12 Days of Clothmas Day 2: Different types of Cloth!

What is all this stuff? I’m here to tell you!

“I don’t even know where to start.”

I hear this a lot. When you try to look up cloth diapers on the internet, you get an overwhelming amount of information, including different types and brands. Today, i’m going to try my best to help you wade through that information and break down the different types of cloth into basic categories.

Flats and Prefolds:

Flats and prefolds are the cheapest option out there to cloth diaper your child. If you are on a tight budget and don’t mind a little assembly, this option is for you.

What you will need:

  1. 30 or so flats or prefolds. The difference between the two is minimal. Prefolds tend to be thicker, and they have seams along which you can fold them, hence the name. Flats don’t have these seams, and tend to be larger and thinner, much like an old fashioned dish towel. In fact a very cheap option to use as a flat is a flour sack towel, or FST as the cloth world calls them. Just make sure if you go this route that your towels are 100% cotton. Flats and prefolds come in sizes, so as your child grows you will probably need up to 3 separate sizes to adjust to their needs.
On the left, a cotton prefold. On the right a bamboo flat on top, and an FST under it.

2. Around a dozen covers. After you have decided on your flats and prefolds, you will need an outer layer to put over them known as a cover. It’s a water resistant layer usually made of PUL (Polyurethane Laminate). Covers also come in other materials such as wool or fleece, but those are generally more specialized and I will discuss them in depth in my post on overnight diapering. The great thing about a cover is you can use it for more than one change, as long as poop hasn’t gotten on it. Just a quick wipe down with a baby wipe, and it’s ready to go again.

3. 2 packages of snappis. These are basically rubber with grips at each of the three ends so after you fold the prefold or flat into a diaper shape, it will stay put. Unless you are prone to losing small items (hello mom brain) you shouldn’t need too many of these.

A pair of snappis.

How the system works:

The simplest way to use your flats and prefolds is to tri-fold them and place them in the cover, no snappi required.

Cotton prefold tri-folded  in a PUL cover.

There are also a number of fancier ‘folds’ you can use to place the prefold or flat on more like a diaper, then put a cover over it. This is great for the newborn stage when  bowel movements are less than solid. A quick google search will yield dozens of different folds for you to try!

Prefold held on with a snappi. (Courtesy GMD)

Fitted diapers

Fitted diapers are some of the most absorbent cloth diapers out there. They are typically not used as the main diaper type in a cloth diaper stash- most people usually have a few on hand for naps and overnight.

What you will need:

  1. Fitted diapers.  How many you want is really personal preference, whether you want an entire stash of fitted diapers, or just a few for overnight diapering. A fitted diaper is unique in that the entire diaper is made of absorbent material and it usually is several layers thick, this is what makes them ideal for long periods of wear.
Clockwise from top left:  newborn sized bamboo fitted with hook and loop closure, one size bamboo fitted with snap closure, sized (small) bamboo fitted with snap closure, and one size cotton fitted with snap closure.

Here’s the inside of the bottom left fitted in the picture above:

Sustainiblebabyish brand sized fitted, inside view.

Not only is the outer shell absorbent, but it comes with a long layered soaking tongue, and an extra insert for even more absorbance.  All these layers of absorbency make for a bulky diaper, though- which is why they’re usually relegated to night time or nap time diapers.

2. Covers. Since the entire diaper is absorbent, you have to put a water resistant layer over the outside, or your child will soak their clothing and whatever they are lying/sitting in. The same covers described above for flats and prefolds will work just fine here too.

Pocket Diapers

At one time, pocket diapers were the most popular choice out there, and still are quite popular. They are the most versatile of the different choices, with the ability to ‘build’ your own diaper to meet your needs.

What you will need:

  1. 30 pockets. Again, this is the bare minimum for washing every other day for one child in diapers. You can absolutely get more if your budget allows. On the outside, a pocket looks like a cover. Inside, however, it has a pocket sewn in. This pocket is used to stuff different diapering inserts, flats, and prefolds in. The pocket itself is usually topped with fleece, which won’t absorb anything, but will let the liquid pass through it to the inserts below, keeping your baby feeling dry.
  2. A variety of inserts. This is what makes a pocket absorbent. You can put all  kinds of different inserts into the pocket, you can even put more than one kind. This is what makes them so versatile; you can put a little absorbency if that’s all you need, or you can add a lot for a heavy wetting kid, or overnight use.

Here’s a picture of a pocket and a couple of different things you could put in the pocket:

Inserts, from left to right: Cotton, Cotton/hemp blend, bamboo flat, FST, bamboo topped with fleece. Microfiber is another common insert not pictured here. The slit for stuffing the pocket is seen at the bottom of the diaper.

*It is important to note here that you will read about people that tire of stuffing inserts into the pocket, and just lay them on top. You cannot do this with plain microfiber. Microfiber will dry out the baby’s skin if it touches it directly.*

That being said, most people pre-stuff their pockets after they are laundered so they are ready to go during changes. You can stuff most of them for daytime use and then stuff a few with more absorbance for nights and naps.

All-In-Two systems

All-In-Two (AI2) systems are gaining in popularity for their ease of use and ability to use them like an All-in-One (described below) or more like the flat/prefold and cover system from the beginning of this article.

What you will need:

  1.  Around 12-30 AI2 style covers. These are just like the covers described in our flats and prefolds section, except they have snaps in either end of the cover where the insert attaches. 12 is a good number if you plan to reuse the covers like a flats/prefolds system- or 30 covers if you want to snap the inserts in ahead of time and use an entire new diaper at each change.
Best Bottoms, a popular AI2 system.

2. 30 snap in inserts. These are usually designed to fit with a specific system’s covers, so its best to stick with one brand. We’ll use Best Bottoms as an example. Their inserts come in 3 sizes and 3 material choices. You will probably need the small size at first, followed by the  medium or large depending on how heavy of a wetter your child is. I will go into depth on different material choices offered in cloth in my next post.

All in Ones

All-In-One diapers (AIOs) are the most user friendly of all the diaper types. They are one piece, ready to go on your child, like a disposable. They are also usually the most expensive option–you pay for convenience. You can still get some pretty cheap AIOs, but the cheaper ones are usually microfiber, and may not hold up to your child’s liquid output on their own as they get older.

What you will need:

  1. 30 AIO diapers. There are so many brands of All-In-One diaper out there, I could never list them all here! They can be made of just about any material available for the other styles, and vary wildly in fit and absorbency. I recommend buying a couple of a few brands that you are interested in at first and going from there. This way you aren’t invested in a full stash of one brand that turns out not to work for your child. (Full disclosure: my stash is 95% AIOs, and I have a lot more than 30- you might say i’m a little obsessed.)

Below are a few different AIO brands and materials-only a small sampling of what’s out there!

Different AIOs have different advantages. The Bamboo AIO above, for instance, is very absorbent and the soaker part snaps out to help speed dry time. As mentioned above, the microfiber AIO is usually the cheapest option of all the AIOS. They are quick to absorb, but if you put pressure on them they tend to leak–not great for car seats, baby wearing, etc. The Smart Bottoms brand AIO is made of organic cotton. It gets more absorbent the more you wash it, and has a very long soaker tongue, which you can fold more toward the front for a boy, or toward the rear for a girl.

This is probably the longest post in the series on Cloth, and if you made it to the end, go you! You’re now most of the way to making an informed decision on if cloth is for you, and what kind of cloth diaper you are interested in! (You can use more than one type, many people do!) Make sure to tune in for tomorrow’s installment of Clothmas-  Material choices in cloth!


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