Considering cloth diapers? We purchased and tested more than 25 of the top cloth systems to find the best available. We put each diaper through extensive side-by-side comparison testing to evaluate absorbency, ease of use, comfort, fit, leakage, and more. Cloth diapering can be an attractive alternative to traditional disposables because it is better for the environment, healthier for your baby, and possibly easier on your wallet. But, the different systems and styles can be confusing for newbies. We're here to help with recommendations and advice to help you find the best system for your family.Related: Cloth Diapers vs. Disposables: How and What to Choose?
Best Cloth Diaper
The Rumparooz Pocket is a top-scoring diaper in our absorbency tests, impressing us with its overall ease of use. The Rumparooz absorbs liquid quickly and did a great job of trapping moisture away from the skin. Almost all moisture is wicked away from the baby, and the inserts feel dry to the touch. The two microfiber soakers can be used together or separately to achieve the preferred level of absorbency. The inner surface of the cover has a soft microfleece liner throughout. We love the double gusset that helps prevent leaks and blowouts. With four rise adjustments and five for the waist, you can adjust the sizing to fit almost any baby.
Although there is much to admire about the Rumparooz, it is a pocket diaper. Pocket diapers require extra steps to deal with the inserts before and after every diaper change. Also, this diaper can seem excessively bulky, making it difficult to fit under regular-sized clothes. Users frequently note that this diaper runs a bit small, reducing its usage range. However, this may mean it could be a better diaper for smaller or younger babies, possibly replacing newborn-sized products sooner. Despite minor flaws, we believe this diaper has more positives, and it will keep caregivers and babies happy.
Read Review: Rumparooz Pocket
We tested the Thirsties Duo Wrap cover in conjunction with the Thirsties Stay Dry Duo Insert and were delighted with the combination's performance. The two-part insert is one of the best in the group. It is remarkably absorbent and has excellent wicking properties, feeling nearly dry to the touch even after soaking. Being a hybrid-style diaper has the benefit of a trimmer profile, so fitting it under a baby's clothes should be easier. However, if you find it necessary to double up on the inserts, it can handle a surprising amount of bulk, so we applaud its versatility. This diaper's wide range of adjustability and double gussets make it a suitable choice if you need to add extra layers inside. The cover itself is easy to clean, and you can reuse it a few times with new liners before it requires washing.
Unfortunately, the insert is not attached to the cover, so the diaper contents are free to move and could make a smeary mess. When using the Duo Wrap, we struggled somewhat to find a good fit. There is only a single row of waist snaps, so the diaper doesn't feel as secure as those with a double row. We experienced some gapping around the waist; however, this may not be a problem for every baby as babies come in all shapes and sizes. We recommend this product for anyone who wants a versatile cover for pre-folds, fitteds, or inserts that can be trusted to handle some heavy-duty messes.
Read Review: Thirsties Duo Wrap with Stay Dry Duo Insert
The Imagine Baby Pocket Snap is one of the top-performing diapers in our tests and one of the lower-priced products. This pocket diaper has a four-layer microfiber insert that soaks up liquid and locks it away from the baby's skin and earned a relatively high score in our absorbency tests. The soft micro-fleece fabric lines the entire diaper and does a great job of keeping the baby comfortable and dry. The pocket opening is wider than some of the competition, making it easier to stuff and prepare. It is large enough to allow more than one insert inside if you have a heavy wetter or use it overnight. We appreciate the double row of waist snaps that keep the diaper in place. This feature also helps to relieve single points of pressure around the tummy. Although it only has a single-leg gusset, we had no problems with leakage.
The Imagine Baby can be bulky, and we wish it came with a smaller insert for younger infants. However, for older babies, this extra bulk means extra absorbency. Without it, the diaper wouldn't be nearly as absorbent, and we feel this is a small price to pay for better absorbency. As with any pocket diaper, you'll need to put in a little more work before a diaper change. You must take the time to stuff the insert, which is the price you pay for performance. The combination of above-average performance and a budget-friendly price tag of the Imagine Baby make it tough to beat.
