Every different type of baby diaper & the differences between them

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There’s so much to buy and think about before you bring a new baby home.

First things first, you’ll need to stock up on diapers!

But when you start shopping, you’ll quickly realize buying diapers can be pretty complicated. You have to choose between cloth and disposable, and even then there are tons of varieties of each.

Let’s break down all the different kinds of baby diapers and make them easy to understand.

Most parents will do best with standard disposable diapers, like Pampers Swaddlers, for their newborn. From there, your baby will steadily go up in size until they’re ready for pull-ups and other potty training underwear.

But other families may choose to go with cloth, or use a combination of the two.

The main types of baby diapers are:

  • Disposable Diapers
  • Cloth Diapers
    • Flat or unfolded
    • Prefold
    • Fitted
    • Pocket
    • Hybrid
    • Contour
    • Sleeve
    • All-in-one
    • All-in-two
  • Pull-up Diapers
  • Disposable Underwear

So how do you differentiate between the different styles and features? Are they really all that different? Should you avoid any specific kinds of diapers?

Let’s jump in and figure it out!

What are the Different Styles of Diapers?

For a long time there was only one kind of diaper — the simple cloth diaper.

It was actually diaper-making heavyweights, such as Pampers and Huggies, that came up with different diaper styles to capture a larger customer base, and of course, deliver greater customer satisfaction.

Recently, brands have also started using various innovative technologies and features to:

  • protect the fragile skin of your baby
  • prevent any spills 
  • and make baby more comfortable.

One thing is for sure, though:

The plethora of styles available at your disposal means if you do your research and experiment a little, you’ll find the perfect fit eventually no matter your baby’s needs.

Disposable Diapers

Baby boy getting his diaper changed by mom
Little baby boy being cared for by his mother

Although a relatively recent invention, disposable diapers quickly climbed the popularity ladder among parents since they’re so convenient and fuss-free.

The diapers use an absorbent pad that’s placed between two sheets of nonwoven fabric.

The absorbent pad can absorb and retain your baby’s body fluids, while the nonwoven fabric helps prevent leakage while giving the diaper a comfortable shape.

Most of us don’t realize, but these diapers involve various steps during production. 

The main idea behind disposable diapers was to overcome common problems associated with cloth diapers, such as poor absorbency and that they have to be washed.

Another advantage of disposable diapers is that they contain an absorbent polymer that keeps the diapers light and compact.

These chemical crystals can absorb up to 800 times their weight in liquid, holding the body fluid in gel form.

This is also why you can leave a baby in a disposable diaper longer than in a cloth diaper.


  • Lightweight and compact
  • Can be disposed of after every use
  • Convenient
  • Suitable for newborns
  • Babies can wear a disposable diaper for longer


  • Expensive over time
  • Not a very good option for the environment

Grab a box of newborn size Pampers Swaddles from Amazon right here.

Cloth Diapers

Despite the recent invention in the world of diapers, you’ll find several parents who prefer using cloth diapers because of two reasons:

  • They are a more cost-effective choice
  • They are gentler and super soft, making them appropriate for the delicate skin of babies

These types of diapers are commonly made from highly absorbent fabrics like cotton fleece, terry, dense flannel, wool, and unbleached hemp.

Many experts recommend opting for flannel material as it’s quite soft against the body, along with being the most absorbent.

Nowadays, you‘ll also find eco-friendly diapers that are being made from bamboo or organic cotton cloth. However, these are slightly more expensive when compared to the non-organic versions.

Talking about the negatives of cotton diapers, these are pretty obvious.

Since leaving your child in a wet diaper will make them highly susceptible to developing diaper rash, you may have to keep changing their diapers frequently.

Plus, cloth diapers aren’t convenient per se. There’s always going to be the need for laundering them, which can be quite messy and involved.

That being said, there are different kinds of cloth diapers available on the market. You should be aware of the different styles to find the perfect fit in case you do take the plunge and opt for cloth diapers.

Keep reading as to learn the basics of every type are type below:

Flat or Unfolded Cloth Diapers

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These are the oldest style of diapers – ones that your grandparents and parents might be most familiar with.

Flat diapers are large squares of single-layered fabric that are usually made out of pure cotton. The advantage here is that they can be folded to custom sizes to help you find the perfect fit for your baby.

These diapers might look intimidating at first glance, but can be very easy once you get the hang of it.

Flat diapers are also the cheapest diapers that you’ll find on the market and can dry very quickly. Keep in mind that these diapers must be used with a cover or wrap to prevent leakage.


  • Very inexpensive
  • Dries very quickly
  • Pure cotton fabric keeps the baby comfortable
  • Can be folded in a variety of ways


  • Need to be fastened
  • Must be used with a cover or wrap to keep them waterproof
  • Not readily available in today

Prefold Cloth Diapers

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Prefold cloth diapers are one of the most trusted diaper styles due to their high affordability and versatility. In fact, in addition to parents, even diaper service companies prefer this style.

