Cloth diapers have a high up-front cost no matter what style of diapers you choose. Knowing how long those diapers will last you, and how to extend their life, will help ease that initial sticker shock, so keep reading.
How Long Do Cloth Nappies Last?
In general, if you’re using a sized cloth diaper system, your cloth diapers will always last through multiple babies as they’re only worn for a short time on each baby. On the flip side, if you’re using one-size diapers, and only have the minimum number of diapers needed to get you through to wash day, it’s unlikely your cloth diapers will last through multiple children unless you take some steps to prolong their life.
But beyond sized diapers and one-size diapers, every type of cloth diaper will have a different life expectancy than others. In other words, the life expectancy of an all-in-one cloth diaper is very different than that of an overnight fitted diaper for example.
Life Expectancy Chart by Cloth Diaper Types
On average a cloth diaper parent will wash their diapers every 2.5 days — any longer than 4 days is not recommended— so we can roughly estimate that the average diaper is washed approximately 146 times per year.
That’s a lot of washes!
Of course, how well those diapers handle those washes depends on a lot of things, including the materials used in the diaper and the quality of the materials used. These two things often vary by brand, but can also be generalized by cloth diaper type.
Below, I have some very rough estimations about how long you can expect a cloth diaper to last. These very rough numbers are pulled solely from my brain and my experience with cloth diapers over the last seven years.
While I usually try not to give just opinion, the true life expectancy of a single cloth diaper has so many variables it’s imposible to put a solid number on them with any evidence. However, I think by giving you my guestimates based on my experience, you’ll have a anecdotal guideline to compare the different styles together. Use these numbers and notes for comparison, not for hard and fast rules about how long any one diaper should last.
|Diaper Type||Life Expectancy*||Why|
|All-in-One (AIO)||2-3 Years||Elastics, snaps/Velcro, and PUL are all sewn together so as soon as one thing goes, it all goes!|
|All-in-Two (AI2)||4-10 Years||Unlike All-in-ones, the covers of all-in-twos can be separated from the inserts and hung to dry, which usually helps extend their life. That said, they still have all the snaps/Velcro, elastic and PUL that can be suceptable to damage. |
Also important is that all-in-twos are usually only made by premium brands, so the materials used are often high-quality.
Note: I have some
|Pocket Diapers||2-6 Years||The quality of pocket diapers varies widely. While a cheaper pocket diaper will rarely last for more than one baby, a higher-quality pocket diaper made from quality materials can be expected to last quite some time. |
Like AI2’s the covers of pocket diapers can be separated from the inserts and hung to dry, which usually helps extend their life.
How long a pocket diaper can be expected to last depends largely on the brand/materials used.
|Diaper Covers (PUL/TPU)||2-10 Years||Diaper covers can also vary widely in quality but can always be separated from any inserts used and don’t really require any dryer time, which can prolong their life. |
Unlike pocket diapers, diaper covers can be used many times and wiped clean if not soiled, which can also prolong their life as their rotation is longer.
|Fitted Diapers||4-10 Years||Fitted diapers can be made of a variety of fabrics like hemp (which is ultra-durable), or delicate synthetic rayons. Fitted diapers can also have snaps/velcro, or not. This wide variation means a wide variation in lifespan. |
Similarly, some fitted diapers are for daily use, and others are for night time, and each scenario can change how long that fitted diaper will last.
Fitted diapers always do contain some leg elastics, which can be a weak point.
|Flat Diapers||2-3 Years||Flat diapers are fantastic natural diapers that don’t have any synthetic bits but their flaw is that they are just a single layer of fabric. While natural fibers wash well, they also tend to get holes quickly. This isn’t a problem when the diapers has many laters, but when a single layer of fabric gets a hole it rips and tears further quickly.|
|Prefold Diapers||4-8 Years||Prefold diapers are tanks. Like flat diapers they don’t have any synthetic parts like elastics, snaps, etc. to create weak points; but unlike flats they also have several layers of sturdy fabric sewn tightly together. Even if your prefold gets a hole in the top layer, just keep using it, it’s fine! |
Prefold diapers are also made from durable materials like cotton and sometimes bamboo or hemp blends.
(See below for things to do to prolong the life of your diapers)
How Long Do Cloth Diaper Inserts Last?
After a time, strong detergents, urine, and endless cycles in the washer will break down the organic fibres of your cloth diaper fabrics; this is normal.
The great thing about using inserts (instead of say an all-in-one) is that they are separate from the diaper cover, so even if they get a hole in them, you can just keep on using them. That’s the beauty of separate inserts!
Because of this, inserts generally have a long lifespan, usually lasting longer than diaper covers, pocket covers, etc.
How to Make Your Cloth Diapers Last Longer: 10 Tips
Luckily, the estimates above are just that, estimates based on what we see in the wild. There are 10 ways you can help make your cloth diapers last longer; they are:
- Have Plenty of Cloth Diapers in Rotation. A big factor in how long your diapers will last is how often they are getting washed. If you have more diapers, each one will get washed less. Having plenty of diapers, and also rotating those diapers so that they all get used equally, will ensure your cloth diaper stash as a whole lasts you a long time.
- Do Brand Research Before Buying Cloth Diapers. While you’re beefing up your cloth diaper stash, make sure to research what brands of diapers you’re buying to make sure you’re getting diapers made from quality materials. You can expect cheaper brands, like those you get from Facebook Groups for less than $10, won’t last long, but also take the time to look into the more premium brands before investing. For example, BumGenius diapers make what’s considered a good diaper and can charge premium prices for them, but they’re also known to have elastics that stretch out faster than other brands.
