A cloth diaper (American English) or a cloth nappy (Australian English and British English) is a reusable diaper made from natural fibers, man-made materials, or a combination of both. They are often made from industrial cotton which may be bleached white or left the fiber’s natural color. Other natural fiber cloth materials include wool, bamboo, and unbleached hemp. Man-made materials such as an internal absorbent layer of microfiber toweling or an external waterproof layer of polyurethane laminate (PUL) may be used. Polyester fabrics microfleece or suedecloth are often used inside cloth diapers as a "stay-dry" wicking liner because of the non-absorbent properties of those synthetic fibers.
Modern cloth diapers come in a host of shapes, including preformed cloth diapers, all-in-one diapers with waterproof exteriors, fitted diaper with covers and pocket or "stuffable" diapers, which consist of a water-resistant outer shell sewn with an opening for insertion of absorbent material inserts. Many design features of modern cloth diapers have followed directly from innovations initially developed in disposable diapers, such as the use of the hour glass shape, materials to separate moisture from skin and the use of double gussets, or an inner elastic band for better fit and containment of waste material.
Traditionally, cloth diapers consisted of a folded square or rectangle of linen cloth, cotton flannel, or stockinette, which was fastened with safety pins. Today, this type of diaper is referred to as a flat. The flat was commonly used in the late 1800s in Europe and North America.
In the early part of the 20th century, cloth users were boiling diapers as they became aware of bacteria. During World War II, the increase of working mothers brought the need for the "diaper service". Fresh cotton diapers would be delivered on an as-needed basis.
In 1946, a Westport housewife named Marion Donovan, invented the "Boater", a waterproof covering for cloth diapers. Marion was granted 4 patents for her designs, including the use of plastic snaps that replaced the traditional and dangerous "safety pins".
In 1950, the prefold diaper was invented by a diaper service owner and produced by Curity. The prefold diaper consisted of a standard "flat" diaper, but pre-folded and sewn together. Also in 1950, the Safe-T Di-Dee diaper was invented. The diaper was preformed and was the first pinless, snap-on diaper- this was the first fitted diaper. It was invented by Sybil Geeslin (Kennedy) who subsequently sold the patent. They were then sold as Keystone Safe-T Di-Dee Diapers and were nationally distributed.
In the 1960s, the disposable diaper rapidly took hold and cloth diaper use fell out of favor. In the late 1980s, cloth diaper users re-emerged with environmental issues concerning the use of disposables. By the late 1990s and the beginning of the next decade, many large cloth diaper manufacturing companies were well established.
The UK market was slower to get started than the USA, with a few domestic manufacturers such as Earthwise and Snugglenaps being established in the late 1990s, alongside importers of brands such as Motherease, Bummis and Kooshies. The first multi-brand ecommerce online shop was opened by Twinkleontheweb, with others following on. The Real Nappy Association was formed by members of WEN the Women's Environmental Network, with the first Real Nappy Week being held in 1997 to promote the use of cloth diapers in the UK.
- Leah S. Leverich (August 4, 2011). "Improved containment and convenience in a double gusset cloth diaper: Method of manufacture".
- "Cloth Diapering". Archived from the original on January 13, 2015. Retrieved March 17, 2008.
- "The History of Diapers - Disposable & Cloth".
- "Real Nappy Week". The Great British Nappy Hunt. Archived from the original on October 5, 2014. Retrieved January 25, 2014.