It is confusing! Look for fabric content percentage information. It should be on the website with the product, as should country of origin. If it is not, question it. Both country of origin and the fabric of the diaper should be clearly listed. You should know what you are buying.
Cotton diaper: any diaper that contains some cotton. It does not mean it is 100% cotton. It likely contains polyester, or other fabrics. If it's 100% cotton it will likely say 100% cotton, otherwise, assume it is not 100% cotton.
Sherpa: A member of the Himalayan people group living in Napal and Tibet known for mountaineering skills. That is one meaning. Words are confusing! But when we are talking about fabrics it's this. Sherpa: A fabric with a wooly pile made of cotton, polyester or other fiber. It refers to the way it has been made and gives you a clue about what it might feel like, but it does not tell you what the fabric is made of. It refers to the nap of the fabric. It may be 100% cotton sherpa, 100% polyester sherpa, or a blend.
Fleece: Like sherpa above, the word fleece does not tell you what the fabric is made of. It tells you what type of feel and stretch it has, sort of. It might be woven or knit, a pile or a napped fabric. The word fleece really doesn't tell you much. It may be 100% cotton fleece, 100% polyester fleece, or a blend. When you see "fleece", find out what the fleece is made of.
Organic Velour - often called "OV". Velour refers to the soft nap of the fabric. It can be 100% organic cotton or it may be cotton with a polyester back. Usually 100% cotton fabrics will say so "100% cotton organic velour", not just "organic velour". Blends sometimes do not list a percentage, but sometimes do. Velour can be a veloured terry, which is a brushed terry that make the surface softer.
Reusable diaper: This usually means 100% polyester, but can generally refer to any washable diaper of any fabric.
Washable diaper: This usually means 100% polyester, but can generally refer to any washable diaper of any fabric.
Dyed diapers: I've seen dyes run in the wash so I am of the opinion that since skin is porous (absorbent) and dyes can run, I just don't trust any dyes next to my baby's skin. You can make your own choices on all these things. All the diapers we sell have no dye on the inside of the diaper that touches baby.
AIO - All in one diaper. It used to mean cotton inside which has been sewn to the cover so the diaper and cover is all in one piece. But now it usually means a synthetic pocket diaper. The meaning of words do change.
If it just says "cloth diaper", but doesn't tell you the fabric content and country of origin as it properly should, then buyer beware - it's probably 100% polyester. Some people are allergic (or chemically sensitive) to polyester or the unrinsed laundry products used on the polyester. In my experience, polyester in diapers has problems and is very difficult to wash, so I choose to focus our product line on 100% cotton, because I feel it is best and I trust it. 100% cotton does not have repelling issues or stink issues like stay-dry synthetic diapers do. Repelling is when the polyester fleece gets detergent buildup (or fabric softener or a diaper cream residue) on it and the pee won't go through the fleece - the pee repels - causing leaks. Will the baby feel wet if you don't use a stay-dry diaper? Yes, but it will not bother baby, and feeling wet encourages more frequent changes which is healthy and good! Really, it won't bother baby. But it might bother you at first, because we have been so "marketed to", into thinking stay-dry is a must. It's not. You have to try cotton to believe it. It works, baby is comfy! I know you have to rearrange how you think because the big advertisers have so brainwashed us into thinking baby cannot "feel wet", but for generations cotton worked perfectly, and babies bottoms were healthy and generally rash-free and diaper-cream-free. Now with the stay-dry stuff, parents are going way too long between changes because no one realizes the diaper is wet, and the result of this is diaper rash and the need for constant use of creams. In cotton, baby needs no creams typically. Try cotton! Your baby will love it! It works, it's not petroleum or chemical-filled. It's soft and wonderful. Baby will not mind wet cotton. By the time baby is old enough to mind it, baby is old enough to begin potty learning and will learn about a year sooner than a stay-dry diapered baby, thus saving a ton of money in that final year, when age-mates are still in diapers but your child is in underwear, typically.
We get many, many emails telling us something like this: "I was really sucked in by the advertising saying today's cloth diapers are not like ones of the generation before. But now that I've spent a lot of money and tried everything, I find that I really love my simple, 100% cotton diapers best. They wash so easily and don't have problems. I just wish I had known about cotton from the start."
I personally keep polyester away from my family as much as I can, including and most especially in bedding and sleepwear. Cotton or wool sleepwear for baby is great, and no polyester blankets or polyester-fill bedding for us, either. No synthetic pillows for us. We all sleep so much better since we got rid of polyester from our nighttime environment. I'm convinced my babies sleep better when wearing a wool sleepsack, wool longies and/or cotton pajamas. Try cotton and wool and see for yourself. Also we wash with fragrance free detergents so we don't breathe in fragrances. That helps, too. Switch to fragrance-free for healthier breathing and better sleep. OK, I'll get off my soapbox now. You have to make your own decisions for your family. Much of this is just personal opinion. Do your own research. It's easy online.
Sleep is important. Many families find that they love cotton all day long but for the overnight choose a different diaper system. Extended time in the same diaper is a different circumstance. If you want to go a very long time in the same diaper, you might want the stay-dry protection of the polyester fleece liners. They do keep the old pee away from skin and can be very helpful for a baby who sleeps though the night without a change. The pH of the pee changes over time so old pee is strong and it can be good to keep that away from skin, depending on the baby's skin sensitivity and other factors. But in diapers changed more promptly, that is not a concern. Many babies sleep overnight in a cotton diaper (doubled or with doublers added) and a wool cover. Breathable wool covers allow air circulation and for overnight I find that very beneficial.
New to Cloth Information includes a what-to-buy list.