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Disposable diaper alternatives: What would you do if stores ran out of diapers during COVID-19 + other emergencies?

what would you do if stores ran out of diapers

During the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, while sooo many of us are self-isolating and staying home with baby(ies), our local grocery stores are running out of basic things like hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

Last time we talked about what to do if stores near you are out of baby wipes. Now, we're gonna consider what you'd do if you couldn't buy another pack of disposable diapers for a while.

I've collected some tips from some of our Certified Coaches and trainees and our Instagram and Facebook followers to help you find an alternative to baby disposable diapers today, including reusable DIY baby diapers and other creative options.

Let's not let this "pandemic" take away good baby hygiene!

disposable diaper shortage at stores

7 natural alternatives to disposable diapers

Let's first take a look at what our Certified GDF Coach Julie Wittert has to say.

Running out of wipes or diapers can feel like running out of food and water when you’re a parent or caretaker to a young child. What does one do without these NECESSITIES?

During a time when these items are out-of-stock in stores, people are under quarantine and unable to shop, and some people are tightening their budget amidst business closings, there is hope!

Here is a list of what to do when you’re about to run out of diapers:

1. Start to practice Elimination Communication (EC)

Also known as Natural Infant Hygiene, this practice can allow you to extend the use of each diaper. Respond to your child’s need to eliminate by taking off the diaper and using a potty or other receptacle (see here for options) instead of waiting for baby to soil his or her diaper. Get more information about EC here.

potty your newborn with elimination communication

2. Allow baby naked time

Place baby on a towel or other absorbent surface or even in the bathtub (without water and with washable toys)...and let baby be free with some naked time Learn more about naked observation time here...if you want to actually learn something during naked time. :)

3. Use make-shift diapers

Create a sumo-style diaper back-up by putting a dish cloths, flour sack, burp cloth, or cotton diaper prefold in between baby's legs, held in place with a make-shift diaper belt (make your own here or cut off the waistband of a pair of elastic baby pants - I've even used a larger hair scrunchie).

4. Allow baby to be commando in pants, leggings, or other bottoms

To avoid big wet messes, you could use a sanitary napkin or other absorbent material (a washcloth for example) inside as long as baby doesn’t mind! But, having baby "commando" in pants-only will heighten his or her awareness of these bodily functions, which will only help the toilet learning process.

5. Try undies or trainers

Why not go straight to undies or trainers? Once you've read the Easy Start Guide, or Andrea's book, no worries. And, YES, they come in sizes as small as 6 months! Check out

use tiny trainers instead of diapers for babies

6. Take this opportunity to potty train your older baby

Click here for a guide that could free you of needing diapers by this time next week. You guys are just sitting around anyway, right? ;)

7. Start using cloth diapers

Check out this article for some easy-to-use options. Using cloth diapers instead of disposables is a natural step toward diaper independence.

And that's it.

Options 2-7 will be easiest if combined with practicing EC. There are Go Diaper Free coaches in your area available to help you if reading or listening to the book will take too long. Click here to search for your local coach.

If you’re in NYC or surrounding areas, feel free to contact me at

use the potty instead of the diaper

3 more alternatives to disposable baby diapers

Next, let's hear from our Certified Coach Jenni Sanders.

Things are a tad crazy right now, right? You're running low on diapers, so you head to the store and find the shelves of diapers are empty. What do you do? Don't worry! Here are some options other than disposable diapers.

  1. Nothing! Lay baby on a towel or old blanket and do some diaper free time. An hour of diaper free time will save you a diaper as well as give baby the ability to move. Babies love the freedom and it gives them a wonderful opportunity to work on physical skills uninhibited. It also gives you a chance to do some observation if you are working on elimination communication.
  2. Go old school! Your grandparents, and possibly parents, used flats and pins on a daily basis. They work! If you don't have flats you can use flour sack towels, dish towels, or old t-shirts. No diaper pins? No problem! For the craft folk, you can just sew a piece of elastic into a diaper belt. Not so crafty? Use an elastic headband or cut the elastic waist off of an old pair of baby pants.
  3. What about waterproofing? If you need a little waterproof protection you can just put some fleece pants or pajamas on baby. Fleece does a great job of keeping moisture in. You can also make a no sew fleece cover by cutting up a blanket. Just trace a diaper shape and add long pieces to tie at the waist.

3 ways to hack a cloth diaper

Now let's hear some reusable cloth diaper hacks from Malissa Moench, GDF Certified Coach.

