Buying pre-loved cloth diapers is an excellent way to start cloth diapers on a budget, try out new styles of diapers, bulk out your stash, or pick up that one diaper print you’ve Stanned forever.
However, before you dip your toe into the wonderful world of second-hand cloth diapers, find out what to look for, which questions to ask, and how to avoid losing money.
Why Buy Second-Hand Cloth Diapers?
There are many reasons why it can be a good idea to buy used cloth diapers, including:
- Second-hand diapers will, in most cases, save you money. This is especially important if your primary motivation for joining the cloth diaper revolution is to save money.
- Buying used cloth diapers has less of a negative environmental impact than buying new ones.
- Most pre-worn diapers are “broken in” and have already reached their maximum level of absorbency, so there’s no need to prep them.
- It is an excellent way of building up your stash, so you have to wash your diapers less frequently.
- You can track down that unique limited edition print you’ve always had your eye on.
- It allows you to try different diaper brands and styles.
- You may benefit from the seller’s experience and advice.
These are all excellent reasons for choosing used diapers, but it is not without its risks. If you’re not careful, you can end up spending your hard-earned money and discover you have bought a pile of worthless fabric, baggy elastic, and peeling PUL.
That’s why we’re here to share our top tips for buying used cloth diapers without buyer’s remorse.
Before you begin scouring Craigslist or the Facebook marketplace for your new-to-you diapers, take the time to do a little research.
Decide what you want and why you want it
Yes, we know you want diapers, but are you looking for a stack of flats to start your stash, searching for a specific diaper brand to try, or are you hoping to find a different style of diaper?
By writing down what you want and why you are buying it, you are less likely to impulse buy something you’ll later regret.
Do your research
Once you know what you are looking for, take a look at how much the same diapers cost brand new and how much they have been used. Also, take the time to find other listings for similar cloth diapers and compare the price.
Also, consider who is selling the diapers and what recourse you have if something goes wrong. For example, an online consignment store might have a 7-day-no-questions-asked returns policy. This gives you some protection if the diapers turn out to be not what you expected.
Even if it is a private seller in a local online group, a quick Google search of the group, the seller’s name, location, and the words “cloth diapers” might alert you to a previous sale-gone-bad situation.
When you are buying used cloth diapers, it is vital to ask the right questions. While you will want to ask open-ended, subjective questions like “what condition are they in?” You should also ask questions that have a definitive answer, like “have the diapers ever been stripped?”
Why are you selling your diapers?
This is a relevant question because it will tell you a lot about the diaper. If someone is selling their stash of cloth because their child has been potty trained, it may indicate the diapers have seen a lot of use.
On the other hand, if the seller is getting rid of a set of all-in-ones because they prefer pockets, they are likely less well used.
Where did you get the diapers?
I learned the importance of this question the hard way. I once purchased a set of pocket diapers from someone who had only had them for about a year. I bought them, thinking they would have plenty of life left, only to discover they were almost useless.
I contacted the seller and said, “you told me you’d only had them a year,” to which she replied, “yes, I did, but my sister-in-law had them before me, and she used them for four years, and two kids.
What condition are they in?
This is, obviously, an important question but remember - people have different standards and what the seller says is excellent condition, may not be excellent in your opinion.
How long have they been used for?
Rather than ask “when did you buy them,” ask how long they have been used for. A seller may have bought the diapers six months ago and used and washed them every day, or they might have bought them two years ago and used them twice.
How often have they been used?
Diapers that have been part of a large stash and used in rotation will have much less wear than diapers that make up the majority of a stash and are an often used favorite.
It also makes a difference if the seller has used them for one child or multiple children.
How were they washed and dried?
Hearing about the seller’s wash routine will help you understand how well the diapers have been taken care of. It will also alert you to any potential issues such as absorbency problems because the seller used fabric conditioner.
For drying, line-dried in the sun is the optimal process, but there’s nothing wrong with diapers that have been put in the dryer.
Have they ever been stripped? If so, how often, and why?
Again, this will help you know how much hard wear and tear the diapers may have been through. For example, if the seller strips the diapers as part of a regular routine, those diapers may have less usable life left in them.
The same goes for using bleach or other laundry additives and “non-laundry” additives such as vinegar.
Have you used diaper cream or liners?
This is another question that, on its own, doesn’t give you much information, but combined with other questions, it will provide you with a clearer picture of how the diapers have been used and any potential problems you should look for.
Are you selling them with……..?
