What is a cloth diaper cover?
The journey into cloth diapers can seem like a never-ending spiral of information- but never fear! We’re here to help! One of the most cost-efficient and versatile styles of cloth diapers is something called ‘covers.’
Cloth diaper covers are an excellent choice for new and experienced cloth users alike, but there is a lot of information to take in before using them effectively. Unlike some of the more popular types, like pockets, all-in-ones, or All-in-twos, a cloth diaper cover is made of only the waterproof layer.
There is no absorbency at all built-in, and they are meant to do exactly what their name says- they cover. They can be used with all different sorts of inserts, from prefolds to fitteds, and come in all different shapes and sizes, with something for everyone. Because they are so versatile and customizable, they make excellent daytime and overnight diapers. Here, we will cover some vital information and frequently asked questions regarding the use of cloth diaper covers.
Are there different types of diaper covers?
Yes! The three main types are PUL, wool, and fleece.
PUL (Poly-Urethane Laminate)
This is probably the most popular type of cloth diaper cover. PUL covers rely on Polyurethane laminate fabric as a waterproofing material, usually visible on the inside of the cover as a slightly shiny and smooth film. They are easy to use, easy to clean, and can be wiped out and reused multiple times as long as they only come into contact with urine. The main concern with PUL diapers is that, over time, the PUL may begin to bubble or crack, causing weak spots and, ultimately, leaks.
Wool diaper covers are a less common choice, partly due to their higher price, but they are an excellent choice for overnight. Wool is breathable and, by user accounts, rarely leaks- if it’s prepared correctly. One downside to wool is that it does require particular care. It needs to be hand-washed, although infrequently, and must be lanolized (coated with lanolin, a natural coating found on wool) to remain waterproof. High-quality wool covers are breathable, soft, and generally do not smell due to wool’s natural antibacterial properties. If you’re willing to dedicate the time to caring for it well, wool is a great option, especially for natural-minded individuals.
If you’d like to learn more about washing wool, start with our Cloth Diaper Wool Covers ~ Washing? Lanolin? article.
Fleece diaper covers are a reasonably priced (and less time consuming) alternative to wool. Fleece is water repellent and breathable but, unlike wool, it needs to be washed regularly (and can be tossed in the wash), but they can still be reused once or twice if they aren’t stinky. Fleece wicks away moisture, keeping the parts of your baby that it comes in contact with dry, and it dries very fast. They do need to be repurchased regularly as baby grows, as they do not stretch much and must fit snugly.
What can I put inside my covers?
This is the fun part about cloth diaper covers- you can stuff them with ANYTHING! Seriously, anything. I’ve put them over all-in-ones, and even over disposables in emergencies. A few great options to consider are inserts, prefolds, flats, and fitteds.
Inserts are commonly used in pocket diapers, but they are an excellent option for filling covers as well! They can be laid right into the shell, or wrapped inside of a flat or prefold for extra absorbency. The most popular materials used for inserts include microfiber, cotton, hemp, and bamboo.
Prefolds are most commonly recognized as ‘burp clothes’- think a square piece of fabric with three sewn panels, with the middle section thicker than the outer two. These are an excellent choice for cloth diapers because of their relative versatility. They can simply be folded into thirds and used like an insert, or they can be origami-folded to provide extra absorbency where you need it most. Plus, they do make great burp cloths, so win-win.
These are the OG cloth diapers. One large square of fabric made to be folded into whatever shape you need it. Basically, a flat is a prefold before it was folded and sewn into a prefold. Again, these are great because they are highly customizable. There are endless ways to fold them for baby boys, baby girls, belly sleepers, back sleepers, heavy wetters, overnights, the list goes on and on. If you have a specific diapering concern, flats can usually help you out.
Fitted diapers are kind of the best of both worlds. They provide the ease of an insert (no folding required!) with the coverage of a flat or a prefold. A fitted is basically a prefold that has been cut and sewn into the shape of a diaper cover. They usually have snaps (although some still require pins or clasps to hold them on) and go on just like a diaper. They do not have any waterproof layer, so they rely on a cover to keep them leak-proof. With my second, I relied heavily on fitteds during the newborn stage- they’re just so easy.
What are the benefits of a cover vs. any other type of cloth diaper?
When it comes to comparing covers to other types of cloth diapers, they aren’t the easiest to use. However, for many people, they make up for this with how customizable they are, how cost-efficient they are, and the fact that they can be used more than once before washing. Cloth diapering can be difficult in the beginning, making covers not ideal for someone just starting. Still, after a few months, covers begin to pull ahead of the others in almost every category.
They are usually pretty cheap, with the exception of wool covers, which can still be found for a relatively affordable price. Since they don’t come with absorbancy, you can buy the covers you want at the price point you want, and then purchase the inserts you want separately rather than paying too much for a diaper system that you can’t customize.
