I have heard the debate so many times about whether or not cloth diapering is really less expensive than disposables. If you are doing it for environmental reasons, it is absolutely better. If you are looking for the absolute cheapest option for diapering your kids, it is still affordable if you chose a more basic no frills system. (If you are completely new to cloth diapering and don’t recognize the terminology I’m using check out the Diaperpin.com dictionary page).
I’m a big fan of a combination system: prefolds for during the day, fitted diapers for nighttime changes (for newborns), pockets diapers for all night sleeping and All-in-One’s for out of the house and babysitters/relatives. My mother used cloth diapers when I was small, so she knows how to use a prefold, but she still prefers the fitted and AIOs or pocket diapers. My father also used prefolds when I was small and finds the “high tech” diapers confusing. He usually prefers the AIOs or fitteds. He can use the Pocket diapers, but he is always forgetting to remove the wet insert. (Fortunately Thirsties Duo Diaper has now eliminated the need to remove the wet insert, more on that later).
I’ve compiled several possible diapering combinations. You have to shop around to look for the best price on the various cloth-diapering websites, unless you are lucky enough to have a store in your area that carries cloth diapers. Unfortunately there aren’t any near us. Always remember to factor in the cost of shipping when planning your budget, or always order larger amounts to get free shipping. I find that for Thirsties products, Amazon.com almost always has the cheapest price, plus free shipping after $25, which is lower than most free shipping thresholds on other websites. That being said, I prefer to support small businesses when I can. My favorite sites so far have been Cotton Babies, and Kellys Closet. (I also like Green Mountain Diapers but they don’t have a free shipping option, which I find frustrating. However, they are very useful for reference.) I also recently discovered the Happy Baby Company who claims to offer free shipping on any order in the US, though they don’t carry all of my favorite products.
Prefolds and Covers
In my opinion the cheapest, yet most reliable option would be prefolds and covers. How you combine these will determine how inexpensive it can be. There are three ways to secure a prefold inside a cover: pins, Snappi or just trifolded and lain inside. I find that a Snappi is the most reliable method. A Snappi is a fun little item that looks kind of like fallopian tubes. It has little gripping teeth that grab into the prefold in three places and holds it together. One Snappi is $3 or $4 each but will last up to 6 months. So if you avoid losing them, you can still make it affordable. Pins are less expensive, but I will admit that I’ve never been able to get the hang of using them. Laying the prefold in the cover works fine if the baby is only wet or once baby is on mostly solid foods (since BM’s are more formed and less likely to leak out of the diaper onto the cover).
Having tried many brands of covers, I would recommend Thirsties or Bummis Whisper Wrap. These are similar in price range. The main difference is the covered vs. exposed PUL and the gussets. I love the gussets on the Thirsties covers. Without them my exclusively breastfed daughter would have had many an accident, (something which also used to happen to her in disposables).
The Bummis also worked well, but the Thirsties seemed almost blow-out proof, even if the poo escaped the diaper, it wouldn’t escape the cover. I also found that since the Bummis had a covered PUL they seemed to get damper when the diaper was completely saturated. I also like the Thirsties Duo covers which are like the Thirsties covers except that they have snaps to adjust the rise, giving them a wider size range. These also just became available in an all snap version, for parents that prefer snaps.
The Thirsties covers are available in a dozen or so colors, Thirsties Duo Wrap is available in 8 colors. Bummis Whisper Wrap is available in white and 4 or 5 patterns. Bummis also makes the Super Snap version which is available only in white. While I’m not a huge fan of snaps, in the newborn size, it has a nice dip in the front, to keep from rubbing on the umbilical cord.
There is another budget friendly option, depending on what kind of diapers you prefer. This would be the Econobum one-size system. For $50 you can get 3 covers and 12 prefolds. The recommendation is that you buy at least two packs. I might recommend three, just to be safe, if you are using these exclusively, or at least purchase a few extra covers. These prefolds are simply tri-folded and lain inside the cover. These are not really designed to be secured using a pin or Snappi.
In my experience, this means that you may need more covers, because the poo is more likely to get on the cover. The cover is one-size with a series of snaps to adjust the rise, and then snapped closed once on. (Personally, I am not a fan of snaps. I find that Velcro or Aplix is easier to use, and gives a more precise fit. The flip side is that in general the Velcro will wear out sooner, but it can always be replaced if you sew, or know someone who will do it for you. The snaps don’t always last longer, it kind of depends on the quality of the snaps compared to the quality of the Velcro) The perk of this system is that it is one size. So, in theory, you buy it once and then use it until your kid has potty trained. That being said, I don’t find that the covers are as sturdy as other brands, so it’s hard to believe that they would make it until potty training. There are ways to extend the life of your covers, one being to wash by hand. Personally, I don’t baby my covers. I secure the Velcro before washing and I air dry or sun dry rather than putting them in the dryer, but that’s about as far as I will go. They need to be sturdy enough to hold up to the rigors of diapering otherwise what good are they? Unfortunately the exposed PUL inside these covers seems to stain easily. Since I bought these in winter I haven’t yet tested to see if the sun will take out those stains. But despite some nasty poops, none of my daughter’s other covers have stained inside, even the white Bummis covered PUL! This is definitely a worth while part of a budget friendly system, but I wouldn’t want to use it exclusively.
