cloth diapers on a budget

How to Use Cloth Diapers on a Budget in 2023

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Are you wondering if you can really save with cloth diapers? 

On average, families can expect to spend $2,000 on diapers until their child is ready to potty train. If that doesn’t seem like much, throw another kid or two in the mix. Now, we’re talking about a chunk of change!

I used cloth diapers on two of my three children, saving our family thousands of dollars during those five years. But, I remember how intimidating it was at first to learn all I needed to know about them.

So, today we’ll discuss using cloth diapers on a budget and everything else you need to know to get started.

Disclaimer:  This post may contain affiliate links. This means I receive a small commission, at no extra cost, if you purchase using the links below. Please see my earnings disclaimer for more details.

Table of Contents

What are cloth diapers?

Cloth diapers are reusable with an absorbent layer and a waterproof outer shell. They can be washed and reused for the time your baby is in diapers. 

Why use cloth diapers?

There are several benefits to using cloth diapers.

Cloth diapers save money

According to The National Diaper Bank Network, the amount spent on diapers is $70-$80 per month. That’s an average of $900 per year on diapers. 

Moreover, the average length of time a child is in diapers is 2.5 years. This means you can expect to spend an average of $2250 on diapers until you start potty training. 

The initial investment can be significant, but it will last the whole time your child is in diapers. Plus, they will last multiple kids as well. 

Cloth diapers reduce landfill waste

Did you know 20 billion disposable diapers end up in landfills every year? That’s a shit ton of diapers!

Therefore, using cloth diapers cuts down the amount of waste that ends up in those landfills. So, you can feel good that you’re doing something to minimize that waste.

Cloth diapers are handy in a shortage

With everything in short supply nowadays, who knows when diapers are next? Using cloth diapers can cut out the stress of having to find them if there is a diaper shortage.

Cloth diapers are freaking adorable!

There is nothing better than seeing a baby in a cloth diaper! The patterns are adorable, and their bum is so fluffy! 

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Different types of cloth diapers

Here I’ll break down the different types of cloth diapers.

Cover diapers

Cloth diaper covers are waterproof shells that cover a prefold, flat, or fitted diaper. The waterproof cover can be used several times before being washed if you air them out between uses. 

Prefold cloth diapers

Prefold diapers are rectangular cotton cloths with an absorbent layer already sewn in. These are very absorbent but need to be used with a diaper cover because they are not waterproof. 

To use this, you would fold it into thirds with the absorbent layer in the middle. Then, insert it into the diaper cover. The only thing you need to change when changing a baby is the prefold unless the cover is soiled or soaked. 

Flat diapers (also known as flats)

Flats are large single-layer square cloths that are folded and placed inside a cover, similar to a prefold. These are less absorbent than the prefolds but very economical. They are also great to use as inserts in pocket diapers.

Fitted cloth diapers

Fitted cloth diapers are contoured cotton liners with snaps or velcro that fit the baby like a diaper. It is very absorbent but is not waterproof. So you would use it with a waterproof diaper cover on top. 

All-in-one cloth diapers (also known as AIO diapers)

These are exactly as described; they are all-in-one. The inserts are built into the shell. It’s the most like a disposable diaper. But, probably the least economical if you’re trying to cloth diaper on a budget.

All-in-two cloth diapers (also known as AI2 diapers)

An all-in-two cloth diaper uses a cover and a fitted insert that lays or snaps into the shell. It works similar to a prefold with a cover because you can change just the insert and reuse the cover. 

Pocket diapers

A pocket diaper is a shell with a lining that creates a pocket to place inserts into.

Which inserts are best for cloth diapering?

There are several different inserts with different levels of absorbency. 

Microfiber insert

Microfiber inserts are the most affordable and absorb the fastest, but it doesn’t last long. This works the best when doubled with another insert.

Cotton insert

Cotton inserts are next in affordability and absorb almost as fast as microfiber. They tend to be bulkier and harder to double.

Bamboo insert

Bamboo is a natural fiber insert that is more expensive. It is fast to absorb and more absorbent than microfiber and cotton. But, it is most absorbent when layered with another insert.

Hemp insert

Hemp is also a natural fiber insert that is more expensive. It is the most absorbent insert but best when layered with another insert because it is slower to absorb.

A word about diaper sizing

There are different sizes when choosing cloth diapers. Some people suggest buying a newborn size cloth diaper stash.

I chose one-size diapers because they were more economical and lasted until potty training. This, to me, is the cheapest way to cloth diaper because babies quickly grow out of the newborn sizes.

How many cloth diapers does a baby use per day?

Whether you use cloth of disposable, the diaper count is the same. Here’s a chart that shows how many diapers a baby goes through in their first year. 

Newborn10-12 diapers300-360 diapers
Infants (1-5 months)8-10 diapers240-300 diapers
Baby (5+ months)8 diapers240 diapers
Baby (12+ months)8 diapers240 diapers

How many cloth diapers do I need?

The amount of diapers you need depends on how often you want to wash diapers. I suggest you have enough diapers to get through 2-3 days without washing. This way, you can clean them as you get low. But you’re not constantly doing diaper laundry.

