Baby on a Budget: Cloth Diapers

Baby wearing Bummis cloth diaper

In my quest to save you from buying piles of baby stuff you won’t use, I’ve been outlining the essential baby basics on a budget.

You will change a lot of diapers. Elimination is one of those baby needs you meet one way or another.

As with baby carriers, you save money when you buy diapers that can be used from baby through toddler. We’ve got the solution for even a tiny diaper budget.

How Many Diapers Will a Baby Use?

Short answer: you will change 3000 – 6000 diapers on your baby.

During the first couple of months, you will probably have 12 diaper changes or more a day. If your newborn eliminates every hour, you change the diaper every hour in order to avoid discomfort and rash for your baby. That number will gradually dwindle to 4-5 diapers a day before your toddler uses the toilet.

12 x 30 x 3 = 1080
10 x 30 x 6 = 1800
8 x 30 x 6 = 1440
6 x 30 x 3 = 540
4 x 30 x 3 = 360
Total = 5220

Even if you are lucky and find that your child learns to use the toilet early and doesn’t eliminate as often, the lowest estimate for number of diaper changes per child is about 3000. I’m going to use that lowest number so I have a generous place to start when comparing with disposable diapers, but I want you to realize that it could be almost double that number. Babies’ needs vary.

How Many Diapers Do I Need?

Short answer: you need 24 prefolds and 4 one-size diaper covers.

On a budget, choose the lowest number of diapers you will need. I’ve seen more than one family make do with a dozen diapers, but you will end up washing more than once a day or leaving your baby in a wet diaper (which can cause irritation and rash). I consider 18 the minimum to start for a family washing diapers every day. The number of diapers used per day will go down quickly, so your laundry will go down quickly.

Just to keep being generous with the numbers, I am going to use 24 as my comparison number. Buy 24 prefold cloth diapers and 4 one-size covers, and a few accessories (like wipes or wash cloths and a bucket to hold the dirties), and you are set.

Compare Diaper Prices

  • $690 Disposable Diapers
  • $600 Cloth All-in-one Diapers plus Newborn
  • $240 Cloth One-size All-in-one Diapers
  • $231 ($195) Cloth prefolds with sized covers
  • $177 Cloth prefolds with one-size covers

The clear winner is prefold diapers with one-sized covers.

1 set of 12 Organic Cotton Prefolds, Infant Size
1 set of 12 Organic Cotton Prefolds, Premium Size
4 Bummis Simply Lite one-size diaper covers (Made in Canada!)

Our calculations

  • Disposable diapers – 3000 diaper changes x $.20-25 each = $690 ($.23 x 3000)
  • All-in-one one-size (no newborn) – 12 AIO x $20 = $240
  • All-in-one one-size plus newborn – $240 + (18 Newborn x $20 = $360) = $600
  • Prefolds with sized covers – 12 organic cotton Infant prefolds $44.96 + 12 organic cotton Premium prefolds $59.98 + (3 x 3 x $14 = $126) = $231  SPECIAL: Bummis Super Brite sized covers are on special right now for $10 per cover. Knock that total down to $195.
  • Prefolds with one-size covers – 12 organic cotton Infant prefolds $44.96 + 12 organic cotton Premium prefolds $59.98 + 4 one-size diaper covers $71.92 (4 x $17.98) = $177

Simple diaper bonus: prefold cloth diapers are by far the easiest diapers to wash. You can use and accidentally abuse cotton, and it still performs. For answers to your diaper cleaning questions, start at our Cloth Diaper Laundry Hub.

Why Shopping Local Will Save You Money in the Long Run

Saving money with diapers isn’t just a matter of the price you pay up front. I’ve heard many sad stories of people who thought they had found great diaper deals, but it turned out that they bought trouble.

Nature Mom has outlined the reasons shopping at or any other local store will save you money when you are buying for baby. The store in Orillia has a staff that is trained to help you succeed.

We’ll help make sure the diapers you choose are best for your individual circumstances. You won’t have to try multiple styles to get it right. We can help narrow down the many choices to the absolute best choices for you.

Every cloth diaper purchase from includes our 10 years of experience helping thousands of parents with cloth diapering. We’ll ensure you get off to a good start from day one, with everything you need to be successful.

We’re easy to get in touch with when you need help. Email, phone, or stop by the store, and we can help troubleshoot with fit, leaking, overnight diapering, washing issues, etc. This saves time weeding through the crazy responses online. (We joke, please don’t put your diapers in the dishwasher! This could be a costly mistake.)

Many local stores offer consignment sales so when you are done with your diapers, if you choose quality brands and followed recommended washing instructions, you might be able to resell your diapers through the local stores. Our next cloth diaper consignment sale at (our Repeat Sale) is coming up fast already! We’ll start registering consignors next month for our Spring Sale on March 22nd. (Check in on Facebook or get our newsletter for updates.)