Read Review: Imagine Baby Pocket Snap
We tested the Flip with the matching Flip Stay Dry Insert, and we think they are an award-winning combo. Most hybrid systems fit a little trimmer than other types, and the Flip is no exception. It is small enough to almost look like a disposable diaper under regular baby clothes. It is simple to lay the single microfiber insert in the cover and adjust it to fit, while a double row of waist snaps helps with fit and comfort. It is easy to get a proper fit, and despite only having a single gusset, we didn't experience any leaks during testing. With an above-average score for absorbency, it is on the upper end, and we are happy with its performance.
Since this is a hybrid system, there is nothing to hold the insert in place aside from the cover, so if you do not fasten the snaps securely, it may move around as the baby moves, causing more of a mess. With any single gusset diaper, blowouts are possible as there is less protection than a second gusset design. Because the insert and cover are two parts, this system requires extra prep before each change, but the post-change clean-up is more straightforward. We like this one size fits all hybrid and find that it works well on most babies. This perk can save you a chunk of change and prevent the need to purchase different sizes as your baby grows. It is an economical hybrid system that measures up to the competition.
Read Review: Flip with Stay Dry Insert
The GroVia O.N.E. is a top-notch diaper that stands out from the group for its excellent absorbency potential and ease of use. It is an all-in-one (AIO) product with foolproof snap-in inserts that allow you to tailor absorbency levels. The double row of waist snaps is easy to adjust, and the cozy microfleece lining has some outstanding wicking properties. This diaper is ideal for babies who need frequent diaper changes or for overnight use. If you prefer Velcro, the O.N.E. offers optional hook-and-loop closure tabs that are easy to attach to the existing snaps. Some prefer this method for faster diaper changes.
As the bulkiest diaper of the group, our attempts to put clothing over the diaper were somewhat comical. The numerous layers also take a much longer time to dry, even when snapped apart. Although many users rave about absorbency, GroVia recommends washing the diaper 3-5 times before first use. We find it doesn't reach maximum absorbency until much later, more like 9 to 10 wash cycles. Investing the time to launder this diaper multiple times before use ensures that you get the full absorbency that makes the GroVia O.N.E. popular. Overall, we were pleased with this absorbent, high-quality diaper, and some may appreciate its optional Velcro closure tab.
Read Review: GroVia O.N.E.
The simplicity of the bumGenius Freetime makes it a favorite among parents. It is an AIO diaper that requires no snapping, stuffing, or folding. This diaper has two inserts sewn into the diaper on one end only. They then layer over each other for a double absorbency that can be adjusted and customized as needed. We like that this system keeps the diaper in one piece yet allows the inserts to separate for quicker drying. The top side of the polyester inserts has a lining of stay-dry fabric that keeps the baby from feeling soggy. Plus, there is a handy pocket sewn into each insert's underside if your little one requires more inserts for extra absorbency.
A downside of being an AIO system is that you must wash the Freetime diaper in its entirety after every diaper change. It also cannot be machine dried, so it will take longer to dry, which means you may need to purchase more diapers than you would with other systems. This diaper gets a bit bulky, and if your baby doesn't need both inserts, you can't remove them. This diaper only has a single gusset, which could result in increased leakage, though we didn't experience any leaks during testing. Despite these drawbacks, this is a great and versatile diaper. We would recommend it for first-time cloth users or those looking for simplicity.
Read Review: bumGenius Freetime
OsoCozy Premium Bamboo/Organic Cotton Prefolds is our favorite prefolds. We love its simplicity and durability and the bamboo cotton blend is very soft. It is all-natural, so you can feel better about what is next to the baby's skin and what you're contributing to the environment. Thanks to their simple square design, these prefolds are super versatile and can be used for more than diapering down the road. Many parents use them as burp cloths, bibs, or a handy rag for inevitable messes. We like to use these combined with the Thirsties Duo Wrap cover.
