How to Cloth Diaper on a Budget
The secret to cloth diapering on a budget. Don't be surprised, a few raised brows when you share that you are planning on cloth diapering.
I promise it’s no big deal, it's simple, healthier, and will save you money. The whys and hows to cloth diapering can be found here. But right now, we are going to focus on how to cloth diaper on a budget.
First, let’s compare the cost of cloth diapers to disposable diapers. Stats estimate a child will use 2700 diapers per year, and the average child wears diapers for at least 2.5 year . Some kids are in diapers longer.
My daughter is 2.5 years old she is mostly potty trained, she wears a diaper to bed and when we are running errands in town. I estimate 2700 diaper changes a year is about right, in our experience.
Right now, Pampers is $24 for 88 diapers. With 2700 diaper changes this is $736 per year or $1840 per child. There’s a good chance you will still be buying night time diapers after 2.5 years old, so let’s round this out to $2000.
Disposable diapers =$2000 per child
Most of the cloth diapers I have purchased could be used on a second child, with a few needing replacing because either lost or worn out. Cloth diapering does increase your laundry bill. I don’t use a diaper service, our diapers are washed at home and it’s no big deal.
A load of diapers is washed every 2-3 days, roughly 12 extra loads of laundry a month. I make my own detergent, which is so inexpensive it costs me a few cents per load.
I am not sure the cost of laundry, random online stats suggest 29 cents to run the washer, 50 cents to run the dryer, my detergent is 8 cents.
So approximately 87 cents per load or $11 per month. A tip though, if you also switch to cloth wipes instead of buying disposable it will offset the added laundry expense.
Organic laundry detergent will only increase the month laundry bill by 1.24 per month. This organic brand costs 23 cents per load x 12 loads of diapers per month = $2.76
Cloth diapering is cheaper than disposable diapers in the long run, but the initial cost can sting a bit. I spent a lot, I mean a lot of time searching for the least expensive cloth diapering system, that worked.
You can buy super cheapies from Ebay straight from China, I tried and they were a joke.
So, this is the cheapest route that works and I am still using these very same products for the last 2.5 years. We will round up and estimate cloth diapers cost me about $450, but not everything has to be purchased all at once.
Disposable $2000 vs Cloth $790 ($450 diapers + $340 laundry)
It’s not a super fair comparison though, first we saved money by not buying wipes and the diapers will last longer than one child. Saving money isn’t the only reason to cloth diaper, either.
A disposable diaper takes 500 years to break down, and with every kid using 2700 diapers that’s a lot of years! Also, there are some nasty chemicals in disposable diapers that are bad for health.
- Everything you need to know about cloth diapering
- How to make homemade organic DIY diaper rash cream
Types of Cloth Diapers
So, a quick rundown of types of cloth diapers, if you didn’t catch the more detailed article above.
All In One cloth diaper. As the name suggests it is a one step process and you need nothing else. Typically, the priciest option.
I have never personally used, but they are a two-step system that requires an absorb-able insert that is commonly snapped into the crotch of the cover.
This is a two-step process, requiring an insertable pad be placed inside the pocket. I’m not a fan of messing with the pocket, it seems like an unnecessary step. Also, the pads are bulky making playtime difficult, at least with the Kawaii brand I tried.
This is typically the least expensive cloth diapering system and is the one we used. Diaper covers are placed over either a flat or a prefold, which we will discuss in a minute. Now diaper covers have a lot of options too.
- PUL or TPU (most affordable)
- And more….
We are going to focus on the affordable PUL or TPU, which is plastic laminated to one side of polyester fabric.
The difference between PUL and TPU Diaper Covers
PUL and TPU are very similar to one another, they are both plastic laminated to fabric. The difference is in how the plastic is bonded to the fabric.
PUL, Polyurethane Laminate, is chemically bonded and is harder on the environment, but is more durable.
TPU, Thermoplastic Polyurethane, is heat bonded requiring less chemicals and will biodegrade quicker than PUL. It’s easier on the environment and may pose less chemical exposure to your baby .
I don’t like plastic, but the waterproofing is convenient and was the most affordable option. We used TPU covers by Kawaii, they are crazy cheap and adjustable.
