If you’re even a little bit as cheap as me (I’ve been told that I’m so tight I squeak) figuring out the cheapest way to cloth diaper is pretty darn exciting. The chance to know that diapering your baby (or babies) will only cost you $xx.xx (and we’ll work out just how low x can be below) when it normally costs $x,xxx.xx would be pretty cool, right? Oh and you saved the planet a little, and it was healthier for your baby too, but we’re not bragging or anything!
I’ll be posting an in-depth look at cloth diapers vs. disposable diapers soon, but for now, suffice it to say that cloth diapers, even the most expensive ones, are way cheaper than disposable diapers—we’re talking thousands of dollars in savings before that little one is potty trained.
Here’s what The Bump had to say about the cost comparison in their article Diaper Decisions: Cloth Diapers Vs. Disposable:
“A typical family can spend between $2,000 and $3,000 per baby for two years on disposable diapers while cloth diapers and accessories run about $800 to $1,000 if you wash them yourself. If you go with a cloth diaper laundering service it will run you closer to the cost of disposables around $2,500 to $2,800. But also keep in mind that you can reuse cloth diapers on any new siblings that come along.”
While I’m sure you’re interested to read cloth diapers cost about half the price of disposables, $800-$1,000 is a lot. To me, the squeaky tightwad, $800 is crazy expensive! I personally spent about $400 CDN on cloth diapers when starting out, and that gave me a massive stash (a post on that is forthcoming as well). Buying used, finding free diapers and shopping sales helped me keep my costs down, but I had not known about these cheap cloth diapering methods at the time.
What I wish I had known when I was a cloth diaper beginner is that it can be done for even less—like way less—and that cloth diapering the way that is the cheapest is actually easier! I know I’m beginning to sound like a cheesy salesperson here, but trust me, you can put your baby diapers and save your money too! Here are the top three cheapest ways to cloth diaper, from cheap, to downright bargain-basement diapering:
1. The Cheapest Way to Buy Cloth Diapers
This first way to cloth diaper cheaply happens to also be the easiest way to cloth diaper. Even better, this method is accessible to most people because it is actually done with items you’ll be able to find (or order from) your local Walmart and/or dollar store. These diapers are a twist on the cover + flat diaper combination, which involve using a “flat diaper” inside a waterproof diaper cover. In this case, the flat diaper is a flour sack towel.
Flour sack towels are single layer, 100 per cent cotton fabric cloths. While these towels may feel a little flimsy, they actually hold a lot of liquid, which is why they make such great “flats” for diapers.
Using Flour Sack Towels with Covers
When using flour sack towels as flat diapers, the towel itself acts as what is commonly called a “diaper insert.” You can buy fancy hemp, bamboo, terrycloth, and cotton inserts or”pre-fold”inserts, which all do essentially the same thing (absorb pee) but they will all cost more than the trusty flour sack towel.
Note: Diaper inserts are not usually called “diaper liners.” Diaper liners are thin “flushable” gause-like rectangles that are used to remove the poop from the diaper without using a sprayer (i.e. you just dump it and the poop in the toilet). If you are shopping for cloth diaper inserts, do not confuse them with liners.
All inserts, no matter what kind or shape, are placed inside a waterproof cover, which is what keeps the moisture the insert absorbs from leaking. Inserts, including flats, can also used as the stuffing inside a “pocket diaper” which is essentially just a different kind of waterproof cover.
Before laying a flat inside a cover, which in this instance is the flour sack towel, it will need to be folded up to fit inside the cover without any poking out at the top or sides. There are lots of fancy folds you can find online to put make them more absorbent for boys and girls, hold the poop in better, etc., but really, the main thing is just folding it so the baby’s bottom is covered and it fits inside the cover.
The cover is often what keeps the diaper secure, though when using flats you may choose to secure them onto the baby before putting on the cover in order to keep them in place better when baby is moving around. Pins, Snappis, or Boingos can all be used to secure flour sack towels. if your diaper cover is a “pocket diaper” the towel is folded and stuffed inside the cover between the fabric layer and the waterproof layer. This last statement makes sense when holding a pocket diaper, but may not if you’re reading about them for the first time. All you need to know here is that if you have pocket covers, you likely won’t need fasteners like pins or Snappi‘s.
When Using Flour Sack Towels, Do You Need Anything Else?
