The 5 Cheapest Ways to Cloth Diaper

"I was cursed with expensive taste and a low budget" Meme Image.

Old News: Disposable Diapers are Expensive

It’s old news that cloth diapers 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.”

The Bump

Sure, it’s great to read that cloth diapers cost about half the price of disposables, but $800-$1,000 is still a lot.

Cloth Still Sounds Expensive!

If you’re even a little bit as cheap as me (I’ve been told that I’m so tight I squeak), $800 sounds crazy expensive! It sounds even worse when you think about how, unlike disposables where the cost is spread out, the bill for cloth diapers is up front. Yes, they are cheaper because you get to use them over and over, but you have to buy them all before baby uses them.  For those on a really tight budget, or even no budget, this can seem impossible, especially when you consider how many diaper’s you’ll need to fit your needs. You can get some help to figure out how many diapers you’ll need here.

The good news is that cloth diapering can be done for less—like way less—and that budget diapering can be easy too! I know I’m beginning to sound like a cheesy salesperson here, but trust me, you can put your baby in diapers and save your money too!

Here are the top five cheapest ways to cloth diaper, from cheap, all the way to downright bargain-basement diapering:

The Five Cheapest Ways to Cloth Diaper:

5. “China Cheepies” (and Extra Inserts)

Graphic showing inexpensive diapers and extra inserts.

“China cheepies” is a term used in the cloth diaper community to describe the inexpensive and lower-quality pocket diapers sold directly from China.

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. 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 for either approval or more changes. If there is a request for tweaks to the prototype, this process gets repeated until the final product satisfies the North American brand’s owners expectations.

China cheepies on the other hand are diapers made and sold directly from China, usually from the manufacturer, and are specifically marketed as inexpensive. 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 made in North America brands, like AppleCheeks (Canada) or Thirsties (USA), the quality of diapers direct from China is often sub-par and the source of their materials is often sketchy at best. With that said, they are not to 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, Nora’s Nursery, and Sun Baby–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.

The Dark Side of China Cheepies

In the last paragraph I called the three brands of direct-from-China diapers well-known and said they lasted the test of time; these are important things to note. Researching the diaper you’re planning on purchasing is a must when shopping for China cheepies, and I also suggest buying them through a reliable website like Amazon, which has it’s own return policy to protect it’s customers.

When doing your research, don’t get sucked into “flash sales” and “group buys”. Counterfeit China cheepie diapers like MG Baby Diapers (you can read our review of MG Baby Cloth Diapers here to get an idea how bad they are) have made the rounds on sites like Zulily and others, using these sales and group buys to pressure budget shoppers into giving them a chance. If it sounds too good to be true, and if you can’t find the diaper elsewhere online, assume it’s a counterfeit and either move on, or purchase knowing you could be wasting your money on a diaper that will leak, fit funny, or come apart quickly.

How Much Cheaper Are They?

As mentioned above, AlvaBaby is a trusted China cheepie brand, in fact it might be the most well-known of all the discount diaper brands, which is why I am confident calling it out here as a reliable diaper. AlvaBaby sells packages of diapers on Amazon.  As you can see when comparing the price of these to, say a package of Thirsties diaper covers also sold on Amazon, there is a difference.

Comparing these two packages, it’s important to also note the AlvaBaby package contains six pocket diapers, and 12 diaper inserts, while the Thirsties package only contains five diaper shells with no inserts (you’d need to buy these separately). Sure the quality is a bit lower with the AlvaBaby diapers, but you can certainly see how the per-diaper price can sway many to giving the cheaper diapers a try.

Here’s the Amazon listings to compare the two:

One Problem: You’re going to need extra inserts with China Cheepies

I really hate to be the party pooper, but if the cost of a package of six AlvaBaby diapers has gotten you super excited, I do have a downer for you. Unfortunately, these diapers come with microfiber inserts, the least absorbent kind of insert, and they are also on the thin side. These inserts are likely only to get you through the early months. Thankfully this is when you’re first spending on your stash, so at least they will buy you time to save some cash for further purchases. But when your baby grows and they begin to wet and dirty in larger amounts, these inserts likely won’t cut it and you’ll need to invest in better ones like hemp (my top choice for absorbency), bamboo, or cotton, especially for night time.

Even with the added expense of extra inserts when baby is a few months old, China cheepies are still a great bargain when compared to the cost of building a complete stash of cloth diapers with premium North American diapers, and of course you’ll be diapering your baby from birth to potty for a fraction of the cost of disposables.

So How Cheap Can Diapering with China Cheepies Be?

