Anyone initially looking into cloth diapering can very quickly become intimidated by the price tag. Afterall, how can you save money if you have to spend $20 on just one diaper? But, fortunately, there are actually many options available for those who want to cloth diaper but are on a tight budget. You can get pretty creative and come up with a stash for as little as FREE, but that’s relying heavily on circumstances. What is available to MOST people that is budget friendly?
Let’s first establish what you NEED. The most economical method of cloth diapering implements the use of diaper covers, flats/prefolds, and possibly pins or a pin substitute. To cloth diaper full time using this method, you should have a minimal stash of approximately 6-8 one-size covers. Covers are what goes outside of the baby’s diaper to contain moisture and mess. Some covers pull on much like bloomers do, and many snap on, making diaper changes much, much easier. Typically, the ones that snap on also have rise snaps that make the cover “one-size”, meaning it can adjust with your baby by changing the length of the diaper from front to back. Covers can be used several times between washes so long as it is not saturated or soiled with stools. They are not absorbent in and of themselves. This means you need less covers than the form of diaper you put inside the cover. Your minimal stash should also include 24 diapers, be it flats, prefolds, or whatever you put under the cover that is safe for baby’s skin and absorbent. Then, unless you are padfolding your diaper and laying it inside the cover, you will need some form of enclosure, such as pins, boingos, or a snappi. So now that we understand basically what we need, how can we do this affordably? This sounds like a lot!
Well… it kinda is. Let’s start with covers. As I mentioned, most modern diaper covers nowadays are designed to grow with your baby. Most one size diaper covers accommodate babies from about 8-35 pounds, which, for many babies, takes them from birth (or soon after birth) to potty training. There are cheap brands like ALVA, which is what we recommend to those on a really tight budget. Their covers are afforable, their shipping cheap, and they not only function but can be “hacked” to fit smaller, newborn babies. Functionally, the only problem we find with ALVA is that their inner elastic is exposed which may slightly irritate some babies. Otherwise they work like a charm and can sustain substantial abuse. Hacked, they can fit newborns, and with their normal settings, they can fit until potty trained for most children. There are concerns as to the ethics of the ALVA company and the quality of their products, and if this is the case, I recommend you choose another option. For the record, I refuse to debate that subject because all it will lead to is hurt feelings from either side of the spectrum. Ultimately, 7 covers from ALVA will cost you $26.60, plus a dollar for shipping. Their covers are often stocked in the US, as well, so you can receive them in about a week as opposed to a month.
If ethics or quality concern you, many mainstream budget-friendly retailers make a concerted effort to ensure their sources meet proper standards. We love Nickis Diapers! Their covers run a touch large, which is advantageous if you have been given a ton of newborn diapers and plan to cloth diaper once those diapers run out. We find Nickis covers definitely fit until potty training for most babies! But on their smallest setting, they are bulky on newborns, if they even fit. This is alright for those who tend to get a ton of newborn disposables and plan to wait until they run out to begin cloth diapering. A set of 7 Nickis one-size covers in a solid print will run you $76.65 with free shipping. Personally, I was able to use them comfortably (albeit bulky as most cloth diapers are at this point) with my 8 pound newborn. Incredible enough, these same covers fit my almost 3 year old who is day trained and 35 pounds.
If your babies tend to be smaller, you can always choose Buttons Diapers, another reliable, high quality budget brand. Their covers run smaller and most people found that, while they can use them from birth, they only last until their baby is between 12-18 months old. This is great for cloth diapering from the start, and, even though your baby may grow out of the diapers prior to potty training, this gives you at least a year to budget for larger covers. Buttons actually does make super covers as well. A set of 7 Buttons one size covers will cost $80.50.
There are many other affordable brand covers at one of my favorite online retailers, Happy Beehinds. There you can find decent one size covers for only $5-6, comfortably building a stash of 8 covers for under $50!
If you are very self-conscious about buying USA-made products, then look no further than Thirsties. They are still considered a budget-friendly option, and their Duo Wrap covers come in two sizes with rise settings on each so that you get the best fit for your baby. The size one covers fit most babies from birth until they are about 6 months old, give or take depending on the size of your baby, and the size two covers last for most children until potty training. This may seem excessive needing two sizes, but you only need to invest in one size at a time. For instance, you can invest in size 1 covers, then while using the size ones, budget for size 2s, maybe even getting one cover a month, so by the time your baby outgrows the ones, you’re ready with a stash of size twos. If you plan to have more than one child, these covers will last for multiple children easily since they don’t see the same degree of wear most one size covers experience. And if you don’t have anymore children, they have great resale value! You can sell your ones to grow your stash of twos! A set of 7 size one or two Thirsties Duo Wrap covers will run $89.25, which is pretty good for a high quality, USA made product!
Keep in mind, you can try a combination of any of these covers to try to get the best of each brand! You can also shave off some money by buying fewer covers and washing them more frequently, by hand if required (fortunately they are very easy to wash by hand and dry pretty quickly almost anywhere). It warrants mentioning, though, that fewer covers in rotation means higher wear and tear, which means that your covers will deteriorate much quicker. This isn’t entirely a bad thing, especially if you’re only rotating a smaller number of covers while you save and grow your stash.
If you are on a ramen-noodle-diet budget and are creatively inclined, you can transform any fleece blanket into a make-shift tie-on diaper cover as well, no sewing required. Dirty Diaper Laundry has as useful video on youtube sharing how this can be done. If you can sew, you can felt some cheap wool sweaters from a second-hand store and make some pull-on wool covers. Wool is freaky in an amazing way and deserves it’s own post, honestly. It regulates tempurature, can repel liquids into your diaper, then likewise serve as additional absorbency, it boasts antibacterial properties, can be used numerous times between washes since it self-cleans, it’s creepy cool!
What I do NOT recommend: Buying Gerber. Sorry, not sorry Gerber. They simply don’t make them like they used to. I have tried Gerber’s pull on covers in consideration for the local cloth diaper drive kits and found they ripped just from putting them on the first time. And the one that didn’t rip right away was ripped after less than an hour. In fact, not to throw Gerber under the bus, but most of their cloth diapering products are awful except the premium Gerber prefolds, which has a price tag too similar to better brands to make them worth buying either unless it is all you have access to. I also advise avoiding buying brandless items from eBay or B/S/Ts. Imagine a plastic grocery bag covered in super thin cotton with snaps that don’t fit into each other. That’s pretty much the risk you take and was my experience with many of them. It’s not worth trying to save money by wasting it. Some were good, but it’s just not worth the risk. And do not put “cloth diapers” into the Wish search unless you want to be disappointed.
For cloth diapering full time, I think a good starting number of covers is 6, and from there you can slowly add more covers to make your stash more comfortable if you’d like. I began with 6 covers and handwashed diapers every day. It was very easy to do and worked like a charm. But for full time cloth diapering, 8 will be a more comfortable number, and the more covers (and diapers) you add, the longer you can stretch your laundry days.
For Part 2, I’ll talk about what you can put in those covers!