Perhaps you want to cloth diaper, but you are on a very strict budget. Perhaps you had cloth diapers but your dryer exploded and burned them all and you can’t afford to replace them all right now. Perhaps you have just started researching cloth diapers but the hardcore cloth diapering fanatics who spend $80 on one diaper cover or stay up all night waiting for a chance to bid on a hyena or something totally scare you off. You are in luck. You do not have to buy a single cloth diaper, ever, if you want, but you can still cloth diaper anyway.
“You are one of those crazy fanatics scaring me off,” you might be thinking right now and I cannot, in full conscience, deny the “crazy” part, but I am serious. Our distant ancestors would think we were speaking in tongues if we ever uttered the words “bumGenius” or “Fuzzibunz” in their presence. There was no such thing as an all-in-one or fitted. When I was visiting my grandmother last summer, she came outside while I was hanging a bunch of diapers on a drying line and said, “Oh! Everything is so modern. We did not have this newfangled diaper when I was growing up.” Naturally, I thought that she was referring to my pocket diapers, but to my surprise she leaned over and picked up a prefold! So clearly, before the advent of disposables and modern cloth diaper designs, people managed to diaper their kids with what they had on hand. That means we still can as well.
No, you don’t have to resort to stuffing your newborn’s swaddle with moss and leaves. You may be able to scrounge up enough household items around your home to successfully cloth diaper; a quick trip to your local thrift store may take of the rest.
What to use as the absorbent diaper part? I personally think the best option here is to go for flour sack towels. If you do not already have some in your kitchen, they are cheap—either $5/5 or $4/5 at Wal-Mart, Target, etc; even cheaper at thrift stores if you can find them there. They are thin but absorbent, and softer than other towels would be against your baby’s skin. They are also about the size of “regular” flat birdseye diapers, so you can look up any “flat fold” and it will work with flour sack towels. And hey, if you hate them as diapers? Bleach ‘em and use them as…kitchen towels. I know, it is shocking.
Other “flat” style diapers can be whipped up out of almost anything. Since no one ever uses the thousands of packages of receiving blankets given to them at baby showers, those blankets are also a popular choice for flats. Flannel is soft and absorbent and most storebought receiving blankets are around the standard “flat” diaper size too.
Another option I see people mention often are “t-shirt flats,” basically cutting up old t-shirts to make into flats. I’ve never used them, but here’s a quick writeup on one way you could do this.
Okay, you have the absorbent part taken care of. What about a cover? Well, honestly, if you don’t mind pull-on style PUL or nylon covers, these are extremely cheap—around $6-$7 new—and of course even cheaper if you buy used. They are thinner and provide more coverage than wrap-style covers, but bare PUL may touch any part of your baby’s skin not covered by a diaper—only an issue for those with PUL sensitivities—and some people simply dislike the pull-on style. Of course, if we are truly diapering without buying any “proper” modern diaper supplies, we can turn to a popular alternative: covers made from wool or fleece.
Fleece is much cheaper than wool and you can pick up fleece blankets at Goodwill for a great deal, if you don’t already have a few lying around. Wool, however, is more breathable and, if properly prepped before sewing, more waterproof, but either will work fine in a pinch (old wool sweaters can often be found for cheap at thrift stores, though many stores in my area have caught on and starting pricing them absurdly high). The most popular pattern for creating covers out of wool and fleece is the “Katrina pattern,” which is described so well on her website—with variations and everything—that it’s simplest for me to just link it here. http://katrinassqs.blogspot.com/
Accessories are the last thing on our list! One thing about using cotton as your absorbent layer is that it is not stay-dry. I love cotton myself; it is breathable and washes easily. However, sometimes stay-dry is either preferred or necessary during times of diaper rash, overnight, or whenever. Here is where fleece steps in again: It doesn’t absorb liquid well, so you can cut some fleece into rectangles that fit into your diapers and place it against your baby’s skin. The pee will go straight through the fleece onto the cotton, letting the diaper absorb but keeping your baby’s skin feeling dry.
Last are cloth wipes. You can use just about any absorbent, soft material for cloth wipes. Flannel, cotton terry, sherpa, bamboo terry, the list goes on. Cut them into squares or rectangles—popular sizes that fit in most wipes holders are 4”x8” or 8”x8”–hem or serge the edges, and you have a stash of wipes!
The ONLY true diapering items I would suggest buying are the fasteners—either diaper pins (which are safer to use than, well, safety pins, when it comes to diapering), or the popular Snappi or Boingo alternatives. Some people do use a length of fabric to tie around the diaper to keep it from falling off (“tie nappies” are totally a thing for a few German cloth diaper companies), which you can try, but a proper fastener is less likely to get loose and end up with you cleaning up a trail of baby waste across your floor.
And there you have it. Kitchen towels as diapers, recycled wool sweaters as covers, fleece blankets as stay-dry liners and scraps as cloth wipes. We’ve managed to gather all the supplies needed to cloth diaper a child without actually buying any cloth diapers, and it is entirely possible that if you already have those objects around your home, you needn’t spend a cent do to so. I hope these tips will help out someone on a strict budget, in an emergency, or someone who just wants to extend their stash a little on the cheap!