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Natural vs Synthetic: Choosing the Right Type of Cloth Diaper for Your Baby

The decision to use cloth diapers is an exciting one, but it can quickly become an overwhelming one as you begin shopping around for cloth diapers only to find that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of styles and materials out there.

Before exploring differentstyles of cloth diapers, you must first determine which type of fabric you want to cloth diaper your baby with.  When it comes to fabric, there are two basic categories of cloth diapers:  synthetic andnatural.  We categorize these based on the actual material that touches your baby’s skin, not by the outer material.

At Little Spruce Organics, we strongly believe that this inner fabric is the most important element of the cloth diaper.  The outside layer is important because that material will determine how leak-proof your diaper ultimately is, but theinner layer is crucial because that is the layer that is next to the most sensitive area of your baby’s body, sometimes for hours at a time.  The quality of fabric of this inner layer also determines the level of absorbency and comfort for your baby.

Shouldn’t the material that is in closest contact with your baby’s sensitive bum be the most important factor in deciding what type of diaper to use?   We think so.  And that is why we decided to carry only cloth diapers made from 100% organic, natural fibers Let us explain why.

Synthetic Cloth Diapers

All synthetic cloth diapers are made from polyester.  Polyester is made from the same material that is used to make plastic (PET).  Polyester is petroleum-based. Petroleum is a non-renewable material.

There are many types of polyester diapers with too many fancy names to count, so the synthetic cloth diaper category can be a bit confusing.  The bottom line is this:  if it’s not made from 100% cotton, 100% hemp, or 100% wool, then it is made from a synthetic, man-made fiber.  Some examples of synthetic diaper materials are suedeclothmicrofibermicroterry, and polyester fleece. Many pocket diapers, All-in-One diapers, and even some fitted diapers contain synthetic materials in the inside layer that lies next to the baby’s skin.

Polyester is exceedingly popular in the textile industry because it is versatile, durable, and stays “dry” for long periods of time.  It is used quite often to make cloth diapers with the objective of attaining a “stay-dry” feeling diaper for your baby.  “Stay-dry” doesn’t really mean that your baby is actually dry, of course.  Just like disposable diapers, this concept simply means that your baby doesn’tfeel the wetness as quickly as she would with a cotton diaper.  When considering synthetic cloth diapers, it is important to keep in mind that one of the many benefits of cloth diapering is that both you and your baby become innately more aware of your baby’s elimination habits.   We feel that the “stay-dry” concept defeats the purpose of this aspect of cloth diapering.

Yes, this means changing a few more diapers.  But it is well worth it… especially considering that synthetic fibers are notorious for causing more diaper rash and retaining foul smells much more than natural fibers, and they are much harder to get clean.  More frequent diaper changes and 100% natural fibers next to your baby’s skin means less diaper rash, cleaner diapers, and a happier baby.

Natural Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapers made from natural fibers refer to any cloth diaper in which the layer that is in closest contact with the baby’s skin is made from 100% natural fiber.  Natural fibers commonly used for cloth diapers include cotton, hemp (or a cotton/hemp blend), and bamboo.  The natural fiber used for cloth diaper covers is wool.

  • Cotton is the most common natural fiber that is made into cloth diapers, and this is our favorite!  Cotton is very absorbent, easy to care for, and comfortable for babies.  Organic cotton is ideal, since conventional cotton is produced with many pesticides and chemical additives during its processing. 
  • Hemp fiber comes from the plant species cannibus sativa.  Hemp is not typically certified organic, but its production is considered organic by definition.  Hemp grows quickly and does not require the use of fertilizer or pesticides.  When used in cloth diapers, hemp is quite absorbent, thick, and durable.  These qualities make it a fantastic diapering material.
  • Bamboo is a sustainable crop; its quick growth allows it to be replaced quickly with a new crop.  Like hemp, it does not typically require fertilizers or pesticides to grow.  Bamboo is nice for diapering because it is soft and very absorbent.  The environmentally friendliness of processing of bamboo can be questionable, so organic bamboo that is processed mechanically instead of chemically is ideal, though much harder to find.
  • Wool is by far the most sustainable material available for cloth diapering materials.  Wool is used to make cloth diaper covers that work very well at containing leaks and allowing air to circulate.  Organic wool is ideal as it contains no pesticide residue and the sheep are raised organically. 

Why we choose natural cloth diapers over synthetic:

  • Natural fibers are better for your baby’s skin than synthetics. No question about this one.  For more information on the dangers of plastics, you can read our blog article here.   Some babies are sensitive to polyester fabrics, so you may find that polyester causes diaper rash on your baby, regardless of how clean it is.
  • Natural fibers are highly absorbent, and they let your baby know when she’s wet.  Natural cloth diapers don’t include any “stay-dry” materials, so when your baby is wet, she’ll stay wet.  Why do we list this as an advantage?  It’s simple:  it is healthier for your baby to know when she’s wet.  This helps your baby to become more aware of her elimination, making it easier to potty-train later, and it helps your baby to let you know when she needs to be changed.  
  • Natural cloth diapers are easier to keep clean and care for.  Keeping your cloth diapers clean is one of the most crucial aspects of successful cloth diapering, and unfortunately, not all types of cloth diapers clean up easily.  Polyester is notorious for retaining smells and stains.  Natural fibers do not typically acquire the “stink” problem that is typical of synthetic cloth diapers, making the entire cloth diapering experience a more pleasant one.
  • Natural cloth diapers are made from renewable resources, making them better for the environment.  Note:  when we refer to “natural fibers,” we refer to organic cottonorganic wool, hemp, and mechanically processed organic bamboo.  Cotton and wool must be organic to be considered friendly to the environment, while bamboo and hemp are generally considered “organic” without the organic certification.
  • Natural cloth diapers are soft, don’t irritate babies’ skin, and are highly absorbent.  Nothing beats a good old fashioned, 100% cotton diaper.  Hemp is one of the most absorbent materials available.  For a diaper cover, wool is unquestionably the best material available- it breathes, it’s comfortable for the baby, it’s naturally antibacterial, it is bulletproof once properly washed and lanolized, and you don’t have to wash it that often!   Why use anything else?