Upcycling and Cloth Diapering

Upcycling and Cloth Diapering

Many people use cloth diapers in order to help the environment as much as possible. Others use them to save money. Both are absolutely valid reasons to cloth diaper your child, and cloth diapers can accomplish both of these goals.

In fact, you can use your cloth diapering decision to accomplish both of these goals twice over. Because reusing old things for a new purpose—also known as "upcycling"—keeps old items out of the landfills and prevents the need to purchase certain items, combining cloth diapering with upcycling, can help save you a few extra bucks and keep our world a tiny bit greener.

You may be wondering how in the world you could possibly combine these two seemingly different habits in a way that makes any sense at all. Although it may sound ridiculous, you can, in fact, upcycle while cloth diapering fairly easily. Here are a few ways you can combine the two.

T-Shirt Diapers

Did you know any adult-sized t-shirt can be folded into a diaper? This is a great skill to have in case you’re ever in a pinch, and is also the ideal way to reuse those old, worn-out t-shirts you aren’t sure what to do with.

Begin by laying the shirt out flat. Grasp both layers of the body of the shirt about one third of the way from the left-hand side. Pull this section of the shirt all the way to the right-hand side, but leave the sleeves out.

This will leave you with a “t” shape with the body of the shirt folded in thirds, and the sleeves still sticking out of the sides. Fold the top of the shirt down toward the middle so the sleeves are folded in half, hamburger-style. Fold the bottom of the shirt up toward the center. Place baby on the shirt and pull the center up between their legs. Fold each sleeve around the baby’s middle and pin it in place on the front of the diaper.

This leaves you with a simple and fairly absorbent diaper that is perfect for baby to wear around the house. If you need to head out, simply add a cover for leak protection.

Receiving Blanket Flats

Flat diapers are versatile, quick-drying, easy to wash, and affordable. Even better, almost anything can be used as a flat diaper. This means that you can create your own diaper stash using only items you already have around the house.

One of the very best flat diapers out there is a flannel receiving blanket. These are soft, absorbent, and they dry without any issues. Most parents have a collection of receiving blankets from when their child was born, and will likely never use all of them for swaddling. Cloth diapering is the perfect way to make sure you get use out of each and every one.

If you don’t already have receiving blankets around the house, try hitting up some garage sales. These common blankets can almost always be found for 10¢–25¢, making them one of the cheapest cloth diaper options available.

Other items that work well as flat diapers include the body of a big t-shirt, old flour sack towels (which are like tea towels, only larger), and old flannel sheets.

Stained Towel Inserts

If you have an over-abundance of stained towels, this could be the option for you. Because towels are made to be absorbent, they are the perfect cloth diaper insert replacement. Simply cut the towel into insert-sized pieces and using a serger or zig-zag stitch, sew two layers of the terry cloth together.

After making your terry cloth inserts, try using them in a pocket diaper, or for extra absorbency, layer them between a flat diaper (or prefold) and a cover.

Give Old Sweaters New Life

Sweaters that have been outgrown, stained, worn out, or even shrunk in the wash still have some use left in them. This seemingly useless winter wear is the ideal base material for a wool diaper cover.

There are many tutorials online for sewing wool covers from old sweaters. To find them, simply do a search; you are sure to find several.

If you’d rather skip the sewing, you can use very small sweaters as no-sew covers. Simply wrap the sweater around baby the same way you would the t-shirt diaper above. While this does work in a pinch, it isn’t the best option, and sewn covers do a much better job.

Upcycle Flats and Prefolds

Finished with your diapers and wondering what to do with them? Old flats and prefolds—and even some inserts—make great cleaning rags. Make sure to wash them well with bleach and detergent. After being run through the wash, they will be ready and waiting to be used as dish cloths, car cleaning rags, makeshift mops, dusting tools, and more.

Reuse PUL Diaper Covers

Many parents have a hard time figuring out what to do with cracked or peeling PUL covers. Passing them on to the next parent would be a bit cruel, considering the leaks they would likely have to deal with. What, then, is a mom or dad to do?

There are a few ways you can use old PUL covers before just tossing them:
Swim Diapers — While delaminated covers aren’t going to be great at holding in liquids, they can still hold solids. That is all they need to do to qualify for swim diaper status. So next time you have a peeling cover, toss it into the swim bag!
Disposable Covers — For those parents who use a combination of disposable diapers and cloth, peeling PUL covers can be great for putting over the ‘sposie to hold in any messes that may escape the leg gussets.
Doll Diapers — Baby dolls need diapers too! If your little one enjoys playing with dolls, hand the useless covers over to them. They are sure to appreciate them even if they don’t hold in leaks.


Hopefully this article inspired you to think outside the box when it comes to diapering your baby, and you’ll think twice next time you are about to throw out an old article of clothing. After all, almost anything made of cloth can be used as a diaper.

By using these tips to reduce, reuse, and recycle, you can easily make your cloth diapering decision have an even bigger positive impact on our environment while keeping your wallet even more padded. Honestly, you may even be able to build up a stash for next to no investment, something many parents would be eternally grateful for.

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  • Kevin Thill