Cloth diapers are amazing. They’re versatile, adorable, comfortable, and economical. But they’re intimidating as hell to new or potential parents, partly because there are so many kinds. While a disposable is pretty basic – what you see is what you get – cloth diapers are a vast industry of options. Here I’ll break down the three main kinds of cloth diapers: the good, the bad, all of my experiences, plus photos!

Different Types of Cloth Diapers: A Real Simple Guide - Real Simple Mama

There are essentially three types of cloth: all-in-ones (AIOs), pocket diapers with inserts, and prefolds with covers. I’ll explain each of them, but essentially we are looking at the convenience. What I mean is, the ones which require less work are going to be the most expensive generally.

This article is a supplement for my eBook,

Cloth or Disposables? A Real Simple Guide to Diapering Your Newborn Baby

You can find it on Amazon here!

all-in-one with sewn-in extra layer

all-in-one with sewn-in extra layer

For example, let’s talk about AIOs first. An AIO, or all-in-one, is essentially the cloth version of a disposable diaper: everything is in one piece, all together (you can see the same AIO in the photos above and below). You just grab one, snap or Velcro it on, and you’re done! No various components to assemble or fold. These are great for people like babysitters, daycare workers, grandparents, or Dad because they are no-brainer cloth diapers. You don’t need to know anything about folds or covers. Everything’s all in one piece. That flap I’m holding above is the extra layer for absorbency, but it’s sewn in.

all-in-one

all-in-one

As you might have guessed, this convenience and accessibility also means that AIOs are traditionally the most expensive style of cloth. One will typically run you $20-$30. Personally, I do have a few which I either requested as gifts/on registries, or I buy one at a time as my budget allows. They’re nice to have but we just can’t afford a stash full!

pocket diaper with insert

pocket diaper with insert

The second type of cloth (shown above) is called the pocket diaper. This comes in two parts: the diaper itself, which is lined on the inside with fabric and a pocket along the crotch; and the insert, which goes inside the pocket. When you go to wash them, you throw everything in together; when they’re dry and ready to be used again, you “stuff” the insert back in. (You could also stuff each diaper individually during changes, but that’s probably less efficient!). I do find that the inserts don’t have to be pulled out when the diaper’s dirty: my old-school washer gets the insert out on its own. Each diaper will come with its own insert too.

assembled pocket diaper now looks like an AIO

assembled pocket diaper now looks like an AIO

These are way more cost effective, though you can see why when you consider the labor involved. Personally, I hate these. I don’t mind some extra work since I’m cheap, but I just cannot get the hang of stuffing. I’m slow and awkward at it. Also, be aware that as soon as that fabric liner gets wet or soiled, you’ve gotta change your baby. No cheating and just replacing the insert (though I guess you could just lay another insert over it all… hmmm…). But do consider that you’ll probably have to change the entire diaper each time your baby pees or poops.

cloth covers!

cloth covers!

The third type of cloth is the prefold+cover combo. There is a waterproof outer cover, completely separate from a prefold (my favorite ones shown above); the prefold is the old-school cotton square of fabric which is folded various ways around Baby, shown below in a traditional trifold. The prefold gets its name from the way it’s sewn, with seams which cut the fabric into three equal sections. This makes it easier to fold.

cotton prefold, folded into thirds

cotton prefold, folded into thirds

Essentially you out the prefold on, then fasten the cover over it. (Technically you can use a prefold alone, but then it’s not waterproof!). Covers have no fabric on them and are waterproof, so you could just change the prefold and use a cover again. Personally, this is the combo I love! I know it sounds intimidating but it’s a highly customizable way to use cloth diapers. It’s also the cheapest! And trust me, YouTube is your friend when it comes to learning all the various ways you can use prefolds.

I also just finished a review of all my favorite cloth covers with more individualized photos, which you can read here. 

Or hey, if you want to learn more (from a person of just average intelligence), you can see my entire category of cloth diapering articles here. And because I really wanted to reach as many people as possible with the good news that is fluff, I even wrote an eBook about diapering (disposables and cloth) – check it out here!

How do you cloth diaper?