So you’ve decided to use cloth diapers. Welcome to the club! You’ve picked up some beautiful fluff (AKA cloth diapers) for your little one’s tushie, and now you’re faced with decisions about which inserts, doublers, or liners you should choose. Wait, what? These terms and all the options can be very confusing for new cloth diapering mamas so I’ve put together a quick primer to help you out.
Let’s start with some basic terminology. (For more cloth diaper definitions and basics, visit my Cloth Diapering 101 page.)
Insert – This is the absorbent layer stuffed into a pocket diaper or laid in a waterproof cover. Common styles of inserts include:
- Flat – One large square of fabric that you fold into a pad shape before stuffing the diaper
- Prefold – A flat diaper that has been prefolded and sewn into shape; used on its own or as an insert
- Trifold – A wider style of insert that you fold into thirds before stuffing
- Pad – Multiple layers sewn into a thick pad shaped to fit your diaper
- Snake-style – A long strip that you fold to fit your diaper and to customize extra absorbency
- Petal-style – Two or more thin inserts sewn together at one end
Doubler – An extra layer added to increase the absorbency of your diaper. Also called a booster. A doubler can be stuffed inside a pocket diaper, laid on top of the insert in an All-in-2 (AI2), or just added to an All-in-One (AIO), fitted, or hybrid diaper to increase absorbency.
Liner – A thin layer placed on top to protect the diaper from rash cream, poop, and/or to keep baby’s bum dry. Liners are not intended to add any absorbency and come in disposable and reusable versions.
- Disposable liners are usually a thin layer of flushable cellulose. They look like thin paper or a dryer sheet.
- You can buy or make your own reusable liners from fleece. Not only do they protect your diaper, but they also add a stay dry layer that wicks moisture away from baby’s bum.
What’s in a Cloth Diaper Insert?
Microfiber is the most common material used in inserts and doublers. Microfiber inserts are very economical. They absorb liquid quickly and dry quickly. However, they tend to flatten over time which reduces their absorbency, and they’re also prone to compression leaks. Microfiber is notorious for holding smells after a while. Microfiber should never go directly against baby’s skin because it absorbs wetness so well that it can cause a rash on your baby’s skin.
Cotton is another economical option used for inserts and doublers. Terry, French terry, flannel, and jersey are most often cotton or a cotton blend. I like to stuff pocket diapers with cotton prefolds folded into thirds. Cotton is a natural fiber and can be found in organic and non-organic varieties.
Bamboo (and charcoal bamboo) is often considered a natural fiber, but in reality bamboo must be heavily processed, often with harsh non-environmentally friendly chemicals, to produce bamboo rayon. More expensive than microfiber and cotton, bamboo inserts are silky soft, trim, and absorbent. Velour Bamboo velour is sometimes used Rayon from bamboo wicks moisture away from baby’s skin at three to four times the rate of cotton. Bamboo is often blended with cotton to give the insert a little more structure.
Hemp is a natural, environmentally-friendly fiber and considered a premium insert material. It comes with a higher price tag, but it holds the most liquid. It also takes the longest to dry. Hemp inserts are usually a hemp/cotton blend. Hemp tend to feel stiffer than other materials and can feel almost crunchy if you line dry.
Although microfiber, cotton, bamboo, and hemp are the most common, occasionally you might find inserts made from other materials:
- Minky is made from polyester like microfiber, but unlike microfiber, you can safely place it next to baby’s skin. It’s very soft and plush, absorbs well, and is fairly stain-resistant.
- Velour inserts are ultra soft and plush like minky, but made from either cotton, or a combination of bamboo and cotton. The natural fibers make it more breathable than minky. You might see the term OBV – this means organic bamboo velour.
- Zorb is a newer material made from a mix of natural and manufactured fibers. It’s highly absorbent and designed to reduce compression leaks, but still quite costly which is why you don’t see a lot of it. Zorb inserts should only be used as the middle of a fabric “sandwich” as it pills quite badly when washed on its own.
You can also find inserts made out of individual layers of different materials sewn together (e.g., two layers of microfiber topped with one layer of bamboo, or cotton topped with stay dry fleece). When layering different materials, try to put microfiber on top as it absorbs liquids the quickest, and bamboo or hemp on the bottom as they hold the most liquid. Overnight diapers will usually require multiple inserts/doublers to hold an entire night’s pee.
Note that natural fiber inserts need to be “prepped” or washed several times before use. This removes the natural oils and waxes that stop the fabric from absorbing liquid. You should expect to wash and dry your natural fiber inserts at least 3-5 times before first use.
At the end of the day, the best insert, doubler, and/or liner for you depends on many different factors: your budget, your baby’s sensitivity to wetness and to synthetic or natural fibers, your laundry routine, and your personal preference. I hope the info here helps with your decision-making!
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