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What I Think About “Cheap” Cloth Diapers (and the People Who Buy Them)

2015 edit: The title of this was supposed to be tongue in cheek since when I wrote it, this was a hot topic. If you want the TL;DR what I actually think is that you made the right choice for your family. That’s it. When I started writing my weekly “personal post” on Wednesdays, I swore I would stay out of controversial subjects. So much for that. I’ve been seeing this come up so much, that I just can’t keep my mouth shut anymore. I’m not even sure if this post is an “opinion,” it’s just a whole lot of me rambling…not that me rambling is anything new. Definitely not intended to point fingers at anyone etc. etc.

Jennifer Labit (founder/owner of Cottonbabies) wrote an article about cheap cloth diapers and I agree with her 100% about why Cottonbabies products are worth the price, and why they can’t compete with the cheapies as far as price point (the Cottonbabies’ family of products are some of the most reasonably priced “name brand” cloth diapering products out there in my opinion.)

The Diapershops blog posted an article about why you shouldn’t buy cheap cloth diapers, and while I actually agree with a lot of what they said, I think it could be taken as judgmental, even if it wasn’t intended to be.

If you haven’t been here with me since the beginning of my journey, you won’t necessarily know that I started my stash with 3 Bumgenius 3.0 cloth diapers “just to try,” then bought 3 more a few days later. I had a pack or so of disposables left over, and to use as few of them as possible, I washed diapers twice per day. Yep, really. I would wash 3 diapers at a time and often tumbled them dry so they were ready before I’d used the other 3. $100ish investment, and I still actually have a pack of disposables in my son’s closet (it’s been two years.) My husband sold blood plasma as often as he could, so we could pick up some extra diapers. My Mom gave me a Kelly’s Closet gift certificate for Christmas that year and I was able to pick up a few more diapers & accessories with that, then I slowly added to my stash as I could, staying under my monthly budget for disposable diapers.

When I was coming up on the 1-year mark, Cottonbabies’ awesome warranty replaced half of those original 6 diapers for me, since the hook & loop closures were showing that I had washed them a zillion times! I probably put two childrens’ worth of wear on those puppies!

So, do I have a point? Well, lots of people have written posts about cloth diapering on a dime. The Eco Chic wrote about how to cloth diaper your baby for $50. Dirty Diaper Laundry’s flats challenge showed that you can cloth diaper even without a washing machine. Other people have shown how you can “diaper” your baby with things you have around the house (blankets, towels etc.)

I’m being realistic here. Sure, if I were in the position where I literally had to choose between food and diapers for my children, I’d make something work. However, I was hesitant to invest over $50 in 3 diapers, when I had no idea whether cloth diapering was going to work for us. I really recommend not buying a huge stash of a brand you haven’t tried, since you never know what will work for your baby, but buying one here and one there like I did, does put a lot of stress on you to hurry up and wash them & get them ready to use again.

OK, so the obvious answer would be to have a few pockets for Daddy, Grandma, babysitters, daycare etc. and fill the rest of your stash with prefolds or flats, and inexpensive covers. I’m going to be totally honest here and say that I just don’t know if we would have stuck with that. Velcro closure pockets were an easy transition from disposables, and we’re not “afraid” of prefolds now, but I don’t know that we would have jumped right in to folding and snappi-ing prefolds as easily. Now, I know I have readers who started out that way and did just fine. You rock. I’m just being honest about what would work for our family.

There are used cloth diapers out there, but not everyone is comfortable with that. Then, there are these cheap diapers, where you can get a full stash of diapers for $100 or so. I haven’t used any of these $5ish diapers that are sold under several names, so I don’t have an opinion about the fit, function or longevity of the “cheapies” that are usually being referred to. I’ve heard some people say that they were great, others said they weren’t so great. Naturally I have some concern about their quality, safety of materials used, working conditions in the factory where they were made and so forth. I haven’t done any research about that, so I don’t know.

Personally, just for me I was happy to scrimp and save, and do what I could with fewer diapers, so I could have good diapers with a great track record, customer service and warranty. I have also been so, incredibly blessed to have received so many diapers to review in the past year or so. That means my stash grew without shrinking my bank account, and I don’t have to rush to wash diapers anymore. 2014 note I donate all diapers I receive for review but am grateful that those review diapers helped me in the beginning as I was building my stash. I was able to donate diapers, as well as pass some on to a friend. If I were still trying to get by with a day’s worth of diapers, I might have a different outlook.

