Super Cheap Cloth Diapers

Diapers are expensive. (Image: 20th Century Fox)
Diapers are expensive. (Image: 20th Century Fox)

My favorite line in Raising Arizona is where H.I. walks into the Short Stop and says “I’ll be taking these Huggies and uh whatever cash you got“. It’s hilarious for a lot of reasons, but it also speaks to a real world truth: diapers are expensive! In my last post I went over how much easier reusable diapers are than disposables, but didn’t really cover the cost. Cost is hugely important though, so I’m dedicating a whole post to it. With a little effort it’s crazy how cheap cloth diapers can be for a family.

Aren’t Disposable Diapers Cheaper?

Yes, a single reusable diaper can cost up to $20, while a single disposable diaper can be had for as little as 10 cents (if you buy the ginormous pack). Here’s the thing though: you’re going to use thousands of those disposable diapers over your kid’s babyhood. Reusable diapers will actually save you money compared to disposables because you only have to buy 10 to 40 diapers, ever. If you put in just a bit of effort you can get them for $10 or even $5 a diaper, and if you treat them right they will last for thousands of uses. This guy ran the numbers and found that even the cheapest disposable diapers will cost you over $800 for the first year and nearly $500 for the second. That means it costs over $1,300 to diaper your baby, and this assumes they move past diapers by the time they’re two years old (something I think all us parents hope for). That blogger paid over $700 for his reusable diapers, and even after adding in the cost of washing them they still came out cheaper than the disposables. He also didn’t take into account reselling the diapers once he was done with them. In this post I’m going to show you how you can get all the reusable diapers you need for hundreds less. Oh, and you want a way to nearly double your savings in just nine months? Have another baby. You can keep using the same cloth diapers on all your kids, so if you plan on having more than one child the savings will just keep piling up. True, at some point even a reusable diaper will degrade too much to be used anymore, but unless you’re part of the Quiverfull movement, you’ll probably never reach it.

Used For The Win!

In our case we bought almost everything used so the savings were huge. We trolled the Jillian’s Drawers used section for months while my wife was pregnant and ended up getting our Thirsties newborn diapers with Kissaluv cotton inserts for only around $5 per diaper on average (sadly, Kissaluv burned down, but you can still find similar deals at Jillian’s). A Craigslist search found us almost all of our bumGenius pocket diapers in a single purchase for just $150 (only $6 per diaper). We also bought a few more on sale for $10 each from Cotton Babies (the sale is over now, but I figure if you look hard enough and long enough you’ll find some at this price). All in all we spent about $300 on used diapers and another hundred or so on accessories (see my prior post for a full list). We also probably bought more than we really needed. I think we would have been fine with just 18 regular sized diapers instead of the 25 we bought.

If you really want the true lowest cost option you should get a different style of cloth diaper called a prefold. These are closer to what our parents used back in the day, but there are still some improvements. Instead of using diaper pins now all the cool parents use Snappis. These prevent you from accidentally stabbing your child and are pretty easy to use. Other writers claim that brain dead zombies could use them, and while they may be correct, the truth is that folding and applying a Snappi does require a smidge more work than pocket diapers. My wife and I got a few to try them out, but in the end we preferred the ridiculous simplicity of pocket diapers, so we turned the prefolds into nice, absorbent cleaning rags (note: a 10 pack of prefolds can replace thousands of rolls of paper towels).

How To Find Used Diapers On Craigslist

Finding things used on Craigslist can be annoying sometimes. To make it a lot easier I use IFTTT. This is a super simple web tool that lets you set up little programs that run. For example you get an e-mail whenever a new post in your local Craigslist matches your search. You can make your search as simple as “Cloth Diaper” or be pickier and have it search for something like “bumGenius” specifically. Then you just wait for the e-mails to roll in. Once you find some you’re interested in, send an e-mail with how much you’re willing to pay. You don’t have to just accept the price they post the diapers at, but it’s also kind of a jerk move to show up and try and lowball a seller. It might also be good to ask a few questions to figure out how well they treated the diapers before you drive out to get them. A good question to ask is, “What dryer settings did you use for the diaper shells?” This is actually a trick question, as the best answer is “I hung the shells up to dry.” The inserts are hardy fabric that can deal with the high setting in a dryer, but the shells have a rubber coating, and the more hot air that is blown on them the faster they degrade. I wouldn’t completely ignore diapers that had been run through the dryer, but if I had a choice I’d pick the hang-dried ones. This is also the reason I prefer diapers with removable inserts over all in one cloth diapers that don’t come apart. The inserts take way longer to hang dry than the shells and there are many times you’ll want to run some, if not all, of a batch of inserts through the dryer while you hang dry the shells. The shells are also the part that sometimes gets stained, and hang drying them in the sun really helps bleach them back to white.

Hands On Inspection

You should also know how to inspect the diapers once you show up to buy them. The first thing to check is the waterproof lining of each shell. Ideally it should be a smooth rubbery surface. On some older ones you might see it starting to crack a bit, and on really bad ones it’ll be peeling off. If that lining is compromised then pee will soak out of that diaper and you probably don’t want it. The next thing is the velcro tabs. On some old diapers the velcro will have gotten fairly weak. This won’t be a problem till your baby starts crawling around a bunch, then suddenly one day you’ll find them crawling around half naked. To test this simply close the velcro and see how hard it is to pull off. If it only takes a light touch then you don’t want it, unless you’re ready to sew on replacement velcro. Honestly, if I had it to do all over again, I would only get velcro on the newborn diapers. For the diapers that are going to be worn while crawling and walking the security of the buttons is just better. I’ve thrown out a few of the worse shells I got on Craigslist before I knew better; the velcro had gone. But I have had only one one button break out of all the button diapers. Since each wing is secured by a pair of buttons, even that diaper shell is still usable. Finally, you can test out the elastic around the edge. Diapers that don’t have super great elastic still work well, but your mileage may vary. (Note: every type of diaper, disposable and cloth, has leaked at some point; nothing is perfect).

But Used Diapers Are Icky!

It’s possible that you find the idea of used diapers unpalatable. To this I’d ask what sort of terrible butt diseases you’ve heard about being transmitted through diapers? As far as I know if you run diapers through a super hot wash with soap and water then store them dry nothing is going to survive. If you still can’t bring yourself to buy used, these tips should still help you keep yours in good condition so you can get more for them when you go to resell them. Cloth diapers that are bought used and well cared for can be resold for almost as much as you paid for them. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, then please at least donate them to a local reuse store. I’m sure there are plenty of people who would love your used reusables out there.

That’s It?

Yeah, that’s about all I can think to tell you about reusable diapers. I understand that some people will have trouble fronting a few hundred bucks to get started, but doing so really does save you a bunch of money in just a year or two, so start saving now. If you can’t afford the whole thing, then maybe skip the infant size diapers and only buy the larger bumGenius pocket diapers or prefolds. My son only wore his infant diapers for 2.5 months, but he’ll have more than a year in the larger ones so they give a better bang for the buck (though you do more diaper changes per day when they’re wearing infant diapers). It’s also true that different brands fit different babies better and worse. If the ones you buy don’t fit well, don’t give up! Try a few other brands and then resell any that really don’t fit well. If you buy used and then resell them in similar condition, they can basically cost you nothing. Just a tiny bit of effort spent finding decent cloth diapers used or on sale and later reselling them will save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

Matt Herndon
Environmental Blogger at Rampant Discourse
Earnest pragmatist. Non-theist ascetic. Data aficionado. Amicable skeptic. Matt is a new father who's spent too much time debating whether the plastic box his spinach came in is the perfect first birthday present for his baby, or just a good one.

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