These are comprised of rectangular pieces of clothes, which are folded into three sections. It’s the middle section that has high absorbing power.

You can fold the diaper around your baby and pin it in place. The other option is to fold the diaper in a trifold and lay it inside a cover.

Remember, you should use a cover with a prefold diaper always. Otherwise, you might have spillage problems.

You can use these diapers as burp cloths, dusting rags, or absorbent changing pads too!

Prefold diapers are the most popular choice for infants. In addition to being very easy to clean and versatile, the diapers are also very inexpensive.


  • An excellent option for infants
  • Very cheap
  • Versatile and easy to clean


  • Require a fastener
  • Must be used with a cover to prevent leakage problems

Fitted Cloth Diapers

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Fitted diapers are generally made with bamboo, cotton, please, or hemp. Each of these materials has a higher absorbing power, which can be useful for parents.

Having said this, keep in mind that while these diapers are more likely to absorb bodily fluids, they aren’t waterproof. So you must use a cover with the diaper.

Moreover, you don’t have to fold the diapers yourself (as you would with prefolds or flats).

Instead, the diapers are designed to fit your baby’s bodies and come with snaps or Velcro closures.

These have a contoured shape, which makes them similar to a disposable diaper, and are completed with elastic or gathered edges at the legs to prevent spillage.


  • Very soft against the skin
  • Provides superior absorbing
  • Molds perfectly against a baby’s body
  • Keeps the fragile skin well protected


  • Must be used with a cover

Pocket Cloth Diapers

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Definitely one of the most popular diapers on our list, pocket diapers are commonly referred to as “modern” cloth diapers and are babysitter-friendly.

In fact, it’s the first diaper on our list that requires no cover and comes in either a snap or aplix/Velcro closure.

These diapers are a two-part system, having a dry inside layer made out of moisture-wicking materials such as Minky, suede-cloth, or microfleece, and a waterproof outer that’s commonly made of PUL.

These two parts are sewn together with an opening in a bid to allow parents to insert absorbent material into the pocket.

While it’s true that you can use anything as an insert, you must remove the insert before washing pocket diapers and then “re-stuff“ it before using it again.

Pocket diapers are easy to use and dry very quickly, making them a hot favorite among parents.

While these aren’t necessarily expensive, the diapers still cost more when compared to the prefold variety.


  • Dries off very quickly
  • Easy to use
  • Kinder to the baby’s skin
  • No cover required
  • Can be fastened with the pre-attached aplix/Velcro closure


  • More expensive than prefolds
  • Not the most convenient option

Hybrid Cloth Diapers

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Hybrid cloth diapers are a mixture of disposable and cloth diapers, as the name suggests, and have a washable outer layer.

Plus, you also have the option of using a biodegradable disposable insert or the traditional washable, cloth insert.

Not many parents prefer using hybrid diapers because of their higher price tag.


  • Versatile
  • Washable outer layer
  • Gives a comfortable fit


  • Pricey
  • Not very popular with parents

Contour Cloth Diaper

Contour diapers combine the advantages of prefolds and fitted diapers.

These already have a fitted shape, but you still require fastening that can be either a snappi or pins for closure. This type of diaper requires a cover as well.


  • Has a comfortable fit
  • Very absorbent


  • You have to buy different sizes depending on your baby’s growth
  • Require a cover

Sleeve Cloth Diapers

Sleeve diapers are another variety that is very similar to pocket diapers.

The only difference between the two is that they have two openings in the pocket – one on every end.

The other advantage of sleeve diapers is that you don’t have to unstuff the diaper once it gets soiled.

Simply toss the diaper into the wash, the washing machine itself will dispel the insert out.


  • Doesn’t have to be unstuffed
  • Very easy to maintain
  • Has two openings in the pocket for greater convenience


  • Not always easily available

All-in-One Cloth Diapers

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All-in-ones or AIOs are not only very easy to use but are also the closest to disposable diapers in the cloth category.

These are more of the premium variety, which makes them a bit more expensive than other diapers on the list.

The good thing about all-in-ones is the total absence of other steps – so no cover or stuffing needed.

They are more fitted with a waterproof shell, along with a built-in absorbent layer. Velcro or snap fasteners keep the diaper in place.

At the same time, you’ll find that a few diapers come with a pocket as well, making them extra absorbent.

However, one big problem with this type is that they take longer to dry, which can be a huge disadvantage for people who have a limited stash of diapers.


  • Very easy to use
  • An excellent option for babysitters and grandparents
  • Fitted and very comfortable
  • Highly absorbent
  • No stuffing or cover required


  • Takes longer to dry
  • Needs to be washed after every wear

All-in-Two Cloth Diapers

All-in-twos are somewhat similar to pocket diapers.

