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A Beginner’s Guide to Cloth Diapers

a beginner's guide to cloth diapersCloth diapers are a great way to help the environment, keep chemicals like bleach away from your kids’ skin, and save money. Although cloth diapers do involve an investment of money in the beginning and an investment of time to maintain them throughout the lifetime of diapering your children, they will save you money long term. How much you save is dependent on the type of cloth diapers you choose and the length of time your children use the cloth diapers.

There are lots of options on the market today, and it can be difficult to know what the differences are or which type will work best for you — especially for a newbie! Here’s the 411 to help navigate the journey a little easier.

Prefolds and Covers

Prefolds are an old standard. You and/or your parents may have been diapered in prefolds and had them pinned on you. Now, a Snappi can save your sweet baby from being poked by pins. The Snappi is three sided and has teeth on the inside allowing it to hold the prefold in place without pinching or poking baby.


This isn’t your mother’s diapering pin – it’s a whole lot better!

Prefolds can be folded in a variety of ways, and you may fold the prefold differently depending on the situation — daytime or nighttime, boy or girl. However you fold it, you will still need to put a cover on over the prefold.

The cover can be a snap on cover made from PUL (polyurethane laminate) fabric, a fabric laminated to prevent leaks, or it can be made from wool or fleece, which repel liquid. Covers can be reused if they are wiped clean and only the prefold would need to be replaced at each change.


Just one example of a type of cover you could use over a cloth diaper

Prefolds are the most cost friendly cloth diapering option. In a pinch, a receiving blanket can be used as a flat version which can be folded the same way as a prefold and you would only need to buy the covers.

Drop-in or Snap-in inserts

Some PUL covers are made with a little lip on each side to hold a dropped in insert. These inserts come in a variety of fabrics — charcoal bamboo, bamboo, organic cotton, and cotton are some of the most widely available. The most popular brand name of cover with a lip for inserts is the Flip. The GroVia brand offers a snap-in insert for their covers. The benefit of inserts is that if the cover is clean, it can be reused several times and only the insert needs to be replaced each diaper change after wiping out the cover.


Brands like GroVia offer inserts that easily snap on and off of the diaper cover.


Pocket diapers have a pocket inside the cover that easily holds the insert. Pocket style diapers, such as Bum Genius 4.0, are popular among the cloth diapering community and don’t require any additional covers. However, these covers can not typically be used more than one diaper change before laundering.

bum genius

Pocket diapers easily hold inserts … like a “pocket.”


A fitted cloth diaper is made with absorbent fabric and shaped to the baby with elastic at legs and waist. They provide a trimmer, closer to the body fit, and either velcro or snap shut. An insert and cover is needed. Fitted is a great option for night time or heavy wetters. A great option is Thirsties Duo Fab Fitted, which is easy to use (even for the occasional caretaker) and grows with your baby so you only need two sizes from birth to potty.


Fitted diapers, like Thirsties Duo Fab Fitted, offer a snugger fit.

AIO (All-In-One)

All-in-one diapers are some of the easiest to use since they have the absorbent material sewn into the diaper cover. It’s perfect for anyone who thinks cloth diapering is too complicated. This one-stop-shop does not require stuffing inserts or putting on an additional diaper cover, and they easily snap or velcro shut. Some of my favorites are Thirsties AIO and BumGenius FreeTime.

thirsties all in one

The Thirsties website provides a great visual showing how the all-in-one diaper is constructed.

Cloth diapering today is soooo much easier than it used to be, and with a wide variety of styles and colors in covers, it’s easy to grow a large “stash” for your little one. My advice would be to try a few different types to determine what works best for your baby, keeping in mind this could change as your child grows. Best of luck, and enjoy the individual style cloth diapers provide!

Do you cloth diaper?  If so, what is your favorite type?

Pocket photo credit: basietrane / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

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