So you’ve decided to use cloth diapers. Welcome to the club! You’ve picked up some lovely 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 this quick primer to help you out.
Inserts vs. Doublers vs. Liners
Let’s start by clarifying the difference between inserts, doublers, and liners. While these all go inside a diaper, these terms refer to different things.
Inserts are the main absorbent layer stuffed into a pocket diaper or laid in a waterproof cover.
Doublers refer to an extra layer added to increase the absorbency of your diaper. Also called boosters, doublers 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.
Liners are a thin layer laid on top to protect the diaper’s lining 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.
- Reusable liners are frequently made from fleece. Not only do fleece liners protect your diaper, but they also add a stay dry layer that wicks moisture away from baby’s bum.
Styles of Inserts
Cloth diaper inserts come in many different styles. They’re usually a separate piece, but you may also find them sewn in permanently in an AIO. Some inserts come with snaps to snap into a diaper shell, others are stuffed into a pocket or simply laid in the diaper.
The most common styles of inserts include:
- Flat – A 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
What’s in a Cloth Diaper Insert?
Cloth diaper inserts and doublers come in a variety of materials to suit every price point and lifestyle. The four main types are microfiber, cotton, bamboo, and hemp.
Microfiber is the most common material used in inserts and the most economical. Microfiber inserts absorb liquid quickly and dry quickly. However, they tend to flatten over time which reduces their absorbency, and they’re prone to compression leaks. Microfiber is also 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.
Pros of Microfiber Inserts
- most economical
- absorb quickly
- dry quickly
Cons of Microfiber Inserts
- don’t last as long
- prone to compression leaks
- hold diaper stink
- cannot be placed next to baby’s skin
Cotton inserts are another economical option. Cotton is highly versatile, found in either organic or non-organic as well as a variety of different finishes. When you see descriptors like terry, French terry, flannel, or jersey, these are likely to be cotton or a cotton blend. Cotton prefolds folded into thirds are ideal for stuffing into pocket diapers for heavy wetters.
Pros of Cotton Inserts
- come in a variety of finishes
Cons of Cotton Inserts
- bulkier than other options
- slower to absorb
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. Also found as bamboo velour or charcoal bamboo, 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.
Pros of Bamboo Inserts
- very soft
- trim and absorbent
- absorb quickly
Cons of Bamboo Inserts
- manufacturing process is often environmentally unfriendly
- more expensive
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.
Pros of Hemp Inserts
- most absorbent
- most sustainable option
Cons of Hemp Inserts
- most expensive
- feel stiffer
- slow to 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 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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