Choosing the Right Cloth Diapers


In your great-grandmother’s day, there was one way to diaper, cotton flat diapers with diaper pins. Today, there are what can seem like a million cloth diaper choices available.

While it all might sound overwhelming at first, it’s actually a great thing. Not only are the diaper choices we have today incredibly adorable and easy-to-use (with a day or so of practice) it’s incredibly helpful to have the variety so that you can use cloth diapers in any situation.

In fact, I often tell cloth diaper beginners who are shopping for cloth diapers to not think of them as a uniform, using all the same style all the time, but to think of them as a wardrobe — sometimes you need a gown, sometimes you need a pair of sweat pants.

Understanding the Cloth Diaper Types

So which one is right for you? Let’s start by taking a quick look at the options.

  • All-in-One (AIO) diapers are the easiest option at the change table and are great for reluctant spouses or grandparents who are going to appreciate the open-and-go convenience of disposables. In an all-in-one diaper, everything you need is sewn right onto the diaper, ready to go, so there’s no folding, stuffing, or pinning required. You simply put it one and take it off it as you would a disposable, except you throw it in the wash instead of the garbage.

    Our favorite all-in-one diapers are GroVia O.N.E diapers as they are absorbent enough for overnight on most younger babies and they can be used as velcro or snap diapers… but more on that later.
  • Pocket diapers are a popular favorite among cloth diaper beginners who appreciate the low per-diaper cost (even though they are not the cheapest way to cloth diaper) and absolutely massive variety of prints and brands available. Pocket diapers need to be stuffed before use (more info on stuffing pocket diapers can be found here) but once they are stuffed they can be easily put on and taken off, just like an all-in-one.

    Our favorite pocket diapers are Bungies diapers as they come with natural fiber inserts right out of the box and are well made. Unlike many pocket diapers that fail after the first few months, Bungies diapers will last you without additional inserts or purchases. Bungies is a subscription box service, but they do have one-off diapers for sale. They have also been kind enough to give our readers a coupon for 15% off their first purchase (NOT an affiliate code) that coupon is: CDFB15
  • Fitted diapers are similar to an all-in-one in that all the absorbency you need is built into the diaper (and many are great for overnight) and they fit well, BUT fitted diapers do not come with a diaper cover sewn onto the outside, so you MUST put a diaper cover over them to prevent leaking. While this does make the cost of a fitted diaper higher since you need another item, fitted diapers can dry faster without their water-resistent cover sewn onto one side of it.

    While you do need a diaper cover with a fitted diaper (as well as prefolds and flats, which I outline below), unless the cover get soiled you can simple wipe it clean and reuse it over another fitted diaper at change time. This means you only need a few diaper covers to use with many fitted diapers.

    For daytime, Green Mountain Diapers Workhorse fitted diapers are great, and for nighttime the ECOAble nighttime fitted diaper is a bulletproof solution.
  • Prefold diapers are the most economical cloth diapering system available, but they also require the most work at the change table. Prefold diapers are rectangular pieces of cloth that have several layers of fabric for absorbency. To put a prefold diaper on you have to fold it around baby and secure it with diaper pins or an alternative) before covering it with a diaper cover. Lazy people, like myself can also just fold it up and lay it inside the diaper cover for easier changes (but a bulkier diaper).

    While it might be difficult to get the hang of prefolds, or to use them exclusively, they’re a very absorbent, affordable, flexible diaper system that can bulk up your cloth diaper wardrobe cheaply.

    My absolute favorite prefold diapers are OSO Cozy prefolds, which come in several sizes. They are very inexpensive and readily available on Amazon here. If you want to try pinning them, get the “traditional fit” but if you’re lazy like me, the “Better Fit” will fit better inside the diaper cover.

