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What are Prefolds?
First, depending on where you are in your cloth diapering experience, you might be wondering, What are prefolds?
Old school cloth diapering was originally a large white cloth (along the lines of a flour sack towel, now called flats or flat diapers in the cloth diapering world). Flats have to be folded down to a smaller rectangle that can be safety pinned around the baby. As cloth diapering progressed, they started "prefolding" the cloth and sewing it into the smaller rectangle, so the only step was to safety pin it onto baby, no folding necessary.
Hence the name prefold.
Now prefold diapers come with extra absorbency layered up in the middle where the baby poops and pees, and a little less on the sides so that they can easily be secured. Even old school diaper pins have been mostly replaced with the Snappi--a safer and easier to use pin-alternative.
Flat diapers are still available with the affordability and other benefits of prefolds and are an option some people choose. Prefolds offer us more convenience than flats; more on those benefits below.
Benefits of Cotton Prefolds
Here are a few reasons why I've got "the Prefolds Love"...
Prefolds are affordable.This was one of the main reasons we chose to use prefolds and diaper covers, and why my husband agreed to cloth diaper at all. There is no other diaper that you can pay about $30/dozen. Add in a couple one-size covers at around $12/ea and this is by far the cheapest diapering system out there. (Okay, so flats are probably cheapest, but they're a close kin to the prefolds.)
For more on pricing, see Cost of Cloth Diapering.
Cotton prefolds are low maintenance.Any "stink" problems we've had have been with our microfiber inserts. They've had some build-up issues and the stay-dry liner ends up repelling (opposite of absorbing) wetness. Our cotton prefolds have had zero issues with stink or build-up or repelling issues. They don't require special detergents (we use any brand of free + clear detergent) or special rinse and wash processes. Just wash, rinse all the suds out, and you're good to go. And if you wanted to bleach out any stains, not a problem.
For more on washing, see How to Wash Cloth Diapers.
Prefolds have one-size and sized options.If you're going for the uber economical, just get some premium prefolds and one-size covers and, with a little creative folding, you're set for your baby's diapering lifetime. On the other hand, if you want economical but still prefer diapers that fit, get sized prefolds that fit with one-size or sized covers. Sized prefolds means less unnecessary bulk.
For more on how much and what to buy, see our diaper stash posts: Newborn-6 Months Stash + 6 Months-Toddler Diaper Stash.
Prefolds with a good cover are less likely to leak.Fold them around as a diaper and use with a Snappi and they have extra leg gusset protection against leaks. Choose a cover that offers good leak-protection at the legs and the back, and leaks are virtually non-existent. (We use and love Thirsties Duo Wraps that come in 2 adjustable sizes.) This was essential especially in the exclusively breastfed (EBF) stage when poop goes everywhere. Even the worst diapers were contained within the diaper cover.
For more on choosing a cover, see Cloth Diaper Cover Reviews.
Prefolds are absorbent.It's necessary when choosing a diaper. If it's not absorbent then why put it on?
Prefolds are easy to double for nighttime.Extra absorbency is usually necessary when baby starts sleeping through the night. Just put an absorbent hemp insert Snappi'd inside the prefold and you're set to go for the night without too much bulk. You may need to adjust (i.e., add a second insert or change in the middle of the night) depending on how much your baby wets.
Prefolds are versatile in diaper uses.Not interested in using a Snappi? Just trifold and insert into the cover and put on baby. No problem. And if you like the Snappi concept, you have the option of different "folds" depending on if you need more absorbency or leak protection in the front, back, or around the legs.
For more photos of the fold we use, see Snappi Diaper Change. Or see Trifold Diaper Change if that option interests you.
Prefolds are versatile in non-diaper uses.We were done with the newborn-sized prefolds almost instantly (we had a large newborn), and now they work perfectly as burp cloths. Their absorbency is so useful with our big spitter. The larger ones make great changing pads for at home and on-the-go. They can also be used for dust rugs and other household uses when baby outgrows them, but we still use them all for baby so they're kept to the nursery and diaper bag.
Prefolds are durable and environmentally friendly.Because there's not much that can destroy these tough little diapers, they will be around a long time. This makes them even more economical and even better for the environment. Depending on your use of them, they might even make it through another baby (your own or sell them).
Prefolds are easy to use.Okay, so you may not believe me that prefolds are easy to use. My husband was intimidated at first. But I showed him once and he picked it up like a rockstar. Basically, if my husband can use them with no complaining, then they really are feasible for anyone.
For more of my husband's experience, see Interview of a Cloth Diapering Dad.
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