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 well known 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 first.  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 usually 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 wherein the western company creates a list of specifications, or product must haves, and the manufacturer comes up with a prototype that then gets looked over, tweaked, and so on until a final product is created that satisfies the North American brand’s owners.

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, and so 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 and 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 listed 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.

To really compare the two, also note that 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 Caveat: 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 may get you through the early months (which 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 often, 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 anyway.

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 these will get you from birth to potty.

4. Used Cloth Diapers

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

Though it takes people aback at first, used cloth diapers are a clean and cost effective way to save money on cloth diapering. Not only can you find good quality, premium brand cloth diapers for far less used, 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 exact 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 is looking to recover some of the cost of those diapers by reselling them.

Online is the top resource for finding 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.

Websites like Cloth Diaper Trader, and Diaper Swappers specialize in buying and selling used cloth diapers. Many cloth diaper retailers also have used diapers 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 about what products were used on them, the water they were washed in, and how many diapers were used with them (so see how often they were worn and washed), is a good idea as it will tell you if three are any concerns.
  • 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, 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 ate commonplace in the diaper community and they 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.

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 at Amazon, 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 twist, 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” 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 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, as when there is no solid mess, 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 item.

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 likes to feel very dry. For a truly bargain diaper that works well and is a little more comfortable for baby, 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.

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.

With this combination, the microfiber acts as a wicking material, getting the wet away from the skin a little quicker, and the flat, or flower sack towel is the workhorse holding the liquid.

So how cheap is it?

Again, assuming you’re willing to wash every day, you would need about 12-16 diapers.

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.

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

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.

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:

Amazing, right?

1. FREE Diapers

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

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!

Thank you!

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