To get a rough estimate of how much you’d need to spend upfront when choosing to use China cheepie diapers, we’d first need to figure out how often you’d be washing diapers. Since the whole point of this post is saving money, let’s say you’re set on washing every single day. This means you’ll only need one day’s worth of diapers, plus a few extra to wear when washing, and /or when illness or accidents mean a few extra diaper changes. Since most China cheepies are pocket diapers, they need to be washed after every poop or pee.

Note: Sometimes China cheepie diapers are labelled all-in-ones or all-in-twos when they are pocket diapers. AlvaBaby diapers for example, are all pocket diapers even though sometimes they are labelled AI0’s. When shopping for diapers, look carefully at the photos, if they show a pocket and include separate inserts, they are pocket diapers.

Using the information about how many diapers you’ll need from this post, we can estimate that you’d need about 12-16 diapers for daily washing.

The package of six AlvaBaby diapers listed above is a great deal, is shipped from a reliable seller (Amazon), is a reliable brand, and comes in a few print combinations (at the time of publication anyway), so we’ll go ahead and use that as our hypothetical choice. Two packages of six AlvaBaby pocket diapers, which come with 12 microfiber inserts each, plus a few additional, quality inserts like these from Thirsties (depending on how many naps your baby takes, I’d suggest at least four to have them on hand for naps and nighttime) will give you 12 diapers to work with, and enough absorbency to get you through most situations.

Though this number of diapers will have you washing a lot, and if your baby is a particularly heavy wetter, you may need additional solutions at night, if you’re on a budget they will do just fine, and likely you won’t need to even consider additional purchases until baby is several months old, which will give your wallet time to recover from that first spend.

I won’t write the total amount here for you, as prices can change quickly on online items, but with some quick addition of the current prices it’s easy to see that this method of cloth diapering is downright cheap when compared to our original cloth estimate, and is comparable to just a few large boxes of disposables, which would last you a few months at most, whereas you’ll be using these ones for years to come.

4. Used Cloth Diapers

Graphic showing thrift shops and buy/sell groups as a source for used cloth diapers.

“What USED diapers?”

Yup!

Though it takes people aback at first, used cloth diapers are a clean and effective way to save money on cloth diapering. Not only can you find good quality, premium brand cloth diapers for far less, but you’ll also get to feel good about the lightened impact on the environment, and you’ll get to meet another cloth diaper user who may have some great one-on-one advice for you, gained while using your own diapers!

Where To Find Used Diapers

Used diapers are almost as plentiful as new diapers once you start looking. Every parent or caregiver who has used cloth diapers and has some that are still in good condition when they are done diapering babies will be looking to recover some of the cost of those diapers by reselling them.

Online is the best place to find used cloth diapers nowadays, though thrift shops can sometimes be a goldmine, and if you belong to any local playgroups, I wouldn’t count out asking around there either.

Facebook buy/sell groups, mommy groups, and buy-nothing groups are often full of cloth diaper offers, and a quick search for cloth diapers on Facebook will bring up some specific used diaper groups for buying and selling.

Off of Facebook, websites like Cloth Diaper Trader, and Diaper Swappers specialize in buying and selling used cloth diapers. A few cloth diaper retailers also have used diapers (also called “pre-loved”) for sale as well, so checking your favorite retailer can be a good place to start.

Special Considerations When Buying Used Diapers

Of course if you have bought anything used in the past you’ll know there are some special considerations and precautions you’ll need to take as not everyone in this world is honest, nor are they necessarily well-versed in cloth diaper care. Since there are no returns when purchasing used, you’ll need to consider the following:

  • The person you’re buying the diapers from may or may not have taken great care of them.  Asking what products were used, the water they were washed in, and how many diapers were used with them (to gauge how often they were worn and washed), is a good idea as it will tell you if there are any potential problems.
  • Diapers do wear out eventually and need repair. Checking the elastics, PUL, and snaps/Velcro is essential as these often where diapers will wear out.

For more details about what to ask a seller of used diapers and what to look for when you get to see them in person, check out the Cloth Diapers for Beginners Guide to Used Cloth Diapers here.

But Aren’t they Dirty? How to I Sanitise them?

It’s understandable to be worried about dirt and bacteria on used diapers, after all they are going to be put on the most intimate area of the most delicate and vulnerable person you’re responsible for. But take heart; used diapers are commonplace in the diaper community and can easily be sanitised to be even better than new in some cases.

