Overview of Cloth Diaper Types

There is one particular person who I still find to be one of my favorite go-to people to answer any questions on cloth diapers: Michelle from Green Diaper Demos. She knows so much about all kinds of diapers, which is why I asked her to give all of you her overview of the different types of cloth diapers (Thanks Michelle!).

Overview of Cloth Diaper Types

So you have entered the world of cloth diapering. Welcome!! There are many styles out there and there is no right or wrong here, everyone has their favorite and all are well supported in the cloth diapering community. Let’s go over the basics though. We will start from the simplest sewing wise to the most complex.


Flats are a single layer of fabric (usually cotton) that you fold in various ways around baby to make the diaper. This is the original “one size” diaper. You can use pins or a Snappi (a bungee cord type fastener that have teeth like an Ace bandage) to hold the diaper together. 

  OsoCosy Flat Diapers Dozen
Pros: Flats are super cheap and a natural fabric and you can reuse covers with them.
Cons: All the folding can be time consuming for some and they require a cover to be waterproof and do not have a layer that wicks away moisture from baby’s bottom (generally called “stay dry”). These tend to be not very daycare friendly. Also, when dumping poo in the toilet, sometimes you can get a super long soaking wet diaper from it unfolding.

Prefolds are a step up from flats. They are also rectangular (usually cotton but there are also Hemp and Bamboo) and are a couple layers thick but in the middle third, they are several layers thick (this is why they are called “prefolds” because they are like a partially folded flat). However, they do still require some folding to go from a rectangle to a diaper around a baby. With wrap-style covers nowadays though, many mamas simply fold the prefold into thirds any lay in the cover instead of wrapping around baby and securing with pins or a Snappi but both are common even today. 

 Thirsties Duo Hemp Prefold, White, Size One (6-18 lbs)
Pros: Prefolds are also super cheap and are a natural fabric and you can reuse covers with them.
Cons: These tend not to be very daycare friendly and the multiple pieces can be cumbersome for some. They can also be extra “fluffy” in the butt and also do not have a stay dry layer.
Examples: Little-Lion Prefolds, Thirsties Hemp Prefolds, Cloth-eezTM Prefolds   
Contours are a step up from prefolds and are shaped more like a diaper but usually without leg elastic or fasteners. These also still require a cover and use of either pins or Snappis and usually do not have a stay dry layer.
Examples: Kissaluvs
 Kissaluvs Cotton Fleece Hybrid One Size Contour Diaper, Unbleached

Fitteds are shaped like a diaper, contain leg elastic, and have their own closures (usually Velcro or snaps). A cover is still required to make this waterproof but with the two together, this combo is bulletproof when it comes to runny poo!

 Kissaluvs Cotton Fleece Fitted Diaper, Unbleached, 1 - Medium 10-25lbs

Pros: Already in the shape of a diaper so no folding required. It is unlikely that messes will escape both the fitted diaper and the cover and produces a leak-free diapering system. Covers can be used across multiple diaper changes.

Cons: still a multi-piece diapering system and is thus more complicated than other methods out there. This method can also be pretty spendy for an entire stash of fitteds in each size.

Examples: Mother-ease Sandy’s, Mother-ease One Size, Thirsties Duo Fab Fitteds

Covers are what keep your flats/prefolds/contours/ and fitteds from getting your baby’s clothes wet. Covers can be made of various fabrics from polyurethane laminate (PUL) to wool. They can be pull-on, side-snapping, or a wrap-style.

Examples: Thirsties Duo Wraps, Mother-ease Air Flow, Mother-ease Rikki Wrap
 Thirsties Duo Wrap Snap, Meadow, Size One (6-18 lbs)

Pocket Diapers are made up of generally a waterproof outer layer sewn directly to a stay dry material lining (this wicks the wetness away from baby’s bottom ) with a removable absorbent core that gets stuffed in-between the two layers through an opening either in the front, back, or middle which gives it its name of a pocket diaper.

 Fuzzibunz One Size Diaper, Apple Green, 10-45 Pounds

Pros: This method is one of the most practical methods of modern cloth diapering. These are great for grandparents, daycare, and babysitters as the diaper goes on just like a disposable but with hooks, Velcro, or snaps. Drying is also quick since the absorbent part of the diaper is separated during laundry. You can also customized how absorbent you want the diaper (like for overnight) by adding additional absorbent inserts.

Cons: My husband says the only thing he dislikes about these diapers is that you have to pull the insert out prior to placing the used diaper in the pail or wet bag. There are exceptions though as some pocket diapers are made such that the insert falls out on its own in the washer machine. Also, the repeated stuffing of the absorbent core  (also called insert or soaker) into the pocket diaper annoys many mamas and you only get one use out of entire diaper before it needs to be washed again.

Examples: Thirsties Duo Diaper, Rocky Mountain Diaper, Drybees Lacies

All-In-Twos (AI2s) A waterproof material for the outside forms a cover over an insert (the trifolded prefolds with a diaper cover would be considered an AI2). Some have a snap to keep an absorbent liner in place.

 Softbums Dry Touch Microfiber Basic Pack

Pros: This method is great because you can reuse the cover (as long as it is not soiled) and just switch out the insert. Drying is quick since the absorbent part of the diaper is a separate piece. This makes for a pretty inexpensive yet convenient diapering solution.

Cons: For newborns with explosive runny poos, you need to have extra covers on hand since the covers will get soiled more often.

Examples: SoftBums Echo, SoftBums Omni, Thirsties Duo Wrap with Thirsties Stay Dry Duo Insert

All-In-Ones (AIOs) Similar to the pocket diaper except the absorbent inner is sewn in. There are no separate pieces to this diaper, all are sewn together. (Some AIOs have the absorbent piece snap in, but it would not be considered an AI2 because the cover part is not designed to sustain more than one use between washings)

Pros: The ultimate in convenient easy cloth diapering. Simply put on baby and then when used, put in a pail or wet bag. No inserts to stuff, no folding, no bunching etc. These are great for grandparents, daycare, babysitters and are completely Daddy-Proof! 

Cons: These are usually pretty pricey and take a long time to dry and you only get one use one use out of the diaper before it needs to be washed again.

Examples: Drybees AIO Hybrid, BumGenius Elemental
BumGenius! Organic Diaper - Clementine
I hope this helped go over the basics out there. As you can see there are several styles that meet different needs. The first question you have to ask yourself is what your preferences for cloth are. Is it budget (flats/prefolds)? Is it convenience (AIOs)? Or maybe your needs are somewhere in-between (pockets/AI2s)? You also don’t have to choose an entire stash of one style of diaper. Many mamas have found it helpful to have a variety for different needs (naps, babysitters, overnight, etc.) and it is all up to you how you want to do it, so HAVE FUN with it!! There are so many cute prints and colors out there. One way to do this is with a Trial Program where you try out several different styles and brands of diapers and return what didn’t work for you for very little risk.
Thanks Michelle! Here are some other articles to get you started with cloth diapering:

Basic info on cloth diaperingintro to clothCloth Diaper Illustrated Dictionary

Tara Porter

Tara Porter began using cloth diapers in 2011 when she felt that using disposable diapers was costing too much money. The problem was, a lot of the highly recommended diapers weren’t working for her baby. What she finally discovered was that her baby was skinny and a heavy wetter, and that diapers worked differently for those baby types. Because of her professional work with survey design and statistics, she designed Padded Tush Stats as a way to determine how different cloth diapers worked on different babies.

Tara moved on to other career endeavors in 2014 but can still be found online blogging about health and fitness at Fit Baby Steps.