Cloth Diapers 101

I wanted a place that provided some good introductory information for anyone wanting to know about cloth diapers. I’ll try to be as concise as possible, but there’s a lot of info!

Types of Diapers

All in One (AIO):

All in ones are simply that. Everything is sewn in one piece, you put it on the baby like a disposable, take it off when they make a mess and then wash it.


  • These are very easy, especially for dad, daycare, or grandma.
  • Many aio’s now come with an insert that is attached, but will come halfway out in the wash to help it get clean.
  • Some also have pockets so you can add absorbency.
  • Since everything is sewn in, you may not be able to add absorbency. If you have a kid that pees a ton, you’re in trouble.
  • They can be hard to keep clean – ammonia can build up because the material is so thick.


A pocket diaper has a pocket where you add the inserts. If you have a newborn, just add a tiny little insert. If you are using it overnight you can add as many inserts as you need. This is still a one time use diaper. They make a mess, you wash it.


  • These are super customizable since you can add whatever you need.
  • The pocket fabric keeps baby’s skin dry.
  • It can be annoying to have to stuff inserts into the pocket, especially if you have bigger hands.
  • The fabric is normally fleece or suede cloth to help baby stay dry. Some babies are sensitive to this material. It may be wise to try out 1 or 2 before buying a ton.


These are just a waterproof cover. You need them to cover the next 2 types of diapers so that you don’t get wet.


  • They can be used over and over until they actually get dirty.
  • They require a little more coordination to put on.


A thick piece of material (usually cotton) that you can fold into a diaper. There are usually a few more layers in the middle than on the edges and the piece usually has seems that mark it in thirds.


  • These are some of the easiest diapers to take care of – they wash well and absorb a ton.
  • These are the cheapest diapers around. One of the best options if you want to save money.


  • You have to fold the diapers to fit the baby. The easiest way is to just fold them in thirds or trifold them and lay them in the cover.
  • You must have a waterproof cover to keep from getting wet.


These are your grandma’s cloth diapers. They are a large, flat piece of fabric that you fold in different ways and put on the baby. Folds include bikini, newspaper, angel, etc. You need pins, a snappi – stretchable fastener, or some boingos to hold the diaper on. Youtube is the best place to find out how to fold flats!


  • These are the cheapest option and the most customizable in terms of folds.
  • They wash very well and dry well.
  • You can tuck inserts inside the folds for even more absorbency.


  • They take practice to master the folds.
  • They can get bulky especially on a smaller baby.
  • They require a waterproof cover.
  • They require some sort of fastener to keep it around the baby.


Fitted diapers go on just like an AIO. They normally have snaps, but some might require a snappy or some other fastener to keep them on properly. Fitteds are extremely absorbant.


  • These are some of the most absorbant diapers available.
  • They are great for night time use.


  • They must have a waterproof cover.
  • They are expensive, especially if you consider that you have to add a cover.


These diapers are very similar to the prefold/cover concept except they also have a disposable insert available.
  • They have a cover so you can use it until it actually gets dirty.
  • The disposable option helps for times when you just can’t wash diapers or maybe you don’t want to.
  • They let you use cloth or disposable and still have a baby with a cute bum.
  • The disposable inserts are free of any nasty chemicals, and I believe all of them are biodegradable if you are looking for a greener option.
  • The disposable inserts are pretty pricey.
  • The inserts have mixed reviews. GroVia tends to have the best reviews on their disposable inserts.

Sizes of Diapers


Sized diapers only fit baby for a certain period of time. Most of them are sized by weight.


  • These often have a better fit, including being trimmer overall.
  • Because they only fit for a short period, they last longer. This is good if you have or are going to have multiple kiddos wearing that diaper.


  • You have to buy more diapers as your kid grows.

One Size (OS):

One size diapers have some way of adjusting the rise and waist to fit baby for a long time. Most OS diapers go from 8-35lbs.


  • These fit baby for the longest period of time, especially if you have big newborns.
  • These are the most cost effective since baby can wear them for so long.


  • Since every kid is different, they may not fit your child through the entire weight range. Most are too big for newborns even if the newborn is 8 lbs.
  • These wear out since your baby is wearing them for so long. They FIT from 8-35lbs, but they may not LAST the entire time. If you wash every other day, thats 180 washes or so a year. I can’t think of anything that lets you wash it that much and is still looking great.

Washing Diapers


Have you ever noticed that your towels have stopped absorbing anything and that water just kind of beads off of them? That means you have detergent build up and that is a HUGE problem for your diapers. Obviously, their number 1 job is to absorb pee, so we have to make sure they can do that. The laundry detergent you choose is going to make a big difference. The two charts listed below show how different detergents stack up. Notice though, that even the two charts disagree on some of the soaps.

Chart 1

Chart 2

The best known and most widely recommended are: Rockin Green, Tiny Bubbles, Thirsties, Ruby Moon, and Charlie’s Soap. There are tons of positive and negative feedback for all of the above, but in general they are great soaps that will work for you. If you have hard water, I hands down recommend Rockin Green Hard Rock. I have tried some of the others and not been very happy. Tiny Bubbles would probably be my number 2 recommendation.


Generally, simpler is better. Your washing routine should include the following:

  • a cold wash to get rid of all the lingering pee – I use Rockin Green Funk Rock
  • a warm or hot wash with detergent to get your diapers clean – I use Rockin Green Hard Rock
  • an extra warm or hot rinse if there are still suds

Be sure to keep your load size down. Too many diapers will make it too hard to get them clean and you may end up with stink issues.

You can dry inserts however you want, but anything waterproof (PUL or TPU is the fabric the waterproof covers are made of) needs to line dry or dry on super low. High heat will damage the waterproof fabrics.

If you have trouble with stink, check here for help.

Tips for Hard Water:

Cloth diapering in hard water can be an extra challenge. Detergent has to first soften the water before it can attempt to clean your clothes and all the extra minerals can lead to buildup. Calgon is a water softener that you can add to your laundry that has made a huge difference for me.

Some helpful articles about working with hard water:

The First Time:

When you first get new diapers, you need to make sure they are ready to go. Man made materials like microfiber just need to be washed once. Throw them in with the dirty diapers or other laundry, but make sure you use the right soap. Natural fibers like organic cotton, bamboo, or hemp need to be washed 2-3 times (and they will gain absorbency as you wash them). Natural fibers also have oils that can ‘clog up’ other diapers so make sure you wash them separately. I just wash them with towels and make sure you use the good diaper soap.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Front loaders can be hard to get to use enough water. The delicate cycle often uses the most water. You can also use the water plus button if you have it, or just add water through the detergent tray. Another trick is to add soaking wet towels to get the machine to add more. Some machines do add water based on weight, some don’t.
  • If you have hard water, you need to use a little more detergent. If you have soft water, less. If you still have suds at the end of the wash, try less and make sure you rinse them again to get rid of the suds.
  • Some people recommend things like vinegar or bleach, but these react differently with different types of water and the different types of diapers.
  • Manufacturers all have their own set of recommendations to keep the warranty. On the one hand, be careful. On the other hand, they might not recommend the best way to clean your diapers because they are mostly worried about longevity/warranties. Use your best judgement and get recommendations from people who have been cloth diapering for a long time.


  1. Kelly’s Closet – they have a great selection and the best coupons around.
  2. Diapershops facebook page – these are the women behind Kelly’s Closet. Not only are they super helpful, but all of the other moms are too. This is hands down the best place to ask questions, get advice, etc.

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