Monday, March 8, 2010

Diapering Fabrics--pros and cons of the various choices

Each seller uses slightly different fabrics and patterns, so while this post should give some basic guidelines, it is always a good idea to talk to the shopkeeper you want to buy from, and ask her for specifics about what she sews and sells. ☺ You can also search the fabric labels on the sidebar to see a variety of items made from each one.

Each diaper (or diaper/cover combination) needs three fabric types: something soft next to the skin, something to serve as a leak barrier on the outside, and something absorbent in the middle.

Here is a list of the fabric options for each part.

  • Outside Barrier (PUL , heavyweight fleece, or wool)
  • Soft fabric next to skin (stay-dry microfleece or suedecloth, bamboo, flannel, velour, minkee, or silk)
  • Absorbent Core fabric (microfiber, hemp, cotton, bamboo, etc—natural fibers always absorb, synthetic ones generally do not.) Sometimes this can be the same fabric that is next to the skin, but not always (see pros/cons list for details).

Some things to think about when choosing materials:

What age will this diaper be used for? How long will the item be worn between changes (how absorbent does it need to be?) Are sensitive skin/reactions an issue? (Some people react to synthetic fabrics, others react to staying wet). What materials can I afford? (organic bamboo velour retails at $19/yd, whereas cotton flannel is $2/yd)

Here is a brief synopsis of the pros and cons of various fabrics:




1ml PUL*

Slightly more flexible/stretchy/soft than 2ml, absolutely will not leak.

Potentially not as strong as 2ml. Synthetic fabric doesn’t breathe.

2ml PUL*

Stronger than 1ml (holds up to abuse such as chlorinated pools or frequent washing). Great for wetbags. Absolutely will not leak.

Slightly more expensive and potentially stiffer than 1ml. Synthetic fabric doesn’t breathe.

Heavy Polyester Fleece

Inexpensive; breathes

Synthetic fabric may cause irritation; may leak under heavy use; may get pilly with washing.


Thirsty; natural fabric breathes; waterproof when properly lanolized; can double as outerwear with diapers; can be recycled from sweaters.

Wool has to be handwashed, so cannot be used as part of an all-in-one design. Many wools are scratchy, so should be chosen carefully. Hand-knit/crochet wool covers are expensive.


Soft. Keeps the skin dry by wicking moisture through. Stretch makes it easier to stuff pockets (especially in small sizes)

Gets a little pilly with repeated washing; synthetic material may irritate sensitive skin.


Keeps the skin dry by wicking moisture through. Available in a variety of prints and colors.

Synthetic—some people don’t like the feel (not as soft as microfleece)


Fun colors and prints; can be used for both top and inner layers

Multiple layers can take a long time to dry; heavy when wet

Velour (available in cotton, hemp, and bamboo)

Very soft and stays soft through washings; fuzz gives a ‘feel-dry’ feeling although it doesn’t actually wick moisture away

Terry (available in cotton, hemp, and bamboo)

Very absorbent; can be upcycled from old towels

Can be quite bulky


Trim (not bulky); very thirsty; dries quickly.

Synthetic, feels weird (most wouldn’t want it touching skin)


Cheap, readily available,many colors and prints to choose from

Heavy when wet and slow to dry (think of a wet tee-shirt or towel)

Bamboo (available as fleece, terry, velour, and flannel)

Eco-friendly, VERY soft (truly the softest thing I've ever felt)


Hemp (available as fleece, terry, and velour)

Eco-friendly, natural anti-microbial properties, very trim

Expensive, some types can get stiff with washing.

*PUL (poly-urithane laminate) is a knit fabric with a laminate coating on the back. From one side it looks like regular fabric but because of the coating it is completely waterproof. It was originally developed for use in the medical field but has now become popular for cloth diapering and is available in a rainbow of solid colors. There is “Fabrite PUL” which is the original stuff, and there is also off-brand PUL, which is exactly the same only cheaper and in slightly different colors.

A special note about PUL—many people do “DIY PUL” which is when the PUL backing is applied to fabrics which the customer sends in. These PULs are easily recognized because the PUL company only makes solid colors, so any kind of print is a DIY. I have had mixed results with DIY PULs, and will say this: I will never again use a woven DIY fabric. I might use a knit one if it was really really cute, but in general I have found them in every way inferior to the standard PUL.

If you have any questions, or if I missed anything here, please leave a comment!


  1. Great post!!! A couple of things I've experienced for the "cons" list: flannel may get pilly after a bazillion washes, synthetic fibers for pocket inners may start to repel, and hemp may retain odors more than cotton. The last 2 pertain to wash routines too, but IMO some fabrics are less fuss when cared for over time.

  2. I use fleece and wool as covers here and the thing I love the most about them is using longies/shorties ~ this way it is the cover and the clothes and cuts down on bulk considerably. Love it! And fleece is so easy to care for.

    Flannel was the first fabric I used to make cloth diapers and is a fabulous fabric to use. I love it ~ it wears well and is soft and a total workhorse! But I'm a bamboo convert now ;)

  3. I started with microfleece/PUL pockets and AIOs...loved them, until my second baby reacted to microfleece!! Now I'm a bamboo convert too, although I have a few hemp diapers that I really love, and cotton velour is a budget-friendly alternative to bamboo velour.


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