Cheap and Easy Cloth Diaper Solutions for the Budget Minded Family- Solving Diaper Need

For a lot of us the issue of diaper need isn’t something we think about, whether you cloth diaper or not.  When you are low on diapers you either wash a load or run to the store for a new package.  Not everyone can.  In fact, according to a study performed by Huggies and their “Every Little Bottom” campaign “1 in 3 families struggle to afford diapers for their babies.” [source]  The fact remains that there are no federal or state assistance programs that provide diapers of any type, or funds/checks/credits to purchase diapers.

[box]Please, please don’t assume that families in need of assistance are in that position due to being lazy/being uneducated/because they want to live off the system.  I think it is very important to understand that even friends you know right now who seem to be living comfortably could still be struggling to pay for their basic needs.  Especially in hard economic times when once middle and upper-middle class families are now down to a single incomes, or worse, none due to job loss, no one is immune to unfortunate circumstances.  On a personal side note, my friend and colleague at Giving Diapers, Giving Hope began her cloth diaper charity after being laid off  from her teaching job.  She was unemployed, a single mother, and educated yet still had no money for bills or diapers at the time she began her charity.[/box]

This means that there are a lot of families who are making sacrifices in order to buy diapers for their babies, or worse, they are going longer between changes in order to cut the costs.  In some cases it has been reported that the disposable diapers are being scraped cleaned and re-used.

I whole-heartedly believe that cloth diapers can help almost every family facing these difficult choices.  By using very inexpensive diapering options, or even handwashing diapers for those without a washer and dryer, when it comes down to having clean diapers and a healthy bottom or the unhealthy alternative- it can be done.  I also believe this doesn’t have to be an all or nothing situation and that, especially for families without a washer, handwashing and simple flat cloth diapers with covers can be done only when there is no money for diapers.  Disposables are easier and I do acknowledge that handwashing isn’t easy or ideal.  Still, using it to spend less on diapers overall can help.

Budget Friendly cloth diapers.  Store bought and DIY ideas for any family.

So how can you avoid the high start-up cost associated with cloth diapers?  First, forget everything you think you know about cloth diapers, especially that they are expensive.  Try these ideas!

[hr] [typography size=”42″ size_format=”px” color=”#69a3ff”]Flats-[/typography]

Flat cloth diapers are my number one recommendation for anyone looking for a cheap, easy, effective, and trim cloth diaper solution.  Flats are normally made from birdseye cotton and are very large squares that are folded to make a diaper.  This sounds hard but the pad fold, which makes the flat into a rectangular shape to be inserted into a waterproof cover, takes seconds to do.  You can use any cover but some that I suggest are the inexpensive Econobum One Size or Thirsties Duo Wraps.  I’ll have more suggestions for DIY covers as well.

[typography size=”42″ size_format=”px” color=”#69a3ff”]T-Shirt Diapers-[/typography]

Using a t-shirt anyone can create a diaper!  There are a few different ways, one involves fold thing t-shirt onto the baby and securing it with pins or a snappi.  The other involves cutting the t-shirt and making it into a flat.

For the simplest and easiest option- use this tutorial from Penniless Parenting- How to Fold a T-shirt into a diaper.

A reader, Kelly, posted to my fanpage another great idea.  Buy XXL or larger sized t-shirts and cut them to separate the front and back.  This essentially gives you 2 diapers for .50!  The best tip is to find out when you local thrift shop has 50% clothing sales (most do once a week) and fight the crowds to save big!  You can make yourself an entire stash of diapers (two dozen) for $12.00.  All you need to do is buy or make covers for these.  I have a tutorial for making these as well: Cheap and Easy DIY T-Shirt Diapers.

[typography size=”42″ size_format=”px” color=”#69a3ff”]Prefolds-[/typography]

Prefolds are a favorite and are still around because they are inexpensive and absorbent.  If you baby is a very heavy wetter you might find this to be the best route on a budget.  A popular option is the Econobum system which includes 3 waterproof one size covers and 12 one size prefolds for $50.00.  Depending on the age of your baby you might be fine with just one kit, but if your baby is younger and needs to be changed more frequently you might want to go for two.  Still, this will get you an entire stash for about $100.00.    Prefolds are also often found used and, since they would already be prepped, this is even better for the buyer since prefolds need several washes to be fully prepped.  {get prepping instructions for cloth diapers}

[typography size=”42″ size_format=”px” color=”#69a3ff”]Covers- [/typography]

For flats, prefolds, and t-shirt diapers you will need waterproof covers.  The Econobum One Size is an inexpensive option, as is the Thirsties Duo Wrap.  There are very inexpensive Bummis pull-on covers as well.  If you would rather buy local there are some baby stores or department stores that sell a brand called Dappi, which is very inexpensive at $5.00 but the reviews are mixed on how long they last.  Some stores also carry the Gerber brand of cover.  Other options include using fleece pants or shorts, which work to hold in wetness.  If you are good or great at sewing there are lots of ways to turn fleece or wool sweaters into covers.  Here is one tutorial from The Mary Frances Project.  Fleece is the lowest maintenance option because fleece can be washed without special detergent and in a washing machine.  Wool requires a little more effort because you will need to lanolize it to make it waterproof and wash it by hand.  I have more information on wool to understand what lanolizing means and how it needs to be cared for: All About Wool.

