Many parents worry about the financial and environmental impact of disposable diapers and toy with the idea of using cloth diapers instead. But the hassle and mess put many people off, and the upfront costs can be prohibitive. A supply of two dozen BumGenius pocket diapers, for example, costs more than $400. Here are 10 easy ways to whittle down the initial investment to less than $100 and claim even more savings over the long haul.
There are many different types and styles of cloth diapers available. The kind our grandmothers used -- flat pieces of cloth folded and fastened with pins -- have fallen out of favor for the disposable-like experience popularized by BumGenius, with velcro tabs or snaps and a pocket for an insert. With a few modern conveniences, though, the more old-fashioned styles can be easy to use -- and far cheaper. Two dozen flat diapers, enough for at least a couple of days, costs between $36 and $66 at Green Mountain Diapers. Add a few waterproof covers (starting at about $13 each) to complete a cloth diapering setup for less than $100 (no diaper pins required).
Parents looking to save on shipping might think it would be easy to buy cloth diapers at a local big-box store, but some have had bad experiences with the brands on the shelves. (Some reviewers say inexpensive Gerber diapers don't hold up to washing a few times a week, for instance.) Look for other items in the store that could serve as replacements. Thin flour-sack towels (four for $4 from Target) can be folded and tucked into a diaper cover, or pinned into place and paired with a cover, and work as well as a more expensive product.
Sales from diaper manufacturers aren't common, but they do happen. For example, Cotton Babies, the company behind BumGenius, has seconds sale products -- nearly perfect diapering components sold at a discount. Sales often come when diaper companies transition to a new style or have some other need to clear out stock. Follow the companies on social media or sign up for email lists to get wind of sales right away.
Cotton T-shirts can make surprisingly serviceable cloth diapers with no sewing required. A few cuts and folding instructions from a site such as Dirty Diaper Laundry can help create a nice stash of super-cheap diapers (especially after thrift-store shopping). Look for 100 percent cotton knits, which don't fray when washed. T-shirt diapers must be paired with waterproof covers, but they still do the job of a more expensive diaper.
While buying a used cloth diaper might sound odd, it's an easy way for parents to save money. There are many message boards and groups online, including the popular Diaper Swappers. Finding a local group on social media can save on shipping costs. Washing a secondhand diaper before a baby wears it is essential, of course, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says washing and drying fabric in the home is adequate for controlling the spread of microorganisms. Many parents use a quarter cup of bleach in the initial wash and do a few extra rinses, as the Cotton Babies site advises, to ensure there are no remaining pathogens that can harm a baby.
Companies and natural baby stores sometimes host diaper swaps, similar to garage sales but focused exclusively on cloth diapers and accessories. It's an efficient way to do some hands-on shopping and talk to experienced and knowledgeable parents. Most of the diapers sold at such events are used, but the ability to inspect the diapers before purchase is an advantage over buying online -- especially when the diapers come at a similar discount.
A cloth diaper that doesn't work or is quickly outgrown can feel like a waste of money, but often value can be retained (especially if the diaper has been well cared for and is gently used). Sellers can often fetch up to 50 percent (or more) of the original value. Selling online is many parents' first choice; setting up a table at a local children's clothing or diaper swap also can work well.
It's far cheaper to wash cloth diapers at home than opt for a laundering service. Many deliver clean diapers on a weekly basis, eliminating the need to buy and deal with messes, but at a premium: A diapering service might charge about $18 a week, or nearly $1,000 for a year's worth of service, similar to the cost of disposable diapers. Laundering a few extra loads at home each week is far cheaper. Line drying saves utility costs and can extend the life of diapers and covers (and keep up their resale value by reducing wear and tear).
Good news for parents with infants who are exclusively breastfed: Once the meconium stage passes, their output is water soluble, so used diapers can be placed in the washing machine without rinsing. It's not quite so simple for babies who are fed formula or have started solid foods, but flushable diaper liners ($10 for a package of 200 on Amazon) are an inexpensive solution for parents who don't want the hands-on work. Simply lay a liner in the diaper and, when the baby needs a change, wrap up the liner and its contents and toss in the toilet.
Cloth diapers can be the ultimate hand-me-down. While any cloth diaper can be reused on younger brothers and sisters, flat diapers or "prefolds" typically last the longest, because there is no elastic to break down or stretch out over time. Reusing a few dozen diapers for more children increases the value of a decision to cloth diaper. Aside from buying a few new covers, the startup cost is negligible for the second or third baby.