper covers and the shells of all-in-one, all-in-two, and pocket diapers. Wet bags are also made from PUL.
PUL is commonly made from polyester. A polyester fabric is paired with TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane), a thin stretchy plastic film, and bonded together using a combination of heat, pressure, and adhesive.
This video from Sewing Bee Fabrics does an amazing job of explaining what PUL is, how easy it is to care for, and even shows you what it does when it get’s wet. This is a sewing video, so if you’re not interested in hearing about how it is sewn as well, you’ll just want to watch the first six minutes or so.
PUL can be washed and dried on moderately high-heat settings. It can also be bleached without getting damaged or color faded. As the video explains, the biggest threats to PUL are abrasives; very high heat can also be damaging over time.
Wool diaper covers are also wonderful and are the only natural fabric that can offer superior water-resistance when lanolized. In fact, wool diaper covers work so amazingly well at protecting against leaks, they are the best defense and my top recommendation for heavy wetters at night.
For more information on how to use and care for wool covers, click here.
Wool covers can of course be sewn, but they can also be knitted or crocheted if you’re a DIY diva.
Other Materials Commonly Used in Cloth Diapers
Apart from the materials often found in the water-resistant cover and the absorbent centre of homemade diapers, there are some fabrics that can be used with cloth diapers for other reasons.
Microfleece makes great DIY cloth diaper liners.
A cloth diaper liner is different from an absorbent insert in that it’s not meant to absorb, but instead it lets liquid pass through them while holding more solid substances, like waste or ointments, on top. This protects your diapers from stains, and makes clean up easier.
Cutting a single layer of microfleece and using it as a liner is also good for baby’s comfort. Unlike polar fleece or other thicker fleeces, microfleece is a wicking fabric (vs. a water-resistant fabric). It actually wicks moisture away from baby when used as a liner, and maintains it’s dry feeling even when wet so it is like adding a “stay-dry” layer.
Here’s a neat video showing the difference between how the types of fleece behave:
Microsuede / Suedecloth
Microsuede, sometimes called suedecloth, is a polyester fabric that, like microfleece, is good at wicking moisture away from the skin.
It is often used as a lining for pocket diapers because of this stay-dry property, and because it helps with solids clean up.
Once you’ve chosen your fabrics, you’ll want to decide what kinds of diapers to make and how to prepare them for your baby. Check out the cloth diaper 101 page here for information.