TPU is said to be less durable than PUL, some of our TPU covers will not last a second child. The dryer seems to break them down, if they were lined dried I believe all of them would have made it for a second child.
If you want to go completely plastic free you may want to check these out, they have affordable all cloth options The Natural Baby Company.
All Wool diaper covers
I have to mention these because I was very curious if wool diaper covers were waterproof, and like I mentioned earlier I don’t like plastic.
Now they are not waterproof, but neither are PUL/TPU diaper covers. If the baby is very very wet both will allow seepage. The wool covers though are surprisingly effective.
The lanolin in the wool acts as a natural barrier to prevent leakage. Also, they don’t have to be washed with every diaper change.
The lanolin and urine react and have a self-cleansing effect, they only need to be air dried. Eventually the lanolin breaks down, and then they need a gentle handwashing with a lanolin treatment to restore its super powers. The wool covers are also used with either flats or prefolds.
They are cute but bulky under pants. If you are interested in wool covers, these are the ones I used. Not a budget friendly option though!
Prefolds & Flats
As mentioned earlier, after you choose your covers you will need prefolds or flats. The difference between a flat and prefold cloth diaper is the layers of fabric.
A flat is a single layer of fabric, and a prefold is multiple layers of fabric sewn together, with the thickest layers in the crotch area. Both prefolds and flats must be folded into a diaper around your baby and then secured either with pins or a stretchy snappi.
I prefer prefold because there are extra layers of absorbency in the crotch area. I only tried two brands Osocozy and Gerber. Between the two I like the feel and absorbency of the organic cotton Osocozy.
So here we go, my cheapest strategy to cloth diapering, and it’s partially organic too! The total system costs $450, and most of it will last for more than one child.
You may not need these if you have a larger baby. Kawaii is the brand I recommend to save money, I will show you where to buy down below. Amazon doesn’t have the best price on Kawaiis.
Kawaiis are adjustable and can be used from birth to potty training. However, if you have a tiny newborn these will be too big. My daughter was just shy of 6lbs at birth, and Kawaii was too large until about 4 months of age.
I bought a few newborn Rumparooz covers to get us by until she grew into Kawaiis. This expense all depends on the size of your baby. To save the most, buy Kawaii before your child is born and if they don’t fit then buy newborn covers. This means you will need one box of disposables on hand.
I recommend these for everyone, because the full size ones are too much bulk for a new baby.
These are for fastening the prefolds, much easier than pins.
These are for when your child outgrows the infant size. So, these don’t need to be purchased right away. I like prefolds, because you fold the diaper into a custom snug fit. Downside is they aren’t absorbent enough to last all night, so you will need a night time set up too.
Kawaii is one of the cheapest brands, and I found them just as effective as the more costly Rumparooz. I prefer button closure to Alpix/Velcro, toddlers will figure out how to take off the Velcro covers.
I use the inserts with a normal cover, not a pocket diaper. I like the inserts for night time. Bamboo is highly absorbent, it lasts us through the night without any leaks.
When my daughter was an infant the cotton prefolds worked through the night, as she peed larger volumes I had to switch to bamboo inserts for nighttime. Still as she became older and peed even more, I had to double the bamboo inserts to last us through the night.
Bamboo is said to need intensive processing to be made into fabric. These sadly were not organic, but I do love how absorbent and soft they are.
Inserts can be found in other fabric options, but bamboo is known for its superior absorbency. I don’t recommend microfiber at all.
Microfiber is plastic, it holds odors, and is horrible at maintaining absorbency.
Hemp is another option, which I have not tried. Hemp as a side note, is naturally antibacterial.
This is for the diaper bag, it is great for dirty diaper and dirty wipe storage while traveling.
This is for home use. Wetbags are made out of the same material as the diaper covers. The inside is laminated, and they have a zipper to seal in the odors. When the bag is full I empty out the bag, turn it inside out and wash it all.
This is optional but handy. I only recommend organic wool, as conventional wool is processed with many many chemicals and possibly linked to SIDS.
As you can see the options can be overwhelming. I spent a whole a lot of hours searching for the most economical cloth diapering system. One of the most affordable cloth diapers is the Kawaii brand.
Kawaii has several styles, but I only like their simple no fuss TPU cover with snaps. Some of the more expensive brands contain a second interior leg seam, said to prevent leakage.