Sanitation is done by soaking diapers in bleach, and then rinsing them and washing them thoroughly. Some also choose to “strip” their used cloth diapers as well, or to use special cloth diaper washing products like GroVia Mighty Bubbles, but unless you’ve been given a reason to worry about buildup of minerals or products while questioning the previous owner, this is often not needed.

Is a Bleach Soak Necessary?

Yes. A bleach soak is very important when preparing used cloth diapers for a new baby to ensure bacteria and any contagious infections (such as yeast, which is common) are not passed on, often causing rashes that need to be treated.

Specific instructions on how to do a bleach soak for used diapers can be found in the Used Diaper Guide here.

Just How Cheap are Used Cloth Diapers?

It is near to impossible to put a dollar amount on how much used cloth diapers can/will cost you as the amount you pay will depend on the brand, type, number and condition of the diapers you’re looking to buy. The market for cloth diapers at any given time will also play a factor in how much a used diaper can sell for. Limited edition diapers can also grab a higher price as super-fans of some particular brands treat them like collectors items (honestly, it’s a thing!).

If you’re looking for a bargain, don’t be afraid to shop around and barter, you’ll never know how low someone is willing to go until you ask.

No matter what price you negotiate, you’ll be paying far less than retail when buying used.

Author Note: I don’t recommend buying China cheepie diapers used. Because of their lower quality, the chances of them being near the end of their usability when bought used are very high. While it’s common to hear of high-quality North American brand diapers lasting through several babies, it’s equally rare to see a China cheepie last through two children’s diaper days unless they were very well cared for and part of a rotation of many diapers.

3. Flour Sack Towels

Graphic showing a diaper cover and flour sack towels.

If you’re set on getting new diapers, but don’t want to use pocket diapers like the China Cheepies mentioned above, there is an even cheaper way to cloth diaper your baby with new diapers: flour sack towels! Even better, this method is accessible to most people because it is actually done with items you’ll be able to find on Amazon, at your local Walmart, or even your local dollar store.

These diapers are a twist on the “flat diaper” style of diapers, which are also called “flats.” Flats are large, single-layer absorbent diapers that are folded, placed on baby, and then wrapped in 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 to the touch when they are dry, they actually hold a lot of liquid, which is why they make such great flat diapers.

Using Flour Sack Towels with Covers

When using flour sack towels as flats, 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 much more than the trusty flour sack towel.

Note: Diaper inserts are not usually called “diaper liners.” Diaper liners are thin “flushable” gauze-like rectangles that are used to make removing poop from diapers easier and to protect them from products and/or stains. You can learn more about cloth diaper liners here. 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 it absorbs inside and stops it from leaking out onto clothes, furniture, parents, etc.

Inserts, including flats, can also be used as the stuffing inside a “pocket diaper” which is essentially just waterproof cover that has an attached lining, though I highly recommend a standard diaper cover like this one, which has no lining. When the cover has no lining, every time there is no solid mess at diaper change time, the shiny laminated inside can be wiped clean and reused several times before needing to be washed. This means you can diaper with fewer covers, which are the more expensive items in a flour sack towel and cover diaper system.

Wool covers are also a great option, but they are often more expensive than the common PUL covers, and their care is a bit different.

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 make them more effective 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 diaper cover.

The cover is often what keeps the diaper secure, though when using flats (like a flour sack towel) 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 for this. 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 don’t use fasteners like pins or a Snappi.

When Using Flour Sack Towels, Do You Need Anything Else?

Aside from the fasteners mentioned above, which are optional, 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 or for naps and nighttime. Hemp or bamboo boosters are always my top recommendations for heavy wetters and for overnight.

For a truly bargain diaper you can even try pairing the flour sack towel with a new microfiber cloth, you can get these on Amazon here, or even from your local dollar store.

With this combination, the microfiber acts as a wicking material, soaking liquid up quickly and the flat, or flower sack towel is the workhorse holding it all in.

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 type of fabric. 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.

So how cheap is it?

Once again, we’ll assume you’re willing to wash every day (this is an article about the cheapest ways to cloth diaper after all) and your baby is past the newborn stage you would need about 12-16 diapers and about 6-7 diapers covers. 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.

Here are the current prices on Amazon for flour sack towels and a few good diaper cover choices. I won’t do the math here as prices change too often for me to keep this post up-to-date, but adding up the current price for that number of towels and covers will quickly give you a rough cost for this method of cloth diapering.

Once again, this 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 the cost of a few boxes of disposables.

2. DIY

Graphic showing a fleece fabric and old t-shirt

My second cheapest way to cloth diaper once again is a combination of a flat and diaper cover system. This time, instead of buying flour sack towels and ready-made covers, you’re going to make both the flat and the cover 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 saying you can’t mix and match things to suit your needs, but I’m grouping these DIY diapers together to show you just how cheap it diapering can be.

