Cloth Pads 101 | Basic Construction & Fabric Breakdown

*If you have no idea what this is even about, check out this blog post for more information from NPN.*

* In this post I will be addressing all in one cloth pads. These are the easiest for beginners to make, and most concise. To be honest, I don’t have much experience with base and liner or pocket style pads. I find them very fidgety and in general, unreliable. To each their own, of course, but I have the most knowledge of all in ones / turned + top stitched pads and that’s the information I will be providing for you today! * 

Despite the fact that I have only recently opened my budget cloth pad shop, I have been on the reusable scene for nearly six years! I’ve seen rising and falling trends in almost all areas of making cloth pads (save perhaps plastic KAM snaps 😉). So… I figured it would be good to share my knowledge, and write my version of a “concise” guide to the various fabrics and notions that are normally involved in the making of cloth pads.

Turned and topstitched cloth pads are made of 3 defined layers. These are the topper, absorbent core, and a backer. There are also a few other components that I’ll also be addressing within this post. Here we go!


Topper

  • Quilter’s Cotton
  • Flannel
  • Cotton / Bamboo Velour
    • Organic = OCV or OBV
  • Cotton Knit
  • Athletic Wicking Jersey
  • Minky

In terms of toppers, it is a wide and varied world. Most common materials are quilting cotton (flat cotton, like what you would make a pillowcase or a true quilt with), flannel, cotton or bamboo velour (soft natural velvety material), cotton knit (slightly stretchy clothing material), athletic wicking jersey (a stay dry fabric), or minky (a polyester manmade material usually used for baby blankets).

Flannel, as a PSA, will show more pilling and wear quicker than other materials, but some people enjoy flannel for it’s softness and how easily liquid is pulled through it.

Many others are possible toppers, but they must allow liquid through them (no coated or water resistant fabrics, as liquid will just roll off and not go down into the core). The main concern for toppers is stain resistance.

Polyester fabrics like minky are normally completely stain resistant. Cotton based fabrics stain easier, but this is usually based on the colour and pattern of the dye job.

Light colours like yellow, baby pink, and particularly light blue are particularly common for staining to occur. Or rather, will be more difficult / take more work to remove. However, when considering colors like purple, royal blue, red, black, brown, hunter / forest green, dark pink, or dark orange, there is very little chance of staining.

But, however, like in normal cloth fabric, it’s rare for a stain to be completely unremovable. And, as always, stains won’t affect the quality / function / usability of the piece. In comparison, the reason why we take the time to choose pretty and unique patterns is to keep them pretty. So, you, as a cloth pad user, need to decide if you’re willing for the stain removal process to be more intensive (almost all colours and prints), or if you’d prefer to keep it simple and minimal (darker, busier prints that will hide possible staining or prevent having to stain treat to begin with).

It’s up to you.


Absorbent Core

  • Flannel
  • Zorb
    • Zorb 1 (pure Zorb fiber, no prewash as it will disintegrate)
    • Zorb 2 (fiber quilted with a natural fabric on the outside, requires prewashing)
      • Diamonds
      • Dimples
  • Terry
    • Bamboo
    • French
    • Cotton
  • Bamboo Fleece
    • Organic Bamboo Fleece
    • Heavy Organic Bamboo Fleece
    • Super Heavy Organic Bamboo Fleece

Absorbent cores are a bit easier to address because we don’t see them! An absorbent core can be made out of almost anything, as long as it absorbs. However, they are an important component, and really affect the feel of a pad. A thick plush core will create thick plush pad, and a thin floppy core will contribute to a thin floppy pad.

They are also important because they allow us to determine if the absorbency if light, moderate, or heavy and all that comes along with that.

The most common material for cores is flannel. Flannel (like the warm pajama material) is very absorbent, but very thin. This requires many layers to create a viable core. For flannel, it’s common to include one inner layer for a liner, two for light, four – five for moderate, and 6 – 8 for heavy. As you can imagine, once you get up above six layers, the stack of fabric begins to get a quite thick, and almost unsewable. That’s why we often combine flannel with other more absorbent materials. The most common absorbent bases are terry, a material called Zorb, and organic bamboo fleece (OBF, HOBF, SHOBF).