My husband and I have joked that we’re too poor to have convictions. We’re not really “poor” but we just don’t have the financial means to say I will only buy such and such products or only products that were made in the U.S. etc. We have to balance our desires with our wallets. We use mostly reusable products, in large part because they are affordable in the long run. My cloth napkins were the only purchase of reusable products that didn’t actually save us money.

My husband’s “two cents” was that cloth diapers aren’t much different than, say, performance bicycles. You don’t want to start out with a super-expensive bike, but then again, you don’t want to start out with a total piece of junk (or something difficult to use/that frustrates you) that turns you off from the whole thing.

So where am I going with this? I keep going round and round in circles. Well, I just keep coming back to the signature in Jennifer Labit’s/Cottonbabies’ emails “We believe in building bridges, not walls.” I prefer Bumgenius diapers, and I got by with fewer diapers vs. buying a whole stash of cheapies. (I didn’t know about the cheapies then, or I may have been tempted.) Others may make another choice. So what.

It’s easy for me to say what someone should do when I haven’t lived their situation. Shoot, even if you have, your experience isn’t necessarily the same. A younger, more hip Mom would quote Lil Wayne here “We walk the same path but got on different shoes.” What if I were working full time, and daycare would only take pocket/one piece diapers? Would I want to stay up late every night trying to wash & dry diapers for the next day? Buy disposables for daycare? What if my son’s skin couldn’t handle being wet from prefolds or flats (it really can’t…we have a few diapers that don’t have stay-dry inners, but they are rotated out with stay-dry diapers.)

What’s my point? Do I even know what my point is (not really)? Well, my point (I think) is that while I see the value in name brand diapers, beyond the label, I respect those who make different decisions, and I refuse to point fingers or belittle people because they made different choices. I’m not saying that people who are making a case against “cheap” diapers are doing that, but it can come across that way. I’m used to the “wall” between cloth diapering and disposable diapering moms (along with every other parenting choice!) but good heavens, do we really need another wall between cloth diaper users? Edit: I still do not judge those who use “cheap” diapers. That said, the RDA’s co-op report has opened my eyes to how illegal co-ops affect cloth diapering. My post about illegal cloth diaper co-ops is much more strongly worded than my average post, and some took it as judgement of those who use cheap diapers. Not so. 🙂

(The other “walls” I’m referring to are the “I’m greener than you” argument that seems to come up about various subjects and products, along with the “detergent police” and the buying WAHM vs. “big name” arguments…among several others!)

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Maria is an aspiring "fit mom" of 3 children, writing about cloth diapers, going green, and her life as a single mom. Maria works with many companies within the cloth diaper industry and beyond, providing social media management, product development, and other services.
  • Monique E.
    July 2, 2015 at 9:10 am

    Suzy Q-
    Did you read the article? It is cowardly to hide behind a pseudonym on the Internet and talk smack. Maria has been a cornerstone of the cloth diaper community and has helped countless families discover a safer and greener alternative to disposable diapers.
    Maria has also opened the cloth door to many people by pointing us in the direction of free diaper giveaways as well as giving away hundreds of dollars worth of diapers and accessories to her followers over the past few years. She has personally changed my experience And is one of the few people that I consider to have more cloth knowledge than myself at this point.
    Maria, you are a blessing to this community mama-keep up the hard work

  • Suzy Q
    July 1, 2015 at 11:04 pm

    So your bio says you want “…to live in a world where cloth diapers are the norm and moms can make parenting choices without judgement” though your article and personal comments reek of judgment. The title alone says everything the reader needs to know about you “What I Think About “Cheap” Cloth Diapers (and the People Who Buy Them)”. Don’t stick your nose up at people whose situation you don’t know, especially when your home is probably filled to the brim with “cheap” made-in-China stuff. When was the last time you bought something 100% manufactured in the US? You know darn well you “judge” moms for using so-called “cheap” diapers, otherwise you wouldn’t have to keep insisting that you weren’t. Kind of like how people will say things like “No offense, but…” I truly hope your attitude has changed since you wrote this meaningless ramble.