  1. Use old tee shirts. Fold the center into thirds width wise, then fold length wise to fit your baby. The sleeves go around baby's waist and can be secured with safety pins or cloth diaper claws/Snappis, depending on shirt material.
  2. Use flannel receiving blankets. Secure with safety bins or cloth diaper claws/Snappis, depending on your material. See this YouTube tutorial.
  3. Exclusively breastfed babies do not need their diapers scrubbed in the toilet. Their poop is water soluble! So, skip the mess and use whatever you have as a diaper by coupling this with elimination communication.
what if you run out of diapers

What to do if you run out of diapers?

Our GDF Coach Trainee Samantha has tips on this and more.

Go to the store right? Well, with pandemic virus fears sweeping the nation, suddenly the most obvious, simple solution is perhaps no longer an option. Either the shelves are empty due to mass panic buying or perhaps even going to the store is a huge task amid shutdowns, lock-ins and, self-quarantine advisories.

Just like the whole toilet paper fiasco it might seem like diapers are a necessity, but here at Go Diaper Free we are all about changing the perception and use of diapers from that of a toilet into a tool.

So let's look at ways we can cut down on our diaper use so what we do have can last us as long as possible in these uncertain times.

Start practicing Elimination Communication!

I’m not saying this is going to get you out of diapers overnight or that you have to dive full-in BUT here are a few examples of ways you can dip your toe into EC:

  1. Catch the first morning pee. This is the easiest place to start in my experience, This is a very reliable time to try - as who doesn’t need a pee first thing in the morning? Upon waking, hold your baby over the sink, toilet, bath tub, or some kind of receptacle.
  2. Try some diaper free observation time. Not only will this inform your fledging EC practice but it will save you you some diapers - score! This is much easier in non-mobile babies of course, where you can lay them on top of a towel or changing mat. You will make a note of when they pee to learn their natural timing. You can make a cueing sound as they go to then use as a prompt later.
  3. Try for a poop catch. With disposable diapers you have the ability to use the same one for a few pees as they can be very absorbent, and are designed to be, so perhaps this won’t bother your baby so much. With a poop, though - we know when that’s happened (thank you mama smelling super powers!) and of course a diaper change has got to happen. A lot of babies have very clear signals before a poop, especially once they’ve started eating solids. It’s fairly straightforward to get your baby over a receptacle once you observe the first signal, or hear it (my baby always farts - I ignore that at my peril!). The other benefit is the easy cleanup - just a quick wipe or rinse is all that is needed. Another diaper saved (and precious toilet paper!).

I actually find I have more consistent luck with EC when I lack diapers, whether it be out and about and I misjudged the amount we would need (please say we’ve all been there?!) or the power’s been out (California power outages anyone?) and I couldn’t do a wash.

In this case, I usually go to natural timing and simply offer after the amount of time has elapsed between pees that I observed in naked observation time (see point 2).

Having no diapers means I don’t ignore signals or intuitive hits when they arise.

sumo style diaper demonstration
How to put a sumo-style diaper on a baby.

Diaper hacks

I have definitely run out of cloth diapers in the past. I’ve packed cloth diapers to use at multi-day events or i simply haven’t been on top of the laundry, and suddenly the baby is wearing the last clean and dry diaper - eeeekkkk!

These are a few things I have done to buy time…..

  1. Use a ‘found’ insert which can be removed from the main shell/body when soiled. You can do this with disposables or cloth diaper shells. I’ve used big absorbent cloth baby wipes folded in two, pieces of cut up old towel from my rag bag, and in a real pinch between point A and point B, a wad of paper towel (but I don’t recommend that!).
  2. Use a different type of backup. This is especially important if your LO is on the road to potty independence, you are practicing EC, or simply potty training. Use cloth training pants, small underpants, or even regular clothing - all viable backup options that actually might help the process because they feel wet and uncomfortable when soiled. This encourages more signaling.
  3. Try the EC sumo-style diaper. Find something stretchy that fits snugly around your LO’s waist and use cloth diaper prefold inserts or burp cloths or strips of old towel from front to back, secured to baby's waist under the sumo ‘belt’. I cut the waistband off a pair of my baby's pants for my first diaper belt. You can also see very clearly when a pee has happened with this setup.
  4. Rinse pee-soaked cloth diapers in hot water, wring them out, and throw them in the dryer. I’ve had to do this whilst camping and hung them in the sun to dry, the extra benefit being that the sun is a powerful disinfectant and stain remover.
  5. Of course, long-term, you wouldn't be bad-off investing in a cloth diapering system for full time use or simply when crazy people are fighting in the store over the last pack of pampers. Just sayin’!

Well, those are my tips for reducing your diaper dependence. We are seeing in a big way that the more dependence we have on commercial products and services outside the family home, the more vulnerable we are to being left in the lurch, unable to fend for ourselves, during times like these.

