Cloth Diaper Systems

If you’re new to cloth diapers, the first and most important thing to understand are the types of systems available. Most cloth diaper systems today fall into four main categories, shown in order of popularity:

  1. Pocket Diapers
  2. All-in-Two Diapers
  3. All-in-One Diapers
  4. Flats, Prefolds, or Fitteds

Pocket Diapers

A pocket diaper consists of two separate pieces. The pocket (sometimes referred to as the sleeve) is the piece that fits around the baby and looks like a diaper, with elasticized legs, a closure around the waist, and a waterproof outer material. Sewn to the waterproof outer layer of the pocket is a soft layer of “stay-dry” fabric such as microfleece or microsuede that sits next to baby’s skin. Either or both ends of the pocket have an opening to allow the insert to be stuffed inside.

When the diaper is changed, the insert should be pulled out of the pocket and both pieces tossed in the diaper pail. (In other words, the pocket should not be re-used with a fresh insert).

Check out my free downloadable PDF guide to the best brands of pocket diapers: Diaper Wrecker 2013 Guide to Pocket Diapers.

Pocket diapers are the most popular type of modern cloth diapers.

Pocket diapers are the most popular type of modern cloth diapers.


All-in-Two (AI2) Diapers

An AI2 is another two-piece system in which an insert (sometimes referred to as a soaker pad) is simply laid inside a cover (sometimes referred to as a shell). The beauty of this design is that the waterproof cover can be re-used with a fresh insert as long as the cover stays clean. Many all-in-two systems have snaps that anchor the insert to the shell to prevent it from moving out of place. The insert or soaker is useless without the cover, as it can’t be fastened directly onto the baby.

A hybrid diaper is a specific type of AI2 system in which the manufacturer offers both cloth and disposable inserts that fit with their cover/shell. This allows you to use disposables in stealth mode if you’re on vacation or need a short laundry break.

AI2 Collage

Popular brands of all-in-twos include SoftBums, Best Bottom, and GroVia.

Check out the full, downloadable Diaper Wrecker PDF guide to AI2s here: Diaper Wrecker 2013 Guide to AI2 Diapers.


All-in-One Diapers (AIOs)

An AIO is simply a diaper with the waterproof exterior and the absorbent interior pieces sewn together. (I prefer to call AIOs “one-piece” diapers to avoid confusion with another cloth diaper term you’ll hear frequently, “one-size”. One-size refers to a diaper that has an adjustable rise and/or adjustable elastic so that it can be used on babies of a very wide weight and age range. Just about any type of cloth diaper system can be “one-size” – you can find one-size pockets, one-size covers, one-size fitteds, and yes, one-size all-in-ones.)

The most appealing aspect of AIOs is that there is never a need to stuff or snap inserts as with pockets and AI2s. Various brands of AIOs may look very different on the inside – some have all layers sewn down flat, while others have pieces of the soaker pad that flap, hang, or fold in different ways to allow for a faster drying time. Some even offer a pocket opening where you can stuff some extra absorbency if needed.

AIO Collage

From top to bottom, left to right: bumGenius Elemental organic cotton one-size AIO, Kissaluvs Marvels one-size AIO, Lil Joey newborn AIO, and Mother-Ease Wizard Uno sized AIO.

Check out my free downloadable PDF guide to the best brands of AIO diapers: Diaper Wrecker 2013 Guide to AIO Diapers.

Flats, Prefolds, or Fitteds

Some might group these types of cloth diapers with “all-in-twos”, but I think they are different enough to deserve a separate category. Unlike the inserts/soakers used in AI2 systems, flats, prefolds, and fitteds can be fastened directly on baby so that they will stay on without the use of a cover. Many families use these types of diapers for the sake of simplicity and affordability.

  • When they were babies, your mother and grandmother probably wore what we now call flats – large, thin pieces of cotton fabric that can be folded in many different ways (which may seem a bit like diaper origami).
  • If you were cloth diapered as a baby, you probably wore prefolds. Prefolds have three vertical sections with a thicker center section and only require tri-folding instead of the more complicated folding procedures necessary with flats. Also, if you like the idea of cloth diapers but don’t want to wash them yourself, prefolds are generally the type of cloth diaper provided by diaper services.
  • Fitted diapers are a more recent innovation, cut to fit the shape of a baby without any folding needed. They have elastic at the legs and may or may not have an integrated closure in the form of snaps, velcro, or ties.

Flats, prefolds, and fitteds all have one major thing in common: they are not waterproof! Therefore, a separate cover is required unless you have a specific reason for wanting baby to go coverless. The cover can be used multiple times between washings, which is one of the reasons these types of cloth diaper systems are so inexpensive. Today’s covers are much more convenient than the pull-on plastic pants of yesteryear; plus, with the wide array of vibrant colors and darling prints available, your baby’s bottom can look just as adorable as any more expensive cloth diaper.

Flats Prefolds Fitteds labeled


Think you have a good understanding of the different types of cloth diaper systems? Let’s move on and talk about fancy features that can are common all types of modern cloth diapers.