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Published on April 18th, 2012 | by Heather Vaughn


Replay: Almost Free Cloth Diapers

Editor's Note: It's been more than a year since Jenn wrote what has probably been our most shared, most talked about cloth diapering post ever. As we celebrate Real Diaper Week, today's theme is "Real Simple Real Diapers Savings" With that in mind, we are re-publishing one of our favorites, "Jenn's Thoughts: Almost Free Diapers - How to diaper your baby when you can't afford disposable diapers or cloth diapers." It is our hope that you'll learn a few things from this blog post, e-mail it to a friend, bookmark or pin it for reference later. Many of the Cotton Babies team have personally dealt with financial difficulties and it is our pleasure to share this information with you again today. -- Heather
 Over the weekend, a customer shared with us this news report from Manhattan's NY1: High Cost Of Diapers Forces Some Parents Into Risky Practices. It breaks my heart because I personally know what it feels like to have to choose food OR diapers. When my husband and I started Cotton Babies, we were living on $30 a week for groceries plus a WIC check. That certainly wasn't enough to buy a cloth diaper stash and it didn't buy very many disposable diapers either. Thankfully, we were given three months of diaper service at one of my baby showers and then a friend gave me her stash of prefolds and diaper covers. Without those gifts though, we would have been looking for information about how to diaper your baby when you can't afford disposables OR cloth diapers.

30 years ago, most babies were cloth diapered using flat diapers or prefold diapers. 100 years ago, most babies were cloth diapered using homemade diapers. Those diapers were simple squares constructed from cotton fabric. The diaper was covered with rubber pants or a wool sweater, if a cover was even used. Believe it or not, diaper covers were a source of parenting drama years ago because doctor's were sure that they would cause diaper rash (we will talk about diaper rash another day... that's a topic for a week of blog posts).

We have seen several media reports recently about low income families reusing disposable diapers. These families are forced to choose between diapers and food. In an effort to keep budget available for groceries, they are blow drying a disposable diaper dry and putting it back on their baby. We recently heard about a local family who almost lost their baby to an infection as a result of reusing disposable diapers.

Within the cloth diaper industry, it's widely know that prefolds and covers are the most economical way to cloth diaper. But what if a family doesn't even have $5 dollars to spend and they are out of diapers? Our goal today is to TEACH you how to use things around your house to diaper your baby. Your great-grandmother probably did this. Your grandmother might remember... it's time that *we* re-educate ourselves, our friends and our families that before modern disposable or cloth diapers, people found safe, healthy ways to cover and protect their little ones.

Life is unpredictable. Jobs, income, natural disasters like we've seen recently in Japan, anything could leave any of us in a position where we have to make adjustments in our normal diapering routine. Let me share with you some ways I've found to diaper your little one in a reusable way with things you already have around your house.
    • No Sew, Folded T-shirt Cloth Diaper This one takes no sewing, no cutting and just a diaper pin to secure it. This would be great for anyone to know, just in case. You never know when you'll be short a diaper, and this works.


  • T-Shirt Tie Diaper No pin or snappi? This one just takes a pair of scissors and a few quick snips to create a tie-on cloth diaper.



  • Receiving Blanket Origami Fold Diaper No t-shirts? Out with just a diaper bag and a receiving blanket. This video shows you how to fold a cotton flannel receiving blanket into a diaper that can be secured with diaper pins or a snappi.



  • Start Cloth Diapering for $20 This tutorial and video shows you how to create a budget stash with a dozen prefolds, 4 fleece receiving blankets, a Snappi and an infant bodysuit. This could idea would be great for a family's emergency kit.



  • Need a cover? Upcycle an old wool sweater into a diaper cover. There are lots of tutorials online, but I like the photos and directions on The Sewing Dork.



  • No sewing skills? Find a pair of little girl "bloomers" (the matching panties that come with most little girl dresses). Using a can of Atsko Permanent Water Guard, spray the outside and inside of the bloomers to create your own pull-on cover. Let it dry before using. This solution will not be completely waterproof, but it will certainly help .


Keep in mind: Many household linens, hand towels, kitchen towels, bath towels, washcloths, flannel or cotton sheets, etc. can be folded or cut into a prefold size or insert shape suitable for diapering. Have an old t-shirt, cotton flannel shirt hanging in the back of your closet? Take a look at the label. You're looking for a natural fiber. Natural fibers are made from plants, not chemicals. That class of fabrics typically includes cotton, hemp, bamboo, etc. If the shirt you find was made of a natural fiber, you can repurpose that into a cloth diaper as well. Overwhelmed with what to do with a square or a rectangle? You can cut just about any absorbent fabric into strips, fold it into enough layers and you'll have an absorbent pad that will function as a diaper. If you go this route though, you'll need to have a diaper cover to hold the pad on your baby. The directions for making a diaper cover out of a wool sweater above are great... in a pinch, you could even cut up an old tablecloth.

If you'd prefer to buy a diaper cover, the least expensive diaper covers on the market, are these Dappi Nylon Pants. At Cotton Babies, we sell these in packages of 2 diaper covers for $5. At $3.95, a Snappi is another good purchase. It holds fabric, a cloth diaper, a towel... whatever... on your baby without the use of pins. Our free shipping on any order gets that package to your door hassle free.

Washing diapers: If you don't have a washer and dryer, you can easily wash your diapers out in the sink with a little dish soap. If the diaper was poopy, rinse it out in the toilet before washing in the sink. Wash each night and hang the diapers to dry in the bathtub or over a railing. Depending on your climate, most diapers will be dry by morning. As long as you stay on top of it, this will only take a few minutes.

Have you ever cloth diapered with household items? Do you have experience with the suggestions we made above? Share your tips and ideas with others... you never know who you're going to help.

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About the Author

Heather is mom to four, born within 40 months (single, twins, single). She writes transparently about her chaotic household to encourage others through the twists and turns of parenting.

3 Responses to Replay: Almost Free Cloth Diapers

  1. samuelmorse says:

    Nice post on diapers .Thanks for sharing with us

  2. Anonymous says:

    I once arrived at someone’s house having forgotten to bring nappies (diapers) and my son needed changing. we used a tea towel tied at the front and a plastic carrier bag as a makeshift cover. It didn’t work too well though and he was completely soaked through when we got home! After that though, I started putting a disposable nappy in the bag for emergencies, as they are far less bulky so can stay in the bag all the time. I use them on holiday (as washing facilities can be hit and miss) so always have some lying around

  3. Anonymous says:

    The folded t-shirt diaper is excellent. I use it all the time, not just in emergencies. Super quick and easy. Throw on a Snappi, and you don’t even really need a cover. Just change when the outside starts to get damp. I love this article.

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