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Prefolds Aren’t Scary – I Promise!

Affordable #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers

Post contains affiliate links I’ve talked many times about how I started my stash with 3 Bumgenius pocket diapers, followed by 3 more. I washed those 6 diapers twice per day (3 at a time) in order to keep my son in cloth full time, as we added diapers one by one as we could afford them. I never even considered using prefolds & covers because they seemed scary, confusing & complicated to me.

Prefold #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers 1

Again, I’m repeating myself if you’ve been around for a while. In 2004 when I was expecting my daughter, an acquaintance gave me a photocopied packet of info about prefolds, and I was definitely scared away by the thought of prefolds, pins, plastic pants & wet pails. It did encourage me to do some research, but even looking through many pages of web searches, the most “modern” cloth diapers I could find were Fuzzibunz perfect size. XS, S, M, L, XL, Petite Toddler & Toddler…24 of each size. *thud* Of course, I was terribly wrong about needing that many sizes or diapers, but that’s neither here nor there. Bumgenius and all the other one-size diapers didn’t exist at that point. As I understand, there were other options out there (WAHMs and such), but they weren’t necessarily easily found, nor were cloth diaper support groups & blogs appearing on the first dozen search pages for me!

Prefold #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers 2

When I finally did start with those first 6 diapers, I still didn’t consider prefolds; I wanted the “easy” pocket diapers, and just didn’t see prefolds or flats as an option for us. Anyhoo, the point of this post is to tell you that prefolds aren’t hard or scary, and they are an awesome way to get started in cloth!

Prefold #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers 3

There are lovely, premium prefolds out there made of luxurious fabrics like bamboo and hemp. The most affordable are unbleached (or bleached as I have pictured here) cotton prefolds. They are typically 8 layers in the middle with 4 layers on each side (some newborn sizes are 2/6/2.)

Prefold #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers 4 thicker layer

These lines where the layers are sewn makes it super easy to fold in thirds. There are some brands that are the same thickness all the way across. To confuse you before I begin, some brands call these “flats,” but a true flat is one layer all the way across (think a receiving blanket.)

Prefold #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers 5 or same across

If you do a search for prefold folds, you will find many including “angel wing,” “jelly roll,” “bikini twist,” and “newspaper fold.” I’m here to tell you that prefolds are much easier to use than all this terminology would make you believe. You don’t have to worry about perfectly following a tutorial – just practice, find a fold you like that works for you, and adjust it as needed. It doesn’t have to be an exact science!

In my photos below I’ve pictured a newborn prefold, but it hasn’t been “prepped” (washed & dried several times.) When you wash & dry prefolds before the first use, they fluff up and shrink a bit. I just grabbed what I had on hand that would best fit my bear model & didn’t take the time to prep it, since, well, he doesn’t wet. 😉

Prefold #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers 6 prefold boingos snappi cover

Forget diaper pins and plastic pants. Prefolds and hook & loop covers alone can be as easy to use as disposables. In fact, if you have 2-3 covers ready with a trifolded (folded in thirds) prefold inside, you can just change the diaper, remove the wet prefold and air out the cover for next time. With a snug fitting cover, you can use just about any fold and simply close the cover over it. Goodies like a Snappi or Boingos allow you to quickly & easily secure the diaper without using pins.

Prefold #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers 7 trifolded Prefold #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers 8 on manni

What I consider to be the simplest fold (after trifolding) is the “angel wing,” which is really quite intuitive. Again, you truly don’t have to be exact with this, but you essentially trifold the front but spread the back out into “wings”

Prefold #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers 9 angel wing

If the prefold is a bit long (as it is in this case, particularly since I hadn’t washed it yet!) you can fold the front down first. The “newspaper fold” is similar to this, but you interlock the sides. Again, it’s truly not necessary to follow any guide exactly; these folds were all developed by people finding what worked best for them!

Prefold #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers 10 fold front to shorten Prefold #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers 12 angel wing on manni

Pull the front up, then bring the “wings” around your baby. Over time, you’ll discover what works best for you to get a good fit. Some moms prefer to have the back a bit higher with the wings coming down towards the front.

