Buy used diapers in person. There are lots of great online venues where you can buy used diapers (Kijiji, Craigslist, and various online parenting forums), however, seeing used diapers in person gives you a chance to assess the quality of the diapers. Even though an online listing may be accompanied by pictures, it's no comparison to inspecting the diapers in real life -- things like diaper cream residue, or delamination would be hard to see in a picture. We hold regular cloth diaper swaps at our stores that give our customers an opportunity to sell their use diapers -- for those in the market for used cloth diapers, it's a great opportunity to buy well-known brands of cloth diapers.
Buy used diapers at a consignment store. Admittedly, this may be a bit of a longshot, but it's always worth looking. Most consignment shops don't know the proper value of name brand diapers, as a result, if you're lucky enough to stumble upon a name brand diaper, you'll probably get it for a song. A customer came into our store last week who managed to snag a number of almost-new bumGenius 4.o diapers for -- wait for it -- $4.00 each. Is it weird that I wanted to high-five her?
Buy name brand used diapers. If you buy used diapers that have a good reputation, there's a better chance you will be happy with them (there's a reason they have a good reputation, after all!). If you're unsure about a particular brand, go to a cloth diaper review site to see what other people think of the brand you're considering purchasing.
If the used diapers are under warranty, ask for the original reciept. It's not unusual to buy used diapers from new parents who have changed their mind about using cloth diapers. In this scenario, the diapers may still fall under the manufacturer's warranty. If that's the case, having a copy of the original receipt will assist in resolving any warranty issues that may arise. I wouldn't consider this point a dealbreaker, but it wouldn't hurt to ask the sellers if they can provide you with a proof of purchase.
In terms of evaluating the quality of used diapers, don't focus on aesthetics -- stains will not affect the function of a diaper, and they're easy to remedy. Linty velcro can be easily cleaned with a comb or a needle. Smelly diapers, however, can be symptomatic of underlying issues (detergent buildup, or urine residue), it's important to ask how the dipaers have been cared for. Used diapers should always be stripped, stripping diapers can usually remedy any smell (and residue) issues.
As far as 'what not to look for' in a used diaper, the following issues will compromise the effectiveness of cloth diapers:
- Thinning fabric will absorb less. If you have to outfit each used diaper with an extra doubler (that will cost upwards of $4.00), will you still come out ahead?
- Delaminated PUL will not be waterproof. Examine the laminated side of PUL covers or pocket diapers carefully. If you see a tear in the laminate (or if the laminate has pulled away from the polyester), don't buy the diapers.
- Brittle or non-stretchy elastic will result in a diaper that gaps around your babies legs or waist, and it will cause leaks. You can always replace the elastic in the diapers yourself, if you take the diapers to a seamstress to repair, you can expect to pay upwards of $5.00/diaper to have the leg and waist elastics replaced, will you still come out ahead?
- Non-sticky velcro will need to be replaced. Pocket diapers and All-in-One diapers are washed every time they are used, velcro closures on these particular diapers will take a licking as a result. You can replace the velcro yourself (requires a sewing machine), if you take the diapers to a seamstress to repair, you can expect to pay upwards of $5.00/diaper to have the velcro replaced, will you still come out ahead?
- Diaper cream residue may be hard to see, but it can greatly affect how well a diaper works. Diaper cream residue will generally feel tacky to the touch, you can always check the absorbency of a diaper by pouring a little water directly onto the diaper. Natural fabrics should absorb easily, synthetic fabrics (like the microfleece in a pocket diaper) require pressure (put your finger into the pooled water, the water should sink through the fabric where you apply pressure). Diaper cream residue can be removed, but it can take time and elbow grease.
If you run into any of these issues, and you still want to proceed with the sale, ask for a discout on the used diapers (there's nothing wrong with bartering!). You should expect to pay at least 50% of the original value of diapers that are in good, used condition -- if you need to put time and effort (and possibly $$$) into reparing used diapers, it's only fair that their selling price is adjusted accordingly.