Flats and flour sack towels

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Flats are simply large single squares or rectangles of fabric. When you think of old school cloth diapers, you’re thinking of flats. They may seem intimidating and hard to use, but they’re actually easy, inexpensive, absorbent, and all around awesome additions to anyone’s stash. They’re versatile, easy to customize, and super easy to clean. Flats are the only truly one-sized diaper — you can fold them to fit a day-old newborn, or a preschooler overnight. Flats require a cover to be waterproof.

Ways to use flats:

  • Flats can be folded around baby and secured with pins, snappis or boingo clips. There are many online tutorials for how to do basic flat folds, such as the kite fold, newspaper fold, origami fold, or newborn kite fold. Check out the video below for instructions. It takes a few seconds longer to fold the flat, but once you have it on, it’s very absorbent and reliable. Folding in this way is great for overnight use because it provides absorbency all around the baby’s hips and belly. The flat needs to go under a PUL, wool, or fleece cover to be waterproof.
  • Flats can be “pad-folded”, or folded into a rectangle, and laid into a cover. This is a super easy system. You can padfold a bunch of flats ahead of time. To use, simply lay the flat into a diaper cover. Many covers nowadays are “tuckable”, with flaps on either end to hold an insert in place. When the diaper is wet, you can throw the flat into the diaper pail, wipe the cover, put in a new padfolded flat, and replace the cover. Padfolding is a very absorbent option because you create 12 layers of fabric in the fold. To see how to padfold, watch the video below.
  • Flats can be padfolded and stuffed into a pocket diaper. Though not quite as trim, they’re much more absorbent than many pocket diaper inserts.

Types of flats:

There are many types of flats that you can buy from cloth diaper sellers.

  • Cotton flats — inexpensive and absorbent
  • Bamboo flats — slightly more expensive, more absorbent than cotton, and very soft
  • Hemp flats — the most absorbent, but not quite as soft as bamboo

Additionally, you can use other household textiles as flats. Flour sack towels (FSTs) are a fantastic way to cloth diaper on the cheap. You can buy FSTs in the dish towel section of stores like Wal-Mart of Target. They’re generally sold in packs of five for $5, or $1 each. FSTs work just as well as flats for a fraction of the price. Another flat alternative is receiving blankets. You can use any normal receiving blankets that you have laying around the house, or you can buy them at thrift stores for about 25 cents each. You can also make your own flats from any fabric you happen to have on hand, including old tee shirts.

Ways to customize the absorbency of flats:

It’s very easy to add absorbency to flats. Some options include:

  • Layering two flats together and folding as normal
  • Folding one flat and layering a second padfolded flat into the wetzone
  • Adding any inserts you have on hand (note that microfiber inserts can’t touch the baby’s skin and need to be wrapped in another fabric.)

Pros of flats:

  • Inexpensive (especially if using FSTs).
  • Very easy to clean, since they’re a single layer of fabric. Best choice if you’re handwashing.
  • Versatile and easy to customize absorbency.
  • Good choice for overnight, especially under a wool cover.
  • The only truly one sized diaper.

Cons of flats:

  • They require the extra step of folding.
  • Can be intimidating and have a little bit of a learning curve.
  • Some high end flats can be relatively expensive.
  • Not the most trim option.
  • Require a cover.