The Guide to Used Cloth Diapers for Beginners

Umm, Used Diapers? Really?

Yes! It can sound crazy the first time you hear it, but second-hand cloth diapers are totally a thing. Here’s why you should get excited about that:

  1. Save Money. If you’re on a budget, used cloth diapers can save you a ton of money. Depending on the demand and supply of used diapers in your area, you may be able too get a haul of brand name cloth diapers for less than the cost of a few boxes of disposables. And if those diapers are in good condition, don’t forget they can last for many of your own babies still.
  2. Money Back. If there are people buying cloth diapers, there are people selling them. When you are done with your cloth diapers, and if your diapers are in good condition you can turn around and sell them. This means that not only did you spend less money on diapers by choosing cloth, but you can get some of the money you did spend back! How incredible is that?
  3. Save the Earth’s Resources. I know not everyone who visits this site is interested in cloth for it’s environmental impact, and that’s ok, but it would be silly not to mention the environmental impact of buying used cloth diapers here.
  4. Get those Limited Editions. This one is more for those cloth diaper enthusiasts who can’t get enough of the cute prints, but it can also be a point of interest for anyone who discovers the ideal diaper for them has been discontinued. To explain, used cloth diapers are not only budget and environment saving, but they can be a great way to get your hands on diaper prints and styles that are no longer available in stores or online. 
  5. One-on-one Advice. A big side benefit of buying used is that you can have at least one face-to-face conversation with another person who has tried cloth diapers. I recommend really taking advantage of that opportunity and asking that person about the specific diapers you’re buying as well as for any general tips they can give you. If you jive with that person, why not ask if you can contact them with more questions if they pop up later.
    In an environment where cloth diapers can still be a little controversial, it’s great to have a local parent or guardian to remind you that cloth diapering is actually pretty great.
  6. Broken-in Diapers. Cloth diapers become more absorbent after several washes. Therefore, if you’re buying used diapers you’re getting diapers that have been washed several times, and therefore at high absorbency already.

What to Ask When Speaking to the Seller

So if you’re now on board with pre-loved cloth diapers, let’s go over some questions you should ask when you find some used diapers you think you’d like to buy.

1) What condition are the diapers in?

If you’re looking online for used diapers, there are usually some clues to the condition of the diapers right in the advertisement.  Here are a list of common acronyms that sellers will use to describe the condition of the diapers:

  • BN = Brand New
  • BNWT (or NWT) = Brand New with Tags
  • B/S/T = Buy, Sell, Trade
  • NIP = New in Package
  • LN = Like New
  • EUC = Excellent Used Condition
  • VGUC = Very Good Used Condition
  • GUC = Good Used Condition
  • UC = Used Condition
  • NR = Needs Repair

While a good starting point, with the exception of brand new items, these descriptions are open to interpretation, and obviously the person selling the diapers will want to describe them as good as possible in order to get the best price.

Because of this, when you speak to the person selling the diapers you’ll want to also ask directly about the condition of the diapers, including specifically asking about the condition of the elastics and the condition of the PUL (the fabric most commonly used in diaper covers, and that is used in all-in-one diapers). The leg elastics and PUL are the first things to expire in cloth diapers, so these will most often be the biggest concerns. Information on how to check the elastics and PUL is available below.

2) How have you washed and dried the diapers, and what detergents and/or softeners have you used?

Cloth diapers aren’t really that difficult to care for and wash, but at the same time there are certain rules that should be followed in order to keep them clean and working properly.

The most significant of those rules is to not use any fabric softeners. Fabric softeners are designed to coat fabrics, which causes buildup on the diaper. This build up will eventually make diapers water resistant, which will lead to leaks. Softener buildup can also cause rashes.

Another red flag is homemade or DIY detergents. If the seller tells you they make their own natural detergent, you’re likely buying diapers that haven’t been cleaned properly in a long time. Homemade detergents don’t have enough cleaning ingredients (surfactants) and are usually made with harsh, high pH caustic soda ash or borax that is hard on fabric and causes dirt redeposits on the diapers.

Using softeners or homemade detergents might not be a deal breaker if the diapers are only lightly used, but you’ll need to know this when preparing them for your own baby.

3) Have you used any diaper creams or ointments with them?

Just like the no fabric softeners rule, there are two ingredients found in many diaper creams that are a no-no. Both Zinc and Petroleum are not cloth diaper safe as they coat the fabric, causing repelling issues and stains.

Make sure the diapers you are considering haven’t been exposed to creams with either of these two ingredients.

4) How long have you had the diapers, and did you buy them new?

Cloth diapers last for a long time, but they are of course not going to last forever without maintenance like changing elastics and so on. Knowing how old the diapers are and how many babies they have diapered will help you gage how much life is left in them. Depending on your own needs — are you diapering one baby, or hoping to have future babies in those diapers as well — this may be an important consideration.