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, just a Google or YouTube search away.

Below, I have no-sew options to make both the diaper insert and cover; you will need both to create a complete diaper.

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. You can read more about the differences in this article about DIY cloth diaper liners. Microfleece makes great diaper liners precisely because it wicks wetness easily.

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 for just a few dollars, like this one from Amazon, just make sure it says “polar fleece” and not microfleece. Though I had a hard time in store, it might still be worth checking your local fabric store as well Walmart, Target, etc.

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 tell you 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:

If you try this method of making cloth diapers using old t-shirts, you should take a moment to consider how the t-shirt was washed during all the years it was worn as a shirt. If you regularly used fabric softeners and/or detergent with softeners on those t-shirts. Fabric softeners are of course not recommended for diapers as they cause buildup on fabric, which can lead to repelling (you want your diapers super absorbent, not water repellent).

If you know that you used a lot of softeners on them in the past, you may want to consider stripping them before use as a diaper to make sure they don’t have buildup on them that could make them repellent rather than absorbent. I recommend RLR laundry treatment for cloth diaper stripping. You can read about RLR here.

So how cheap is it?

Well, if you have an old polar fleece blanket and some old t-shirts lying around, this method of cloth diapering can be completely free!

Amazing, right?

Even if you don’t have these items lying around, you should be able to find polar fleece fabric or throw blankets and old t-shirts cheaply either at your local Wal-mart, Target, or thrift store.

1. FREE Diapers

Graphic showing that diaper banks, friends, and community sharing groups can be sources of free diapers.

If you’re just not into DIY, even when it’s no-sew, there are still opportunities to find free diapers. The free diaper you’ll find through the resources listed below will be retail cloth diapers, so even if you are planning on DIY, they may be worth looking at if you’d like to add some standard cloth diapers to your cloth diaper stockpile.

Here’s a list of places to look for free diapers:

  • Buy Nothing Project: The Buy Nothing Project is a collection of Facebook groups, split up by local area (down to the community level), where participants give and receive items from their neighbours all for free (in fact you’re not even allowed to recommend purchasing something). As the Buy Nothing Project website explains, “People give clothes, dinners, crock pots, plants, garden tools. We’ve seen used and clean Ziploc bags offered, laundry detergent, antiques, bicycles, canoes, kombucha, branches, flowers, cement blocks, eggs, beds, broccoli, custard, and crickets. There’s no limit to what you can give or receive.”

    I myself have given and received cloth diapers from my local Buy Nothing group. The diapers exchanged there will most often be used, and the condition will depend on every case, but I myself had nothing but good experiences with these groups and got to try a number of different cloth diaper brands thanks to the generosity of my community’s members. Even if you don’t think you’d take used diapers this way, I strongly suggest you check out your local group, if for nothing else the sense of community and motivation to de-clutter your own home!

    Click here to search for a Buy Nothing group near you.
  • Cloth Diaper Retailer Facebook Groups: While you’re on Facebook checking out your local Buy Nothing page, make sure to find and like the Facebook pages of the cloth diaper retailers and brands you like the most or are local to you. Cloth diaper retailers like Calgary Cloth Diaper Depot, Lil’ Monkey Cheeks, AppleCheeks Cloth Diapers, and so many many more, often hold Facebook and Instagram giveaways where they draw for diapers.
    Back in 2015 when I first began my cloth diaper journey, I won three cloth diapers this way, so don’t think you won’t win!
  • Cloth Diaper Banks: American diaper banks like Share the Love and GroVia Gives, and Canadian banks like One Diaper Canada, Babies In Cloth, Cloth for a Cause, exist to help low income families diaper their babies.  If you have a financial need for diaper assistance, these programs can be a wonderful find.

    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 full 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.

Conclusion

Diapering your baby can cost you thousands; or it can be free. It all depends on your individual needs, willingness to get creative, and ability to seek out those deals.

I hope you can use the five ways I’ve outlined here to save money while cloth diapering helpful. My goal is to help simplify cloth diapers for those completely new to it, and that includes simplifying things financially.
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) so please contact me or leave a comment below if that’s the case.  Your questions will help me clarify it for the many other people who will likely have the same question, so please ask!

If you have any cloth diaper money saving hacks of your own, I’d also love to hear those! Leave them in the comments below and maybe they will help out another cloth diaper beginner start their cloth diaper stash as well.

Thank you!

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