This question applies if you are considering all-in-two diapers or pockets. Don’t assume that the seller is providing everything you would expect. Find out for definite if the diapers are coming with original inserts, not original but inserts made by the same maker as the diaper, or after-market inserts from another brand.
Ask for photos
Don’t be afraid of asking for extra photos if the images in the ad or listing do not show you everything you want to see.
You and the seller are equals in this transaction. They are not doing you a favor by selling the diapers, and you are not doing them a favor by buying them. It is reasonable for you to make sure you are getting what you think you are getting.
Especially important are close-ups of hook and loop fastening strips, studs, and elastics. If the lot includes pockets, AIOs, or AI2s, ask for close-ups of the PUL to check for delamination.
Condition is subjective
In ads, on websites, and in other listings, you are likely to see the following descriptions and abbreviations to describe the condition of a second-hand item:
- BNWT = Brand New With Tags
- NWT = New With Tags
- NIP = New in Package
- NOOP = Never Out of Package
- LN = Like New
- LNC = Like New Condition
- EUC = Excellent Used Condition
- VGUC = Very Good Used Condition
- GUC = Good Used Condition
- UC = Used Condition
- Needs Repair
While these ratings give you an idea of an item’s condition, it is important to remember - one person’s “Like New” is another person’s “Good Used Condition.” This is why it is so important to ask plenty of questions and ask for lots of photographs.
Generally, it is reasonable to expect:
“Like New” diapers should be completely free of stains, have no pilling, or fading, any white fabric should be bright white, and they should be complete with the same accessories they came with.
For example, pocket diapers should come with the inserts they were initially sold with, and those inserts should also be Like New.
“Excellent Used Condition” diapers should be very close to like new. Again, you shouldn’t see any pilling, fading, or stains, and the diaper should come with any accessories in the same Excellent Used Condition.
If the diaper has hook and loop fastening it should be completely free from fluff, and there should be no puckering or scrunching at the edges of the fastening.
“Very Good Used Condition” diapers can have either a little fluff in the hook and loop fastening, the tiniest amount of pilling or fading, or a little, faint stain. If the diaper has several of these issues, it should be considered “Good Used Condition.”
“Good Used Condition” diapers work exactly how they should and have no damage to the stitching, PUL, or studs but may have some fluff in the hook and loop fastening.
They may have minor staining, pilling, or snags, but the elastic at the legs should be in good shape and fully functional.
“Used Condition” diapers will be obviously used and past their prime but still have life left in them. They may have pilling, staining, and some color fading, and the elastic may be relaxed.
However, a “Used Condition” diaper should not need any repair before being used, and PUL should be fully functional.
- “Needs Repair” diapers do not have to be immediately usable, but they should be in a good enough state to be repairable. For example, it is still a “Needs Repair” diaper if the elastic is shot and can be replaced, but if the PUL has delaminated, the diaper is no longer fixable and shouldn’t be sold as a diaper at all.
How to Buy Second-Hand Cloth Diapers
If you are buying online, don’t use a credit card and assume you are protected. Most credit cards with purchase protection do not cover used goods, even if purchased from a reputable store. Instead, when buying online, use PayPal wherever possible.
PayPal has a dispute process you can use for 180 days from the date you made a payment. This covers items that the seller ships but do not arrive at your address or items that are not as described.
For example, you can make a claim if:
- You buy used cloth diapers the seller lists as “Like New,” and when the diapers arrive, they have pilling and stains.
- The diapers are listed as brand X, but you discover they are brand Z when they arrive.
- You purchase pockets, and the listing says they come with the original insert, and you discover they are “aftermarket” inserts.
Where to Buy Used Cloth Diapers
The best way to buy pre-loved cloth diapers is to get them from someone you know or a physical location you can visit. This allows you to check out the diapers, ensure the diapers are as described, and minimize the chance of losing money.
Other options include:
- Craigslist/Kijiji or other similar online market places.
- Local online moms groups
- Facebook - both marketplace and in cloth diaper specific groups.
- Consignment stores.
- Online stores such as Poshmark sometimes have cloth diapers.
Prepping Second Second-Hand Diapers
After you have your diapers and you are sure you’re happy with them, it is essential to prepare them before use.
In most cases, we recommend both a diaper strip and a diaper sanitize. This ensures you have diapers that are clean, germ-free, free of detergent or mineral build-up, and safe to put on your baby.
The only exception to the strip and sanitize routine is when you know for sure that the diapers don’t have detergent or mineral build-up. In this case, you can risk not stripping the diapers, but don’t skip the soak.
