Do all-in-one cloth diapers need inserts?

All-in-one (AIO) cloth diapers are a popular choice for many parents due to their convenience and ease of use. AIO diapers have absorbent padding sewn into them, so there are no stuffing required. However, some parents wonder if they still need to use additional inserts with AIO diapers for extra absorbency. There are a few factors to consider when deciding if your AIO diapers need inserts.

How absorbent are AIO diapers?

The level of absorbency in AIO diapers can vary significantly between brands. Some AIOs contain multiple layers of microfiber and hemp or cotton, making them quite absorbent on their own. Others may have lighter padding and rely more on the cover material for absorbency.

In general, AIO diapers tend to be more absorbent than pocket diapers because the soaker padding is sewn in. But they may not be as absorbent as prefolds or fitteds paired with covers. AIOs are usually intended for daytime use only. Most babies will saturate an AIO overnight without extra inserts.

When checking absorbency, look at the number of layers, fabric types, and overall thickness of padding. Thicker, multi-layer AIOs will absorb more. Microfiber offers quick absorbency but less overall capacity versus natural fibers like hemp and cotton.

Baby’s age and bladder size

Younger infants have smaller bladders and urinate more frequently in smaller amounts. AIO diapers often have enough absorbency for newborns’ needs. But as babies grow and start sleeping longer at night, the saturated diaper is more likely to leak before a change.

Older babies produce larger volumes of urine at once. All that concentrated liquid can overwhelm the AIO’s sewn-in soaker and lead to leaking. So more absorbency from inserts is often needed.

Consider your baby’s wetting habits and adjust absorbency as needed. Extra inserts may not be necessary in an AIO for a young breastfed baby. But an active toddler might need boosters to prevent daytime leaks.

Your baby’s sensitivity

Some babies have very sensitive skin and may be prone to diaper rashes. Using soft, natural fiber inserts can help keep your baby’s bottom drier and reduce irritation. Hemp, cotton, and bamboo inserts provide gentle absorbency inside the AIO.

Adding a fleece liner on top can also help pull moisture away from delicate skin. If your baby has rash-prone skin, consider using an extra insert or liner for comfort and dryness. Keeping wetness off the skin will limit redness and irritation.

Nighttime use

Overnight is when cloth diapers get the heaviest use. An unboosted AIO diaper likely won’t have enough absorbency capacity on its own to last all night without leaks. Most parents find they need to add extra inserts to AIOs for nighttime.

Look for super absorbent doublers and triplers made of hemp, bamboo, microfiber, and cotton. Layering two or three inserts inside the AIO provides enough soaking power to contain all those hours of overnight pee. Don’t be surprised if your heavy wetter needs 4+ layers of absorbency at night.

Adjusting absorbency for activities

During certain activities, babies may urinate more frequently or heavily. The typical absorbency of an AIO might not cut it during extended times in the carseat or spending a busy day out and about. The extra movement and stimulation can lead to peeing more often and in larger amounts.

Double check the absorbency needs for road trips, play dates, trips to the zoo, or other active times. Boosting with an insert provides backup protection and peace of mind when you’ll be away from the diaper bag for long stretches. No parent wants to get caught without enough absorbency in those situations.


When traveling, it can be harder to change diapers as frequently. Having extra absorbency can extend the time between changes and prevent leaks in unfamiliar locations. Air travel or long car rides mean limited opportunities to change.

Inserts are easy to pack and add insurance for longer stints between diaper changes. You may not end up needing the extra absorbency of inserts. But it’s wise to throw some in the diaper bag just in case when traveling.

Types of inserts

If you decide your AIO diapers need more absorbency, here are some common insert options:

Hemp inserts

Hemp offers very high absorbency for its weight. It’s very trim but can hold a large volume of liquid. Hemp inserts tend to be slow absorbing at first with great overall capacity.

Cotton inserts

Cotton absorbs quickly and holds a lot of fluid while feeling soft against baby’s skin. Cotton inserts with several layers provide excellent overnight absorbency.

