Cloth Diapers – Which Fabric Is Best?


Before we dive into a general comparison of the 4 common types of cloth diaper fabrics, I want to give you an overview of each one. This will help you in determining which fabric will best suit your needs.

Cotton

Cotton is a super reliable fabric option. If you are having trouble deciding on fabric, you really can’t go wrong with cotton. It is a natural fabric that absorbs well, washes easily, dries nicely, and is very affordable. Tried and true.

Hemp

Hemp is a natural fabric that holds a ton of liquid, however, it absorbs slower than the other fabrics. If you have issues with flooding (diaper leaking because baby pees so fast the cloth doesn’t have time to absorb) you can always add a faster absorbing fabric on top of the hemp. A bamboo or cotton doubler works great.
If you love hemp check out Geffen Baby’s hemp products. They have a proprietary blend of 60% hemp/40% cotton. This is the highest hemp blend you will find and makes a more durable and absorbent fabric.

Bamboo

Bamboo is often marketed as a natural fabric, and though it is derived from a bamboo plant, the manufacturing process of turning the pulp into cloth requires the bamboo to be changed structurally with chemicals. The resulting product is rayon from bamboo.
It is super absorbent and soft. For cloth diapering purposes this fabric is very well rounded.

Polyester

AKA Microfiber, Microterry, Zorb, Minky, Microfleece, Polar Fleece, Microsuede, or Suede Cloth. This type of fabric is synthetic, which means it is man-made. Polyester is made by creating a chemical reaction involving coal, petroleum, air, and water.
While researching this post, I had a hard time finding a comprehensive comparison of the different types of synthetic diaper fabrics, so I have taken the liberty of creating it myself.

Absorbent Polyester Fabrics

Microfiber or Microterry – This fabric should not directly touch the baby’s skin. It is so absorbent that it can draw moisture out of a baby’s skin and cause irritation. When this fabric becomes fully saturated it is prone to leak if compressed.

Zorb – Made of bamboo/cotton/viscose and poly microfibers. The manufacturer describes this fabric to “Absorb 10 times its weight in under 2 seconds and soaks up 20 times faster than other materials (bamboo, cotton, hemp knits)”.

Stay-Dry polyester fabrics

Fleece – The term “fleece” does not actually describe what a piece of fabric is made of, and has more to do with the way the fabric feels. Some fleece fabrics are made of cotton, and some are made of polyester. The fleece used in cloth diapers is usually a polyester material.
Fleece comes in different weights. The lighter-weight fleece (microfleece) is better for the inner stay-dry layer, while the heavier-weight fleece is used for diaper covers.

Microfleece – Safe next to baby’s skin. Wicks moisture away from baby’s bottom. Moisture will go through the microfleece and be absorbed by a different (absorbent) layer of fabric underneath, leaving baby feeling dry. Pills over time (little balls of fabric “fuzzball”).

Microsuede or Suede Cloth – Functions the same as microfleece but doesn’t pill over time. This fabric also better resists staining.

Water Resistant Polyester Fabrics (waterproof outer layer)

Minky – Used as the outer waterproofing layer (cover) of a cloth diaper. Also similar to microfleece in its ability to work as a stay-dry layer and wick moisture.

Polar Fleece, Malden Mills Fleece – Heavyweight fleece is better for diaper covers.

Cloth Diaper Fabric PerformanceGoodBetterBest
Absorbency VolumePolyesterCottonHemp & Bamboo
Absorbency SpeedHempCottonPolyester & Bamboo
PriceHempCottonPolyester & Bamboo
DurabilityPolyesterBambooHemp & Cotton
Ease Of Use (Prepping, Washing, Drying)PolyesterCottonBamboo & Hemp
Natural FiberSynthetic Fiber
CottonBamboo
HempPolyester

Prepping Cloth Diaper Fabrics

Polyester: Requires the least amount of prepping before use on baby. Just wash/dry once like you would with any other new article of clothing.

Bamboo: In my experience, bamboo does not need to be prepped. Many manufacturers and retailers will recommend you prep bamboo in order to achieve maximum absorbency, however, I have tested brand new bamboo and it absorbed just fine after only one wash/dry cycle. The fabric may get more absorbent over time with more cycles, but it likely is not necessary to prep before use.

Hemp: Prep time will vary depending upon which brand you purchase and the percentage of hemp in the blend. If you are looking to cut down the prep time of your cloth then I highly recommend Smart Bottoms Dream 2.0 Cloth Diaper. It can be used after only one wash/dry cycle and reaches full absorbency in only 3 cycles. Bonus, it’s super trim and they have adorable prints.

Cotton: Cotton will likely take the longest to prep. The last batch of All-In-One cotton diapers I prepped took 8 wash/dry cycles before they started to become absorbent enough to use on the baby.

Laundry Care

Cotton: Cotton washes up very well and can stand up to occasional bleaching.

Hemp: Gets softer over time. Takes the longest to dry.

Bamboo: Dries faster than cotton, but it is more delicate.

Polyester: The microscopic structure of this fabric can make it difficult to get clean, which can lead to stink issues.

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