The material of a specific diaper will affect how it washes, how it dries, how it does or does not hold odors. Different materials are more or less absorbent and have differing amounts of bulk. There are different options to consider for almost every kid and every challenge.
· Cotton—the most traditional diapering choice. Cotton is widely available. It washes and dries easily and is often an inexpensive choice for diapering. Cotton tends not to hold odors and is very durable, but it is a bulky option for diapering particularly if you need a lot of absorbency. Cotton tends to feel cold and wet when the baby has soiled the diaper.
· Hemp and Hemp blends—Hemp is an extremely durable natural fiber. Hemp is generally blended with cotton to make it soft and flexible, as unblended hemp can be rigid and scratchy. Hemp-cotton blends are anywhere from 25-40% more absorbent than cotton alone, depending on the weave of the fabric and the percentage of each fiber in the mix. Hemp tends to launder easily but will dry more slowly than plain cotton. Hemp blends tend to feel cold and wet when the baby has soiled the diaper. Hemp diapers tend to be more expensive than plain cotton.
· Bamboo and bamboo blends--Like hemp, bamboo is generally blended with another material, often cotton, when it is made into fibers and diapers. Bamboo blends are more absorbent than cotton alone, and may be more absorbent than hemp blends depending on the exact composition of the blend. Bamboo is also very soft and has some natural odor resisting properties. Bamboo launders moderately easily but can be prone to build-up and repelling depending on the weave. It will dry more slowly than plain cotton. Bamboo blends tend to feel cold and wet when the baby has soiled the diaper. Bamboo diapers tend to be more expensive than both plain cotton and hemp-cotton blends.
· Wool--natural wool is a wonderful option for natural fiber diapering. It is sustainable, highly absorbent, and can be waterproofed naturally. Wool is often used for natural covers and pants (soakers and longies respectively). However, wool requires specific laundering and can be very expensive.
· Silk--silk is an excellent natural fiber for diapering. Silk has natural anti-microbal properties and stay-dry feel. Because silk fibers are quite fragile, it is not used for whole diapers. However, raw silk diaper liners may help with overnight diapering or avoiding diaper rashes. Silk requires specific laundering and can be very expensive by comparison to other diapering products.
· Microfiber--is a term that refers to several kinds of synthetic fiber that are of a specific size. The fiber itself can be made of polyester, polyamide, polypropylene, or a blend of these materials. To be called a microfiber, the threads that compose the material must be less than 1.3 denier in diameter (1/20th the size of a human hair). Microfiber is quite absorbent and easy to wash. It also dries exceptionally quickly because the fibers themselves are actually made of plastic. A microfiber diaper or liner will feel dry to the touch even after a child has used it. It can be helpful to use microfiber when diaper rash is an issue and the skin needs to be kept very dry. Microfiber can retain smells or be prone to soap buildup that leads to repelling problems. Microfiber diapers vary widely in price depending on many factors.
· Minky--is a term used to refer to a synthetic faux fur material that is sometimes used in making diaper covers and laminates.
· Laminates--There are a huge variety of different laminate fabrics that are used to make covers. Generally, a polyester-type fabric is chemically bonded to a thin layer of plastic to form the waterproof layer that is used for the outer part of pocket and AIO diapers, or as a stand alone cover. Laminates come in a huge variety of colors, patterns, and thicknesses that will contribute to their durability. Laminates can be somewhat sensitive to wash and drying--because different laundry treatments (bleach, oxy-bleach, vinegar) may compromise the laminate. Laminates are sometimes also sensitive to high heat. It is always advisable to look at the specific laundering instructions for the diaper or cover you are dealing with and be sure to follow the manufacturers instructions to get the greatest life from your laminate products.
- Zorb-- is a synthetic filler used to increase the absorbency of pocket and all-in-one diapers. It is made of tangled cellulose fibers from bamboo/cotton/viscose and poly micro fiber blended together. It is a fairly trim filler and washes easily.
Lastly, my personal experience having tried a variety of different materials in my diapering adventures-- Cotton and cotton hemp blend launder the best and cleanest in my experience. Hemp or bamboo combos are the most absorbent (less important with a newborn, but much more important with a toddler who stays in an overnight diaper for 10 hours at a time). I generally prefer natural fibers to microfiber because it pretty much always smells better to me, but microfiber does stay dry against the skin the way a disposable diaper does. So it serves a purpose, particularly for a kid who needs to stay super dry. Putting most PUL covers in the dryer is unnecessary and will shorten their useable life a LOT. Wool soakers are wonderful and breathable for summer. They keep diaper rash away without ever needing cream, but don't work as well for an older toddler boy who pees forcefully in a single location.
I'd love to hear other people's experiences with any of the materials. I don't have any diapers filled with zorb, but have heard it is kind of a miracle material. I'm also curious about silk liners, although I can't bring myself to bother with the hand washing that the instructions suggest.