Prefold #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers 13 pull up Prefold #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers 14 close wings

This is the point your mother probably would have secured the diaper with pins, then pulled on a plastic “pants” type cover. With a wrap style cover (that fits snugly) you can simply stop here and close the cover over the diaper. Or, use a Snappi or Boingos to secure it first.


Prefold #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers 16 boingo Prefold #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers 17 close

Another way to shorten a long prefold is the “bikini twist.” You start the same way as the angel wing, but twist the prefold before pulling it up. This is also great to get some extra absorbency right in the wet zone.

Prefold #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers 18 long prefold
Prefold #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers 19 bikini twist Prefold #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers 20 pull up

In my case the prefold was still quite long, so I folded it under before securing it.

Prefold #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers 21 can fold down Prefold #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers 22 close

For a new baby, their “output” can be a bit messy, and you can roll the sides of the prefold in to create a barrier to keep your covers clean. You can start with the same basic angel wing, then roll the sides of the prefold in. Variations of this are called the “jelly roll.” This may not be picture perfect technique, but it is what works for me!

Prefold #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers 23 roll sides in Prefold #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers 24 pull up and close

If you’re concerned about your baby feeling wetness, you can buy stay-dry fleece liners to lay inside, or cut fleece purchased from the craft store. Osocozy even has some prefolds with stay-dry material on one side, specifically sized to trifold!

PUL covers are quick & easy to hand wash in the sink & hang to dry if they are soiled (if you don’t have enough covers to get you through to “wash day.”) and you can easily rotate 2-3 covers throughout the day. The flats challenge showed me that using flat diapers, flour sack towels or even receiving blankets as diapers is a very valid option. In fact, once you fold them into fourths, you can then trifold them (called a pad fold) or use them the same way you would use a prefold. The big benefit of single layer diapers is how quickly & easily you can wash and dry them, along with their versatility. I thought I was scared of prefolds; I was terrified of flats, but I was surprised by how much I liked them!

Of course, prefolds aren’t the only option for low-cost cloth diapering. Other ideas: Put cloth diapers on your baby registry, or set aside your disposable diaper budget each week during your pregnancy. By the time your baby arrives you will have a huge chunk of change saved! There are cloth diaper banks for families who qualify, you can shop for used diapers or “seconds,” sew your own, upcycle and more! (Oh and of course, entering to win cloth diapers on my Friday cloth diaper giveaway roundup!)

Great resources: Combine Dirty Diaper Laundry’s tutorial for upcycled DIY, no-sew fleece covers with The Eco Friendly Family’s no-sew t-shirt diaper tutorial, and you’ll be cloth diapering for next-to-nothing. Be sure to visit Dirty Diaper Laundry for free downloadable booklets on inexpensive cloth diapering options.

I wish I had known how simple prefolds really were, so I didn’t have to struggle with those few pocket diapers for so long!

Have you tried prefolds? Were they easier or harder than you expected?


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Maria Moser
Maria is the mother of 3, writing about cloth diapers & going green. You'll often find her juggling her preschooler and typing 1-handed in between sips of cold coffee. Maria works with many companies within the cloth diaper industry and beyond, providing social media management, product development and other services.
14 Comments
  • April 22, 2015 at 3:23 pm
    Reply

    […] This West Coast Mommy’s post, 6 Ways to Fold a Prefold Diaper, and Change-Diapers.com’s Prefolds Aren’t Scary.  My prefold pick is BabyKicks Hemp Fleece. BabyKicks prefolds are incredibly soft; you just want […]

  • December 11, 2014 at 8:44 am
    Reply

    Thank you for this post! I began cloth diapering with unbleached cotton prefolds and received an amazing return on our $150 investment. $150 is what we spent to cloth diaper our son for the first 6 months of his life! I’m not sure why people are hesitant to use prefolds, they’re super easy to use, and the BEST diaper to use for containing those EBF explosive newborn poos (and are incredibly inexpensive to stock up for the newborn 12-18 diapers a day, days!)! The best part? Prefolds (and flats) are the SIMPLEST way to cloth diaper; no special wash routines, no need to worry about diaper creams, no stuffing, no snapping, etc. While we transitioned to AIOs and AI2s when my son turned a year old, I will still use prefolds for the newborn/infant period (if we’re blessed with another child).

