Types of Cloth Diapers and Choosing What Works Best For You

Hooray! You've decided that cloth diapering works for you. You sit down to research a bit before making a purchase. You keep seeing terms like all in one, pocket, fitted, flat, etc. What in the world does that mean?

Let's start with the basics. Every cloth diaper needs two components - absorbency and a waterproof layer. AKA something to absorb pee and poop, and something to keep it contained and prevent wicking/leaking. How those two pieces comes together is the difference between the types of cloth diapers. Let's detail each kind!

All In One (AIO): Like the name implies, the absorbency + waterproof layer is all in one piece. You'll find how those two pieces are sewn together varies among brands, but you'll still have everything together. The entire diaper goes on, your baby dirties it, then the entire diaper comes off and goes in the wet bag until laundry day.

All In Two (AI2)/Hybrid: AI2 diapers will have two separate pieces - your waterproof cover and your absorbency. Most brands will design each piece to work together, but there is a bit of mixing and matching that can be done. When your baby is ready to be changed, you switch out your absorbent component and reuse your waterproof cover. 

Pockets: Pocket diapers have a waterproof outer shell with a sewn in lining that has a pocket opening. You'll need to "stuff" your absorbent component into the pocket opening to complete the diaper. If you pre-stuff your pocket diapers, they can be just as convenient as an AIO. Also like an AIO, once the pocket diaper is dirty, the entire thing goes into the wet bag to wait for laundry day.

  • Pros: Easy to customize absorbency, convenient
  • Cons: A bit of prep work is required before putting on baby
  • Examples: AppleCheeks Envelope Cover

Cover/Shell: Covers are just your waterproof layer, so they'll require a separate absorbent piece. Typically made with PUL, they can be wiped clean between uses and reused several times before needing to be washed. 

  • Pros: Budget friendly, can be used several times before washing
  • Cons: A bit of prep work is required before putting on baby
  • Examples: Thirsties Duo Wrap

Fitted: A fitted diaper is cut and put on like a regular diaper, but they only provide absorbency. A cover would be required to make it a "complete" diaper.

  • Pros: Super absorbent, perfect for overnight or naps, easy to put on
  • Cons: Can take a bit to dry, require a separate cover 
  • Examples: Thirsties Natural Fitted

Prefold: Prefolds are an absorbent piece of material that need to be folded and used inside a waterproof cover. Once they are dirty you'll toss in the wet bag until laundry day.

  • Pros: Budget friendly, easy to customize absorbency
  • Cons: A bit of prep work is required before putting on baby, sometimes require a fastener to hold prefold in place (not always!)
  • Examples: Thirsties Hemp Prefold, AppleCheeks Bamboo Inserts

Insert/Doubler: Inserts or doublers are broad terms that generally refer to an absorbent piece of material. It can either be used on it's own inside a pocket or cover, or added to a complete diaper to increase the absorbency for naptime, overnight, or for heavy wetters.

Worth noting, you'll notice that certain diapers show up in more than one category. That just means they are super customizable! For example, AppleCheeks Envelope Covers and Bamboo Inserts. You can stuff the inserts into the pocket opening of the envelope cover to use as a pocket, or you can just place the insert on top of the lining in the envelope cover to use as an AI2. Another example, a GroVia Hybrid Shell could be used as a traditional cover with a Thirsties Hemp Prefold. While their snap in Soaker Pads make things super easy, it can be fun to mix and match a bit!

Now that you have a better understanding of the different types, you may be able to easily narrow down what will work for you and your lifestyle. Some parents tell me that they want ultimate convenience, and they know for a fact they'll never want to stuff a pocket or fold a prefold. In that case, an AIO or AI2 would be perfect for them! On the flip side, perhaps a family wants to cloth diaper on a budget. Prefolds and covers are the answer!

If you're like me, maybe a little mix of everything would work for you. I prefer to use pockets or prefolds with covers at home. I have everything neatly arranged on our changing table, so it's easy to assemble a diaper right when I need it. When we are out of the house and I'm changing a diaper in the car or a public restroom, AIO's are my jam. They are quick, easy, and can go straight from the diaper bag to the bum without any fuss.

What about you? What is your favorite type? Do you prefer a full stash of one type of diaper, or do you like a mix?