Cloth Diaper 101

Cloth diapers have come a long way in the past few generations. Modern diapers make it easier than ever to use cloth, whether you pay a service to clean the dirty diapers or wash them yourself.

While cloth diapering can save money in the long run, it does require an investment in supplies up front. Some companies rent out cloth diapers (especially the newborn-sized ones that babies outgrow quickly), so you may be able to save further by renting instead of buying.

Cloth Diaper Options

   Diaper cover over a cloth diaper


Diaper covers come in different shapes, sizes, and colors. They use different types of closures, like snaps or Velcro, and some simply pull on. Diaper covers are often made of wool, fleece, or PUL (polyurethane laminate). The cloth diaper used under a diaper cover can be a prefold or a flat diaper that you fold yourself, or it can be a contour or fitted diaper that doesn’t require folding.

Prefold diaper is a rectangular cloth with a thick, padded center section. It needs folding before you put it on your baby. So does the flat diaper, which is a large square cloth that’s equally thick throughout.

Contour diapers are shaped like an hourglass. They usually need to be secured with fasteners or pins, though there are a few variations available with built-in snaps or elastic.

Fitted diapers are the most like disposables in their design (except that they require a cover). They’re shaped like an hourglass, have elastic around the legs and waist, and fasten with built-in snaps or tabs.

    1. “All in One” diaper, or AIO

This diaper consists of a waterproof outer layer, an absorbent “soaker,” and an inner layer. It fastens with snaps or tabs and has elastic around the legs and waist, similar to a disposable diaper.

AIO diapers come in two forms – either with all the pieces sewn together as one complete unit or with pieces that partially detach with snaps (for faster drying). An AIO is used once, then washed.

    2. “All in Two” diaper, or AI2

An AI2 diaper consists of an outer waterproof shell (similar to a diaper cover) and an insert that gets put into the shell and lies directly against your baby’s skin. Some inserts attach with snaps or Velcro, and some get tucked under flaps in the cover.

The shell has elastic around the legs and waist and fastens with snaps or tabs. The insert is made of absorbent material. Some inserts are topped with a stay-dry fabric for your baby’s comfort.

When your baby needs a diaper change, you can just swap out the insert and keep the same shell (unless the shell got soiled, in which case you change that too).

   3. Hybrid diaper

A hybrid is similar to an AI2 diaper, with two parts making up the whole. The difference is that a hybrid diaper’s insert can be either cloth or disposable.

   4. Pocket diaper

A pocket diaper consists of a waterproof outer layer and an inner layer of fabric that has a pocket opening. An insert is stuffed into the pocket opening before wearing and then taken out for washing. Pocket diapers’ absorbency can be adjusted by using more or fewer absorbent inserts.

The inner layer of fabric is sometimes made with stay-dry material to keep your baby comfortable. Pocket diapers have elastic around the legs and waist and fasten with snaps or tabs.

Because the insert and pocket will both get dirty when your baby pees or poops, pocket diapers are used once, then washed.

Pocket diaper tip: When removing your baby’s dirty diaper, you may want to pull out the insert before dumping both the insert and diaper into the diaper pail. That way you won’t have to deal with pulling it out on washday.