Inserts are the workhorse of your cloth nappy. They do all the hard work!
There are many different types of inserts available and they vary in price, material, and absorbency. Let's talk about the most common ones.
Composition: usually 80% bamboo 20% synthetic blend - "pure bamboo" as an insert fabric does not in fact exist. The synthetic component is needed to stabilise the fabric enough to be able to endure the heavy duty use of inserts. A 100% bamboo fabric is quite delicate.
Bamboo is a great all rounder. It's a renewable resource, breathable, anti-bacterial, and gentle enough to go directly against baby's skin, so can be used outside the pocket if desired. Its drying time is on the longer end, but that tends to be the case: more absorption, longer drying time.
Composition: usually 45% hemp and 55% cotton or similar
Hemp cotton inserts absorb a LOT of liquid. They do so slowly though, so it's important to use them in combination with a faster absorbing insert (like bamboo, bamboo cotton, or microfiber). A hemp cotton insert used by itself may cause leaks due to flooding (liquid not absorbed fast enough).
Composition: usually 70% bamboo and 30% cotton or similar
Super soft and super absorbent, bamboo cotton is fast becoming a very popular insert option. They can take what feels like a million years to dry, but man they're thirsty! Trifolds and snake inserts are a great shape for this material - powerful absorption when folded up, faster drying when unfolded.
Composition: usually 100% microfiber
Microfiber is a synthetic material that is quite absorbent. It shouldn't be used directly against baby's skin as it can dry out and irritate - always use inside pocket. Microfiber inserts can act a bit like a sponge - soak up lots of liquid, but seep that liquid back out again too when squeezed (through baby's movement, for example). Paired with a stronger absorber like bamboo or hemp, microfiber can perform well.
Composition: usually charcoal infused bamboo fleece on outside, layers of microfiber on inside.
The name is a little misleading - there isn't much bamboo in bamboo charcoal inserts. The inside is usually microfiber. Bamboo charcoal inserts can touch baby's skin as the outside layers are a nice stay-dry blend.
When using two inserts, fast absorbers should go on top (closest to baby), slow absorbers should go on the bottom. For example: bamboo on top, hemp on the bottom.
Don't use a hemp cotton insert on its own - it absorbs liquid slowly which can cause leaks due to flooding.
If you have microfibre or bamboo charcoal inserts, these should go on top as they absorb quickly - but please don't let microfibre touch baby's skin. Only use inside the pocket. Using only a microfibre or bamboo charcoal insert is only suitable for very young babies or extremely light wetters - we don't recommend it. They act like a sponge: absorb liquid well, but once compressed, let it back out too! Common cause of leaks.