June 4, 2011

Saving money with cloth diapers

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.

Pampers Swaddlers Dry Max Diapers, Newborn, Size 0, Big Pack, 84 CountDisposables diapers: Cost $1387.00 for 2 years
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

Thirsties Diaper Cover- Celery, Small (12-18 lbs)Cloth diapering with prefolds: 
Cost 612.67 for 2 years, Save $774.33

Diaper Covers:

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

Reusable Liners:
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

Simplehuman 40-Liter Slim Plastic Step Can, GreyDiaper 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

Flushable Liners
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

bumGenius One-Size Cloth Diaper 4.0 - Twilight - SnapCloth 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.


  1. Just a note. I am a cloth diaper user but when I use disposables I use the Member's Mark brand from Sam's Club. Each case costs me about $34 and lasts me about 6 weeks. That means that disposables cost me about $300 a year. According to your calculations that's actually cheaper then the cost of cloth diapers. I made my own diapers and covers so it made it cheaper for me then disposables. There's also the more then one child issue which would cut the cost per child. I just thought I'd share what I discovered. In adovocating for cloth we need to give people the whole story. :)

  2. Thank you for sharing Judi! It's great that you can get the deal on disposables at Sam's Club. I don't have the membership so it's good to know about it. Would you mind sharing how many diapers you get per case? Just trying to get a dollar per diaper cost so I can do side by side comparison. Also, I would love to know how you made your own diapers and covers! I sometimes use cut-up old t-shirt as a diaper, but I have no idea how to make a diaper cover. Thanks and hope to hear from you soon! You can also email me directly: ecalpon1@gmail.com

  3. I just checked Amazon and they have the Pampers Swaddlers Diapers size 1-2 (up to 15 lb.) in a case of 252 for $0.1222 per diaper if you do subscribe and save. Size 2 is $0.161 per diaper, and Size 3 is $0.19. I think size 1-2 is only for the first 3 months, so the majority of the time you will be getting size 2 and 3. Using $0.16 per diaper in the same calculation comes out to be about $1060 per year.

  4. Did you guys try cloth diapers immediately after the baby is born? I was told that it is better to use disposable for a month as they go more frequently! Once you get their routine and understand them,try cloth diapers in the mornings/play time and during night use disposables.

  5. We got a pack of Seventh Generation disposable diapers as a gift, and we got some Pampers and Huggies from the hospital, so we used those for the first month. Also, in the first week or so, the baby's poop will be black and tar-like, and then gradually turn green and then yellow. I would suggest using disposable until the poop turns yellow.

    Another reason to use disposable is that the cloth diapers in the smaller sizes may only last you the first month or so, so it may not be worth the investment.

    If you want to try cloth diapering, you could get the trial pack from Jilian's Drawers. They let you return the diapers within 21 days for full refund minus $10.

    Good luck! I hope you will have fun with cloth diapers, and both you and your baby will love it.

  6. Thanks for this information. I've been cloth diapering my kiddo for about a year now (he's a year old). We've been battling diaper rash a lot lately and I'm constantly putting him in disposables to clear up the rash. Do you think a flushable liner would help prevent this? I use prefolds and made my own fleece liners to help wick away the moisture. But, though I've stripped the diapers many times,I'm afraid there's still bacteria in the diapers that are irritating his bottom. I don't want to give up on CD, but I'm not sure what else to try. Any suggestions?

  7. Hi Temma! I had the same dilemma with my little one... cloth diapers are great, but the trade off is diaper rash, and I don't want to put ointment in fear of ruining the cloth diapers. One cloth diaper compatible diaper rash cream you can try is "Angel Baby Bottom Balm" by Earth Mama Angel Baby. It's completely natural and works wonders.

    I'm not sure that flushable liners will necessarily help, their purpose is really to catch the poo to make cleaning up solid food poo easier. The fleece liner you are using which wicks away the moisture should help though.

    Unfortunately the only way to prevent diaper rash is to change diapers often, (about once an hour, i know... it's kind of a pain), and also to give him "open" time (no diapers at all), to allow air to circulate.

    Another thing to consider is that you can try to start training your little one to potty in the toilet. I know it sounds early, and this will depend on how receptive the individual child is to the idea, but in many cultures, babies start to pee in the toilet at 6 months old!! Just think of all the trouble you save in terms of diaper washing, drying, etc! The way to do this would be to bring the baby to the bathroom to try to pee or poo every 1 hour or so, and always use positive reinforcement. If he already peed or poopied in the diaper, that's ok, he can still try for a few minutes and see if there's more. If he doesn't have any, that's ok too, put a new diaper on, and off you go. It's quite labor intensive, especially if the child is not walking yet. And don't worry about waiting for the child to tell you whether he needs to go, just go try and see.

    This might be especially hard if someone else is caring for your child or your child goes to daycare. But potty training is difficult whether it's early or late, and I tend to think that early is better, provided that you only use positive reinforcement, so no expression of disapproval or disdain if the child hasn't gotten it yet. Sooner or later, he will catch on. I didn't think it was possible either, but my son is 9 months old, and has been using his toilet since about 6 months. He still pees in his diaper sometimes, mostly because sometimes we forget to take him soon enough. But he hasn't poopied in his diaper for about a month! He loves using the toilet!

    Anyway, I didn't mean to get into a whole thing about toilet training, there will be a separate post coming on that topic. Good luck with the diaper rash, I hope you find a good solution soon. Try to change early and often! Any other mommies or daddies who have some input on this? Please feel free to leave your suggestions!

  8. I want to mention that we use a front-load washer to wash the cloth diapers. We use the Whitest Whites setting with sanitize mode to disinfect the diapers. This means the diapers are disinfected with steam in the last part of the wash cycle. In any case, changing diapers as soon as they are wet will be the best for baby's bottom.


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