    Do not buy Gerber prefolds. They are gause inside and litterally the worst cloth diapers ever made.
  • Flat Diapers (or flats) are those diapers your great-grandma used. But don’t knock them, flats can be a super flexible and inexpensive diapering system. Like prefolds, flats must be folded onto baby and secured with a pin or alternative, then wrapped in a diaper cover. Stretchy Flats (flat diapers that have some elasticity to them for a snugger fit) are gaining in popularity now for their absorbency and trim fit.
  • All-in-two diapers (AI2) are a bit of a strange diaper combination. All-in-two diapers combine the ease of a prefold or flat system, in that you can simply remove the insert from the diaper cover, wipe it off and resue it with a new insert; but they also use pre-cut diaper inserts that snap into the cover (rather than wrapping around baby). They are great for lazy moms like me who don’t want to mess with pins but love a reusable cover system.
  • Hybrid diapers are a little different than the other cloth diapers in that they aren’t always cloth diapers. Hybrid diapers are basically diaper covers that can be used with snap in inserts like an all-in-two diaper, or with a disposible pad that you throw away just like a disposible diaper.

    Huggies has recently come out with a hybrid diaper option but they are not quite good yet, leaving a sticky mess on the diaper and just not working well in general. If you think you may need a hybrid diaper GroVia hybrid diapers are going to work better for you.

If that is all a little confusing still, here’s a video I did before explaining them in a bit more detail and showing you the parts:

Understanding Cloth Diaper Sizes

Once you’ve chosen some diaper styles to look into, you may want to then think about sizing. Here are the sizes you are going to find:

  • One-size (OS) diapers are the most common size of diaper out there because parents love how they will fit a baby from infancy right into to toddlerhood. They are able to do this becasue of the series of snaps on the front of the diaper, which help you make it smaller or larger. Most one-size diapers will fit from about 5 lbs to 35 lbs, but that can vary by brand.

    Many times I’ll hear from a parent of a 9-month-old or a 12-month-old, larger baby who is worried that their baby is growing so quickly their one-size diapers won’t fit for much longer. Don’t worry about this if it happens to you. As babies begin walking and growing they legenthen out and gain weight at a slower pace. It’s rare for a one-size diaper to not last until potty training and it’s usually because of developmental or behavioural exceptions, not sizing.
  • Newborn Diapers: Newborn diapers are, you guessed it, for newborns. Most newborn diapers will fit from about 4 or 5 lbs to 10 or 12 lbs, but it will vary by brand, so look for the weight when shopping.
    Most good newborn diapers are all-in-one diapers. This is because newborn babies wet very often, but in small amounts. The absorbency then doesn’t need to be great, and the ease of putting on an all-in-one diaper, especially for new parents with a newborn, is often what cloth diaper shoppers are looking for.

    My favorite brand of newborn cloth diapers is Kanga Care lil Joeys, although I personally also love the versatility of a big pile of newborn prefolds as they can be used to boost the absorbency of cloth diapers during the toddler years (but don’t worry about that now). Kanga Care newborn diapers are a community favorite and have stood the test of time.

    Many new parents wonder if newborn sizes are worth the purchase since one-size diapers are often labeled as fitting babies at about 5 lbs. After six years of helping cloth diaper parents build their diaper wardrobes, seeing all the newborn diaper hacks fail to work well, and so on, I can say that newborn diapers ARE worth it if:
    1. You want to start cloth diapers from day one; and
    2. This is your first baby, or your other babies were born under 8 lbs.
  • Other sizes: Some cloth diaper brands will have diapers that come in different sizes. Thristies for example sells a premium diaper cover (different from their DUO Wrap) that comes in five sizes (you can have a look at the sizes here for illustration). The trade off with getting sized options is that they normall fit better, but you have to buy multiple sizes so of course you’ll be spending more on your diaper wardrobe in the long run. They can be worth it if you are planning on using your diapers for several babies, but for the most part, unless you are struggling with fit, one-size diapers are going to serve you better.

How to Choose a Brand of Cloth Diapers

Once you have a style or two in mind and know if you’re going to invest in newborn diapers or are just going to jump to one-size diapers, it’s THEN time to think about brands.