  • Leslie
    October 25, 2013 at 11:12 am

    So I know this is old but I think that the biggest problem with cheap diapers is swept under the rug. I have been searching endlessly for someone who’s actually inveatigated the factories and workers making these diapers and have yet to find an expose anywhere. Recently I watched the fifth estate, it was called the high price of low cost clothing (or along those lines). It investigated the various factories that brands like joe fresh and george (walmart) use to make their clothing and what I saw in that documentary was horryfying. Men women and children locked into factories making clothing for 12 hour days making wages like 35 cents a day. I know that cheap pockets are convienient but knowing that there could be children sewing diapers for my babys bum, or men and women being whipped to sew faster, or men women and children being locked into factories to meet a deadline, all these thoughts make me sick. I could care less about every other reason not to use cheap diapers, they all pale in comparrison to the fact that there are people somewhere being abused, overworked, and underpaid, to make the seller a maximum profit on a cheap product marketed to loving mothers.

    • October 25, 2013 at 11:21 am

      You’re right and that issue has been highlighted quite a bit since I wrote this post, particularly after the garment factory collapse etc. I prefer to purchase diapers that are made ethically. It gives me great concern about the factory conditions for every other item I buy as well though. :/

  • Mary Michaud
    October 19, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    I think the biggest problem with cheapies is the same problem as buying any diaper in bulk previously-untried. If the purchase turns out to be a waste, that’s a lot of money wasted. Cheapies are more likely to be unsatisfactory, and less likely to have much resale value, so that’s what makes them worse in that regard. So as long as people, *especially* new-to-clothies, are discouraged from buying in bulk without trying them first (both for quality check and personal fit/preference), I don’t have much issue with cheapies.

    I recently got a GoGreen diaper and while it looks to be a durable diaper, the fabric definitely looks thinner and cheaper, so I’d expect it to not last as long… which cost ought to be factored in when considering cheapies.

    • October 20, 2011 at 10:59 am

      I agree. I wouldn’t buy a whole bunch of one type, but I think some of the cheaper ones are only available in bulk? Plus even if you like them at first you never know how you will like them in the end. With “name brands” you can typically get a decent amount of money if you re-sell them. On the other hand, if the cheapies “pay for themselves” sooner, it might not really matter.

  • Laura O.
    October 19, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    Sunbaby and BumGenius are equally my faves. I only got a few Sunbabies because I wanted to be able to recommend (or not) them to friends on tight budgets, and I loved them so much that I got a bunch more in a co-op! I have also tried Alva and Kawaii, but I feel like Sunbaby are better quality and less likely to be made in a sweatshop. I absolutely love Cottonbabies, but if someone can’t afford that, I would recommend Sunbaby to them in a heartbeat.

    • October 20, 2011 at 10:57 am

      Good info, thanks!!

  • Just Add Cloth
    October 19, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    I have mixed feelings about cheapies. I will never suggest them to someone just starting out because I don’t want them turned off of cloth diapering by cheap quality. But for the seasoned CDer, I don’t see a problem with trying them out. I have been using the heck out of some Sunbaby diapers for the past seven weeks to see how they hold up.
    I don’t think it is fair to condemn small brands who put their label on china diapers. Big brands may visit factories, but it does not mean they make more moral decisions about production. I care more about cloth diapers being made available to people. If the way they come to be is morally questionable, well that is the world we live in. All we can do is make the best decisions we can without driving ourselves crazy. The only way I could truly preserve my ideal moral integrity would be to move to a compound in the middle of no where, grow my own food with heirloom seeds, and produce and process my own fabric.

    • October 20, 2011 at 10:57 am

      You are so right. DH & I have talked about that a lot. 🙂

  • Megan
    October 19, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    I have a small variety of diapers in my stash and still by far my favorite are my Kawaii Minky mom labels. I don’t like the one BG that I do have. It is supposed to be a one size and fit up to something like 36lbs, but I really don’t see how that is possible. It isn’t one that I go for when I go to put a diaper on my baby. I have 1 AMP that I have yet to try, 2 Ragababe’s, 8 cheap ones from China and a couple more from a mom in the US. I really like the Ragababe ones but it’s crazy to try and get one when she does stock them! So yes, I will stick with my “cheap” Kawaii diapers.

    • October 20, 2011 at 10:57 am

      Glad you found some you like!! 😀

  • Stephanie G
    October 19, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    Thanks for this! There are times I feel guilty that I didnt’ go more of the prefold/cover or fitted/cover route because it would have been cheaper, but there is no way my husband would have done that, so I would have been doing all the diaper changes for sure, and I’m not sure I would have stuck with it through 2, going on 3 babies as we have now if we hadn’t invested in some good diapers.

