How to Choose the Best Cloth Diaper for Your Baby

Published by 
Jess Miller
Last updated: 
November 23, 2021
assorted color of baby cloth diaper

There are two choices when it comes to diapering your baby. Disposable diapers and cloth diapers. Cloth diapers are a very effective poop catching solution that could potentially save you huge amounts of money during your baby’s early years. Cloth diapering can be confusing. Before I learned the ins and outs of cloth diapering it absolutely baffled me. What is the best cloth diaper? What cloth diaper is perfect for my little one? There are so many questions that need answers. Fortunately, I have done the hard work for you. By the time you have finished reading this guide you will able to call yourself a cloth diaper expert! Use the links below to jump to your preferred section or keep reading through this guide from top to bottom. It’s all great information.

With the introduction out of the way, lets get this guide on a roll…

Cloth Diaper FAQ

What is a cloth diaper?

A cloth diaper is a reusable piece of fabric that wraps around your baby’s crotch, holding poop and urine in place. When soiled, simply wash the cloth diaper and when dry, it is ready to contain your baby’s next poop explosion.

What are the benefits of cloth diapers?

colorful baby cloth diaper

There are numerous benefits to cloth diapers including:

  • Effective – Modern designs of cloth diaper are just as effective and comfortable as the disposable variety. Gone are the days of scratchy, uncomfortable diapers and sweaty, plastic pants.
  • Reusable – Disposable diapers are used once then end up in a landfill with the majority not being biodegradable. If you even remotely care about you impact on the environment then you will appreciate the ability to use cloth diapers over and over before they need to be discarded due to wear and tear.
  • Economical – Although cloth diapers are a large initial up front cost, the cost is spread out over continued use. Even with the added costs of washing, cloth diapers trump all but the very cheapest of disposable diapers (and these are usually poor quality and cause more problems than they solve). If you are planning on having more than one baby you can save the cloth diapers for future use.
  • Healthier – Disposable diapers contain many nasty chemicals. Even the “eco-frindly” disposable diapers contain Sodium Polacrylate (The crystals from the absorbent part of the diaper). This substance was actually banned from being used in tampons because of its link to Toxic Shock Syndrom. Why would you want this near your baby’s crotch? Cloth diapers are of a much simpler construction and available in natural unbleached varieties.

How many cloth diapers do you need?

Your baby is going to poop and poop a lot. The amount of cloth diapers you need will depend on your washing schedule. The recommended minimum amount of cloth diapers is 24 (per baby, if you have twins, double this number). If the average baby poops 6 – 10 times per day that works out to be two days before you have to wash your cloth diapers (with the remaining cloth diapers being used while the washed ones dry). If you have the money to spare, up the quantity to 36 cloth diapers. Many moms agree that this amount will give you along enough break before worrying about having to wash them again (trust me, washing time rolls around real fast).

baby diapers

What are the disadvantages of cloth diapers?

While I may preach the wonders of cloth diapers, they are not for everyone. That’s fine. Every baby and parent is different. Lets take a look at some of the reasons why cloth diapers may not be a suitable option or our baby, as well as the reasons why these “problems” are not a big deal.

  • Baby got back – Your baby will have a bit more of a booty than what would appear when wearing disposables. Not a big issue. It’s super cute.
  • Diaper shortage – If you do not have a washing routine in place, or have too few diapers it is possible to run out of diapers which is an absolute disaster. Simply make sure you have an adequate amount of cloth diapers on hand and get into a washing schedule.
  • The poop poke – Whether you like it or not, you will end up touching poop at some point if you use cloth diapers. I hear this complaint come up a lot amongst new parents. Guess what? Baby’s make mess. As a parent you will quickly become immune to any bodily fluid that will emerge from any of your baby’s holes. Give it time.
  • More work – Cloth diapers do require more maintenance than disposables. That much is certain but you are choosing cloth diapers for the benefits. Cost effective, less chemicals and better for the environment.

See, not really a big deal. Cloth diapers rock. So now that you have decided that cloth diapers are the diapering solution you have been looking for, lets take a look at the different types cloth diapers you can choose from.

The different types of cloth diapers

It’s a piece of cloth, right? How many different styles can cloth diapers come in? You may be surprised to learn that there many different types of cloth diapers available. Lets take a look at each and what makes them unique.

Prefold Cloth Diapers

Your Grandmother would tell you that you are spoiled for choice with cloth diapers. Back in her day this was the only cloth diaper option available. A flat diaper is essentially a square cloth. Flats usually consists of a single layer of fabric and is an equal thickness across the entire cloth. While these may make great washcloths or burp cloths for your baby, there are much cloth better diapering solutions available.

