Cloth Diapering 101: Making Sense of the Options

You’ve made the big decision . . . only cloth diapers will do for your little one’s bum. You’ve jumped the largest diapering hurdle, but now you’re struggling with all the options. There are so many modern cloth systems available that it’s just plain difficult trying to make sense of it all.

We’ve broken down the various choices into simple steps to help you find the right cloth diaper for you. While you’re going to need 30-40 diapers at every stage (or total, if you’re using the adjustable sizing variety!), start off with one or two of your top picks and give them a test drive. You may find that different brands work better than you expected, and you don’t want to make a big investment without knowing all the facts.

Step 1: Choosing the Diaper Type

Modern cloth diapers come in a variety of types and categories – each with their pros and cons:

All-in-Two (AI2)

As you’ve probably already guessed, All-in-Two diapers have two separate parts: a waterproof cover and an absorbent cloth insert, also called a soak pad. Generally, each piece is sold separately and you can mix and match, as you like. Waterproof covers come in cute styles, bright colors, and fun patterns while you can find soak pads made of cotton, hemp, bamboo, and synthetic materials. They’re generally less expensive than All-in-Ones or Pockets and they can be found in Flat, Pre-Fold, or Hybrid models.

Flats and Pre-folds

These are your grandma’s super old-school cloth diapers. You’ll be learning classic 1950s diaper folding skills with flats, which are basically a rectangular piece of cloth. And with Pre-folds, only a little less so. They will require a snug fitting cover to hold it all in place (no more safety pins!) or fasteners that are pinless and painless. Intimidating, and bulky, they will need multiple washes prior to use to prep the cloth, and a large learning curve for most people. Unless you absolutely shun modern conveniences, we don’t recommend these diapers for today’s lifestyle. They’re just too much work to justify a bit of savings.

Pros: The cheapest option out there!
Cons: Big learning curve, lots of folding to get the diaper on right, the need to prep prior to use.


A more modern (and convenient!) option in All-in-Twos is the Hybrid. Hybrids are straightforward and easy to use. They’re comprised of a waterproof shell with replaceable inserts that are integrated in design and fit. Hybrids are known for absorbency and their ability to better wick away moisture. Hybrids generally come in adjustable one-size-fit-all models so that you will only have to invest in 30-40 diapers from birth to potty training. Most brands allow you to choose between organic cotton inserts, synthetic stay dry pads, or flushables. Best of all, the two-part system helps cut down on laundering. If your cover isn’t soiled, you can simply remove the dirty insert and reuse the rest.

Pros: Ease of use compared to Pre-folds and Flats, inexpensive, one-size-fits-all, less laundering involved.
Cons: More time-consuming than All-in-Ones and Pockets. You will need to handle yucky, dirty inserts.

All-in-One (AIO)

No multi-part system here! As the name implies, this cloth diaper is a single piece with the waterproof cover and its insert sewn together. As far as simplicity is concerned, All-in-Ones are just as easy to use as disposables. There will be no fumbling around with inserts, and no dirty pads to touch. But compared to Hybrids, you will definitely be doing more laundry since you cannot detach a soiled insert from a clean cover. A subspecies of the All-in-One is the Snap-in-One where the insert snaps into place or can be removed. But if you’re looking for Hybrid features, don’t be fooled. You will still need to wash the whole thing.

Pros: The simplest option to use! You won’t have to touch the dirty bits.
Cons: More expensive, more laundry.


Similar to All-in-Twos, Pockets also feature a cover plus insert system. Whereas inserts are placed within the diaper in an All-in-Two, Pockets have an outer opening in the cover where you insert the pad. That creates a soft barrier between your baby’s skin and the absorbent insert. This diaper has wonderful wicking properties so that your little one’s bum stays dry. Plus, you can adjust its absorbency by stuffing in two inserts at a time for heavy wetters or nighttime use. On the flip side, sometimes stuffing the insert into the pocket can be difficult and removing it is less than pleasant. As with All-in-Ones, both parts need to be washed with each use.

Pros: Best for keeping moisture away, great absorbency.
Cons: More expensive, more laundry, difficult-to-insert pads, need to handle yucky, dirty inserts.

Step 2: Choosing the Material

When it comes to cloth diapers, the inner fabric is an important consideration. It’s the part of the diaper that will be in close contact with your baby’s sensitive skin for hours on end. Inner linings come in both natural (organic cotton, hemp, wool, or bamboo) as well as synthetic (polyester) options.

Polyester is extremely durable and stays dry for a long time. It’s the liner of choice for many All-in-One and Pocket models. It’s superior at wicking away moisture, which means fewer diaper changes. But it is a petroleum-based, non-renewable material and its greater ability to absorb waste also means that it’s better at retaining foul odors.

Natural fibers are soft and comfortable on your baby’s skin but they take longer to absorb moisture. So when your baby’s wet, they’re wet. You’ll have to change diapers more frequently as a result. But you’re little ones will become more aware of their elimination habits, and better primed for potty training. Natural fibers are also easier to clean and maintain.

Step 3: Choosing the Closure

There are a few options when it comes to bundling up the diaper. If you’re going the Pre-fold or Flat route, you’re going to need fasteners – either traditional diaper pins or Snappi fasteners that hook on without using sharp, poky bits.

If you’re leaning towards Hybrids, All-in-Ones, or Pockets, you’ll need to choose between snap and Velcro closures. Snaps are definitely more long-lasting and harder for tots to pull open. But if your baby is either particularly squirmy during changes, or spends a lot of time with the grandparents, snaps are also harder to close. You’re going to need to line up the parts and push down rather hard to get the diaper on.

Velcro, on the other hand, is super easy to close, just like on a disposable. But you might find your tot pulling them open. And you will definitely find that they wear out over time. The Velcro snags up any and all lint in the laundry room and eventually loses its strength. If you still prefer easy-close Velcro, look for brands that offer a Velcro replacement kit for when its end is in sight.

Which cloth diaper is your top pick? Share your favorites with us in the comments below!

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