Terry cloth is the same material that makes up bath towels. However, because terry varies in thickness, it can be hard to determine an absorbency value. Often terry bought at a fabric store will be very thin, and require 2+ layers to create a moderate when sandwiched with flannel on the outside of the core. However, normal bath towels are quite thick, and can be made into a moderate core with only one layer sandwiched with flannel.

I feel comfortable, as a general “rule” using two layers of terry, placing a layer of flannel in between, and sandwich the outside layer with another on the top and bottom. Believe it or not, this creates a fine, fairly thin heavy core. In my mind, my all flannel moderates are 5 layers of flannel, so tossing in two pieces of terry definitely bump it up to a heavy.

Zorb is a specialized material made for the cloth diapering industry. It’s a material that can absorb 10x it’s weight without leaking, much like a sponge. However, like a sponge, when compressed it can become subject to compression leaks. This is also why we, *say it with me* sandwich it with flannel. With a moisture resistant barrier on the back and / or being sandwiched with flannel, there is nothing to worry about in terms of leaking. Compared to flannel, Zorb absorbs incredibly quickly, and can prevent some issues that tend to arise in flannel only pads.

Zorb is the preferred material by many because it makes for very trim pads. One layer of zorb is moderate, two is heavy. It’s not recommended to include more than two layers of zorb because it’s simply a waste in terms of absorbency! It’s just unnecessary, even for the heaviest of postpartum bleeding. You would be much better off in terms of thickness, and effectiveness, to add a few layers of flannel comparatively.

There are an abundance of other options for absorbent core materials like organic bamboo fleece (OBF), microfleece, or even hemp. OBF has grown in popularity recently for being a reliable core for very heavy flows! There have been issues for others in terms of heat, when combined with a fleece backer. The important thing here is that it literally absorbs and holds liquid, and won’t create a core that is too bulky to go through your sewing machine.

Otherwise, again, it is completely up to you.


Backer

  • Fleece
    • AntiPill
    • Polartec Fleece
      • WindPro
      • PowerShield (-Pro)
  • PUL
    • Pure
    • Hidden (With another material covering it.)
      • Corduroy
      • Cotton
      • Flannel
      • + Fleece
  • Wool

In terms of backing material, it is more limited than the other categories of materials. This is because the backer is the baseline, it’s what allows us to use cloth pads like we would plastic and paper disposable pads. The two general areas of thought are, “Waterproof or Water-resistant”.

(You can also just use a topper material for your backer alone to sandwich the core in place, but! You will have to  change much much more frequently to be sure you won’t leak. I truly don’t advise this option to the majority of people. A water resistant barrier is necessary for realistic use, in the real world.)

Fleece.

PUL.

They are the standard options, and I’ll be going into both as well as alternatives.

A general note about fleece is that many people find it to be a great option for cloth pads in particular because it catches well on cotton undies and stays in place. Fleece has two different basic options, and they are AntiPill and Windpro. They each have different variations as well.

The majority of fabric stores (and stores that have a reasonable fabric selection) have their own brands or types of anti-pill fleece. Normally, these types will work for cloth pads. The most proactive thing you can do to make sure it will work is to feel your fleece for the weight and density. It should be a solid piece of fabric, almost like a fleece sweater.

One of the most common standardized types of AntiPill fleece is Polar fleece. Because it is a standardized weight, it is a super reliable type to buy online. The majority of the AntiPill I use is Polar. The biggest thing to keep in mind about AntiPill is it is only water resistant. For a lot of people this will be fine. The importance in using AntiPill is making sure that your core is dependable and realistic for the flow, as well as changing out your pads with reasonable frequency (as most people already do!).

Polartec is a well known brand in the Reusable Cloth industry. They are known in particular for creating a fleece backer called Windpro, amongst others (ie PowerShield), that are incredibly water resistant compared. Most people consider Windpro to be waterproof, but it is still a noncoated fleece, and is only water resistant.

The other common option is PUL (pronounced “pea you elle” letter by letter by most, or pull) or Polyurethane Laminate. This is a coated material created for use in hospitals. It has a plain fabric side (normally a cotton) and a side with the shiny polyurethane / plastic. You can create a backer with just PUL. The important thing in this case is that the fabric side is on the outside, and the shiny side is toward that core. An important tip if you find you leak with PUL, try not to use pins with your PUL (or leave excess and pin outside of your sewing line and trim after you attach you backer to your core and topper).