I’ve mentioned above what I consider to be some of the best brands for each style of diaper and for newborn diapers based on my six years diapering my own child, reviewing cloth diapers with my network of diaper testing moms, and helping the tens of thousands of parents in the Cloth Diapers for Beginners community. But of course there are literally hundreds, perhaps even thousands of cloth diaper brands available today and many of them work well.

This is where a cloth diaper community, like the Cloth Diapers for Beginners Facebook group, can really come in handy. By being informed and knowing what type of diaper you’re looking for, you can ask the community for their preferred brand of XX diapers and get a lot of great recommendations.

I do strongly suggest knowing exactly what kind(s) of diapers you’re shopping for first though, as just popping in and asking, “What brand of cloth diapers is best?” will get you a million recommendations for cheap pocket diaper brands and they are NOT the best for most folks who take the time to research and test different styles.

One Kind of Cloth Diapers, or Several?

And this brings me to my next point: the importance of choosing a variety of cloth diapers when you haven’t used them before.

Until you use cloth diapers in real life and use them on your unique baby, you won’t know what you really like. This of course makes it super frustrating and scary when you need to invest in cloth diapers before your baby is even here. The best way, in fact, the only way, around this is to buy a small variety of styles and brands, and don’t buy your whole cloth diaper wardrobe upfront.

To know how many diapers you’ll need based on your baby’s age and how often you want to do diaper laundry, check out this article. My advice is for the first few weeks using cloth diapers, wash more frequently (but do at least have enough for one full day and night), and test things out. Once a winner or two emerge from your “stash” invest in more.

What cloth diapers to choose, for beginners: a list

Recommended Cloth Diaper Wardrobe for Cloth Diaper Beginners

I know how hard it is to trust your research and just jump in and get some diapers once and for all. To help, I’ve put together this list of cloth diapers to buy as a sampler pack of sorts.

All the diapers on this list are perfect for a cloth diaper wardrobe, wherein every diaper will serve some specific needs and situations. All the brands/styles are also tried, tested, and true, delivering positive reviews from the Cloth Diapers for Beginners community more often than not.

This list is only big enough for one full day of cloth diapering a baby as well. So you will get enough exposure, without blowing your entire budget before you know what you like best. The basic idea here is you will test everything for a few days, and then once you have some favorites that you like and use the most in your lifestyle, you’ll know what to invest in further.

Please note that some links in this post are affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a qualifying purchase through one of those links (at no additional cost to you). 
Read the full disclosure.

Here’s the list:

For the newborn stage (two stores: Amazon & Green Mountain Diapers):

  1. A two-pack of Lil Joey newborn diapers
    These will let you experience all-in-one easy changes, which will be great for night feedings and when Grandma needs to do a diaper change.
  2. One Thirsties newborn natural AIO
    This will let you experience a natural hemp and cotton mix early on so you can see how different fabrics absorb differently.
  3. One package of Alva Baby newborn pocket diapers
    Every cloth diaper newbie wants to try out some pocket diapers. This package is inexpensive, but still a trused brand (as far as inexpensive pocket diapers go).
  4. A package of one dozen newborn Cloth-eez prefold diapers
    This bulks up your stash with some great natural cotton prefolds you can use as “boosters” later on. Green Mountain Diapers offers their buyers a free pack of pins with your purchase, add those to your cart!
  5. One package of Boingos
    These are not necessary, but they are a much easier alternative to diaper pins if you want to play with securing your prefold diapers around baby. Boingos are easier and going to work better at the newborn stage than Snappi’s the other alternative.
  6. One OsoCozy newborn diaper cover
    You’ll need to use diaper covers over your prefold cloth diapers, this is a nice, inexpensive but good one to try.
  7. One Thirsties newborn/premie diaper cover
    You will likely need more than one cover for your six prefold diapers, this will let you try out another solid brand of cloth diaper covers and make sure you get to use all of your prefolds.

Total Diapers: 21 diaper changes (enough for about a day and a half during the newborn stage – remember you’re changing often during this stage, but it will slow down).

