The Thrift Store Cloth Diaper Project

The Thrift Store Cloth Diaper Project…by Tara Dukaczewicz

I am not a thrifty person.

I aspire to frugality and I love to read about frugal people.

I admire their ability to buy groceries with a folder full of coupons and save fifty dollars on their bill.

But that’s not me, and when I bought my diaper stash I did not look for ways to save money. I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a good chunk of money on my cloth diapers (thank you little old lady, for running that stop sign. Your insurance company paid for my stash!)

And I shopped with reckless abandon.

So, when I tell people about all the amazing money saving qualities of cloth diapering, I’m talking out of my hat, because I really don’t know how to buy cheaply.

But, all that recently changed when my friend approached me. She wants to go cloth with her new baby but lacks the funds to buy enough diapers to start out.

I hear this so many times, how it’s difficult to pay twenty dollars for one diaper.

I know of a few sales and seconds and I always recommend gently used, but I started researching how it might be possible to cloth diaper a baby for next-to-no start up money.

My  search lead me to youtube, and a variety of tutorials ranging from truly bizarre to innovative genius.

I made a ten minute trip to the thrift store, gathered some possible material and closed myself up in my sweat shop to see what I could make.

First, I wanted to find a way to manufacture a diaper without a sewing machine and found a way to fold an old t-shirt into thirds and pin it on the baby. No cutting, no stitching, and no sewing skill required.

The snappi stayed in well and it was trim and the fit easily customizable. The t-shirt was beyond soft and my little guy looked really cute in it!  Of course, a cover would be required, but the shirt offered many layers of absorbency. It did have a tendancy to come apart but underneath a cover this wouldn’t present a problem.

So, I decided to take it a step further, since I do have a sewing machine.   I never realised how easy it was to make a prefold diaper from a t-shirt and the simple genius of it blew me away.  

It’s white and pristine, free from dye and 100% cotton. And so easy to clean.  The thrift store I went to had a sale, buy one get one free. That’s two prefolds for a dollar(you can go even cheaper by stealing t-shirts from your man’s closet, but you didn’t hear that from me!)

But, not everyone likes prefolds and truthfully I was a little intimidated by them at first, so I went online, found a free diaper pattern and made this adorable and super soft fitted diaper.   I also bought a couple of flannel receiving blankets.

Again youtube was my inspiration and I learned how to fold a square into many different shapes.

It’s brilliant! Some were even gender specific!  The possibilities are endless, from folding simple rectangles and tucking it into a water-proof cover to sewing fitted diapers. One can put as little or as much work into it as desired. How simple and elegant.

My theory is that one can buy twenty-four t-shirts  or flannel receiving blankets, spending twelve to twenty-four dollars and either make prefolds, fitted diapers or just fold them.  Covers would still be necessary, but PUL  covers can be wiped and re-used multiple times so I’m estimating that a minimum of six would do the job. I’ve found covers for as little as ten or eleven dollars.  So the start-up cost could be as cheap as twenty-four dollars for t-shirts and flannel blankets and I’ll say sixty-eighty dollars for covers.

It is more than possible to cloth diaper many children for less than one hundred dollars!!!

I decided  I wanted to go a step further and find a way to make covers as cheaply as the prefolds, flats and fitteds.  I bought two fleece blankets and a wool sweater, found two more free patterns online and went to work.

For the first cover I used the fitted diaper pattern. It looked like this. It is super soft and cute and fits my baby perfectly.

But most people don’t have access to a snap press and I want to find solutions that don’t require specialized equipment.

So I used a pattern for a soaker that was beyond easy, and came up with this.

No snaps or elastic necessary and cute as can be!   One can customize sizes for their baby as he grows.

I admit to a little trepidation when it came to the wool sweater. It seemed almost wrong to hack into it with my scissors.

But when I saw my little dude in the longies that I made I felt I did justice to the  sweater.

I plan to use the soaker pattern on the leftover wool.  I think I can make at least three more soakers and several more covers with the rest of the fleece.

With the other fleece blanket I made some stay-dry liners, just by cutting out shapes.No sewing required.

I spent two dollars for each blanket and one dollar for the wool sweater. That brings our estimated costs to twelve to twenty-four dollars for the prefolds, fitteds and flats and five dollars for the covers.  That’s less than thirty dollars to make twenty four diapers and I’m guessing about ten covers!

That’s amazing!