5) Are these diapers a large part of your stash, or were they used in rotation with more diapers?

The more diapers you have, the less wear and tear each individual diaper will experience. It follows then that if you’re buying diapers from someone who had a small lot (or “stash”) of diapers, those diapers will be in rougher shape than someone who had a large stock of diapers to run through.

5) Do you have hard water?

After you purchase the used diapers, you will need to clean and disinfect them. If the previous owner had hard water buildup on the diapers, there will be extra work involved in this process for you to make sure they are clean, so you’ll need to know this information. Instructions on cleaning and sanitizing used diapers is below.

What to Look for When Purchasing Used Cloth Diapers

If you’ve heard all good things during your conversation with the seller, and you’re now in the position of inspecting the diapers before buying, there are four things you’ll want to check before handing your money over: the condition of the elastics; the condition of the PUL; and the condition of the snaps and/or Velcro (also called by its generic name hook and loop).

Check the Elastics in Used Diapers

Often, the elastic bands are the first parts of a cloth diaper to fall apart. While most cloth diapers are well constructed, and most cloth diaper owners take good care of their cloth diapers, elastic is just one of those things in life that have a shorter lifespan. Unfortunately, the elastic is how the diaper stays nice and tight around baby’s legs in order to prevent leaks, and so it’s very important to make sure the elastic is in good shape before trusting it to hold wetness in. Here are three things to check for when evaluating if the elastics in a used diaper need replacing or not:

  1. Crunch. If  you touch the elastic and it feels hard or brittle, and if it crackles and crunches when you stretch it, the elastic is completely shot and absolutely needs to be replaced before using the diaper even once. There’s just no way around this one, as the elastic is so dried out and rotten that it has this crunch to it, it no longer has any use. This doesn’t mean the rest of the diaper is very old or no good, it could have just been stored improperly (air tight containers aren’t so great for elastic) and changing the elastic may be all that is needed to have a top-notch diaper.
  2. Roll. Feel the elastic the entire way around the leg looking for any spots where the elastic is rolled rather than laying flat inside the seam. If you find rolled spots, or if the entire elastic is rolled consider changing the elastic.
  3. Stretch. A diaper elastic will stretch and snap back back a good two inches or more when fresh, an elastic with not much pop back may need replacing.
Check the PUL

Most cloth diaper covers, and shells (including pocket diaper covers and the outside of AiO diapers) are made of PolyUrethane Laminate (PUL).  PUL is a fabric (typically polyester but sometimes cotton or polyblend) that’s been adhesive heat laminated on one side to a layer of polyurethane film. PUL is waterproof, which is why it’s used on the outside of diapers to keep wetness in. It should come as no surprise then that cracks or delimitation of PUL means leaks, and it also spells the end of that diaper or diaper cover.

Two things you want to check for are:

A. Cracking (video courtesy of The Towers)

B. Delamination (video courtesy of Darlings Downunder)

Check the Snaps or Velcro

It may be obvious, but you should have a good look at the waist closures of the diaper. Cracked or flattened snaps, and velcro that is wavy or crunch to the touch spell disaster, so have a close look for any irregularities.

What is the Resale Value of Used Cloth Diapers?

Once you’re confident in the quality of the diapers you’re considering, you might be wondering now much you can haggle. Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer for you here. How accessible cloth diapers are in your area, how many used cloth diapers are available in your area, as well as the brand and style of cloth diapers you’re buying will all play a role. I recommend looking in as many places as you can think of and reading as many used cloth diaper advertisements as you can find before even contacting one you’re interested in, just to see what seems to be fair pricing where you are.

Where Can I Find Good Used Diapers?

Here are some suggestions for where to look:

  • Facebook. There are many cloth diaper buy/sell/trade groups. Try to find one close to you. Also, ask around in your mommy Facebook groups (if you’re involved with one)
  • Craigslist (or Kijiji in Canada)
  • Second-hand consignment shops
  • Cloth Diaper Trader
  • Diaper Swappers
  • Some online retailers like Modern Cloth, Diaper Junction, and Kelly’s Closet sell used cloth diapers as well, so check you’re favorite cloth diaper store.

You Bought Used Cloth Diapers, Now What?

Congratulations on choosing used. I bet your bank account is thanking you, and let me thank you for your help in sustaining our environment!

Now that you have your fancy new-to-you diapers, you’ll need to clean and sanitize them before you put them on your own baby for the first time.

Even if you’re confident that the person who had the diapers before you knew what they were doing, infections and the like can linger, so special precautions are needed to make sure nothing is passed from their older baby, to your new one.

I have a full post that will take you through cleaning and sanitizing your used cloth diapers here, so do go check that out when you’re ready and make sure to follow the directions.

Go Ahead and Love Your New-to-You Diapers

Once your used diapers have been bleached and washed they are ready to use. No stripping is needed as the bleach soak has disinfected them.

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