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Cloth Diapering: Types of Cloth Diapers

Updated on October 21, 2009
Fitted Diapers from
Fitted Diapers from

The ease and convenience of disposable diapers have increased the popularity of their usage over the years. Without leaks, diaper pins and easy disposal after use, many families eagerly adopted full time disposable diaper use. However, as more and more parents become aware of the advantages of using cloth diapers, many are making the switch back to cloth.

Cloth diapering today is a far cry from what it was back in the days of the previous generation. No longer are cloth diapers limited to white squares of fabric that are folded and pinned into place. The range of cloth diapers available on the market today is so wide that it can often be overwhelming to a new parent attempting to choose a cloth diaper system.

What are the Different Types of Cloth Diapers Available?

1. Flats

These are the old-school type of diapers. Made out of a fabric like muslin, they are squares of white fabric that are folded and pinned into place. The main advantages of these are that they are the cheapest diapers available and they are quick drying. They are also made of natural fabrics which are light and breathable.

The disadvantage is that they need to be folded and pinned into place which can be hard to use on restless babies. They also leak through when baby soils the diaper (unless they are worn with a diaper cover), they can be messy to clean, and if they are not worn properly, they can come loose on an active toddler.

2. Pre-folds

These are very similar to flats except that they have additional layers in the area where baby soils. They still need to be folded and fastened with pins. They also come in several sizes to accommodate a child from birth to potty training. Like flats, they must be worn with a diaper cover. Since they can be opened out to wash, they also dry fairly quickly.

Pre-folds are usually made of cotton, gauze, Birdseye flannel, hemp, or velour. They are fairly similar to flats except that they are more absorbent because of the additional layers in the center.

3. Fitted Diapers

These diapers are the next up. They look essentially like a disposable diaper with the hourglass shape and elasticised legs and waists. Fitted diapers today are closed with snap buttons or with Velcro and are available in a variety of materials, the most common of which are cotton knits, flannel, hemp, terry cloth, sherpa, bamboo, and velour.

Fitted diapers are not waterproof and must be worn with a diaper cover to prevent leak through. They can be made more absorbent with the addition of an insert onto the area where the baby soils. They are available in a variety of sizes from newborn to potty training toddler.

4. Pocket Diapers

Similar to fitted diapers and disposable diapers, pocket diapers come in the hourglass shape with elasticised legs and waists. They are closed with snap buttons or Velcro. The original pocket diapers were made with an outer waterproof layer (usually made from PUL – polyurethane laminate however newer types may alternatively be made with wool or fleece) and an inner “stay-dry” layer that wicks moisture away from the baby. There is a pocket between the outer and inner layers for stuffing an insert to increase absorbency of the diaper.

Newer pocket diapers are being made with different materials and are not necessarily waterproof. The availability of the pocket offers the advantage of being able to adjust the absorbency of the diaper. Being able to remove the insert also means the diapers dry more quickly after washing.

Pocket diapers are one of the most expensive types of cloth diapering systems available but they offer some of the greatest conveniences – easy wash, quick dry, adjustable absorbency, and they are waterproof. They are also available in a variety of sizes from newborn to potty training toddler.

5. All-in-Ones (AIOs)

These are a complete cloth diaper system that is exactly like a disposable. With elasticised legs and waists, they are closed with snap buttons or Velcro. They come with a waterproof outer layer, and absorbent soaker and a “stay-dry” inner layer. They are a complete cloth diapering system because they require no additional components.

Because the absorbent layer is attached to the diaper, AIOs can be harder to clean and take longer to dry. Another alternative to the AIO is called the All-in-two (AI2). These are exactly like the AIO except that the soaker is attached to the diaper with snap buttons and can be removed during washing and cleaning. AI2 offers the additional advantage of being able to replace the inner soaker if it wears out before the diaper body.

Yet another type of AIO is the wool-in-one (WIO). These are basically AIO diapers with a wool outer covering. WIO function similarly to AI2 because the soaker is attached on with snap buttons and can be removed during washing. This is a necessary feature of a WIO because of the different care required by the wool covering and the washing of the soaker.

Wool is becoming a very popular diaper material because of its combined advantages of being waterproof and breathable at the same time. With many beneficial properties, such as being easy to clean, antibacterial and kind to sensitive skin, wool is a great choice of fabric for cloth diapers.

AIOs and AI2s are generally one of the most expensive diapering systems available however they offer the easiest transition from disposal to cloth. They come in a variety of sizes from newborn to potty training toddler.

6. Diaper Covers

Diaper covers are generally recommended to be worn over the diapers that are not waterproof, such as fitted diapers, flat diapers or prefold diapers. Commonly made from PUL, fleece or wool, diaper covers are essentially like fitted diapers being hourglass in shape with elasticised legs and waists.

7. Inserts or Soakers

These are usually rectangular pieces of fabric made from a variety of materials with differing thicknesses. These can be added to any diaper system to help increase the absorbency of the diaper.

8. One-Size-Fits-All

To minimise the number of diapers required, some diaper systems come with “one-size-fits-all”. They have adjustable Velcro or snap buttons that accommodate a growing baby and toddler. Despite the term “one-size-fits-all”, this is often rarely true. Most newborn babies (even the bigger ones) will be hard pressed to fit into a one-size-fits-all diaper due to the excess bulk of material bunching up.

A new economical alternative to the one-size-fits-all are the two-in-ones. With adjustable snap buttons and Velcro, these accommodate some growth of a child between two sizes without attempting to be a one-size-fits-all. For instance, they may be size S/M or size M/L.

These days, there are so many different cloth diapering systems available that make cloth diapering a lot easier and more convenient than it used to be in the past. Parents can choose to use a variety of cloth diapering systems to suit the occasion or to stick with one that works best for them. Regardless, there is sure to be a cloth diapering system to suit most families.


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