How do you know if your diaper is safe, a counterfeit, or under warranty? When you talk to us in the store, we help you understand these issues. They do matter. It’s like having insurance for your investment. Authorized retailers can also help with warranty issues, and there are many unauthorized sellers online.

Bottom line, cloth diapers are an investment. Spending your money with a local retailer helps to secure this investment. That $50 or $100 you might think you’re saving buying from a big box store is easily worth the independent retailer’s time and expertise when you need it, as well as your own peace of mind throughout your cloth diapering experience.

Are You a Super Saver?

Go diaper free with infant pottying (or elimination communication). You will still need some diapers but not nearly as many as you would cloth diapering full time.

More Baby on a Budget

Next week I’ll talk about breastfeeding essentials. As you can guess, doesn’t involve much more than you and your baby.

Compare Cloth Diapers – Prefold & Flat Diapers

Hemp cotton prefold cloth diapers

Finally, my favorite cloth diapers. I did say that fitted diapers are my favorites. Well, prefolds and flat diapers are my other favorites, and I’m ready to compare them with the other great cloth diapering choices you have available.

Prefold Cloth Diapers

I just laugh when people talk about “modern cloth diapers” as if there is something about prefolds and flat diapers that they are trying to avoid. In my experience talking to a big variety of parents in a variety of situations, at least half still use prefolds. Why? Because they work!

Prefolds provide simple and adaptable moisture absorbency for any cloth diapering system. Prefolds are a rectangular diaper with extra layers down the center. As with fitted diapers, you will need to use a waterproof diaper cover over prefold diapers.

Because of the simple construction and materials of a prefold diaper, they are much less expensive than fitted, all-in-one, and pocket diapers. If fitting cloth diapers into a tight budget is your priority, prefold or flat diapers are your least expensive choice.

The prefolds sold at are either all cotton or a hemp/cotton blend. These natural fibers are absorbent and very easy to wash. You don’t need a special routine to get a cotton diaper clean. They can take a beating, which also means you save even more money because they will usually last for more than one child.

If you like variety in your cloth diapering system, prefolds can help. They can be used as inserts in pocket diapers as well as on their own under covers. You don’t need special inserts or special fibers since cotton prefolds will do both jobs all on their own.

Prefolds come in different weights and sizes, but you can usually use the same size for all but the tiniest babies, adding your newborn prefolds as doublers as your baby grows.

Flat Cloth Diapers

Flat diapers are what our (great-great)grandmothers used before prefolds were available through diaper services. My grandmother saved her flour sacks for both kitchen towels and baby diapers. My mother-in-law uses my husband’s old diapers as kitchen towels now. Towels and diapers do a similar job of holding moisture.

Flat diapers come in a variety of sizes as long as you are looking for variety between 18″x18″ and 36″x36″. (A bit like Henry Ford’s Model-T, which came in any color you want as long as you want black.) The smaller sizes are usually a heavier weight, such as terry toweling, in order to provide enough absorbency for a diaper. The flat diapers we carry are made from cotton birdseye and shrink to about 28″x28″ after washing.

Flat diapers will need to be folded to create a size to fit around your baby and into a diaper cover. Prefolds are called that because they took a popular diaper fold and sewed it into place. The diaper came prefolded, which meant more layers needed heavier washing to get clean, but cleaning both types of diapers is super simple compared to more complex diapers.

Most parents also use a closure to keep the diaper snug on the baby to prevent leaks. Yes, some parents—many parents—still use pins because they are practical and they work, but another very popular choice with prefolds is a Snappi diaper fastener. This is a plastic T-shape with teeth to grab and hold the diaper on the baby. I skipped both of these and used flat diapers without closures. I had pins, but I ignored them. I just used diapers folded in thirds with snug covers and T-shirts that snap at the crotch to keep diapers on.

Snappi cloth diaper fastener

Prefold & Flat Diaper Advantages

  • The least expensive diapering option.
  • Very quick to fold and put on a prefold. (My husband says he reached for them first because they made a quicker diaper change.)
  • Customized fit and absorbency for every change because babies can grow even week to week, and you don’t want to have to buy new diapers.
  • A variety of folds put absorbency and a kind of catcher’s mitt exactly where you need it.
  • Very easy to wash.
  • Very quick to dry, especially flat diapers.
  • Flat diapers have lower environmental impact in production, washing, and drying that any other type of diaper.
  • Now, prefolds even come in colors, sometimes with prints.
  • After they are done being diapers, either prefolds or flats make good cleaning rags.

Prefold & Flat Diaper Disadvantages

  • You have to fold, even a prefold.
  • On a very active baby, your skillful fold can move around inside the cover unless you use a Snappi or pins.
  • Harder to put on a standing or running toddler.
  • No gussets can mean messes if you don’t fold with messes in mind.
  • The chemical impact of the bleaching process on bleached (white) prefolds results in a shorter life for the fibers.
  • A substitute caregiver can be intimidated by folding no matter how simple you think it is.

