When you start looking into using cloth diapers it is very easy to feel overwhelmed by all of the different types of cloth diapers available.
It can be confusing to know which types of cloth diapers are going to best meet your needs and then working out how to use them!
As it turns out, each type of cloth diaper is different and they all have pros and cons. One type isn’t perfect for everyone; that’s why you need to understand all of the differences to help you decide which one is right for your family.
So, if you’re new and ready to get started, here are all the different kinds of cloth diapers you’ll find and why they’re fantastic (and not).
The 8 Types Of Cloth Diapers
There are eight types of cloth diapers that you might use for your child. Each type has advantages and disadvantages, so let’s look at what each type is and why you might or might not want to use it.
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Flats are the old-school diaper that your great-grandparents more than likely used. These diapers require the use of a cover and need to be secured with a safety pin or the modern-day solution called a “Snappi.”
A flat is essentially a large, single-layered piece of cotton that you fold to create a pad to put into a cover. You also can learn different folds and pin them around your baby. A lot of parents preferred to fold them and lay the flats inside of the diaper like an insert.
Flats are hands-down the cheapest way to use cloth diapers. You can also substitute the cloth-diaper flat brands and use flour sack towels from Walmart if you are looking for an even cheaper option; they worked the same but cheaper. They are very easy to get clean; you never have to worry about these diapers holding stinky smells, and if you use your favorite rash cream and ruin a flat, they’re maybe $1 each.
What’s the downfall?
You have to fold them around your baby or lay them into the diaper. Pinning them around your baby seems complicated, so most parents avoid that option. It’s not as hard as you might think!
So, whether you have to fold them to fit into the diaper or pin them around your baby, they take extra work. You also have to buy covers.
- Easy to clean
- Learning Curve
- Needs a Cover
- Needs Folded or Pins/Snappi
A prefold is similar to a flat, but it’s a flat that has already been folded over to create three panels of 2-3 layers of cloth. You can then fold it in thirds and lay it inside a cover or use a Snappi and wrap it around your baby.
Prefolds are sized, so you have to buy multiple sizes as your baby gets older, but they’re cheap. They aren’t as cheap as flats, but they’re still a great option if you want to cloth diaper on a budget.
For someone new to cloth diapering, prefolds are less intimidating than flat diapers. Since they’re already layered, prefolds are faster and require less folding and work. You need covers for these diapers as well.
Most prefolds are made with cotton, so they’re easy to wash and get clean. They also double as burp cloths later and last for years.
This might seem like an excellent choice for you, but here are some considerations.
Prefolds still aren’t as simple as other diaper types. You have to fold or pin them around your baby, and they aren’t babysitter friendly. Make sure you have plenty of covers to use with your prefolds.
- Easier Than Flats
- Easy to Wash
- Works as a Burp Cloth
- Need Folded or Pins/Snappi
- Need a Cover
- Learning Curve
Fitteds diapers are essentially an absorbing layer shaped like a diaper with elastic around the legs and waist. However, you still need a diaper cover to stop your baby’s clothes from getting wet.
Some brands, like the Green Mountain Workhouse Fitted Diaper, are simply a prefold diaper shaped like a diaper with or without snaps. Others are made with bamboo or synthetic fabrics, and some have snap-in options for extra absorbency.
One of the benefits of fitted diapers is the absorbency. The entire diaper is an absorbent layer, so the chances of leaks are slim. You have to use a diaper cover still.
What are the downsides?
Well, fitted diapers are pricier than prefolds and flats, especially since you still have to use a cover for them. Also, since there are so many layers, these might take longer to dry than other diapering options.
Many cloth diapering families pass over this option in favor of prefolds or AIOs. They aren’t babysitter friendly, and they require extra steps, but if you have a super soaker at night, fitteds are the best overnight cloth diapering option!
- Easier Than Flats or Prefolds
- Super Absorbent
- Great for Nighttime Use
- Adjustable Absorbency
- Cost More Than Prefolds or Flats
- Need a Cover
- Not Babysitter Friendly
Contours are a mix between prefolds and fitteds. They’re shaped like a diaper but need pins or Snappis to close them, and they need a cover. Since they lack snaps or Velcro, they tend to be cheaper than fitted diapers but just as absorbent.
The downside to contours?
Well, they’re the least common type of cloth diapers. Many stores don’t even sell them, and you still have to use a cover with them. They’re not babysitter friendly, so most parents skip over this option.