Bamboo inserts

Bamboo inserts combine softness with high absorbency. Bamboo charcoal offers enhanced odor control too. Bamboo is sustainable and absorbs well.

Microfiber inserts

Microfiber inserts absorb rapidly but don’t hold as much liquid overall as natural fibers. They are inexpensive and trim. Use microfiber closest to baby’s skin for fast wetness control.

Fleece liners

Fleece liners provide a soft, stay-dry layer against baby’s bottom. They pull moisture into the diaper while keeping skin drier. Use fleece to protect sensitive skin.

Doublers, triplers, quadruplers

These extra-absorbent inserts contain multiple layers of fabric for heavy wetters. Look for hemp or cotton doublers and triplers to boost absorbency a lot overnight or during activities.

Where to place inserts

Most AIO diapers have built-in flaps or pockets you can slide additional inserts into. This keeps everything contained and organized inside the diaper. Some parents lay inserts directly against baby’s skin for faster absorbency. Others place extra inserts between the AIO padding and the waterproof cover.

Try different arrangements to see what works best for your baby’s wetness pattern. Make sure inserts stay securely in place through baby’s movements. Read the manufacturer’s instructions for the optimal way to add and position inserts in that AIO.

When to change inserts

Plan to change inserts whenever you change the diaper. Remove any soiled or overly saturated inserts and replace with fresh, dry ones as needed. Reusing lightly wet inserts can lead to smells, bacterial buildup, and decreased absorbency. Freshening inserts keeps them working effectively.

Have a good stock of extra inserts on hand so you always have replacements ready to go. Purchase inserts in multiples of how many diapers you use per day. Rotate through your stash as inserts are washed and dried after use.

Washing and drying inserts

Inserts should be removed from diapers or AIO shells before washing. Follow the care instructions for the insert fabrics. Most can be washed in hot water and dried in the dryer on medium or high heat. Avoid fabric softeners and dryer sheets with inserts.

Check for lingering stains, smells or buildup and strip inserts as needed. Proper washing and drying is key to keeping inserts absorbent and odor-free. Replace inserts once they become compressed, develop holes, or lose their soaking power from too many wash cycles.

Making your own inserts

Some parents opt to sew their own diaper inserts from purchased fabrics like hemp fleece or bamboo velour. This allows you to customize the size, layers, and fabrics to your baby’s needs. And homemade inserts can cost less than buying retail.

If you can sew, look up free patterns online for making diaper inserts. Then select your preferred fabrics for their absorbency, softness, and cost. Measure your diaper’s interior length and width so inserts fit properly. For overnight use, long narrow inserts tend to work best.

Just be sure to prewash fabrics before sewing to maximize absorbency and shrinkage. Finished inserts will also need several washes to increase their soaking power before use. Test out different homemade inserts to find your perfect overnight boosters.

Downsides of using inserts

While inserts can boost absorbency, there are a few downsides to consider:

  • More layers lead to increased drying time
  • Having to stuff extra inserts takes more work
  • It’s one more thing to have to purchase
  • Insert shifting can lead to wicking and leaking
  • All those layers make for a bulkier diaper

Finding the right balance of absorbency without too many inserts can take some trial and error. Focus on only using inserts when truly needed for heavy wetting situations. See if sizing up in the AIO provides enough absorbency before adding doublers routinely.

Troubleshooting leaking with inserts

Leaking can still happen even with extra inserts. Here are some tips for troubleshooting leaking when adding inserts to AIOs:

  • Make sure inserts are completely contained within the waterproof shell. Stray fibers can wick moisture.
  • Check that inserts are not compressed or smushed inside the diaper. Fluff them out so the fibers absorb optimally.
  • Try different placements of the insert against baby’s skin or tucked in the pocket.
  • Use more absorbent natural fiber inserts instead of microfiber.
  • Layer multiple inserts for overnight and heavy wetting.
  • Consider sizing up in the diaper shell for more absorbency coverage.
  • Add a doubler pad for focused absorbency in the front or back.
  • Make sure elastics and closures are snug enough to prevent leaks around the legs and waist.