Saturday we’ll share highlights from our customers’ reviews of prefolds and flat diapers. You still have a few days to add your review.

Changing Colors: Dye Your Own Prefold Cloth Diapers

Baby with a tie-dyed prefold cloth diaper

As the leaves change color, you may feel like a little change of color would be nice inside, as well. I’ve seen a lot of beautiful dyed prefold cloth diapers that parents have dyed themselves. This is a great way to add fun to your baby’s diaper wardrobe as well as finding out how easy it is to add more color to your closet and to the rest of your house. If you have a beautiful white blouse with a tiny spot, a bright, new color may cover things up nicely—at the very least, your new wardrobe will distract from tiny spots.

There are three simple steps to dyeing cotton.

  1. The dye chemically attaches to the cotton fibers.
  2. An alkaline mixture fixes the attachment, since most dyes on their own tend not to be colorfast.
  3. A hot wash cycle carries away any dye that hasn’t reacted (bonded to) the cotton fibers.


12 cotton prefold diapers
Salt, ~ 1 cup
Sodium carbonate (soda ash), ~ 1/2 cup (buy from a swimming pool supply store)
Powdered fiber-reactive dye, 1 tsp
1-quart glass jar
Small non-food stirring implement (to fit quart jar)
Large non-food stirring implement (to fit bucket)
Rubber gloves
5-gallon bucket

Diapers. Prewash but do not dry the diapers.

Dye Bucket. Fill bucket about 2/3 full with warm tap water. Dissolve salt the warm water.

Dye Mix. Put dry dye into glass jar and add a little bit of warm water at a time, stirring to make a well-mixed paste. Do not use kitchen utensils to stir dye. Once you have a paste, add a little bit more water at a time until you have about 3 cups of mixed dye water.

Pour the dye mix into bucket with salt water. Stir thoroughly.

Add washed diapers to dye bucket and stir gently and periodically for 10-15 minutes.

Fix Mix. Rinse glass jar. Put on your rubber gloves because sodium carbonate can be quite caustic on the skin.

Dissolve soda ash in glass jar with 3 cups of water as hot as you can make it out of the tap. Hotter water makes it easier to dissolve the soda ash. Stir well to dissolve completely. This takes a couple of minutes. Don’t stop until you have no more little chunks.

Add soda ash mixture a little at a time to dye bucket. Stir well between each addition. Take about 5 minutes to add the whole fix mixture.

Stir periodically for 10-15 minutes.

Rinse. Pour out dye, careful not to pour into a sink or bathtub that will take on the dye color. You might find that pouring it straight into the washer is the best choice. If you pour the dye bath into the washer, run a spin cycle.

Run 2-3 hot washes with detergent. Look at the wash on each rinse cycle to be sure that the water is running clear. You can check for residual dye by scooping rinse water into the glass jar and holding it up in front of a white background. The water may be almost clear after the first wash with a load of only 12 prefolds.

Dry as usual, and have fun with your new colored diapers.

Tie Dye

Easy! The first time I tie dyed T-shirts with children, when I was a summer camp counselor, I had no experience at all with dyeing. Our tie dye techniques were very simple, involving rubber bands and wadded up shirts, but the children had a great time, and the shirts were passably colored. If I could produce fun shirts in that chaotic situation, I’m sure you can produce great tie-dyed diapers.

Dharma Trading has extensive articles, books, videos, kits, and stories to encourage you to get creative with your dyeing adventure.

Why These Materials?

We use fiber-reactive dyes because they bond with cotton fibers on a molecular level. They are permanent. Once fixed, they don’t fade.

Jar of Procion dyeAlso, Procion dyes “have the very important safety property of not penetrating intact skin cells.” Paula Burch, an experienced home dyer, finds them safe for a woman who is pregnant or breastfeeding. Be cautious when using the sodium carbonate, though.

Sodium carbonate (soda ash) may sound close to sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), but baking soda is not alkaline enough to fix the dyes. It’s easy to find the right chemicals for your hand dyeing. Pool supply stores sell all sizes of sodium carbonate down to 5lbs for about $10-12.

We use a special wetting agent for most of our dyeing, but even a teaspoon of dish soap could be added to salt water mixture to ensure even dye coverage. To make the instructions simpler, I removed that step. If you are going to experiment with more dyeing, try some with and some without simple wetting agents.


Dharma Fiber-reactive Procion Dyes are my favorite dyes. Dharma has masses of information, shared experience, and supplies—far more than I have ever needed, and I dye a lot of fabric.

Paula Burch’s All about Hand Dyeing
is a great site for any non-chemist who wants to understand the chemistry of dyeing.

Image © Matt Antonino |