Cloth Diapers 101: How to build a cloth diaper stash on any budget is a three-part series aimed at helping you choose a cloth diapering system. This series explains the lingo, costs, and benefits to the many different types of cloth diapers.

Pockets, AIOs, covers, fitteds, and prefolds. I needed a glass of wine with a side of smirk just to decipher the diaper lingo associated with cloth nappies. No one told me that being a new mom on a budget would require a degree in diaper technology. Grumble.

My questions were simple. How much moolah do the different cloth diaper systems cost? How many cloth diapers would I need? Which brands are best? And WTF (What The Fabrication) is an AIO diaper?

cloth diaper stash
Typing ‘WTF’ and ‘AIO’ into Google didn’t get me far. Many of the mommy blogs Google connected me to bestowed glowing reviews on every dang diaper the blogger touched, and the most gush-worthy moms often followed their spew with a stealthily shaded sponsored giveaway. The things some bloggers do for a free diaper. Sheesh.

After throwing some serious side-eye and flipping off a few blogs for infecting the interwebs, I finished my glass of bubbly, got off my moral high horse (which is really just a slip-covered IKEA sofa), and devised an experimental diaper plan.

Squawkfox Cloth Diaper Experiment:

  1. Buy a bunch of cloth diapers.
  2. Test various diapering systems.
  3. Calculate the cost of each system.
  4. Find some kick-ass brands.
  5. Report my findings.

And so I bucked up and bought a few diapers of each type, trying some big brands along the way. Carl joined in on the fun, and so did baby Chloe. Together we wrapped, snapped, stashed, giggled, and washed a wacky stack of cloth nappies just to share (and reveal) the real hits and misses.

Learn from our mistakes. Here’s how to spend your cash on a new stash of cloth diapers.

Cloth Diapers
Price Check: Are cloth diapers worth it?I crunched the nappy numbers and did the diaper math. Turns out one diapering method could save your family $1,799 with one child. Find out which diaper does the job for less.

Diaper System 1: Prefold with cover.

The best bang for your diaper dollar is the prefold with a cover. A prefold is a rectangular piece of cotton cloth that’s thicker in the middle.

prefold diaper
Prefolds are the origami of the diaper world — you can fold ’em for a boy or girl. You can lay them flat inside a diaper cover too. Heck, you can use prefolds as baby wipes, dusters, or stick ’em under your Swiffer sweeper once your kid has mastered the potty.

snappi diaper fasteners
Gone are the days of pinning cloth diapers. Parents today use Snappi cloth diaper fasteners to safely keep the prefold shut without sticking the kid.

Pros: Priced at around $2 to $3 per prefold and wrapped in a simple $13 diaper cover (see Diaper Covers, below), this system is BY FAR the cheapest cloth option on the market today. Cotton is absorbent and breathable.

prefold cloth diapers
Cons: Folding a prefold diaper and sticking it on your kid with a cover can be a pain in the ass, especially if your child is a wiggle worm. Diaper rodeo, anyone? Cotton can feel wet next to baby’s bottom and take forever to dry when laundered. Prefold diapers are not trim, so your kid may sport a bubble butt. Sold in 3-4 sizes, you’ll need to size up your prefolds as your baby grows. Prefolds are a two-step diaper system (prefold plus cover), so you’ll need multiple pieces to get your kid covered. Prefolds can shrink after the first few washes, so size up if your kid borders two sizes.

prefold cloth diaper

Stash Size Needed: You’ll need about 24 prefold diapers and 4-6 covers for babies aged 0-6 months. Fewer diapers are needed for older babies. Plan on doing laundry every 2 days.

Total Cost: 24 OsoCozy Prefolds ($50), 5 Thirsties Covers ($65), and a pack of Snappi fasteners ($8) cost around $125 for a newborn diaper stash. Budget to buy this stash again once your kid hits 15-20 pounds for a total of $250. That’s a bargain compared to other systems, people.

Prefold Diaper Bottom Line

I loved prefolds for their low cost, ease of laundering, and the reusability of the covers.

pinning cloth diapers
However, Chloe hated prefolds. She screamed (OK, hollered) when the cotton diaper was lightly wet, and her wiggling made it impossible to fold it onto her bottom once she figured out how to kick and wave her arms around. I had to switch diaper systems after the three month mark. Bummer.

Diaper System 2: Fitted with cover.

