• Valinda

10 Different types of Cloths Diapers - Which type is best for you?

Updated: Apr 13

When entering the world of cloth diapers everything can be a bit overwhelming and confusing. There are just so many different types of cloth diapers to choose from. How do you know which is what and what suits you best? Your parents or even grandparents might have told you that there is just one type of cloth diaper but this is no longer the case. The modern cloth diaper is so much easier to use (although you could still do the same as your grandparents did). But, to make everything a bit more clear for you, I have made an overview of all the different types of cloth diapers.


How many types of cloth diapers are there?

There are 10 different types of cloth diapers.

  1. Flats

  2. Pre-folds

  3. Tie cloth diaper

  4. Fitted diaper

  5. AIO

  6. AI2

  7. Pocket

  8. Hybrid

  9. Trainers

  10. Swim diapers

To make everything clear I will discuss each type with you below and I will also give some info about covers, closing systems, and the sizing of cloth diapers.

 
 

Flats

10 Different types of cloths diapers - flats

When you decide to use flats for cloth diapering, you are going back to basics. A flat is a singled-layered square piece of fabric. This is usually (organic) cotton but could also be hemp or bamboo. A flat needs to be folded into a diaper. There are many different types of folds as not all babies are the same and each type of fold may fit your baby differently. You fold the flat into a diaper with multiple layers between your baby's legs so the fabric can absorb moisture to the fullest. There is no hook and loop system or snaps so you need something else to secure the diaper in place. This is often done with a snappi (or safety pin but I recommend a snappi as this is safer. As this diaper is absorbent material only it needs a cover to make everything waterproof.


Pros of flat diapers

  • The most inexpensive option for cloth diapering

  • Flats are very versatile as they can also be used as burp cloths, towels, etc.

  • Because they are a single layer of fabric, flats dry quickly

  • Easily add inserts to increase absorbency

  • With a different fold, you can adjust the absorbance (as the baby grows)

  • The cover can be used again when the flat is wet.

Cons of flat diapers

  • There is a learning curve for the different types of folds

  • More work is involved as you first need to put on the diaper and then the cover.

  • Needs a separate closure system. Usually a snappi.

  • Requires a cover

  • Not daycare/grandparent proof when they are unwilling to participate.

 
 

Pre-folds

10 Different types of cloths diapers - pre-fold

Pre-folds are a type of cloth diaper that is very similar to flats. Just like a flat, it is a square piece of fabric usually made from cotton but could also be bamboo, hemp, or other natural fabric. The difference is that a pre-fold is pre-folded into thee panels for easier folding. The middle panel is much thicker compared to the outer panels and is, therefore, the most absorbent one. Just like flats, pre-folds need to be folded around your baby and closed with a snappi. Due to the absorbent middle, it is a little easier to use compared to a flat.


Pros of pre-fold diapers

  • Cheap (a little more expansive compared to flats but not by much)

  • Pre-folds are just as versatile as flats

  • Dries quickly

  • Easily add inserts to increase absorbency

  • Adjustable absorbance so it can grow with your baby.

  • The cover can be used again when the pre-fold is wet.

Cons of pre-fold diapers

  • More work is involved as you first need to put on the diaper and then the cover.

  • Needs a separate closure system. Usually a snappi.

  • Requires a cover

  • Not daycare/grandparent proof when they are unwilling to participate.

 
 

Tie cloth diaper

10 Different types of cloths diapers - tie cloth diaper

This is again a type of cloth diaper your grandparents might recognize. The style is similar to a flat as in it is a large piece of sometimes stretchy, fabric. This is a natural fabric like organic cotton, bamboo, or hemp. The big difference between a flat and a tie diaper is the ribbons attached to the diaper. These ribbons substitute the use of a snappi for closing the diaper. In this case, the diapers are put around your baby's bum and the ribbons are wrapped around your baby's waist to keep the diaper in place.