Aside from the fasteners mentioned above, you don’t really need anything more than a cover and a flour sack towel to diaper your baby.
With that said, you may choose to “boost” the absorbency of your flour sack towel with additional inserts if your baby is a heavy wetter. For a truly bargain diaper that works well and is a little more comfortable for baby, try layering a new microfiber cloth from Dollarama into the flour sack towel to boost it’s absorbency.
Caution: Microfiber should not be placed against the skin. If you’re using a microfiber cloth or insert to boost the absorbency, it should always be topped with another layer. When used with a flour sack towel, fold the towel around the microfiber so that one or two layers of the folded towel are between the microfiber and baby’s skin.
In this combination, the microfiber acts as a wicking material, getting the wet away from the skin, and the FST is the workhorse holding the liquid.
The Most Economical Diapers You Can Buy
I promised math in this post, so let’s get down to how much it will cost you to diaper your baby using this method.
To start, you’ll need some good diaper covers. There are many diaper covers to choose from, in various prints, in the typical PUL material. You can also use wool covers, either manufactured ones or ones you knit yourself. To keep our calculations clean and easy, we’re going to assume you’re choosing a PUL cover. Since I promised you can purchase everything you need from Walmart or the dollar store, we’ll use examples from those stores.
Currently the only diaper cover shown to be in stock at Walmart is a Bumkins cover, but by the looks of it, it’s a good, average quality. It fits 7-28 lbs using all of the adjustable snaps. This should allow most babies to use it from the newborn stage until potty-training time. It comes in three prints and at the time of this posting it is on sale for $8, down from $13.97!
Please note: This site is based in Canada, so this is a calculation from Walmart.ca. The American Walmart.com actually has many more options available, you can check them out here.
Diaper covers do not need to be changed at every diaper change. A diaper cover should be changed at every bowel movement, but if the baby has just peed you simply remove the insert, wipe the cover, and place another insert inside.
In general, you’ll need 6-8 diaper covers for a newborn, 4-6 diaper covers for an older baby, and 3-4 diaper covers for a toddler. Since the Bumkins diaper covers should fit from birth onward, getting about six covers should be enough to get a baby from birth to potty without too much fuss. Six of these covers at the sale price would be $48.
Now we, need some flour sack towels to fill those covers. Walmart offers a Mainstays Flour Sack 5 pack for $6.94.
Again, please note that these are from Walmart.ca, flour sack towels from Walmart.com can be found here.
For most babies, you’ll want to have between 16 and 25 diapers available in order to allow for frequent, but not constant, washing and to cover your bases should an illness happen that makes your little one wet or poop more than usual. For many parents, 20 diapers is a comfortable amount, and it also happens to be easily dividable by 5, the number of towels in one package. This means our flour sack towel diaper cost would be $27.76.
For the sake of argument, let’s also assume that a pack of microfiber cloth boosters from the dollar store should be on our list, not only for heavy-wetting, but to make sure we’re keeping the little one feeling as dry and comfortable as possible at night (no one wants wetness to wake a baby up). This will add another $3 to our total.
I don’t have access to US dollar stores, but I am certain this should be an item on the shelves there. They are also available pretty inexpensively on Walmart.com here as well.
So here’s the math for a complete cloth diapering set of covers, flour sack inserts, and microfiber boosters:
$48.00 +$27.76 +$3.00
Now, this most definitely is a bare-minimum diapering plan, but it is completely workable and would not leave any family worried about not having their next diaper clean and ready. Of course, that calculation doesn’t include detergent, wipes, and other accessories needed to diaper a baby, but it’s pretty safe to assume from this total that cloth diapering a baby from birth to potty-training can be done for around $100. This is a far cry from $2,000, or even $800! While this is a great option, we’re not done yet; for those who are a little bit more crafty, cheapest way to cloth diaper is yet to come, but it will take a little bit of DIY.
2. The Cheapest Way to Cloth Diaper a Baby EVER: DIY
The absolute cheapest way to cloth diaper also involves a flat and diaper cover system, but instead of buying them at your local Walmart and dollar store, you’re going to make them from inexpensive items and/or items you have lying around the house. Specifically, fleece blankets (or fabric) and old t-shirts!