The main difference here is that instead of stuffing the pocket, you have to snap the insert inside the diaper for the former.

Think of it like a tri-folded prefold that’s placed inside a cover.

The good thing here is that the inserts can be cleaned without unstuffing them even when they get soiled.


  • Easy to use
  • Doesn’t have to be unstuffed


  • Not very a popular choice, which restricts their availability

Wooh, that’s a lot of different kinds of cloth diapers!

If you want to go this route, start with the basic kinds like prefolds, fitted, or pocket diapers and see what works for you. You can then graduate to special variations when needed.

Pull-Up Diapers

These diapers are meant for babies that are starting potty-training.

Pull-up diapers have a similar look and feel to that of the regular underwear, in that they pull up and down rather than using velcro or adhesive tabs.

(They can usually be “ripped” off similar to regular diapers, however, in a pinch.)

A few of them are designed to let the child feel a change as soon as the diaper gets a little wet. This will let the children know whenever they need to visit the bathroom.

You‘ll be pleasantly surprised by the various innovations that big brands like Huggies and Pampers have come up with for these diapers to make potty-training as easy as possible for both the parents and the child.


  • Feel and look like a regular underwear
  • Specially designed for potty-training kids
  • Easy to use
  • Come with different technologies for greater convenience


  • A little pricey

(For more on this, see the difference between diapers and pull-ups.)

Disposable Underwear

Disposable underwear was designed to keep children dry while asleep.

They have a powerful absorbent layer that helps keep the fragile skin dry and rash-free even if kids urinate at night.

When compared to the other diapers mentioned on our list, disposable underwear is meant for older children, commonly ages four and above, who are deep into potty training.


  • Meant for children above the age of four
  • Keeps children dry while asleep


  • Expensive

(Check out: Can your child have a sleepover if they wear a diaper?)

What are the Different Features of a Diaper?

Baby crawling indoors smiling

Not all disposable diapers and pull-ups are created equal.

Different diapers have different features, which can be great to help you choose the best diaper for your baby.

You can take into account the following considerations when you go diaper shopping the next time:

Scented Diapers

Diapers are stinky!

(They can even make you gag.)

Keeping this in mind, brands have started launching diapers that are scented –—mostly like baby powder.

Now, the scent isn’t strong enough to cover all diaper smells, but it does have a more pleasing odor.

There is also a common misconception that scented diapers are bad for a baby when, in reality, this isn’t the case at all.

Scented diapers are definitely not a necessity, and in fact some parents think the combination of poop smell and scented diapers is even worse!

Opting for fragrance-free diapers is a risk-free decision, and you can find options that use petroleum-based lotions in the liner or have a light, natural scent.

(For controlling diaper odors, check out my guide to diaper pails vs trashcans.)

Wetness Indicator

Most diapers these days come with a wetness indicator made on them.

This indicator is essentially a colored line on the diaper that turns yellow to blue when wet, indicating that it’s time for a diaper change.

Eco-friendly Diapers

Eco-friendly diapers are those that are made out of biodegradable materials, ensuring they won’t linger for years in a landfill.

These diapers make use of plant-based materials like wheat, bamboo, or corn.

Additionally, eco-friendly diapers don’t use any chemical additives. So you won’t find perfumes, chlorine, latex, or dyes in this case.

The main idea behind developing “green“ diapers was to help parents reduce their ecological footprint as well as combat common environmental issues surrounding disposable diapers.

Diapers with a Stretchy Waistband

Diapers with a stretchy waistband give a snug yet comfortable fit, allowing your baby to move and explore freely.

In addition to the waistband, some diapers have stretchy sides that do an excellent job of molding to a baby‘s body as well as preventing any leakage.

Just like the waistband, stretchy sides are also very comfortable.

Organic Diapers

Organic clothes diapers are loved by parents who want the most natural option for their babies.

Since these diapers use materials like bamboo, hemp, and cotton, organic cloth diapers deliver superior performance when it comes to absorbency.

The soft material is also very gentle against the delicate skin of the baby.

Wrapping Up

Diapers will become a big part of your life for the next few years.

It’s crucial that you find a reliable brand that works for your baby as otherwise, the wetness will not only make them irritable but will also put a lot of pressure on you.

Most new parents and their babies will do just fine with any well-known brand of disposable diapers. Start with a box or two of the Newborn size and you’ll be ready to move up to Size 1 in no time.

However, you’ll also find cloth diapers have plenty of advantages — they’re easy on baby’s skin and more cost-effective in the long run; although laundering them is a pain.

We would highly recommend experimenting with different brands and sizes to help you find the perfect match.

Don’t worry, before you know it you’ll be swapping the diapers for pull-ups and then toddler underwear in no time!

For more new parent guides, check out breakdowns of the different types of pacifiers, types of diaper cream, and the different types of baby bottles.

Hope this helps!