Coronavirus Self-Sufficiency on a Budget: Cloth Diapering When You Swore You Never Would

I know. You were never going to cloth diaper.

It’s ok. Me, too.

To be fair, I started cloth diapering after my second baby was born out of necessity (because two under two in disposable diapers = $$$). But it was never something I had initially planned to do. I remember SCOFFING at the idea of using cloth on my sweet baby’s bum. How DISGUSTING.

Ha. HAHAHAHAHAHA

Ok, so that was years ago, and I’ve now been successfully (and even happily!) cloth diapering my babies for some time. I even went through a complete obsession-over-all-things-cloth phase … just ask my husband. He thought it was adorable. And a little concerning. But mostly adorable.

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosures for any questions.

I’m going to cut to the chase for this post, because we’re all sort of insanely busy being stuck at home trying to figure out life with perhaps less income than we’re used to and certainly less contact with the Outside World (read: Walmart). And lately the Americans have all lost their minds at the thought of weathering a home quarantine without the convenience of disposable paper products. I GET IT. We’re used to comfort and convenience and not getting our hands dirty. It’s hard to think about doing things a new way, especially when we’re stressed about catching The Plague.

So if you are home for the first time with a baby that is rapidly burning through your box of ‘sposies, NOW IS THE TIME to learn the effective and valuable skill of The Dreaded Cloth Diaper. Here are a few suggestions based on my experience to get you started with a limited budget and limited store access.

Step 1: Buy Diapers

Okay, this is obvious. But which diapers? And how many? And holy sticker shock — cloth diapers are sooooo expensive!?!?

Calm down, Joan. You’ve got this.

You can definitely cloth diaper on a budget. You can do it very cheaply, moderately affordably, or more on the expensive side (but it’s a long-term investment and perhaps this works for you!).

VERY CHEAP CLOTH DIAPERING

A cloth diaper very simply needs two parts: absorbency and waterproofness (<– is that a word?). There are MANY ways to accomplish this. I’m going to tell you how to use Flour Sack Towels or Flats with PUL Diaper Covers.

First thing you need to do is order covers. The cover is what keeps all the pee and poo inside the diaper and not all over your house. It is important to spend wisely on covers (or whatever you use for the waterproof element) because this IMHO makes or breaks a diaper.

I love Thirsties Duo Wraps. My baby is 15 months old, and she fits Size 2. The wraps have snaps to adjust the size, and you can choose either hook and loop or snap closure. You can get them with a St. Patrick’s Day discount at Green Mountain Diapers by clicking this link. They are also available on Amazon, just click here.

You only need enough covers to be able to air dry between uses (for pee diapers) or wash between uses (for poo diapers). If your baby just pees in the diaper, you can let it hang dry to freshen up a bit while you use another cover + insert. If baby poos, please wash the cover. Depending on your baby and how often you want to do laundry, you’ll need 3-5 covers minimum to get started. I would double that if you are able, because you just don’t want to run out.

The next thing your diaper needs is absorbency. There are, again, many options for this — BUT when you’re on a budget the cheapest version (at least from my research) is a Flour Sack Towel.

This is just literally a towel, made with a simply woven cotton that back in the day they used to (you guessed it) make into flour sacks. These days flour sack towels are often used in kitchens for cleaning or for drying hands, etc. They absorb quickly, wash easily, bleach easily, dry quickly, and don’t take up much room folded — making them a PERFECT for cloth diapering. Oh, and they cost only about $1 each — making them perfect for budget diapering!

You can get Flour Sack Towels (FSTs) many places, but I’ve been really happy with the set I purchased on Amazon. You can also check them out at Walmart.

For a slightly more spendy and slightly more absorbent diaper option, you could try Cotton Flats. These look pretty much exactly the same as flour sack towels, but they will be more absorbent and probably more durable in the long run. The best on the market IMHO are the Cloth-eez Birdseye Cotton Flats from Green Mountain Diapers.

If you are now completely freaking out at the idea of folding towels a la Marie Kondo and pinning them to your baby’s bum — FEAR NOT. You do not need pins to use flats. You don’t even need to know how to make origami.

Of course you could use pins. Or these fun, modern diaper Snappis. And you could fold your flats into some clever shape to be most absorbent — but you don’t have to, because THANKFULLY someone once was as lazy as me and decided to just fold the flat LIKE A TOWEL and be done with it. No fuss, no pins. Done.

In my experience, the “pad fold” is the easiest (read: least frustrating) and most effective way to deal with diaper flats or FSTs. You can find great tutorials here. Or you could just, ya know, fold it.

Cost of Covers: $33-55 (for 3-5) plus cost of FSTs: $17 (for 12) = $50+

Cost of Covers: $33-55 (for 3-5) plus cost of Flats: $26 (for 12) = $60+

MODERATELY AFFODABLE CLOTH DIAPERS

Now, for those of you who would rather spend a little more money for somehting a little more modern and a little less involved, I would say you should absolutely check out pre-loved diapers online. Yes, yes, some other baby has already used them, but it’s ok — there’s this great thing called bleach that will be your best friend when purchasing diapers second hand.

A step up from diaper covers and flats would be the All-In-One diaper (AIO). This is a beast of a diaper, ready to go the moment you grab it and strap it to your little naked escape artist. AIOs are PERFECT for Houdini babies who cannot stay still for the entirety of 5 seconds that it takes to change a diaper.

I’ve tried a LOT of diapers, and I always come back to Thirsties. I love their Natural AIOs, but the microfiber AIOs are also a good option. We have very hard, iron-rich water, so I’ve had better luck washing natural fibers vs. synthetic fibers (i.e., cotton/hemp vs. microfiber). Microfiber is great for quick drying, though, so that’s something to keep in mind.

Now, on a budget, you won’t want to buy these brand new. My favorite site for purchasing cloth diapers second-hand is Cloth Diaper Trader. There are many awesome BSTs on Facebook for cloth diapers, too. I love the Unofficial Thirsties BST. I’ve also had good success using Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist… but that can be more complicated at a time like this, when we are all stuck in our own homes.

COST of Pre-Loved AIOs: $10-20/diaper for 15 diapers = $150-$200

Sidenote: please use your own best judgement when it comes to buying diapers second hand right now. If you are not comfortable with the idea of bringing in someone else’s stuff into your home — that makes perfect sense, and it’s even possible that after I publish this post it will be widely recommended that you shouldn’t buy second hand items during quarantine.

MORE EXPENSIVE CLOTH DIAPERING

Perhaps money isn’t an obstacle for you in prepping a diaper stash, and you just want really high quality, really easy to use diapers. That’s awesome! The world is your stage.

No, really. But um I’m going to recommend Thirsties because … I just love their diapers. And no, they don’t pay me for promoting them — they just make really good diapers, and I’m a really happy customer. I’ve been super happy with Thirsties because they use a blend of hemp and cotton in their natural fiber cloth that is UNBEATABLE for softness, absorbency, and drying time. My kids are “heavy wetters,” and these diapers stand up to the challenge.

You can probably get started with a brand new set of cloth diapers for $300-500. You will need enough diapers to get you through a full day (or two), plus a couple extra for the hours your diapers spend in the washer and dryer.

Cost of 15 new diapers for $27 each = just over $400

Perhaps when we can all buy paper products again without fearing for our lives, we may even continue cloth diapering — because it’s just so much more convenient than running to the store to buy disposables. I mean, who knows??

Do you cloth diaper? What are your questions or concerns about cloth diapering?

Keep an eye out for the next in this series of blog posts: Coronavirus Quarantine Self-Sufficiency on a Budget: Cloth Diaper Care for the Cloth Diaper Newbie

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