If you are asking yourself this question and trying to figure out if you are understanding the cloth diaper information out there, then you are in the right place. I know first hand how overwhelming, confusing, and difficult learning about cloth diapering can be! This post will be the first in a series of helping you to understand what you really want to know.
First up: What are cloth diapers made of?
Excuse any staining you may notice...these are all well loved diapers. At least you get the real picture! haha....
PUL: (what?!). This stands for polyurethane laminate. Wikipedia states that PUL is a compound fabric made by laminating a cloth fabric, usually a polyester interlock fabric, to a thin film of polyurethane (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyurethane_laminate). In essence, this lamination creates a waterproof barrier to keep the "mess" in. You can see an example of the shiny inside of the PUL in the above photo, and outside (the part of the diaper that you see when it is on the baby) in the bottom photo.
Microfiber fleece: (say again?) This is the fabric that is typically used as inserts inside pocket diapers. Microfiber is very absorbent and can hold up to eight times it's weight in water, is very strong, and soft. In my research on wikipedia, I learned that in order for microfiber to be absorbent the fibers need to be split. If they are not split they will not absorb. This is the difference between the microfiber covering your couch and the microfiber in the photo below. The couch fabric will repel liquid (hence the popularity with moms to protect furniture!) and is easily wiped clean. It is important to know that microfiber is a synthetic product made from polyesters, polymides such as nylon or kevlar, and propylene. Of even more importance in cloth diaper usage, microfiber inserts should NOT be placed against baby's skin because of their highly effective absorbency. They will actually absorb the natural oils in the skin and cause rashes. This is why they are stuffed into the diaper's pocket beneath the polyester fleece (see below). For more information please visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microfiber
Polyester Fleece: (huh?) This is frequently what the top layer of the inside of cloth diapers are made out of. It sits next to the baby's skin. This fabric is commonly used because the moister from the urine will be whisked away into the absorbent layer beneath and the baby will not "feel" that the diaper is wet. It is also a very soft feeling fabric. This is the same fabric commonly used in outerwear jackets.
Polyester fleece is a manufactured product, and the process to make it is quite extensive. Of note to me when I was researching cloth diapers is that this product is made out of reacting two derivatives of petroleum (ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid). This is not to say that polyester is a bad fabric. I was definitely just wanting to stick to more natural fibers. I also do not personally enjoy the feeling of polyester fabric next to my skin when I wear it. Below is an example of a polyester fleece lined diaper. To read more facts about polyester and how it is made please visit:
Cotton: In diapers, cotton is used in two forms, knit and woven. Cotton knit is used in many types of diapers and also as an added absorbent pad. Cotton knit is what your typical t-shirts are made out of and can come in an organic format. Woven cotton is basically just like your bedsheets. In either application the fabric is layered on each other and sewn together to provide for absorbency. Woven cotten comes in many varieties: bleached, unbleached, combed, flannel. There are tons of options out there and it all depends on what you want. Cotton is a popular choice for many parents wanting to stick to all natural products against baby's skin. This was my case since I knew that a polyester application, as mentioned above, is a synthetic option. It is also important to note that since there is no polyester fleece over the cotton (in most types of cotton diapers) the moisture from urine is not whisked away. This means that the baby will be able to "feel" the wetness more, and it is said that this is a good reason for early potty training when using cloth diapers.
The top photo below is an example of a cotton knit fabric, and the bottom photo is an example of woven cotton fabric.
As you can see from the photo below the texture is similar to at towel. Bamboo fabric will also let the baby "feel" wetness.
The photo is an example of a hemp insert/doubler.
There may well be other fabrics used out there, and I do not intend for this list to be exclusive. I am just here to help. What other questions do you have about cloth diapers? Is there anything in particular you want me to cover? Let me know. In the meantime I will gather my thoughts to keep educating.