When you’ve got a newborn, you’re probably interested in two things: saving time and saving cash.
You can choose from a number of different kinds of cloth diapers, but we’re going to focus on two types of cloth diapers: pocket and prefold. If you’re interested in trying cloth diapering, here’s what you need to know about these two popular methods.
We’ll also let you know how to save money on cloth diapers.
Method 1: Pocket Diapers
I talked to Kate Fenner, whom you may remember as the coupon-savvy mom from This Mother Rarely Pays for Groceries. Here’s Her Couponing Strategy, about her cloth diapering process.
“I use what are called pocket diapers,” Fenner said. “They have velcro or snaps, and they’re just as easy to put on as a disposable diaper.”
A pocket diaper includes a colorful outer layer often made of leak-resistant polyester laminate or polyurethane laminate (often called “PUL”), as well as an inner pocket in which to place the absorbent diaper material. The pocket is covered with a layer of fabric designed to keep moisture off the baby’s skin.
Caring for soiled pocket diapers is easy, as Fenner explains. “It’s very straightforward. You make sure the diaper doesn’t have a lot of solid matter left on it, and it goes through the washing machine just like any other laundry. It doesn’t require any special detergent, you can just use whatever regular detergent you use on your clothes.”
Pocket diapers can also go in the dryer with your other clothes, making cleanup as easy as doing a load of laundry.
Where does the solid matter go, you might ask? When you change your baby, just wipe or rinse the solid waste into the toilet.
Some parents use a diaper sprayer to dislodge waste into the toilet. If there’s a lot of waste, you can dunk part of the diaper into the toilet to rinse it off. Then, put the diaper in a wet bag until you’re ready to do laundry.
“In the nursery, we have a big wet bag, and that’s where we throw the dirty diapers until we put them in the laundry,” Fenner explains. “For traveling or going out and about, we have a small wet bag that goes in our diaper bag. When we change her, we put the dirty diaper in there and just zip it up!”
How many diapers do you need? Fenner has about 30 pocket diapers for her daughter, which she says is average for one kid.
“They go through them a lot more quickly when they’re newborns, so you might need to do laundry a little more frequently.”
Method 2: Prefold Diapers
Prefold diapers are a little different from pocket diapers.
Instead of putting absorbent material into the pocket of a water-resistant diaper, with prefold diapers you fold a piece of absorbent material around your baby’s bottom, use pins or Snappis to keep it in place and then add a water-resistant diaper cover. (Some parents fold the material and place it inside the diaper cover before putting the diaper on their baby; do what works best for you!)
The Eco-Friendly Family has a great visual tutorial of different diaper folds, if you’d like to see prefold diapers in action.
My friend Kristina Darnell used prefold diapers on her two daughters, and took it a step further by renting the diapers from a service instead of purchasing her own.
“After weighing our options, we decided to use a service where we actually rented prefold diapers and covers, and all the laundering was done for us on a weekly basis,” she said.
The service sent her about 80 diapers per week, and all she had to do was fold them, use them and put them in a wet bag. “At the end of the week, you put all the dirty diapers in a big bag on your front porch, and the delivery truck picks it up and drops off a new bag with 80 fresh, clean diapers.”
Yes, that means that your baby is “sharing diapers” with every other family renting from the service. However, Darnell said that wasn’t an issue. “The company had thousands of diapers they laundered. You wouldn’t know if you had the same 80 diapers week to week, but they are washed at crazy high temperatures, so it doesn’t really matter.”
Using a diaper rental service also saved time. The Darnell family didn’t have to launder the diapers themselves, and didn’t even have to remove solid waste. Everything went into the bag and back to the service for cleaning.
How to Save Money With Cloth Diapers
Both Fenner and Darnell said cloth diapering can be less expensive than disposable diapering.
How does that compare to disposables? As Darnell explained: “A rough estimate of using disposable diapers through a subscription service like Amazon Mom would be about 16 cents per diaper, or $540.80 per year, before you factor in the added cost of wipes, increased garbage pick up costs, etc.”
That’s for nearly 3,400 diapers. Most kids are in diapers for at least two years, so your costs for diapers alone would be nearly $1,100.
To compare, here’s what Fenner said about the costs of cloth diapers: “We spent roughly $200 on our entire stash of cloth diapers, and they will for sure last us until our daughter is potty trained, and will possibly be able to be used for additional kids in the future.” You’ll also have to factor in the cost of wipes, laundry detergent, wet bags and — of course — your water bill.
But to really save, you’ll need to wash the diapers yourself. Renting diapers from a cleaning service comes with an extra cost. “Our first year cost about $1,118 for absolutely every aspect of diapering, including wipes,” Darnell told me. In her case, the time saved made this more than worth the price.
Here are a few more ways to save money on your cloth diapers:
- It’s okay to buy used. Sites like Craigslist often have low-cost used diapers from parents who are happy to pass them along. Some parents choose to “strip” their used diapers before putting them on their babies, which essentially means giving used diapers a deep clean. Fluff Love University has some stripping tips to help you get started.
- We’ve written before about people selling household goods in Facebook local groups, and that’s another great place to ask about used cloth diapers.
- Look at sites like Alvababy that sell cloth diapers at discount prices.
- Visit DiaperSwappers, an online forum where you can buy, sell and swap used cloth diapers.
- If you have sewing skills, LittleHouseLiving has tips on how to buy worn-out cloth diapers and repair them — or make new ones from scratch.
There’s one more big savings that parents might not consider. Anecdotally, children in cloth diapers often potty train earlier than children in disposable diapers. This means saving money on six months to a year of not diapering, once the child is potty trained! (Or if you decide to try elimination communication, even longer.)
Once your children are all using the potty and are done with diapers, don’t forget to sell your cloth diapers to another parent for additional cash in the bank.
Your Turn: Have you tried cloth diapering? What was your experience like, and what money-saving tips do you have for other parents?
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Nicole Dieker is a freelance writer focusing on personal finance and personal stories. Her work has appeared in The Billfold, The Toast, Yearbook Office, The Write Life and Boing Boing.