With every new baby comes the need for cheap diapers. The average baby goes through more than 2,000 diapers in the first year alone, and most children are not fully potty trained until age three. That means that by opting for a cheap 14-cent diaper instead of a 30-cent diaper, you can save close to $300 a year. It's no wonder that the family budget feels a bit, well, soaked. But among the dozens of diapering options, there are good cheap diapers to be had. Because it's not always easy to tell which is the least costly and most effective choice, we've sorted through cheap disposable diapers and cheap eco-friendly diapers, looked at cost per unit and fit and other critical diaper matters to help you choose the best cheap diaper for your baby.
Cheap Diapers Buying Guide
When starting your search for cheap diapers, it helps to calculate the cost of an individual diaper. Looking at the total price is misleading because packages contain different amounts of diapers, depending on brand, size, level of absorbency, and other features.
The market is awash in diapers. As you might have already guessed, Pampers and Huggies are the biggest players, each offering several diaper varieties and price points under its brand-name umbrella. Luvs is another well-known brand, distinguished from the first two by its slightly lower price for diapers that carry the "premium" label. Big-box retailers like Target, Walmart, and Costco, and chain pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS, sell in-house brands that often fall into the budget diapers bucket. And then there are eco-friendly disposable brands that are generally priced beyond the Cheapism niche.
Diapers are marketed with a range of distinguishing features, including level of absorbency, size, gender-specific or not, perfume and dye-free, chlorine-free, and even as "designer" diapers meant to be shown off without a diaper cover. In general, more expensive diapers are thinner, softer, and more durable than cheap diapers. Many upscale diapers (and some discount diaper brands, as well) are imprinted with popular cartoon characters, such as Dora the Explorer, Sesame Street personalities, or Disney creations, that appeal to parents and children but don't affect their performance.
Of course, good old cloth diapers are always an option. These days cloth diapers are favored by parents who prefer to save money rather than time and perhaps give the planet a break along the way. Although laundering cloth diapers soaks up energy and resources, they give eco-conscious parents a certain peace of mind considering that the average disposable diaper takes more than 100 years to decompose in a landfill. And while cloth diapers require a hefty upfront investment when the baby is born, they're cheaper in the long-run, especially if you use them for more than one child. Traditional cloth diapers, called "flat" or "prefold" diapers, cost $1-$2 each. The new "all-in-one" or "pocket" diapers go on and off much like disposables and can be changed less frequently than prefold diapers. The cost might hit you hard -- $18 and up for one diaper -- but you need less than two dozen and can often buy them used from other families.
You may find that it pays to go with store brands, some of which perform nearly as well as the big-name competition. Generic diapers typically cost less because the packaging is more basic and the diapers aren't advertised widely, but some parents also say they're not as soft or absorbent. One of the biggest complaints about cheap store-brand diapers is that the sizing is a little off, which can mean more leakage. So before giving up on discount generic diapers, try sizing up or down and see if that solves the problem.
Regardless which cheap disposable brand or generic you choose, you can save big-time by buying in bulk from big-box retailers or online vendors, by scouring the web for coupons, and by checking your local newspaper for sales -- discounts are often steep and widely available. Some parents even sell unused diapers for rock-bottom prices on eBay. When you buy bulk lots, however, be sure your baby isn't growing so fast that she or he sizes out of the diapers before you finish your stock. A lot of new parents buy scores of newborn-size diapers only to discover that they fit for only a couple of weeks.
To help point you to the best cheap diapers, we talked with new parents and read through diapers reviews posted by parents and caregivers on a variety of sites. Based on our research, we chose Up & Up diapers (starting at 15 cents/diaper) from Target and Luvs Premium Stretch (starting at 15 cents/diaper) as best cheap diapers; the former for value and performance, the latter for design and construction, ease of use and performance. Pampers Baby Dry (starting at 24 cents/diaper) and Huggies Little Movers (starting at 24 cents/diaper) are good cheap diapers -- more expensive than the best cheap diapers but lauded for fit and minimal leakage. We also like BumGenius (starting at $17.95/diaper), a one-size-fits-all cloth diaper that's user-friendly, long-lasting, and money-saving. Walgreens Premium Diapers (starting at 14 cents/diaper) are a wash-out with parents because of quality and fit problems.
Above all, remember that no two babies are alike, so a cheap diaper brand that fits your best friend's child perfectly may not be right for yours. Finding the right diaper is like finding the right dress or suit -- some styles work better than others. A little trial and error is often necessary.
Diaper Cost.You know that price sticker on the shelf that says $40.99 or $35.54? Forget about it. Instead of focusing on the total cost of the package, look at the unit (per diaper) price to make sure you're getting the cheapest diapers deal. (If the unit cost is hard to find or not displayed, divide the total cost by the number of diapers in the package.) The cost of an individual cheap diaper ranges from about 14 cents (Walgreens Premium Diapers, for example) to 25 cents; pricey diapers, including some varieties of Pampers, Huggies, and eco-friendly brands such as Seventh Generation go for more than 30 cents apiece. The best discount diapers we found include Target's house brand Up & Up diapers, Luvs Premium Stretch, Pampers Baby Dry, and Huggies Little Movers. Given that newborns go through 10-plus diapers a day, it's easy to see why the cost of a single diaper is a critical consideration when shopping for cheap diapers.
