Common Modern Cloth Diaper Styles
“Cloth diapers” doesn’t refer to one thing, but many different types of reusable diapers. When choosing what diapers to buy for your little wildlings, it’s important to know what styles there are to choose from. While one option works great for a friend, it might not be your favorite.
Trying different styles and brands of cloth diapers is always a good idea before jumping all in on one type. So, today, we’re walking you through all the options you have for your cloth diapering journey. Here’s some common modern cloth diaper styles:
Common Modern Cloth Diaper Styles
Covers are the waterproof outer layer needed for absorbent diapers, such as flats, prefolds, preflats, and fitteds. They often come in two sizes: newborn and one-size, but there are sized options out there. After each use, covers can just be wiped off and reused for multiple diaper changes. This is until they get saturated with pee or soiled with poop.
Covers do not absorb by themselves. What you choose to put within the cover is what actually absorbs the pee. You could choose prefolds or flats, which are large pieces of fabric that wrap or fold around your baby. Or, you could choose fitted diapers that are already contoured to your baby’s body. Preflats are a cross between fitted and flat diapers.
Covers with an absorbent under layer tend to be a fairly cheap cloth diapering option. You can get away with a handful of covers (5-10) and 2-3 dozen prefolds, flats, preflats, or contours. From least to most expensive you have: flats, prefolds, contours, and then preflats. Though they’re the cheapest, this option is also the most challenging.
Pocket diapers are similar to a cover, but they have an inner fabric lining that creates a pocket for absorbent inserts. This allows you to customize your diaper absorption with different insert types. (We will discuss this below!) Pocket diapers have various options for the interior lining too. There’s micro-fleece, microsuede, athletic wicking jersey, and bamboo cotton just to name a few.
Pockets generally come in two sizes: newborn and one size, but there are XL diapers out there too. For full-time cloth diapering, you’d need 2-3 dozen pocket diapers. Luckily, pockets are a great mid range option. They’re both easy to use and relatively inexpensive.
With an AI2, your insert and cover come separate, which allows you to re-use your cover 3-4 times before laundering. Your chosen insert or inserts simply snap into your cover. They’re different from a standard cover, because the insert is a strip of fabric, rather than a “towel” that wraps around the baby in a complex fold.
This means you only need 5-10 waterproof covers and 2-3 dozen inserts for full-time cloth diapering. Much like pockets, these are really easy to use and very affordable!
All-in-one means that the absorbent fabric layer and waterproof diaper cover are sewn together to create one piece. Because of this, your covers match your inserts 1:1. Because of this, when you wash your diapers, you won’t be able to separate the parts. If you choose to machine dry, you’ll add to the wear and tear of the elastics in your covers.
Since there is no pocket and the diaper is all one piece, you won’t be able to change the absorbency either. The diapers are the easiest to use and require the least amount of time, though. Just like pockets, you’ll need 2-3 dozen, but they are the most expensive.
Types of Fabric and Inserts
Your cloth diaper absorbency level and speed depends on the type of fabric you use for your inserts. Much like the different styles of diapers, each type of insert has its own pros and cons.
Microfiber tends to be the cheapest inserts available. They are made from synthetic fibers. Microfiber absorbs fast, but doesn’t hold a large capacity. Microfiber cannot be placed directly on the skin, it will cause dryness and irritation to the skin.
Microfiber is similar to a sponge, when squeezed, it leaks. Microfiber is more prone to compression leaks. This means if your little wildling is playing/falling/sitting or in a car seat, the insert will compress, causing the diaper to flood and leak if it's saturated. Microfiber is also prone to barnyard stink. This option is NOT a good long term choice despite the price.
Bamboo Charcoal Inserts
Most (if not all) bamboo charcoal inserts are microfiber inserts wrapped in a layer of bamboo charcoal. While they offer antimicrobial properties, they do not really hold much more than a standard microfiber insert. They too are also prone to compression leaks and barnyard stink. However, since the microfiber is covered by bamboo charcoal, this insert is safe to use directly against the skin.
Cotton inserts have a much higher liquid capacity. Cotton is a "natural fiber,” meaning that it is safe against the skin. It works great for heavy wetters, and as doublers for overnight diapers. Cotton inserts tend to be a bit on the expensive side, but generally well worth it. (They’re also very easy to clean and keep stain-free!)
To make bamboo into a fabric, they’re broken down to a pulp, aged, and then made into a fiber. Because of this process, bamboo is considered a synthetic material. But, it is still safe to place directly on the skin. Bamboo is very absorbent, easy to clean, and doesn’t hold on to smells as easily. They’re also on the more expensive side, but the absorbency capacity makes them worth it.
Hemp inserts are the most absorbent insert; however, they are slow absorbing. Hemp generally isn’t ideal for flooders (little wildlings that pee a lot at once.) Hemp can also hold stink. And, they are expensive, but when used correctly they hold a lot!
Flats are a large piece of fabric that can be folded to suit your baby. You can control the level of absorbency and where the absorbency is concentrated. (Girls and boys need different things!) Then, a cover goes over it.. Flats are made of lots of different materials including muslin or cotton. If you don’t want to wrap them, you can fold them up and stick them inside a pocket.
Prefolds are a piece of fabric where the middle has more layers. It can be folded to suit your baby with a diaper cover, or folded to fit inside of a pocket diaper too. Just like a flat! Unlike a flat, prefolds are sized, so there’s not quite as much folding. Prefolds are made of cotton!
Fitted diapers are generally made of cotton and are sized. You buy a few dozen of each size to utilize as your baby ages. They require no folding, and just fit around your baby with their natural shape.
Preflats are made of thinner, less bulky absorbent fabrics like stretch bamboo or cotton terry. They come in one-size and newborn. So, the diapers you buy will fit for a long time without needing to purchase more sizes! Preflats are quite pricey.
The best way to decide what types of diapers work best for you is to experiment with lots of styles and brands before building your full stash.
Cloth diapers are a big investment. They do save a ton of money in the long run, but only if you stick with it! So, before making your cloth diaper stash choice, experiment, and understand what you're buying. Knowing what your options are will help you create a small beginner stash. Once you know what you like, you can build your ultimate cloth collection!
For more tips and tricks on all things cloth diapering, check out our Alaskan Wildlings blog! We have new content each week to be your one-stop-shop for cloth diaper education. Let’s do this all together, tribe.