When I was a baby, my parents used cloth diapers for me because that was all we had at the time in China. It was laborious to hand wash, hang dry, and fold. Nowadays, it's the norm to use disposables here in the US as well as cities in China. With the convenience, also comes a significant strain on the environment. We throw away about 18 billion diapers per year, and it's the single most common consumer item found in landfills. The environmental proposition for cloth diapering is a strong one, but I will save that topic for a future post. Today I will compare for you cloth diapering to disposable diapers from a purely economic perspective for the average family. Does it really save money to use cloth? Let's look at a few case studies.
Newborn Pampers 30% off from Amazon Mom + Subscribe and Save: $0.19 per diaper
Assume 10 diapers per day
$0.19 per diaper X 10 diapers per day = $1.90 per day
$1.90 per day X 365 per year = $693.50 per year
Most babies use diapers for 2 years, so overall cost for one baby is: $1387.00
Cloth diapering with prefolds:
Cost 612.67 for 2 years, Save $774.33
Diapering with prefolds requires waterproof diaper covers. I prefer using Thirsties covers because they are soft and fits my baby well. Other brand diaper covers work well too and cost about the same. I will use Thirsties in this example for convenience.
3 X Thirsties Diaper Cover, X-Small (6-12 lbs) $11.50 = $34.50
3 X Thirsties Diaper Cover, Small (12-18 lbs) $11.50 = $34.50
3 X Thirsties Diaper Cover, Medium (18-28 lbs) $11.50 = $34.50
3 X Thirsties Diaper Cover, Large (28-40 lbs) $11.50 = $34.50
Total for diaper covers = $138.00
I prefer Indian unbleached prefolds. OsoCozy offers diaper service quality (DSQ) ones for a reasonable price and is available with Amazon Prime.
3 X OsoCozy 6 Pack Eco-Friendly Prefolds Unbleached Cloth Diapers, Size 1 $11.99 = $35.97
3 X OsoCozy 6 Pack Eco-Friendly Prefolds Unbleached Cloth Diapers, Size 2 $18.99 = $56.97
Total for prefolds: $92.94
I like to use a reusable liner to keep the moisture away from baby's bottom and helps prevent diaper rash. It's certainly optional for you. The Bummis fleece liners are 100% polyester made from recycled soda bottles, they are eco-friendly and nice and soft.
5 X Bummis Reusable Fleece Liners $5.00 = $25.00
Total for reusable liners = $25.00
Washing and Drying:
It's difficult to estimate the cost of electricity and water for washing and drying diapers because it depends on the efficiency of the specific machines you have. When we wash our diapers, we use "Sanitize" mode on our front load washer. It runs for about 2 hours per load and when we measured the electricity consumption with the Kill A Watt Electricity Usage Monitor , we found that one load uses 2.1 kWh. In upstate NY, we pay $0.184 per kWh for our electricity.
Electricity cost per load = $0.38
We also estimate that one load uses about 5 gallons of water. Water costs us $0.013 for 5 gallons in our area.
Water cost per load = $0.013
With the estimated amount of prefolds and covers, the diapers will need to be washed every other day.
[$0.38 (Electricity cost per load) + $0.013 (Water cost per load) ] * 183 loads = $71.20 per year
Total Utilities cost over 2 years = $142.40
Laundry detergent is another expense for cloth diapers. You would want to choose one that is free from fragrance and does not leave a residue on your cloth diapers. We love Allen's Naturally, but other brands such as Rockin' Green or Charlie's Soap would work great as well. I also end up using Allen's Naturally for all our other laundry because we love it so much. We got the gallon size Allen's Naturally for $47.93 ($36.60 + $11.33 shipping) which will last us 512 loads on our High Efficiency (HE) washer. That works out to be about $0.09 per load.
Total detergent cost over 2 years = 2 years X 183 loads per year X $0.09 per load = $34.04
Total cost for washing and drying over 2 years = $176.44
Diaper Pail and Liners:
You would also want to have a diaper pail and a couple liners to make cloth diapering hassle free. We splurged and got Simplehuman 40-Liter Slim Plastic Step Can for $38.99 which we love. You can probably find one that works well for around $20, but let's use this fancy trash can as a worst case scenario. We also got two reusable Planet Wise Diaper Pail Liner - Avocado for $17.65 each
Cost for pail and liners =$38.99 + 2 X $17.65 = $74.29
Exclusively breastfed babies poo is water soluble and does not need to be rinsed off or dunked in a toilet before tossing in the diaper pail. Once baby starts solid food (around 6 months old), his or her poo will look and smell a lot more like adult poop. At this point, the best option is to go for a flushable liner that can be lifted out and flushed down the toilet with the mature baby poo.
6 months to 1 year old:
3 poops per day X 0.5 years X 365 days per year = 274 small liners
1 year old to 2 year old:
3 poops per day X 1 year X 365 days per year = 1095 large liners
3 X Bummis Bio-Soft Liner, Small (100 count) $6.00 = $18.00
11 X Bummis Bio-Soft Liner, Large (100 count) $8.00 = $88.00
Cost of flushable liners = $106.00
Total cost for cloth diapering with prefolds for one baby (2 years) = $612.67
Cloth Diapering with All-in-ones:
Cost $715.73 for 2 years, Save $671.27
All-in-one cloth diapers are the easiest way to cloth diaper, however, they are more expensive compared to prefolds. They work just like disposables in that there are no covers or liners to worry about. The only difference is that soiled diapers go into a diaper bin instead of the trash can. One of the most popular types is the bumGenius One-Size Cloth Diaper which grow with your baby. Let's use that as an example for cost estimation purposes.
20 X bumGenius One-Size Cloth Diaper 4.0 $17.95 = $359.00
The cost for utilities, laundry detergent, diaper pail and liners would still be the same. You wouldn't need to use reusable liners because the all-in-one diapers themselves have built in fleece liners that keeps the moisture away. However, flushable liners are still recommended for after baby starts solid food.
Washing and drying = $176.44
Diaper pail and liners = $74.29
Flushable liners = $106.00
Total cost for cloth diapering with all-in-ones for one baby (2 years) = $715.73
There you have it! Even if you hate trees and love landfills, there's good reason to cloth diaper if you want to save money. With prefolds, you can save between $700 to $900 by using cloth diapers instead of disposables. The savings are even more lucrative when you use cloth diapers for more than one baby. Even if you are done with having more little ones, the after-market for gently used diapers and diaper covers allows you to recover about half the original cost. Disposable diapers are just what they are, disposable. Once they are thrown away, their value is gone forever.
Have more questions about disposable diapers vs. cloth? Leave a comment! Also stay tuned for more posts on comparing the costs and benefits of different diapering strategies.