The 5 Cheapest Cloth Diaper Systems

By April Duffy •  Updated: 05/27/24 •  15 min read

Cloth Diapers really are cheaper, just click here for the math. But that doesn’t mean they can’t get pricy.

In this post, I’m going to outline the five cheapest cloth diaper systems.

These ways to cloth diaper a baby are so cheap, that they can fit into almost any budget, and allow you to have the right number of diapers for your baby, so keep reading.

#5 “China Cheapies” (and Extra Inserts)

“China cheapies” is a term that sounds off-putting the first time you hear it, but is actually used in the cloth diaper community to describe the inexpensive and lower-quality pocket diapers sold directly from China. Mainly, the term refers to the price and lack of manufacturing regulations placed on made-in-China products.

While the thought of “cheapie” diapers can be off-putting, 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 Alva Baby and Mama Koala  — 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.

Not all China Cheapies are Created Equal

In this article, I go into detail about what to look for in a good made-in-China diaper, but you also need to beware of counterfeit China Cheapie diapers.

It’s easy to get sucked into “preorders,” “flash sales” and “group buys” on places like Zulily and Facebook. These sales pressure budget shoppers into giving them a chance with the power of the group and some cute, often copyright-infringing prints (no, Disney did not ok that diaper print on the Facebook group buy).

If it sounds too good to be true, and if you can’t find the diaper brand 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 cheapie 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. As you can see when comparing the price of an AlvaBaby pocket diaper to a premium North American pocket diaper, like Thirsties, there is a vast price difference.

Here are their current listings on Amazon. Notice the difference in price between a single Thirsties diaper and a 6-pack of Alva’s (AlvaBaby doesn’t sell single diapers on Amazon any longer):

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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 China cheapies has gotten you super excited, I do have a downer for you.

Unfortunately, most of 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 very 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, bamboo, or cotton, especially for nighttime. For more info about stuffing a pocket diaper for absorbency check out this article.

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

Important Note: I don’t recommend buying China cheapie diapers used. Because of their lower quality, the chances of them being near the end of their life 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 cheapie last through two children’s diaper days unless they were very well cared for and part of a rotation of many diapers.

#4 Prefolds and Diaper Covers

Prefold cloth diapers are very inexpensive. On average each one costs just a couple of dollars, though they do need to be used with a waterproof diaper cover as they aren’t waterproof or have any closures themselves.

It’s the cost of the diaper covers that often tricks people into thinking this method of diapering is more expensive than China cheapies, but that’s not the case. This is because regular diaper covers that don’t have any lining in them (like pocket diaper covers) can be wiped down and reused when they aren’t soiled.

This means that with a prefold and cover combo when baby wet’s their diaper, you can just remove the wet prefold, wipe the cover with a wipe, and then put a fresh prefold in the same cover and put it back on baby. Boom, a diaper change where only the prefold (which you purchased for only 2 or $3 dollars) is changed vs. changing the whole pocket diaper each time (which you purchased for $7 to $10 dollars).

Diaper covers, though more expensive than pocket diapers, can be reused several times as long as they are not soiled with bowel movements.

The other great thing about prefold diapers is that they can be folded in a million different ways to customize the absorbency of the diaper. There are folds for boys, girls, newborns, tummy sleepers and more. You can find a list of the most popular prefold diaper folds here.

Do You Need Additional Inserts with Prefolds?

When baby is a little bit older, you may find that you need additional inserts to add to your prefold diapers, especially for overnights (check out my overnight prefold hack here). But if you’re using prefolds from birth, and have smaller newborn sizes, those newborn sizes can be used as boosters when baby is older. Newborn prefolds are the best investment in this way because they can be used for the entire time you’re cloth diapering.

#3 Flats and Diaper Covers

Flat diapers, which are also called “flats” are large, single-layer absorbent diapers that are folded, placed on baby, and then wrapped in a waterproof diaper cover just like prefolds.

Flat diapers are also inexpensive, but a little bit more versatile than prefolds as they can be wrapped around baby and pinned in many different ways.

Just like with prefolds, you’re only changing out the flat diaper when baby wets, and reusing the diaper cover you’re pairing with it, for a very inexpensive diapering routine.

#2 Flour Sack Towels and Diaper Covers

These diapers are a twist on the “flat diaper” style of diapers. In this case, the flat diaper is a flour sack towel (FST).

Even better than prefolds or flats, FST’s are 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.

Flour sack towels are single-layer, 100 percent 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.

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Pin Free Diaper Fasteners (Boingo Style), 4 Pack

Though Boingo cloth diaper fasteners seems to be out of business at this time, an alternative has popped up so you can still use Boingo-style pins.

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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.

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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.

#1 DIY

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. If you are a sewer though, I have some information on diaper sewing fabrics for you here.

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!

Here’s a quick video to show you how to fold up a t-shirt to create a new-sew diaper:

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 there could be some buildup on the fabric which can cause 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 have more information about stripping cloth diapers 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.

More Money-Saving Cloth Diaper Tips

If you’re looking to save even more money on your cloth diaper stash, check out this post will all of my best money-saving tips for cloth diapers.

Also don’t forget to check out our cloth diaper giveaways page to see if there are any opportunities there!

April Duffy

April is the founder of Cloth Diapers for Beginners and author of The Cloth Diaper Wash & Care Handbook. Since 2015, April has helped well over 75,000 parents and caregivers cloth diaper their children through this website, her book, her YouTube Channel, and the Cloth Diapers for Beginners Facebook Group.