The different types of cloth diapers explained

Types of cloth diapers

Cloth diaper confusion? We get it. Your mama’s days of cloth diapering are long gone. Nowadays there are so many types of cloth diapers to choose from. The amount of options available can feel a bit overwhelming. And with names like “AIO” or “AI2,” it’s like you need a translator to explain what these different types of cloth diapers are.

But don’t worry; you got this. Our ultimate guide is all you need to understand the pros and cons of each. Read on to become that parent who knows it all. Well, at least when it comes to cloth diapers.

Flat cloth diaper

Flat cloth diapers

Flats are considered the OG of cloth diapering. Much like its name, a flat diaper is a singled-layered piece of fabric that’s usually made of cotton. To fit your baby, it requires folding in a variety of ways to create a multi-layered, diaper-like shape. To secure flat diapers, you need safety pins or clips. Plus, flats also require a diaper cover to help keep moisture inside the diaper. 

Pros of flat diapers:

  • The most inexpensive cloth diapering option there is
  • Can customize absorbency by layering more than one flat together
  • Easy to adjust as baby grows
  • Multi-uses: Can be used as burp cloths, breastfeeding towels and more!

Cons of flat diapers:

  • Require origami-like folding skills to get a snug fit
  • Need safety pins, clips or fasteners to secure
  • Must use with a separate diaper cover
  • Can be a challenge for babysitters or daycares if cloth diapering isn’t their thing


Pre-fold cloth diaper

Pre-fold cloth diapers

Pre-fold diapers are very similar to flat diapers, but are pre-folded into three panels with the middle panel being the most absorbent. Just like flats, pre-folds require safety pins or clips for fastening and a diaper cover to help prevent leaks. Because pre-folds are already layered they can be a faster alternative to a flat diaper, while still being low in cost.

Pros of pre-fold diapers:

  • Relatively low in cost, like the flat diapers
  • Already layered, so can be a faster alternative to a flat diaper
  • Adjustable as baby grows

Cons of pre-fold diapers:

  • Still need to fold into a diaper-like shape to fit baby
  • Need safety pins, clips or fasteners to secure
  • Must use with a separate diaper cover
  • Again, this option can be difficult if your baby goes to a sitter or daycare


Pocket cloth diapers

Pocket cloth diapers

Folding not your thing? These babies are all ready to go with a diaper-like shape, elastic leg holes, fasteners and a waterproof shell. Wondering why these types of cloth diapers are called a “pocket?” It’s because they include a pocket inside that must be stuffed with an absorbent insert. Many pocket diapers are lined with stay-dry material, so baby feels dry even when they’re wet because the urine passes through the liner and is absorbed inside the insert. There are several types of cloth diaper inserts to choose from, including microfiber, cotton, hemp or disposables.

Pros of pocket diapers: 

  • No folding required: Easy to fasten on baby
  • Doesn’t require a separate diaper cover
  • Easy to customize: Stuff with one or two inserts for extra absorbency
  • Fashionable: So many adorable styles and prints! Easier for babysitters and daycares

Cons of pocket diapers:

  • Pricier than flats and pre-folds, but economical in the long-run compared to disposables
  • The diaper is more than one piece and requires separate inserts
  • Some babies are sensitive to stay-dry materials used in the lining
  • May require sizing-up to larger pocket diapers as baby grows

 All-in-One Cloth Diaper

All-in-One cloth diapers (AIO) 

Want to keep it simple? Try the all-in-one. All-in-one (or AIO) diapers are one-piece diapers that do all the work on their own without extra accessories or inserts. The absorbency layers are sewn into the waterproof cover, making diapering your baby quick and easy without the extra step of stuffing in an insert. 

Pros of AIO diapers: 

  • Super easy to fit on baby with built-in fasteners
  • One piece: No need for separate inserts or covers
  • Available in many cute styles and prints
  • Good choice for daycares or babysitters, since it’s one piece

Cons of AIO diapers:

  • On the pricier side compared to other types of reusable diapers
  • Longer time to dry, since it’s multiple layers of fabric sewn together
  • Less customizable with absorption: may not be a good overnight option

 All-in-two diaper 

All-in-two (AI2)

A what in what? All-in-two (or AI2) diapers come in two pieces: Inserts and covers. They are very similar to pocket diapers, except that the insert usually snaps inside of the diaper versus going inside a pocket. This is handy because you can remove and replace the wet insert without having to change the entire diaper.

