All About Prefold Cloth Diapers

by Amanda Hearn · 7 comments

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Cloth diapers have come a long way since the days of leaky rubber pants and the options couldn’t be easier to use, but one tried and true diaper is sometimes overlooked – the prefold.

Many families still use & love these nostalgic diapers, but theirversatility, affordability, ease of use and dependability are qualities that any family can love!

What is a prefold?

A prefold diaper is most commonly made from cotton, but can also be found in hemp & bamboo varieties. They are often a combination of 3 to 4 layers of fabric overlapping at the center to create a thicker pad that is ideal for the “wet zone.”

The most important part of buying prefolds is to choose quality prefolds – my favorite brand is Green Mountain Diapers but others work well too. Most commonly cotton varieties that you want to look for are known as DSQ or Diaper Service Quality. Buy nothing less! Big box store brands like Gerber are inferior as they often contain filler fabrics and have very loosely weaved threads that are more like a gauze than a proper diaper. They are noticeably different in look, feel, weight and performance when compared to a quality diaper.

How do I use them?

Many first time users are intimidated by the thought of using prefolds because of the need to lean folding techniques, and let’s face it – babies are squiggly and getting an all-in-one style diaper on them can be hard enough sometimes without the need to fold, pin (or Snappi) an add a cover.

The good news is that it’s really not hard and there is a wide range of prefold folding techniques to fit any baby and diapering need.  The Jelly Roll Fold, for example, is great for containing messes – which is especially great for young babies.  This is probably one of the most complicated folds, and even it is easy to do and will fly once you get the hang of it.

If you would like to learn the various folds, feel free to check out my Prefold Photo Tutorials or Prefold Video Tutorials. Supplies to have are covers and Snappis (these take the place of pokey pins)!

While folding is a great way to use prefolds – it’s not a must! Many parents simply fold the diaper into thirds and lay it right into a cover – no fuss! This method is quite comparable to trendy, more expensive diapering systems with lay-in inserts, but offers the extreme affordability of prefolds.

Prefolds can even be used as inserts for pocket diapers. I’m not personally a fan of microfiber, which so many brands come with and while I love hemp inserts, they aren’t always in the budget for families. Prefolds can provide families with a natural fiber option that is both dependable and affordable, just not quite as trim fitting as hemp or bamboo insert.

How do I wash them?

Prefolds have got to be the easiest diapers to wash. Because they natural fibers with a simple design, they are quite forgiving as far as wash routines go. No need to worry about damaging PUL (the waterproof layer in modern diapers and covers) or elastic. A basic wash cycle will do – for example one cold wash followed by a warm wash.

When you first get your prefolds you will need to do what is called “prepping”. Natural fibers contain oils. These oils prevent the fabric from absorbing moisture well, so to remedy this, you wash your diapers 3-5 times (in a row) using a cloth diaper safe detergent (like Eco Sprout, Rockin’ Green or even a DIY to name a few). Dry as usual and you’re good to go. The diapers will increase in absorbency over the next few use/wash cycles and you’ll notice that they “quilt up”, so don’t freak when they arrive and look HUGE! They will shrink considerably.

All in all, prefold diapers are a cloth diapering choice that will certainly save you a bundle and could save you lots of headache too!

Are you considering prefolds? Have you used them? I would love to hear what you think!

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Amanda Hearn

Amanda Hearn

Founder of The Eco-Friendly Family, design geek, serial tanktopist, content creator, mother, coffee addict, & lover of fun. I am also a partner at Green Child Magazine & Put A Cup In It!
Amanda Hearn
Claudia October 4, 2012 at 5:27 pm

When my daughter was tiny, prefolds and a cover were the ONLY things that didn’t leak on her. they are still my most loved method and I will use these before going into my pocket stash. I, too, really like how affordable and versatile prefolds are and I would definitely recommend this method, even for newbies!

Emily Mitchell October 4, 2012 at 9:21 pm

I used to use prefolds in my pocket diapers – also I used them with regular covers. Now that my girls are potty trained, they make great cleaning rags. Be careful not to use a DIY soap with castille soap on your diapers, it acts as a natural fabric softener and waterproofs the fabrics (been there done that).

anonymous October 5, 2012 at 1:07 am

Prefolds are fantastic! We used them on our kids till they were out of diapers. Then we chopped them and used them for toilet paper, dying them different colours (each family member has their own colour to use – guests get the disposable TP most are used to). We catch a lot of shock and awe for that, but really, if it used to be good for my baby’s bottom why wouldn’t it be anymore? We just wash them up like we used to when they were diapers and we’re good to go!

KD October 6, 2012 at 11:32 pm

I love prefolds. There is a big age gap between me and two of my siblings, so I was old enough to diaper them, and they wore prefolds, so it was a no-brainer to include prefolds in my diaper stash. Like you, GMD are my favorites, but I’ve also been digging the Econobum and Cotton Babies prefolds. My twins are long and skinny, so leg holes on the fancier diapers are usually too big, but we haven’t had any leaks when using prefolds.

Paige October 14, 2012 at 11:21 pm

Love prefolds and flats on my toddler. We usually cover them with some type of wool, and haven’t dealt with rash at all! Best of all, the flats especially were bought for my 4.5yo and have literally been used daily (with a two month break between her PLing and #2 being born) for 4 years and still look perfect!

Lauren Stevens February 17, 2013 at 8:13 am

While I have at least 10 pocket diapers in my stash, I only use prefolds (am thinking the pockets will come in handy once my 7 month old is a little older). For me, prefolds are much easier, start to finish — keep in messes much better (I have a lean baby), are much easier to care for, and dry much faster. The fact that it’s one of the cheapest CD options is an added bonus!

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