- Easier Than Flats or Prefolds
- Cheaper Than Other Styles
- Least Common
- Need a Cover
- Not Babysitter Friendly
Covers are exactly what they sound like – covers that go over the top of cloth diapers. You need covers if you use flats, prefolds, fitteds, or contour cloth diapers.
Most covers are made with either PUL or TPU. PUL stands for polyurethane laminate; it’s a laminated fabric that is water-resistant. TPU stands for thermoplastic polyurethane, and it’s a heat reactive plastic that is water-resistant. It’s not fabric but rather a thin, stretchy plastic.
Another cover option is wool – seriously. Wool fibers repel moisture, so instead of your diaper leaking, it absorbs the urine. Using wool covers is expensive, but it’s a beloved choice. You have to lanolize the fabric, and the care instructions are tricky at times.
There aren’t any disadvantages to covers – if you use flats, prefolds, fitteds, or contours, you need covers!
Want to learn more about covers and inserts? Then check out our full guide on how many cloth diaper covers and inserts you need!
Without a doubt, all-in-ones (called AIOs) are the easiest type of cloth diapers to use. As the name suggests, an AIO has all parts of the diaper built into one. The exterior has a waterproof cover that prevents leaks, and the absorbent layers are built directly into the diaper and attached to the cover.
New cloth diaper users love AIOs because they’re the closest to a disposable diaper. All you have to do is put the diaper on your baby and take it off when it’s dirty. It makes the transition easy, and if you’re going out with your baby, AIOs make cloth diapering on the go simple.
There are a few negatives to this style.
Some AIO diapers take a long time to dry as they have all of the layers sewn together. If this is the case, it can take two drying cycles to get everything dry. Several companies created a tongue style where the absorbent layers are attached by lift up, reducing drying time.
The biggest downside to all-in-one diapers is that they cost the most money, and since you have to change the whole diaper, you’ll spend more money putting together a diaper stash of only AIOs. You pay for the convenience factor.
- Easiest to Use
- Easy for Daycares and Babysitters
- Most Like Disposable Diapers
- Takes Longer to Dry
7. Pocket Diapers
With pocket diapers, the absorbent insert and cover aren’t attached. Instead, there is an opening at the back of the diaper, and you have to put the insert into the pocket. This pocket is the space between the water-resistant cover and stay-dry liner that helps your baby feel dry and comfortable while pulling away moisture from the skin.
Pocket diapers give you the feeling of an AIO without having everything attached. They’re convenient after you stuff the pockets and easy for babysitters to use. The inner layer is soft, and they’re versatile because you can stuff the diapers with whatever inserts you want. If your baby is a super-soaker, you can add more inserts to increase the absorbency.
Let’s not forget; pocket diapers are generally cheaper than AIOs. Since everything isn’t combined, they tend to be a few dollars cheaper per diaper.
That being said, there are a few downfalls to pocket diapers.
First, you have to stuff and unstuff them. When your baby dirties the diaper, you have to pull the insert out of the diaper. Then, once clean, you have to restuff all of the diapers. That might not seem like a big deal, and it truly isn’t a hard task, but it’s something you might not want to do weekly.
Second, if you stuff the diapers incorrectly, you’re more likely to have leaks. If the inserts bunch up, leaks happen.
- Easiest to Use
- Soft on Baby’s Skin
- Adjustable Absorbency
- Cheaper than AIOs
- Great for Babysitters
- Need to be Stuffed and Unstuffed
- More Prone to Leaks
- Moderate Budget Range
8. All-in-Twos or Hybrid Diapers
The last type of diaper is called a hybrid, or All-in-twos, diaper. These are quickly becoming a popular option because parents like versatility; gDiapers are the most widely known hybrid cloth diaper system available, but there are other options.
With hybrid diapers, you have a washable outer cover and different insert options. You have a biodegradable disposable insert and a washable cloth insert. Some systems offer different types of washable inserts; one might be bamboo, and one might be cotton.
Having a disposable insert option is excellent for daycare centers and babysitters, and you reuse the covers two or three times unless it’s a poopy diaper. So, you need fewer covers and more inserts.
The downside of hybrid diapers are they tend to be expensive, so you are not saving money with this option. The biodegradable inserts are more costly than organic disposable diapers, so if you need disposable, you are probably better off to just choose an organic disposable diaper.