The Kawaii covers I like don’t have this feature, however I found the double seams to leave marks on my baby’s skinny legs.
The double seams are probably more effective in preventing poop blowouts, however this hasn’t really been a problem for us anyhow. The double seam doesn’t prevent pee seeping out any better.
All brands I am aware have the same common flaw, which is the outer non plastic side is rolled inward around the legs, so when the baby’s prefold is completely wet the moisture is wicked outward getting your baby’s clothes wet around the leg. This is a flaw with all cloth diapers, it’s something that we have tolerated and it only happens when she is very wet.
A shopping list is included at the bottom
Additional ways to save money cloth diapering:
1. Skip out on buying wipes
I have found disposable wipes unnecessary. I use cut up old t-shirts, and now that she’s older her newborn prefolds have been transitioned to wipes.
The perfumey soapy wipes aren’t needed, water is plenty effective. At first, I made my own wipes and solution. The problem is you can’t keep wipes moist and laying around without a preservative or they will mildew.
There are studies on this very topic and plain water is just as effective as soapy wipes. If your baby has a diaper rash, then these harsh cleaners aren’t recommended anyhow.
Later I learned water is all you need. I pack the diaper bag with a bottle of water and dry cloth wipes, only wetting them as needed. At home I use a glass spray bottle filled with only water to wet the wipes or simply just wet the cloths under the sink.
I found keeping dry cloth wipes and a glass spray bottle with only water worked well for the diaper changing station.
2. DIY Diaper rash cream
I make my own DIY rash cream not because I am super cheapo, but because I like knowing what exactly is in my products. Saving money is just a side benefit.
It is super easy to make, it has worked well for us, and I always keep these wonderful healing ingredients in my mama pantry anyhow. This simple healing recipe can be found here.
3. DIY Laundry detergent
I use the recipe of borax, soda wash, and bar soap. It’s simple, effective, and I estimate it roughly costs 8 cents per load. Regular laundry detergent is full of carcinogens, hormone disrupting ingredients and it's costly.
4. Laundry line drying
This will save money too, and is gentler on the TPU covers. However, the dryer will give the bamboo and organic cotton a nice soft fluffy feeling, that line drying doesn’t accomplish.
Finally, here is the complete cloth diaper system on a budget
Everything you need to cloth diaper on a budget from birth to potty training
- 6 Newborn PUL Covers – optional (6lbs-18lbs) currently $73.50
- 24 Infant Organic Osocozy Cotton Prefolds (0-6 months) currently $84
- 2 packs of Snappis (until potty trained) currently $17.50
- 20 Bamboo Inserts (approx. 6 months until potty trained) currently $55
- 12 Kawaii TPU Covers currently $60
- 36 Organic Osocozy Cotton Prefolds (approx. 8 months-until potty trained) currently $90
- 2 Large Wetbags currently $20
- 2 Small Wetbags currently $10
- Organic Wool Mattress Protector (optional) currently $35
TOTAL COST: $450 (most of it reusable for more than one child)
A few notes:
If your baby is really tiny at birth I would recommend Rumparooz, they offer preemie too.
If you are absolutely against plastic, awesome. Non plastic diaper cover options can be found here
Join Ebates and earn cash back from Amazon and other retailers.
Now, I’m not saying these products are the best. I am convinced there are better products out there, these products were the least expensive cloth diapering system, I found that actually worked. I had bought super cheapy covers on Ebay from China, and they were a joke.
My daughter uses them now on her baby dolls. If I had a larger budget I probably would have splurged to try more things out. The bamboo inserts work very well, but they aren’t organic.
If I were to order again, I would opt for organic. I prefer organic as much as I can afford and diapers, pjs, and bedding is a wise place to invest in organic, since these are the things babies are most exposed to.
I was on a tight budget when I was baby shopping, and this was the most economical cloth diapering system I could put together. It does involve shopping from several different stores to pull it off, however most offer free shipping with orders over $50.
Hope this answered some questions. If you want to know our cloth diaper routine, how we wash dirty diapers, travel when cloth diapering, and handle poop, you may also want to check out Everything you need to know about cloth diapering.
If you have any questions feel free to contact me or comment below. Do you have diaper tips to share?
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