Ease of Use
They aren’t the easiest, even if you’ve had a lot of practice, but it does get easier over time. It’s never easy to snap or Velcro a diaper onto a squirmy eight-month-old. Still, when you factor in the added complexities of having to fold and secure a flat or prefold, or snap on the whole fitted before the cover, it can be quite an endeavor. Still, it is a skill that can be acquired with time and experience.
PUL-lined covers are the clear winners when it comes to versatility. One cover can be reused several times with fresh inserts (as long as the diaper contained only urine)- wipe the waterproof PUL out, and you’re ready to go. No other diaper style can be reused in this way, making covers a popular on-the-go choice. They can also be used over any absorbent material (even a t-shirt, if you find yourself needing something in a pinch), making them an excellent option for people wanting to cloth diaper on any budget.
How often do you change cloth diaper covers?
How often you change will depend on what you use with your cover (more absorbent/more layers, longer between changes). As with any cloth diaper, you don’t want to leave them on for too long, even if they can hold more, just for baby’s health and comfort. 2-3 hours is a good guideline (if they don’t need to be changed before then), and every time there is a bowel movement (in which case the insert and cover must be changed). Unlike other types of cloth diapers, however, since there is no absorbency built-in, you may be able to switch out just the inserts if there has been no bowel movement and reuse the same cover a couple of times before switching it out. At bedtime, however, a cover with the right inserts can last through the night.
How do I wash my cloth diaper covers?
Since covers have no attached absorbent parts, cleaning them is very easy. Where you might do two full washes for your all-in-ones and inserts, covers need only go through once (unless they are really, really dirty- it never hurts to do an extra wash). They can be washed in water of any temperature generally speaking, but always check the manufacturer’s recommendations to make sure you are taking the best care possible of your diaper covers. They can be air-dried or placed in the drier, but only on low heat- high heat (or even medium) may damage the PUL.
However, if you are using wool covers, they MUST be hand-washed. They absolutely will shrink down to nothing if you put them in the wash, and while pulling a Barbie Doll sized diaper cover out of my drier was hilarious the first time it happened, the hours I spent trying and ultimately failing to stretch it back out to usable size were not. They need to be hand-washed, but very infrequently, and treated with lanolin as often as the manufacturer recommends to keep them waterproof.
What are the best cloth diaper covers?
There are endless choices available for cloth diaper covers, with a considerable price range represented. The following selections represent an excellent blend of cost and quality, which is a good place to start, but there are more options out there to suit every need.
Flips (by bumGenius) – PUL
Flip covers are probably my most reached for brand. They are cute, they work well, and they seem to fit forever. They are reported to be very easy to clean and come with snap and hook-and-loop style closures, which is great if you prefer one or the other. They can run a little on the pricey side, but they do live up to the value, in my experience.
You can find Flip covers on Amazons’ website here or Happy Baby Companys’ website here.
Best Bottom – PUL
If you’re looking for a cover-insert system that will grow with your child for a long time, Best Bottom has got your back(side). The Best Bottom covers are made to fit children from 10-45 lbs, meaning that they may not fit newborn babies but will work through toddlerhood for most, which is incredibly impressive. They fit on the trim side, and sport leak-proofing double gussets to keep everything in. Despite the trim fit, users report that Best Bottom covers fit even the chunkiest of baby legs.
If you’re interested in taking a closer look at it, you can find reviews and current prices on Amazons’ website here or Happy Baby Companys’ website here.
Rumparooz by Kangacare – PUL
For a high-quality diaper cover on a budget, Rumparooz by Kangacare can’t be beat. With high ratings for quality and durability and a price of less than $15, no other company offers this much bang for your buck. These well-made diapers have been said to rarely leak, thanks to a great fit and double gussets, and have plenty of rise settings to help you get the best fit.
You can find Rumparooz on Amazons’s website here. You can also read our Rumparooz review here.
Sloomb – Wool
Whether you’re looking for cute shorties or long wool pants to cover your baby’s bum, Sloomb wool diaper covers are incredibly high quality and cute enough to pass as pants. Made of 100% oeko-tex certified merino wool and built to stop even the heaviest leaks with a double layer wet zone, these amazing wool covers are offered in sizes 0-4, fitting children from 5 to 35+ pounds. Sloomb diapers can be pricey, but since wool doesn’t need to be washed often, you can get by with less. Sloomb also offers lanolin and washing materials so that your covers will stay soft and functional for years to come.
