Are Cloth Diapers Too Advanced? My Thoughts on Simplicity and Diapering

Each year when I go back to flats and handwashing my mind goes back to the question: “Are Cloth Diapers Becoming Too Advanced?”  The simple birdseye diapers (that’s what my grandmothers both call the diapers they used) work great.  I’ve only had a small number of leaks with my flats and it was always traced to human error.  According to my own grandmother she never had any leaks on any of her children and they never suffered from diaper rash.

There have been great advances in cloth diaper technology since the 1950’s, even since 2008 when I started using cloth diapers!  The materials and patterns have improved.  The way we think about how diapers fit a baby, how rearranging the layers in the wet zones to make cloth diapers more absorbent yet trimmer and faster drying is now an art form.  These ideas have made modern cloth diapers a logical choice because the inconvenience factor is obsolete.  Changing a cloth diaper is now as easy as changing a disposable.

Or is it?

As a cloth diaper reviewer I’ve seen how innovation has gone beyond “making life easier” to “I can’t infringe on this patent so I need to add an extra doohickey.”  Have you ever wondered why some cloth diapers have a front stuffing pocket?  Fuzzibunz holds a patent on the pocket diaper with an opening in the back.  To avoid paying fees some diapers have a front stuffing pocket.  There are plenty of people who prefer it, and it is a way to avoid ever having to touch poop, but my hunch is that the reason it is in the front has more to do with not paying fees than poop.

In cloth diaper industry is seeing rapid growth.  Where there is money to be made there are people who are more than happy to capitalize on it.  Creating a “new” and “different” cloth diaper is difficult.  I have a hard time imagining what they next game changer will be.  In my 4 years of researching cloth diapers I have seen the following new innovations:

  • Invention of the All-in-Two by Gro Baby (now GroVia)
  • The first cloth diaper marketed as a sleeve diaper where the insert agitates out on its own (Smartipants)
  • The first (to my knowledge) Tongue-Style AIO (Tots Bots Easy Fit)
  • The extended tab prefold (Meg-a-Roos)
  • The Dual Size “One Size” system with 2 sizes and multiple rise settings to better fit babies birth to potty training (Thirsties)
  • A new way of closing prefolds and flats that combines the ease of a Snappi with the position of pins (Boingo)

The Leg Elastic sizing system.  This one is {hotly} debated.  Rocky Mountain One Size claim to be first (with snaps) and so do Softbums (with toggles) but the first time it was widely seen was from Fuzzibunz One Size however later it appears Evolution Ion has the patent.

Slotted Leg Elastic Sizing, is a perfect example of how complicated a diaper can get.  One diaper, the Sprout Change, initially came out with leg and waist elastic that was adjustable using buttons and slots.  There were no numbers, and to adjust it took 10 minutes or more.  Guess wrong and you were back to square one.  As an experienced cloth diaper user I was able to perform this task but in my review I am honest that it isn’t easy and not my favorite thing to do (their second version made improvements but the idea remained the same).  Another diaper that had me scratching my head and watching videos/reading intructions was the itti bitti Tutto.  This one size diaper from Australia had snapping soakers with a color code.  It needed a full on street map to figure out.  Once I played around with it the configurations, and the ideas behind them, made sense, but I was a cloth diaper expert by then.  If a new parent were to be gifted a set of these would they be succesful in their cloth diapering venture?  I’m not so sure.

When it comes to cloth diapering some innovations have made our lives easier- the simple 3 Step Rise introduced by bumGenius, the stay dry layer and pocket opening commonly credited to Fuzzibunz, the easy on and off waterproof covers from the early brands such as Bummis, ProWraps, and Dappi, and more recently the faster drying All-in-Ones like the new bumGenius Freetime.  In the grand scheme of things I’ve only been around for the tip of the iceberg, but the Snappi has to be considered a huge step forward in modern cloth diapers.  Was it considered too advanced when it was released?  I don’t know but I don’t think I would have even attempted prefolds were it not for this nifty device.  THANK YOU SNAPPI FOR MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER, SAFER PLACE TO LIVE!

I think it is important to send new cloth diapering parents over to the best “introduction” cloth diapers.  I like to suggest the bumGenius 4.0.  And even though in theory prefolds and flats are more difficult to apply they are the easiest to wash and won’t start repelling when you look at them funny.  More importantly- they work as well as, or even better than any fancy diaper on the market.  Nothing gives cloth diapers a bad name like leaky diapers.

When the public concensus is that cloth diapers are too hard and complicated to use there is a problem.  Innovation in diapering should be based on making the diaper better for the baby and the experience easier for the user.  “Innovations” shouldn’t merely be a result of avoiding the patent held by another diaper or trying to be different for the sake of being different.  

(Please don’t get me started on patents, that is an entirely different post and not entirely cloth diaper related.  The patent system in flawed beyond words.)