So, assuming you have to do both, the first thing you need to do is strip your cloth diapers.
Stripping Used Cloth Diapers
Stripping your cloth diapers is not something you should do regularly. It is an extreme process that is hard on the fabric, and you should only strip if:
- You have bought used diapers, and you are not 100% positive they have been washed as they should be.
- Your diapers have been washed in hard water for a sustained period - eight or more washes.
- Your diapers are repelling. To test for repelling, lay your diaper on a flat surface and let s drop or two of water fall onto it from about an inch away. If the water beads and rolls on the surface, your diapers are repelling.
- The diapers have been washed in too much detergent, or fabric softener has been used.
How to Strip Cloth Diapers
Always start the process with clean diapers. You can strip them immediately after sanitizing; you do not have to dry them first.
- Dissolve your stripping agent in hot water.
- You can use Borax, Calgon, and Washing soda - 3 tablespoons of each. Or
- RLR -available from smaller hardware stores and Amazon.
- Drop your diapers into the water and leave them to soak until the water is cold. You need to leave them for a minimum of two hours, but no more than eight hours. Stir the water once an hour or so to ensure every diaper surface gets a good soak.
- Drain the water from your bath and squeeze the excess water from the diapers.
- Drop the diapers into your washing machine and run them through a cold wash without detergent.
Once you have stripped the diapers, you can sanitize them.
Sanitizing Used Cloth Diapers
Some people do not want to use bleach because it is a harsh, chemical product. However, we feel that when it comes to our kid’s safety, on balance, using bleach is less potentially damaging than using a less effective method and risking infection.
The only exception to this is if you have iron-rich water. In this case, the bleach will react with the water and may cause rusty stains, so you will have to use the no-bleach sanitizing method instead.
Signs of iron-rich water are red or brown stains on your clothes when they come out of the wash, rusty-looking stains in the bottom of the shower, discolored water.
How to Sanitize With Bleach
You can bleach in the bathtub, a bucket, or your top loader washing machine.
Do not use scented or “splashless” bleaches, and check to ensure your bleach is still in date. Yes, bleach has a use-by date and is less effective past that time.
In the tub:
- Half fill the tub with cold water.
- Add a half cup of bleach.
- Soak the diapers for 30 minutes, making sure they stay beneath the surface.
- Do not exceed 40 minutes.
- Empty the tub and rinse the diapers in hot water, but be careful not to use water that’s too hot; you may burn yourself.
- Transfer the diapers to your laundry machine and do a hot wash with detergent.
In a bucket
- Use the same process as for bleaching your cloth diapers in the tub, but use one tablespoon of bleach for every gallon of cold water.
Top loader washing machines:
- Do not put your diapers in the machine.
- Allow the machine to fill with cold water.
- Add ¾ cup of bleach.
- Add your diapers.
- Leave the diapers to soak for 30 mins.
- Turn the machine back on and allow it to complete the cycle.
- Leave the diapers in the machine, add your detergent and wash on a hot cycle.
For all methods, there’s no harm in doing an additional hot wash with detergent to ensure you have flushed all bleach from your diapers.
This will kill and bacteria, yeast, or viruses living on or in the cloth. While you shouldn’t bleach your diapers as a matter of cause, and doing so can damage them, bleach is the best way to sanitize second-hand cloth diapers.
How to Sanitize Without Bleach
If you have iron-rich water, a family member who is sensitive to bleach, or you do not feel comfortable using a strong cleanser, you can also sanitize with:
Borax and Hydrogen Peroxide
- Half fill your tub with cold water.
- Add four cups of hydrogen peroxide and one cup of borax.
- Leave your diapers to soak for 30 minutes.
- Do not exceed 40 minutes.
- Rinse your diapers in hot water, but be careful not to use water that’s too hot; you may burn yourself.
- Wash the diapers on a hot cycle with detergent.
Lysol laundry sanitizer
- Add two caps full to each gallon of water.
- Half a bathtub will need 42 caps or the laundry sanitizer or just over an entire bottle, which is why this method should only be used if nothing else will work for you.
As with bleach soaks, there’s no harm in giving the diapers an additional hot wash with detergent to ensure you have thoroughly rinsed out the sanitizer.
The Final Step
Once you have stripped and sanitize your diapers, it’s time to begin washing. You don’t have to wait for the diapers to be dry first; washing them straight after sanitizing is fine.
Wash the diapers in a cold cycle without detergent. Next, wash them in a hot cycle with detergent, and finally do an extra rinse. Once they are dry, your diapers are ready for use.