Choosing the Right Cloth Diaper: So Many Diapers, One Tiny Bum

Welcome to the First Annual Freedom of Cloth Carnival

This post was written for inclusion in the Freedom of Cloth Carnival hosted at Natural Parents Network by Melissa of The New Mommy Files and Shannon of The Artful Mama. This year’s carnival will run from Sunday, July 3rd through Saturday, July 9th. Participants are sharing everything they know and love about cloth diapering, including how cloth has inspired them.


Cloth diapering has come a long way. Just a generation ago, cloth diapering options involved choosing between blue-capped or pink-capped diaper pins. Now a parent opting to cloth diaper has to wade through an overwhelming variety of diaper styles, sizes and systems.

As a parent who has at least one of every major style and brand of cloth diaper, I can attest that choosing the “right” cloth diaper can be a difficult task, but a little research and reflection can help narrow down the choices and help a parent make an intelligent decision.

Cloth Diaper Styles

Knowing and understanding all of the major options available in the world of cloth diapering is the first step towards making a decision on cloth diapers. While this overview doesn’t cover the entire gamut of options available, it does represent the five major styles of modern cloth diapers.

The Prefold

What it is: The prefold is the good, old-fashioned, simple diaper that our parents and grandparents used. They are made from super-absorbent cotton or hemp, and they are very inexpensive.


  • Inexpensive. Prefolds are easily the cheapest way to diaper.
  • Versatile. Prefolds can be used regularly with a waterproof cover. They can be used to stuff a pocket diaper. When your child outgrows them, they make excellent dust rags.
  • Long-lasting. Good prefolds are extremely durable and will last through years of washing.


  • Can be lacking in the “cute” factor.
  • There’s a small learning curve to getting the diapers folded just right.
  • Prefolds require additional hardware: either pins or Snappis are needed to hold the diaper closed.
  • You’ll want a waterproof cloth diaper cover if using a prefold. Prefolds are very absorbent but they are not waterproof.

Examples of a prefold brand: Green Mountain Diapers offers some of the best-known prefolds, starting at just $2.00 each.

The Contour or Shaped Diaper

What it is: The contour diaper is much like the prefold, except that it is pre-cut like an hourglass, so it does not require additional folding.


  • Inexpensive. Next to pre-folds, contours are among the least expensive cloth diapers.
  • The cute factor. There are lots of beautiful prints available with contours.


  • Like prefolds, they also require a cloth diaper cover.
  • Also like prefolds, they require diaper pins or a Snappi.

Example of a contour brand: Kissaluvs produces a line of popular contour diapers, starting at $6.95.

The Fitted Diaper

What it is: A fitted diaper is shaped like a contour, but they are equipped with built in snaps or velcro so no additional “hardware” is needed.


  • Easy to use. There is no folding or pinning to learn with fitteds.
  • High cute factor. Lots of great “work-at-home-mom” businesses produce beautiful fitteds.


  • Fitteds require an additional waterproof cover. Sadly, that often means you are hiding a very cute fitted.
  • They are very labor-intensive to produce, and can get pricey.

Example of a fitted brand: The Goodmama is the best-known fitted diaper. While their retail prices start at $29.00, but some of the most beloved of these collectible diapers have been known to fetch prices in the triple digits on the secondary market.

The Pocket Diaper

What it is: The pocket diaper is a very popular two-part diaper option. The diaper has a pocket for stuffing absorbent inserts or pads. Pocket diapers have waterproof shells, so no additional cover is needed.


  • Customizable. The pocket diaper can be stuffed with one or more inserts of varying absorbency to accommodate heavier or lighter wetters or different times of the day and night.
  • Cute. Pocket diapers often come in cute colors.
  • Easy to use. Pocket diapers have built in velcro or snap closures.


  • The slight “ick” factor. The inserts need to be removed for washing, which means handling a wet diaper insert.
  • Because pocket diapers require separate inserts, they are a little bulkier to store and transport.

Example of a pocket diaper brand: Bum Genius has a line of extremely popular pocket diapers.


What they are: The All-In-One diaper (sometimes abbreviated as “AIO”) functions like a pocket diaper except that the insert is integrated into the diaper. AIOs have a waterproof shell and integrated snaps or velcro fasteners, so the entire diaper is literally one piece.


  • Ease of use. AIOs are as close to a disposable as one can find in the cloth diaper world.
  • Cute. AIOs come in different colors and patterns.


  • No customization. You cannot easily add absorbency to an AIO diaper – what you see is what you get.’
  • Price. AIOs are typically the priciest of the non-collectible cloth diapers.

