Cloth Diapering 101: Basic Types

Cloth Diapering Basic TypesDo the terms AIO, AI2, contours, pre-fitteds, prefolds, skirties, or soakers mean anything to you?  If not, keep reading!

It wasn’t too long ago that I was that confused Mom behind the computer screen, reading site after site and still not quite understanding it all. I’m still learning as I go and documenting it all on my blog, Fitteds and Pockets and Snappis, oh my!
There’s a lot to know about cloth diapers, so this will be spread out over several posts.
There are lots of different kinds of diapers; they are pretty different than the prefolds and rubber pants your Mom or Grandma may have used!
Here’s a rundown of the basic types:
Flats: Just what they sound like, a flat piece of cloth (think a receiving blanket) that you fold and pin on the baby. You have to use a cover to make these waterproof.
Prefolds: A pre-folded piece of cloth with multiple layers of in the middle. You may have burp cloths that look like these, but premium; “diaper service quality” prefolds are quite different. They are absorbent, economical and easy to wash. They can be pinned or secured with a snappi, or even trifolded and placed inside a cover. A quick Google search will get you several folding methods, including folds for tummy sleepers. Here is a great video demonstrating how to use a prefold with a snappi.
Contours: contour diaper is like the next step in the evolution of big piece of fabric to diaper, ha. You still pin it, snappi it, or lay it in a cover, they aren’t waterproof, but they are a little more diaper shaped.
Pre-Fitteds: This is a new one to me, but from what I understand, this is a prefold that someone has turned into a fitted diaper by adding elastic and/or a closure.
Fitteds: These seem to be the most common diaper made by work at home moms. They are made with lots of different fabrics, usually with a cute outer print and are either sized (small, medium large etc.) or “one size” via a fold down rise. They can have a sewn in soaker, lay-in soakers, or snap in soakers of various styles. They can vary greatly in absorbency depending on the materials used and the soaker style. The entire diaper is absorbent, and the inner materials are not usually “stay dry.” They are not waterproof and require a cover. Some people use them coverless with baby leg warmers instead of pants, and change them often.
Fitteds with a cover can be a great combination to contain messes, since you have two layers of leg gusseting.

Pocket DiapersBumgeniusFuzzibunz and Rumparooz are all well known for their pocket diapers. Many other companies make them, as do some WAHMs. A Pocket diaper consists of a waterproof outer of either Polyester Urethane Laminate (PUL), a printed outer with hidden PUL, or Fleece. They typically have a stay-dry inner made of microfleece, suedecloth or microsuede, though Blueberry and others make them with Bamboo or other natural fiber inners. The diaper has a pocket opening where you stuff an absorbent soaker. The openings are usually in the back, though some brands put the opening in the front (the benefit of the front pocket is not having to stick your hand in yuck to pull the insert out). Diapers close with snaps or Velcro and can be sized or one size via snap down rises.

Pocket diapers are my personal favorite. The whole diaper must be changed every time it is wet or soiled. You have to pull the insert out before washing (Smartipants and Thirsties make a slightly different style pocket diaper where the insert will agitate out in the wash.) I pull the insert out before I toss it with the other used diapers, so I can just dump the whole thing in the washer on wash day. They go on like disposables, they’re easy to customize with any style or number of soakers that suit you and they work wonderfully for car trips or overnight. Because the soaker comes out completely, you can treat them separately (bleach etc) as needed, without damaging the diaper itself.

All in Ones (AIOs): These are the most like a disposable diaper. They typically look very much like a pocket diaper and have a waterproof outer, usually a stay dry inner (Bumgenius has an organic all in one), Velcro or snap closures, and can be sized or one size. However, the soaker is sewn into the diaper. It can either be completely sewn into the diaper between the inner and outer layers, it can be sewn just at one end like the Kissaluvs Marvels, sewn to the inner like the Bumgenius AIO (you can turn it inside out for quicker drying) or even a snap in soaker like the Goodmama One (I found this so confusing, a fitted, AIO or AI2 can all have the same style soaker!)

Many all in ones also have a pocket to allow you to add additional soakers as needed.

All in ones are great because they are so easy. They work just like sposies only you throw it in the wash instead of in the trash! The downside is that they can take a long time to dry and since the soakers are attached, you can’t treat them separately. Microfiber (especially Bumgenius microfiber in my experience) can get stinky over time, and bleaching can damage the PUL of the diapers.
All in Twos (AI2s): All in twos are a two part system consisting of an outer, waterproof shell that often looks very much like a PUL cover and a soaker that snaps or lays inside. When you change a diaper, you change the soaker and simply wipe out and reuse the shell. If it is soiled of course, you would need to wash it.
The shells are usually less roomy than a cover though as they are designed to be used with a special soaker. Some of the big names are FlipgDiapers, and GroVia (formerly GroBaby.) These systems are also referred to as Hybrids because you can use a reusable soaker or a disposable soaker.
They are very popular because of their versatility. You can use a soaker made of organic materials, one made with microfiber for absorbency and microfleece on the baby’s side (for a stay dry feeling), you can use disposable, compostable, flushable (use caution with a septic or older/sensitive plumbing) soakers, or you can even use prefolds. They’re also quite economical since you only need a few covers and soaker pads are pretty affordable. Hybrid systems are a great option for travel since they take up less space and have disposable options.
Covers: PUL covers look quite a bit like the shells from AI2 systems, but they are usually a little bit roomier to allow for bulkier fitteds. They can be sized or one size and have snap or Velcro closures.
You can also use wool covers which can be mass produced or WAHM made and can vary from knitted to interlock, soft merino wool, pull-on styles or snap/Velcro styles. I was afraid of wool at first, but it’s turned out to be quite wonderful. It is natural and breathable, great if your baby is rash prone. They do not need to be washed often and washing and lanolizing is easier than you think. It will keep your baby cool in summer and warm in winter. Wool covers are an excellent solution for heavy overnight wetters.

You can also buy fleece soakers, which are cut similarly to a wool interlock soaker. They are usually sized and aren’t as stretchy as a wool cover.

You can also use fleece pants or fleece or knit “longies,” “shorties” or “skirties” (soaker with a skirt attached) as a cover.
Next, read “Getting Down to the Details” to learn about sizing, closures, materials and more.


  1. […] for us often on every facet of cloth diapering.  Read her posts here – she’s got basics, FAQs, and even all you need to know about wipes.  More will surely follow in future posts.  You […]

  2. […] time, I talked about types of cloth diapers. This time we’ll talk about even more choices to make – sizing, closure type and […]

Speak Your Mind