A downside to any prefold is that there is a lot more prep. Also, there's a learning curve to folding, positioning, then fastening cloth properly. This prep is not something every parent wants. You can use this product with only a cover, but we recommend using a cloth diaper fastener to hold them in place. We found reports of fabric staining, which is a looks only concern, as it can be cleaned and reused. If you choose to purchase this prefold, you'll need to account for some significant shrinkage. However, OsoCozy is clear about this and considers this during sizes. As one of the most cost-effective options on the market, you must be willing and able to dedicate extra time to each diaper change. If you make it past the learning curve, we think that OsoCozy Prefolds are a great economical option that you can remain useful past the diaper days.
Read Review: OsoCozy Premium Bamboo/Organic Cotton Prefolds
The Thirsties Newborn All In One is an itty bitty diaper specially sized for newborns. Cloth diapers are usually way too big for the average newborn, so many parents opt to go with disposables in the beginning. However, if you want to stick with cloth 100% of the time, then this is the newborn diaper for you. It is an AIO style, with two absorbent inserts sewn into the liner. The fabric is a natural cotton-hemp blend with a waterproof polyester outer cover. With two snap adjustments for the rise and four waist adjustments, this diaper can be tiny, making it perfect for new babies and premies.
Unfortunately, this diaper only fits babies from 5-14 lbs, and your little one will outgrow it fairly quickly. So you'll need to have larger diapers on hand. Also, the Newborn AIO has comparable or higher prices than the others with a much shorter usage range. The inserts are not removable, and there is no pocket, so you cannot customize absorbency. We appreciate the natural fiber interior, but the wicking properties are not excellent and may leave your baby feeling damp. However, the natural fibers may still be worth the trade-off for those caregivers who are particularly concerned about what touches their baby's skin. The Newborn All In One from Thirsties is the perfect solution for the newborn period, especially for those looking to avoid disposable diapers altogether.
Read Review: Thirsties Newborn All In One
Consider Blueberry Trainers for the next step in potty training. As a partially absorbent training pant, it can hold small leaks while still allowing your toddler to feel when they are wet. The pull-up style undies come in various fun colors and patterns and are ideal for toddlers who have daytime potty training under control. If an accident were to happen, Blueberry Trainers could be the difference between cleaning up a puddle on the floor versus a simple underwear change.
Extra absorbency equals extra bulk, so you may have a little trouble fitting them under regular-sized clothing that doesn't stretch. Many users report that there is a lot of pilling on the fabric over time. However, ideally you won't be using these for very long, so durability shouldn't be a big problem. We like that Blueberry makes a training pant that adds an intermediate step to bridge the gap between diapers and grown-up underwear. We think that these would be great for any child who needs a little backup.
Read Review: Blueberry Trainers
If you have a water baby that loves to be in the pool, Beau & Belle Littles Nageuret can keep your little one covered. This cloth swim diaper has a PUL waterproof cover lined with mesh on the inside. It takes the place of swim bottoms and comes in a variety of adorable patterns. Like a disposable swim diaper, the Nageuret does not keep liquids from entering the pool; however, it does a fantastic job of containing solids. It is easy to clean, and with three snaps for waist adjustability, plus three more for the rise, it is easy to get a snug fit.
While not meant to be absorbent, the mesh lining is the only sort of padding you can expect from this diaper. There are snaps on the inside, and this could cause skin irritation for a baby. Although sized to fit toddlers up to 3 years old, many users report that the leg openings are small, especially for chunkier babies. Luckily, Beau & Belle makes a a larger version sized for two to five-year-olds, with a weight range of 20 to 55 lbs. Overall, we think that the Nageuret swim diaper is an excellent swim option.
The Sustainablebabyish Snapless Multi Fitted is a fitted cloth diaper made by Sloomb. The liner has a terry cloth feel, and it includes a smoother small and large doubler that can be layered inside as needed. All components are a highly absorbent blend of bamboo and organic cotton, making it a favorite nighttime option for many parents. This diaper is snapless, which means you can get the perfect fit every time without worrying about adjusting and readjusting snaps. It comes with an extra-large safety pin to secure the diaper, but we recommend using a Snappi as they are much more straightforward and generally safer. Users also rave about the durability of this diaper. Its simple and sturdy construction means it can withstand years of heavy use. Some say that it still functions well even after the elastic in the legs wears out.