Many people also choose to make pads with hidden PUL. All this means is that the layer of PUL also has another layer of fabric covering it (that is touching the underwear). The logic of this is that the material will give you better grip than any possible cloth backing on your PUL. Types like corduroy, flat cotton, flannel, or even AntiPill fleece. Those who desire the catch and “keep it in place-ability” of fleece but need a truly waterproof lining can create pads that have hidden PUL covered by fleece. The most common fabric to hide PUL is flat faced cotton.

Other natural options like dense cotton fleece or wool are viable options for those who would like to avoid polyurethane and plastic based fabrics. There are a few more downsides in these fabrics, but they are definitely options for those who try to avoid materials in other types of backing. The only other type of backing fabric that comes to mind is Nylon, but that is rarely in use by home makers (unless upcycling something like a Nylon windbreaker or raincoat).


Closure

  • Snaps
    • Plastic
      • KAM
      • Babyville
    • Metal
      • Hammer On
      • Sew On
  • Velcro (Hook + Loop)
  • Buttons
  • Bra Clasp

There are many options for closure, though in the commercial cloth world it is dominated by snaps. Oddly enough, I find that many mainstream cloth companies (Lunapads, Party in my Pants, Sckoon Reusables, etc.) use metal snaps in their finished cloth pads, while the majority of, if not all, WAHM or small business makers use plastic or polyacetal resin snaps. The major difference is likely due to ease of application by mechanical vs by hand methods.

The next most popular option for at home created pads is simple buttons. Many people find putting on buttons a bit tedious, as you have to sew the buttonhole by machine and then hand sew the button on. However, buttons are renowned for being flat and not able to be felt when wearing the pad.

Hook and loop closure, or Velcro, is also common among those who are making a small stash for themselves.  Trimmed adhesive backed Velcro is added to each side of the wing and sewn down to make it maintain a close hold and long usability.

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Bra front clasp style closure (for those who didn’t quite get my bad description).

The other most common that spring to mind is the bra clasp method, ribbons, and pins.  The bra clasp method utilises a front style bra clasp as closure. Others will poke holes and thread ribbon through, or even diaper pins. Personally, I think using safety pins and the like is a bit unsafe, with there being sharp parts that you won’t have access to to fix 24/7.

Otherwise, the world is your pickle, do as you wish for closure. Or even none at all, if your undies are snug enough (which is also a method used by part of the cloth community, often known as wingless).


Thread

The only other thing I’d like to note for beginners is the type of thread you use as you are creating your pads! The most common thread in general use used to be cotton thread. However, this type of thread should not be used for cloth pads. Why is a bit of an ingenious idea that shocked me like, “That makes so much sense, but I never thought of that.”

Cotton thread will wick any liquid in your pad to the back and onto your underwear and clothing, much like a candle wick. This normally occurs in the topstitching, as most cloth pad makers do not sew through all of the absorbent layers to the backing. Polyester thread creates a non absorbent (aka water resistant) barrier that prevents needle point leaking.


I have a code setup for readers of this post exclusively! 20% off orders $5 or more in my shop with the code PLIABLOG20 until Dec 31st 2016! Feel free to check out my shop, and use that code anytime before the end of the year!

[ Pixie’s Pretty Stitches ]


So, that is my writeup on Cloth Pad layers 101! I hope that this is somewhat helpful for beginners. I tried to reign in any rambling to keep this as educational as possible!

If you have any questions, or if anything is unclear, please let me know and I’ll respond ASAP. 😊❤️

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3 thoughts on “Cloth Pads 101 | Basic Construction & Fabric Breakdown

  1. Interesting! I never would have thought to use a bra closure on homemade pads! I use hand sewn metal clasps but I may have to try making one with a different closure just for fun. ^_^

    Like

    • I thought it was quite a cool idea as well! I’m quite attached to my KAM snaps because of all of the fun colors, but it’s good to know there are so many different types of closure to choose from for all different types of people. ❤️😊

      Like

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