Advantages

  • Cheap (depending on brand)
  • Can fit a newborns unusual body shape

Disadvantages

  • Takes practice to correctly fold
  • Thinner than other cloth diapers
  • Requires a diaper cover to hold wetness in

Flat Cloth Diapers

Rectangular in shape, prefolds are a modern version of the flat cloth diaper. Consisting of layered fabrics that have been stitched together, prefold cloth diapers are more absorbant than the flat variety. Prefold diapers are very versatile.The rectangular shape allows you the diaper to be folded in different ways to fit your baby, regardless of body shape. From big buddah-bellies to stick insect legs, prefolds will fit everyone. Some brands of prefold cloth diapers even come different sizes, allowing you to further customize the perfect fitting diaper for your baby. Many parents also use prefold diapers as burp cloths, eliminating the need to buy an extra baby product.

Advantages

  • Available in different sizes
  • Can fit a newborns unusual body shape
  • Cheap (depending on brand)

Disadvantages

  • Takes practice to correctly fold
  • Requires a diaper cover to hold wetness in

Contour Cloth Diapers

Contour diapers are shaped like an hourglass (What, you cant see it? Tilt your head and squint!). This shape allows you to easily fold the diaper around your baby’s legs while the top tabs fold in and cover your baby’s belly. Unlike the Flats and Prefolds, contour cloth diapers do not require folding. Contours simply wrap around your baby and are held in place by a diaper pin or built in snaps. Contour diapers are an appealing option to use on newborns as they are incredibly easy to use.

Advantages

  • Very easy to get a custom fit
  • Trim through the crotch, providing extra adjustability in the rise

Disadvantages

  • Sizes larger than newborn can be difficult to find
  • Requires a diaper cover to hold in wetness
  • Takes practice to learn where to set the rise

Fitted Cloth Diapers

A fitted cloth diaper very closely resembles a disposable diaper both in size and appearance. Similar to the contour, the fitted diaper is shaped like an hourglass. Fitted diapers also feature elastic around the legs and waste and are held in place with built in snaps or fasteners.

Advantages

  • Available in a huge variety of shapes and styles
  • Incredibly easy to fit to your baby. Helps save a time when changing diapers

Disadvantages

  • Can be somewhat bulky (giving your baby a large looking booty)
  • Pricey, you can buy a lot of prefolds for the cost of a single fitted cloth diaper
  • Requires a diaper cover to keep in wetness

Pocket Cloth Diapers

A pocket diaper is made up of two layers. The outside layer is waterproof while the inside layer of fabric has a pocket opening. This pocket is where the pocket diaper gets its name from. A reusable absorbent insert slides inside this pocket. The insert helps absorb any moisture brought on from poop or pee. The pocket diapers absorbency can be adjusted according to how many inserts you use. The removable insert allows the diaper to dry much quicker than if it was sewn in since the insert and the diaper can both dry separately after washing. The waterproof outing means that you will not need to use a diaper cover. Freedom from diaper covers? That is a huge bonus in my book.

Advantages

  • Does not require a diaper cover
  • Removable insert allows the diaper to dry quicker after being washed
  • Better at keeping your baby dry than other cloth diaper options

Disadvantages

  • Inserts are just one more thing you need to wash
  • Pricey, you can buy a lot of prefolds for the cost of a single pocket diaper
  • Requires a diaper cover to keep in wetness

All-In-One Cloth Diapers

All-in-one cloth diapers are similar to pocket diapers. The key difference is that all-in-ones are a single piece, hence the name. Rather than have a separate insert that is placed in the pocket of the diaper, all-in-ones have the absorbent material sewn directly into the center of the diaper. This means that the entire diaper goes on your baby in one piece and the entire diaper goes in the wash in one piece. No fuss! All-in-ones are the closest you will get to a disposable diaper. The exterior of the diaper is waterproof, helping to keep in diaper leaks. Do not be put off by the price, all-in-ones are a very effective diapering solution.

Advantages

  • Does not require a diaper cover
  • A single solution, no extra parts

Disadvantages

  • Sewn in absorbent material means all-in-ones take slightly longer to dry
  • Like pocket diapers, all-in-ones are on the pricier side of the diapering spectrum

Hybrid Cloth Diapers

Hybrid diapers blur the lines between cloth and disposable. The convenience of a disposable diaper with the reusability of a cloth diaper. Most similar to a pocket diaper, hybrids allow you to either use disposable inserts (biodegradable of course!) or washable cloth inserts. Hybrids are a popular choice when travelling as they allow you to simply throw the soiled insert into the trash without any further worry.