Infant Stage,or approx. 3 months of age on (two stores: Amazon and Bungies):

  • One GroVia O.N.E diaper
    Not will this diaper let you test out an all-in-one style diaper it has their special Velcro/Snap conversion band that let’s you try out both Velcro and Snap closures to see what you like best. In early infancy this diaper is also absorbent enough to be used overnight with both the snap in boosters.
  • One Thirsties One Size all-in-one cloth diaper
    Because the GroVia O.N.E has so much going on and is so good for overnight, trying out another brand of AIO for daytime will likely be a good idea, both for fit and function. Thirsties is an excellent AIO that is sure to be a favorite.
  • One Bungies pocket diaper (or cloth diaper subscription)
    As mentioned, Bungies is by far the best pocket cloth diaper out there because of their natural inserts. Bungies is also a cloth diaper subscription box; but you can cancel any time. I recommend trying out the subscription with your first diaper, and if you don’t love them, just cancel (no penalty for cancelling). Once again, Bungies has also been kind enough to give our readers a coupon for 15% off their first purchase (NOT an affiliate code) that coupon is: CDFB15
  • One Mama Koala 2.0 pocket diaper
    Testing out several styles of pocket diapers can help you figure out what works best for you. Alva Baby is a trusted brand of inexpensive pocket diapers, so it’s a good one to try. Just note Alva Baby diapers come with microfiber inserts, which usually won’t hold enough once baby is about 8 or 9 months old, so additional, natural fiber inserts may be needed if your baby is older than that. If you need help choosing upgraded inserts, I have info and help here.
  • One GroVia Hybrid diaper package of two
    This diaper package comes with everything you need to use two GroVia hybrid diapers as all-in-two diapers (see above). If you would like to use them with GroVia disposible inserts, you can, which then makes them hybrid diapers (see above, I know it gets confusing).
  • One EcoAble Hemp overnight fitted cloth diaper
    When baby is older, letting go of more and sleeping in longer stretches, absorbency at night becomes an issue. This fitted diaper will hold up at night under a cloth diaper cover when all others won’t.
  • One cotton fitted diaper, like this OSO Cozy one.
    I would also recommend Green Mountain Diapers WorkHorse fitted diapers if you’re looking for a cotton option and are ok adding another store to this list (can only be purchased on the Green Mountain Diapers website).
  • One pacakge of OsoCozy Infant size 1 prefold diapers
    This bulks up your stash with some great natural cotton prefolds that are inexpensive and work well.
  • One package of diaper pins, Boingos, or Snappi’s
    Thes will be needed for your prefold diapers if you want to try securing them to your baby before putting the diaper cover on. Only grab these if you hadn’t purchased them during the newborn phase.
  • One Thirsties Duo Wrap Cloth Diaper Cover
    You will need some diaper covers for your prefold and fitted diapers. This one is just a solid quality, good fitting diaper cover. The Duo Wrap is Thirstie’s one-size cover so you don’t need to worry about sizing here.
  • One Sigzagor Baby Cloth Diaper Cover 
    This is nothing special, but I put this inexpensive Amazon brand diaper cover on the list because it will likely serve you ok, and it will allow you to try out a different type of cloth diaper cover for less money. If you want good quality all the way and your budget isn’t a concern, substitue another Duo Wrap for this one.

Total Diapers: 14 diaper changes (including two overnight diapers – the EcoAble fitted and the GroVia O.N.E).

What if you choose the wrong diapers?

What to Do If You Choose the Wrong Diapers

Maybe you’ve already purchased your diapers before reading this and maybe bought up one kind of cloth diapers and realize you hate them and want another brand/style. Or maybe you tried a bunch and there are for sure one or two you hate. Well, all is not lost.

If absorbency (or lack thereof) is your issue, you can try adding new and better inserts to the diaper. I have information on choosing cloth diaper inserts here.

If the problem is bigger than that, you can try to sell them and buy new diapers with the funds from that sale. There is still a huge used market for cloth diapers and for diapers in almost new condition you can usually recover most of your money.

Check out my used diaper guide here for some resources on where to sell them (bottom of post).

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