Considering it costs upwards of fifteen hundred to diaper a baby from birth to potty training with disposables and most cloth diaper stashes are around two to three hundred, the savings is unbeatable! And the effect on the environment is an added benefit.

So the next time I hear someone agonizing about how to afford cloth diapers for their baby, I have some practical advice to give them on how to help the environment,  protect their baby from dangerous chemicals,  and not spend all their disposable income doing it!

And since I really don’t need any more diapers for my child, I’m giving everything I made to a friend who is going to cloth diaper twin boys! Good luck to all parents out there that take inspiration from this, I wish you many happy, cloth diapering years!



About Autumn Beck

Autumn is a wife, mother, homeschool teacher, friend and most important a follower of Christ. She began cloth diapering in 2005 and has experienced many joys and trials throughout the years. You can read more from Autumn over at

View all posts by Autumn Beck

31 Responses to “The Thrift Store Cloth Diaper Project”

  1. Cassy Says:

    I am so excited to find this – I am looking to start a diaper program with my local WIC office and pregnancy resource center- and I am trying to put together a pamphlet on no cost / low cost diapering options and this is a huge help – THANK YOU!


  2. Melissa Says:

    I remember when my daughter was 2 I was completely out of disposable diapers and money. I ended up folding a dish cloth between her legs and using a bag from a loaf of bread with leg holes cut out as a diaper cover. As for flannel, I recently snagged 9 yards on clearance for $1.50 per yard from wal-mart to make some prefolds with.


  3. Laura Says:

    When my son was born I bought prefolds and diaper covers (and a couple of pocket diapers). A year ago I started making PUL diaper covers and pocket diapers. I figured out the cost of a PUL diaper cover with snaps and gussets costs $5 to make and a pocket diaper (with PUL) costs about $4 to make. I just started selling them.


  4. Anna Says:

    Sometimes you can find coated fabric on sale… I checked The Rainshed in Corvallis (I live nearby, but they do have a website) and the lady there showed me some sample diapers and told me about several coated fabrics they had including coated ripstop and coated taffeta. Most of them are $8-10 per yard, but they had a few things for $4. Still need to see how many I can make from one yard, but it looks like more than 4 so I will be spending less than $1 each on covers to make some cute covers for a friend who uses prefolds.


  5. HeatherA Says:

    You don’t have to use the expensive diaper cover that have PUL. You can get gerber waterproof pants 2/$11.00 anywhere on the net, babies-r-us and bigger sizes at wal-mart, target, and k-mart!


    • Laura Says:

      You can also get sweet pea one size diaper covers for 10.00ish and often if you look around free shipping, or free shipping if you order 40$ (sometimes more, sometimes less, the states has better and mroe free shipping deals on stuff like this than canada where i am)


  6. Rosie Says:

    I wish I had learned about cloth diapers when my kids were babies! Would have saved lots of $$!


  7. Sally Says:

    we’re having trouble with ammonia and i’m wondering if we got rid of our front loader and bought a top loading washer if that would eliminat the problem….what are your thoughts? i’m getting a bit tired of stripping diapers, but dont want to get rid of a perfectly good washer if that wont solve anything. i use rockin green and the funk rock, but still having to rock a soak every few weeks. thanks


  8. Crystal B Says:

    I found a cover for $3 at a baby consignement shop. That, and various diaper swapper websites, can be a great place to get covers cheaper than $10 each. Also, the Kawaii brand has diaper covers for less than $5 new. I don’t remember the exact cost, but still less expensive!


  9. Alli Says:

    I would like to say that you can totally get away with just three covers, if they are the wipeable PUL sort like Coveralls or Thirsties, even with a newborn. You have to wash them by hand in the sink if they get poopy, but it’s quite workable. We got by with just 3 for several months with my first daughter by handwashing them and squeezing them out then hanging them over the shower rail to dry, and tossing all but one backup cover in the wash when we ran a load of diapers. I always recommend 6 max, rather than 6 minimum covers – it is certainly cheaper!


  10. Nikki Says:

    A great way to get flannel is to watch the sales at Joann’s they often have it on sale for 2.49/yd. I’m also a homeschool mom, so I get a teacher’s discount of 15% on top of that. I have used it to make receiving blankets that come out to be about $1 each. With the scraps I made cloth wipes and serged the edges.