Pros of tie diapers

  • Cheap (a little more expansive compared to flats but not by much)

  • Tie diapers are just as versatile as flats

  • Dries quickly

  • Easily add inserts to increase absorbency

  • Adjustable absorbance so it can grow with your baby

  • The cover can be used again when the tie diaper is wet

Cons of tie cloth diapers

  • There is a learning curve for the different types of folds and closing the diaper.

  • More work is involved as you first need to put on the diaper and then the cover.

  • The ribbons can become knotted after washing

  • Requires a cover

  • Not daycare/grandparent proof when they are unwilling to participate.

 
 

Fitted diaper

10 Different types of cloths diapers - fitted diaper

A fitted diaper is similar to the previous types of cloth diapers as it is the absorbent material only. The big difference is that these diapers are already in the right shape. They are shaped like a diaper to fit around your baby. A fitted diaper has elastics around the legs and waist for a snug fit and usually has either snaps or a hook and loop system for closing the diapers. As this fabric (again, usually cotton, bamboo, or hemp) is rather thick so it has great absorbency which is why this type of cloth diaper is often used during the night.


Pros of fitted diapers

  • High absorbance

  • Most leak-proof cloth diaper system

  • Suitable for nights due to high absorbency

  • The cover of the fitted diaper can be used again when the diaper is wet.

Cons of fitted diapers

  • Pricier cloth diaper option

  • More work is involved as you first need to put on the diaper and then the cover.

  • Because there is a lot of absorbent material involved this diaper is rather bulky around your baby

  • The thick material dries very slow

 
 

AIO - All in One cloth diaper

10 Different types of cloths diapers - AIO all in one cloth diaper

This is the cloth diaper system for you if you want to use something very similar to disposable diapers. An AIO diaper is a waterproof cover with the inserts attached to it making this a very quick and easy system to use. An AIO diaper is an all-inclusive system as no folding is involved and there is no need for separate covers as these diapers work on their own without extra accessories. This type of diaper is great for newbies who want to dip their toes into the world of cloth diapers.

Pros of AIO diapers

  • No need for extra inserts or covers

  • One-piece system

  • Super easy to use

  • Daycare/grandparent friendly system

  • Has many cute prints to choose from

Cons of AIO diapers

  • This type of diaper is known for its leaks as the fit is important

  • As all the absorbent layers are sewn within the diaper, it takes longer to dry after washing

  • More expensive

  • Due to the limited absorbency, this type of cloth diaper is not suitable for the night.

 
 

AI2 - All in two/snap in one

10 Different types of cloths diapers - AI2 all in two snap in one

The AI2 system is very similar to the all-in-one system as it is similarly easy to put around your baby (similar to a disposable diaper). The big difference is that the inserts can be removed. These are usually attached to the cover with a snap to prevent the insert from moving around in the cloth diaper. When your baby wetted the diaper you only have to change the inserts without having to change the entire diaper. When there is solid waste in the diaper it is recommended to not reuse the cover.


Pros of AI2

  • Similar in use as a disposable diaper

  • Adjustable absorption

  • Dries fast

  • Only the insert can be replaced when it is wet

Cons of AI2

If you want to remove wet inserts, they need to be touched.

  • Fit is important

  • After washing the diaper needs to be assembled

  • Not suitable for the night

 
 

Pockets

10 Different types of cloths diapers - pockets

Pockets are a type of cloth diaper that is very easy to use. Just like AIO and AI2 diapers they go around your baby similar to a disposable diaper. This type of diaper is a little different as there are no inserts attached but it has an opening on the inside, the pocket. This pocket needs to be stuffed with absorbent material to make the diaper work. Inserts can be made from lots of different materials like microfiber (synthetic), cotton, bamboo, or hemp (the last three are natural). This needs to be done before the diaper is put around your baby so there is some prep work involved and these inserts also need to be removed before washing to make sure they will get properly clean in the laundry.

