Cloth Diapering For Penniless Parents- No Sew Tee Shirt Diapers

When considering cloth diapering, you might have been interested, but the initial cost outlay might deter you if you're especially hard on cash. Though cloth diapering definitely can save lots of money over the course of your diapering period, coming up with the spare 200 dollars or so necessary to buy basic cloth diapering supplies (prefolds and covers) might be too difficult to do.
Fortunately, cloth diapering is possible even without that monetary outlay. How do you do it?

Cloth Diapers at Minimal Cost

  • Second hand stores often have cloth diapers of all sorts. If you're not picky, and you make sure to go on sale days where they sell things by weight/bag instead of by item, you're able to get things very cheaply. My friend's mother picked up bags and bags of prefolds and diaper covers for her for only 10 dollars at her local thrift store. 
  • Craigslist, ebay, and freecycle all may have cloth diapers for very low cost or even free. 
If you want even cheaper and don't want to purchase ready made diapers, here are some alternatives.
  • Sew your own cloth diapers. There are many instructional websites as to how to do this, with this website containing the most comprehensive list of links. Sewing your own cloth diapers may be cheaper than buying them new, but once you factor in the cost of the materials, from PUL to snaps to a snap press to elastics to fleece and microfiber, this option may end up not being as frugal as you'd like.
  • Fortunately, there's a way to make cloth diapers from recycled materials. Here's a link to terrific instructions for sewing your own prefold diapers made from old tee-shirts. You can usually get tee-shirts easily and often free from many sources, including freecycle and community bulletins. Stained and faded tees which would otherwise go into a landfill can get new life this way! 
One thing I am aware of is that some people lacking funds may not have a sewing machine or the time to sew cloth diapers by hand. Fortunately, I've discovered a method (via the internet, no, this wasn't my own original idea) of diapering your kids in recycled materials that fortunately, involves no sewing! 
The New Sew Tee Shirt Diaper! It truly is revolutionary, because everyone has spare tee-shirts (or the ability to get some), and since no sewing is involved, anyone can do this. And if you're so inclined, as this method keeps the shirts whole (no cutting involved either), you can always reuse the shirt afterward, though I don't recommend it because it's not likely that you'll be able to keep it stain free (and the thought kind of grosses me out).

Depending on the size of your kid, you'll need to use a different sized shirt. You'll want to use 100% cotton tees, as synthetic fibers aren't usually as absorbent.

1. Start off by laying your shirt flat on the floor or any other large surface.

2. Fold over the side like so, making sure the sleeve still extends from the side.

3. Repeat on the other side.

4. Fold down the top.

5. Fold up the bottom.

6. Bring up the bottom of the T to the front, bring over the sides, and pin it closed with a diaper pin, making sure to go through all the layers.

I tried to put this on my Ike, but he's at the 90th percentile for height at his age of 1.5 years old, so it wouldn't fit him around the waist, and this was the largest tee-shirt we had in the house, so I had to show a picture without him in it. 
Then I tried it again with a three quarter length tee shirt and it fit fine and was much easier to deal with.

1. Lay your three quarter length shirt on the floor/flat surface.

2. Fold over one side of the shirt a third of the way.

3. Fold the sleeve out.

4. Fold the other side of the shirt over, so it is folded in thirds.

5. Fold the sleeve out. You should know have a T or a cross shape, depending on the type of collar the shirt has.

6. Fold down the top of the shirt.

7. Fold up the bottom of the shirt.

8. Somehow manage to get your wiggly kid in there and secure it with the diaper pin while trying very hard not to poke your 100 mile a minute toddler.

Cover with some type of diaper cover. These work better for little babies, as they aren't as absorbent as other diapers, and big kids pee a lot! If you'll be using these on older kids or overnight, strongly consider using a doubler or two, made from microfiber or hemp or bamboo.

If you don't have diaper covers or much money to spend on them, you can either buy a few plastic pants or some cheap diaper wraps. From my research, Gerber and Dappi plastic pants are the cheapest plastic pants, and Dappi and Kushies diaper wraps are the cheapest diaper wraps.

Cloth diaper covers can also be made at home from recycled, felted wool sweaters, or even from old raincoats or recycled shower curtains. Here is a link to a pattern for making cloth diaper covers at home. You'll need to add velcro or snaps, with velcro probably be easier and cheaper to do.

Cloth diapering in the laundromat? No! 

And if, unfortunately, you don't have laundry facilities at home, you can still cloth diaper your kid- it'll just be a bit more work. Diapers can be washed in bathtubs with plungers, boiling water, and if need be, your hands. (Wear rubber gloves to make this less gross.) It's what they did in the olden days, and while annoying (and somewhat gross), can save you lots of money in the long run if it allows you to cloth diaper even without a washer and dryer.
Line dry your clothes to dry, either on a foldable indoor cloths rack, or even from clothes lines hanging from your windows (if such a thing isn't against city ordinances where you live).
Tee-shirt diapers and prefolds (the cheaper diapers) have the added benefit of being extra quick to dry because the various layers unfold.

No, most people probably won't need to do any of these cloth diapering tips. But for those that really are in desperate financial circumstances, here's how they can cloth diaper, even without a penny to spare. For me- I only do this if I'm all out of diapers and have nothing else to put on my kid. But it definitely works well as a backup option.

P.S. If all else fails, you can always try Elimination Communication (potty training from birth), but I couldn't do it, even if it meant not having to deal with diapers at all.