Advantages

  • Great for travelling
  • Removable insert allows the diaper to dry quicker after being washed

Disadvantages

  • Inserts are sold separately and costs can add up
  • Pull up variety’s are messy
  • Have to be careful with sizing or the benefits are lost

Phew… as you can see there are a lot of different cloth diapers for you to choose from. Confused? Don’t be. The section below will give you many points to consider to help narrow down the perfect cloth diaper for your baby.

What to look for when choosing cloth diapers

Every baby is unique. While this is a blessing (Who would want to live in a world where everyone is the same?), it does mean that there is no single best cloth diapering solution for everyone. Just because a cloth diaper worked amazingly for your friend does not mean it will work for your baby. Below are some key features to take into consideration when comparing one cloth diaper to another.

The fit

Your baby’s body is going to grow and it’s going to grow fast. A diaper that fit your baby yesterday may be to tight or not fit properly today. Since a snug fit plays an important role in keeping in poop and pee, it is important that the cloth diaper you choose fits your baby correctly. Flat and prefold diapers are most suited to newborns due to their unusal body shape. Sized Cloth Diapers – Just like clothes, these cloth diapers come in sizes. You will need to choose the size that is appropriate for your baby’s current stage of development in order for the cloth diaper to fit properly. When the diaper is outgrown you will need to purchase the next size up. One Size Cloth Diapers – Fits your baby with adjustments on the rise of the cloth diaper through the use of snaps or Velcro. One size cloth diapers are designed to fit your baby from a few months after birth to potty training. This means less you will not need to buy several sets of cloth diapers in a single size. One Size cloth diapers generally do not fit newborns.

white and red owl print diaper

The above diaper is a one size cloth diaper. Using snaps you can shape a one size diaper to fit your baby as he continues to grow bigger and bigger. While not perfect for newborns, they definitely make your life easier!

What type of diapering system suits you?

While reading about the different types of cloth diapers above, you may have noticed that there are three different types of diapering systems. I’ll quickly cover each system below.

  • Diaper Wrap – Also known as all in twos, this system is made up of two parts; a cloth diaper and a cover. The cloth diaper catches any poop and wee. The cover stops the two from soaking through and making a mess. Flat and prefold cloth diapers commonly use this system.
  • Diaper Insert – This system is also made up of two separate parts; a waterproof cloth diaper and an absorbent fabric insert. The diaper wrap is waterproof to prevent leaks while the absorbent insert helps soak up moisture inside the diaper. Pocket and hybrid diapers commonly use this system
  • All-in-one – Unlike the other systems, this diaper has only one part. Absorbent material is sewn into the diaper wrap while the exterior is waterproof to prevent leaks.

Which is the best cloth diaper system for you? Ultimately, each system effectively contains pee and poop. If you find a particular system fits your baby better than another then by all means, stick with it!

Material

Modern cloth diapers come in many different fabrics made from different materials. Each material has it’s own pro’s and cons. Lets check them out!

  • Cotton – One of the most popular materials used in cloth diapers. Long lasting and durable, cotton is very suitable for diaper use.
  • Polyester – Commonly used in cheaper diapers, polyester is not an ideal diaper material. It can be irritating to your baby’s skin and difficult to clean. Polyester is only suitable for diapers when sewn into the middle layers of a diaper that do not come into contact with your baby’s skin
  • Bamboo – Incredibly absorbent and naturally resistant to bacteria make bamboo fiber an excellent diaper material.
  • asterisk Hemp – Hemp is absorbent and naturally resists bacterial growth. It is usually paired with other materials since it absorbs at a slow rate.
  • asterisk Wool – More commonly used in diaper covers than cloth diapers. Resistant to bacterial growth and can be lanolized to make it water resistant. Requires more maintenance than other materials.
white baby diaper cloth

Best Cloth diapers

Now that we have examined the different types and features of cloth diapers, lets take a look at some of the best cloth diapers available. It may surprise you that Gerber cloth diapers do not appear on this list. This is because my experience with them is that they suck. Seriously, how could such a dominant player in the cloth diaper market make such a bad product? There are much softer and more absorbent products available at a comparable price. You will also notice that I do not have a best flat cloth diaper. Stop living in the past! There are so many great diapering solutions and you want to use the one your grandmother went with? If you want a similar yet superior option to flat diapers, go with prefolds. Okay, with my mini rants out of the way, lets take a look at the best cloth diapers that money can buy!

