While your mom and grandma (and maybe even your mother-in-law!) have been paying attention to other things…times have changed for cloth diapers. The mental images we all have of safety pins, plastic pants, leaks, and who-knows-what no longer hold any water (sorry, couldn’t resist!). Innovative, high-tech, and modern diapers have taken center stage and are specifically designed to be as easy to use as disposable diapers. And when you pair these designs with all of the common sense reasons to use cloth diapers (see Why Cloth Diapers? article), it’s no wonder that these innovations have become so popular.
We know, we know…there is a LOT of lingo and “inside info” that is overwhelming the internet about these products, so our goal is to give you a simple guide that will make it easier to understand the five major styles of modern cloth diapers.
Prefold cloth diapers are likely what all of our grandmothers used…so not exactly modern. But these standbys can be paired with modern companion products to make for an awesome result. Particularly if you are on a budget, prefold diapers can be a very economical cloth diapering choice, even though they may not be as convenient as some other choices.
Prefolds are rectangular in shape, are generally flat, but usually have predetermined “creases” for folding…hence the name! Basically, you fold them into the desired shape, fasten on baby and/or add a waterproof cover on top. Options for waterproof covers can be as “old school” as wool pull-ups, or as technically advanced as waterproof diaper shells made of fabrics similar to some of your best outdoor gear. The primary disadvantages of prefold diapers are that you will need to buy larger sizes as your baby grows, and that they can sometimes be a little bulky. Major advantages of prefold diapers are that they are extremely versatile, simple to launder, and inexpensive. Most cloth diapering families have at least a few prefolds laying around because of their extreme flexibility.
Fitted diapers are highly absorbent diapers that contain multiple layers of absorbent materials, typically use leg and back elastic for a good fit, and fasten onto baby with some type of integrated closure….most often either snaps or hook and loop closures.
Fitted diapers do NOT have integrated waterproof outer layers, and so they need to be used in combination with some type of waterproof cover…similar to prefold diapers. Most good-fitting fitted diapers will have an hourglass shape, which is key to avoiding leaks. Many fitted diaper brands sell diapers in sizes (like Small, Medium, Large), while other brands offer one-size fitted diapers that use rise snaps on the front of their diapers so that they can easily expand as your baby grows. The primary disadvantages of fitted diapers are that they do not have a waterproof outer and they are typically more expensive than prefolds. The major advantages of fitted diapers are that they are intentionally designed to be highly absorbent, they are easy to fasten on baby, and they do a great job containing messes due to the hourglass shape and use of leg elastic. While there are certainly “diehard” fans of fitted diapers that use them on a full time basis, many cloth diapering families choose to have only 2-3 of them in their collection, primarily for nighttime use. After all, lots of absorbency can be key to a good night’s sleep…for you and your baby!
When it was first introduced over a decade ago, the pocket diaper quickly became recognized as the first major innovation in cloth diapers in hundreds (maybe even thousands???) of years. It is still considered by most industry insiders as the first truly “modern” cloth diaper, even though many families now find the design to be hard-to-use, outdated, and even just a little icky (!) relative to the highly innovative designs that have been brought to the market in the last few years. A pocket diaper is usually made up of a simple waterproof cover with a pocket that has been sewn onto the inside of the cover. This pocket is then “stuffed” with your chosen variety of absorbent layers…sometimes an absorbent pad specifically built for the purpose, other times a prefold diaper.
The biggest disadvantage most see from pocket diapers is that they just don’t look great on your baby…they almost always have a bulky and potentially leaky fit. A second (and many think icky!) disadvantage for pocket diapers is that they also require “un-stuffing” of the pocket before laundering. You can probably imagine what that means…so we will just leave that topic alone for now! Finally, since most inner pockets are made of polyester you have no choice but to have synthetic fibers up against your baby. The major advantages of pocket diapers are that it’s a snap to add a lot of different amounts and types of absorbency layers, they include a waterproof outer layer, and they usually come in one-size designs that use rise snaps to allow the diaper to grow larger as your baby grows.
The simplicity and ease-of-use that is found in most all in one (AIO) diapers are built upon the “one wear, one wash” design originally pioneered by the pocket diaper. AIO diapers are typically made up of quite a few absorbency layers that have been sewn together with a waterproof outer to create a one-piece diaper…hence the name. The best fitting designs typically provide an inner layer that is hourglass shaped, rise snaps that allow the diaper to expand as baby grows, elastic in key locations, and leg gussets to prevent leakage.
AIOs are convenient for quick changes and are chosen by many families as the mainstay of their diaper collection. The primary disadvantages of all in one diapers include longer drying times (some brands worse than others. Do your research if this is an issue for you) and the fact that they are typically one of the most expensive diaper options available…despite the massive savings over disposables, this remains a fact of life for many families. The major advantage of AIO diapers is the absolute simplicity of the design. Described by many as “dad’s favorite”, AIOs also benefit from a trim fit and from the fact that one-size versions should fit your baby all the way until potty training.
Often called all in two (or AI2) diapers, hybrid diapers are one of the final cloth diaper designs to be innovated and brought to market. They are seen by many as the diaper design that has finally made cloth diapers accessible to the mainstream public. Hybrid diapers are made up of two major components that are worn together: a waterproof shell (or diaper cover) which you then pair with a variety of absorbency layers. While the origin of the “all in two” name is obvious from that description, the name for the hybrid comes from the fact that hybrid diaper systems allow for the use of either cloth or disposable absorbency options…chosen based on where baby is going next. For example, most families will use cloth absorbency when at home, but switch to disposable when traveling or going to daycare.
Hybrid systems sometimes come in a sized approach (meaning you should expect future purchases as your baby grows) or in a one-size option that uses rise snaps to expand as your baby grows. The major disadvantages of hybrid diapers is that some families think that they look complicated… though this concern usually disappears once someone has looked at these diapers in person. Another possible disadvantage (again, do your research) is that a few hybrid designs lack leg gussets and/or an hourglass shape, which leads to an increased possibility of leaks. The major advantage found in hybrid diapers is simply the extreme level of flexibility that the concept brings to busy modern families. In addition, hybrid diapers are typically priced in the mid range of the market and can be a very cost-effective choice, particularly when you find that some brands have been purposefully built to enable multiple wears (of the outer shells) between washes.