    • October 20, 2011 at 10:56 am

      Don’t feel guilty (I say, as I feel slightly guilty myself.)

  • S
    October 19, 2011 at 11:16 am

    You do know that one of those “cheapies” you actually reviewed is the Go Green Pocket diaper right? They are purchased in bulk from a chinese manufacture and have a new name sewn on..think… alvababy. You can buy them for $5 each or buy in bulk for less. A lot of people are doing this and then opening up a store and calling it a “new diaper”. They also put things on their website like manufactured consciously by our manufacturer in China when in fact they are just shipped in bulk individually plastic wrapped. This disgusts me. Yes, Go Green has gone the extra mile and made some changes to the diaper. BUT, there is no quality control, no safety in the items, and only “testing” a few diapers should not mean they are safe and approved. I agree 100% with cotton babies, fuzzibunz, etc. Even if these diapers are being produced in other countries, these diapers are actually DESIGNED by the owners, they often visit the plants personally and place close attention to quality control. How do I know this? I contacted several of these manufacturers. You supply your logo and for a very small fee, they will even have it sewn on the diaper. That is why if you look closely you will see the same diaper, same pattern, etc. I don’t have a problem with people doing this…but be upfront and honest about it.

    • October 19, 2011 at 11:37 am

      I’ve heard murmurings that GoGreen are “exactly the same” as the under $5 diapers but you are correct, she has made several changes.

      You are certainly entitled to your opinion. Thanks for sharing!

    • Rachel N
      October 19, 2011 at 4:55 pm

      I was told that Go Green diapers were sewn and made in the USA…. hmmmm interesting. I will have to look into it further. It was when one of my diapers had a sewing mistake I contacted Go Green’s customer service and they told me that their diapers were sewn by hand in the USA. It was a Champ diaper though… not sure if that makes a difference.

      • Rose J.
        October 19, 2011 at 6:06 pm

        “GoGreen diapers is a WAHM-operated busines located in beautiful Boulder, CO. Champ® and silky/fuzzy diapers are fairly made in China. Mud Butt for GoGreen diapers are made by WAHMs in the USA.”

        • October 20, 2011 at 10:55 am

          Thanks for the info Rose!

  • Hannah VW
    October 19, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Just want to chime in and say that Bummis (who sells very reasonably priced covers and prefolds, along with other products) has excellent customer service as well. I had some Super Brite covers (that I WON, not bought) that I had been using for over a year on my son (he never grew out of medium). The velcro started out great but was not very sticky anymore, and they would fall off while he climbed the stairs or when I put pants on him. I wrote them asking if I could BUY a new set of velcro and tabs to put on the two covers, and they sent them to me for free. For this reason I would definitely purchase from them again or recommend to a friend who was interested in a prefold/cover type system.

    I think choosing which types of diapers to buy is as complicated as deciding which kind of soup you’re going to eat tomorrow. Homemade or from a can? Thick stew or plenty of broth? With meat or vegetarian? Cloth diapers are healthy and economical (almost) no matter what you choose, as is soup, so with a few exceptions (for example, if I knew for sure that the diapers or soup were made with forced labor or bad conditions), buy/make what works best for your family!

    • October 19, 2011 at 11:38 am

      That is awesome!

  • Beth
    October 19, 2011 at 10:36 am

    I feel the same way. We started with a WAHM purchased pattern. Wow, it sucked, big time, but it was all I knew, so at the time I was ok with it. Until the velcro (seriously, she told me to use regular velcro, which seemed fine to me, but now I know that it’s just not made to handle the washes) and sew the elastic onto the inner layer. Yeah, anyway, they ended up having some issues, and I just sold them on Craig’s List telling everyone the problems they had and how to fix them. Then, I bought a few of the very cheep ($5 diapers from ebay, but I only paid 1/2 that price, because I figured they were cheep) And yes, they are cheep, and they won’t last very long, but it really helped me develop my own pattern, now I use nice materials, and make the diapers easy to fix if I have problems, and the diapers I made are significantly better, but I know that most people can’t do that. (Not trying to put anyone down, but sewing is not a “big” thing for most people my age, and they seem shocked that I can). I prefer pocket diapers, but I have friends who use pre-folds and covers (though, I did end up converting the pre-fold to fitted for them so it was easier to change their little wiggler, plus, it works better for them) I also know a few women who exclusively use the $5 diapers. They love them. But, they also don’t know anything better, and I think it’s almost better that way, I know those women had to work hard to get even their cheep stash, so to even try to buy the more expensive kinds would totally be out of the question. I also know a woman who’s stash is only made from expensive diapers. I think when it comes down to it, we’re all just trying our best, and we need to see THAT, instead of the brand, because really, everyone has their own live, and why would we try to control any part of theirs, because I’m sure we all have things we could work on in ours. (That’s not meant to sound mean, hopefully it doesn’t come across that way)