Best Prefold Diaper

Unbleached Indian Cotton Prefold Diapers

Styles: As pictured
Brand: OsoCozy

  • Unbleached
  • Durable and long lasting
  • Highly Absorbent
  • Soft and fluffy

Not only are these prefold cloth diapers of great quality but they are also available in a wide range of sizes. This allows you to find the perfect prefold cloth diaper regardless of your baby’s body size. They even have a size for premature babies (size preemie). The Indian cotton not only feels soft against your baby’s bottom but is also super absorbent. For the price these were amongst the softest prefolds I have experienced. Not only are these refolds soft but also super absorbent. Far more absorbent than any other prefold brand I have come across. I don’t know how OsoCozy has done it but they have created the perfect prefold diaper, and it’s unbleached too! These prefold diapers also make amazing burp cloths. This means that you can cross two baby essentials off your list in a single purchase. Jackpot! Each pack contains a dozen prefolds, allowing you to easily build up your cloth diaper collection without breaking the bank. If you are looking for a cloth diaper for your newborn then this is by far your best bet.

Best Pocket Diaper

One Size Pocket Diaper

Styles: Over 10 different styles and colors available
Brand: bumGenius

  • Two inserts included
  • Easy snap closures
  • Highly Absorbent
  • Soft lining

If you talk to other parents about pocket diapers, bumGenius is a name that comes up time and time again. Not only it is a fun name to say but they also make one of the best pocket diapers around. Here’s the thing I love about these cloth diapers. They are a one-size solution. Designed to fit babies from 8-35 pounds, these pocket diapers grow with your baby. Three snaps on the front of the diaper allow you to easily adjust the diaper to fit your baby. Since these cloth diapers are designed to fit your ever growing baby, two different inserts are included in the packaging. A lightweight insert for the newborn stage and a larger one for when your baby grows. Just because your baby has outgrown it does not mean the newborn insert loses its usefulness. The newborn insert can also be used at night time in addition to the larger insert, to boost the absorbency of the diaper . A butterfly closure system will provide your baby with an incredibly comfortable and hugging fit. These diapers are incredibly easy wrap around your baby as well, almost as easy as disposables.

Best All-In-One Cloth Diaper

One Size Pocket Diaper

Styles: 10 Different colors and patterns available
Brand: bumGenius

  • Two inserts included
  • Easy snap closures
  • Highly Absorbent
  • Soft lining

No Extra steps. No stuffing. No Cover. All-in-one cloth diapers are an absolute treat to use. Beating out the competition for best all-in-one is this offering from bumGenius. Yep. Two bumGenius cloth diapers in my list of best cloth diapers. No, they do not sponsor me, just know how to make a quality product that lasts and for that I am really impressed. Similar to their pocket diaper, the all-in-one comfortably fits babies weighing between 8 and 35 pounds through the use of a snap system, adjusting as your baby grows. This means you’re all-in-ones will last for quite some time before needing to be replaced. Less replacing means less money spent on cloth diapering over your baby’s pooping career. Inside the diaper is a soft suede like fabric. Not only is this fabric super soft but it also helps to wick moisture away from your baby’s skin, a very desirable feature since constant moisture can lead to diaper rash. The super stretchy elastic back and legs sit neatly against your baby’s skin without being so tight that they cut off circulation. Yucky, runny stuff will stay inside the diaper while keeping your baby’s legs free from red marks associated with elastic that is too tight.

Best Cloth Swim Diaper

Washable Swim Diapers

Styles: Boy and girls colors available
Brand: Apple Cheeks

  • No diaper cover needed
  • Super comfortble
  • Waterproof outer layer
  • Machine washable

A cloth diaper that can be worn in the water that is not only comfortable but also holds poop? It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? You don’t even need to wear a disposable diaper underneath! A snap in system means that your baby can easily be changed in event of an accident without too much mess going everywhere. The snaps are not only located on the waist but on the thigh as well, meaning your little one is guaranteed a comfortable yet snug fit. The ability to adjust the swim diaper to your baby’s body shape means that poop and pee are trapped inside until changed. No more scaring nearby swimmers with a poop river flowing from your baby’s diaper!

Important things to remember

Below are some extra pointers to remember should you choose to go down the cloth diapering path.

Wash cloth diapers before you use them.

After a long day baby shopping you have just taken your cloth diapers out of their packaging and are about to trial your new diapers on your baby. Wait! Before you use your new diapers it is vital that you wash your them. Washing the diapers not only removes left over chemicals from the manufacturing process (you don’t want these touching your baby’s bottom!) but also shrinks the diaper to their appropriate size.

Have a spot to place dirty diapers

You are not going to wash each diaper after every single diaper change. Instead you are best off having a collection of dirty cloth diapers to throw through a single washing cycle and this means you will need a place to store the cloth diapers while they accumulate. A diaper pail will not only store your dirty cloth diapers but also help prevent them from starting to stink as well. Otherwise a wash basket kept outside in the shade and undercover is an effective solution.

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