The back of this opening is the waterproof cover while the front (the side that is against your baby's skin) is usually stay-dry material. This helps with a dry feel around your baby's bum as it pulls away moisture from the skin. This material is most often suede-cloth or fleece (both act similar moisture-wicking) but fleece tends to feel a little nicer directly against your skin.

Pockets may differ per brand. Some have one opening at the back, some may be open at the front and the back (for easy stuffing of the diapers). This opening is can be ‘flap’ style and/or there may be elastic to make sure the insert stays in the pocket.

Pros of pocket diapers

  • Similar in use as a disposable diaper

  • Adjustable absorption

  • Dries fast

Cons of pocket diapers

  • Fit is important

  • Leaks often

  • The whole diaper goes in the laundry.

  • Inserts need to be removed before washing

  • Inserts have to be placed in the diapers before use

  • Not suitable during the night due to limited absorbency.

 
 

Hybrid cloth diapers

10 Different types of cloths diapers - hybrid cloth diaper

A hybrid cloth diaper was designed to make the transition from disposable to cloth easier for new parents. As these are a cross between cloth diapers and disposable diapers. Hybrid diapers consist of a waterproof outer cover that is reusable with disposable inserts on the inside. The inserts lie inside the diaper (similar to an AI2 cloth diaper) and once the insert is soiled it is discarded. When the inserts are only wetted, the cover could be reused with fresh inserts while it is recommended to wash the cover when the liners are soiled with solid waste.


Pros of hybrid diapers

  • Often has a better fit

  • The cover can be reused if only the disposable insert is wet

  • Less laundry compared to regular cloth.

Cons of hybrid diapers

  • Less eco-friendly because the inserts are not as eco-friendly.

  • Higher investment as you need to keep purchasing disposable inserts

  • More for prepping the diaper with the disposable insert.

 
 

Trainers

10 Different types of cloths diapers - trainer

Your child is ready for potty training. Awesome! However, accidents may still happen. This is normal as your child needs to get used to a new routine where it needs to interrupt its play to go to the bathroom. For some kids, this can be quite the challenge, they may wait too long, and then an accident may happen. For those kids trainers are great. Trainers look like underwear (because big boys and girls wear real underwear) but with an extra absorbent layer to help catch accidents. This keeps parents from changing the entire outfit when an accident has happened. These come in a multitude of sizes as some kids have accidents longer than others. Some have adjustable sizing with snaps but some kids may think these look too similar to cloth diapers. Special trainers are available during the night for those parents with kids who at some point refuse to wear a (cloth) diaper.

The outside of these training pants is a waterproof layer with a print to make it look like real underwear while the inside is often super soft natural material. The latter is usually (organic) cotton but could also be bamboo. This is purposefully not stay-dry material as your child needs to feel wet so it knows it has done its business.

Swim diapers

10 Different types of cloths diapers - swim diaper

Just like regular disposable swim diapers, there is also a reusable solution to this, the reusable swim diaper. This type of cloth diaper works similar to the disposable version as there is no absorption (which would be pointless in a pool). A swim diaper (so both disposable and reusable) is designed to keep solid waste from entering the pool. The outer layer is made from waterproof material that fits snugly around the baby's legs and waist to keep waste in. While the inside is soft material. Overall, a reusable swim diaper is very similar to a diaper cover.

 
 

Covers

A cover is needed for some types of cloth diapers. The flats, pre-folds, tie cloth diapers and fitted diapers all need a cover as they consist of absorbent material only. When choosing a cover, there are 2 options, PUL or wool.


PUL

PUL or Polyurethane laminate is a waterproof material often used for cloth diaper covers but they are also used to make menstrual products or nursing pads waterproof.

Pros of PUL covers

  • Easy to clean

  • Affordable

Cons of PUL covers

  • PUL is not a breathable material

  • PUL is a type of plastic

Wool

Wool is often used as a cover for cloth diapers. Wool when it is on a sheep is water repellent (to keep the animal dry) while also being breathable. However, when we use it as consumers, the wool is cleaned and washed and no longer waterproof so it needs a special treatment to make it waterproof again. Lanolin is used to make wool covers waterproof.