As a fitted, you must use the Sustainablebabyish with a cover of some sort. We like the Thirsties Duo Wrap. The benefit is that you can reuse the cover a few times while replacing the liner with each change. While you always want your diaper to absorb and lock in liquids, better absorbency also means extra bulk and longer dry time. Luckily you can separate the three pieces of this diaper to encourage faster dry time, but it is still longer than average. Also, it requires the use of an additional accessory and adds a few extra steps to your diapering routine. The Thirsties Natural One Size Fitted is a similar product made by Thirsties with snap closures. However, if this doesn't bother you, we think that the Sustainablebabyish diaper is an excellent fitted option and could be the perfect overnight solution for heavy wetters.
Gerber Prefold Birdseye is a 100% cotton cloth that measures 15.5" x 10" after shrinkage. As a prefold, there are extra layers of fabric sewn together in the center that add absorbency where it counts. The simplicity of the rectangular cloth allows you to customize the shape and placement of the material. You must have a cover to make the system waterproof, and our favorite option for inserts and prefolds is the Thirsties Duo Wrap. Many people love to use the Birdseye cloths as more than just a cloth diaper. The pliable and fast-drying material also works great as a burp cloth, household cleaning, car washing, or dusting.
Unfortunately, we are not impressed with the functionality of these prefolds for diapering. Cotton is not great at wicking away moisture from the skin, and the prefolds are so thin that they do not offer enough absorbency to prevent leaks, even with a good cover. They tend to snag easily, and in our experience, they look a bit ragged after just one wash. It can be handy to have a set of these versatile cloths around the house; however, we do not recommend using them for cloth diapering purposes. Their poor wicking abilities and lack of absorbency take a toll on their overall performance in this scenario.
The Snappi is one of the great modern conveniences of cloth diapering. This alternative cloth fastener is something many parents would consider indispensable for use with fitted and prefold diapers. It takes the place of hazardous safety pins and removes the risk of accidentally poking the baby. The three-pronged elastic band has small plastic teeth on each tab that grab onto the fabric, securing the diaper around the baby. If properly stretched, these things don't budge. Many parents think Snappi is even more secure than a safety pin.
The three-step process is relatively simple, but it may take some time to learn the small tricks and adjustments you'll need to get the best fit. The Snappi is quite durable but can be prone to tears. If there is a slight rip anywhere on the product, there is nothing you can do to stop it from growing. You will end up tossing the fastener and purchasing a new one. Also, if any mess from the diaper reaches the Snappi, it can be challenging to clean the small nooks and crannies. We recommend soaking it in hot soapy water if this happens. When it comes to prefold and fitted diapers, you can't go wrong with the Snappi. It is a product that oozes convenience, and we think it will make your life more straightforward.
Cloth Diapers that Didn't Make the List
We initially tested 25 different cloth diapers, but many did not make our final list of top contenders because their performance wasn't up to par. Many of these diapers are adequate; however, we do not feel that they are the best. Diapers we didn't include are the Rumparooz OBV, Best Bottom Heavy Wetter, EcoAble AIO Pocket, Thirsties Natural One Size Fitted, and the Smart Bottoms Dream 2.0. Although they all went through the same testing, these diapers didn't make it onto our list. Generally, we found a similar item that we liked better, was less expensive, and in some cases, both.
Why You Should Trust Us
Here at BabyGearLab, we know diapers. With our knowledge of cloth and disposables, we have more than 12 years of testing and research and many hands-on years with our babies. Across our expert testing team, we've got more than 200,000 diapers under our collective belts. Dr. Juliet Spurrier, MD and Alison Buck led the charge for this review developing our core protocol for testing cloth diapers. Dr. Spurrier is a board-certified pediatrician, mother of two, and founder of BabyGearLab. A committed cloth-diaper user, Dr. Spurrier scoured the market for the top cloth diapers, researching tried and true products, new flashy items, and everything in between. Follow-up absorbency testing and research were done by Abriah Wofford, who has been testing diapers and other baby products as Senior Editor for BabyGearLab for over four years. Our hands-on tester is nanny MaryAnn Wofford. MaryAnn has over ten years of professional nannying experience and is a mother to 7 children, totaling 24+ years of diapering and hundreds of changed diapers.
