Monday, August 23, 2010

Cloth Diaper Materials: Part TWO

More than you could possibly ever want to know about the materials used in cloth diapers, part two.

Now that we've learned about the different fibers used in cloth diapers (from last week's post), here's a guide to the different ways that those fibers can be made into fabric.

Hard-Working, Basic Fabrics

Diaper Twill: The twill used in diapers is actually similar to the twill used for pants. It is typically 100% cotton, but can also be found in hemp. It's usually used in prefold or flatfold diapers, but can also be used in fitteds. It softens with use, but will never be as soft as flannel.

Birdseye: Birdseye (or Birdseye Pique, often called "Diaper cloth") is a loosely-woven cotton used in prefolds. The fabric's weave makes it slightly textured. Birdseye is 100% cotton and can sometimes be found in organic and unbleached varieties. It will last through multiple children, and continues to soften, fluff, and increase in absorbancy through use. Birdseye is commonly used in flat diapers, but works well as a prefold, fitted, or in a soaker pad. Because Birdseye is fairly thin, it is used in multiple layers to achieve sufficient absorbency.

Flannel: Flannel is a soft, brushed cotton. Double napped flannel is what is commonly available in fabric stores. It's "double napped" because it's been brushed on both sides so it's soft and fuzzy on both sides. Killington flannel is an unbleached, strong, and durable flannel. Diaper flannel is the strongest flannel available, but can be difficult to find. Flannel is most commonly 100% cotton.

Thick, Absorbent Fabrics

Knit Terry: Loopy terrycloth that is soft and stretchy. Hooded little baby bath towels are often made of this. It's usually thinner than towel material, though you can get it in heavier weights. It doesn't form "diaper rocks" (pilly rocks of matted fabric shards inside a diaper), and won't get stiff. Knit Terry is available in cotton and cotton blends, hemp and hemp blends, and rayon from bamboo. It is sometimes knit with a polyester backing for durability.

Woven Terry: Also known as Terry Toweling, this fabric is most commonly used to make towels. Woven terry can get a bit stiff when used in a soaker pad, but it is overall a very soft and absorbent fabric. Woven terry is most commonly available in a 100% cotton.

Burley Knit Terry: a knit terry fabric with long, thick loops that have not been brushed. It's a pretty chunkly looking knit, and reminds me a bit of berber carpet. Burley knit terry is very absorbent, but bulkier than regular knit terry. Most commonly available in 100% cotton, or a cotton blend.

Microfiber Terry: Microfiber is actually a poly knit that's made up of lots of tiny plastic fibers. (micro fibers, actually.) These tiny fibers do not actually absorb (because they're synthetic), but they hold moisture between them, making microfiber good at quickly absorbing liquids. Microfiber is scratchy to the touch, and is best used away from direct contact with the skin. It is available only in 100% polyester.

Sherpa Knit Terry: Sherps is a knit terry fabric that has been brushed and washed to give it a fluffy softness.It's trimmer than burley knit terry, but bulkier than regular stretch knit terry. It's very soft to the touch and feels pretty luxurious. Sherpa is most commonly available in cotton with a polyester backing for durability.

Velour: A low-pile soft fabric that feels nice next to the skin. Commonly used to make the jogging suits worn by stereotypical mobsters in movies. Velour feels a wee bit like really plush carpet, or like a soft velvet. Velour is commonly available as a 100% polyester, but for cloth diapers, we use a 70-100% cotton velour. Velour is also available in rayon from bamboo, as well as hemp.

Nonabsorbent Fabrics

PUL: Stands for Poly Urethane Laminate. It is simply a knit or woven fabric that has been bonded with a urethane layer to make it waterproof. Some people pronounce it "pull" while others call it "P-U-L." PUL is the modern version of the plastic or rubber pants from a generation ago - it's soft, leak-proof, non-cracking, non-yellowing. It's a thin, versatile, waterproof fabric. It can be made from any type (fiber/weave) of fabric on the outside, but the inside will always be polyurethane. It's worth noting that the term "PUL" is unique to the cloth diaper industry.

Microfleece: Microfleece is polyester, so it doesn't absorb moisture. It's thin, though, so it acts as a wicking agent, pulling moisture from baby's skin to the diaper underneath. And it feels nice, too.

Suedecloth: Suede performs the same functions as microfleece, but it's much thinner. It is NOT leather suede, but rather a 100% polyester fabric. It wicks moisture away from baby to keep him or her feeling dry. Some people feel that suede doesn't keep baby as dry as microfleece does, but it resists stains better and doesn't pill up over time.

Microsuede: Talk about soft! Microsuede is also a polyester fabric. It will wick moisture away from baby's skin and to the absorbent diaper underneath. The benefit of microsuede is it's utter softness - this stuff is seriously snuggly. Some people feel that microsuede does not perform as well as suedecloth or microfleece inside diapers.

Other Fabrics

Interlock & Jersey Knits: Knit fabrics are stretchy. They can be heavyweight or thin, soft or scratchy. They can be made from cotton, polyester, rayon, hemp, or any combination. Knits are considered to be a delicate fabric and are not as durable as other fabric choices.

Woven Cottons: Woven fabrics do not have any "give;" they aren't stretchy like knits are. Wovens are far more durable than knits, and will stay looking nice longer than flannel or knits. Most wovens used in cloth diapers are 100% cotton.

Wool and Fleece
I thought I'd address wool and fleece separately, since they're somewhat unique.
There are many types of wool weaves. The most popular are wool knits (jersey, interlock, and doubleknit). Wool flannels and melton wool (usually used for coats) also work well for diaper covers. Wool knits will be stretchy; wool flannels and melton will not be stretchy. One is not better than the other; it's just a matter of what you prefer.
Wool is also sometimes described by the type of sheep it came from. Merino wool, for example, comes from a merino sheep. Merino wool is known for its softness, but it is prone to getting stretched out.

Fleece is always a polyester fabric. There are a few main types of fleece. Malden Mills WindPro and WindBloc fleeces are milled by Malden Mills and are quite water repellant. These fleeces are usually considered to be the gold standard in fleece for diaper covers. Polar fleece or Nordic fleece are the cheaper fleeces commonly available in fabric stores. It is fuzzy and much less dense than the Malden Mills fleeces. It works well as a diaper cover if doubled.
All fleece will wick if compressed when the diaper inside is saturated. Fleece also tends to sweat a bit - it might feel a bit dampish on the outside.

Some manufacturers apply a Durable Water Repellant (DWR) to their fleeces. This coating does wash out over time; if you notice your fleece covers stop working as well, consider treating them with a spray-on waterproofer.
Fleece is actually a polyester version of wool. It doesn't have wool's cool properties (like being antibacterial), but it does function similarly. Wool absorbs moisture, polyester fleece traps moisture between its fibers.

Written by Sarah Reid

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