A Beginner’s Guide to Types of Cloth Diapers

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So you’re looking into using cloth diapers? Congratulations, cloth diapering is a wonderful choice for your baby, your pocket book, and the environment. Cloth diapering has come a LONG way since the days of bulky pins and “rubber pants.” There are a lot of decisions to navigate when you’re first starting to use cloth so to help you out we’ve made a beginner’s guide to types of cloth diapers. Different types of cloth diapers have different benefits and drawbacks. To help you figure out what kind of diaper or diapers will work best for you I’ve added the “Sisters’ Say,” which combines insights from both my sister, Bert, and my cloth diapering experiences.

All in Ones (AIO’s) are commonly considered the most convenient type of cloth diaper. Everything you need, the absorbent material and the waterproof exterior, is sewn together all in one diaper, hence the name “All in One.”

Sisters’ Say: All in One’s definitely win out in the convenience category. I think it’s good to have at least a few AIO’s in your cloth diaper stash. AIO’s that have hook & loop (Velcro) closures are most similar to disposable diapers. In our experience AIO’s are a favorite especially among hubbies, grandmas, and other care givers. Personally, I like AIO’s especially for my diaper bag. The main drawback of AIO’s is that in general they are the most expensive cloth diaper type. AIO’s also take longer to dry than other diaper types. AIO’s have limited absorbency built into the diaper so make sure to look for AIO’s that are designed to accommodate extra inserts. Of course cost and quality differ from brand to brand so be sure you do your homework before buying. If convenience is your top priority, AIO’s are the way to go.

Pocket Diapers consist of a waterproof cover that has a pocket of stay-dry material into which you stuff absorbent layer(s). The only difference between an AIO and a pocket diaper is that in an AIO everything is sewn together while in a pocket you have to stuff the inserts into the diaper. While most pocket diapers come with a microfiber insert, you can stuff anything into a pocket diaper that will absorb liquid.

Sisters’ Say: Back in the day, pocket diapers lead the way in putting modern cloth diapers on the map. When it comes to diaper changes pocket diapers are as convenient as AIO’s. It is easy to customize a pocket diaper’s absorbency so I often use pockets during nap time. Pocket diapers also tend to be less expensive than AIO’s. In many pocket diapers the inserts agitate out in the wash; however, if they do not you need to remove the inserts before washing. Since the inserts are separate from the cover, pocket diapers dry faster than AIO’s. The trade off is you have to stuff the inserts back into the covers which means more work folding diaper laundry. For that reason I wouldn’t want a full stash of pocket diapers. Pocket diapers are great if you’re looking for affordable convenience and customizable absorbency.

All in Two (AI2) diapers consist of waterproof covers and inserts that are placed or snapped into the cover. The main benefit of AI2’s is that you can potentially get more than one use out of a cover.  If baby is simply wet at a diaper change all you need to do is remove the AI2’s insert, wipe the cover, replace the insert and you’re good to go.

Sisters’ Say: I became a fan of AI2’s when cloth diapering in an apartment on a grad student salary. Since you can get multiple uses out of one cover AI2 systems can save you money, some diaper laundry, and take less space to store. One of my favorite AI2 brands, Buttons Diapers, suggest buying a ratio of one cover for every three inserts. In general, I prefer AI2’s in which the inserts snap into the cover because this keeps the inserts from sliding out of place. My one minor complaint about using AI2’s is that getting more than one use out of a cover means you have to touch a peed-on insert. Still using a cloth wipe to grab the wet insert is an easy solution. Most brands AI2 diapering system offer different insert options so you can tail absorbency according to your baby’s needs. Like pocket diapers, AI2’s tend to dry faster than AIO’s because the components are separate. AI2 cloth diapers are a great compromise between savings, less storage and laundry bulk, and customization.

Fitted Cloth Diapers are quite similar to AIO’s, however, they lack the waterproof outer layer. Fitteds are the most absorbent type of cloth diaper because all of the diaper’s material is absorbent and most fitteds have several absorbent layers sewn into the inside of the diaper. (Of course absorbency depends on the diaper’s quality and design.) Many cloth diapering families use fitteds when cloth diapering at night.

Sisters’ Say: Being the veteran cloth diaperer, Bert told me I had to try fitteds. Still it took me some time to fully understand the benefit of fitted diapers. Yes, I loved the extra absorbency and they were easy to use; just put a cover over it and your ready to go. Still, I didn’t get the benefit of having a cloth diaper without a waterproof exterior. Then my boy started sleeping for longer at night and we started having trouble with leaks. I tried using fitteds at night with a wool diaper cover and tah dah! Not only did I find a leak proof night time diaper, but one that also let my babe’s skin breath. During the day fitteds without a cover are perfect when you need to let your baby’s skin air out and breathe, but you don’t want a bit mess. They are also helpful while potty training when you want to know exactly when your child starts to go potty.

[Tweet “Absorbency and breathability are fitted cloth diapers’ claim to fame. #clothdiapers”]

Prefolds /Flats are by far the least expensive way to cloth diaper your baby. Prefolds are “folded” into thirds and there is additional absorbent layers in the center section. Flats are basically any kind of absorbent fabric that you can find: a receiving blanket, an old t-shirt, a scrap piece of fabric, etc. Both prefolds and flats need to be folded onto baby. Depending on the fold you use, you will need to fasten a prefold or flat with either with an old fashion diaper pin or with a modern fastener such as the Snappi. Once the prefold or flat is fastened onto baby you’ll need some kind of diaper cover for a waterproofing layer.

Sisters’ Say: I’ve never used flats, but I love prefolds! As a first time mom, prefolds were intimidating to me because I had more exposure to other cloth diaper types and I knew prefolds took a bit more work putting on baby. Now after using prefolds regularly I can tell you that the effort during diaper changes is totally worth it! They are especially a wonderful option for cloth diapering a newborn. In my experience prefolds are the best performing cloth diaper type and I’ve had hardly any leaks using prefolds. Another benefit of prefolds is that you can easily customize their fit and absorbency depending on how you fold and fasten them. Prefolds are also the easiest type of cloth diaper to clean. Affordability, excellent performance, customization, and ease of care make prefolds a cloth diaper type every first time mom should consider.

So there you have it, a beginner’s guide to types of cloth diapers. I hope you come away from this guide with an idea of what style of cloth diaper would work best for your family. For more advice about cloth diapering and other first time mom issues join our Facebook group, The First Time Mom Hub. Welcome to the wonderful world of cloth!

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Wife, work at home mom, and bassoonist, Laura Ankrum lives in Iowa City, Iowa. Prior to the arrival of her two children Laura taught elementary music and band in the Boston area. Now her home is her classroom and music studio. Laura is passionate about education, encouraging other moms, and eco-friendly living. She is the social media coordinator at Thirsties Inc.


Tabitha Luczak · July 10, 2016 at 11:00 am

I love this!! I shared a link in my new cloth diapering group for our local moms 🙂

    Bert @ First Time Mom MN · July 10, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    Thank you so much Tabitha!!!

    Laura Ankrum · July 13, 2016 at 10:16 pm

    So glad you found it helpful. Thank you for sharing!

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