Pros of wool covers

  • Breathable

  • Often more leakproof compared to PUL covers

  • Less frequent washing required

Cons of wool covers

  • Not suitable when allergic to wool or lanolin

  • Needs special cleaning supplies

  • Needs to be lanolized

  • Not vegan

 
 

Cloth diaper closing system

Flats, tie diapers, and pre-folds need a Snappi to close the diaper while for the other types of cloth diapers you need a different closing system. In this case, you have to choose between using snaps and hook and loop (Velcro) to close the diapers around your baby's waste.


Snaps

Snaps are often used to size the diaper but can also be used as a closure system around the waste. They may need a little force to open which will make it harder for your baby to open the diaper by itself. This also means that it may be too difficult to use for grandparents when they have a hard time opening the diapers.


Hook and loop

One side is fuzzy while the other side is grippy to make them stick together. This is a quick and easy method like anything with Velcro. There are however a few downsides. They collect dust easily making it lose efficacy and your baby may also be able to open the diaper when it gets curious. Another downside is that velcro can make lots of noise when opening which means it could wake your sleeping baby up when changing a diaper.

 
 

Diaper sizing

Just like disposable diapers, cloth diapers come in different sizes. As your baby grows, you may need a new size of cloth diaper or you need to adjust your diapers when you have one-size diapers. Keep in mind that the weight that is mentioned with each size is a guideline. Each baby is different and may stay in a smaller size longer while others need to size up sooner.

10 Different types of cloths diapers

Newborn

The smallest diaper size. These diapers can fit babies in the weight range of 6lbs-10lbs / 2,5kg - 5,5 kg, some may go as high as 15lbs. Some newborn diapers even have an extra snap in the front that lowers the waistband to avoid the umbilical stump until it is fully healed. Newborn diapers are usually pockets because they don’t need lots of absorbances and are the least bulky.


Sized diapers

These are usually 2-3 different sizes of diapers, each having its weight range. This can be size 1,2 and 3 or size S, M, and L. Size 1 or small is often the newborn range from 8lbs - 20lbs / 3,5kg - 8kg. Size 2 18lbs - 40lbs / 7,5kg - 18kg while size 3 is often for bigger kids that weigh more than 35lbs - 15kg. The exact weight range may differ per brand.


One Size diapers

10 Different types of cloths diapers

One Size cloth diapers have all the sizes included in one diaper. These diapers have a set of snaps in the front of the diaper so you can easily change the size as your baby grows. The snaps make these one size diapers suitable for a rather wide weight range, usually 8lbs-35lbs / 3,5kg - 15kg. Most one size diapers have 3 rows of 3 snaps in the front so 3 different sizes can be created but some diapers have more rows of snaps so even more sizes could be created. The latter is usually to make the diaper even smaller for newborns.


Adult cloth diaper

This type of cloth diaper will not be covered in detail but I just wanted to mention that if you have a grown-up loved one that needs diapers that are also for this category, reusables are available.

 
 

Which type of cloth diaper is best?

As you can see, you have lots of choices when you have decided to go for cloth diapers. Which type of cloth diaper is best for you depends on how much time you want to invest in the diapers and your budget. If you have lots of time and a small budget, folding flats and using covers may be a great option for you. This way you can cloth diapers for under $100,- if you choose cheap brands. However, if you have less time, AIO may be right for you with fitted diapers during the night (due to increased absorbency). Any combination of cloth diapers is ok when it suits your budget and lifestyle.


What do I use

I started with different systems; pockets, all-in-ones, and fitted diapers (I did not want to fold diapers) from different brands. By trying them out I found out what I like to use and what suited my daughter best. I choose fitted diapers to use at home as I like those best due to the high absorbency. I also bought a few pockets for the daycare as they were ok with cloth diapers as long as it was not more work.


I recommend you also try different brands and systems to find out what works best for your baby and your living situation.


More about Cloth Diapers