When I first started sewing diapers, I asked at my local national fabric chain store if they had PUL fabric. The employee looked blankly at me and asked what I meant. When I said it was fabric laminated with a waterproof backing, she sent me to the costume section for PVC vinyl. Not at all what I wanted!
PUL, otherwise known as polyurethane laminated fabric, is a lot more technical than just a plastic backing on fabric. The original application is the medical field, and it is still used for this purpose. Like cloth diapers, it is used to replace disposable products with reusable. It provides the waterproof barrier needed in the medical field that can survive multiple institutional washings. The laminate can also be autoclaved, which is a very high heat steam sterilization process, to make it safe for reuse even after it comes into contact with blood or other bodily fluids.
The polyurethane laminate can be customized by the manufacturer and comes in different thicknesses. For cloth diapers, 1 mil or 2 mil is generally preferred. This allows for a good stretch, complete waterproofing, and is still comfortable enough to wear next to the skin. There are other options for waterproof fabric, but PUL is so durable and reliably waterproof it has become a favorite for cloth diapers. It has been truly kid tested!
The solid color PUL fabric I sell is a thin 100% polyester knit fabric laminated with 2 mil of the polyurethane film. The prints vary and may be 100% polyester knits, a cotton/polyester blend, or 100% cotton wovens. See each fabrics description for the actual content. All are laminated with 1 mil of polyurethane and are coated with a durable water resistant coating. The reason for the difference is that the woven cottons result in a less pliable fabric once they are laminated. Using a thinner laminate helps keep the fabric as stretchy and soft as possible. Whenever you have a cotton fabric outer, you have a greater opportunity for leaks, the water resistant spray gives extra waterproofing properties to compensate for the cotton content. If your child is a heavy wetter, or you want the stretch and reliablility of the solid color PULs, choose a print that is a 100% polyester knit.
Although it's true that PUL fabric is non-biodegradable, it is still a better choice for the environment than disposable diapers. I purchased my very first cloth diapers in July of 2004. Those diapers have been in continuous use since then first on one child and now on another. They may not look as pretty as they used to and in places the fabric looks a little stretched out. However the PUL still functions as well as it did in 2004 and shows no sign of stopping. Before our next child comes, I will pull them apart and replace the elastic and they will likely last through yet another child. After that, they will make their way into a landfill. But considering that each one has taken the place of roughly 1800 disposable diapers so far (assuming 1 use per cloth diaper every other day) I consider that a win for the environment. If you make your cloth diapers with a PUL fabric outer and an organic fabric inner, you will further reduce the impact on the environment.
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