Cloth Diapers.Cloth diapers are the most expensive on a unit basis. Flat, or "prefold," diapers made of cotton cost as little as $1 each; the new "all-in-one" or "pocket" style diapers made of materials such as microfiber, fleece, hemp, and bamboo start at about $18 a diaper. You'll need to buy a bunch upfront and the initial outlay can pinch your budget, especially if you opt for the high-tech products. But consider this: the new-technology diapers are more absorbent than the prefolds, don't need to be changed as often, contain antimicrobial properties, and come in one-size-fits-all, so you don't have to buy new diapers as your baby grows. You'll need dozens of prefold diapers and 12-24 of the high-tech cloth diapers.
Despite the higher unit cost of cloth diapers, they're cheaper than disposables in the long run. Cloth diapers obviously increase your use of energy, water, and soap for laundering, but parents posting on Diaperpin.com note that doing a few extra loads each week only adds a few dollars to their utility bills. (Or, you can contract with a diaper service to deliver several dozen clean diapers to your home each week and cart away the dirty ones. Diaper services start at around $20 a week; Diapernet.org will direct you to a diaper service near you). Further defense of cheap cloth diapers comes from parents who say they save their own valuable time and the fuel costs associated with driving to the store to buy disposable diapers, not to mention the extra cost of dumping all the disposable diaper garbage (some communities charge for garbage pickup by weight or the number of bags/containers). Experts figure that cloth diapers can save you as much as $2,000 until your child is toilet trained.
Our choice for best cheap cloth diaper is BumGenius. Like other new-style cloth diapers, there's no need for rubber pants or diaper pins -- BumGenius tabs into place like disposables, and the only extra step is stuffing an inner pocket with an absorbent insert and removing it prior to laundering. Other popular one-size-fits-all cloth brands include FuzziBunz (starting at $19/diaper), Gro Baby System (starting at $25/diaper), and Blueberry one-size (starting at $25/diaper). There are dozens of other cloth diaper brands that come in incremental sizes, but we discounted these because the long-term cost is prohibitive. A lot of parents cut the cost of cloth diapers by selling them when no longer needed. Sites like Diaperpin.com and Diaperswappers.com have active forums and sales pages for used diapers.
Diaper Sizing.Cheap disposable diapers come in different sizes. The outside of each discount diapers package specifies the appropriate weight range for that size, but note that the sizing overlaps a bit. For example, Luvs Premium Stretch size 1 covers babies weighing 8-14 pounds and size 2 covers 12-18 pounds; Up & Up diapers size 3 is meant for babies weighing 16-28 pounds and size 4 is for 23-37 pounds.
Size options vary by discount diapers brand. Some brands, including Luvs Premium Stretch and Walgreens Premium, start out with a special size for newborns (up to 10 pounds). Other cheap diapers brands start at size 1, which usually fits babies weighing 8-14 pounds. Huggies Little Movers start at size 3 (16-28 pounds), so if you want to begin your diapering career with Huggies, you'll have to look for the Huggies Little Snugglers label, which offers diapers in a preemie size (up to 6 pounds) and goes up to size 2 (12-18 pounds). Up & Up begins with size 1 (8-14 pounds) as does Pampers Baby Dry. Cheap diapers max out at size 6, which are large enough for children weighing about 35 pounds. One-size cloth diapers like BumGenius fit babies weighing approximately 7-35 pounds.
Finding the right discount diaper also depends on your baby's build: is she long and lean or more cherub-like? Some diaper brands are more contoured than others, for example, and some have shorter rises or more rear coverage. Parent diaper reviewers report that Huggies Little Movers are a better fit for chubbier babies while Pampers Baby Dry are better suited to lanky kids. What's most important, though, is making sure the fit is tight around the legs and waist to minimize opportunities for leakage.
Another consideration: once babies start crawling or walking, they tend to slim down a little, which might mean a smaller size. According to our research, the general rule of thumb among parents is to try the smallest size that fits comfortably. If the diaper leaks frequently, it's time to move up to the next size or try a different brand.
Diaper Absorbency.There's an "ick" factor with diapers that you can't avoid, so advantage goes to discount diapers that absorb whatever needs absorbing. That said, some cheap diapers are designed to be more absorbent than others. If the packaging says "premium," "nighttime," "extra dry," or something similar, the diapers inside have higher absorbency (and cost more) than regular discount diapers. Diapers with greater absorbency are best for babies who wet more frequently (you'll know if your baby is a heavy wetter) or sleep through the night. Even if high absorbency diapers cost a penny or two more, the bottom line may even out if you have to change your baby less often or if the "premium" diaper stops leaks more effectively.
There's little head-to-head comparison, however, except for vague marketing claims that Brand X beats Brand Y. So here's what we found: Pampers Baby Dry boasts three layers of absorbency and 12 hours of protection (critical for those overnight hours) and most diapers reviewers rank it high on the absorbency meter. Huggies Little Movers asserts absorbency supremacy over a competitor and Luvs Premium Stretch features a money-back no-leak guarantee. And BumGenius diapers feature a waterproof outer fabric and a lightweight fleece-like inner that wicks away moisture; you can add an extra insert for extra protection.