Do Prefolds Cost Less Than Pocket Diapers?

First of all, this is not a prefolds vs. pockets post. I like and use them both (and prefolds make up most of my stash). My focus today is on mathematics.

What got me curious are some comments I found floating around on blog posts and forums which sounded something like this:

“I like the sized prefolds; it’s still cheaper than any pocket system.”
“We use prefolds with our daughter…….It is expensive to get started with the newer types of cloth diapers.”
“It’s cheaper to replace a cover than it is to replace an entire pocket diaper.”
“There are times I feel guilty that I didn’t go more of the prefold/cover or fitted/cover route because it would have been cheaper…” 

There seems to be an unwritten understanding out there that if you want to cloth diaper cheaply, then the only choice is flats/prefolds and covers. But is it really cheaper than choosing pocket diapers? Well, here are the start-up costs for 5 comparable systems, utilizing Kelly’s Closet (among others) as a price source source. I used Alva and Sunbaby in my calculations because these are highly popular, low-cost, recognized imports with a track record of good customer service and ethical labor practices. I used Econobum covers in my prefold and flat calculations in the interest of equity since it happens to be one of the lowest-price “one size” covers on the market. Yes, there are more expensive pockets out there AND more expensive covers, too.

Ok, here’s what I came up with:

  • 24 Alva diapers with 24 inserts through a co-op or Ebay = $72.00 (about $3.00 per diaper – sometimes you can actually find them for less than this!)
  • 24 “Flour Sack Towel” flats (Target, Walmart, etc.) with 6 Econobum covers = $77.70 ($1.00 per flat and $8.95 per cover)
  • 24 Cotton Babies birdseye flats with 6 Econobum OS covers = $91.70 ($1.58 per flat and $8.95 per cover)
  • 24 Cotton Babies infant Indian prefolds with 6 Econobum OS covers = $95.70 ($1.75 per prefold and $8.95 per cover)
  • 24 Size 1 Sunbaby diapers with 24 inserts = $108.00 (about $4.50 per diaper)

IMPORTANT: These are just start-up costs. And I used a ONE SIZE cover in my flat/prefold calculations. Many mothers prefer SIZED covers with brands like Thirsties and Bummis being very popular. Those will actually run you $10 to $13 each, which would raise the cost even more. Most babies also need SIZED prefolds; rare is the baby who can wear the same prefolds from birth to potty training. Moms who pocket diaper might also need something else for the newborn phase, too.

It looks like imported pockets can actually be cheaper than a stash of prefolds or even flats. You can even buy 2 brand new pocket diapers (with inserts) for the price of one waterproof cover.

It’s easy to see why imported pockets are flooding the market and encouraging mothers on tight budgets to take the cloth diaper plunge. Interestingly, for the second year in a row, the Cloth Diaper Survey has revealed that pockets are still the most popular style of diapering system.

Whatever choice is ultimately made, I’m just happy that there are lots of different “budget-friendly” cloth diapering options out there – this encourages more families to get on board! And Kelly’s Closet is just one of the places that you can get pretty much everything you need, whatever type of system you start out with. If you aren’t part of a co-op or want to try another economical pocket besides Sunbaby or Alva, Kelly’s Closet does carry Kawaii diapers for just $10.95 each.

I’d LOVE to know how your family has managed to cloth diaper for very little money – please share your stories in a comment below.

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  1. Love this! I use a little of all, with an interesting twist on pockets I have not heard much about, I lay prefolds, or flats (walmart ones) and they are my preferred in all my pockets and Grovias. I like this system the best, and what I have is a daughter who is super sensitive to the lining of all the pocket diapers. I sure hope she out grows this issue. I rarely use microfiber inserts anymore.

  2. I cannot stand microfiber inserts! While their absorbancy is great, the compression leaks are horrible and so is the build up stink. I also had a problem with ammonia build up much quicker using MF. I use heavy bamboo and zorb now. LOVE. Pockets are great but my preferred style is AI2’s now. I never reused pockets, but I will reuse my AI2 shells once, maybe twice (rare) if not soiled. Saves me time and money. Great calculations, btw! I love seeing these, great resource for moms and dads

    • I hear you, Angela. Can’t deny that microfiber is very absorbent and super fast to dry but it definitely is MUCH more prone to odor build-up compared to a cotton or bamboo fabric. Anne

  3. I originally used gerber prefolds and covers. Of course that was 16 years ago when they were good diapers and covers and they made diaper wraps (stil have a couple). 4 years ago we started out using receiving blankets from goodwill oragami folded with size med thirsties covers. That was before they had their duo wraps. I also purchased Dappi brand prefolds for I think $8 a doz. They may not be the best but they served the purpose. I made stuffable fitted diapers, I also used flour sack towels for flats. Then we purchased the Kawaii heavy duty pockets. I now have cotton baby infant and premium prefolds and a multitude of covers. I use snappis and pins. Used receiving blankets are probably your cheapest route. Oh and I forgot about the t-shirt phase we went through. That is super simple to do and cheap. And fleece covers are great. and easy to make. I am getting ready to make a few pull-ups for my 2 yr old. You can pick it up off the clearance rack or use a cheep blanket. There are so many inexpensive to almost free ways to diaper a baby if a person really wants to. I love trying new ways. Oh, and I always use a fleece liner in my dipes. Makes for easy clean up.

    • Jennifer, We’ve also used receiving blankets and they are great! Very soft, fairly absorbent and you can often find them super cheap at yard sales and thrift stores, or for free. And I completely agree with you that one of the best things about cloth diapering is how versatile it is. Anything that will absorb can be reclaimed as a diaper! Anne

    • My experience was just like yours, Sarah! Started right off with prefolds because I was told it was the cheapest way to go. I’m so glad I’ve been able to add some quality pockets at such a good price to round out my stash. Anne

  4. I am surprised that prefolds make up mostly of your stash. Why do you mostly use prefolds? Have you personally tried Alva or Sunbaby?

    • I like the prefolds because cotton and bamboo don’t retain odors and also get more absorbent with time and use. But yes, we have tried both Alva and Sunbaby and like them a lot. I have a few in my stash. Anne

  5. I love your article its very informative. I’m a pocket user because of the easyness of it with twins. I have tried prefolds but didn’t like them. I’ve notice u were writting about the start up costs of different systems and mentioned kawaiis were almost $11 a diaper. I’m a huge kawaii user and my whole stash is made up of them. While this price is true if u were buying them one at a time but people rarely do that starting up. They generally go for bundle packages like I did. When u do this it brings the price down of kawaiis to not even a mere $6 per diaper.

    • You’re right, Nancy! There are lots of great Kawaii package deals out there, and some lower prices on individual diapers, too. At Sweetbottoms Baby they have the Kawaii Pure & Naturals for $8.25 each.

      Thanks for commenting! Anne