We focus on the day-to-day usability of cloth diapering systems and pay special attention to absorbency test results, as absorbency is key to avoiding diaper rash issues. We perform in-lab absorbency tests to measure how well each product absorbs and locks away moisture. We concocted mock urine and used an above-average amount to stress the products; repeated compression and decompression mimics baby movement. We tested each diaper multiple times with the same amount of liquid. We then supplemented with research and hands-on testing with babies.
We used the same lab test in our disposable diaper review, which enables us to compare results between competing products and across categories, measuring the relative performance of cloth vs. disposable diapers. We think this is a useful comparison when you are first diving into the diaper world and making your first decision: cloth or disposable?.
Analysis and Test Results
We analyzed more than 25 potential cloth contenders for inclusion in this roundup. With tests for absorbency, leakage, ease of use, and more, we have the details you need to help make the best decision for diapering your little one in cloth.
Absorbency is arguably the most critical aspect of any diaper. If a diaper leaks because fluid can't be absorbed, then you're not going to use it, no matter how easy/eco-friendly/soft/cozy/cute it is. Good absorbency and wicking properties are also crucial when it comes to preventing a diaper rash. We put each diaper in this review through multiple rounds of absorbency testing, during which we took note of things such as absorption rate, runoff, pooling, and overall distribution. The best diapers absorbed the fake urine instantly, preventing any runoff or leakage, and kept everything locked away in the insert, resulting in a drier outer liner.
The photos below display the outcome of our absorbency tests. The green on each filter paper shows the amount of mock urine left on the diaper's surface next to the baby's skin—the more green you see, the worse the diaper's performance.Rumparooz Pocket (below left), Thirsties Duo Wrap w/ Stay Dry Insert (below right)
Imagine Baby Pocket Snap (below left), Flip with Stay Dry Insert (below right)
OsoCozy Premium Bamboo-Organic Cotton Prefolds (below left), GroVia O.N.E (below right)
bumGenius Freetime (below left), Thirsties Newborn All In One (below right)
Gerber Prefold Birdseye (below left), Sustainablebabyish Snapless Multi Fitted (below right)
Blueberry Trainers (below left), Beau & Belle Littles Nageuret (below right)
Overall, we find that diapers with synthetic fibers wick away moisture better and keep it contained within the insert. The Rumparooz Pocket and the Thirsties Duo Wrap with Stay Dry Insert are the two top-performing diapers in this metric. Not coincidentally, they both have a synthetic microfleece lining across the interior of the diaper. They sometimes even felt dry to the touch after testing.
Diapers with natural fibers, like the OsoCozy Premium Bamboo-Organic Cotton Prefolds or the Sustainablebabyish Snapless Multi Fitted use cotton or hemp inserts that do not lock away moisture quite as well, leaving the baby feeling damp or soggy. If you decide to go with natural fibers, we highly recommend getting a microfleece liner at the very least to keep your baby happy and prevent diaper rash.
The lowest-performing diapers for absorbency are the Blueberry Trainers training underwear and the Beau & Belle Littles Nageuret swim diaper. However, you cannot expect specialty diapers like these to be absorbent. Hence, the mediocre filter paper result. Just because they didn't do well in this metric does not mean that they are faulty products. We highly recommend each for their intended purpose.
A Note Concerning Natural Fibers
Plant-based fabrics are often more absorbent, are better for babies with sensitive skin, and are better for the environment when it is time to dispose of them. However, as mentioned above, they somewhat lack in the wicking department, which is why we recommend using a reusable microfleece liner.