Do you cloth diaper? How much did you spend on your diaper stash? What method did you use to get your diapers cheaply, or did you not bother?
Have you heard of the new sew tee shirt diaper before? Have you ever tried to use it?
Would you wash cloth diapers by hand if you had no use of a washer and dryer at home, or would that be enough of a deterrent for you, even if money was very very very tight?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. This is great :)
    I been pulling out fabrics and t shirts all daddy before reading this. I can't wait to try the no sew diaper! I have a sewing machine, but I haven't pulled it out yet. Right now I have a dozen prefolds. I have 3 AIOs and 4 pocket diapers, some bamboo inserts and several extra microfiber ones that I purchased in addition to the ones that come with a pocket diaper. Plus I've already put my own flats togeth with fabrics around the house. Now I'm ready to put some fitted ones together with this fabric I've pulled out. I also need to make a good supply of simple diaper covers for my prefolds. I've spent $80 so far on cloth diapering. The prefolds were a gift. The only thing I really want at this point on top of what I'll be making is at least 24 Indian prefolds (really want them...close to and I'll get a couple of diaper covers. if I only get two, I'm interested in Thirsties and also Kawaii. I'll take what I can get and right now I can't afford anything. So I'm sooooooo grateful for the NO SEW T-SHIRT CLOTH DIAPER! So happy you've shared it cause until I pull out that swing machine, no sew is the way to go:):)

  2. I keep the heavily soiled ones soaking until I'm ready to throw them in the washer, and the others get hand washed along with the wipes right after I change my baby:)

    This would work even if I didn't have a washer/dryer in the house. The only difference is that I wash every 3-4 days and if I had to leave to do it, it'd be once a week.

  3. This looks great and I have to admit I'm eyeing the Tshirt on my sleeping husband right now. I spent a little less than $100 on amazon for 24 prefolds 3 thirstie covers and a pack of snappis. I am living on a boat and have to hand wash everything! No grosser than cleaning up the baby, just time consuming. The only problem is days like today where it has been raining 3 days in a row. Nothing is getting dry!

  4. Having cloth diapered 3 kids already (boys), I now have a girl. With my third child, I had made fitteds out of old tshirts, and I really liked them, but didn't have time to do that for my fourth. However, the diapers we had leftover from the boys did not work well for her, since she is a side-lying girl, and the pee would just drain out at the hip. I didn't have time/money to order/make new diapers, and googled side-lying diaper leaks. The flatfold diaper and fitted diapers came up as the solution. I didn't have time or money for the fitteds. I cut apart the tshirts I had gathered for fitted diapers at the sides/shoulders/sleeves. This leaves a rectangle of fabric, but you can fold one part over until it is a square, or make it a larger square in your minds eye, and fold according to that imaginary extra fabric. The kite fold with jelly rolled sides is the only one I've tried, and it works great. The short sleeves can either be folded in half and placed in the center as doublers, or cut apart and used as wipes. No sewing needed. FWIW, get some econobums covers. They are not very expensive, and are one-size. They are ugly and even ill fitting sometimes, but they seem to work the best. (Compared to Bummis and Thirsties, which fit better, but the velcro scratches baby's tummy, and they always seem to get poop on them after one use, while the econobums do not.)

    Also, sleeves on long sleeve shirts make good diapers. Cut the sleeve open, fold it over a few times at the top (wide part) until you have the right rise, lay in what you want for a soaker (fold up part of a tshirt that is too small to use as a diaper into a rectangle), jelly roll the sides, and pin or snappi. This folding method results in quite long waist tabs, longer than a kite-folded flat diaper.

    FWIW, I hate prefolds. I could never get them on right.

  5. I love prefolds and have cloth diapered 3kidsuntil with the same set I bought back in 2005, with multi sizes of bummies whisper wraps...I spent just under $200 to diaper 3kids! I have been given other fitteds and all in ones and babysat for a mom who used pocket diapers all just seemed like more of a hassle when it came to washing and drying.

    I have used dish towels(my grandma told me to!) As diapers on a newborn or as a soft doubler on older babies. I pick them up at thrift stores for around $.50. Bathroom style hand towels are a bit thick but would work on an older baby.
    I have made my own wraps out of Ikea bedliners they're rubbery on one side and cotton on the other, it like $3-4 for a pack of 3the and each one makes several covers depending on the size you need. I just cut them in to strips a little wider than the crotch with I wanted and sewed them between two layers of fleece (the leg off a pair of pj pants I got for free!) Add snaps or velcro and you have a wrap for under $1. These are my favorite wraps!

    1. I love your idea about making the wraps! Do you have a more detailed step by step?

    2. I love your idea about making the wraps! Do you have a more detailed step by step?

    3. This is a genius idea! (the bedliners as a wrap)

  6. Well trying to save money Im gonna have to make this work for my 3, going on 4 year old boy, he just pees when he wants now, and e cant afford to buy diapers or cloth diapers, so Im gonna use these old tshirts, thx alot, dont fel so bad when other women are doing this.

  7. I love this idea! It'll certainly do the job while you build up your cloth diaper collection.

  8. Awesome t-shirt tutorial !!! Thanks soooo much and God Bless!

  9. ok i have made these before but how to make for a 18-24month old with out it being so bulky?

  10. Flour. Sack. Towels. Seriously. I use them either in origami fold or just pad folded in a cover. I spent about 30 bucks on 30 fst's. Cheapest flat diaper ever. You only need a few covers as they wipe clean for pee. We use good disposables at night, but I don't see why we couldn't use a few fsts and a fleece liner if we HAD to.

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