- Hang Dry Your Cloth Diapers. You can absolutely dry your diapers in a dryer, but strictly speaking, hanging your diapers to dry instead will help prolong their life, though it’s debatable by how much. The problem is that diaper covers, elastics, snaps, and hook and loop (Velcro) tabs are all made from plastics, which don’t do well with heat.
Additionally, with dryer drying not only lint can get trapped in any Hook and Loop diapers you may be drying, but it can also get caught on other diapers in the load creating a bundle of diapers that can stretch themselves while also being heated.
- Don’t Stretch Hot Cloth Diapers. If you do need to dry your cloth diapers in the dryer, make sure to do so on medium or low heat, and make sure to let them cool before you go stretching them or stuffing your pocket diapers. Since most diaper covers/shells are made from PUL, which is polyester laminated with a plastic coating, they are weaker and easier to damage when hot (like most plastics).
- Don’t Over-Bleach Your Cloth Diapers. While bleaching cloth diapers is an important thing to do when disinfecting used diapers or when getting rid of a yeast rash, it’s not something you should be using on your diapers regularly. Bleach, while not the horrible toxic sludge many moms make it out to be, is still a harsher chemical and when used with every washing will break down fabrics. Unless there’s a reason why bleaching needs to be done, it should be kept to a minimum both to prolong the life of your cloth diapers and to keep the PH of your diapers at a neutral level (but that’s a topic for another day).
- Don’t Over-Sun Your Diapers. It’s true, sunning your cloth diapers — letting them dry in direct sunlight — is undoubtedly the BEST stain removal method out there. That said, it’s not something you want to do every single wash. Direct sunlight is harsh and hot.
Just think about what happens to signs in shop windows that get direct sunlight, they fade to white and start to break down. Cloth diapers are even more susceptible to damage from the sun’s rays as they are made from plastics that, again, don’t do well with heat. So while the sun is a great tool, it’s not one to use every day if your goal is to keep your diapers around for a long time.
- Use a Measure Method Wash Routine. The main cause of cloth diapers breaking down over time is the washing process. The more cycles your diapers do in the washer, the more wear-and-tear they go through. Therefore, the less rinsing and re-washing to correct bad wash routines means the more life they’ll have left.
Our Measure Method Cloth Diaper Wash Routines, while they take a bit more time and research to figure out, are the best way that I know of to make sure your initial wash routine is close to perfect (though many wash routines will need tweaking at some point as baby changes) and won’t require days, or weeks of correction-washing.
- Correct Wash Problems with Better Sources. If you do use a cloth diaper routine you got off of a random Facebook group, or Fluff Love University, and you are one of the majority that will then experience wash problems, take the time to look for solid information to fix the problem. Going back to those places for help correcting the problem they created, can also lead you to use lots of products like bleach, vinegar, water softeners, RLR, etc., unnecessarily.
Again, the more cycles to correct problems, the more wear-and-tear on your diapers.
- Buy Simple (Old-School) Diapers. If you’ve looked into cloth diaper services at all, you may have noticed most of them use prefold cloth diapers and covers. This is because they last longer.
As you saw above, 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 fewer holes punctured into them), less plastic, less elastic, less complicated shapes — fewer opportunities for damage that could shorten the life of the diaper.
- Choose Durable Fabrics. Why do prefolds last so long? Because they are made from many layers of sturdy cotton fabric, which is naturally more durable than synthetic fabrics. What lasts longer than cotton? Hemp. Hemp is one of the most durable fabrics around that can withstand years of abuse.
Be warned, however, that hemp inserts tend to be blended with cotton to make them faster absorbing, but this can take away from their durableness. It’s important to note though that Even if your cotton or cotton/hemp inserts get holes in them, you can just keep using them! Get a whole rundown of cloth diaper inserts here.
Important Note: Some parents will read the tips above and then panic if they’ve been drying their diapers in the dryer, or think they should never sun their diapers. Breathe. These are just tips to follow in the long term to make your diapers last longer, they are not “do these things once and you’re diapers are ruined” mistakes.
When Can Damaged Diapers be Fixed?
Usually, the first things to go on your diapers are the elastics. Stretched elastics mean that getting a good fit with your diaper is nearly impossible and leaks often happen as a result.
Luckily, elastics are also replaceable if you know how to sew, or if you’ve bought a cloth diaper brand that sells elastic replacement kits (like Charlie Banana for example). If you can’t find replacement elastics or can sew, jumping on social media and asking around for someone who can be a good option.
Snaps and hook and loop (Velcro) can also be replaced by someone with some DIY and/or sewing savvy, and YouTube is a great place to look for tutorials about doing that.
When Should Cloth Diapers No Longer Be Used?
Unfortunately, once a cloth diaper shell or cover reaches the point of delamination — when the waterproof layer of the cloth diaper begins to pull away from the polyester fabric — it’s no longer any good since delamination will just cause the diaper to leak.
Similarly, if there’s a break in the lamination either from cracking or a tear, the cloth diaper can’t be used anymore, there is no way to fix it and the cloth diaper will just leak all over.
Here’s what delamination and cracking look like:
Even those delaminated diapers may have some life left though; if you’re able to completely remove the lamination fro the diaper shell, you can try out using it as a swim diaper.
If you’re handy at sewing, you can also turn them into some pretty cute doll diapers.
How to Choose Cloth Diapers to Last
Now that you know how long cloth diapers can be expected to last, you can start to think about what brands and styles of diapers might work best for your family.
Jump over to this post to learn more about how to choose the right cloth diaper for you.