Fitted diapers are shaped like disposables, but made of fabric with elastic gatherings in the legs and waist. A two-step diapering process, they need a waterproof cover to keep the business where it belongs — in the drawers.

fitted cloth diapers
Fitteds differ from prefolds since they don’t require origami folding patterns or Snappi fasteners to shut the situation. Fitteds come with snap or Velcro (Aplix) closures, and are often fabricated in cotton, hemp, bamboo, fleece, or a mixture of these materials to boost absorbency. Fitteds cost more than prefolds.

fitted diaper
Pros: Easy to fasten to a baby at 3AM in the morning. Great at containing big messy poops since the diaper is firmly fitted to the child. Can reuse the diaper cover multiple times between washes. A great diaper for potty training since the kid may feel wet.

fitted cloth diaper wrap
Cons: Most fitted diapers come in multiple sizes to ensure a good fit, so you’ll need to buy bigger diapers as your baby grows. Each fitted costs around $13 and up, making a complete diaper stash costly when you add in the price of covers. Made of natural and absorbent fibers like cotton, bamboo, or hemp, fitteds take considerable time to dry. Your child may feel the dampness once a single pee hits the fabric. Run for cover.

Stash Size Needed: You’ll need about 24 fitted diapers and 4-6 covers for babies aged 0-6 months. Fewer diapers are needed for older babies. Plan on doing laundry every 2 days.

Total Cost: 24 Cotton Fitted Diapers ($312) and 5 Thirsties Covers ($65) total $377 for a newborn diaper stash. Budget to buy this stash again once your kid hits 15-20 pounds for a total cost of $754.

Fitted Diaper Bottom Line

I get a little grumpy every time I need to reach for a fitted diaper since this system is a full-on two-step process.

fitted cloth diaper cover
Step One: Install the fitted diaper.
Step Two: Install the diaper cover.

That’s a lot of snaps to fasten. Heaven help you if it’s 2-freaking-AM and your kid’s sleeper also has snaps. You’ll be snapping everything shut until 3:30AM. Forget sleeping, you’re life will be a freaking snap fest. No, I’m not bitter.

Since Chloe was a preemie, I appreciated the close fit of fitted diapers. However, as she got older, this diaper became her nemesis. The kid hates feeling wet, and since the fitted sits close to the body, the dang diaper ALWAYS feels wet. A great diaper for potty training. A terrible option for night time sleeping. I plan on ‘Office Spacing’ this system once Chloe grows outta ’em.

Diaper Sprayer
Make your own diaper sprayerClean the mess from your cloth diapers for less with this simple DIY Cloth Diaper Sprayer. Illustrative plumbing photos show you the 8 easy steps.

Diaper Covers: PUL vs. Wool.

To contain the moisture and other messes (cough) within the prefold and fitted diapering systems, you’ll need a couple of diaper covers to keep things under wraps.

diaper covers

PUL Diaper Covers

The more affordable diaper wraps on the market are made of polyurethane laminate (PUL) fabric. Many companies sell PUL covers for around $13 each. Don’t confuse PUL covers with old skool plastic pants — PUL is pliable and far more comfortable than crunchy plastic.

thirsties diaper wrap
I tested both the Thirsties Duo Wrap with Snaps and the Thirsties with Velcro (Aplix) tabs to gauge if snaps or tabs rocked my world. Over several washes I found the Velcro snagged and wore, while the snaps lasted exceptionally well. Snaps also child-proofed the wrap from Chloe’s hands once she found the dexterity to pop open her poopy diaper. Get the snaps, people. Seriously.

Pros: A single PUL diaper cover can be used several times if not soiled. Just rinse, wipe dry, snap to a baby’s bum, repeat. Easy.

Cons: Sold in both ‘one size’ and sized options, you’ll need to find a good fit to be sure the stuff stays inside the diaper cover.

Wool Diaper Covers

Being a bit of a crunchy granola mom, I wanted to give wool covers a go. A natural and breathable option, wool covers are touted as waterproof since lanolin acts as the moisture barrier. Each cover will set you back $25 to $35 a piece. Not cheap.

wool diaper covers
These wool covers come with a built-in soaker to help absorb pee. Yes, your child will pee in these pretty wool pants. Get over it.

wool diaper cover
Pros: Wool covers are breathable, natural, soft, smell fresh, and can double as clothing. Many woolly covers are super soft and cute.

Cons: While I liked the idea of wool, in practice I found the cover to be a hassle. Wool wraps must be hand washed, and mine often wicked wetness through to clothing. I tried a product called Woollybottoms — a similar brand is the Disana 100% Organic Wool Diapers Cover/Soaker/Over Pants.

Diaper Cover Bottom Line

You’ll need 3-6 covers to diaper a newborn if you’re planning on doing laundry every two days. Priced at under $15, my preference goes to PUL diaper covers for affordability and ease of use. However, having a wool cover on hand was helpful when diaper rash dropped by for an unexpected visit. The breathability of wool cleared up the rawhide situation fast.

Cloth DiapersSeries: Build a cloth diaper stash on any budgetWhat type of cloth diapers should you buy? I share the winners and losers based on price, convenience, and a little experience. Check out Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.

Cloth Diapers 101: How to build a cloth diaper stash on any budget

Be sure to follow the whole cloth diaper series!

Your Turn: What is your favorite cloth diaper system? Why?