Therefore, you want to have 24-36 diapers on hand.

Fitted Diaper4-8 covers
24-36 fitted diapers
Prefold Diaper4-8 covers
24-36 prefold diapers
Flat Diaper4-8 covers
24-36 flat diapers
All-in-one Diaper24-36 diapers
All-in-two Diaper8-10 shells
24-36 inserts
Pocket Diaper24-36 diapers
24-36 inserts (more if you need to double)

Where to get cloth diapers

There are several ways you can get affordable cloth diapers.

Buy new diapers

You can get new cloth diapers pretty much anywhere online, but the best place to find great deals on quality diapers is

Also, if you have a baby shower, you can add the diapers to the registry or request gift cards to buy what you need. 

Buy used diapers

Buying used may sound gross, but it is a great way to get cheap cloth diapers in good condition. A good strip and a wash, and they are good to go. The best places to get used diapers are

  • eBay
  • Mercari
  • Poshmark
  • Facebook BST (buy, sell, or trade) groups

You can even check out your local buy nothing group on Facebook to see if anyone has any you can have for free.

Cloth diaper co-ops

This is where I got most of my diapers from. It’s basically a group that orders diapers in bulk to get the wholesale price vs. retail. 

It’s a very economical way of ordering a bunch of diapers and inserts. But, the shipping usually takes a while before being delivered.

Cloth Diaper Charities

Cloth diaper charities are networks of people that try to help lower-income families diaper their babies. 

For qualifying families, they will be loaned a supply of diapers. Here are a couple great diaper banks that I recommend.

DIY cloth diapers

If you have a sewing machine and decent sewing skills, you can buy the fabric to make your own cloth diapers and inserts. 

There are tons of diaper patterns on the internet for you to make your own. 

You can also use old clothing around the house to make them.

  • Use old t-shirts to make inserts by cutting to fit, layering them, and sewing.
  • An old wool sweater can be made into a wool cover (you would just need to lanolize them)
  • Flour sack towels can also be sewn into inserts or folded and used to double with other inserts.

Essentials for cloth diapering

You need a couple of essentials when you decide to cloth diapers.

Diaper Pail

A diaper pail or trash can will hold the dirty diapers until you’re ready to wash them. You can pick these up pretty cheap at the Dollar General.

Waterproof liner

A reusable waterproof liner to put in the diaper pail to keep it clean.

Reusable wipes

Reusable wipes so you don’t have to buy disposable. You just wet the wipes with water, and there you go.

Diaper Sprayer

Diaper sprayer to make spraying the poop off the diapers easier.

Wet bag

A waterproof wet bag for when you need to change a diaper on the go. These are great whether you cloth diaper or not. You can put soiled or wet clothes in it with worrying about leaking.

How do I wash cloth diapers?

The logistics of washing your cloth diaper stash can seem intimidating, especially when there is so much conflicting (and downright awful) information on washing. 

But, washing diapers is really simple. Here’s my easy wash routine that I used. I never had issues with rashes, smells, or anything else during the five years I used them.

Related: 17 Frugal Laundry Tips to Save Money

After Diaper Change

After you change your baby’s diaper, you throw it into an open pail or trash can with a liner until wash day

  • Pee diapers go directly into the pail (make sure to separate the inserts from the shell).
  • Poopy diapers get sprayed off and placed into the pail.


On diaper wash day, you first want to do a prewash to remove any leftover surface soil.

  • Wash diapers on a quick wash cycle with the heaviest soil and highest spin setting.
  • Use a small amount of laundry detergent (I use powdered tide and fill to line 1).

Main Wash

After you remove surface diaper soil, you want to do a deep clean of all the layers of the diapers and inserts.

  • Pick all the diapers and inserts from off of the wall of the washing machine drum.
  • Add small items to ensure the washer is 2/3 to 3/4 full for proper agitation.
  • Add the recommended amount of detergent for your load.
  • Wash on hot using the longest cycle with the heaviest amount of agitation.
  • Make sure to choose the heaviest soil and highest spin setting.


You can then dry the diapers in the dryer or hang them to dry. 

Some people say that drying on high heat can stretch the elastic. I never had an issue using high heat. Just allow your diapers to cool before you use or stuff them so you don’t chance stretching the elastic.

I recommend checking out Fluff Love and Cloth Diaper Science for more information on washing. They have a wealth of research and resources to perfect your wash routine. 

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How often do you have to wash cloth diapers?

The frequency of how often you wash is based on 

  1. How many diapers do you have?
  2. How often do you want to wash?

But, a good rule of thumb is that you should wash cloth diapers every 2-3 days. 

Disadvantages of cloth diapering

To give a different perspective, here are some disadvantages to cloth diapering. 

Not as convenient as disposables

Let’s face it, washing the diapers is not as convenient as tossing a poopy diaper into the trash. But, like all convenience items, it comes with a higher price tag.

So, you’ll have to decide if saving possibly thousands of dollars is worth the added inconvenience. 