To show the difference, we did a few additional tests with some of the natural fiber options. The photos below illustrate how the use of a microfleece liner can dramatically improve wicking ability. There is a stark difference in filter papers that came into direct contact with natural fibers vs. those with a wicking layer.Sustainablebabyish Snapless Multi Fitted — (without liner below left, with liner below right)
OsoCozy Premium Bamboo-Organic Cotton Prefolds — (without liner below left, with liner below right)
Fit and Leakage
A disposable diaper is slim as it includes chemical crystals that expand when wet. Cloth diapers depend on fabric inserts for absorbency, which is why cloth diapers aren't as thin as disposables. Bulkiness can also cause discomfort for some little ones. This could require larger clothing to accommodate the larger diapers.
Diaper fit also influences the leak potential of any diaper. Since every baby is different, and it can be initially tricky to adjust a cloth diaper, it might require some trial and error to find the right fit for preventing leaks. Some diapers have features that make finding a good fit easier. With no snaps, prefolds and fitteds provide the overall best fit with an infinite amount of adjustments, and your baby will never be in-between sizes - a useful perk. However, if you prefer a diapering system with snaps, look at how it has. The more snaps, the better, as they will have more size variation.
The Rumparooz Pocket was one of the best fitting diapers, and it has a unique double gusset system that helps keep solids and liquids away from the edges and leaking out. Lots of snaps allow you to customize leg and waist sizes so that you can get a snug but comfortable fit. We also prefer diapers with a double row of snaps at the top instead of one. It allows the diaper to lay closer to the baby's belly and feels more secure. We find that the Flip with Stay Dry Insert fits exceptionally well, thanks to the snap tabs' stretchy material. It allows you to get a snug but comfortable fit, closing all gaps and blocking leaks.
One annoying thing we noticed on some diapers is that rather than the outer waterproof lining wrapping around the gusset, the inner lining goes out to meet it. This material may be softer for the baby's legs, but it also allows moisture to wick through the fabric to the diaper's outer edge, creating a sneaky little leak.
The last factor in leakage has more to do with absorbency. If a diaper gets too saturated, it will leak, no matter how well it fits. That is why we think it is good to have a diaper that accepts greater or fewer absorbent inserts. Most diaper styles have this feature, except for AIOs, but manufacturers are catching onto this issue and getting creative with their diapers. For example, the bumGenius Freetime is an easy-to-use AIO with inserts sewn into place and can be a standalone diaper. However, it also has a pocket, giving you the option to stuff an extra layer or two as needed. Grovia's O.N.E diaper is also an AIO but comes with two additional snap-on inserts for extra absorption. Both of these systems give you the power to balance bulk and absorbency as you see fit.
Tips for Choosing Cloth Diapers
The world of cloth diapers is unfamiliar territory for most parents, and with a range of opinions on the right way to go about it, it is hard not to feel bombarded. There are several cloth options available with different features to consider before selecting the diaper routine that is right for you.
Why Use Cloth?
For many, the thought of cloth diapering immediately causes a mind full of concerns: too much work, too complicated, too gross! However, there are some significant upsides we think you should consider before laying down the verdict.
The average child goes through approximately 6,000 diapers in the 2-3 years before moving on to underwear. Per year, an estimated 28 billion disposable diapers (and the toxic solid waste inside them) go straight into a landfill, creating a dramatic impact on the environment. Using cloth does two things to lessen your contribution to this. It forces you to flush solid waste, which is more environmentally friendly, and it keeps the plastics and chemicals of disposables out of the landfill.
As a parent, you want to keep your baby as happy and healthy as possible, and you may have second thoughts about the possibility of chemicals in disposables. Maybe your child has skin prone to rashes and is sensitive to the dyes and perfumes often found in disposable diapers. Whatever the case, cloth diapers do not contain fragrances, lotions, or latex that may cause issues. They are a good option for parents looking to reduce their baby's exposure to chemicals in all areas.