Another issue is that inserts can shift a lot, depending on the system used, increasing the chances of leaking. Some parents report more leaks with hybrid diapers than other brands.
- Different Styles of Inserts
- Disposable Inserts Available
- Great for Daycares or Babysitters
- Increased Risk of Leaks
Common Materials For Cloth Diapers
When you start looking for the best cloth diapers for your baby, you’ll find that cloth diapers use various fabrics to help absorb liquid. Disposable diapers use SAP and wood pulp, but cloth diapers have to use the right combination of materials to achieve the same goal.
Here are some of the common materials used for cloth diapers.
Cotton is a natural fiber that absorbs quickly and absorbs more than microfiber. It’s easier to clean and lasts for years. If you have trouble getting your cloth diapers clean, a switch to cotton diapers is a must.
2. Bamboo or Hemp
Bamboo holds more liquid than cotton, but it absorbs slower. You’ll find different combinations of bamboo, like bamboo rayon and bamboo terry. Some companies use charcoal bamboo, which means that charcoal nanoparticles are embedded into the fabric. This material is antibacterial and antimicrobial, but they’re thin and floppy.
Most people are familiar with microfiber; it’s often used for rags and towels in the kitchen. It absorbs liquid and feels thick, but this material is prone to compression leaks. You can squeeze it like a sponge. Also, it’s not safe near your baby’s skin, so you always need a liner to protect your baby’s bottom.
Most parents opt for cotton or bamboo cloth diaper as compression leaks in car seats seem to be more common with microfiber. Cotton is the easiest to get clean, and that’s a big deal. No one likes dealing with ammonia issues.
How To Decide Which Type Of Cloth Diapers To Use
Now that you know all of the types of cloth diapers, you might wonder – how am I going to decide what to use and how many cloth diapers do I need?
First, remember, you don’t have to use just one type of diaper. It’s okay to have several pockets, several all-in-ones, prefolds, and covers. Most parents will have a mixed stash so that they can use the type of diaper that suit them at the time.
Other people prefer to have one type; that’s okay, but you should try different styles to see what you like the most and be open to change. Here are some considerations when deciding which type you should try.
Without a doubt, budget is the first consideration. Cloth diapering is an excellent way to save money when having a baby, but some brands and styles are more expensive. If saving money is the most important reason why you use cloth diapers, you’ll want to use flats, prefolds, and covers as your primary style. Toss in some pockets or AIOs for babysitters or ease.
2. Ease of Use
Do you care if they’re easy to use, or do you like a bit of a learning curve? While I think that all types of cloth diapers are easy to use, flats and prefolds require more time and learning than AIOs. Decide if this matters to you.
If your child goes to daycare, make sure you discuss with them ahead of time to figure out their policy on cloth diapers. Some say no to cloth, while others are open to only a particular type. Most want pocket or AIO diapers because they’re the closest to disposables.
It’s also acceptable to have daycare diapers and cloth diapers for home. You might use prefolds and flats at home but reserve AIOs for daycare use only.
4. Laundry Days
If you want to use AIOs but don’t have the budget to buy a large stash, you’ll have to accept that you’ll do laundry more often. Not everyone enjoys laundry, and if you want to extend the days between washing, you’ll want to stick to cotton fabrics and a style that you can afford to buy a large stash.
5. Multiple Kids
Do you want to use these diapers for future kids? It’s a great way to save money if you have multiple kids, but not all styles last that long. Anything with Velcro will struggle to last longer than three to four years because the hook and loop wear down after a few years. Snaps are a better choice for longevity.
Elastic lasts two years or so in storage, but if you try to store anything with elastic for too long, it ends up brittle. Flats and prefolds last for eternity, but covers and other styles won’t unless appropriately stored.
Final Thoughts on Choosing The Right Type Of Cloth Diaper
So, you’ve decided that the disadvantages of using disposable diapers are enough to steer you towards using cloth diapers. Yet, with so many different types of cloth diapers, it’s easy to feel a bit confused. That’s why we recommend all-in-ones if your budget can afford them because they’re the easiest for newbies. If your focus is saving money, prefolds and covers is the way to go; fold the prefolds in thirds and lay them in the covers. It’s easier than you imagine!
And if you’re looking for more great diapering guides, then check out these guides on best diaper cream for cloth diapers, best washing machines for cloth diapers, best detergents for cloth diapers, and best organic baby diapers.