Cloth Diaper Confusion

If you feel I have left anything out, have accidentally provided false information, or have suggestions, please let me know in the comments! This is a page to help me as well as others.

Beginners’ Guide to Modern Day Cloth Diapering

Interested in cloth diapering, but not sure where to begin? Finding all of the different options confusing and, let’s face it, a little overwhelming, to say the least? Not sure what will work best for your baby? Well then you’ve come to the right place! I’ve compiled a general overview of all kinds of information on cloth diapering, including a rundown of what everything is, its function, and what it’s best used for. I’ve also included some useful links to websites that offer cloth diaper trial periods, diaper swaps, and more!

Back to Basics

In case you’re COMPLETELY clueless when it comes to modern day cloth diapering, these are not the things of the past that your parents or grandparents were probably wrapped up in. You can find diapers that come complete with waterproof outer coverings and an absorbent inside, or separate covers and separate inserts that you either snap in or stuff into a pocket on the inside of the cover, and plenty of combinations in-between. There are a plethora of fabrics that each can come in as well. But we’ll get to all of this soon enough. J Surprisingly, with all of these “fancier” options to choose from, many people still decide to diaper their babies in “old school cloth diapers” as I lovingly refer to them in our house.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not making fun of them either. I love using them! I just recently started using them for their intended purpose and not just burp clothes and they’re actually a lot more absorbent than you may think!

Flats: These are the most basic or “old school” diapers. They are usually made of cotton and are pretty thin before folding. One way you can use these is to fold them into the diaper shape and use pins (yes, just like back in the good ole days) or there is a nifty thing on the market now called a Snappi. It has teeth that grabs the fabric and holds the cloth in place after folding. I’ve not tried these personally, but they look very helpful, especially if you’re worried about accidentally sticking a squirmy baby, and who wouldn’t be! Most people who use these use them with covers, or shells, so you don’t have to worry about leaks as much. (We’ll get to covers in a minute.) Another option with these is to use them as inserts inside of any of the other types of cloth diapers. Of course you still have to fold them to fit inside the shell correctly, but you don’t have to mess with any pinning. 

Pre-folds: These are a lot like the flats except thicker and, well, pre-folded! True, you will still have to fold them some to fit inside the cover, but just the fact that they are thicker (and therefore more absorbent) makes them a bit nicer than flats, in my opinion. These can come in several different types of fabric, such as cotton, hemp, and bamboo. (I’m getting ready to experiment with the hemp because I have a heavy wetter and hemp is supposed to be excellent for that. You get excited about this kind of stuff when you’re a cloth diapering mom. Lol) They are also available in different sizes so you can find ones small enough for newborns and large enough for toddlers! Pre-folds work basically the same way as flats; you can use them by themselves and fold them into the diaper shape around baby and pin it, do the first option AND use a cover to prevent leaks, or use them as inserts, which is what I have been doing. Like I said, they are a lot more absorbent than you might think upon first glance and they are a heck of a lot cheaper than buying the same brand inserts as the covers. (For example, I have BestBottom shells AND some BestBottom inserts designed specifically to be used with their shells.)

Both flats and pre-folds are a good option if you want to stay on the cheaper side of the cloth diapering spectrum and don’t mind the extra work of folding and pinning. 

Covers: Keeping it All Together

Now that we’ve already talked about covers some, here’s a little more about them. As I’m sure you can guess, they are used to cover other parts of a cloth diaper. They are also sometimes referred to as shells. Covers aren’t just used to help keep leaks in on pre-fold or flat diapers either. There is an increasingly popular diaper known as a hybrid diaper in which you will need a shell as well. Covers can also be used in conjunction with fitted diapers. (We’ll get to those later as well. Don’t want to get too ahead of myself. ;) Basically, unless you have an All in One (AIO), All in Two (AI2), or pocket diaper, you’re going to need a cover. But that’s ok! There are lots of benefits of using covers. 1) Unless baby poops, you can just wipe the cover off and/or let it dry between diaper changes and use it again before washing! That saves money on the number of covers you need and money spent on water and detergent for washing. 2) They come in a multitude of different types of material, most of which are waterproof or semi-waterproof so baby’s clothing is less likely to get wet from potty or the dreaded “poo juice”, as I refer to it. * shudders *  The most popular are PUL (polyurethane laminate), wool, and fleece. None are bad choices, it really just depends on how much money you’re willing or able to spend. 3) There are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of companies and individuals who sell diaper covers in all shapes, sizes, and cute, cute, cute designs. Let’s face it. That’s the most fun part of cloth diapering. Choosing what adorable colors, patterns, or designs we want on our little one’s bum!

Covers (shells) are a great idea (or necessity in some instances) if you’re planning on using flats, pre-folds, fitted, or hybrid diapers. Depending on what type of “inside” you use, you will likely save money by choosing this option since you can use these more than once before washing them, therefore not needing as many as you would with the pocket diapers, for example. (I will explain why in the pocket diaper section.) You will save money in the long run by not having to buy as big of a “stash” and not doing laundry as often. 
TIP: If you do buy covers, I highly recommend buying them in colors or prints. We started out with 4 white ones and only 2 colored ones thinking, "Oh, we don't need anything fancy." Get the "fancy" ones. You can't see the poo stains like you can with the white ones. It's inevitable.

