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Cloth Diapers 101

Do you have a new baby on the way? Or maybe your family has already grown, and you've been thinking about reusable diapers for awhile, but haven't taken the plunge yet. There are about a dozen different styles of cloth diapers, and hundreds of cloth diaper brands available for sale. Let's learn about cloth diaper types

Lesson 1 : Cloth Diaper Systems

Pocket Cloth Diaper

Pocket diapers are a two-part system, with a shell (pocket) and an insert that is tucked inside the pocket. Find out why they are such a popular and easy cloth diaper option for new parents.

All-In-Two Style

Sitting between all-in-ones and prefold/cover types, All-in-Twos (AI2s) are made up of a waterproof cover and absorbent material that can be detached. AI2s do take some assembly, the result is improved drying time. All-in-twos (where shells can be reused with multiple inserts) typically work out to be lower cost options than all-in-ones, with similar ease of use. Because inserts cost less than shells, you will save money by buying fewer shells and more inserts. 

All-In-One Cloht Diapers

All-in-ones, also known as AIO cloth diapers, are the ultimate in convenience. They are super-easy to use, and are the closest type of diapers to disposable diapers. AIOs are fitted, with a waterproof shell and a built-in absorbent layer all in one piece. They do not require any unstuffing for laundering or assembling before use. Because they are so easy to use, many parents buy a few all-in-ones to have on hand for babysitters and grandparents. AIOs are great daycare diapers, too. 


Usually made of absorbent cotton, bamboo, or hemp, fitted cloth baby diapers have a contour shape similar to a disposable diaper, with elastic or gathered edges at the legs and back to contain messes. They are fastened with snaps or Velcro (or "aplix"). 

Used alone, fitted cloth diapers are not water-proof, so they must be combined with a waterproof cover. Since waterproof covers do not allow for airflow, some parents choose to use their fitted diapers without covers when they are at home. Fitted cloth diapers are easier to use than pre-folds, so they are great for active babies and toddlers. However, they are more expensive. Fitted diapers are often made of both prints and plain fabrics. While usually sized, some companies have introduced one-size options for the fitted diaper.


Diaper covers is made of waterproof material. They are used with flat, prefold, and fitted diapers that are not waterproof on their own. Since pockets and all-in-ones are already waterproof, a cover is not necessary for these styles! Prefolds or fitted diapers, combined with a baby diaper cover of your choice, are a flexible and economical diapering system.

Inserts / Soakers

Inserts are designed to be stuffed into pocket diapers. They are usually rectangular, and are made of absorbent material.

Doublers are used with cloth diaper inserts to provide extra absorbency in a pocket diaper. While you can use two inserts, the extra bulk sometimes means the elastic doesn't fit snuggly around your baby's legs, leading to leaks, especially at night. Doublers are sometimes cut in an hour-glass shape that reduces bulk around the legs. Other times, doublers are smaller rectangles, and can be used as a newborn cloth diaper insert when the full-size insert is still too bulky for your tiny baby.

Inserts and doublers can be made out of a variety of materials. Pocket diapers are designed with a stay-dry layer of fleece, minky, microsuede, or other fabric that wicks moisture away from baby. Because of this barrier, microfiber is a fairly common pocket diaper insert. You shouldn't place microfiber right next to your baby's skin (such as in AIOs and AI2s), since it can cause dryness and irritation.

Soakers are designed to be used with All in Two cloth diapers. All in two (AI2) cloth diapers consist of a shell or cover, plus an absorbent soaker that either snaps or lays inside of the shell. When the diaper is wet, you can change the insert, and reuse the shell. Soakers are also sometimes incorporated into fitted diapers (for example, the snap-in soaker in the Bamboozle from TotsBots).
Boosters are used with a soaker to provide extra absorbency. Boosters are also often added to all-in-one diapers for heavy-wetters and for overnight use. 

Soakers and doublers are most commonly made with natural fibers such as hemp and cotton, and also bamboo. If you plan to use a doubler made of microfiber or Zorb soaker, you'll want to make sure that it incorporates another layer of fabric next to baby's skin, to avoid dryness.


Here are two types of diaper liners.
  1. Biodegradable liners: Made for a single use, these soft paper-like pieces of fabric are used to make clean-up of poopy diapers easier. You simply lift the liner out, and flush it all down your toilet.
  2. Washable: these reusable liners are meant to be washed after each use. They are usually used to wick moisture away from your baby's bum, but lots of parents also add them to protect diaper soakers or the fleece layer of their pocket diapers from rash creams that can build up in diapers and cause them to repel moisture. Fleece makes it easy to clean up messy diapers, too. Stay-dry fleece liners are breathable, and are great for night-time use when feeling dry might extend your baby's sleep
Biodegradable Liners

Lesson 2: Choosing a System

So now that you've read about the systems, how do you know which system is right for you? That's not an easy question because the answer will be different for every family. The best way to choose is to start with the system that you think will best suit your family and lifestyle. Buy a few diapers to try the system for a little while and see how it works for your child and you. Trust us, you don't want to go out and spend a lot of money buying a complete stash until you know what type of cloth diaper will work! Keep in mind that each brand of diaper will fit each child differently so if your first few diapers don't work you don't need to change systems, just try a different type of cloth diaper.

Lesson 3: Combining Systems

You don't have to stick to only one cloth diaper system; go ahead and mix things up! You may want to try fitteds with covers at home and all-in-ones or pockets when you're out and about. If you have more than one child in diapers you may need a different system for each child because of skin sensitivities or body build. You may find that one system works best when your child is younger and another system works better when your child is older. You may be into variety like I am, and have to try a little of everything - that's cool too! No matter what system or combination of systems you choose, have fun with it and remember that you're not doing rocket science; it's just diapers. If one thing doesn't work try something else!

Lesson 4: Ready? Set... Go!

Ready... You've read up on the four main systems of cloth diapers? 

Set... You've picked a system to try? 
Go... Shopping of course!

Figure out how many cloth diapers you need, then start buying. Many families are try a wide variety of styles without spending lots of money by purchasing used cloth diapers. Some families look for cloth diaper packages to get their stash started, while other families prefer to buy their cloth diapers one at a time. Whichever way you choose, have fun picking out your cloth diapers!

Lesson 5: More Information

Dig! Dig! and Dig! more information about cloth diapers. It will help you a lot in making decision!

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