  11. Jessica Says:

    I love this blog it is very helpful and I have learned a lot from reading it. It definitely seems like prefolds in covers are the cheapest way to go. My question is… why does it not seem that popular to continue to use prefold and covers even after newborn age. Is it possible to do?


    • Courtney Says:

      I have only used prefolds and covers from birth to potty training. I even used the covers during potty training with padded undies. I just made the waist bigger so my little ones would be able to push them down. I really want to experiment with sewing cloth diapers and use them on the babies in my home daycare. Since I am diapering 2 of my own right now, adding a few more diapers to the laundry would not be terrible.


    • Crystal Says:

      I have been using prefolds and covers with my daughter since birth and she’s now 7 months old and I have no plans on discontinuing using them. They’re great because they grow with the baby!


  12. Joanna Says:

    I make all my kids diapers, and I LOVE thrift stores. Sometimes I feel guilty because one of my older kids will have something cute on, and I’ll be thinking, “that would make a cute diaper!” If anyone is thinking about starting to make diapers, definatly check out Diaper Sewing Diva’s! You can ask any question there, and they will help you out. I have learned SO much there. As an added bonus, there is a list of just about every free pattern out there, with links, in the stuck stickies. Lots of these don’t come up in your general searches but are awsome patterns. I LOVE diapers made from stretchy cotton knit, they fit so much longer and better than wovens. Fleece and wool is great, especially for babies prone to rash, as it breaths much better than PUL. All my fleece diapers are upcycled. Don’t forget heavy cotton terry robes for thirsty tri-fold inserts and boosters!


  13. Sommer Says:

    I can’t afford to pay $20/diaper either. We’re a one-income household with 2 children, so I try to find ways to save money in every area of our lives. Thrift stores and garage sales are lifesavers! We buy almost all of our clothing 2nd hand, we have primarily used furniture and household goods, and when we were expecting our second child we took it one step further in using cloth diapers instead of disposable, not only for the money-saving aspects but for health and environmental benefits. I made cloth wipes using some of my husband’s old t-shirts, inserts from cotton flannel receiving blankets, and stay-dry liners from a large fleece blanket (so easy!). The covers I did purchase, as well as a few fitted diapers for nighttime use, on ebay (I don’t trust my sewing skills enough). We have some gdiapers and some jamtots, and they also came with cloth inserts. By using cloth we already owned to make much of my stash, we saved a ton of money. You really can cloth diaper on a very tight budget, especially if you make your own covers as well. I think this knowledge should be passed to as many people as possible, so I make sure I tell any mom who seems remotely interested in cloth diapering or who complains about the cost of disposables. My only regret with cloth diapering is that I didn’t do it with our first child! Thankfully she was potty trained before 2 and I used Gerber cloth trainers instead of Pull-ups :)


  14. Sherry W Says:

    Thanks for the great information Tara. I am useless at sewing and don’t even own one for good reasoning, lol. I love the idea of “borrowing” my husbands old shirts to increase our stash (I am not sure how he will feel about it, hehe)
    Another great way to save on the expense is enter contests. There are so many out there willing to giveaway new diapers. It is amazing what generous people this world still has!


  15. DeLise Says:

    WOW! I’m impressed that you found the TIME to do this! Thank you for CARING enough to go that extra step for those families!


  16. Amanda Says:

    Another cheap option is to use Flat Diapers (not Gerber), which can be folded in to different shapes depending on your baby’s size and then make the covers like you did here. You can get 24 flats that will last from birth to potty training for about $40, add in some Snappis to that…and it’s not a bad deal. Customizable to your baby and super absorbant! I NEVER thought I would use a diaper like this but they are super easy and super cheap! I LOVE THEM! I actually prefer them over my $20 diapers. :)


  17. Stacy Says:

    Thank you for this post! We are always looking for ways to tell our customers how to cloth diaper more economically. Gonna share this on our FB wall! Thanks! :o)


  18. Erin Says:

    Great inspirational post! My family is tight on funds, and we were blessed with a grant from the Cloth Diaper Foundation when we were just getting started. I also shopped around, singed up for cloth retailers newsletters (like Cotton Babies) that let me know about seconds sales, found some quality cheaper diapers and bought some diapers second-hand. It seems the possibilities are endless when building your stash!

    I recently snagged an i-play swim diaper at a consignment store for $2! I was so excited!


  19. Maggie Says:

    What a great idea! now there are even more reasons to switch to cloth – no sewing required, love it.