[typography size=”42″ size_format=”px” color=”#69a3ff”]Buy Used-[/typography]

Other ways to get cloth diapers for less than buying directly from a store or online is to buy them used.  There are dozens of websites, forums, Facebook Groups, and even local avenues like Craigslist or Kijiji to look into.  Cloth diapers do hold their value in many situations, however there are still good deals to be had. and are two well known options.  Your best bet though, is to buy local because you can see the diapers and the seller face-to-face.  Look for local cloth diaper groups and swaps on Facebook.  If you choose to buy online be sure to read the seller’s ratings and ask important questions about the condition of the diapers and how they were washed.  You will also want to see lots of pictures of the inside and out.  Stained diapers are fine and buying them with stains will often get you a better deal- they will function the same as a diaper without.

[typography size=”42″ size_format=”px” color=”#69a3ff”]Find Free-[/typography] (if you have one in your area) is a place to browse for items others are looking to give away.  I’ve heard amazing stories from readers of this blog who have scored whole sets of diapers.  It isn’t a guarantee but you won’t know until you look.  Craigslist also has a free section, and sometimes swap groups on Facebook will as well.

[typography size=”38″ size_format=”px” color=”#69a3ff”]Apply to a Cloth Diaper Bank-[/typography]

There are local and national cloth diaper banks that will provide families who qualify with a set of cloth diapers (or a few to get started with).  Each cloth diaper bank has their own criteria for who qualifies.  If you live in the United States or Canada you can see if there is a bank near you by or see if any are listed in this post: Cloth Diaper Banks.  Giving Diapers, Giving Hope is a Nationwide cloth diaper lending service and, for the cost of shipping, will send families who qualify a stash of diapers.  Cloth for a Cause is a Canadian version with chapters throughout the country.

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“]What if I don’t have a washing machine?[/typography]

If you are one of the many families in a home without a washing machine there is still a way to make cloth diapers work for you if the need is great enough and you have the physical ability to handwash.  It sounds scary at first but there are ways to make it less labor intensive than what your grandparents used to have to do {learn all about cloth diapering in the 1950’s in a documentary style interview I did with my grandparents} by using a few modern tools.

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“]Use Flats-[/typography] Flats are the best option for handwashing.  Flat cloth diapers are one layer and therefore they will be easier to clean than prefolds or any other style of diaper that has multiple layers.  They will also air dry the fastest.  Flats can be very easy too!  Fold them into a long rectangle (this is called pad-folding and a tutorial can be found here: How to Pad fold a Flat Cloth Diaper) and lay them inside of a waterproof cover.  Other folds can be done (See the entire library of videos on folds: Flat Folding Techiniques) and the diapers no longer have to be pinned.  Modern closures like the Snappi or Boingo can be used with no risk of poking the baby or yourself.

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“]Make a Camp Style Bucket Washer-[/typography]I say that modern handwashing can be easier because most of us have indoor plumbing and access to 2 very simple and cheap tools- a 5 gallon bucket and a plunger.  This DIY washing machine takes the “ick” out of agitating diapers by hand, using a washboard, and even makes the work less labor intensive.  To make this contraption it will cost you as little as $5-$10 dollars.  Find the tutorial here: How to Make a Camp Style Bucket Washer.  Then watch the video: How to Handwash Cloth Diapers.

For handwashing you will still want a cloth diaper friendly detergent so avoid any store bought soaps that have fabric softeners.  You can also make your own detergent, there is a great recipe from The Eco Friendly Family for DIY Cloth Diaper Detergent.  You need very little soap for handwashing.

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“]Air Dry-[/typography] Your covers and flats will dry faster if you wring them out very well.  This can be hard on your hands so I suggest using rubber gloves.  For covers I recommend rolling the covers in a towel and stepping on or kneeling on the towel to remove the most water.  Your flats will dry the fastest when laid over a shower rod, or using a drying rack.  Hanging them by one pin will make them take longer, so use two pins on a line or on a dryer contraption such as the Ikea Octopus.  If you live in a humid climate try drying them when the sun is out the most, or inside in a room with an exhaust fan on or under a ceiling fan.   Flats will dry in as little as an hour in the best condition, but my take up to 12 in more humid conditions.


When it comes to the amount of money cloth diapers can save you it is hard not to use them, even if you can only make them work on a part-time basis.  Even just changing a few diapers a day can still save a significant amount of money.  You might be thinking that all of this sounds extreme, but when you have no money to spare these ideas can really help anyone willing to switch.

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