Example of an AIO brand: Swaddlebees All-In-One diapers are well known and come in a variety of styles and colors.

Which option makes the most sense for my family?

Each style of cloth diaper has its advantages and disadvantages, and which style will work best for your family depends on a number of personal preferences. Asking a few preliminary questions can help narrow down the very broad field of available diaper options:

What is your reason for cloth diapering? Are you cloth diapering to save money? Look to prefolds or contours. Are you doing it because you are worried about the environment? Nearly any cloth diaper fits that bill. Do you want to cloth diaper because cloth diapers are freaking adorable? You’ll be shopping for fitteds. These are all legitimate reasons to choose cloth diapers, and each one opens up a different selection of diapers.

How old is your child? Some cloth diapers are “one-size” (often abbreviated as OS), meaning that they are designed to grow with your child by the simple adjustment of a few snaps. One OS diaper can follow a child from newborn age until he is potty trained and still be put away for future use by any younger siblings. Other diapers are sized from newborn, small, medium to large which means that new diapers must be purchased as the child grows.

What is your budget? One of the more surprising things about cloth diapering is the market for designer diapers. Some people do in fact pay fifty or more dollars for a collectible diaper. At the opposite end of the spectrum, a family can cloth diaper for just a few dollars. There is a huge variety in prices in cloth diapering, and budgetary concerns need to play a role in deciding what diaper is right for your child.

The “X” Factor: What diaper will fit your child well? This is the tough question because all babies are built differently. Some have long torsos, some have short legs. Some have chubby bellies, others have fluffy butts. All of these factors and more mean that different diapers will fit different children differently. Unfortunately, this “x” factor often means that the diaper must be tried and tested on your child to be sure whether it will work as expected.

Still unsure?

Reading and research is no substitution for experience. Some cloth diaper stores, such as Jillian’s Drawers, offer cloth diaper trial packages, which include a variety of cloth diaper brands and styles to try out and keep or return. For any number of reasons you may be surprised by which style of diaper ends up being a favorite for your family, so rather than investing in an entire stash of a certain style it may be best to invest in a trial package to see which has the best fit for your needs. If the trial package isn’t feasible, then purchasing just one or two diapers of a certain style at a time is a good way to find out through trial and error which diaper is your best bet. Our own stash started with a handful of Bum Genius pocket diapers, two Goodmamas, a pack of prefolds, and an All-in-One.

Cloth diapering can be rewarding for many reasons, but investing in cloth diapers is not something that can be taken lightly. Investing in an entire stash of a cloth diaper that just doesn’t meet your expectations isn’t something any family wants to do. With research and review, a complicated and at times overwhelming process can become fun and rewarding. Happy diapering!


freedom of cloth carnivalVisit Natural Parents Network for the most up-to-date news on the Freedom of Cloth Carnival!


Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants on the following themes. Articles will go live on the scheduled theme day:

  • Sunday, July 3rd, 2011: Cloth Related Recipes — Writers share their best cloth-related recipes and tutorials.
  • Monday, July 4th, 2011: Choosing Your Cloth Style — Today’s posts discuss parents’ individual journeys to finding the cloth diapering “style” that best suits their families.
  • Tuesday, July 5th, 2011: Cloth Diapering Must Haves — Parents talk about the most important items in their diapering “stash” and why they love them.
  • Wednesday, July 6th, 2011: Wordless Wednesday, Inspired by Cloth — We asked parents to share their favorite cloth-related photo with us and turned them into a fluffy Wordless Wednesday photo montage on Natural Parents Network. Link up your own Wordless Wednesday post there!
  • Thursday, July 7th, 2011: Cloth Through the Stages: From Infancy to Potty Independence — Today’s participants explain how cloth diapering has served their families throughout one or more stages of their children’s lives.
  • Friday, July 8th, 2011: Cloth Troubleshooting and Laundry Day — Seasoned cloth diapering parents share their best tips and tricks for handling common cloth problems and tackling the diaper laundry.
  • Saturday, July 9th, 2011: Inspired by Cloth — For today’s theme, we’ve asked writers to explore the ways cloth diapering has inspired them to become “greener” overall.

About The Author: Jenn

Monkey Butt Junction MBJunction My NPN Posts

Jenn embraced natural parenting as a way to develop a deep bond with her son Jack despite working long hours outside of the home.

11 Responses to Choosing the Right Cloth Diaper: So Many Diapers, One Tiny Bum