One of the best deals I’ve seen is the Try-It Kits sold by Cotton Babies. For $35 you get six prefolds, two covers and a Snappi. This is a pretty reasonable price, considering that you get to choose between White and Patterned Bummis Super Whisper Wraps, normally you pay extra for the patterned Super Whisper Wraps. You get to pick the size prefold (infant or premium) and the size cover (newborn, small, medium or large). If you get four sets, (two with infant prefolds, two with premium prefolds), one in each cover size, that will give you a good start to your diaper stash. I also recommend buying Chinese or Indian prefolds individually. They usually cost $1.50 for infant and $2 for premium, unless you can find them for less on sale. Combine these with a selection of covers (my personal suggestion would be Thirsties or Thirsties Duo). This way you are trying out three different covers with your prefolds.
Don’t be tempted by the cheap cloth diapers you see in Target and Wal-Mart. These really make better burp clothes than they do diapers. Don’t get me wrong, if you are on a really tight budget you could probably make them work if you double them up, but since regular Chinese or Indian prefolds are so reasonably priced, I don’t know that there would be any real advantages.
There are even more inexpensive covers than the favorites I listed above. The absolute cheapest covers I’ve even seen are a pull-on style nylon cover (meaning no Velcro or snaps) from Dappi. You can buy a two-pack for $5. However, they do run rather large. The newborn size never did fit my daughter well, though she has always had skinny legs. So I never tested them in a larger size because I simply didn’t like them. They also didn’t breathe well. I used to use them over disposables when I was traveling, but now when I have to use disposables I use my Econobum or Thirsties covers over them, especially on long car trips. You can also buy a Bummis Whisper Pant for $6. The disadvantage of this kind of cover is that when the poo leaks out of the diaper, which will happen on occasion, especially when using prefolds on an exclusively breastfed baby, you then have to pull the messy cover down over the child’s presumably clean legs. Yuck! I have to say it was not an appealing prospect. You also must always use a Snappi or pins with a prefold diaper when it is worn under a wrap style cover. These covers are good options if you are on a barebones budget. Fortunately, though our budget was tight, I was able to buy some wrap-style covers instead, and still end up saving a ton of money compared to disposables. There are also cheaper brands of wrap-style covers. The Pro-Wraps covers are $8.95 each. I had a few of these that I tried, though they were second hand. I have to admit that I wasn’t impressed. I couldn’t seem to get the legs to stop gaping or the waist to be tight enough on my skinny girl. The Velcro tabs in the front don’t overlap, as they do with many other brands to allow for a more precise fit. Maybe it would have been different had I bought them new, but these just weren’t the right covers for us. Lite Wrap covers are similar in syle and pricing.
There are also the one size options. These covers tend to cost more, but if they really do last until your child is potty trained, you will ultimately spend less on covers. Generally these are available only in snaps. Other than the Econobum, I haven’t tested any of them personally. Some of the other cloth diaper moms I’ve spoken to love the Flip cover used with prefolds rather than the inserts that are part of the Flip system. You can also use regular prefolds and even some fitteds with the Econobum cover. Though sometimes the edges of the fitted don’t fit well into the cover, it depends on the cut of the cover and the Chinese or Indian prefolds seem a little bulky, but they can work. The Econobum cover is $8.95 by itself and the Flip cover is $13.95.
One last kind of cover I must mention is wool. Now I don’t use a lot of wool. I have a couple of handmade wool covers. The ones I made are not as good. The ones I was given as a gift are nice. However, here is the deal with wool. It is supposedly amazing. It keeps wetness away from the baby but off of the baby’s clothes. It is naturally antimicrobial, antibacterial and antifungal. There is also some kind of interaction between the ammonia in and urine and the lanoline, so there is no smell. The idea of using a diaper cover over and over after it had been soaked with urine, even if there was no smell, is still a little disturbing to me. I have used them. Unfortunately, I was afraid to use them when my daughter was small after she pooped on one. I don’t think they hold the poo in quite as well. Now that my daughter is older, I have since tried them again. I do like them better now, though I prefer them with fitted diapers. Part of me still can’t trust them with prefolds. I do like how soft they are and that they don’t feel stiff or bulky under my daughter’s clothes. The wool covers that are made commercially seem to be wonderful quality but also quite pricey- $30 and up. Some people won’t use anything else. Supposedly they are very durable and you don’t need as many covers over all. I haven’t tested this well enough for myself. My suggestion would be that if you really want to go with all natural fibers, buy one or two covers to try and then see how you feel before you invest too much money in them. If you end up not liking them, you can probably recoup most of your money by selling them on EBay.
There are obviously many other covers available; dozens, perhaps hundreds in fact (if you include of the WAHMs who design and sell their own). The reason I mention the ones I do is because they are budget friendly priced and/or I have tested them myself. Please feel free to check the reviews on various cloth diaper websites as well as Diaperpin.com. You may love Dappi covers and wonder why anyone would spend $11 on a Thirties cover. Or you may hate Thirsties covers, consider them cheap and prefer some of the more expensive designer covers that are available. I prefer Velcro, you may prefer snaps. I am here to give you information and to share my own cloth diapering experience with you. You need to do your own research and draw your own conclusions.