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How do all-in-one cloth diapers work?

Choosing between all the different diaper types out there isn't easy.
Choosing between all the different diaper types out there isn't easy.
©iStockphoto.com/Gabees

New moms and dads have more choices to make than ever before. Do we want to know the baby's sex? Should we go natural? Will we deliver in a hospital, a "birthing center" or at home? Doctor or midwife? Traditional or water birth?

Cloth or disposable?

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The choice of "diapering system" is perhaps the most highly debated parenting topic in the mainstream today, and it's not one to be taken lightly. Parents will be dealing with it several times a day, every day, for a couple of years. When you have a baby, diapers are a big deal.

When disposable diapers were first introduced in the 1940s, they were a luxury; by the '80s, prices had come down, availability had skyrocketed and almost everybody had switched to the less labor-intensive option [sources: Kimberly-Clark, FamilyEducation]. With disposables, there was no more washing and folding, no more pinning and far less intimate contact with the uniquely smelly emission that is baby poop. You just wrap 'em up and throw 'em out.

And thus we found ourselves with ever-growing landfills stuffed to the brim with soiled diapers and an eventual environmentalist push for a return to traditional cloth.

The cloth vs. disposable controversy centers on the ecological issue, with both sides claiming victory (it's diapery landfills vs. hot-water washing and diaper-service fuel emissions). But green-minded parents more often opt for reusable cloth. The decision doesn't end there, though. Within "cloth," they have to make a less clear-cut decision: diaper wrap, insert or all-in-one?

In this article, we'll see what makes a cloth diaper an "all-in-one" and learn how it differs from other cloth systems. We'll also investigate the pros and cons of all-in-one reusable diapers.

We'll begin with the most basic question: What's an all-in one?

Cloth diapers used to be standard fare for babies until the 1980s.
Cloth diapers used to be standard fare for babies until the 1980s.
George Marks/Retrofile RF/Getty Images

All cloth diapers have a couple of things in common. First, they're made of a soft, absorbent fabric, often cotton, sometimes hemp. Second, they're reusable, which means they need to be washed.

While the concept is pretty straightforward, a cloth-diaper setup does come in a few different configurations. The most significant variation is the way the setup deals with the two necessary features of any diapering system: absorbency and waterproofing. The basic breakdown goes like this:

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  • Diaper wrap -- In a diaper wrap system, you have two separate pieces, the cloth and the wrap. The cloth, simply a piece of fabric that gets folded and placed against the baby's bottom, is the absorbent component of the setup. The outer wrap is the waterproof part.
  • Diaper insert -- This system also has two separate parts. In this case, it's a waterproof wrap and an absorbent, fabric insert. The insert gets tucked into a pocket in the wrap, so it's typically less bulky than the straight diaper-wrap setup.
  • All-in-one -- An all-in-one system has only one part. In this setup, the absorbent material is sewn into the waterproof diaper wrap. This type of cloth diaper is the closest in form and function to a disposable diaper.

Using an all-in-one cloth diaper is simpler than using any of the other cloth-diapering systems, since there's only one piece. There's nothing to fold and nothing to insert or remove. It typically has a convenient fastening mechanism, like hook-and-loop or Velcro, and of course, it's washable.

Like other cloth diapers, while all-in-ones are somewhat expensive by the unit -- in the area of $15 per diaper -- they usually end up being cheaper than disposables over the non-potty-trained long run [source: FamilyEducation]. Plus, it's easier to tell how much urine the baby is producing (a sign that he or she is or is not getting enough to eat) because cloth diapers stay wetter than disposables.

Which brings us to some of the downsides to all-in-ones (and many other cloth setups). They stay wetter than disposables, so they may be more uncomfortable against baby's skin once they're soiled. Also, all the washing will be done at home, since diaper services don't typically pick up and deliver all-in-ones. Finally, and perhaps most troublingly, they tend to leak more than disposables. But that's an issue with most cloth diapers, regardless of type.

If you're going with cloth, though, it's because the upside of keeping diapers out of landfills overpowers the downsides of a few more leaky messes -- and a whole lot of extra laundry duty.

For more information on cloth diapers, all-in-ones and related topics, look over the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

Sources

  • Feder, J. Lester. "Bottom Feeders." The Big Money. May 11, 2009.http://www.thebigmoney.com/articles/judgments/2009/05/11/bottom-feeders
  • bumGenius 3.0 DELUXE All-In-One Cloth Diapers. bumGenius.http://www.bumgenius.com/all-in-one.php
  • Bumkins All-In-One Cloth Diapers. TinyTush.http://www.tinytush.com/Bumkins-All-In-Ones_p_73-688.html
  • Diaper Wars: Cloth Versus Disposable. Family Education.http://life.familyeducation.com/diapers/baby/50452.html
  • Kushies Ultra All in One Diaper. Jardine Diapers.http://www.jardinediapers.com/Kushies-Ultra-All-in-One-Diaper-p-47.html
  • SposoEasy All-In-Ones. Green Mountain Diapers. http://www.greenmountaindiapers.com/allinone.htm

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