A large part of why many parents choose cloth over disposable is the cost-effectiveness of reusing your diapers. It saves you money. This fact is accurate, despite the high initial cost of building your stash. The way we figure, you will spend approximately $1,700 for a lifetime supply of disposable diapers such as Pampers Swaddlers. In contrast, a premium green diaper may cost up to $2,100. Meanwhile, a lifetime supply of a cheaper cloth diaper, like the Flip with Stay Dry Insert, will run you $300. A top-performing diaper like the Rumparooz Pocket is a bit more at $624, but it still comes nowhere close to the cost of similar performing disposables.
Remember to tack on two to six hundred dollars to accommodate the diapering routine you decide to follow. Flushable liners (which, by the way, we highly recommend) can add on four hundred over your diapering days. Electricity for machine washing and drying adds around fifty dollars, and for detergent, you can count on another one hundred and fifty. Despite these extra costs, cloth diapering is a choice that will save you money in the long run, especially for families who plan to reuse their diapers over multiple children.
Selecting the Right Diaper System
There are so many cloth diapering methods to choose from that it can quickly get confusing. To help clear things up, we have listed different cloth styles, a short introduction, and some pros and cons. We strongly suggest experimenting with a few different types before fully committing to a single brand. This way, you'll know what works best for you and how much work you'll need to put into the process.
All-in-One Diapers (AIO)
An all-in-one diaper is exactly what it sounds like: a complete product in one part that requires no stuffing, folding, or layering. Aside from laundering, these diapers function the same as disposables and are ideal for parents who want a low-maintenance solution. Alternatively, many cloth-savvy parents choose to purchase a few AIOs to have around the house for grandparents or babysitters. However, you are paying a higher price per diaper for this convenience. AIOs tend to take longer to dry because the fabric does not separate from the cover. This also prevents you from customizing absorbency as you can with other styles. The bumGenius Freetime solves this problem by adding a pocket with room for extra inserts but still works as a standalone AOI diaper.
Hybrid or All-in-Two Diapers (AI2)
The all-in-two diaper is a classic, old-school setup composed of two parts: a waterproof outer cover and an inner fabric insert. Prefolds, fitteds, and custom-made inserts are the three main options for your absorbent layers. Each option varies in its ease of use and absorbency level. However, all-in-twos are typically the most cost-effective way to cloth diaper. One perk of using a two-piece system is you can toss the liner in the wash and reuse the outer layer a few times if the cover isn't soiled. This process is super convenient when cloth diapering on the go. It cuts back on laundry, and the ability to separate each piece allows for the fastest drying time.
A prefold starts as a plain square cloth that is typically cotton or hemp. It is then folded and sewn to create more absorbency. A prefold is the most basic and affordable option. It is what most people picture when imagining old-school cloth diapers. Despite the name prefold, there is still some folding involved when prepping this system to get it to fit your baby's contours. Often, the cover is snug enough to hold the prefold in place, but some parents choose to fasten the material with an item like the Snappi or a safety pin for more security. Using prefolds requires some practice, but there are so many ways to wrap up your baby that you are sure to find one that works for you. The OsoCozy Premium is the only prefold we included in this review. With the help of a microfleece liner, OsoCozy performed on par with other top scorers.
Fitteds are like prefolds without the work. They are pre-shaped, sewn, and ready to be secured with snaps or velcro and look very similar to a regular diaper; the only thing missing is the cover. Elastic leg gussets help keep the insert in place and prevent leaks. Fitteds can be useful for extra wiggly babies or if you have a hard time getting a prefold to stay in place. Because of how they are shaped, they may be better for heavy wetters or overnight use, offering more absorbency than a prefold. The Sustainablebabyish Snapless Multi Fitted and the Thirsties Natural One Size Fitted are two of our favorite fitteds.
Hybrid-style diapers also use a cover/liner combo. However, hybrid companies tailor their liners to fit their brand's covers instead of mixing and matching components. Usually, this results in a better functioning and user-friendly product. Most manufacturers use a combination of natural and synthetic materials that increase absorbency and wick away moisture. Some brands even offer disposable inserts if you aren't 100% ready to dive into cloth yet. Thirsties Duo Wrap with Stay Dry Duo Insert is one of our favorite hybrid systems.