There can be wash routine issues

There can be issues with your wash routine that can cause a buildup of minerals or ammonia that can cause either rashes or smelly diapers. 

The reasons for this are:

Hard Water 

Hard water causes mineral buildup, leading to smells and less absorbency. 

If you have hard water, you’ll want to add a water softener (such as borax) to correct this. If you continue to have issues, you may need to strip your diapers. 

You’re washing them wrong

If you’re not washing your diapers thoroughly, they will smell and possibly cause rashes on your baby. 

I have seen people recommend washing diapers with 1tbsp of Dawn dish detergent and a 1/2 cup of bleach. 

I’m sorry, but how is this cleaning the diapers? I use more than 1tbsp of Dawn on my dirty dishes! Not to mention, dish detergent is not good for your washing machine.

Laundry detergent cleans soiled diapers, and bleach disinfects them. You are welcome to add some bleach to your wash routine (although it’s unnecessary). But you must use the appropriate amount of laundry detergent to clean your diapers.

Some daycares may not allow 

My daycare was awesome and allowed us to use cloth diapers. I gave them a waterproof bag, and they just threw the whole diaper in the bag. Then, I would spray and sort at the end of the day.

But, I have heard of some daycares not allowing cloth diapers. This may be a deterrent from wanting to invest in cloth diapers.

What are the best cloth diapers on a budget?

Prefolds or flats with covers are probably the most economical, with pocket diapers following closely behind. 

Looking back, I probably should have chosen flats or prefolds with covers because they are the cheapest option. 

But, this was before our change in money mindset, so I mainly chose pocket diapers because of the cute prints instead of extra savings. But, the pocket diapers were awesome and lasted multiple children, saving us a ton of money.

Related: 5 Secrets To Master Your Money Mindset

How to cloth diaper for under $150

Here are the best diaper deals to start a cloth diaper stash for under $150.

OsoCozy Economy Flat Diaper Package – $102.95

  • Includes 36 prefolds
  • 4 Diaper covers
  • a Pack of diaper fasteners

This package is everything you need for a beginners stash. Then, you could add to it if you needed anything else.

OsoCozy Economy Prefold Diaper Package – $129.48

  • Includes 36 prefolds
  • 4 Diaper covers

This is also everything you need for a beginner’s stash.

ALVABABY One Size Pocket Diaper Package – $29.99

  • 6 Pocket diapers
  • 12 Microfiber inserts

You could buy 4 of these packages and couple extra inserts for under $150 and have a good starter supply.

Babygoal One Size Pocket Diaper Package – $32.99

  • 6 Pocket diapers
  • 6 Microfiber inserts
  • 4 Bamboo inserts

Buy four of this package and have all you need to start cloth diapering.

How to budget for cloth diapering

If you’re pregnant and have time to save, I recommend setting up a sinking fund to save a small amount every paycheck. This way, you can purchase your cloth diapers and essential accessories without using a credit card. 

If you’re transitioning to cloth, you can save the same way. Or, you can buy a couple diapers each month or paycheck, whatever your monthly budget allows.

But, once the initial investment in cloth diapers is made, these diapers will last your whole cloth diaper journey.

Frequently asked questions about cloth diapering

Here are a couple FAQs that I thought were important to cover.

Do cloth diapers ruin washing machines?

Cloth diapers do not ruin your washing machine. It will lead to normal wear and tear like any other load of laundry. 

But as long as you’re using the correct laundry detergent for your machine, there is no need to worry about cloth diapers ruining it.

How often do you change a cloth diaper?

Just like disposable diapers, you change them when wet or soiled. So, approximately every two hours. 

When the baby stops pooping at night, you can let them sleep until morning without changing them. As long as you have a highly absorbent diaper.

What do I do for a diaper rash?

You don’t want to use diaper creams with zinc oxide or petroleum. They will affect the absorbency of the diaper.

The best thing is to let your baby air dry for a little bit at the first signs of redness. Then, you can apply cloth-diaper-safe creams. 

When should I start cloth diapering?

There is really no right or wrong answer for when to start. You can start from day one or wait until all the meconium passes (the black tarry poop).

Personally, I used disposables for the first month because babies are constantly pooping during this time. I needed to adjust to the lack of sleep before starting extra tasks such as laundry.

How do I prepare cloth diapers for the first time?

There is no crazy prepping. Just throw the diapers in the washing machine, run them through a wash cycle, and then dry.

How do you clean poopy cloth diapers without a sprayer?

A sprayer makes things so much easier, but it’s not necessary. If you don’t have a diaper sprayer, you would just use the swish or dunk method.

You just dunk or swish the diaper in the toilet until most of the poop is off. It’s a bit messier, but it works just as good.

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Cloth diapering isn’t as convenient as disposables. But, it’s better for the environment and will definitely save you some major cash.

You don’t have to spend much money on a cloth diapering system. With just $150 to start, you can diaper your baby for the whole first year and beyond.

As long as you take care of the diapers and have a good wash routine, the diapers can last multiple children. Which will save even more money!

What questions do you have about cloth diapering? Leave a comment below!

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