Fitted Fannies
 Now that I’ve mentioned them some and talked about covers, let’s move on to fitted diapers. (I’m really not all that familiar with this type so bear with me. This is a learning experience for me too! :P) From what I can tell, there are two different main types of fitted diapers and it just depends on what brand you buy on which one you get! All appear to be absorbent cloth on the inside and out. The only difference is that there is an extra built in absorbent area (or sometimes pockets to stuff extra inserts in) in the crotch on some. You can also simply lay extra inserts on the inside of the diaper if there is no pocket if you need more absorbency (for nighttime and heavy wetters). Fitted diapers are also supposed to be a pretty trim (less bulky) fit. 

Like I said, more than likely you are going to want to get covers to go with these as they do not have a waterproof covering. Some people do use them without covers, but from what I’ve gathered it seems like most use them, especially if you’re out and about. You can use fitteds during the day and night, of course, but they are a very popular choice as a nighttime diaper because they are supposed to be more absorbent than others. Wool and fleece covers are great options with these for added leak protection. Fitted diapers can come in all kinds of fabric, including cotton, bamboo, and hemp.

Easy Peasy All in Ones (AIOs)
All in One (commonly referred to as AIOs) diapers are just that; the absorbent inside layer is attached to the waterproof outer layer. Instead of having two separate pieces to deal with, you just have one. These types of cloth diapers are the most like disposables, making them a very popular choice amongst cloth diapering parents for their ease of use. AiO’s can come in handy if you are out and about or traveling, especially if having to deal with cloth diapers in public makes you nervous like it does most people who have never tried it or are not used to it. I have also read that many people like to use these for when dads or babysitters will be taking care of baby too since they are the most like disposables. AIOs are also one of the trimmer (less bulky) options in the cloth diapering world, which also makes them more like disposables.

There are a couple of drawbacks to using All in Ones. One being that you can only use the diaper once before washing again. Because of this, if you decide to only buy AiO’s for your cloth diaper stash, you will need to buy about twice as many of these than you would other types of cloth diapers. This also means diaper laundry more often for most. 

Protective Pockets

Similar to All in One diapers are the Pocket diapers. These, too, are generally made with a waterproof outer material (such as PUL) and soft, absorbent inner material (such as mircrofleece). The basic difference between the two is that instead of the extra “stuffing” for absorbency being sewn into the diaper, there is a pocket where you can add your own layers for as much or as little absorbency as you need for your child. This can come in handy if you have a super wetter like my daughter!

Most pocket diapers that I’ve seen have only one end open for “stuffing”, as it’s called, but some companies do make pockets with both ends open. As for the stuffing, you can use special made inserts made by the same brand as the diaper or even add flats and pre-folds and so much more!

Pocket diapers have become very popular over the past several years for their ease of use and versatility when it comes to customizing the level of absorbency. They’re great for day use and probably pretty handy at nighttime as well since you can add more “fluff” for heavy wetters. I have even read online that pockets alone (without stuffing added) work great as swim diapers!

The same drawbacks apply to these as the AiO’s. Since you can only use them on baby once before washing again, you will probably need quite a few more and be doing diaper laundry more often. Some people also find stuffing the pocket to be a nuisance. Both AiO’s and pocket diapers have been known to take longer to dry as well. 

All in Two’s (Ai2) and Hybrid Diapers

I’m not going to lie and I’m a little embarrassed about this since I use a type of hybrid diaper, but even after researching online, I’m still a little confused as to what the big difference is between these and using covers and inserts. I’ve even read that the two terms can be somewhat interchangeable. Both Ai2’s and hybrids have waterproof covers, but no fluffy, soft, absorbent inner. Both can have snap-in inserts or you can just lay pre-folds or other absorbent liners inside the diaper. (This is what we do even though our brand sells snap-in liners.) The biggest difference that I can find is that most hybrid diaper brands offer disposable inserts as well as the reusable ones. 

Like using covers with pre-folds etc., these two types of diapers are a nice option if you are just starting out and want to spend less money and not have as many diapers since you can use them more than once before washing. (Unless baby poops, of course.) This also means less diaper laundry, even though you wouldn’t be able to reuse the inserts. They’re also nice having the option of biodegradable disposable inserts. It kind of defeats the purpose of using cloth diapers a bit in my opinion, but I’m sure they still have way less chemicals in them than normal disposable diapers!

One of the cons of Ai2’s and hybrids is that there are two separate parts, but this can also be a good thing because it means quicker drying time. Some people may also find it to be a hassle having to wipe the cover out and having to touch the dirty inserts, although there are ways around this if you grab it with a wipe, for example. 

Pros & Cons of Cloth Diapering:

-Better for the environment
-Saves money in long run
-No nasty chemicals next to baby’s skin
-Can use them with subsequent children
-Can use until they’re potty trained
-Come in colors and cute prints
-All in One’s (AiOs) are basically disposable diapers that aren’t disposable (Good for babysitters & dads.)

-Substantial upfront cost ($100-$300 on average)
-Need a special bag (called a wet bag) to put dirty diapers in on the go
-Extra laundry 
-Really should rinse before washing (Some people don’t. I find this disgusting.)

Cloth diaper rental and trial programs:

-Changing Diapers, Changing Minds (Newborn trial as well, just click the link):

-HUGE list of programs on

-Diaper Junction’s “Try cloth diapers”:

-Max & Jack's Room: Custom newborn rental AND trial programs!:



  1. Great page! But don't forget to add that organizations like Giving Diapers, Giving Hope, The Rebecca Foundation, and Cloth for a Cause can help people that are struggling with the upfront cost of starting cloth. :-)

    1. Yes, thank you! I REALLY need to update this page! I've actually been thinking about contacting the Rebecca Foundation and seeing what all opening up a local chapter entails. I have a feeling I wouldn't know what I'm getting myself into. ha ha