Cloth diapers have a high price tag. Though you can definitely save money by cloth diapering (click here to see just how much you can save), you might be wondering just how long you can get out of that investment.
How Long Do Cloth Diapers Last?
Many types of cloth diapers have a lot of parts that can wear over time (learn more about the different styles of cloth diapers here), like snaps, elastics and PUL. Each of those materials can also vary in quality. This makes estimating how long a cloth diaper can last difficult.
So how long can a typical cloth diaper last? Generally speaking, you can use cloth diapers for two to three years, at minimum, but you can get much longer out of them if you take good care of them.
Below, I list out the best ways to extend the life of your cloth diapers.
5 Tips to Make Your Cloth Diapers Last Longer
But cloth diapers do have a high price tag and that up-front investment, so you may be wondering what you can do to make them last as long as possible.
Here’s how to get the longest life out of your cloth diaper stash:
1. Buy Quality Materials and Diapers Upfront.
I never discourage anyone from buying inexpensive diapers. For many people, it’s a choice between premium diapers and enough diapers for their baby. After all, diapers are just one of the many expenses a new baby brings with it.
With that said, inexpensive all-synthetic diapers, especially those often referred to as “China cheapies” will not last as long as most expensive North American brands of diapers. This is of course not across the board; it also has nothing to do with geography or ethnicity, and everything to do with modern-day manufacturing.
While many North American diaper brands may have their diapers made in China, in most cases, those diapers are created through a collaborative manufacturing process. In this collaboration, the North American brand creates a list of specifications or product must-haves, and the manufacturer comes up with a prototype they then send back to North America. The North American brand, who has their branding and customer reputation to think about, then evaluates the prototype and either approves it or requests more changes. If there’s a request for tweaks to the prototype this process gets repeated until the final product satisfies the North American brand’s expectations.
China cheapies on the other hand, are diapers made and sold directly from China. The source is often the manufacturer itself, who wants to do what it’s good at, produce high-volume goods at a low cost. The whole selling point for these diapers is their low cost (and sometimes their cute prints), not their superior design or top-notch materials. Meeting a set of standards is not often a part of the process.
As you can guess, this means that when compared to brands made in North America, like MotherEase (Canada) or Thirsties (USA), the quality of diapers direct from China is often sub-par. Compared to these North American brands, who have all sorts of safety standards to meet that aren’t mandatory in China, the materials used in diapers manufactured and directly sold from China are also sketchy at best.
With that said, China cheapies shouldn’t be completely disregarded if you’re in need of budget-friendly cloth diapers that are easy to use. Often sold for under $10 a diaper, well-known Chinese brands that have lasted the test of time – like AlvaBaby or Nora’s Nursery – do in fact offer diapers that are good enough to get you into the toddler years at least. When you’re talking about catching poop and pee, that’s just fine for a lot of folks.
Fine doesn’t mean long-lasting though.
Premium, North American diapers, generally speaking, are going to be made with better materials, and produced to a higher set of brand standards.
If budget is not your concern, but longevity is, buy North American diapers because they will last longer.
2. Have a Large Stash
Whether you buy premium or discount brands, another way to make your diapers last longer is to have more of them. It’s a little obvious but often overlooked that three-dozen diapers all used and washed regularly, will have three times less wear and tear than a single dozen used and washed daily on the same number of babies.
The more each diaper is being dirtied and then being whirled around in a washing machine with detergents, the more wear and tear it’s taking on.
This means the more diapers you have, the less wear and tear each one of them will have on them, and the longer they will last.
3. Buy Simple (Old-School) Diapers
Have you ever noticed that cloth diaper services mainly use prefolds and covers? It’s because they last longer.
Prefolds and covers are very similar to your great-great-great-grandmother’s flat diapers and “rubber pants.” Many great-great-great-grannies covered a lot of bums with a single set of diapers out of necessity and because they were made to last.
Simpler diapers like flats and prefolds last longer than other styles of diapers like all-in-ones, all-in-two’s, and pocket diapers because they have less going on. Less stitching (meaning less holes punctured into them), less plastic, less elastic, less complicated shapes – less opportunities for damage that could shorten the life of the diaper.
4. Hang Them To Dry
While it’s perfectly fine to dry your cloth diapers on medium heat or lower, in the dryer (click here for more info and exceptions) hanging your cloth diapers to dry is much gentler on them and will most likely prolong their life.
5. Wash Them Correctly
A big part of keeping your diapers in tip-top shape is washing them correctly.
Using a cloth diaper routine you got off of a random Facebook group, or Fluff Love University that tells you to use a lot of detergent will lead you to wash problems. Going back to those places for help correcting them can also lead you to using lots of products like bleach, vinegar, water softeners, RLR, etc., unnecessarily.
Starting up front with a wash routine that takes into consideration your unique situation (like the Measure Method I’ve created) and following research based, clearly sourced, information if you need to correct a problem, will cut the amount of wear and tear you put on your diapers dramatically.
For more information on how to create a wash routine that is right for YOU click here.
With just a bit of care and planning, cloth diapers are actually pretty hearty. Though some brands are better at longevity than others — BumGenius, for example, is notorious for elastic stretch, and Alva’s for delamination — on the whole you should be able to make those diapers last for more than one kiddo, easily.
Some things that can go on a diaper, like elastics and snaps, can even be replaced if you’re handy with a sewing machine and can navigate YouTube.
In short, don’t worry, your investment can be protected.