Times have changed for cloth diapers. Gone are the days of safety pins, plastic pants, and leaks. Today’s cloth diapers have been engineered to be as easy to use as disposables. Flushable liners, hook and loop closures and high-tech fabrics create comfortable and functional diapers that are easy to use. Easy-to-use features and the eco-friendly nature of cloth can make them the right choice for parents, no matter their income. Over the years, we have continually seen an increased interest in cloth diapers because of the many benefits they provide.
There are five major types of cloth diapers, with varying levels of ease of use and expense. The goal of this guide is to simply break down the different cloth diaper varieties and explore the benefits of each type.
Prefold cloth diapers are what our mothers and/or grandmothers used. If you are on a budget, prefolds are an economical cloth diapering approach, though maybe not as convenient as some of the other choices. Prefolds are rectangular in shape and flat. They require you to fold them into a desired shape, and then fasten on baby and add a cover over the top. Covers can be as simple and “old school” as wool pull-ons, or as technically advanced as waterproof and quick-dry diaper shells. Disadvantages of prefolds are that you will need to buy larger sizes as your baby grows, they are bulky, and require a fastener and cover. Advantages of prefolds are that they can be very versatile, easy to clean and dry, and are inexpensive.
Fitted diapers are diapers that consist of multiple layers of absorbent material, have leg and back elastic, and fasten on baby with snaps or hook and loop closures. Fitted diapers do NOT have a waterproof outer layer, and therefore require that some kind of waterproof cover be used. Fitted diapers are hourglass shaped and do not require folding. Most Fitted diapers are sized and therefore require that you buy larger sizes as your baby grows. However, some brands (like the Kiwi Pie one-size pima cotton fitted diaper) have introduced one-size fitted diapers that use snaps on the front rise of the diapers to allow them to grow with your baby. Key disadvantages of Fitted diapers are that they are not waterproof and are more expensive than Prefolds. Key advantages of Fitted diapers are that they are highly absorbent, easy to fasten on baby, and are great at containing messes due to the use of leg elastic.
The Pocket diaper was really the first innovation in cloth diapers in hundreds (maybe thousands!) of years. It is the first true “modern cloth diaper”, though many find the design features to be outdated and complicated relative to more innovative designs. A Pocket diaper is made up of a waterproof cover that has a “stay dry” polyester lining that acts as a pocket between the lining and the cover. This allows you to insert an absorbent pad or Prefold into the pocket . A key disadvantage of Pocket diapers is that they tend to have a bulky and poor fit. A second (and gross!) disadvantage is the process of “un-stuffing” the pocket, which we will leave to your imagination. Lastly, with a polyester lining, you will have very little choice in putting anything besides synthetic fibers in contact with your baby’s skin. Key advantage of pocket diapers are that it is relatively easy to add significant amounts of various types of absorbency, they do not require a cover, and they are easy to fasten on baby.
The advances found in All In One (AIO) diapers build upon the “one wear, one wash” functionality of the Pocket diaper. AIO diapers are a one piece diaper that consist of a set of absorbency layers (typically two, sometimes hourglass shaped) that are sewn inside of an outer waterproof cover. They are convenient for quick changes, are used by many of today’s families as the “core” component of their diapering approach, and with an extra diaper booster inside can work very well overnight. Key disadvantages of AIO diapers include longer drying times (some brands) and the “one wear, one wash” approach that is used. Key advantages of AIO diapers is the sheer simplicity of the design, the trim fit (of some brands), and that they are a good “all around” choice that can be used in almost any situation.
Sometimes called an All In Two (or AI2) cloth diaper, Hybrid diapers are designed as a system to make it as easy as possible for parents to diaper their babies naturally. Hybrid diapers consist of a shell (or diaper cover) into which you insert a variety of absorbency layers. The Hybrid style got its name because the absorbency layers used may be either cloth or disposable, chosen based on the setting. For example, you may choose to use cloth absorbency whenever at home, but use disposable when heading to daycare or travelling. Hybrid systems can come in a sized approach (meaning additional purchases as your baby grows) or in a one-size option (which grows with your baby). Key disadvantages of Hybrid diapers is that they can appear to be complicated (however, with very little experience, this concern typically disappears). Another disadvantage is that some Hybrid designs lack contoured fits on the interior, leading to the chance for leakage. Leg gussets and elastic used in some brands solve this problem. Key advantages of Hybrid diapers are the level of flexibility that they introduce to cloth diapering (cloth and disposable options fit better with most modern lifestyles) and the fact that some brands are purposefully designed to enable multiple wearings of outer shells between washes.