Now, I’m not a sewer so I’m selfishly going to assume that if you’re reading this article about the cheapest ways to cloth diaper, you’re not someone who sews and would naturally think about DIY to begin with. For us non-sewers, buying an expensive sewing machine and learning to sew is not a cheap prospect, so the DIY diapers and diaper covers I have included here are no-sew options. If you do sew, there are many more options out there for you on the web.
No-Sew, Inexpensive Diaper Covers
One of the best videos I was able to find on how to make no-sew diaper covers was created by Jess Is Blessed. In this video, Jess illustrates how to create no-sew cloth diaper covers from fleece:
In the video Jess mentions that you don’t want to use microfleece. Microfleece is much thinner and is a wicking fabric (and makes great feel dry liners) whereas fleece is usually sold thicker and is a repelling fabric.
Looking at Walmart in Canada, I did have a hard time finding fleece blankets that were not micro-fleece, in fact I couldn’t find any. Online it is possible to buy fleece fabric however, like his super-cute lumberjack print, which runs $9.97 for a piece 100 x 152 cm (39.37″ x 60″). Using Jess’s measurements largest size of cover, which is the toddler sized cover, we would need a little less than 4 meters (it is sold by the meter, which is 100 cm for all our US readers). So, to get six large covers, we would want to get a generous 4 meters of this fleece for a cost of $39.98. This is just $8.02 less than our purchased covers, with the quality suffering a little (PUL covers are waterproof, whereas fleece is water-resistant), but a good sale on fleece or finding a fleece blanket that’s not microfleece at a physical store for cheaper could really mean big savings. For our purposes here though, I really want to show the hard cost of what I know you can find regularly at your local Walmart or dollar store, and not just a fluke find at a physical store in my neck of the woods, so we’ll use this figure.
Please note: If you’re in America, I have great news for you, I was able to find many fleece blankets on Walmart.com for you for less. At the time of publication a 50″ x 60″ throw can be purchased for $7.97 USD. Since you could make about four toddler-size diaper covers from each one of those, you would only need two blankets, bringing your cost to just $15.94 for eight covers!
No-Sew, Inexpensive Diaper Inserts
Now that you have some fancy new DIY fleece diaper covers, you’ll need some inserts to lay inside them to absorb the wetness. This is where the DIY method gets incredibly cheap, because I’m about to insist that you can get your inserts for free, or nearly free.
What I’m suggesting is that instead of using cotton flour sack towels, you can use cotton t-shirts you have hiding in the back of your closet, or ask your friends to give you those t-shirts hiding at the back of their closets. Everyone has some!
There are two ways to use t-shirts as flat diapers. The first way is to cut it into two diapers, which you’ll see in this video by Kim from Dirty Diaper Laundry:
The second method to create an inexpensive cloth diaper flat from a t-shirt is to just fold the t-shirt, as a whole, around the baby and secure it with fasteners, which you can see done in this video by AlleyymarieSH:
Using the fleece fabric and old t-shirts, here is how much cloth diapering a baby can cost from birth to potty:
3. The Cheapest Way to Cloth Diaper for You: Mix and Match
The third and final method for cloth diapering inexpensively that I’d like to suggest is the one you mix and match for yourself.
Perhaps you will make some t-shirt inserts to use in purchased diaper covers, or vice versa. Cloth diapering, in all forms, is about doing what feels right for you and the baby you’re diapering. If you want to try making diapers, but think a some flour sack towels in the mix might be helpful you can use the totals above to start to piece together a cloth diapering plan that can fit your budget, no matter how tight it is.
Little Bit of This + Little Bit of That
= Your Cloth Diaper Budget
A post on where to find free diapers is forthcoming, but if you are a struggling to cloth diaper your baby, especially if you have a childcare provider that may not want to learn a flat and diaper cover system, I encourage you to check out the many cloth diaper bank programs that may be available in your area. As this site matures, I will be posting a list of them, so please stay tuned and consider signing up to the Cloth Diapers for Beginners newsletter list to stay up-to-date with these posts.
Need More Information?
I hope you find this article helps you cloth diaper for less. If anything in this article confused you more, please, please, please either reach out and contact me, or leave a comment below. My goal is to help simplify cloth diapers for those completely new to it, so if you’re unsure of something, it’s probably because I’ve over-complicated it (so easy to do with all these diaper choices and lingo). Your questions will help me clarify it for the many other people who will likely have the same question, so please ask!