Pros of AI2 diapers:

  • Like pockets and AIOs, AI2s are easy to fit on your baby
  • Covers can be reused since wet inserts can be removed
  • Doesn’t require “unstuffing” an insert from a pocket
  • Available in super cute styles

Cons of AI2 diapers:

  • Again, require more of an investment upfront compared to flats and pre-folds
  • Attaching inserts require an extra diapering step
  • Could be difficult to customize absorbency if you can only use one type of insert

Fitted diaper

Fitted diapers

Similar to an AI2, fitted diapers come in two pieces: an inner absorbent fabric diaper and an outer waterproof cover. They’re easy to fit on baby with elastic leg holes and snaps or Velcro to secure. The inner diaper gives your baby full-coverage absorbency. Once the inner fabric diaper becomes soiled you simply replace and can reuse the outer waterproof cover.

Pros of fitted diapers: 

  • Super easy to fit on your baby
  • Covers can be reused since inner diaper layer can be removed Inner diaper provides full-coverage absorbency
  • Cute patterns and colors to choose from

Cons of fitted diapers:

  • On the pricier side compared to basic flats and pre-folds
  • Two pieces makes diapering a two-step process
  • Multiple layers of fabric in the inner diaper can take longer time to air-dry  

Hybrid cloth diapers Hybrid cloth diapers

Sounds fancy, right? Hybrid Diapers were designed to make cloth diapering as easy and convenient as possible. They’re basically a cross between cloth and disposable diapers. Hybrids consists of an outer reusable cover with a disposable insert inside. The disposable insert lays inside the diaper up against the baby’s bottom, so once it becomes wet or soiled, all you have to do is toss it in the trash and replace with a new insert. 

Pros of hybrid diapers:

  • You guessed it… Easy to give baby a secure fit
  • Cover can be reused if only the disposable insert is wet
  • Less poopy messes to launder: Disposable inserts can be tossed in the trash
  • Super easy for daycares and babysitters
  • Very cute: Did we mention all the fashionable choices?
  • Great for traveling or on-the-go, when you don’t want to carry around soiled diapers

Cons of hybrid diapers:

  • Require more of an investment upfront
  • More than one piece, and requires separate disposable inserts
  • Disposable inserts are not as ecofriendly as reusable insets, but still create less waste than disposable diapers

Types of Cloth Diapers Comparison Chart

Flat diaper Pre-Fold diaper Pocket diaper All-in-One diaper (AIO) All-in-Two diaper (AI2) Fitted diaper Hybrid diaper
Cost $ $ $$ $$$ $$ $$$ $$$$
Absorbent part Whole diaper Whole diaper Inserts Sewn-in Inserts Whole diaper Inserts
Requires cover Yes Yes No No No Yes No
Ease of use Learning curve Learning curve Easy Very easy Easy Easy Easy
Pros Very affordable, customizable Very affordable, customizable, pre-layered (less folding) Very easy fit, customizable absorbency, fashionable Easy fit, one-piece, fashionable Easy fit, reusable outer layer, fashionable Easy fit, full-coverage absorbency, reusable outer layer, fashionable Easy fit, option to use disposable inserts, fashionable
Cons Requires folding, requires separate fasteners and covers Requires separate fasteners and covers Multiple steps, requires more than one piece Longer drying time, absorbency less customizable Multiple steps, requires more than one piece, absorbency less customizable Multiple steps, longer drying time Multiple steps, more than one piece

How do you choose which cloth diaper is right for you? 

It depends. Like everything with parenting, sometimes it just takes a little experimenting to see what works best for your family. Before committing to one type of cloth diaper, try a few. You may discover there are several aspects you like about each.

What makes Charlie Banana cloth diapers different?

One word: Flexibility. Charlie Banana founder, Gaëlle Wizenberg, realized the world of cloth diapering was confusing and wanted to create a system that made the process easy and adaptable to parents’ and babies’ needs. Charlie Banana diapers are essentially one type of diaper that can be used two different ways: as a pocket diaper or a hybrid diaper. This 2-in-1 diaper system makes cloth diapering flexible and easy to customize. Plus, with multiple waist snaps and adjustable leg straps, Charlie Banana cloth diapers are easy to secure and re-size as baby grows (check our diaper size chart to find the perfect fit for your tiny world changer).

Want to learn more about Charlie Banana? Discover how our cloth diapers work and the many accessories available to make clothing diapering easier than ever before.