Looking at our regular consumption and cutting reliance on products we see as ‘essentials’ will, in the long run, set us up to be resilient, prepared, and confident citizens in the face of these uncertain times.

Finally, some genius tips from our social media followers...

I posted this question to our @godiaperfree Instagram and Facebook pages today and got the following responses. Scroll down to read through all of the amazing advice from our community.

Now, we'd like to hear what you have to say.

In the comments below, please share:

What disposable diaper alternative are you using during the COVID-19 pandemic? Has this situation caused you to choose a reusable diaper?

As always, thanks to our coach and trainee contributors and our Instagram and Facebook followers - and to you for reading along with us today!

xx Andrea


PS - here's the video version of this episode in case you prefer to YouTube it. ;)

Andrea Olson

About Andrea Olson

I'm Andrea and I spend most of my time with my 6 children (all under 12 yo) and the rest of my time teaching other new parents how to do Elimination Communication with their 0-18 month babies. I love what I do and try to make a difference in one baby or parent's life every single day. (And I love, love, love, mango gelato.)


  1. Avatar Kim Elliot on March 21, 2020 at 12:11 am

    Andrea I love that you’ve so quickly put these great resources together at this time. Such great work! I’ve not had to worry about the shortages of diapers or wipes, doing EC (thanks to you) and using cloth backup with my bub. I’ve enthusiastically tried to spread the word to those worrying.

    I just wanted to reference number 4. under “Diaper Hacks”. Rinsing in hot water may be okay for the rare time of camping, but long term would lead to problems if the diaper was a multi layered fabric, like many use today. These super absorbent modern style need a good wash routine to effectively remove the soil and avoid a build up that easily leads to ammonia burn. Fluff Love University in the States have good resources and here in Australia I’ll link a site that has been the saving grace to cloth diaper users today. They dispelled the myths in this world with science, starting back around 2014 when I starting using them for my daughter.

    One myth was about the sun’s ability and what it can and can’t do, so I’ve linked that here too;

    Thanks again Andrea x

    • Avatar Andrea Olson on March 22, 2020 at 1:57 pm

      Thank you for the info Kim!! I really appreciate you sharing it with us all. xx Andrea

  2. Avatar Crystal Kellough on September 4, 2020 at 11:16 am

    My, now 3 1/2 month old, baby was in diapers when she was first born. she was 5 1/2 weeks early, making it difficult to find diapers. Most stores don’t stock up on preemie diapers. My friend gave us her supply of cloth diapers but advised us not to us them until she was a little older because newborns pee a lot (she did not do EC, and I had no idea about EC at the time). Before we discovered EC, we were nervous to do the cloth diapers because of the inconvenience of them (our feelings at the time). My husband did not want to carry a poopy diaper around if we were out and about, and how my friend taught us to clean them in the toilet was a bit weird (apparently not as weird as ECing, but it’s only weird when it’s a new concept to someone). Now that we EC, the cloth diapers have been a godsend! We don’t go through a lot of the cloth diaper shells, but we use the inserts a lot for the sumo style diapers (we cut up some old pants and made chaps that also double as a diaper belt). Because of this whole scamdemic (sorry…that’s how we feel), my husband lost his job, so doing EC has really helped us save on diapers and wipes. We do use disposables sometimes when we are out and about, or know a poop is going to be coming soon (she doesn’t signal for poo. We normally catch it by intuition, smell, or I believe my baby tries to wait for her pottytunity to poop), and we only use them because we haven’t ran out since we bought them a few weeks ago when starting EC, and have some bigger sizes from my baby showers (if I ever do need to buy some, it will be the Dypers you recommended). In conclusion, EC has been amazing for us in many ways, including saving on diapers.

    • Avatar Andrea Olson on September 5, 2020 at 6:12 pm

      Hi Crystal! I am so happy to hear that EC has been able to help you in these hard times. It sounds like you are doing a wonderful job. I hope your husband is able to find work soon! xx Andrea

      • Avatar Crystal Kellough on September 5, 2020 at 7:28 pm

        Thank you! We are finding a blessing in these downtime’s. Along with being more available to EC, he is taking this time to follow his dreams and write a book that he’s always dreamed of writing. He’s almost done with it and so far it’s amazing!

        • Avatar Andrea Olson on September 7, 2020 at 5:24 pm

          That is wonderful! Best of luck to him with his book!!

  3. Avatar eli on November 16, 2021 at 7:15 pm

    what size would a 12 year old need for a tee shirt and how do you do it

    • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on November 19, 2021 at 12:46 pm

      I am a little confused by your question, can you please explain further

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