    • October 19, 2011 at 11:38 am

      Someday I want to get a sewing machine & teach myself to sew!

    • October 21, 2011 at 12:22 am

      I’ve sewn a few cloth diapers myself, but the problem is, I don’t have a sewing machine. So, I make them everytime I go to my parent’s house. I’ve also knit a few wool covers.

      • October 21, 2011 at 9:02 am

        Ooh I really want to learn to knit!

  • October 19, 2011 at 10:24 am

    We were blessed to win a lot of cloth diaper giveaways before the birth of our son in May, so we got to try a lot of brands for free. We bought a few as well, budgeting along the way, and then received a few from our baby shower. I’ve received one for a blog review. We tried gDiapers, BumGenius, Soft Bums, Eco Bums, Doopsy, Apple Cheeks, Sweet Pea, Bummis, and a few WAHM dipes. I went in with an open mind, with no brand loyalty. Friends recommended BG and gDiapers, but we didn’t know what would work for us. Let’s just say I’m so glad we didn’t buy in to the gDiaper system as originally planned. I’m sure they work well for others, but don’t fit our boy at all. They worked when he was in smalls, but that didn’t last long. We are in love with BGs and Soft Bums, 2 of the most expensive brands. We are on a TIGHT budget, but we feel it is worth it to invest in dipes that work well and are user friendly so that we will stick with cloth diapering for the long haul.

    • October 19, 2011 at 10:34 am

      “…worth it to invest in dipes that work well and are user friendly so that we will stick with cloth diapering for the long haul.”

      Absolutely! If I had a friend who was on the fence about cloth, I’d lend her the most user friendly diaper I had. I wouldn’t hand her a flat tell her to go for it. 🙂 However, if she found that she liked flats the best, that would be awesome!

  • Courtney S
    October 19, 2011 at 10:11 am

    I love your statements here. I don’t care how you cloth diaper. You are doing your best as a mom to choose what is best for your family. When I bought my initial BG 3.0’s, a friend told me that I went with the wrong thing because it wasn’t completely organic/natural material. It worked for us. My diapers are now being used by a friend because they no longer worked for my son, but they look incredible! I’m so happy I went with BG. Now, we use a combination of fitteds, flats and prefolds with covers. I have a few AIO’s, but they don’t get used much. I’ve figured out what works for us and I’m happy with my decision. Sometimes quality is better than quantity, but some family’s just can’t swing the higher price tag. We bought ours with tax money. There’s no way we could have done it without that extra money!

  • October 19, 2011 at 9:27 am

    I don’t know. I have 3 boys in cloth. I started with 2 gDiapers and a dozen Gerber prefolds with my twins, I washed every day in a coin-op machine. I added to my stash as I could, not getting a pocket or an AIO until I was a year into it with my twins and starting to build my infant stash (which is almost entirely cottonbabies). I now have a little bit of everything and they all have their purpose.

    I’ve sent a bag of pre-folds and g’s to grandpa’s house and he survived just fine. After we did the flats challenge, my husband has converted to all flats all the time. He’s a minimalist I guess.

    I now have the means to buy any diaper I want but my Gerber prefolds are still my absolute favorite item in my stash. There is nothing wrong with going the cheap route, there is nothing wrong with buying a full stash of $36 GoodMamas either. I think the point for me is that people do it.

    • October 19, 2011 at 10:03 am

      Yep that’s pretty much my point I guess! Use whatever you want to use! You aren’t “better than” Goodmama users just because you went the prefold route, and they’re not better than the cheap diaper users just because they bought WAHM made diapers, kwim?

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