Some people that may be interested in cloth diapers may not end up going through with it because of how expensive an investment it is up front. Even though it costs more in the long run, disposables may be more realistic for them because they can spread the cost out. When you go to some cloth diaper retailer websites and start to explore and see that some diapers cost as much to $30-$50 a piece, that can be very disheartening if you are on a budget. The good news for you is that there are most definitely more economical options for cloth diapering, and cloth diapering on a budget is definitely doable!
Flats and/or Prefolds with Covers
One of the cheapest ways to cloth diaper a baby is to use flats or prefolds with covers. Flats and prefolds are essentially just rectangles of cloth. Prefolds usually have many layers to them, while flats are typically just one layer. You use them by folding and putting inside a diaper cover, or you can experiment with different wraps around the baby and secure it with a pin or something called a Snappi.
Many brands of flats can be used as a one-size system, meaning you can use the same flats from birth to potty training. Prefolds are typically sized options, meaning you will need to purchase different sizes as your baby grows, but that gives you more control over the bulk, fit, and absorbency. Prefolds and flats do great at absorbing liquid, but they are not waterproof. That’s where covers come in! You will need to purchase a handful of covers to go with them.
Either way you go, they typically cost between $2-$3 a piece depending on the brand. Covers range drastically in price, but the average cost is around $15 each. You could probably get a complete system for less than $100-$150. They will still be just as functional with second children and beyond.
Hybrid diapers are another great economical option. While hybrids are sometimes a mix between disposable and cloth (meaning they’re not quite as economical), most hybrids have an option for all cloth inserts. Hybrids are similar to prefolds/flats and covers in that it requires a cover, but instead of using a flat or prefold inside, you use an insert that just requires being set in the diaper. No folding or pinning!
Depending on which brand you go with, some will have one size inserts (like Flips) and some will require you to buy multiple sizes (like Best Bottoms). Insert prices range quite a bit depending on the material. If you plan to purchase the inserts designed to go with that particular brand’s hybrid system, you can expect to spend anywhere from $4-$10 per insert. However, you can purchase inserts on cloth diaper retailer sites, or on sites like Amazon that are skin safe and can be used in your hybrid system for much cheaper. Here are some inserts you could consider.
Depending on which type of system you go with, I would estimate the cost of this system to be around $200–more if you need to buy sized inserts.
“Generic” Brand Pockets
If you were hoping to have a more modern style of cloth diaper, there are some “generic” brands of pocket style diapers that are quite good. (These are not to be confused with “China Cheapies”, which I will get into next).
Pocket diapers go on just like a disposable and can be closed with velcro or snaps. The outer shell has an opening between the outer material and in inner lining, in which you can stuff an insert.
Nicki’s Diapers is a diaper retailer with their own brand of pocket for a pretty reasonable price. Imagine Baby is another brand that makes an economical pocket. I have personally used Nicki’s Diapers brand and I really like them–they are very soft and have a lot of cute prints. One pro to generic pockets over the other systems I’ve described so far is that they come with inserts already, you just may find as your baby gets bigger that they outgrow the absorbency of the inserts that come standard with the diapers. They are usually made out of microfiber.
You can get a full stash of these pockets for anywhere from $250-$300.
China cheapies are the nickname given to various brands of cloth diapers that are manufactured cheaply in China. Some of these brands include Alva, Kawaii, Sunbaby, and Happy Flute. There are some mixed feelings about these in the cloth diaper community, but if you are fine with not buying American/Canadian made diapers (like most of the more mainstream brands), then it is a great option!
When I first learned of China Cheapies, I was skeptical that they would hold up over time, so I didn’t purchase any for my firstborn. Once I was pregnant with my second, I decided I wanted to expand my stash a bit. I didn’t want to spend very much, so I ordered some Alvas. I was incredibly surprised at how well they did! I will say that I did have some issues with some seams coming undone around the one-year mark, but I don’t know if that is typical or just a “me problem”–I seem to have many “me problems”… 😉 The issues with the seams were nothing that 10 minutes and a sewing machine couldn’t fix. I could have hand sewed them easily, too. All in all, the issues I had wouldn’t deter me from buying them again because they really are a very economical option.
Expect to spend $6-$8 per diaper on a China Cheapie. They also come with inserts, but just like with the generic brand diapers, you may want to upgrade the type of insert eventually. Luckily, many of these companies also make bamboo and hemp inserts (which are very absorbent!) that you can purchase for a great price.
For a full stash of diapers, expect to spend around $150.
Buying Used Cloth Diapers
Buying used is a great option for getting some pre-loved, quality diapers on a budget. Many people are willing to sell their whole stash at a fantastic price just to get rid of it once they’re out of the diaper stage. It’s also good news for you at the end of your time using diapers–if they’re in decent condition, you can sell yours and get some money back!
To do this, there are some cloth diaper buy/sell/trade groups on Facebook you could join. You could also try looking locally, but that might not give you as many options. It’s worth keeping an eye out, though! When considering used diapers, you will want to check the quality of the PUL and elastics especially. I would also ask about what type of diaper cream they used just to make sure it’s a cloth diaper safe cream. If all of those things check out, you should be good to go!
Once you get the used diapers home, it would be a good idea to do a wash with a little bleach–most likely they were taken care of really well, but you never know. It will give some peace of mind. Here are some instructions for doing a bleach strip.
It’s impossible to say how much this option would cost you because it depends on far too many factors. I recommend joining a couple buy/sell/trade groups on Facebook to see what diapers are going for!
But… It’s Still Cheaper to Buy a $25 Box of Disposables
Yes, it is….but you will probably have to buy more than one box in a month and spend at least $25-$50…just for a month! Here is a tip: When you are pregnant, take the amount that you would spend on diapers in a month once the baby comes and set it aside for 3-5 months. Take that money and buy your diapers. There! You did it! See? That wasn’t so bad.
Cloth Diapering Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive!
While many of the most popular diaper brands are an investment, you don’t HAVE to spend that much to be successful with and enjoy cloth diapering! All the options here are sound; they are wallet-friendly, eco-friendly, and baby-friendly. The quality is really not a lot different from the more expensive diapers, though I’m also not going to pretend that my $6 diaper isn’t any different from a $50 diaper…. I won’t go that far. 😉 But they are solid diapers that will get you through!
Which of these options appeals to you most? Do you have any other ideas for cloth diapering on a budget? Let me know in the comments!