When to size up diapers instead

Beyond a certain point, adding more inserts creates a bulky, uncomfortable diaper. If you are already doubling up on inserts, sizing up the AIO shell can provide more absorbency.

Going up a size gives more surface area for moisture to spread into. It also allows space for more inserts while keeping the fit slimmer.

Consider sizing up AIOs at night first for heavy wetters. During the day, extra inserts may still be adequate if able to change more frequently. Slowly transition to the next size as your baby grows.

Specialized nighttime AIOs

Some cloth diaper companies now make overnight-specific AIO diapers. These contain extra padding zones, stretchier and wider sizing, and more layers of integrated soakers.

Overnight AIOs are purpose-built for heavy wetting with 12+ hours of absorbency. The only inserts needed are doublers for extremely heavy wetters. Try overnight AIOs before adding 4+ regular inserts to a daytime diaper.

Maximizing AIO absorbency

Here are some tips for getting the most out of your AIO diapers’ absorbency:

  • Allow AIOs to fully dry between uses. Don’t stack wet diapers.
  • Use dye-free, bleach-free detergent without fabric softeners or dryer sheets.
  • Wash in hot water, heavy soil cycles every 2-3 days.
  • Dry AIOs completely on high heat.
  • Strip diapers routinely to remove buildup.
  • Replace elastics as they lose tension.
  • Handwash stained areas with stain remover or sunning.
  • Don’t use vinegar or baking soda which compromise absorbency over time.

When to use other diaper types

AIOs aren’t the only option for cloth diapering. Certain situations may call for other diaper types and systems:

  • Newborn stage – Prefolds and covers are easiest to get the right fit.
  • Very heavy wetting – Fitteds with wool or PUL covers provide maximum absorbency.
  • Frequent changes – Pocket diapers stuff with prefolds are convenient.
  • Caregivers changing diapers – Hook-and-loop closures are easiest.
  • Nighttime – Fitted diapers and hybrids excel overnight.
  • Blowouts – Covers contain messes better than AIOs.

Having a mix of diapering systems helps handle every situation. AIOs make great daytime diapers. But experiment to find the best options for overnights, frequent changes, and heavier wetters in your family.

What if you don’t want to use inserts?

If you decide you don’t want the added hassle of inserts, focus on finding AIOs with maximum built-in absorbency. Here are some options to try:

  • Look for hemp and bamboo blends, organic cotton, and multiple soaker layers.
  • Choose a bigger AIO size to allow for more padding.
  • Use AIOs only for daytime and switch to more absorbent diapers overnight.
  • Change AIOs frequently to avoid oversaturating their capacity.
  • Accept using fast-absorbing stay-dry liners to manage wetness against skin.
  • Switch to more absorbent diaper systems like fitteds + covers for heavy wetting situations.

Prioritize finding super absorbent AIOs. Change diapers often, and have backup options for heavy wetting times. With the right AIOs matched to your baby’s needs, inserts may not be necessary.


Do all-in-one cloth diapers need inserts? It depends on the specific AIO absorbency, your baby’s wetness, and situations like overnights and activities. Heavier wetters and concentrated pees are when AIOs usually need absorbency boosting.

Evaluate your baby’s habits and diaper contents to decide if and when extra inserts are warranted. Add inserts strategically for heavy wetting circumstances only to avoid excess bulk. Finding high absorbency AIOs and changing frequently may negate the need for doublers.

Focus on keeping your baby comfortable, preventing leaks, and making cloth diapering easy. If that means using certain inserts at times, go for it. With the right absorbency and fit, your AIOs can handle even the heaviest wetter. Adjust and boost absorbency as needed for leak-free cloth diapering success.

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