Like Tweet

Four Folds for Flats from Birth to Potty Training

Modern cloth diapers are pretty easy to understand because they’re so much like disposables, and with most of my generation having never seen an “old fashioned” cloth diaper on a baby growing up, disposables are what come to mind when we think of “diaper.” When I started learning more about cloth diapers, “flats” were part of the cloth diapering vernacular I was unfamiliar with. Even when I learned what they were, I still had a hard time wrapping my head around how to use them (no pun intended). Flat diapers, being just one large square-ish single-layer piece of absorbent fabric, bear little resemblance to a straightforward grab ‘n’ go all-in-one style diaper.

As I have gained more experience cloth diapering, I have learned more about how easy and versatile flats can be, and I wish I had known more about them in the beginning. With some simple folding techniques, you can use the same diapers from birth to potty training by folding them to the right size and absorbency for your baby. Pair them with one-size waterproof covers and you have a very economical cloth diapering option that is very easy to clean. All it takes is a little folding when your flats come out of the dryer.

Here are four ways to use flat cloth diapers through your diapering days:

1) Simple square fake “prefold” for newborns. A prefold gets it’s name from being a sized square of fabric with multiple layers for absorbency, which is the result of how you fold a flat. For little babies, simply fold the flat into quarters (in half and then in half again) and when you’re ready to diaper your baby, fold down the back of the diaper until you have a square that will have the right rise in the front when you bring it through baby’s legs. (You could fold it in the front if you have a boy and would like more absorbency there, but folding down in back is less bulky and might prevent blowouts up the back.) To bring it through baby’s legs you have options, depending on what’s easiest for you and most effective for your baby: you can fold the front of the diaper into thirds, roll each side into the middle to make a channel, or grab each front corner and twist the diaper 180 degrees (“bikini twist”). Kelly’s Closet has a great illustration of each of these methods at the bottom of this page. Use a handy closure device like the Snappi to secure the diaper, put on a waterproof cover and you’re done!

2) Super absorbent “prefolded” flat. I call this a “prefold” because it’s rectangular and has extra layers of absorbency in the middle, just like a prefold, but unlike a true prefold, you’re folding this diaper after it comes out of the dryer. First, lay out your flat. Then grab either a flat diaper (or flannel receiving blanket) folded into a long insert-sized strip or an insert or doubler of your choice and lay it in the middle of the diaper. Fold the bottom and top edges over, then fold in the sides until it’s the right width for your baby. Fold the front into thirds to bring it between baby’s legs and secure. You may need to fiddle with the length and width to get it right for your kiddo, but since you’re folding all straight lines, it’s a bit easier to make adjustments.

3) Super absorbent airplane fold–great for boys and toddlers! This fold is a little less straightforward, but since it has a ton of absorbency up front it’s great for boys, and since you can use the entire width of the flat diaper to wrap around your baby, it’s great for bigger babies and toddlers. (You can do this fold without adding an extra flat/doubler/insert in the middle, but I add one to show the option.) Lay out the flat diaper, then put a pad folded flat/receiving blanket or insert/doubler in the middle. Fold up the bottom edge. Bring each bottom corner into the middle to create a point. Fold the sides in again by pulling the left and right corners of the triangles you just created to the top of the diaper. You’ll have two flaps that stick up from the back of the diaper, which you can either tuck under for smaller babies or pull out to the side to use the full width of the diaper for larger babies and toddlers. To store this diaper so it stays folded and ready for use, I like to fold the front up and tie the side flaps together in a big knot.

4) Simple pad fold. If you’re wondering what people mean when they say “pad fold,” this is it. It’s simply folding the diaper in straight lines until it’s the correct size rectangle to fit into a diaper cover. To get the perfect size for your diaper cover, lay out your diaper cover at the end of your flat diaper, then fold the left and right sides of the diaper toward center until it’s about as long as your cover. From there, simply fold end-over-end about the width of the cover. Ta da! You’ve go a perfectly sized diaper to lay in your cover and put on your baby! This is a great way to fold receiving blankets you’re using as flats, since fasteners like Snappis don’t stick well to receiving blankets.

There are many, many other ways to fold flat diapers, which is one of the benefits of using this tried-and-true diaper style. With such a low price point, there’s no reason not to grab a receiving blanket and cover and give it a shot. Have fun folding!

Bio: Amber Elbon is a stay-at-home mom who lives in the Seattle area with her husband, almost two-year-old boy and their Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Her son and dog give her daily lessons in psychology and behavior modification.

Would you like to be a contributor on The Cloth Diaper Whisperer? We’re always looking for creative writers who would like to share their cloth diapering tips. To find out more Contact Us


  1. Catherine said...

    great info thank you :

  2. Caitlin said...

    Great information. I do have a question as to how you manage to get your toddler to stay still to complete the change. Ive only attempted once, if there a learning curve or battle of will power?

    • The Cloth Diaper Whisperer said...

      Yes, there is a learning curve especially with older children. Pad folds can sometimes work best so you’re not trying to wrestle a wiggly butt and a tricky fold.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.