Cloth Diaper Fabrics Explained

With the wonderful world of modern cloth diapers comes a wide selection of technical and speciality fabrics used for specific purposes in cloth diapers. Whether you want to sew your own or just make an informed choice of the best options for you in ready made diapers, this guide will help you understand the fabrics most commonly used.

Cloth diaper fabrics can be divided into three main categories; absorbent fabrics, stay-dry or wicking fabrics and waterproof or water-resistant fabrics.

Absorbent Fabrics
These are the fabrics that absorb the moisture and hold the wee in a diaper. It is an essential part on any cloth diaper as without it, the diaper cannot perform its purpose. Some commonly used absorbent fabrics in cloth diapers are;

Cotton is probably the most easily available fabric and can be found in most fabric stores. Recommended cotton fabrics for use in cloth diapers include cotton fleece, flannel and terry (toweling). Cotton is relatively inexpensive, durable and a good choice for beginner sewers.

Hemp is the ultimate in absorbent fabrics as it can hold a lot of moisture while staying trim. While hemp is the most absorbent choice in fabric, it is often blended with cotton to give it a softer feel. It is a good fabric to use if you need maximum absorbency such as night time diapers or for heavy wetters.

Microfiber is different from the other absorbent fabrics as it is a man-made fiber. While it is a very fast absorber, microfibre tends to act like a sponge, so if very full, can be prone to compression leaks and is best used paired with another natural fibre absorbent fabric.

Bamboo is also a great choice in cloth diapers as it is very thirsty and stays soft after many washes. Bamboo often comes in the form of fleece, velour or terry (toweling).

Stay-dry and wicking fabrics
These fabrics are usually used inside diapers to provide a stay-dry feel. They can be especially useful for babies prone to diaper rashes due to wetness, and are used as either a diaper lining or a seperate liner placed against baby’s bum. Because they are not absorbent, they allow moisture to wick through to the absorbent parts while keeping moisture away from the skin.

Suedecloth/brushed polyester
Suedecloth an affordable choice of stay-dry fabric and also very easy to sew. It usually has one brushed side and one smooth side. The soft brushed side goes against the skin. This fabric is most commonly used in pocket style diapers.

Microfleece is very soft and has a luxurious feeling. It is the most commonly used fabric for washable diaper liners, and can also be used to line the inside of the diaper.

Athletic Wicking Jersey

Athletic Wicking Jersey (AWJ) is a 100% polyester fabric that is often used in sports clothing. It rapidly wicks moisture away from the skin and allows for a cool, comfortable feel. This fabric is usually lightweight and ideal for wear in hotter climates as it feels cooler than microfleece and suedecloth.

Waterproof and water-resistant fabrics
These fabrics are worn around the outside of a diaper to keep moisture inside and prevent leaking. They can be sewn into a diaper as in an all-in-one style, or can be used for making a seperate cover to be worn over a fully absorbent diaper.

These are breathable waterproof fabrics used in most modern cloth diapers. They often consist of a polyester or synthetic base fabric. A waterproof poyurethane membrane is bonded to the base fabric using a heat bonding method (TPU) or chemical bonding method (PUL). These fabrics require special care as they can delaminate or get damaged if not cared for properly.

Polar Fleece
This 100% polyester fabric is water repellant, meaning it will repel water back into a diaper and keep the outside dry. While it is a more breathable option than PUL/TPU, moisture can eventually leak through if the diaper underneath gets saturated.

Wool is a popular choice for overnight use in cover as it is very breathable. Similar to polar fleece, it is also water repellant but needs to be lanolised (process of coating the wool with lanolin) in order for it to keep it’s water repellent properties.


Softshell is a term for a variety of fleeces traditionally designed for outdoor clothing. It is usually more dense than polar fleece and typically offers better moisture protection than traditional polar fleece. Some softshell fabrics have a hidden breathable polyurethane layer inside making it waterproof. The breathability and water-resistance or waterproof properties vary between different makes of this relatively new technology fabric.

About the author : Elmarie Robson


  1. Cindy August 12, 2016 at 11:51 am - Reply

    Hi,where do i find this PUL/TPU fabric in south africa,pretoria?

    • Elmarie Robson August 12, 2016 at 11:55 am - Reply

      Hi Cindy, you can purchase the fabric from our online store and we will deliver it to your door. Feel free to drop us a mail at if you need help.

  2. Marilet van Rooyen April 3, 2017 at 9:54 pm - Reply

    Hi Elmarie- are there any of the natural fibres that act as a stay dry fabric? Or as close as one can get? Thanks!

    • Elmarie Robson April 4, 2017 at 8:39 am - Reply

      All natural fabrics hold onto moisture so do not act as stay dry fabrics. I have found fabrics with a brushed finish don’t feel as wet on the brushed side, like Brushed Cotton Fleece But this will not be as effective as polyester stay dry fabrics.

  3. Linda April 14, 2017 at 3:07 am - Reply

    I am trying to make breast pads my daughter who’s going to breastfeed. After reading so many different ideas , I’m more confused now . Please wish fabric should be against her skin?

  4. G May 20, 2017 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    I am planning to sew my first cloth diaper and was wondering if you could help me figure out what fabric is used for this brand:

    Is the inner lining microfleece? I prefer to use the same one by “Nooya”…

    Please advise,

  5. Olivia Caldwell January 24, 2018 at 6:17 pm - Reply

    For diaper inserts can I use an old pair of kids pj pants 100% polyester ??

    • Elmarie Robson January 25, 2018 at 2:26 pm - Reply

      No, polyester fabric is not absorbent. You need to use cotton, hemp or bamboo.

  6. Elrieka April 11, 2018 at 3:32 pm - Reply

    Think I should rathter ask on this debate

    What is difference between cotton fleece? cotton terry/french terry? and the hemp fleece and hemp jersey? Want to use as flats and later on to stuff pockets!! What will be the best option?

    I am using some bamboo terry at the moment

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