  20. Ashley Says:

    I have friends who want to join me in cloth diapering but are hesitant about the start-up costs. Your example shows that it IS possible to do so with little expense. Thanks for sharing!


  21. Amy J. Says:

    Any chance you could share the links for the super easy patterns you used? Also, do you have to use a thick fleece blanket or would anything fleecy work?


    • Kristi P Says:

      The soaker pattern I’m guessing is Katrina’s sew-quick soaker. She also has patterns for longies and skirties! There are many free fitted diaper pattterns out there for home use.. Rita’s Rump Pocket, Darling Diapers, Sprout Snap, tightey whitey hipster, quick snap flat wrap.. just to name a few. Just type in free diaper pattern in your search engine and you should find lots of good links! Also there are tons of video tutorials on youtube! … taught me how to sew. lol ;)
      As for fabric… for diapers tshirts (I love using band tshirts!) and flannel receiving blanket or sheets sets are awesome. You can use anything 100% cotton for your diaper (I found a pair of super cute PJ pants and the only thing I could think was “I love this cool pattern! I must turn it into a diaper!” haha) For covers use wool sweaters (I can normally get a pair of longies and two soakers out of one sweater!) and fleece blankets. Bring a little bottle of water with you to the store. Drip a few drops on it to see what happens… if it passes right through then it would be good to use for stay-dry liners. If it beads up and sits there then it would be good for covers. Two layers work better than one (Katrina’s pattern has an optional “wet-zone” piece to sew into the soaker) and washing fleece with fabric softener will help it repell even more. Fleece and wool are both very breathable, and they are more water resistant than water-proof, so when your super soaker is wet the cover will feel damp.
      ….can you tell what my hobby is? lol
      Good luck on your Thrift store cloth diaper adventure! Who knew you could easily cloth diaper your kiddo from birth to potty training from items from any Goodwill or Salvation Army?

      PS sorry for typo’s and spelling errors… Typing while nursing, from my phone, at 5 in the morning. :)
      Good luck! …and warning you now, making your own cloth diapers is just as addicting as buying them!


  22. Lois Says:

    Thanks for posting this. I am always intrigued with ways to be more frugal.


  23. Julie K Says:

    Oh that is fabulous! I wish she’d posted links to those patterns. Sometimes it’s hard to weed through all the complicated patterns, or patterns you have to buy to get the good ones that really work! :) I have tried to make longies but overfelted the wool sweater.
    And thrift stores must be nice out her way b/c no WAY I would find a wool sweater for a dollar. At our thrift stores, well you’re lucky to FIND an all-wool or 80% wool sweater, and it would probably be about $7-12. Which is still good in teh grand scheme of things. But I want to shop with her! :)LOL !!!
    Awesome post – I had fun reading! :)


    • tara Says:

      Julie, here’s the link… I didn’t felt the sweater, so I will have to use a wool wash. If I had felted I would be able to wash normally. Either way works well. And my thrift store has huge sales at the turn of the seasons, they clear out all the winter stuff for next to nothing, maybe your thrift stores will too. and you can come shopping any time!!!


    • Stephanie Says:

      I have been making my own diapers from materials I have found in thrift stores and friends and families closets. My biggest asset has been the goodwill chain. I found on their website that they have an outlet store. Which means that you pay by the pound rather than the item!! What a huge savings! Depending on what I find, but I have had days where a shopping cart of stuff only cost 20$$. Buying flannel sheets you get the most bang for your buck. From a queen size sheet, Making 4-6-4s (4 layers of flannel and two middle layers of cotton t-shirts) I can get 5-6 diapers! Yes I still had to order covers but all things considered I thought it was not big deal in comparison to the amount I would have paid if I had to buy all new diapers! Besides my little girl has the cutest and most original diapers of any other kid on the block!
      Another cost saving idea is to use Craig’s list as a resource. I constantly see mothers selling their gently used cloth diapers online.
      Thank you for this great post!


  24. Jennifer Says:

    I have three children in cloth diapers, and have never paid more than $5.20 per diaper, including the liner. I don’t have the funds to pay $20+ for one diaper, so I started checking out eBay. All of my diapers are pocket diapers, and all were purchased brand new. I love them! I would make my own, but alas, though I have a sewing machine, the thing absolutely hates me and refuses to function correctly if I am touching it.


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