You can find Sloomb on Amazons’ website here
ALVABABY – PUL
If the price is your bottom line, ALVABABY covers are your best bet. For a cost of usually between $5-$8, Alva offers double gussets, cute and unique prints, a wide fit range, recommended from 8-35 pounds. Overuse and poor wash routines may wear out the PUL a little bit faster than some, but ALVABABY diaper covers remain a favorite for many.
You can find Alvababy on Amazon here for different prices, so I would definitely look around to see what your best options are.
Honorable mentions: Buttons (so cute!!), Thirsties, Disana, and Bambino Mio
Can I use them for a newborn? How many cloth diaper covers do I need?
Covers are an excellent choice for newborns! Unlike all-in-ones, all-in-twos, or pocket diapers, which might be too bulky and uncomfortable on a teeny tiny baby, covers are incredibly thin and can be bulked to just the right size. Newborn size fitteds are an excellent choice, but for even smaller babies, an extra small flat diaper can be customized to fit perfectly. Covers often have a double gusset in each leg hole and a tight area of elastic across the back panel (though not always), making them very effective for helping to contain those newborn blow-outs.
When it comes to stocking up for a newborn, consider this: how often do newborns need to eat? For every meal, they will likely soil their diaper, meaning close to 12 diapers in 24 hours. Since cloth diaper covers can be reused (so long as they only come into contact with urine), they are an incredibly economical choice for diapering newborns. Laundry is a given with a newborn baby, so consider how often you plan to wash, and then simply multiply. For an older baby who eats only 6-8 times in 24 hours, you can do with fewer diaper covers and inserts. And since the covers can be reused between washes, you can buy inserts than covers.
Example: 12 diapers a day * laundry every two days = 24 diapers (plus a few extras to guarantee booty coverage while you wash). Thirty inserts and twenty cloth diaper covers is a reasonable estimate, assuming each cover is likely to be used twice before changing them out.
Can I use them overnight? What should I put in them?
This may be one of the best features of cloth diaper covers- you can stuff them with pretty much anything, making them a fantastic choice for overnight. They are 100% customizable, meaning that they can usually be configured to keep even the heaviest wetter dry. You’ll need to figure out which shapes, materials, and layering methods work best, so it may take a few tries to create a winning combination.
A general rule of thumb when first starting out is to follow this formula: something quick-absorbing (like microfiber), something slow absorbing (like hemp), and something like a fitted or a flat to hold it all together (and stop any potential compression leaks). Make sure that any microfiber you choose to include is not directly against your child’s skin, as it can easily absorb too much moisture and cause excessive drying and rashes.
A fail-proof method for us was a microfiber insert and a hemp insert folded into a cotton or bamboo flat, all covered by a PUL or fleece diaper cover. This takes some trial and error, though, so don’t give up if you wake up to a puddle after your first (or second, or third) try! It’s all about YOUR child and their individual needs, so you will need to figure out what works best.
Can you use cloth diapers without covers?
The absorbent ‘diaper’ part of a cloth diaper isn’t waterproof on its own, so it needs some waterproof barrier to prevent leaks. In all-in-ones, this part is sewn in and attached to the inserts, meaning they cannot physically be used alone. However, this is not the case with covers. Since the prefolds, flats, or other inserts used with covers are a separate piece; it may be tempting to use them on their own (especially fitteds- I made that mistake). Unless they are part of a waterproof system or are covered by a waterproof shell, the absorbent layers of a cloth diaper will not stop leaks on their own.
Can I make waterproof cloth diaper covers myself?
If you have the time and skill, absolutely yes! You will need materials, a sewing machine, and a pattern. Tutorials and patterns can be found online, while the materials required (fleece, PUL fabric, elastics, closures, etc.) can be found online or in most craft stores, like JOANN. If you are looking for a homemade touch but aren’t a skilled crafter, check out Etsy for independent sellers crafting beautiful and often custom diapers by hand. From embroidery to full-on 3D works of art, if you can’t (or don’t want to) make it yourself, you can probably find it there!
Okay, I know which covers and inserts I want. What else do I need to buy?
You don’t NEED anything else- covers can be an incredibly cost-efficient option because of this! However, there are a few items that may make diapering with covers a little bit easier. For example, if you plan to use flats, prefolds, or fitteds that don’t have snaps, you may choose to use a closure device to secure the diaper to your baby. Standard options include diaper pins (the old school classic) and the snappi, which uses hooks similar to those on an elastic bandage to secure the diaper in place. Both of these options are incredibly helpful, especially with a fitted or prefold. Without something to hold the diaper together, you risk it slipping around as baby moves and plays, resulting in potential leaks and loss of absorbency.
Buy the Snappi here, or try Osocozy diaper pins here.
Let us know!
Thank you for taking the time to read our Cloth Diaper Cover Ultimate Cheat Sheet! If we left any of your burning questions unanswered, or you have any follow-ups or suggestions, please comment below!