Flat diapers are a large square of fabric single-layer fabric that can be folded into a diaper shape and wrapped around your baby, and secured with diaper pins or a Snappi. They can also be folded into inserts. A flat diaper has no elastic, snaps, or velcro - it's just one large piece of fabric.
Prefold diapers are flat diapers that have been "pre-folded" into a rectangular shape with extra layers of absorbency in the middle. They can be folded into a diaper shape and wrapped around your baby, and secured with diaper pins or a Snappi. They can also be folded into inserts. A prefold diaper has no elastic, snaps, or velcro - it's just one large piece of fabric. Prefold diapers are larger and flatter prior to being prepped, but shrink and "quilt up" after prepping. This is normal.
For more information and lots and lots of pictures on prefolds, click here.
For more information and lots and lots of pictures on flats, click here.
What do they look like?
Prefold diaper tri-folded for use as an insert with a separate cover
Flat diaper (courtesy of Sage Old Wisdom)
What size do they come in? How do they close?
Prefold diapers can be sized or one-size. The length and width of the fabric may vary depending on the size. One-size prefolds are simply folded down to fit a smaller baby. Flat diapers are one-size. Neither come with snaps or velcro, but you can use pins or a Snappi to secure them around the child.
What kind of variations are there?
Contour prefolds are cut to a diaper (hourglass) shape, but generally do not have leg elastic or back elastic.
Prefitteds are contour diapers with added leg elastics and/or back elastics.
Bleached diapers are bleached white and may be softer, but may not last as long as unbleached.
Unbleached diapers are left the natural color of the fibers and may be slightly rougher, but last longer since the fibers have not been weakened with bleach.
Indian prefolds are usually made of gauze cotton and are softer, easier to prep (3-4 washes), and more absorbent, but they wear out more quickly.
Chinese prefolds are usually made of twill and are not as soft, but are heavier duty and last longer. They take 7-10 washes to become fully prepped.
What are the pros and cons?
Wash and dry easily, very absorbent, very cheap
Can be difficult learning curve to fold
How do I care for a prefold or flat diaper?
Prefold and flat diapers need to be washed around 5-6 times prior to use (this may vary depending on the specific brand). Rather than washing, you can also boil them for 10-20 minutes to prep, and follow with a regular wash. After prepping, wash using your normal cloth diaper wash routine.
How do I fold a prefold or flat diaper?
How to fold a flat diaper
How to fold a prefold diaper
What are common brands of prefold or flat diapers?
Green Mountain Diapers
Gerber (highly recommended to avoid these diapers)
Thirsties Hemp prefolds