Cloth Diapering Beginners Guide- Types of Cloth Diapers

Updated: Jul 19, 2018

Are you confused about which cloth diaper to use? Have you spent hours searching the internet and still don’t know where to begin?

When most new parents first discover the world of cloth diapering they are surprised by the many different styles.

You could spend hours searching the web for honest information from experienced cloth diapering parents and you would likely find that the cloth diapering world has a language of its own!

This simple, yet detailed guide of the most common styles of cloth diapers will help new parents who are just getting started.

After reading this guide, we hope you will be confidently ready to try cloth diapering.

For the purpose of this guide, we will categorize cloth diapers into two groups: “basic” and “modern”.

Let’s start at the beginning with the “basic” cloth diapers.

The "Basic" Cloth Diapers


Very economical diaper option.

What is it?

A large, flat piece of material (like a receiving blanket/swaddle blanket). There are different ways to fold it. Check YouTube: How to fold a flat diaper. You basically fold it to make a “diaper.” As long as the material is absorbent it should work. Some people also call these “old-fashioned diapers.”

After you fold the diaper around your baby, you will need to hold it in place with a cloth diaper fastener. You can use a safety pin (the “old-fashioned” way) or try one of the modernized cloth diaper fasteners, which are much easier than using a pin to fasten the diapers.

You will also need a waterproof “cover” to put over the folded material to make it waterproof. More on covers in a bit.


Another affordable option.

What is it?

Pre-folds are just like a flat diaper, but smaller in overall size and thicker in the middle (the absorbent part). They will need to be folded into a diaper also, but with less folding than a flat because they are designed to be partially “pre-folded” for ease of use.

You will also need a cloth diaper fastener and waterproof cover.

Contour Diaper

What is it?

A piece of fabric that is cut and sewn into the shape of a diaper.

This style also needs a cloth diaper fastener and cover.

This style is less bulky than the pre-folds. The benefit to this diaper is there is no folding. If you are good with a sewing machine you could make these out of a flannel or cotton fabric.

Fitted Diaper

What is it?

A diaper style that is very easy to use if you are new to cloth diapering. It is the same shape as a disposable diaper and you put them on your baby just like a disposable diaper. They have snaps or Velcro to secure the diaper so there is no need for a cloth diaper fastener.

The fitted diaper is not waterproof. You will need a waterproof cover to go over the fitted diaper since it is made out of a wool, fleece, or cotton fabric.

These are the most absorbent of the “basic” options.

Ideal for newborns, especially the first couple of weeks. Some versions you can snap down to make a snugger fit for your newborn.

Diaper Covers

What is it?

Covers are the waterproof outer shell that you will be using to cover your flats, pre-folds, contours, or fitted diapers.

Covers look like a disposable diaper; they close with Velcro or snaps. Many covers also have leg gussets, which help reduce blowouts. You can reuse the cover as long as it does not get dirty. When it does get dirty, you wash it and hang it overnight to dry. It will be ready to use the next morning.

You do not need many covers (8-10 covers should be all you need).

The "Modern" Cloth Diapers

Pocket Diaper

What is it?

These are fabric-lined with a pocket opening inside the diaper where you place a fabric insert. The insert wicks away moisture leaving your baby feeling drier. The insert is usually made of a soft micro-fleece, micro-suede (not super fuzzy but soft), bamboo, or cotton.

You put it on your baby like a disposable. It closes using snaps or Velcro.

The outside is waterproof so you do not need a separate cover, but keep in mind that these diapers need to be washed after each use and should be line dried, which will take longer to dry than the basic diapers which have separate covers.


What is it?

These have two parts and are sometimes abbreviated as “AI2”. There is a waterproof outer diaper and an insert that snaps to the inside.

The outer diaper is waterproof, so you can clean it and reuse it. All you have to do is snap in a new insert.


What is it?

Each hybrid diaper has a cloth diaper cover that can be used with either disposable liners (these can usually be flushed down the toilet) or cloth inserts (if you decide you want to go fully cloth).

These provide an Eco-friendly option to parents who want to try cloth diapering, but like the convenience of disposable diapers.

The outer cover is not fabric-lined, so you can reuse the cover if it does not get dirty.


What is it?

These diapers are literally only one piece and are sometimes abbreviated as “AIO”. They look like disposable diapers (but way cuter) and can be snapped or Velcroed around your baby just like a disposable diaper. The outside material is waterproof.

You must wash the entire diaper after each use.

Drying time is longer than the pocket diapers because the AIO is all one piece, meaning the AIO takes longer to get back into the rotation.

This is a great diaper for daycare or for someone looking for a diaper that is quick to put on and take off.

What Will You Choose?

Choosing one of these styles may be difficult, so try out a few for yourself!

Pick your top three or four styles, buy a couple of each, and try them out for a few weeks.

You will quickly figure out which ones you like to use, which ones your little one does better with, which ones are easier to wash and get back into the rotation, which ones seem to be the most durable, and even which ones are the cutest.

Factor in the cost for each style and you will be well-informed to make the best decision for you and your family.

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