  • Amy
    March 29, 2014 at 10:57 am
    Reply

    Thank you for writing this. I have a question though: trifolding the prefold and laying it in a cover seems way easier than using a snappi and putting it on in the “angel wing” fold (or any other fold). Is there a reason why taking the extra time with one is worth it over the other?

    • March 29, 2014 at 11:10 am
      Reply

      Great question! For new babies, or any baby where their dirty diapers are a bit messy, trifolding won’t keep the covers clean in most cases. If you find that happening, folding it is a better choice (jelly roll etc.) 🙂

  • Julie Ghrist
    October 31, 2013 at 9:42 pm
    Reply

    Love my prefolds… i too was afraid of them. Now that my second is here I decided to give them a try and LOVE them! They come clean so much easier! I got rid of all my pocket diapers and I only own prefolds and aio’s these days!

  • Cece Amos
    October 31, 2013 at 4:31 am
    Reply

    Thanks for the post. I am now the proud owner of 6 infant sized prefolds and one thirties cover 🙂 I put cloth diapers on my registry but only my mom and brother have helped me out so far. My entire stash consists of those 6 prefolds, 1 Sloomb mini fitted, and two covers. Good thing I have another 15 weeks until little one gets here! I enter all the giveaways you post, and I’m anxiously awaiting the start of the Diaper Hunt! Thanks for being a sponsor again, and thanks for taking the time to post all of those giveaways 🙂

  • EmilyH
    October 30, 2013 at 6:07 pm
    Reply

    I absolutely LOVE prefolds! When I first showed my hubby them when I was pregnant he said there was no way he would use them because they looked so complicated. After the first time he put one on our newborn, he said he loved them. He is a cloth diaper pusher just like I am, telling every expecting parent that it is stupid not to cd, and that prefolds are the best. haha

  • Laura B
    October 30, 2013 at 11:25 am
    Reply

    I was definitely scared of prefolds at first. I didn’t consider using them until about 2 months in to my cloth diaper research. I have 6 xsmall and 6 small for when baby gets here in December and I must say I’m now excited to try them out 🙂 This is a great tutorial!

  • Paige
    October 29, 2013 at 10:02 pm
    Reply

    Most companies seem to sell lots of sizes of pre-folds. Is it really necessary to buy some of each size? If so, how many? What do you recommend? Right now I’m using pockets but they don’t come out very clean in my washer (a sad top-loading HE machine which I would warn others of, just a side note! 😉

    • October 30, 2013 at 8:28 am
      Reply

      You really don’t need every size since you can fold larger ones to fit, but they will be bulky! I’d start with infant size (assuming you have an infant & not a toddler!) and go from there. Don’t worry about buying a size before you need it (just my two cents!) You could just start with a dozen and see how you like them. They make great pocket stuffers too since they are easier to clean than microfiber. I have a top load HE too, I feel your pain!

  • Holli G.
    October 29, 2013 at 3:19 pm
    Reply

    I ordered mystery fluff box from Kissed By the Moon and in it had a sloomb prefold. I freaked out. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to use it. With my newly bought snappi’s it was too much. Though I ended up searching for hours one day recently on how to fold it. Glad I got it down. We only have that one prefold but my husband ordered diaper service for the first month–soon to be here. I am excited for our first delivery of service this Thursday. (It was his gift to himself to go along with me cloth diapering) Anyways, I knew I needed it figure it out before I am sitting there with 80 prefolds going what the what and a newborn. Thanks for the great post! Seriously cannot wait to figure out what works best for us!

  • Katie S
    October 29, 2013 at 1:08 pm
    Reply

    I love my prefolds! My husband can’t really figure them out, so I let him use the pockets and when I’m home I use the prefolds. I think they’re so easy, and they’re totally affordable.

  • abedabun dawn
    October 29, 2013 at 12:19 pm
    Reply

    Very helpful! Thank you for posting this!

  • Blogs from a Single Mom
    October 29, 2013 at 11:21 am
    Reply

    I used to love prefolds/flats. I still use them occasionally, but they don’t work very well for my toddler anymore. They’re still a great option for many families though, especially those who are looking to use things they already have around the house.

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