Do you think “simple is best” or do you enjoy those wacky new diapers with zippers and doohickies?  I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments.  

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  • Bethany O.

    I like the idea of the simple plain old prefolds and flats, but my LO wet through them in 30 minutes so we require hemp and microfiber. That just didn’t work with prefolds and flats so we tend to use pockets but I make my own and they are all very basic

  • Mommymel2008

    I was introduced to cloth diapers when my second child was born. My husband and I chatted a little about it but the idea was soon forgotten. When I found out I was pregnant with baby number 3 and my youngest was just 10 months old the thought of buying 2 pks of diapers a week scared us lol. So we quickly turned to cloth diapering. I dont know anyone who cloth diapers! So I was on my own starting out. We started out with the Bumgenius AIO. We bought 12 right away and was thankful that we got something that is working for us. 4 months and going strong lol. Baby number 3 is due in Nov and I have started building a stash of prefolds and covers. Not sure how its gonna go yet with those but I am confident. Its hard sometimes not having anyone understand or get advice from, but overall I am happy about the decisions I have made for my family

  • Molly

    I have been cloth diapering for almost 12 weeks now. I wish I did this with my first two boys. I love my pockets, but I also love my prefolds with covers. I use a hemp insert for extra absorbency. I am the only one in my mommy circle who cloth diapers. Don’t know why, but I am. I also changed from disposable pull ups for my other son to cloth training pants with a soaker built in. And disposable wipes are a thing of the past. It feels AMAZING to go shopping now and walk right pass the diaper aisle. The money I am saving is such an amazing thing. I spent at least $200/month on disposable diapers, disposable pull ups, and wipes. now that money goes to my family for “family fun” adventures this summer 🙂

  • Love this: ”
    And even though in theory prefolds and flats are more difficult to apply they are the easiest to wash and won’t start repelling when you look at them funny.  More importantly- they work as well as, or even better than any fancy diaper on the market.  Nothing gives cloth diapers a bad name like leaky diapers.” especially the “when you look at them funny” – LOL! 🙂

    • I thought Tiny Tush fitteds introduced the snap-down rise?

    • yup flats and prefolds wash up so much more nicely. wish you could get a new pocket without inserts in some places (other than 2nds) and use flats, because I detest microfiber now!

  • Jl82

    I personally judge the simplicity of a diaper by my partner’s reaction – if he has to ask me “how does this one work??” it’s too complicated! But like you mentioned, past experience and personal preference are big factors of what is considered complicated.

  • Elyse Huey

    I like things somewhere in between.  I loved using flats for the flats challenge — no rash, easy to clean, dry fast.

    But I’m not the one that changes diapers 90% of the time.  My husband does.  I don’t doubt he could learn — he’s pretty quick — but slapping on a gDiaper or a pocket is ten times easier with a much lower user error.

    But even those are sometimes a little more hi tech than I’d like to be.  I love our one size semi fitteds.  No snaps or velcro to worry about, no snapping down the rise.  Elastic holds the poop in much better than a flat.  Just adjust to fit then snappi in place.  Just right for us.

  • auh

    I think I read BG is applying for a patent on their quick dry soakers for the Freetime.  It irks me because the WAHM behind the Nykibaby AIO pattern (on of my personal favorites), came up with a tutorial for that very soaker configuration in 2010. .  All these patents really hinder what WAHMs can sell…

  • Janelle Prentice

    My stash is mostly pockets and prefolds/covers. I think it’s nice having the mix because it’s easier to put a prepped pocket on my little guy when we’re out and about than a prefold/cover. That being said, I typically prefer to use prefolds/covers at home as I feel I can get a better fit with them and as you said, they don’t leak. 

  • Julie

    You forgot about the Rumparooz – first cloth diaper with INNER GUSSETS, which are patent pending… but not pending for long! *wink* Soon, to be the only cloth diaper with inner gussets once again 🙂

  • SH

    I have to comment and say, just for the sake of new CDers, the heart of this article is important to remember. After a year if my own research I decided to go very traditional with prefolds and covers. Why? In the long term my laundry problems will be minimal or at least easy to trace. There were to many specific potential problems to trouble shoot with the newer versions. Not that ill never use them. But for the sake of simplicity and keeping CD learnable and attainable and believable for newbies, this is a great mindset to start with. Thanks so much for posting a great way to THINK about CDing!

  • Marin Steel

    I would rather use flats then any other system. I have tried a number of styles but with a small 5th percentile heavy wetter… nothing else holds up and is as trim as a well folded flat diaper with a solid double gusseted cover. I have tried lots of styles… pockets were my least favorite… we had too many leaks because they weren’t stuffed just right with the right fabric or the right thickness for that particular pocket.. The leg holes gaped and wicked, so on and so forth.. flats I can trust.. I love solid, cheap, long lasting options.