Pocket diapers are arguably the top performers. One of the most absorbent (and one of our favorite) diapers, the Rumparooz Pocket, falls into this category. This style has two main components - a cover and an insert. The former may have a moisture-wicking liner such as micro-fleece, in which there is an opening that gives you access to the stuffable pocket. We like that this system provides an option for customizable absorbency while ensuring that the liner stays in place and keeps moisture away from the baby's skin.
There are drawbacks to pocket-style diapers, including more prep than some other methods. The stuffing process is an extra step before each diaper change. Conversely, the need to stuff means you also need to un-stuff the dirty diaper, which can be unpleasant. Like AIOs, the entire diaper, cover, and liner require washing after each use. Fortunately, they will not take as long to dry as an AIO because the insert is removable and can dry separately from the cover.
Ease of Use
A diaper's ease of use determines which one you will reach for first when your baby is on the changing table. Perhaps this sounds obvious, but if a diaper takes a long time to assemble or does not stay properly aligned during a change, you won't want to use it. There are lots of styles on the market, and each diaper has pros and cons. When it comes down to it, you have to decide what you're willing to put up with in terms of cost vs. convenience, eco-health vs. convenience, and baby health vs convenience.
Cloth diapering prep can mean two different things. The first are the steps required to get the diaper ready for a baby before a diaper change. The second is the multiple washes each diaper must undergo before reaching maximum absorbency. The washes should occur before the diaper's first use and can be anywhere from 1-6 wash cycles depending on the material. Each manufacturer has different recommendations for their diapers, so it is best to double-check for the correct prep method. When in doubt, wash more. GroVia states that their O.N.E. diaper is ready to go after just three washes, but in our testing, we found that it does not reach maximum absorbency until 8-10 cycles. The moral of the story is that if it seems like your diaper isn't performing well, have no fear! Wash it a few more times before making your final judgment.
Daily prep is not labor-intensive or complicated, but it is a daily process. Diapers that require the most work per change are prefolds, with pocket diapers coming in next. The easiest to use are AIO's, which function the same as a disposable, with no prep required, and no separating or removing inserts after it is soiled. Hybrid styles fall somewhere in the middle because some assembly is required, but you can lay the tailored liner in place without a fuss.
You can streamline your cloth routine using flushable liners. These thin sheets lay down as the last layer on top of whichever cloth system you use. Because they are biodegradable, when the diaper is soiled, you can pick up the liner filled with solids and conveniently drop it in the toilet without having to scrape, spray, or smear everything off. If the diaper is just wet, the liner can go in the garbage pail. Even though it adds a step to each diaper change, we believe these sheets are worth the trade-off for the mess they save you later.
Laundering cloth diapers can have a steep learning curve. Luckily, most brands have specific washing instructions you can find on the packaging or online. However, as a general rule, you should wash your cloth diapers every 2-3 days. You must use a cloth-specific or a manufacturer-recommended detergent to prevent build-up and residue in the fabric. Although many manufacturers state that tumble drying on low heat is acceptable, we don't recommend it. Line drying will reduce unnecessary wear and tear over time, and cuts down on your energy usage. If possible, line dry cloth diapers outside in the sun, as the UV ray can help fight stains. We recommend getting to know your specific brand and follow manufacturer instructions to a tee to get the most out of your diapers.
The drying time differs significantly between systems. A downfall of AIO's is that the multiple wicking, absorbing, and waterproofing layers are sewn together. Because air can't circulate between layers, these diapers take forever to dry, and there is no practical way to speed it up. We like hybrid styles because they typically dry the fastest. The cover and liner come apart for washing and hang to dry separately.
Selecting the best cloth diapering system for your lifestyle isn't always an easy task. Before you jump into cloth diapering headfirst, we recommend trying out a few styles and using backup disposables until you find your favorites. You might choose to build your stash from a single brand or keep a few different fashions. Also, we think it can be smart to have a package of disposable diapers just in case you need a fresh diaper and discover yours are dirty or drying. We gathered as much information as possible and are confident our test results will give you a great start in cloth diapering.
— Abriah Wofford, Juliet Spurrier, MD